Someone recently emailed me asking “when are you going to do another comics parody?” It’s a question I get fairly steadily, so I thought I’d address it right now: the answer is “who knows.”
See, the thing that makes parodying something like Civil War fun is that, as stupid as Civil War fundamentally is, a lot of shit happens in that comic. Compare it to Secret Invasion, which was a ton of buildup for eight issues of subpar fight scene, or Dark Reign, which is basically one long, long look at the Marvel Universe circling the toilet, and you get an idea of how Civil War really had a lot going for it: it may have been flawed, but dammit, it was an event comic.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I actually think Marvel’s output, quality-wise, is right now pretty damned high: the main comics are all pretty entertaining and the make-a-quick-buck miniseries are much better than they have been at other times. But every Dark Reign story has the same two problems.
Firstly, the whole “Norman Osborn in charge of the world” premise is just stupid, no matter how much one tries to justify it (and Marvel’s stories have tried to justify it a lot). Norman Osborn is not Lex Luthor; he’s not a brilliant evil tactician and never was. Norman Osborn is a lunatic who was loathed by the public and who barely holds it together, and even if you give him magical meds to make him completely stable, he’s still not Lex Luthor. When every single comic has heroes and villains alike saying “welp, this ain’t gonna last,” you need to think about how plausible your starting premise was. (Henry Gyrich, for example, would have been a lot more believable in the Osborn role for Dark Reign, because he is A) sane and B) respected.)
Secondly, these comics are incredibly metareferential. Now, meta isn’t a bad thing per se, but just about every Dark Reign comic has to describe itself in the “gosh, this isn’t like back when the Avengers and X-Men would go beat up the High Evolutionary then come back and have a picnic and ride bikes” way that started out twee and got tired in a hurry. When every goddamned character feels the need to point out that this comic isn’t The Good Old Days, there’s a problem: the “new Marvel world” only exists as a oppositive description of the previous Marvel world, because the “realism” that Civil War (and everything after) brought to the table isn’t realism. It’s a desperate patch to make the Marvel Universe seem realistic in a real-world context, but it doesn’t work because the Marvel Universe starts from the “riding bikes” era, which of course makes no sense in a real-world context, but that was never the point.
At some point, I think Marvel’s editorial direction is going to shift back to “classic” mode with superheroes beating up supervillains and then riding bikes at the picnic. (I mean, Mark Waid has a family to feed, people!) But in the meantime, it’s just one long metastory, with high points and low. And that’s no fun to make fun of.
But Marvel at least seems to have a long term creative plan. DC’s creative plan, in comparison, very much seems to be throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks. That having been said, I have to give them full credit for being committed to a host of stupid ideas: I mean, they went ahead and designed a year-long Superman story where
1.) Superman would not be in any of the actual Superman comics
2.) Superman would not be the Last Son of Krypton but instead one of a hundred thousand Kryptonians
3.) Humanity would fear Superman for being an evil alien invader
4.) Lois Lane’s father would be the big villain
Now, if you wanted to get as far away from every single thing people like about Superman, I don’t think you could do much better than this. Maybe you could give Superman a big jagged knife and have him use it to stab baddies, but that’s about it.
People have been asking specifically if I’m going to parody Blackest Night, but the problem with Blackest Night is that it’s almost too bad to parody. Civil War was at least fun. Blackest Night is a joyless slog. Part of the problem is that Blackest Night was originally intended to be a Green Lantern storyline and got “promoted,” but nobody thought to rewrite it a bit so it made sense as a “DC Universe” story rather than a Green Lantern one: the result is that in issue three, we learn that the only thing that can stop the evil Black Lantern zombies are Green Lanterns working in concert with all the other various Lantern Corps, which begs the question “so why does Barry Allen have to be in this frigging story if he can’t, you know, do anything?” Toss on a lot of fresh corpses to amp the drama level in classic Geoff Johns style (and let’s be honest: nobody in the whole world gives a shit whether Hawkman lives or dies, so it’s not gonna work) and you’ve got a clusterfuck of massive proportions.
Also, the zombies are lame. I’m just going to quote Jim Smith here for a second:
…the Black Lanterns all basically do the same thing, which is stand around and act like assholes to the people they loved in life. I suppose this serves their goal of provoking strong emotions in the living for them to consume, but the end result is that they all act and sound the same. Worse, they all act and sound like the same unsophisticated internet troll – there’s no cleverness or imagination in the way they antagonize the heroes. For example, if Bruce Wayne were really dead and were a Black Lantern in this story, I can guarantee he’d just go up to Dick Grayson and go “Hey, Dick, how’s it going? You know I was a better Batman than you! I never thought you could be Batman!” I mean, he’d be saying stuff that makes it blindingly obvious that it’s not the real guy talking, which defeats the purpose of targeting people with their dead friends. Seriously, Black Lantern Elongated Man telling Hawkman that Hawkgirl hates him? Like Carter’s really gonna take Zombie Ralph’s word for it? I keep waiting for the Black Lantern Corps to launch a massive “You’re so gay” offensive.
And on top of that, let’s not forget that the story basically has to do cartwheels to get around the fact that a zombie story in the DC Universe is strikingly stupid given that death has become so arbitrary a boundary in the DCU that those mopey superhero funerals now end with people saying “well, let’s hope he comes back soon.”
Now, I’m not saying Blackest Night isn’t going to sell well. It will. And fans will probably like it, to which my reaction is “yeah, and Transformers 2 made $400 million at the box office, but it was still shit.” It’s not fun making fun of total shit. Civil War was a pretty great idea with some horrible execution. Blackest Night is just bad in all respects.
And Blackest Night just echoes the general aura of suck that permeates DC right now. Other than a very few high points – Batman and Robin, Secret Six, and… okay, that’s pretty much it – the best DC can generally manage is a string of mediocrities and inoffensiveness. Power Girl and Booster Gold and the post-Bruce Batman books aren’t classics, but they don’t suck. Is that a case for spending money on comics? Because it isn’t to me. They’re just kind of there. And books like Teen Titans and the like are just unpleasantly bad; not even crazy weird bad, just boring, boring comics. Why am I supposed to care enough to make fun of them?