Delenda Est Carthago

Why not delve into a twisted mind? Thoughts on the world, history, politics, entertainment, comics, and why all shall call me master!

Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!


I may have caused Larry Young some vexation

I was reading other blogs, as I am wont to do, and on Comic Book Commentary, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez reviewed Brian Wood's Demo rather unfavorably. I haven't read Demo, so I won't comment on that. However, Larry Young saw it and ripped Mr. Gonzalez right here. Mr. Gonzalez responded with a rather funny response about Mr. Young possibly needing some thick skin.

What does this have to do with me? In the course of checking out the AiT/Planet Lar website, I saw my name! Last week, when I briefly mentioned I bought Planet of the Capes, I asked Mr. Young to visit my blog and explain it to me, because I'm too stupid. I don't know how Mr. Young knew I was writing about him, but across the digital ether, he heard my call, and responded. Excellent. Apparently he wasn't too happy with me saying I didn't get it and wondering why I paid 13 dollars for it, but he was very helpful about pointing out where I could find some others who did get it. (And I'm sorry, Mr. Young, that it took me a year to buy the book - I heard about it last year, but couldn't find it, and it was just re-issued through Previews, so I ordered it.) So now I can read about what it's all about.

Let's look at some excerpts from these thinkers on the problem of what exactly Planet of the Capes is trying to do.

I'm far too taken aback by how perfectly Planet demonstrates how the excess baggage of the superhero genre, unless it's being handled by extremely gifted men and women, makes great art so very difficult create. In the heroes' world, their behavior is readily understood and tolerated, if not fully accepted, but with a flick of the switch no one they meet can make heads or tails of what the hell they're doing or why the hell they're doing it. It's a reaction I'm sure you're familiar with--you probably felt it last time you read a lousy superhero comic, one where the characters did things simply because, well, that's the way things have been done for the past sixty years. The result of such by-the-numbers obesiance [sic] to convention and cliche, Planet shows us, is soulless, ugly, and ultimately destructive.

But Planet is a solid, squalid little book, and if you're in the right mood, it'll tell you a lot of things you've wanted to hear about far too many supercomics. "We've been had" is the message, and this nasty, brutish, and short supercomic is the messenger.

What Young has done, in effect, is create a book that's a cautionary to all us fannish comic geeks attempting to foist Really Good Superhero Comics on non-fans. For readers unfamiliar with the particular company universes that feature each character, I suspect that many of our prized graphic novels real a lot like Capes: as a succession of random events acted out by cardboard figures whose motivations are at best opaque, at worst non-existent.

Capes charts the devolution of Mainstream Comic Book Hotness – and does so with a knowing wink to the cued-in reader.

This book is Young's commentary on the comics scene, cleverly hidden under a thin veneer of superhero puffery to avoid some of the thornier discussions that inevitably arise from the sillier arguments on the state of the industry.

If The Grand represents DC, then Justice Hall represents Marvel. Two sides of an equation trying to do the same thing by competing means. Schaff, in his rampaging yet mindless power, represents self-publishers... wielding the power of the comic book form but only haphazardly and without conscious direction. It's an accident if something bad happens and it's an accident if something good happens. Kastra, the alien girl, represents the independent publishers, who may have the pluck and the wherewithal to hang with the big guys but have to survive on being quicker and more clever because the punches they throw don't bring down the house. Finesse beats power any day, anyway...

These are from all the various reviews I've linked to above; I'm not going into where each one is - read 'em yourself, they're pretty good. Ken Lowery's four-part examination of the book includes an interview with Larry Young, which is pretty interesting. But let's look at these quotes and glean some truth from them, shall we?

The two overarching themes of Planet of the Capes seem to be 1) it's an indictment of superhero comics in general, by showing how utterly ludicrous superhero comics really are; and 2) it's an allegory (Larry Young actually uses the word) about the state of comics publishing, and every sector will eventually kill each other. Okay.

