Monday, June 17, 2013

The Laws of Comics: I. Every Comic Book Needs a Physical Confrontation

I don't expect them to all be like this... 
The Laws of Comics 

With my almost 30 years of comics-reading experience, I have discovered that there are certain truths in comic books storytelling, and more importantly, in the enjoyment of comic books as entertainment. No doubt there are a few exceptions to these rules, but in nine times out of ten, these laws have proven to be true. Some of these are cause and effect relationships, some are merely rules that comics should follow. When these rules are followed and understood, all comics will be GOOD.

But either way, these laws provide insight into what all rational beings call “good comics.”

Law 1: Every Comic Book Needs a Physical Confrontation

This is particularly a problem in modern comics. Too often dialogue-heavy writers will go entire issues and not include any sort of real fighting. Comics are a visual medium, so having the entire conflict in an issue be dramatic or cerebral is a mistake. I think this has come about from writers “writing for the trade” figuring they could pad out a monthly (or bi-weekly) storyline with a bunch of pages with characters feeling rather than doing.

Who wants friendly dinosaurs?
Bendis, of course, has a habit of doing this, and I’m afraid the fact that his Avengers sold so well has led to Jonathan Hickman doing the same thing. The Ex Nihilo conflict in the current issues started off in with an intriguing confrontation, but now we are a dozen issues in without a follow up battle. I was in shock when a recent issue featured Thor and Hyperion sitting on a golden hillside discussing their feelings.

Grant Morrison started an odd habit during Final Crisis that he seemed to struggle with for a bit. In Final Crisis especially, he would set up a battle, then jump to the end of it. It makes no sense to rob the reader of the actual fight. This seemed to be a conscious choice, not a matter of writing for the trade. (Let’s not even get into Superman singing to save the universe. Songs don’t work so well in comics either.)

Comic book panels provide a freeze-frame view into what should be kinetic, bombastic action. I’m not debating the use of “BAM” or “KrakaDOOM,” I’m saying that comics should take advantage of the ability to blow a movie budget out of the water. Comic book pencillers are good at drawing emotions on characters faces, and comic book writers are the ones who make us care about the story with their words, so I’m not downplaying the writing. But each comic should show off the strength of the visual medium.

Characterization is tremendously important, of course, but for $3.99, a comic should be able to deliver both dialogue and a chance to see the character actually doing something. I also understand that by delaying the gratification of a battle, when the fight finally arrives, it really riles you up as a reader. But there has to be a way to balance that with getting some value for your money. 

Robert Kirkman is a master at letting his characters banter and build up to big confrontations, but still delivering a climactic, cinematic moment that at least gives the illusion of accomplishment in every issue.

While we can all appreciate different types of comics, what brought most of us to the dance was seeing larger than life characters solve their problems by hitting each other. There absolutely should be more to a comic than mindless slapping (see most mid 90’s Image comics), but there is a place the escapism of comics. These characters do what we can’t; they solve their problems by punching them. A comic without that? Wake me up when it’s over. It is a lot easier to forgive a single issue lacking a fight in a trade paperback, after all, there is no doubt one in the next issue. But for $3.99, I want a fight every month. 

1 comment:

Reno said...

Where's Chuck Dixon when you need him, right? I absolutely agree, when it comes to superhero comics, there should be action. Especially when it's well staged, like ones drawn by early Frank Miller, Mazzuchelli, Lee Weeks or Rodolfo Damaggio.