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August 11, 2006

Comments

Kevin J. Maroney

Pretty much completely agreement here. One thing that really jumped out at me within the last couple of issues--goodness knows I can't keep track of which one, and my copies are at home--was the scene with Ralph confronting Cassandra in her apartment. The conversation was lackluster, but what was really striking was Cassandra's apparent need to take off her shirt and wave herself at the camera, and then re-dress. What the hell was up with that? Not enough cleavage in the Batwoman scenes?

RAB

See, this is precisely what I expected of 52 when it was first announced -- including Morrison being the only one of the whole bunch equipped to tell a story in weekly installments of three to six pages -- which is why I never bothered with the series.

When fans express disappointment with 52 for being exactly what we should all have known it would be, it puts me in mind of earnest Democrats like John Kerry saying "I voted to support the war because I trusted this President, but he misled us about the weapons of mass destruction" even though lots of people were saying at the time "Wait a minute, that evidence doesn't add up and Iraq is the wrong target anyway." But nobody likes a smartarse who sees through the hype right away; instead, for some reason, everyone wants to be the guy who bought the hype and was disappointed.

This isn't intended as any criticism of your fine post, or a denial of anyone's right to criticize 52. All we smartarses want is for someone to say "Hey, you were right all along, we should have listened to you!" Is that so much to ask? ;-)

Dave Van Domelen

Well, I didn't expect it to be GOOD. I did expect it to cover stuff that would be referred back to a lot, with other DC books rendered crippleware for people who didn't buy 52. It's like a license fee paid to be able to make sense of other DC books down the line. :/

Marc

There was a little bait-and-switch going on with those early issues, RAB. They sported much more attractive art (I remember some comments at the time about a DC "house style" but given the facial contortions that have afflicted the series since then, the DC house style apparently falls far short of Joe Bennett's talents) and set up the character arcs reasonably well. There was never any hope for the Black Adam story but even Ralph's had promise, that promise being the reversal of at least one of the mistakes of Identity Crisis.

Of course, those issues probably benefited from advance preparation and the series has been uneven since then. Not always bad, sometimes quite good (this last week for instance), but wildly uneven.

Charles Hatfield

I haven't had a chance to chart the development of 52 since Week 5 (I read the first five issues in a batch, then gave up).

Your criticisms regarding the pacing are sharp-eyed, Marc; wish I'd thought of them. Either I didn't pay enough attention to the pacing, or the pacing hadn't become so obviously problematic by Week 5 when I bailed.

My sense is that 52 uneasily combines event series and open-ended soap opera. Like the former it's inflated with a sense of grand purpose, but, like the latter, it seems open-ended and at times aimless. Of course, I felt similarly about the way the "countdown" to INFINITE CRISIS consisted of disparate storylines without a potent hook. I wrote about this in my own blog: the emphasis on co-incidence rather than meaningful connection.

52 just strikes me as a long, dull stretch.

Prankster

As a guy who has never read a lot of mainstream superhero books, 52 looked like a good opportunity to dip into the DC Universe a little. Morrison was involved, the only writer of the four I was familiar with, and there were some interesting ideas; if nothing else, I thought I would enjoy it for the Booster storyline, which seemed to be Morrison's major contribution (by the way, Marc, how did you know who's writing what?)

But then Booster practically vanished, and the utterly incompetent pacing is really, really starting to bother me. You're dead on that the others seem to have no idea how to pace a book in "real time", and seem to be focusing specifically on boring, talky scenes, while ignoring interesting stuff that's happening offstage. I've heard a lot about "Decompression", but this is my first real experience with the phenomenon, and...well, it reminds me why I don't read mainstream superhero comics.

By the way, why do the writing staff at DC seem to hate Ralph Dibny so much? Seriously, it's getting sadistic at this point.

Marc

how did you know who's writing what?

Partly familiarity with the writers (who else but Waid would use the dialogue to explain how well he knows the characters and their history?) and partly DC's behind-the-scenes material. The theory, as explained to me by Jog, is that you look at Giffen's thumbnails and the captions tell you who scripted each scene. Jog saith:

Supposedly, if you look at the captions indicating dialogue and captions, a [NUMBER DOT NAME] indicates Johns, a [NUMBER NAME] in Courier New indicates Waid, a [NUMBER NAME] indicates Rucka, and a [NAME] indicates Morrison.

