Wednesday, November 14, 2012

SHIT SHIT 11-14-12

Many of you know that whenever I’m blogging, I dedicate every Thursday to Cool Shit, a semi-regular column in which I get to talk about the awesome comic books that came out that week.  Every once in a while, nothing good comes out, and something monumentally awful does.  That’s when I write a Shit Shit column.

This is going to be a very unusual installment, because it’s not about any books that just came out.  (Besides, it's Wednesday, not Thursday.)  No, it’s about an idea, brought to us by the scumfucks over at DC.  We’ll get to that in a moment.

When I was a kid, I loved comics.  My favorite was the Marvel run on THE TRANSFORMERS, and when that ended, it devastated me so badly that I just stopped reading comic books.  Fast forward to my senior year of high school.  A friend of mine lent me a trade of Evil Ernie’s first adventure, YOUTH GONE WILD.  Holy shit, had comics changed!    I wanted more adventures like this!

The same friend also lent me some PREACHER and HITMAN, and that sealed the deal.  I was back into comics, and that streak would continue through to this very day.  But to a guy like me, I couldn’t just read three titles.  No, I wanted to expand my horizons.

The very first book I found on my own was HELLBLAZER, and I was smart enough to start with issue one, rather than the current issue (which I think, at the time, was around #80).  With that first issue, I was hooked, and I had to know more about the main character, John Constantine.  Very soon, I had collected each and every single one of his appearances (even the silly kinda-sorta cameo in THE DOOM PATROL), and I was reading his new adventures as they unfolded each month.  It is remarkable in that it is the only title that was around when Vertigo first started that is still going today.

A week ago, it was announced that DC would be canceling HELLBLAZER, and it would be relaunching the title as a fixture of the DCU in the form of CONSTANTINE.

I cannot tell you how much this kills me.  Many of you will remember the Twitter rant I went on, and believe me when I say I’m still just as furious now as I was at that moment.  Before I took a break from writing Cool Shit, many of you may recall how I wanted to get Constantine out of the JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK, so they could stop sullying his name.  It looks like they’re doing the opposite of that.

What I’m about to say may hurt a little bit, but you’ve just got to accept it and move on.  Okay?  Ready?  Each and every single DC book published, no matter how dark and gritty they can get, is aimed at children.  Ultimately, that’s not a bad thing.  Kids need reading material, too.  But HELLBLAZER is an adult book.

Imagine if you took an R-rated movie like, say, POLICE ACADEMY and decided to make a cartoon for kids out of it.  (*sigh*  I’m sorry.  I hate myself, too, right now.  For those of you who have repressed all memories of that cartoon, I apologize.)  Remember when Lessard thought Mahoney had given him a blowjob under the lectern, and it turned out to be the prostitute Mahoney was hanging out with down there instead?  I’m sure you can guess that didn’t make it into the cartoon.

The writers have come to the defense of the relaunch by saying that Constantine is still the snarky, chain-smoking bastard he was in the Vertigo world, but that’s just the surface.  Constantine is a very sexual man, but even that, to a degree, is surface material.  No, he’s a dark motherfucker.  Look back at all of the close friends he’s gotten killed over the years.  He betrayed each and every one of them for a greater good, and he didn’t think twice about it.  Ever.  Sure, he felt guilty afterwards (to the point where he was haunted by their ghosts), but think about this:  are you capable of killing your best friend in the world to ensure that something big and bad doesn’t happen?  Probably not.  But Constantine can and has.  This is not a character trait that is likely to be portrayed in the new DC book.

He’s also got a very odd sense of humor.  Remember when he accidentally pissed on the Phantom Stranger’s boots?  Or how about the time he used Swamp Thing to grow out a bunch of weed plants?  Are moments like these likely to happen in a book geared toward kids?

John Constantine is dark, with a very twisted sense of humor.  He’s got a lot of character flaws that make for great adult reading, but they will never make it through to the relaunch.  Why?  Because they are not suitable for young readers.  At the very most, I’m sure DC will be going for a PG-13 rating for CONSTANTINE.  HELLBLAZER is a hard-R, and sometimes, he goes into NC-17 territory.  Keep in mind, he’s an incredibly self-destructive guy.  How much of that will get through to the new book?

