Noel Murray and Keith Phipps discuss superhero comics on the AV Club this week. The discussion is framed with a "Should the genre be dead" thing that is less what the piece is about and more a way of getting people to read their thoughts on comics. Much of what they say, long time comics readers know already: Morrison is cool, crossovers are exhausting, no one ever stays dead, most comics are dull, a handful stand out, monthly books try to refresh the same stories over and over and fail most of the time, re-prints are available if you want the best old version, superhero comics are culturally relevant, good writing is the future of good comics (I cannot believe someone had to make that point, and that it was not supplemented with good art is the future of good comics as well). The thing ends, as you expect it will, with "flaws and all, I think it's a genre that will remain relevant and alive as long a new batch of creators comes along every generation to reexamine what we want from our heroes, and what those wants say about us. (And to find new ways to make fight scenes interesting, of course.)" No surprises here.
Toward the end they get to how the genre should survive: Noel thinks Detective Comics and Action Comics and so on should be cancelled, and be replaced with this:
"[Marvel and DC] should set the good writers loose on a series of graphic novels. Ditch continuity altogether, and let them brainstorm the kinds of Superman and Avengers stories they've always longed to tell. Some can be traditional, like Kurt Busiek's Avengers Forever, and some can be left-field homages, like Busiek's Superman: Secret Identity. Some can be for mature audiences, and some for kids. A shift in focus will also give the top artists in the industry the chance to do their best work without the pressure of a monthly deadline. Both of the big two already do this to an extent, but maintaining monthly titles as well has overextended the creative teams and the characters."
Keith counters with "how realistic is the only-classics-please model? It's a bit like asking for Arrested Development without the many more conventional sitcoms that give it context. Any genre is kept alive as much by its everyday, placeholder entries has by its stellar examples."
This struck me as odd, and made me feel like this conversation was being held in some kind of vacuum. These guys sound like they are making suggestions, but they are really just telling me about the comics industry. Basically, a host of conventional everyday, placeholder, monthly comics (e.g. Superman, Uncanny X-Men) support a handful of amazingly well written, well drawn prestige comics (All Star Superman, Astonishing X-Men) that are published as comics before being collected only for reasons of tradition. People DO put out weird and continuity-free versions of mainstream superhero books; it is not hard to recognize the first eight issues of the Authority as a mature readers version of the JLA. And we need the monthly comics as a background, and as a breeding ground for cool ideas and new talent and whatnot; also comics, as Joss Whedon points out in his interview, do not pay that well, so the prestige guys can't do fancy stuff all the time. Not many people are going to like this example, but Morrison can pay his bills with Batman, and keep me entertained with All Star Superman, that is fine with me.
The AV Club coverage reminds me of the Simpson's episode where Lisa goes to the fortune teller and the woman, to prove her power to the skeptical Lisa tells her exactly what her family is going elsewhere at the Ren Fair they are at. "Wow" says Lisa, "you really can foretell the ... present." The whole discussion is just a description of the present state of comics, that everyone who reads comics knows about, and everyone who does not will not care about. The target audience for this piece is the people who read them for a while and then quit -- people who wonder what happened since they left.
I keep wondering why I am not doing stuff like this for the AV Club -- but then I would never pick this topic because there is nothing new to say about it, and only a handful of people who would care about it, yet also not know this already.