Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Comic Book Wednesday: We're going to get an eye-rolling poem for every colour of the rainbow, aren't we?

Quick review, then big spotlight. Let's do this thing.

Final Crisis--Rage of the Red Lanterns. Like most of the Final Crisis tie-ins, this issue has relatively little to do with Final Crisis. It is, however, a crucial next step in Geoff Johns' ongoing Green Lantern saga. Plot: the Green Lanterns begin transporting the former green lantern Sinestro to his place of execution, when his Yellow Lantern Sinestro Corps arrive for an impromptu stay of execution. Then, in the middle of the fight, the Red Lanterns of Rage show up. Chaos ensues. As a chapter in Johns' ongoing story, this issue is a significant milestone that signals the next step in Rainbow Wars (there's probably going to be a better name for it than that. It's hard to take an event with the word "Rainbow" in it seriously.). And on that level, it succeeds. As a tie-in, it's tangentially involved at best, and as a one-shot, it kind of fails as well. I expect a one-shot to be a story to stand on its own, and this doesn't even attempt any sort of closure--in ends in the middle of the fight, with a note that the rest of the story can be found in the regular Green Lantern series. Please don't tell me I'm reading a final crisis one-shot when I'm really reading a Green Lantern double-sized issue. It's very good on the latter criteria, but on the former, it leaves something to be desired.
Cerebus, vols. 1-3. Looking back over the other three "in-depth" focuses, they've all been sort of gushes. Which is fine, and if any three comic series deserve it, it's those three, in my opinion. But today, I thought I'd like to look at something I feel a lot more ambiguous about. Cerebus and its writer, Dave Sim, are pretty notorious in the comic book world. But let's not start there. Let's start at the beginning, or at least, my beginning with this series.
Cerebus was something that always seemed to be in the library; a volume of it could be found in basically any public library that kept a graphic novel stock--and, if that library had an adult graphic novel section and a kids section, Cerebus volumes were invariably in the adults. (For good reason.) I put off reading it until I could find a copy of the first volume. Since it originally came out in issue form in the late 70s, I knew I was late to this party, but one tries to start at the beginning when one can. So I finally got my hands on a copy of the first volume, titled Cerebus, and found out what it was.

It was Conan the Barbarian, with an aardvark instead of a barbarian.
Meet Cerebus, people. He's kind of cute, isn't he?
And that's basically what the first stories were: typical Conan adventures with the added humour of juxtaposing an aardvark where the muscles should be. But even by the end of the first volume, things seem to have changed. It's more than just a parody; the characters have become more than one note jokes and the story itself has become more complex. The second volume, High Society, has Cerebus running for office. It's a deft satire on politics, the political process, and the nature of society. (And it's all beautifully drawn. Say what you want about Sim--and trust me, some say a lot-- the guy can draw.)
So we've got a well-written, informative book with plenty of purty pictures. Where's the problem? Well, there's a few. First, the whole thing is drawn out, quite a bit. Up to volume 4 is over 1000 pages, and while the other volumes slim down a bit, we're still talking another 8 books to go, and over 2000 pages more. That's asking for a big time investment. And by the end of book 4, the philosophical meanderings that started in the background are now at the forefront, and they get a bit tedious, to be blunt.
The big problem, though, was that after I read a little, I started to look for fan reaction to Sim on the net. And boy, did I find it. Most of the outright controversy revolves around Sim's anti-feminist stance. There are traces of this in the early stuff--there's a rape in volume 4, for example, that is just heinous. But misogynist characters don't mean a misogynist writer, right? (I would like to clarify that this a rhetorical question, and I am not calling Sim specifically a misogynist. Not at the moment, anyway.) Well... in Cerebus #186, there's this essay. And in #286, there's this. For those that don't feel like clicking, the #186 essay starts off:
  • "Journalism had been an early casualty in the war between the Female Void and the Male Light. "How do you feel?" had virtually replaced "who, what, where, when and why" as the journalistic cornerstone."
Well, I for one can say I feel considerably disturbed. I mean, female void and male light? Call me a feminist if you want, a male rather than a man, as Sims puts it, but I believe thinking that way would take the world in a direction I'm not interested in.
So, on the one hand, I believe that there is a distinction between the author and the work. But from what I understand about where the series goes, the author's viewpoint and the book's are not going to be straying very far apart. There's a lot to admire about Sims; he's literally written the book on self-publishing. An exploration of his philosophical, religious, and gender beliefs can and probably are taking up more than few dissertations. But I don't know if I can keep reading, I don't know if I want to keep reading, knowing what I know about where the story goes. Would it have been different if I didn't know? Well, obviously it would be different. But would it be better to have devoted all that time and energy to a work I'd ultimately find repulsive? I don't know. Will I eventually read the series anyway, out of morbid curiosity? Again, I don't know.

So like I said... ambiguous.

Later Days.

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