One of my favorite moments from his life doesn’t even come from HELLBLAZER; it comes from the Prestige 2-issue series called THE HORRORIST.  There is a moment when Constantine, who has a very sexual attraction to pain, lets a dominatrix whip the shit out of him.  But . . . he’s BORED.  That’s right, she can’t hurt him hard enough to make him feel horny.  He just gives up, puts his clothes on, and walks away.

The very moment something like that happens in the new CONSTANTINE book, I will sing its praises.  I don’t think it will, though.

Some of you with really, really long memories are probably chomping at the bit to remind me that John Constantine actually started out as part of the DCU.  Believe me, I have not forgotten.  I own his very first appearance.  See?

And in case you want me to be even more specific, here’s the very first time we see him:

There are some people who say that he showed up in an earlier issue, but they’re grasping at straws.  I’ve seen the background character they believe is John Constantine, and while it looks like him, it’s really a stretch, because it’s almost a throwaway scene.  (I have that issue, too.)

DC was different back then.  Sure, a majority of their output was dedicated to children, but there were a lot of new and different things going on.  Keep in mind, Constantine was created by Alan Moore as part of his run on SWAMP THING.  Note the message above the title:  SOPHISTICATED SUSPENSE.  If you were a kid, and you saw that on a comic book, do you think for one fucking second you would have bought it?  No, you wanted guys in tights kicking the shit out of weirdos and giants.

The reason they did it that way was, no one had thought to put this message on a book yet:  SUGGESTED FOR MATURE READERS.  Back then, everyone thought comic books were for kids and no one else.  Finally, three years later, when Constantine got his own book (written by Jamie Delano, who was handpicked by Moore), someone had thought that nifty phrase up.

And yes, the first issue of HELLBLAZER was a DC book.  It continued as a DC series for 62 issues.  That’s because Vertigo didn’t exist then.  After many years of kicking ass and telling adult stories, DC realized that they should create an imprint dedicated to publishing such work.  Good for them.  For the longest time, Vertigo was my favorite publisher.  They put out books like PREACHER and TRANSMETROPOLITAN, two of my absolute favorite books (although the latter started out at the short-lived Helix imprint).

I can almost hear you pointing out that I’m making a big deal out of adult work vs. work for kids.  The first and foremost argument you could make is that cursing and sex and all of that stuff is just decoration, that you can have a good adult book without stuff like that.  Maybe so, if the adult in question is kind of a dullard.  The fact of the matter is, it’s not just the cursing and sex.  Those are just tools one can use to enhance stories or to prove a point.  They are tools that will not be available to the new CONSTANTINE writers.

But it’s more than that.  Try as you might, you just can’t create innovative art anymore when it comes to kids stories.  All the great stuff has already been done.  That’s bad news for adults like me.  For kids?  That’s all right.  It’s preparing you for the good stuff later in life, kind of like seeing George Carlin on THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE.  That can only lead a kid to finding out about his awesome ADULT stand-up.

The problem is, kids reading about the adventures of John Constantine in the DCU will grow up and find out about HELLBLAZER, and they’ll go through the run, very happy for the enhanced experience, except . . . they’ll be pissed off because there are no new HELLBLAZER stories, just CONSTANTINE stories for kids.

That’s the major problem with this.  It’s a creative step backwards.  No artist ever wants to do this, and when you get down to it, comic books are an art form.

Or are they?  What is the only purpose for a move like this?  If DC cared about their art, why would they do something as stupid as this?  Simply put:  MONEY.  They want a popular book like HELLBLAZER to have an even greater appeal, so they’re trying to rope some kids into his adventures by watering him down.  Do they have the right to make more money?  Sure.  But after a bullshit move like this, they can’t expect to be called artists.