It also helps that the writers are mostly sticking to the characters you'd expect: Waid on Ralph, Rucka on Question and Montoya, Johns on Black Adam. Waid and Morrison seemed to be trading off on Booster, almost everyone has tried their hand at Steel, and the wonderful mad scientist stuff has likely been all Morrison. It's the diametric opposite of the way DC's been handling Ralph: instead of acting mortified at the character's light-hearted past and trying to wash it away with tragedy he takes these goofy Silver Age characters on their own terms and writes them as real people reacting to a decidedly unreal world.

Charles, maybe the smart money bailed by Week 5; I'm deep enough into the story now that I feel hooked, although 38 issues would be a lot to buy on inertia. The Morrison and Rucka-helmed issues are keeping my interest, but I'm not sure that could get me through another week of Ralph Dibny hugging his wife's straw corpse (!).

Charles Hatfield

Yeah, a few days ago I flipped through, what was it?, Week 14, and saw, first of all, a big, hectic fight scene, and, then, the climactic image of a woebegone Ralph Dibny cradling a mannequin.

Distasteful. Is this sudden dogpile on Ralph the result of IDENTITY CRISIS?

I could never muster enough interest to dip into IDENTITY CRISIS -- is it as loathsome as I suspect it is?

Charles Hatfield

PS. You're right about the Generics. A terrible design job, even for Luthor.

Marc

Ah, but why do the Generics suck? Is it:

* The purple and chartreuse uniforms?
* The namelessness?
* The sinister smile on the shadow guy, which instantly communicates "I'm the guy who's going to be driven mad by his powers and eventually fall into some kind of dark void, just like every other guy who has shadow powers, in the increasingly unlikely event that I even outlive this series"?
* The woman on the far left with the "Topsy" haircut?

Luthor needs to fire his marketing team.

Identity Crisis is every bit as loathsome as you suspect it is, and possibly more. I put the issue with the tasteless rape scene back on the shelf and never came back.

Charles Hatfield

Ugh.

I'm wondering (and I'm not being disingenuous, since I really am wondering) what it is that makes me resist certain kinds of putative adultification in superhero comics, when, time was, I happily digested plenty of dark, revisionist supers work from Moore et al. (and in Moore's immediate wake).

And, cripes, am I alone in thinking that the DCU has become an ugly, hemorrhaging mess?

Prankster

Well, at one point Moore and his deconstructionist/reimagin...ist ilk were in the minority. Actually, although we often think of Moore as the guy who liked to come in and shake things up, "adultify" the tone, do radical retcons, and kill off characters for shock value, he actually didn't do all that much. Hell, I always felt like Moore's work at DC chafed against the forthcoming Crisis and its attendant radical reinvention; I think Moore would have been happy playing in the Silver Age sandbox for a long time to come had he not arrived at the end of an era. I'm not saying he didn't like to push the envelope, but his work always seems like a continuation of what had gone before, part of an organic progression rather than a desire to knock down stuff he didn't like and salt the earth, which is what so much post-Crisis reinvention feels like. I mean, the few characters he killed off were mostly genuinely boring and redundant, and their deaths and other changes were clearly laid out with a purpose in mind (the death of Zatara being the obvious example). Infinite Crisis and 52 seem so much more poorly thought out; the DC writers and editors seem to like the shock of killing and reinventing characters, but they don't know how to clean up the mess afterwards. I honestly have NO idea what they think they're doing with Ralph Dibny, other than making sure the character will always be tainted with a veneer of sleaze.

Marc

Well, the "putative" is the key, isn't it? There's nothing mature about the parade of death, rape, madness, and torture in DC comics lately, in either concept or execution. And with twenty years of poor Moore and Miller imitations behind us (some of them, sadly, coming from Frank Miller) the tragedy-as-character-development shortcuts aren't even freshly derivative.

Charles Hatfield

"I honestly have NO idea what they think they're doing with Ralph Dibny, other than making sure the character will always be tainted with a veneer of sleaze."

