Bottled Thoughts on Fluid Homogeneity

In my last Continuity Bottle discussion (on Fermentation), the comments section got into how the fermentation process creates a cycle of good and bad comics (at least, in the commenters' views). I felt this should show up as a stand alone post, but is frankly a lot of what I've already written in those comments, where the term "fermentation" brought us to talking about reader taste as an appreciation of "vintage". The current vintage was said to be "lacking in flavor". I do agree, though I also believe we don't yet have the distance required to truly judge the "era". The perception is still that today's comics are samey (homogeneous), while older comics seemed to have more variety (heterogeneous).

It's easy to take a nostalgic view and say the good old days were better than today's vintage, I think. But the bias here is that the best (and usually most "different") comics we remember fondly are those that SURVIVED as such in our minds, and we simply forget that they were surrounded by loads of utter CRAP. The 80s weren't all Byrne's FF, Simonson's Thor or Ostrander's Suicide Squad, though perhaps the later part of the decade had a little more going for it than, say, the early 90s that followed it, or the early 80s which preceded it. Why? Because things were changing (the creation of crossover events as a means of super-interaction, new writers like Moore, Claremont and Miller pouring new things into their bottles) creating heterogeneity. These new elements became popular and the fluid started balancing to a new paradigm (the high soap opera of Claremont and the deconstruction of Moore and Miller, for example). This leads to a homogenized state where everybody is doing the same thing, few very well because they are not actively pursuing their true artistic selves (what I call following the Kirby Faith), and to a bunch of forgettable comics (Marvel during the 90s being a prime example). But even in that era, there are some great comics (DC's early Vertigo, Morrison's JLA) - clear and different voices.

I think the best comics come out of a non-homogeneous bottle, myself. As time goes on, continuity entropy takes hold and tends to homogenize the bottle's contents and that's when comics become samey and boring. The best comics usually come from adding elements that do not conform to the house style. And it's our fault as collective readership because we've encouraged certain elements by making them popular.
Homogenization was all well and good back in the 40s or 60s when it was all NEW and EXCITING! But now that the genre and medium have been around a long time, it only leads to repetition and imitation.

If we're talking vintage, this cycle of homogenization and heterogeneity is what makes you sick of the "wine's taste". Note also that like wine tasters, true comics amateurs, especially older ones, will prefer more complex tastes and subtleties, while the masses lap up the cheap stuff because it all tastes the same to them.

So if my premise is a good one, there ARE good comics in both major shared universes, but the continuity fluid is so homogeneous right now that it's hard to detect those flavors. In 10 years, we'll have forgotten the crossover-crazy, dismembering pap that's become the baseline consistency and will remember those pockets of flavor like Batman Inc., Manhunter or Hickman's FF.

Back under the Fermentation post, Wayne Allen Sallee said "kids" were now shaking the bottle. The creators pouring stuff in the bottle are now principally former fans, so they tend to put back stuff that was already in there, elements and consistencies that were present at an earlier point in fermentation. This can be retrograde (again, they've taken something innovative by a writer like Morrison and made it plain and ordinary - the use of old continuity elements). They don't understand the exact recipe, so they just throw all-spice into the mix hoping to create the same effects. Comic book fans turned pro were also responsible for the 90s art fiasco, artists bred and (self-)trained on superhero art who couldn't draw anything else or even that very well. Pop will eat itself, as they say.

So yes, finally, I agree that we're due for a shake-up, and not a "reboot" kind of shake-up, but the addition of something NEW that will create chaos inside the bottles and allow heterogeneity to once again set in (before inevitably choosing a pattern to stabilize into and the whole dance starts again). What we should be worried about is that, in DC's case at least, it's the same old people adding all the new ideas, which likely won't make them new at all.


Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Thanks for the mention, Siskoid. Any thoughts on Flashpoint and all the tie-ins, being poured into the bottle to keep it full until September, but also to gauge how much money a reader is willing to part with on #1s, and #2s, etc., on a weekly basis?

I bring this up because I am only reading the main FP title, but have talked with my LCS guy about the others. I'm surprised so many of them offer what happened months before FP#1, including the whole pre-FP of the 2nd Abin Sur issue. At first I thought, well why wouldn't one title start with [2 years before Flashpoint], something like that. But I then went back to my original thoughts, the reason I'm not buying any of the other titles are because I have no interest in them, my LCS guy says quite a few #1s were purchased, not as many #2s. Everything is different to the EXTREME! in FP, just like the 52. Martha Wayne is Joker? EXTREME! Killing a kid on panel? EXTREME!

Thoughts? Is the idea behind the tie-ins, as opposed to, say, a 5-issue World of FP along the lines of Marvel's Front Line books, DC's way of acclimating new AND old readers to the 52 and what to expect from them?

Siskoid said...

In the model, and I may yet get to this in a proper post, the Flashpoint universe is an element that's behind a partition, funneling elements from surrounding continuity. It is, in short, an Elseworld. (Continuity proceeds apace because all series are continuing untouched until the end of August as well.)

In September, the bottle will be shaken allowing FP continuity to merge with normal DCU continuity. Pre-FP continuity will sink behind a Continuity Wall at the bottom of the bottle and we'll be left with something that is part "reboot" part not. But I definitely get the sense that FP is introducing elements that will take prominence in the new DCU - Cyborg's place among the first rank of heroes, Grifter, Frankenstein, perhaps Demon Knights will look a lot like the Resistance from FP.

As for the other series, yes the world of Flashpoint is a darker one and many of its tie-ins are consequently dark, though tone may vary. Professor Zoom seems to have targeted the history of the Justice League primarily (to prevent Barry Allen from having allies), and created a nightmare world in the process. I don't think the new DCU will be that dark because yes it is an extreme. You've named the DARKEST of all tie-ins in fact, stuff from the Batman book, which I thought was dark and shocking without being childish and gratuitous (like say, the gory Grodd of War series).

