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Longbox Soapbox (Fall 2011)

Longbox Graveyard #26

This issue marks the 26th installment of Longbox Graveyard, brought to you every Wednesday since my inaugural post last June. A half-year of continuous publication is a significant achievement for me, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to editorialize a bit about this blog — looking at where it’s been, how it is doing, and where it is going in 2012 (and beyond?).

First and foremost, I’m still having fun with Longbox Graveyard, and intend to continue it for at least another six months. So yes, this is me, taking my own Green Lantern oath that I will never watch that crappy movie again, but that I will also in good faith try to keep this blog going as a Wednesday tradition at least through June 2012, where I will write another Longbox Soapbox looking backwards at the six months that today lie just over the horizon.

It will be a busy six months. Hollywood is bringing us another bumper crop of geek movies, so I will be writing about The Avengers, Batman, Spider-Man, John Carter of Mars, and more. I also want to review the rest of Tomb of Dracula, continue my appreciation of Walt Simonson’s Thor, do a couple columns (at least!) about Master of Kung Fu, and take a look at books like The Defenders and Deathlok, too. I’ll touch a little bit more on my own comics career (starting with a Steve Gerber story related to that pending Defenders column), and of course there will be plenty of surprises (meaning that, no, I haven’t got each of the next twenty-six issues planned in advance, although I do have things more tightly scheduled than you’d expect). If Longbox Graveyard stalls out, it won’t be for want of material.

Statistics & Hits

How is the blog doing? I’m not sure. My hits grew steadily each month since launch, peaking at a bit less than 2,200 views in October before flattening in November. My ranking seems to hover in the low hundreds over at Comic Blog Elite, which either means I have plenty of room for growth, or I am seriously over-performing for a one-man, once-weekly blog about books that have been out of print for a quarter-century. I’ve been getting more spam, which is a perverse indicator of growing search strength.

hits aren’t everything

I’ve made a few attempts to drive growth. I’ve been pretty active on Twitter, which has found me a few new readers and generated a spike or two, as when Ed Brubaker tweeted about the American Dream column I wrote about his work (this remains the single most viewed Longbox Graveyard post, narrowly leading my Tomb of Dracula post at Halloween, which benefited from a surge of views from the comic books subdomain at Reddit). I don’t think many people stick around from those spikes. My updates at Facebook drive a few hits each week. Believe it or not I even have a Myspace page for Longbox Graveyard but I only use it to post blog updates, and I don’t think it’s gotten me any traffic.

my Longbox Graveyard avatar on Twitter and other places

I do follow several other comics blogs, and post comments now and then, which has driven a trickle of traffic back to this site. Part of the problem is that most comics blogs are focused on current books, so their readership has limited interest in what I pedal here. I could create a stir by criticizing current creators and fan favorites but I don’t want the flames and really, Longbox Graveyard is the internet’s biggest glass house — I’ve got no business giving anyone grief for what they like.

I’m sure there are plenty of clever things I could do to make the blog more search-friendly but I can’t be bothered. I do chip away at it but driving hits is not my focus. That being said, every hit is a little validation for what I do, so if you value the blog, please tell your friends and re-post and recommend my content to your social streams.

In terms of specific posts, I suppose my most disappointing effort has been my review of Supergods. I put a lot of work into that post but to judge by the traffic it received, no one gives a shit about Grant Morrison (and in this perhaps the internet is wise). I had the most fun writing my various Thor and Conan posts, and the Jim Starlin “Cosmics” posts were fun, too. Generally speaking, posts strictly about collecting or about my own comics work have been the least well-received. The top three search terms generating traffic for Longbox Graveyard have been (by far) Chris Hemsworth Naked, Jason Momoa Naked, and Chris Evans Naked. Linkbaiting works, kids!

for my own sanity I will henceforth restrict myself to linkbaiting Jennifer Lawrence naked

The Accumulation

My stated aim of maintaining this blog to help me sell off part of my vast Accumulation hasn’t amounted to much. I gave a stack of Amazing Spider-Man to Billy King and mailed a run of Paranoia to Mars Will Send No More, but otherwise haven’t managed to reduce the pile at all. Instead, the collection has grown … but at least I am better organized than when I started, and I’m having fun with the stuff I’ve added. I keep telling myself that I will get my books packaged up to offer on eBay, but I keep finding other things to do instead. Maybe I’ll get to it after the holidays. Or maybe not.