Hmm. Actually, I don't think the character has to be forever tainted with sleaze; a refreshing change is always just a change of creators away. Shitty stories with Ralph Dibny don't necessarily militate against better future stories with Ralph Dibny.

DC has fallen into the trap of thinking that significant tonal / ideological shifts in their titles have to be accomplished through elaborate, in-continuity justifications. Not so. It just takes a new authorial POV.

After all, I don't see an in-continuity justification for, say, Baker's PLASTIC MAN (sadly cancelled, admittedly). Nor do I see a complete, DCU-wide explanation for the gleeful havoc that Morrison et al. made with SEVEN SOLDIERS.

It's the books, not the Universe, that really matter. Thinking that seems to have been entirely waylaid in the post-Crisis era.

Prankster

Well, that gets to the root of the importance of continuity in the first place. As long as there IS an insistance on continuity, the horror that Ralph's endured in the last decade is going to cast a long shadow. I'm by no means certain that the 52 writers don't eventually intend to "fix" Ralph by the end of the series, of course. It's just that...well, we have, in the past, seen bad ideas, poor choices of direction for various characters (or choices that seemed poor at the time), transformed into memorable aspects of a characters' history. I do NOT want to see Ralph's tribulations erased in some Crisis-style disruption of time; I believe comic book characters should be beholden to their history to at least SOME degree (the fact that they frequently aren't is what's leading to a lot of today's sloppy comics) and if someone was to reboot the character, it would feel cheap. But I believe that, ultimately, turning Ralph into some kind of noir "grim and gritty" character is madness; he's one of the most classical and whimsical Silver Age characters out there. There are lots of other characters who could sustain this kind of "darkness" if they're determined to go through with it. So the more they push him into madness and sorrow, the more desperate and sleazy it seems.

Charles Hatfield

"I believe comic book characters should be beholden to their history to at least SOME degree."

Perhaps. But if someone were to launch a bright, whimsical, infectious, conceptually clever, well-drawn and well-designed ELONGATED MAN book tomorrow, without any in-continuity explanation as to why Ralph isn't still fucked up as a result of all the "Crises," wouldn't you still want to read it? Wouldn't you prefer to read it rather than reading the current treatment the character is receiving?

I understand that continuity is a means of conferring depth and complexity on DC's fictive world, and that it is a powerful sales tool as well. But aren't the most interesting books often those that are marginalized in the current continuity? For instance, when Frank Miller had his way with DAREDEVIL in the early 1980s, the stories were marginal in terms of the larger Marvel continuity; only later did they become central to the whole deal.

Marc

But Charles, individual readers don't determine what kinds of books DC publishes. It doesn't matter whether we'd accept a comic that ignored the various Crises; as long as continuity drives sales, and as long as DC thinks every tonal shift has to be justified in continuity, then the pointless rape, murder, and trauma will remain part of the character and those better, non-sleazy stories are far less likely to materialize. Granted, a new authorial POV could produce them without any reference to Identity Crisis--a good story is always just one good author away--but DC's current editorial mindset makes that much less likely. Which leaves everybody stuck with the current baggage.

On a very different, fanboy-speculation note, I'm kind of hoping it turns out the resurrection was a hoax and Devem was animating the mannequin through some gimmick and for some obscure purpose that Ralph can deduce on his way back to sanity and closure. It wouldn't undo the mess of Identity Crisis, but it would redeem the mess 52 stirred up while pretending to undo the mess of Identity Crisis.

Kevin J. Maroney

I just have to point out here that I find the approach where "nothing published after date FOO matters" to be one of the least-satisfying solutions to the Gordian Knot of continuity, especially where date FOO is somewhere around the time of my birth.

There are few stories so wretched that a good writer can't rehabilitate them; and when there are, the writer should work with something else.

Prankster

Well, I'm still astounded that they didn't go with the obvious decision post-Infinite Crisis and recreate the multiverse. Then they could drop in a continuity-free, Silver Age Elongated Man any time they wanted with no violation of continuity, just by having him be a resident of another universe. And there would be no need whatsoever to "fix" "our" Ralph in-continuity. Along with all the other characters they've messed up oer the years.

Vic Sage

"Zen Objectivist" is a contradiction. Contradictions cannot and do not exist. A = A.

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