Are these good? Some are, some are not. I don't think your guy is being fair, since we're only in the first week of #2s. I'm guessing readers are picking up Batman, and maybe Abin Sur. Secret Seven is good but slow and stars no "big" characters (though if we're talking about shaken bottles, they'll more or less become Justice League Dark). World of Flashpoint is likewise a hard sell because it stars Traci 13 and is largely plotless.

ALL of these are still better than Grodd was (but there's no #2 to that). Overall, I've thought the tie-ins were mostly good. Wonder Woman and Aquaman are redundant (same story, almost beat for beat, but different character). Hal Jordan ties into Abin Sur and is just ok. Not sure where Legion of Doom wants to go (I see it as a showcase for the next Suicide Squad writer). The Outsider is a violent shockfest, and I don't care about Deathstroke (never have, never will).

Otherwise, they're interesting and well executed alternate history comics. I would even recommend looking at Project Superman, Deadman and the Flying Graysons, Kid Flash Lost and Citizen Cold.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

I'm waiting for the (some of)the trades, though the Abin Sur book I'll likely pick up next week as LCS guy has more than enough of #2s and a few #1s, I'll just call him on that. Yes, I was told Grodd sucked and that the art was horrible. My statement on the #2s should be amended to buyers who have even told my LCS that they don't intend to buy them. Paul told everyone that he'd put FP on the pull, and those who had certain minis on their pulls must buy them. In a few cases, he's offered, say, the Abin Sur book to the main GL buyers. So these are from non-subscribers, and a few do think like me, and try/buy something else instead. Sadly, several customers do not want the Morrison Superman because he will be portrayed as liberal, and Paul thinks he'll end up still making money from them off of titles like Deathstroke.

You are right about the no JLA=bad things scenario, as opposed to well, there must *always* be a JLA ending. My idea on this is that the end of FP will be like a whip cracking, from bleak and dystopian to both Silver Age harmless and...I dunno, I would even place JL Dark as Silver Age circa 1970.

Siskoid said...

I'm sorry but... does anyone even remember the last time Superman was NOT a liberal-minded character?

Except my grandfather, I mean.

Anonymous said...

In my post last time, I did not note that there were still some good or great comics spicing the brew. Many of them are mini-series (All-Star Superman, Phonogram), many are non-super-hero (Scalped, Criminal, Casanova), and some have been cut short before their time (Young Liars, Mighty Thor). The problems I have with most current Big 2 comics are:

- lack of innovation and fun; there are plenty of good writers and artists but the bad outweighs them.

- decompression; four dollars for a two minute read is ridiculous

- the decline of writers I whose work I once enjoyed; from Brian Bendis to James Robinson to Matt Fraction when he's not writing Casanova, i find less and less dependable creators.

- gratuitous violence

I realize I have my own subjective tastes and the above elements and criticisms are by no means universal. All I know is that sales are down.

Which is not to say that there's no hope or that you don't have a valid point about our tendency to look at the past through rose-tinted glasses. It is rather early to judge the era as a whole, too. I just know that I've read less and less Big 2 comics in the last few years, and I wish they were better. Hopefully, writers like Hickman, Aaron, Gillen, Van Lente, Cornell, Simone, Slott, and Parker will supplant the Johnses, Loebs, and Kruls of the industry.

- Mike Loughlin

Siskoid said...

I agree with all your criticisms, but then I'm a connoisseur, and so the vintage tastes good to me when it is varied and subtle. Unfortunately, the wine that sells the most isn't (as per the model as explained here).

And it's not even hard to track the trend. The kids like this Bendis fella. His innovation is decompressed moments. Let's decompress everything! The kids like this Johns dude. He does a lot of dismemberment gags. Let's put those in everything! And so on. To the point where even the originating writers seem like parodies of themselves, and the imitators are more often than not even more ridiculous.

Think about it: The 90s are a direct result of Frank Miller and Alan Moore's work in the 80s. The kids love that anti-hero stuff. Let's ONLY give them that. But of course, all writers cannot write that way, nor should they.

We could ask the universe to make comics FUN! with all caps and an exclamation point, but if that becomes the new homogeneity, we should fear that 80% of the Big 2's output will be forced FUN! written by people who really don't understand the concept or style. Any "house style", in my opinion, will engender bad comics.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

That Superman thing certainly is a shake your head moment. It was basically Morrison using the word liberal in an interview. Maybe they'll enjoy Hawk & Dove (because she's a chick! Drawn by Rob L.!!) instead.

I agree with Mike in relation to the DC writers and Bendis, I really don't pick up Marvel at all. But it is horrifying how bad Robinson has become, the way he thinks Donna Troy saying Sh'yeah! is somehow unique. Let's face it, writers can decompress all they want if they can get away with it. I'm a fiction writer, 95% of my work is narrative because it works, my narrative is pretty much like if you had Chicago the city talking to you. But I am so tired of narrative boxes with Bats and S-emblems in colors like blue on grey and orange on red. I'd like to know who started this trend, go back in time, and crown him.

Siskoid,I'd put the two best things to come out of the 90s were Starman and Morrison's JLA. (Along with a few Elseworlds like Kingdom Come.) I hope that the 52 work for DC, I'd love to see the JLA meet Justice Infinity for the first time. Miller and Moore were great with their respective narrative boxes, but if DC continues to have the Bat-narrative and the Flash-narrative, that will be one of the first signs that they are shaking up the bottle but still making it easy to pour out the contents into copies. If I bought any ten copies, I'd have them read in an hour.


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