Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bullets: Incognito, Interviews... and Politics.

Note: Following the list of bullet items this week are my personal thoughts on a recent controversy involving politics. This marks the first time I've broached that subject here, in a blog where politics largely has no place, and though I do not think I've written anything controversial, I want to make clear that the views I express in this commentary are my own. I want to make doubly clear that this disclaimer is entirely my own doing.


It's been a busy couple weeks since the release of the penultimate issue to Criminal: The Sinners -- and we are not without some controversy, as you will see.
  • Criminal in March. First, Marvel's official website now lists a a March 10th release date for Criminal: The Sinners #6, the "action-packed and twist-filled finale." This is a very slight delay from its original, solicited release date: I would have been surprised to see two issues released in the same month.

  • Personalized Trades from Sean Phillips. Last week, Sean Phillips announced that he's selling a few copies of the Incognito trade paperback, each with an original character sketch of the customer's choice. In the comments in a subsequent post featuring a sample sketch of Fu Manchu, he implies that the sale also includes a personalized sketch in each copy of Criminal: The Deluxe Edition, and he writes that there are still "plenty of both" for interested parties.

    If only this were announced when the books first came out...

  • First Hints of the Incognito Sequel. While we're on the subject, Sean Phillips also recently revealed "doodles" from brainstorming about "the next Incognito series covers."

    That description and the rough sketches suggest that "Incognito" might be the title for the overarching story rather than just the first six-issue mini-series. More importantly, Sean relays in the comments that the follow-up might be next but not immediately.

    "I think we're doing Incognito next. Up to Ed though. I've got a new project to do first though to give Ed some breathing space. Should be announced soon..."

    We'll post updates on the sequel and Sean Phillips' other project, as they are made available.

  • Brubaker Interviews on Mainstream Marvel Work. Earlier this week, Newsarama posted two interviews with Ed Brubaker about his upcoming work in the Marvel Universe. Brubaker will be writing a new ongoing title, Secret Avengers, which is now being promoted through some rather cryptic teaser images.

    And, Ed Brubaker will continue writing for Captain America, but Butch Guice will now be joining him as the regular artist. Bucky Barnes will continue to "wield the shield," and he'll face a new antagonist in Baron Zemo.

  • Controversy in Captain America #602. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention a controversy about possible political commentary in the pages of the most recent issue of Captain America. Fox News spoke with Ed Brubaker about protest scenes in the issue, and he explained that he did not write the content of a sign alluding to the Tea Party movement.

    "I don't know who did it, probably someone who thought it was funny... I didn't think so, personally. That's the sign being changed to something more generic for the trade reprint, because I and my editor were both shocked to see it."

    Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada also discussed the issue with Comic Book Resources, assuring readers, "Our books are no one’s soapbox."

As a matter of full disclosure, I don't believe I see eye-to-eye with Ed Brubaker or our own Alan David Doane, at least in terms of political beliefs.

And I don't keep up with even Brubaker's work in the mainstream Marvel universe. I've been pulling away from more mainstream superhero titles, even those featuring Batman. Still, I'm hoping to get one of Sean Phillips' art books for my birthday, and I've been slowly making my way through Brubaker's older work -- Scene of the Crime, Catwoman, Dark Horse Presents, even Dead Enders -- so I might make my way to his Marvel work at some point. His writing for Daredevil seems especially suited to my interests in his noir work, and I've heard enough great things about Captain America to make me reconsider my reluctance to get into a series that might hip-deep in Civil War and every other mega-crossover event.

Though I have only a passing familiarity with his writing for Marvel's mainstream superheroes, I did quickly read through that issue in the shop this week, and I can see reasons to object even beyond the protest signs that were filled in without the writer's and editor's oversight. And I can think of a couple reasons to question Quesada's claim that the publishers avoid all political grandstanding.

But, for the most part, I'm just reticent about any sort of overt political commentary in fictional entertainment.

For one thing, it's just too easy to be coy about the political commentary, to condone taking the commentary seriously only when people agree with it. The writer can share a figurative high-five with those who cheer the content but still dismiss substantive disagreement. It's only a TV show; I'm only a comedian; or, it's only a comic book.

More than that, it's too easy to engage in blunt caricature when the issues usually require much more care than that.

I certainly don't think comics and politics must not mix. Editorial cartooning is a powerful form of expression, and beyond that, I certainly think serious ideas can be discussed in the medium of long-form comics, as one can see in The Cartoon Guide to Physics or in Action Philosophers. There's nothing preventing a comic book from describing political theory with wit and even humor, and I imagine one could use the medium to persuasively advocate for a specific philosophy or policy.

But attempting that in the context of a fictional narrative would either grind the story to a halt or gloss over difficult issues with glib generalizations. And, either way, the reader would probably be pulled out of the story -- the suspension of disbelief and the story's "flow" -- to be lectured by the writer.

The writer's certainly free to do it, but that doesn't mean he should. It's not always good art when he does, and it's almost certainly heavy-handed when it's tried.

One of the things I most appreciate in Brubaker and Phillips' collaborative work is that it's quite understated and even subtle. For instance, there's a page in "Coward" that conveys a great deal of brutal violence after the fact, but it does so very carefully and without any undue extravagance. I would hate for that "spell" to be broken for needless political commentary.

I think that there's a lot that could be drawn from Criminal that is political, philosophical, and even theological, but I think it should be left to the readers to draw their own conclusions. Barring that, I would actually love to see some thoughtful analysis along those lines where they would really belong: in the essays in the back of the monthly issues.

I just hope that we never have to deal with controversies like this in Brubaker and Phillips' work in Icon Comics.

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