The first theme: So? Anyone who reads superhero comics knows that they are inherently idiotic. Anyone who doesn't read superhero comics thinks people who do read them are inherently idiotic. I think people who watch NASCAR races are inherently idiotic. How can they sit there and watch cars go around and around for hours???? I don't give superhero comics to friends of mine (except Watchmen) because I know they won't read them. It's something you have to discover on your own. I would submit that any form of entertainment contains within it the concepts that could expose it as idiotic. We enjoy them anyway, because of the handy concept of "suspension of disbelief." Movies are guilty of this just as much as superhero comics are, and on a grander scale, since more people watch movies. I was just watching Gladiator on television last night. I like the movie even though I know it's inherently ridiculous - Commodus did NOT kill his father, he ruled 12 years (not, at the most, a year as the movie sort of tells us), and he was poisoned and strangled, not killed in the arena (Commodus was a jerk - the movie got that right). Marcus Aurelius had no plans to restore the Senate, and before he died, he would have made a lot of provisions to have Russell Maximus succeed him - Commodus was the first son to succeed his father as Emperor of Rome, so it wouldn't have been that big a deal for Maximus to take over. But I ignore that, because it's a well told story. Spider-Man holding onto BOTH Mary Jane and that cable car? Couldn't happen, according to Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics, and more to the point, intuitively, we know it can't. So if Mr. Young is trying to tell us that in the "real world," superheroes are inherently idiotic and Superman would really be a huge jerk and try to take over, I would say, So what? I know that, and Alan Moore did it better anyway.

As for the point that this is Mr. Young's view of the comics industry, well, that's what he says, so I won't argue. If it's allegory that Mr. Young is going for, then that's fine. I would point out, however, that allegory for allegory's sake is usually pretty boring, and if the textual story (as opposed to the metatextual one) does not entertain, no one cares about the allegorical aspects of it. Gulliver's Travels is an allegory, but if you miss that aspect of it, it's still a rousing adventure. Planet of the Capes accomplishes what it wants to do, I suppose, but it's done so brutally and nastily and humorlessly that I recoil against whatever point Mr. Young is trying to make. There's absolutely no reason to care whether Kastra represents independent publishers or not, or whether Justice Hall and the Grand are Marvel and DC. And if there's no point (which is, after all, what the back of the book tells us), then again, there's no reason to read it. If it's an absurdist take on superheroes that Mr. Young is going for, I would think that there would be more mockery of the form - the two great works on absurdist theater, after all, "Waiting for Godot" and "Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," are wickedly funny even though nothing essentially happens and nobody learns anything. Planet of the Capes doesn't even have that going for it.

Anyway, just because I didn't like one thing that AiT/Planet Lar puts out doesn't mean that I hate the publisher, and just because I didn't like one thing Mr. Young wrote doesn't mean I'm never going to read anything else he writes. I have heard good things about Astronauts in Trouble and want to check it out (I will someday!). I still read Grant Morrison's work even though I was disappointed by The Invisibles and thought The Filth utterly impenetrable (sorry, Dave). Hell, I still think John Byrne's art is good! I have been pimping Scurvy Dogs for two weeks (buy it here - see, Mr. Young, I want people to give you money!) and I liked 1000 Steps to World Domination (although, again, price was a factor, but it's still a good book). I just thought Planet of the Capes was kind of pointless - and yes, that might be the point, but did I need to spend money to hear it? Thanks for the link, however, Mr. Young. Please come back - I'm always interested in others' thoughts!


Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Y'know, Wood wrote me after Young's post, making sure I realized he had nothing to do with it, and had some reasonable comments about my review. Though he took it a little too personally, he acknowledged that opinions differ and that's fine. So not the prick Young seems to be. Reminds me a little bit of Quesada, actually.

Capes sounds like something I'd have no interest in. That type of story gets done in every medium and rarely is it done well. It's usually the ill-conceived rants of someone on the outside looking in, stating the relatively obvious and rarely offering solutions. No thanks!

I am going to check out Scurvy Dogs, though. Love me some pirates!

12/3/05 4:09 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Yeah, Young was a lot snottier with you than he was with me. I have no problem with him taking offense when people don't like what he writes (or publishes, in Demo's case) - I'm a writer, and I get a little defensive when people tell me they don't "get" me, but it's their opinion. If you're going to publish something, you have to expect some people not to like it. Otherwise, you might as well be Emily Dickinson.

12/3/05 8:18 PM  
Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Actually, I'd prefer to see him go for more of a Sylvia Plath! But maybe that's just me feeling rude? ;-)

12/3/05 9:05 PM  

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