The Keyboard Is My FuckMonkey
I read a Super-hero comic this week.
Given that I occasionally write the things for a living, that’s a less common occurrence than you might think: partly because I can’t afford them, partly because they’re almost impossible to find on a 30-mile spunknugget pumped into the middle of the Med by bigdick España; partly because an awful lot of them are so drenched in the Arsebilge Splatterment of BAD that I get nervous about even opening something new.
Note Ye: I’m not anti-Superhero per se – quite the opposite – I just have this crazy, over-fussy expectation that the splat of narrative entertainment I just bought for Whatever-Ninety-Nine should not in fact make my soul haemorrhage with the purple astral egobruise of disappointment. The sad truth is that far too many spandex-books are trading on the perceived awesomeness of the central character rather than any Tell A Decent Story standard.
(This is a digression, but consider: David Beckham gets paid $50m a year just to show up at the LA Galaxy pitch every training session – regardless of whether he plays well, plays at all, or shits in his hand and smears it all over his squinty goblin face halfway through a match – and we all rightly loathe the Sharpie-shilling Gollum-voiced little ignoplasm for it. But Comics? “It’s got [insert character here] in it! Who cares if it’s shit? Buy it!”
I’m just sayin’.
Anyway. This book in front of me tells a story in which our central character encounters a similarly sociopathic vigilante costume fetishist from a different book. These guys share the same goal (to Get The Bad Guy And Learn Important Moral Lessons), the same tailor (SweatyBollocks™ Fabrics, Ltd.), and the same Chin-Mason, yet due to some frankly fuckwitted disagreements and a bout of unconvincing shit-talk they get completely sidelined from doing the Sensible Thing (as Ennis’s seminal Punisher put it: “we had a teamup. You were great…”), and instead feel the need to… well…
That dangling ellipsis up there – international visual code for I Felt Stupid Even Typing It – is significant. It’s not caused by any sense of surprise about Said Fight, because you know as well as I do that when one Good Guy guest-stars in another Good Guy’s book they’re always going to get their posing-pouches in a silly little tangle before making the Totally Unexpected Decision to co-operate. When handled well – with a twist, or humour, or just a pisspot’s worth of imagination – this can be entertaining and exciting, and that’s despite being less surprising than a hemlock hangover. But most of the time, sorry, it’s just the Biggest And Laziest Formula In The World. It’s reached such an absurd level of ritual and expectation that archaeologists in the nano-ruins of Post-Singularity America will flick through fossilized trade-paperbacks and speak knowingly of a lost performance-culture built around such mainstays as The Critical Misunderstanding, The Ceremonial Moment Of Reconciliation, and The Rite Of Ambiguity In Who’d Win If The Fight Ran Its Course.
So, no: no surprises in finding a Goodie Vs Goodie fight in this comic in front of me. What really caught me off-guard was how reality-rapingly crap the fight turned out to be.
I will not name the comic, nor the publisher. That’s partly because I’m a big disgusting coward, but mostly because – really – it could be any one of a half-dozen titles on the shelf any week, from any publisher small or large. Nor have I seen the script that underpins it, so I’m not going to go all-out and say with certainty it’s exclusively the writer’s fault. But, probably – yeah: It is. And I can tell you with eerie precision what is written in the panel descriptions which relate to this colourful little tussle.
Panel 1: They fight.
Panel 2: The fight continues.
Hero 1: AAAARG.
Panel 3: The fight continues (make sure they look evenly matched!!!).
Hero 2: AAAARG.
Panel 4: Still fighting. LOADS OF ACTION AND DYNAMISM!!!!!!!!!!!!
And so on, ad spandexium.
This is called the “Leave It To The Artist” approach.
There’s an unwritten rule in comics that too much of the same thing will un-suspend a reader’s disbelief quicker than an electron’s ejaculation. The most obvious offender is the ubiquitous Talking Heads: endless pages of earnest characters spitting dialogue balloons at each other like curmudgeonly llamas. In the context of a Superhero book, even the most gorgeously expressive or colon-poppingly funny of dialogue can’t keep this up for long. Three pages, maybe four, and BLAM: you’re in Arthouse Territory with Special Attention Requirements. And it’s not just talking heads either. Consider the car chase; the sniper sighting on his target; the sports game… No matter how amazing, how intense, how gorgeous: you dwell on these things for too long and you can wave your audience goodbye.