No, DC has given up all pretensions.  They’re not about art at all.  If they were, they would have shied away from a move like this.  On the other hand, Marvel is doing very well.  Why?  They certainly care about money, but they also give a shit about quality.  As soon as they realized a brutal character like the Punisher might not be for everyone, they sent him to their Max imprint, where he worked out pretty fucking well.  Marvel cares about art.  Everything DC does is an attempt to wring more money out of their readers.  Look what happened to Jonah Hex.  He was a fringe character, and when they started the new 52, they decided to send him to Gotham City.  Why?  Because Batman is one of their most popular characters, second only to Superman, and he lives in Gotham.  They want crossover readers.

Hex is another character that DC has royally fucked.  There used to be a lot of art in him, and now:  nothing.  Him and Constantine would get along pretty well on that fucking score.  Hm.  The writers keep mentioning that Constantine will keep smoking.  They certainly made sure Hex would keep drinking.  It’s almost like they’re using these vices as crutches, trying to show the world that these characters are edgy.  Sorry, drinking and smoking does not make one edgy; it’s all in the character flaws.

Many of you might remember me saying that I hoped Peter Milligan, the current HELLBLAZER writer, would kill Constantine off in the last issue in an attempt to mock whatever waterhead ends up writing the new series.  I’ve changed my mind since then.  It would simply be a matter of saying, “Hey, we relaunched everything.  This is a new Constantine, from a completely different earth.”  Or maybe I could find comfort in that, knowing that my Constantine is still safe from the stupid new 52 (which is more than 52 by now, so we should probably stop calling it that).

Besides, isn’t that what Delano did when he finished his run on HELLBLAZER?  He kinda-sorta killed Constantine off, and Garth Ennis had to pick up the pieces and make it work (which he did pretty well).  Also, Brian Azzarello did the same thing for Mike Carey.

It is really, really sad to see DC sell away its integrity for more readers, betraying people like me who have always supported them in all of their risks.  What does this leave for Vertigo?  Honestly, it hasn’t been doing so well of late.  It’s been a long time since I bought just about every book they published.  My favorite company is now Avatar, where they are doing some really amazing things with their art.

Vertigo still has the FABLES books, but if they weren’t creator owned, they would do pretty well as part of the DCU.  As much as I like the series, it’s based on a gimmick that paid off, and nothing more.  I like how Bill Willingham has extrapolated a few series from this idea (especially JACK OF FABLES), but ultimately, it’s a stagnant book.  It's fun, but it's a one-trick pony.

That leaves AMERICAN VAMPIRE and its various spin-offs.  There is nothing stagnant about any of these books.  It is truly art.  It tells about things off the beaten path, and it takes chances.  It has a dark character at its very center, and he might not even be a good guy.  Sometimes he is.  A lot of other times, he’s kind of a Constantine.

Other than that, Vertigo has nothing going for it.  It’s too bad.  They used to be on the very edge, and now . . . squat.

DC is going to shut down Vertigo, mark my words.  They wanted to do it before, but they settled for Wildstorm at the time.  Now, they’re centering in on the last vestiges of their creativity, and it’s going to be a sad day when they finally succeed.

I find a lot of comfort in the idea of a multiverse.  Whenever a shitty movie is made based on a great book (an example:  CONSTANTINE, starring Keanu Reeves, made from HELLBLAZER; I’m sure you’ve heard of the book . . . .), I like to think of it as a parallel reality where shit just happened differently.  That helps me forgive a lot of transgressions against source material.  I’m going to try to do this with the new CONSTANTINE book.  In fact, I’m going to stop pronouncing the name like it was meant to be—Con-stant-eyen, as voiced by Alan Moore himself, since the character is from Liverpool—and start pronouncing it like everyone else—Con-stant-een, like the cocksucking, shit-ass movie—just to forward this idea.

I don’t think I’m going to succeed at turning a blind eye.  HELLBLAZER ends with issue #300, and I’ve been reading about John Constantine’s adventures for so long, when he’s gone, a part of me will go, too.

Alas, poor John.  I knew him, Hex . . . .

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