Monday 9 September 2013

When The Flash watches cartoons, it looks like comics

It's been a little while since I've let Panda weigh in here, but he wants him some words and woe is me who denies him. We (Panda and I) were recently put on to a young blog (some four posts at the time of writing) about comic books that alternates between info-dump review pieces, that are incredibly readable and come with notes on getting into superhero comics, and articles about comics that are also very readable. It is called Sequential Art Criticism. I like his mix of info-dump comic reviews and longer easy read articles.

I don't have the time anymore for comics that I wish I had, but I still like to read about them. One might suggest that this conundrum may in fact be solved by the hand-over-fist approach to superhero films that has been adopted by Hollywood over the past few years, and while I enjoy seeing some of my favourites in big sparkly colours, but it's a different kind of story telling. Even once you excuse the pace, art, 'realism' and duration, it is still a very different kind of story telling. Comics can be far more tragic, and bizarre.

There is a thing that is done with comic book characters when they get made over for the movies, and it is a kind of trend whoring. They're remolded into the style du jour to serve a different purpose. The most recent Batman movie trilogy does this in spades, but Bane is probably the easiest to explain in a paragraph. See, he plays this very specific role in the Batman mythology, and the role he plays is part of a grander psychological journey for Bruce Wayne. Bane's place and the moral he brings is a catalyst for the hammering in of an inescapable truth for Bruce Wayne. His face is synonymous with the abandonment of all hope that Wayne could ever have a life beyond the cowl, and that he will escape the cowl alive. The act of breaking Batman's back was a single action, but the greater arc and total fallout of that story was far more complicated. By the end Batman is made to feel fragile and he is made to feel trapped in his obligation as a defender of Gotham. This is what the hero's journey looks like years after the credits have rolled. Long after the Batman in the movie walks away from everything, The Batman in the comics is still there and knows he can be defeated, but he can never leave. The only way out for him is going to be violent and it is going to be terrifying. More importantly though, when this time comes, he will have failed and everything that he represented will be gone. His work will come undone, and it will all come to naught.

This kind of thing isn't unique either. The name Jason Todd carries with it a very specific message. He represents something in the Batman cannon. As does Gwen Stacy for Spider-man. Comics are a new mythology and as the players of yore played rolls, so do they. Sisyphus didn't have twelve labours. It isn't so much about remaining completely faithful, it's about the core of what the stories and their players represent.

The other thing that is worth tucking in your little cap is that the titles that get us (Panda and I) excited don't often get to the big screen. We got the Green Lantern movie, but we dropped words on that a while back already, and they weren't positive. Generally speaking, we do without in this regard. There is a light though, and it is the soft chromatic glow of animation. DC makes animated films, and not a couple of them. There are a couple of not quite all encompassing flavours here. The earlier ones all form part of the same consistent universe as "that Batman series from the nineties". The later ones go the other way, and have abandoned any idea of a single set continuity, and instead opted for telling stories, which is the way that these things should be handled. I've said so before. They've done a few of the obligatory origin stories, but it's the other things they covered that are where we really get our pants off. It's figurative. Panda doesn't do pants.

The Justice League do for DC Comics about what Marvel's The Avengers do on the Marvel payroll, in that they are The Big Club that nearly everyone has been a member at some stage or another. We used to read both, but we always preferred the League for their space stories and pan dimensional shenanigans. There is usually some reality bending weirdness to be had in Justice League stories. Not all the time, but there has been more than one occasion when all of the shit has hit all of the fans, of which there was a previously unknown amount and it turns out to be a lot, then the fans crash through the barriers between worlds, shit stained blades and all. It's wild stuff.

There are currently four animated Justice League movies with another on the way. What these movies do is make a concerted effort to present a different scale to the DC universe. They try to tell comic stories in a movie format, and there is some noise on both sides about the general level of success achieved as far as this endeavour is concerned. I'm impressed with what they're doing with the Justice League. It's a hard sell. They used to be the Super Friends. Where my hat gets tipped (less figurative, we go in for hats) is what they're doing down animation way with their big brands. Superman gets Doomsday, All-Star and Unbound, while Batman gets Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. The attitude here is brazen. These are their most precious toys, and these stories are made up of those very keywords that give Hollywood execs erectile dysfunction. They're playing for themselves to see if the audience is interested. And we should be. Apart from Year One, which is an origin story so quintessential that it is the proverbial cloth from which all others since have been cut, the rest don't play you the Superman (or Batman) drum, they assume that "you know what a Superman is and how they get down" and get on with telling you a story, a story that can only really be told with these characters.

There are some stories we would like to see come out of this house of thought in the future. I have my list, and Panda has his, and there is some overlap, but for the time being we're on board with who ever is driving the ship.

As a not entirely unrelated note (it's actually very related), the now cancelled Young Justice animated series is, hands down, the best superhero cartoon that has ever been broadcast. Ever.

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