Sunday, November 15, 2009

Comics and the wars

Life During Wartime

The United States is engaged in three wars: Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and how do comic books reflect that or not?

With that question in mind, we hit the racks at two Borders (Boston and San Francisco) and, yes, judged by the cover for our random sample.

We ended up with ten titles which, based on the cover art, might have something to do with any or all three wars in even the most tangential way.

DC's Superman #683 features an elderly looking Superman flying through space with debris around him and a claim of "New Krypton" -- not exactly the New Jerusalem but we'll give it a try. On the first page, Superman (in costume and in the air) declares, "Listen to me! You can't be here! You have to leave --"

Well thank goodness. Good to know Supes is part of the Out Of Iraq Now contingent. But just when we’re getting ready to call him up and invite him over for a strategizing session, we turn the page and he's declaring "ALL OF YOU!" to Green Lantern, Green Lantern (there are two), Power Girl, Green Lantern (there are now three), Wonder Woman, Black Lightning, Hawk Girl, Hawk Man and three costumed people we don’t recognize.

He wants them off Krypton -- er, New Krypton. But he's quickly informed that actions taken by the residents on New Krypton are seen of "as an open act of aggression -- -- as in war." "War?" asks Superman before self-answering, "No, all of this is just cultural confusion."

Who knew the Bush family tree could be traced back to Krypton?

Staying with the Supe thread, we move over to issue #62 of Superman/Batman which opens page one with three panels of Supergirl declaring: "I'm late I'm late I'm late. Gotham's always father away than I think. Not that I'm usually in any rush to get here. This city's so . . . So (is that a dead guy?) So not Metropolis. Still, I promised Tim we'd meet for lunch on his turf, so Gotham City say hello to Linda Lang!"

At which point, she joins a snoozing Tim Drake (Robin) in a booth and the compare notes on their mentors (Superman and Batman) Tim declares, "Well, you've come a long way since we first worked together. You remember?"

"Remember?" replies back Supergirl munching on her burger and cue a lengthy flashback of when they were left at the Bat Cave by their mentors and Commissioner Gordon sounded the Bat Alarm leading them on a lengthy night where they'd battle Joker, Scarecrow and, ultimately, Supergirl would rescue Robin from rape at the hands of Poison Ivy who approached the bound Robin declaring, "Just lie back and relax, Robin. Save your strength. We have the whole night ahead of --"

No, it doesn't have a lot to do with war and really can't be stretched to reflect any kind of commentary on the state of the world today. Which is why it's very similar to issue#36 of The Annual of The Amazing Spiderman. This waste of time indicates it's such by the first page which is a panel meant to be a wedding invitation:

Dear Guests,
Mayor J. Jonah Jameson begrudgingly invites you to an engagement party celebrating the impending wedding of his father,

J. Jonah Jameson Sr.


May Reilly Parker

Yes, folks, Aunt May’s engaged. Who knew? Who cared? What follows is a bunch of nonsense including a clone Ben Reilly. In the end, Peter Parker (far weaker than we've ever seen him) learns to call his apparently future step-father "Dad" and that's supposed to make up for all those mind numbing pages.

That was a Marvel comic -- long gone are the days when you count on Marvel for social commentary. But still hopeful, we checked out issue five of Anita Blake The Laughing Corpse. No, not Anita Baker. Anita Blake. Who?

Anita Blake, vampire hunter and animator, was called in by the St. Louis police to investigate the murder of a family by what appeared to be an inhumanly strong monster. The victims' three-year-old son was abducted by the killer, and finding him became Anita's number one priority.
Her search led Anita to Dominga Salvador, a voodoo priestess. But when Anita refused to play Dominga's mind games, the priestess cast a curse on the animator, swearing something will come in the night to hurt her when she least expects it. Between Dominga and the threats of mob-connected millionaire Harold Gaynor, who Anita similarly dismissed, the vampire hunter has gained some dangerous enemies.
The boy's corpse was found mutilated in a field, and Anita realized her window to stop the killer before he could strike again was shrinking. That's when Anita got a lead on the killer, bringing her and Detective Dolph Storr to Burrell Cemetery in the middle of the night, where something from beyond the grave grabs Anita's attention . . . Literally.

And, kids, that's just the first page.

Pretty soon, Anita’s shooting off arms and other body parts of a green monster only to be grabbed from behind by another while sharing 'wisdoms' such as, "This punk didn't give a damn how many bullets I had left. The dead don't scare easy." Complete escapism but well done escapism at least.

We slid over to Marvel Comics Presents #4 whose cover exclaims, "WEAPON OMEGA EXPLODES!" Weapon? Might be something to do with a war, right? Wrong. It's a comic which features four stories.

Police Detective Stacy Dolan's investigation into the murder of a John Doe has hit a dead end, when the victim turns out to be unidentifiable by any Earthly means. But her luck takes a tun for the better when a witness places Jaafar Yousuf at the scene of the crimes -- a man Dolan put behind bars six months ago.

Patsy Walker, the heroine known as Hellcat, is in the catfight of her life when she's confronted by a gaggle of lookalikes! A strange bolt of energy has somehow taken the different parts of Patsy's personality and made them flesh. With the help of the former hero Gargoyle, the Patsies come to a truce . . . But all bets are off when Hellcat crashes the party!

In the rugged and deadly days of the Old West, the name Outlaw Kid was spoken in hushed tones; his trademark red bandanna striking fear into those that glimpsed it. But who was this mystery man -- and would he ever find the justice he so desperately sought? Step back in time, and ride . . . With the Outlaw Kid.