Reading

I’ve read a lot of comics these past six months, practically to the exclusion of all else. Not everything winds up on the blog, and not everything has been twenty-five years old or more. More recent graphic novels that I’ve read and enjoyed include Batwoman: Elegy and Ed Brubaker’s Criminal. There have been some classic runs that I’ve read, too, like the New Teen Titans Omnibus, and the “Panthers Rage” saga from Jungle Action, but it remains to be seen if I will review them here at Longbox Graveyard. My happy problem is that even when it doesn’t yield blog fodder, I find myself reading comics for entertainment again, which is a huge step for a guy who didn’t touch comics for two decades.

Batwoman: Elegy

The Boys

My lads Miles and Jack continue to vex me with a near-total disinterest in comics. At least, they have zero interest in the thousands of moldy old books I have on hand. Miles is happy to read Sin City, Kick Ass, Scott Pilgrim, and Walking Dead, all of which we have to go out and buy (as opposed to the thousands of books I have that he could read for free). Miles’ interest in Captain America and Judge Dredd has proven short-lived. Jack hasn’t gotten much traction with anything except a couple World of Warcraft graphic novels. I will continue to put books in front of them but they are seeming a lost generation.

Finances

Longbox Graveyard is a couple dollars in the red, but that’s no big deal. It has never been a goal to monetize this blog — that I have monetization links at all is just a matter of course. I feel like I live next to a river, so I might as well put out some traps, even if I’m not counting on catching any fish. My Longbox Graveyard Store wasn’t helped by the tax dispute between Amazon and California, but now that it’s up again it still isn’t getting any sales. I was happy to get some trade credit from MyComicsShop.com … until I realized that it was a commission on a purchase I made through my own site! My “Contribute” button is as hard to find as Bigfoot and I’m not convinced it works (send me a million bucks and I’ll let you know how it went). No one cares about my back issues page. I did get a free Young Justice DVD. Whee!

S’okay. I do this blog because it is fun for me and therapeutic. It might lead to something else down the line but my expectations are modest. Actual operating costs are insignificant and I don’t expect to be paid for my time.

secret passive-aggressive goal of Longbox Graveyard

Community

The nicest benefit of Longbox Graveyard has been making new friends and getting reacquainted with old ones. I’ve met a number of fellow comics geeks through my posts here and on Twitter — Mars Will Send No More has been especially vigilant in offering regular commentary (and he sent me a truly-awesome Christmas card with some vintage dinosaur swag that nicely lifted my spirits). Glenn Smith doesn’t comment here but I know he’s a frequent reader and we chat quite a bit on Twitter, and Horace Austin has offered some especially insightful comments. There have been many others, beside, and if I don’t mention you it really is because there are too many to mention. Every comment at this blog is read and given a reply, and I look forward to continued correspondence with all of you. It’s also nice to run into folks in real life and have them tell me they’ve enjoyed the blog. I do genuinely appreciate that you guys read what I write.

Survey!

It will really help me get a handle on my readership if you can click one of the buttons below. I’m frankly not sure how many people read this blog, or how they are reading it — please take a moment to let me know how you read Longbox Graveyard.

Comments

If you comment on only one Longbox Graveyard blog every six months … let this be the one! Please post a comment to let me know you’re breathing. It doesn’t have to be much — “Keep it up,” “You suck,” “Batman roolz,” whatever. Scrawl something on my wall via the comments section. It will encourage me to continue this blog.

Thanks for your support these past six months, and I hope you will stick with me for the next six months to come. Please tell your therapists and your geeky friends about Longbox Graveyard, and if you read something you like here, please hit those share buttons for Facebook, Reddit, Digg, and Twitter to drive my exposure.

Finally, if you’d like to write for Longbox Graveyard, let me know — I’m actively looking for guest voices to feature on the blog!

NEXT WEDNESDAY — #27 Silver Age Gold

Supergods

Longbox Graveyard #18

Grant Morrison’s Supergods promises it will reveal “What masked vigilantes, miraculous mutants, and a sun god from Smallville can teach us about being human,” but a better subtitle would be, “What 400 pages of a meandering comics memoir can teach us about being Grant Morrison.” At times sharply-written but ultimately flabby and self-indulgent, Supergods sings when it deconstructs beloved superheroes only to lose drive, relevance, and credibility when it veers into an account of Morrison’s personal drug-fueled vision quest.

