In My Humble Opinion #12

Trends Which May Be Omens

Warren Ellis was right. Comics are bastard ugly.

I found myself facing the shelves in the comic shop yesterday, scanning the titles and wondering when the hell things went wrong. Garbled images, infantile dialogue, and creators working seemingly totally oblivious to the nature of the medium. A vicious beating or a few drinks is now a necessity to stun your creative side before wandering into the comic shop.

Chris Claremont's return to the X_Men seems to be solely based on two ideas. First, to totally remake the X_Men as much a possible so he can ignore the ten years of continuity he missed, and second, to cripple Leinil Francis Yu with captions as to make his new story as incomprehensible as possible. The new arc reduces the X_Men from characters and personalities to mere cyphers; a collection of market recognizable names with which to redraft.

Image has virtually collapsed now, save for Todd MacFarlane's worshipful and dwindling legions. Top Cow is limping along on soft porn with such far_reaching comics as 'Fathom', and Marvel's main comic line is starting to look like 'The Same Old Thing' volumes 1 through 20. Ugly, basic, and dull comics have seized the center of comics, with only a few spots of brilliance to redeem them.

It's curious to note that this is one of the great years for the comics just off to the left of the centre. Vertigo, Wildstorm, and Marvel Knights have been producing some of the most fascinating books of the last decade, doing great things in the shadow of their fellows.

So, does fanfiction follow comics in more than the creative basis of our works? Is the trend that is locked in with comics this year translating over to net based fanfiction?

It's something I'm going to be looking at very closely for the next while.

I have never heard of Brian Doyle before, and if The Appeal Process is his first work of fanfiction, it is an auspicious beginning indeed. Taking the oddly popular Cypher, Doyle delves into the answers and red tape that exist beyond the grave. Set in a courtroom_like hearing for his 'reincarnation', Cypher recounts his times with the New Mutants and the depressingly mundane nature of his death. He is taken on a quick look_see of his surviving friends lives while the court deliberates. However, it's a very different world from the one he knew.

Utilizing a subtle sense of wit and the capacity of the English to render the bizarre acceptable, Doyle crafts his interaction of Cypher and his judge masterfully. There are even peaks of self_referential jokes about the art of the comics snuck in during lull moments. Cypher is cast as both serious and crafty; empathetic and humourous. In short, a real connection to the complex Ramsey of the early days of the comic. Like any good comedy, there are an ever increasing number of twists and realizations as Cypher's claim draws close to judgement and he watches more of the world he's so anxious to rejoin.

Doyle handles a number of difficult elements with confidence and verve. His clean style is refreshing and tremendously funny. The Appeal Process is part comedy, part satire, part parody, and completely rewarding. It's one of those rare intelligent comedies that can deftly skewer the nature of comics and their twisted histories.

And occasionally, we get to see an old idea made new again. The concept of a company in the actual Marvel Universe producing books based on their 'real life' heroes is something that's been done countless times in both fanfiction and in comics themselves. However, few of them have the superb blend of humour and seriousness as in A Comic Reaction. Penned by Elizabeth Johnson, who emerged with the sublime Osiris At Akkaba it features Cyclops, Iceman, and Wolverine reacting to a new comic produced called 'Codename:X_Men'.

The only catch is that the 'heroes' in the comic are depicted as violent, bloodthirsty, cruel and imbecilic. Of course, none of the trio are pleased, especially Cyclops, who calls for a quick trip into town to have a talk with the comic's editor. They leave after letting him in on their displeasure, and return to the mansion. However, the editor has one last, and ultimately final visit by yet another unhappy member depicted in the book.

Self_referential works has almost always been done as strict comedy, from Ms.Marvel's X_Women to joking battles through the Marvel Comics bullpen and past Larry Hama's desk in the pages of Spiderman. Johnson has a different take, looking at the serious implications behind the jokes. The concept of the book as anti_mutant propaganda is the only way to bring in the X_Men as concerned mutants rather than childish brutes who can't take a joke. There is a natural flowing of dialogue through the work, with the three characters interacting seamlessly together. It's rare to see such polished prose in any genre, not just fanfiction.

I'm almost out of beer, so I guess that's IMHO for this week. Remember to check out my other column, 'Bloody Ink' on this site for the best in fanfiction writing tips and suggestions. Any questions, comments, complaints and free drinks can be sent to me at this address. As well, I do take guest reviews, for those who are such inclined.

Now it's time for me to head back to the comic book shop, so I can find out what does not make me want to take sharp things to my eyes.


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