There are, before anyone says, Honourable Exceptions. I’ll get to those.
I’m tempted to suggest that the reason these Unchanging Sequences are such a problem is that the reader quickly starts to sympathise with the long-suffering artist. This poor pencilmonkey has a world of dynamic poses and exciting visual quirks in his toolkit, and yet the asshole writer in charge has doomed him to churn out Repeat Panels and moment-to-moment transitions for 22 pages of tedious wankdrizzle. The reader suspects the artist is capable of So Much More, but is trapped in this extended bollockfest. And it’s frustrating.
Sounds plausible, right?
Buuuut, no. Looking at this comic in front of me: that’s not the real problem. This fight sequence has given the artist every opportunity he could ever want for gorgeous splash panels, dynamic wide-angle violence and glorious exaggerated movement. Every fist is rocket-powered, every face bears a quasi-constipated scowl of hate and rage. I feel no sympathy for this Artist – he’s been given free reign – and yet my brain is shrieking DULL DULL MAKE IT STOP ARG ARG ARG.
Here is why:
In most of the Unchanging Sequences that actually work – those Honourable Exceptions I mentioned before – the solution is a story within the story. It’s the footsie under the table which spices-up the talking heads. It’s the guy trying to light a fag during the car chase. The bored sniper occupying his time by sighting on rutting pigeons and masturbating through his tears. Whatever.
In fights, it’s Choreography. It’s the knife that gets knocked out of X’s hand then retrieved at the critical moment. It’s the three-thousand exciting and violent uses for a deflated aardvark, or a spot of novelty face-splattering acrobatics which couldn’t’ve happened without the presence of The Sticky-Out-Bit On An Aeroplane’s Tail. By all means Leave It To The Artist, but give the poor guy something to work with. It’s what transforms a sequence of perfectly posed, perfectly adrenal, but utterly uninteresting punches into something with high stakes, visual imagination, and the slightest attraction to the reader’s attention.
And this comic ain’t got it. And it’s by no means alone. What’s really sad is that so many Superhero stories are so fixated on providing a worthy forum for a cherished character to show what he/she can do, that they utterly neglect any sense of narrative interest. Like I said: it’s not that I’m down on Superheroes as a concept; just a little depressed by how many of the uncomfortably-dressed buggers are plainly no more than Bait for Big Fights. Mind you, even that would be excusable, just as long as said Big Fight wasn’t also rectum-smearingly unimaginative and slightly less exciting than Tectonic Plate Tennis.
What, otherwise, does this comic have to offer? Lycra crotch-shots. Huzzah.
Anyway. I don’t mean to get all superior and high-horsey about it, because frankly the reason I’m interested in this stuff in the first place is that yesterday I found myself tripping over my very own Unchanging Sequence. I am, yes, a Big Fucking Hypocrite.
Hilariously, “Big Fucking” was exactly the problem. Two pages’ worth of it. Grannysex, in fact. A pivotal scene in which a sweet old lady gets bombed off her face on tasty narcotic brainyums and rides the bald-headed git next door like an antique rodeo. I should’ve described it in detail. I should’ve scripted some clever-clever inner-narrative to hold the reader’s attention.
Instead I left it to the artist. Dude, if you’re reading this: I hate me too.
This Week I Have Been Mostly Hating:
Politicians Who Sit Next To Slightly More Important Politicians And Nod.
Here is how to make Normal People take an active interest in politics:
1. Affix upright Pen-Holders on the back of every bench in the House of Commons.
2. Read out a statement of such schmaltzy, publicity-baiting righteousness – “We Need To Think Of The Children”, say – that the squinty-faced fucks break into a spectacular bout of jowl-wobbling noddage and evacuate their eyeballs in an orgy of gore and grue.
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(Disclaimer: Secretly, I’m nice.)