I’ve been blacked out like one of the Red Skull’s Sleepers for the last couple decades and have missed most of Grant Morrison’s career. Aside from All-Star Superman and a recent Batman trade I don’t know his work. I had a vague sense that Morrison was a brainy guy with an appetite for biting the hand that feeds, but otherwise came to Supergods with an open mind.

In his introduction, Morrison asserts “Supergods is your definitive guide to the world of superheroes — what they are, where they come from, and how they can help us change the way we think about ourselves.” In his conclusion, Morrison writes, “Here in the twenty-first century we’re surrounded by proof that we tend to live our stories,” and Morrison declares that superheroes have been at the center of his spiritual and emotional development.

Morrison has a point. We citizens of the future fly though the sky near the speed of sound, use Google vision to zero in on any square foot of the earth, and can modify our minds and bodies in ways that challenge the definition of “human.” In a way we do live out the stories of superheroes. It is fascinating to think we may have “believed” ourselves into our present state, following the hidden signposts of some collective unconscious that reveals itself through comic book stories.

Superheroes as comparative myth! I’d like to read that book!

Supergods is not that book.

Supergods is a feathered fish, half history and half memoir, with anecdote masquerading as evidence, and opinions substituting for proof. While Morrison makes a case for the transformative effect of superheroes on his own life — leading him to personal fame, wealth, and professional success — his subjective and intimately personal narrative has little relevance for we poor mortals lacking Morrison’s self-proclaimed magic powers and extra-dimensional vision. If his book is to be a “definitive guide,” Morrison needs to more strongly connect superhero stories to social and psychological trends beyond his own personal experience.

For a man so immersed in comics — he’s in his third decade as a comics creator — Morrison has the gift of seeing superheroes with fresh eyes, a talent that has served him well in developing new takes on timeworn characters like Batman and Superman. His insight in examining one of the most iconic images in comics — the debut of Superman on the cover of Action Comics #1 — is Supergods at it’s best and it’s worst.

Morrison looks at the cover as it may have seemed to readers of the day — an ambiguous image of a circus strong man run amok, smashing a car against a rock, while citizens (?) criminals (?) flee in dismay. There are no captions to tell us who this man is, or if he is hero or villain. It is possible that by smashing a car, Superman lashes out — as Morrison suggests — against an age of industry deaf to the “silent cry of the little fellow.”

It’s when Morrison likens the X-shaped composition of the cover to a metaphorical crossroads and matter-of-factly links it with Haitian voodoo, Odin, and Ganesh that my bullshit valve blows. C’mon, Grant! The cover, like comics, may be profound … but it’s not that profound.

Not for the last time in Supergods, we are expected to accept an extraordinary claim simply because the author wishes it were so.

he wishes it so

These self-satisfied flourishes are as unfortunate as they are unnecessary, distracting from intriguing ideas — like Morrison’s assertion that Superman is an inherently Socialist hero of the people, a god-like, other-worldly reformer who by becoming a corporate trademark is “… transformed into a marketing tool, a patriotic stooge, and, worse: the betrayer of his own creators … (who) flew into the hands of anyone who could afford to hire him.”

Was Superman a Socialist brainwashed by The Man? Who knows? Morrison makes that provocative assertion, bows toward Ganesh, then moves on — fait accompli — to the commercial origins of Superman’s dark clone, Batman, and then in rapid succession surveys other Golden Age greats like the Sub-Mariner, the Human Torch, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Captain America, and the Flash. Here Morrison again jumps the fence, linking the Flash to the Roman god, Mercury, and from there to a grab-bag of ancient gods, including Ganesh (again with Ganesh!), reminding in an unfavorable way of master myth analyst Joseph Campbell, who could get away with this kind of stuff, because, well, he was Joseph freaking Campbell.

Joseph Freaking Campbell

Morrison tears into the 1950s with glee, praising EC Comics, machinegunning Fredric Wertham, and lamenting Superman’s fall from sun god to the “fatherly, conservative, and trustworthy” establishment figure played on television by George Reeves. Morrison’s deconstruction of the 1950s adventures of Superman, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen as the foul harvest of Mort Weisinger’s therapy sessions is as far-fetched as connecting the cover of Action #1 to Thoth and Ogma, but Morrison gets away with it here, given his bona fides as an expert on Superman.

