One of the collections I picked up at the Heroes Con was WOLVERINE: ENEMY OF THE STATE. I don't regularly buy WOLVERINE so I decided to wait for the trade, which I normally frown upon. (If nobody buys the monthlies, chances are, there won't be a trade.) Somehow, I just never got around to the trade either. So, when I saw it on the cheap at Heroes, I snapped it up.
It's something I'd been wanting to read for a while, not for the story, but for John Romita, Jr.'s artwork. I've been a big fan of his since his run on DAREDEVIL with Ann Nocenti. I know some folks don't like his work but, to my mind, he's one of the best in the business. His work has the in-your-face power of a Jack Kirby and the emotional impact of a Frank Miller or, well, his father, John Romita, Sr. In an era where comics fans seem to worship guys who can trace dimly-lit photographs really well, it's nice to see a guy like Romita who has the old-school sensibilities but with a modern flair for design and detail. (Ron Garney's work is a lot like this, especially on his first CAPTAIN AMERICA run with Mark Waid.)
Romita's work is served well by the embellishments of inking-god-among-men, Klaus Janson. Janson prooves here why he is considered one of the all-time greats. He's one of those inkers who, when you look at his stuff, you wonder what the hell he's using to ink the work. How did he get that effect? His stuff is so loose and lush, yet there's never a line out of place. I could stare at his work for hours. And, well, I do.
Mark Millar's writing had nothing to do with my desire to read this book. I know Millar's a good writer and I've read a lot of his stuff. But I think he's part of the problem with modern comics, that overwhelming need to make everything so dark and grimy. Millar and others (like Brian Michael Bendis and Grant Morrison) have taken what should have been a couple of interesting experiments (DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and WATCHMEN) and have held them up as the model of what comics should be. Sure, there's a place for grim and gritty, but it's all that way now and I'm really tired of it. These guys...and again, I know they're talented fellas, smart and well-read...these guys have, with the fans' blessing, sucked all the fun and wonder out of superhero comics. Superheroes have gone from people experiencing the pure joy of shamelessly putting on colorful outfits and going out and beating up bad guys and flying in the clouds and swinging from building to building to murderous, vengeful, in-fighting sourpusses who look at their abilities as a burden and sit around griping for pages on end. (When they're not being killed-off, that is.)
That said, I'm really enjoying the collection. Millar IS talented and his writing here is very clever and entertaining and the story is well-crafted. But there's no fun to be found here except in the beauty of Romita's artwork. Nobody smiles in this book except Logan, right before he slices and dices someone. If this was an occasional example, I'd be fine with it, but this is typical of just about everything Marvel and DC put out. Are comics readers today more sophisticated? Maybe. But I can't believe they want this kind of depressing stuff ALL. THE. TIME.
Which brings me to what prompted me to write this post. John Byrne, on his messageboard, often gripes about current comics writers who seem to be ashamed of the field in which they toil. They seem to be embarrassed to be writing, ugh, superhero comics. And, so, at every turn we get sneery comments from characters about the "silly outfits" and the dumb codenames. We have characters appearing in costume for one, maybe two pages and, if we're lucky, they aren't backlit or in shadow when they do. Byrne has a point. And this kind of attitude isn't restricted to the work itself. Why in the very introduction to ENEMY OF THE STATE itself, Garth Ennis joyfully voices this very attitude himself. And I quote:
"Most of the time, I'd sooner nail a rabid squid to my face than read superhero comics.
"Not my thing, man. Never was. The powers, the tights, the speeches, the attitudes. The very names they give these characters. Can't be bothered with any of it. Sure, you've got your Watchmen and your Miracleman and your Top Ten, but those are the exceptions that prove the rule. The mainstream stuff? Blehhh."
He actually typed, "Blehhh." My question is, if he has such contempt for mainstream comics, then why the hell is he writing them? I personally like Ennis' PREACHER. I think it's one of the greatest comics ever done and read each issue in the car before I went home from the comic shop each week. But other than that book and, occasionally, HITMAN, most of Ennis' work is, to use one of his oh-so-clever, favorite words, shite. His PUNISHER work was overrated and was the literary equivalent of a beer fart. It had just about that much emotional resonance. ADVENTURES IN THE RIFLE BRIGADE was a self-indulgent bore. I'd be hard pressed to name, PREACHER aside, any of his work that didn't rely on visual shock value and a peppering of profanity for impact. And yet, here he is shitting on American superhero comics...IN THE INTRODUCTION TO AN AMERICAN SUPERHERO COMIC!
Well, fook him. Seriously. It's bad enough we comics fans have to take crap from just about everybody else just for enjoying a harmless hobby, now we have to take it from the very people producing the damned things in the first place? Yes, I know Ennis is just voicing his opinion here and, yes, I know that he doesn't usually write superhero stories. But he has written them before. (Hitman puking on Batman's boots. Wow. How utterly creative.) It's the context that bothers me. Basically, a comic book writer is telling me that the comic books I've been enjoying since childhood were utter crap except this one. Because it's written by his good mate, Mark. Well, the book is good. It's well-written. But it's also built on the shoulders of giants like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Len Wein and John Byrne and Chris Claremont. Giants with boundless imaginations who built a universe where writers today, talented though they may be, merely play with toys left behind in somebody else's driveway and often prefering to just kick them around the neighborhood until they're broken.
Garth Ennis thinks superheroes are "costumed codswallop." Fine. Nobody says he has to like them. But I'd appreciate it if he didn't feel the need to tell me my interest in superhero comics was a stupid waste of time just as I'm sitting down to enjoy one. It's like cracking a fart in the face of a diner as he's sitting down to a much-anticipated meal. It leaves an unexpected and bad taste in your mouth and robs you of your appetite. After all, I don't come to Northern Ireland and smack the dick out of his mouth.
So, go away, Garth. Just...go away. I've got comics to read.