Michael Pointer, once possessed by the powerful force called the Collective, is now known as Guardian of the Canadian super-team, Omega Flight. With his powers unexplainably diminishing, Pointer is sidelined -- but Flight member USAgent suspects there's more here than meets the eye . . . Pointer's power begin spiking erratically -- but where's the energy coming from?

And? Vanguard gets shot and tossed out a window . . . Only to be rescued by Ms. Marvel before she hit's the ground. No, we didn't see that coming either but we don't hail it as a 'surprise' -- we see it as bad writing.

Hellcat's story was the sort of thing you almost expect a super dog or talking squirrel to pop up in. Incredibly cheesy and rather sad when you grasp that, in one form of another, Hellcat's pretty much participated in all the wars starting with WWII.

The Outlaw Kid? While he sends out f**k-me signals to every male around, a man obsessed with him shoots dead five Native Americans. And that Canadian super hero squad? About as unbelievable and kid friendly as you’d expect. Yawn.

No social commentary at all. Still with Marvel, we pick up issue #8 of Secret Warriors which is subtitled "GOD OF FEAR, GOF OF WAR." It opens with a fire fight in which Nick Fury is shot dead.

Sort of.

His body opens up and a fey young boy steps out. As your mind swirls, you're suddenly in flashback for the entire issue and, no, you never learn how a boy got into Nick Fury. You do wonder if someone was tripping out while writing the issue?

Taking a break from DC and from Marvel, we hit the gaming world's attempt to make it in print with issue #6 of Resistance ("THE BEST SELLING PLAYSTATION 3 FRANCHISE COMES TO COMICS!"). Page one finds us in an interrogation room with a man delivering a monologue:

Tell me a story Sergeant. Tell me a story, and for God's sake it better be a barn-burner. It better be the greatest g**damn story ever told. Because Sergeant, you are so f**ked now only Jesus Chris himself could unf**k you. So, please, Sergeant. Tell me what happened up there.

And with that we're into a flashback -- and wondering why so man comics use flashbacks these days? They do grasp that Pulp Fiction was over fifteen years ago, right?

It’s time for the US military to battle the Chimera. But wait, we're back in the interrogation room. Okay, it's not a steal of Pulp Fiction. It's a steal of the Demi Moore starrer Mortal Thoughts.

The second story in the issue opens with, "Of course, Johnny got shot down again. Stupid bastard. The entire squad was wiped out. No one came home from that." We're in another flashback and what's standing out the most is how little action this title offers while each page is saturated with dialogue and voice over.

But, yes, in some way, it was aware wars were going on. Next up, we were back to DC with Wonder Woman issue number 28 "Rise of the Olympian" whose cover features Cheetah. The first page features multiple panels and non-stop narration by Princess Diana as though Wonder Woman was gearing up to take the lead in Grey's Anatomy:

I confess, I haven't really given it much though. What a day like this must be like for him. Seeing me wounded. Seeing me go to war. Is it fair of me, to ask him, to ask any man, to go through this moment? I'm not certain anymore. He doesn't even know my true feelings. We haven't had time for me to tell him. Or perhaps I'm being selfish. Perhaps, if this is the day I die -- -- I want to spend part of it with someone who loves me.

Which leads to some shared conversation between Wonder Woman and Tom "but," as she notes, "ultimately, it changes nothing and I remain who I am." After a kiss, it's time for Diana and her Gorilla Knights to set off for battle with Genocide.

Ten titles? Nine actually. The Boston contingent grabbed a Captain America and so did the San Francisco group. The Captain America comics are subtitled "THEATER OF WAR." The October 2009 issue finds Steve Rogers in, we're not kidding, Kuwait.

It was 5 am when we crossed over the border from Kuwait. There weren't many of us: Me, Kenny, Mikey Wait, our Humvee, and a few thousand of our closest friends. We were expecting one hell of a party. But all we found was just a sea of grateful faces. Women and children only -- not a single man in sight. None of us had known what to expect, but I don't think any of us expected this. The gateway to Iraq. Nice tough for the enemy to leave it unlocked.

It's easy going as they enter the country until, suddenly, fire is exchanged and an explosion but, look, it's Captain America! Who saves the day and departs with, "Tell Colonel Martinez when he gets here that I've moved over into Sadr City to support the 45th, and my regards to his wife."

But things quickly go bad and the group's Humvee hit's an IED wounding all but Bryan Anderson most severely. He's Medivaced home and has lost both legs. At least nine pages are devoted to him stateside, struggling in rehab,

The December issue started off in colonial America and progressed through American wars. Near the end of the book, a title reads: "La Drang Valley, Vietnam: November 16, 1965" and features US GI Johnny saying, "I see a ghost of my country, . . . I see a ghost of my country, . . . I see a ghost of my country" as he repeatedly fires his rifle.

And that's what you've got. Now if we'd gone to a comic book store, we would have had the freshest of titles. And a bigger option. But Marvel and DC are responsible for what they stock at big stores like Borders which get more foot traffic than most comic book stores. So what did we find?

Very few comics even bother to try to comment on the world today. Gone are the days of Marvel leading the way for the left and DC being ultra conservative while commenting on the same trends. Six titles offered pure escapism and only one of the six was truly riveting: Anita Blake The Laughing Corpse. War? Resistance and Wonder Woman provided some form of social commentary while one issue of Captain America can be seen as a Veteran's Day survey of the past wars (the December issue) and the other found Captain America serving in Iraq.
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