His “Superman On The Couch” chapter is buoyed by the book’s strongest writing and is worth the price of admission. Morrison wonders at Jimmy Olsen’s transvestism, and sees 1950’s era Superman as a commitment-adverse, sadistic man-boy who delights in humiliating the husband-hunting Lois Lane with insincere promises of marriage. Every bit as vivid is Morrison’s assessment of Batman and Robin, a dysfunctional relationship Morrison says Robin could only have viewed as “… a schizoid cold war hell where Batman was secretly conniving to betray and dump (Robin) any time his guard was down.”

Almost as sharp is Morrison’s description of the Silver Age, which Morrison says originated with a request from the U.S. State Department that creators of entertainment for children try to cultivate an interest in science and technology in their audience — one of many fascinating but too-tidy claims that mar Supergods for their lack of citation. In Morrison’s narrative, early Silver Age heroes like Green Lantern and (especially) the Flash are New Frontier “Kennedy Men” — cold war science heroes like the Mercury 7 astronauts. When Kennedy was murdered and Camelot destroyed, the way was made clear for Marvel Comics to run rings around DC heroes that overnight seemed relics of a too-innocent age.

Morrison writes movingly of the cosmic importance and sheer, implausible joy of DC’s multiple earths, and damns by inference the modern DC impulse to rationalize and compartmentalize that crazy gush of four-color creativity. With the delight of an inveterate shit-disturber he affectionately regards the anything-goes era when Roy Thomas was Marvel’s editor-in-chief, making special note of Jim Starlin’s cosmic experimentation on titles like Captain Marvel and Warlock.

For Morrison, the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow begins the “Dark Age” of comics, putting paid to the uptight 1950s and the pop art 1960s with a more realistic and legitimized take on superheroes. Morrison acknowledges Dark Knight and Watchmen as twin thunderbolts of 1980s realism, then just as quickly dispatches them, offering arm’s-length affection for Dark Knight, and skewering Alan Moore for the overly structured and inherently ridiculous plot of Watchmen.

Speedy shoots up … what are the odds?

It is here where Morrison comes of age enters his own narrative, and this is where Supergods s-l-o-w-s d-o-w-n and loses much of its drive. Morrison turns to his own work: when Zenith, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, and a deserved but dull victory lap for Morrison’s Arkham Asylum get more pages than Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four combined, the transformation is complete — Supergods is no longer a history. It has become a memoir, where Morrison gets rich, travels the world, practices magic, attains enlightenment, and loses the reader.

Morrison is sincerely committed to his tale. I believe he believes what he believes. Fans of his work may get a real kick from the inner journey that blew Morrison’s mind while writing The Invisibles. Morrison gets points for putting himself out there, and if I’d rather read about imaginary heroes in a space station 22,300 miles above the earth’s surface than a real explorer on a drug trip in Katmandu, then maybe that says more about the reader than the writer. What I found ridiculous you may find profound. But when Morrison says we should not attribute to hashish his vision of “… the Shwayambunath temple rearrang(ing) itself like a Transformer into some kind of chrome lionlike configuration with exhaust pipes and tubular spirit conduits,” the sane man has to say No, Grant — that’s the hashish.

Does Grant Morrison talk like this over dinner? Do his friends let him get away with it?

Insight and nonsense, humor and hooey. The wheel is always turning in Supergods. You take one with the other or you take nothing at all.

Morrison returns to form with his “Image Versus Substance” chapter, chronicling the rocketship rise of Image Comics. Resuming the ironic outsider tone that made “Superman On The Couch” so readable, Morrison doesn’t disguise the suffocating horror he felt at the Image explosion: “At the time, it was a dreadful setback for the idea of ‘grown-up’ superhero comics. In hindsight, it was America’s inevitable reaction to Watchmen, and the only response that could possibly be effective: Fuck realism, we just want our superheroes to look cool and kick ten thousand kinds of ass.”

“… cocaine comics, emotionally dead, creatively limited, and perfectly timely.”

Morrison gets his sneer on with delicious results, offering backhanded praise for Image’s commercial acumen in “… appealing to the lowest common denominator … a huge, new market: bored teenage boys growing up with The Terminator, PlayStation, and Mega Drive who wanted no-nonsense action heroes in the Arnold Schwarzenegger-Bruce Willis style.” It doesn’t occur to Mr. Morrison that what may have bored those teenage boys were the arty, metrosexual heroes of the brief British comics golden age he so admires, but no matter — the Image flame-out comes soon enough, and Morrison is there to write the obituary. With the direct market saturated by Image product, Morrison describes the geek superhero glimpsing “… itself in the mirror, standing there in stained underpants and playing air guitar,” then he brings Alan Moore back on stage for a kicking, calling him out for first leaving superheroes because his work left no more stories to be told, only to then sell himself out to The Man with the miscalculated 1963, which Morrison suggests was the beginning of the end for Image.

“… the way engines might dream of themselves.”

Morrison is a superior writer, and in places his words sizzle. He writes that superheroes are “… a uniquely American creation … born of a corn-fed, plain-talking, fair-minded midwestern sensibility,” while heroes of the British comic book industry are “a rum bunch” of “cargo cult creations” that “stink of the bargain bin” and “left behind the stale odor of rationing and austerity.” He calls Mort Weisinger’s influence over Superman stories a “Jungian bowel movement.” Jack Kirby’s creations sport “Aztec zig-zags and go-faster stripes,” with his engines looking “… the way engines might dream of themselves.” Image Comics were “… cocaine comics, emotionally dead, creatively limited, and perfectly timely.”

When that voice is present, Supergods is a delight. But Morrison loses the plot when he writes about his own quest for the meaning of life, and his matter-of-fact declaration of enlightenment casts a shadow over the entire work.

The only evidence that Morrison offers for superheroes teaching us new ways to think about ourselves is Mr. Morrison himself, miraculously transformed from comics geek to mystical, world-famous storytelling shaman. But in neglecting to connect the spiritual significance of superheroes to anything outside own biography, Supergods fails to be a “definitive guide” to anything but Grant Morrison. The last step in understanding the significance of superheroes as immortal myth symbols apparently requires traveling to Nepal and getting 5-D vision. There’s no path for me to follow. It’s a travelogue to nowhere.

Morrison’s commitment to his ideas, opinions, and insights is courageous, and that I found him tiresome after four hundred pages does not make him wrong or insincere. Morrison takes himself and his work seriously, and he genuinely gives a shit about comics. And when it sticks to funnybooks, Supergods is a fine read. But by claiming superheroes can “teach us more about being human,” and “help us change the way we think about ourselves,” but then neglecting to prove those points in a relatable fashion, Morrison does a high dive into an empty pool.

The failure of Supergods isn’t so much that it’s mostly nonsense, because Morrison writes well enough that even his nonsense can be entertaining. The problem is that Morrison’s opinion of himself as superhero isn’t nearly so interesting as his opinion of superheroes themselves.

Should you buy Supergods?

Historians should give it a miss — with its lack of attribution and unsupported opinion, there’s nothing here you can use (unless your subject is Grant Morrison himself!).

Students of poison pen character assassination should buy a copy for the Mort Weisinger and Image Comics chapters alone.

Pseudo-intellectuals should buy two copies, and get them autographed.

It’s kind of a coin-flip, but comic book fans should probably accept the good with the bad and add Supergods to their library. I’ve been hard on the book in this review, but Morrison’s opinions on comics are worthy, insightful, and funny. Approach the text with a critical eye and be your own editor — enjoy the good stuff, and skim the nonsense. Though scandalously under-illustrated, the book is bloated at 400 pages, so you can safely ignore half of it and still get a good read for the cover price.

And all of us should see if Morrison walks the walk by checking out the recently re-launched Action Comics, where Mr. Morrison has been tasked with guiding Superman into our new century. Superman as Socialist champion of the working class is a promising take … but as soon as Supes teams up with Ganesh, I’m out.

NOT a Superman/Ganesh team-up, but don’t let Grant see or he’ll add another 400 pages to Supergods

(For a contrasting and positive view of Supergods, check out comicbookGRRL’s review).

(Thanks to Tom Mason and Chris Ulm for their pre-publication review of this article).

NEXT WEEK: #18 Top Single Issue Stories

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