Why Jessica Jones hates the MCU

You know what I hate most about comic book movies and TV shows? They really, really wish they weren’t based on superhero comic books. Sure, comics can give them the characters and story material for some of the highest grossing films of all time and the most successful Netflix shows, but let’s not mention the source material, eh?

This isn’t new, of course. I’m put in mind of the Tim Burton quote in his feud with Kevin Smith, “Anyone who knows me knows I would never read a comic book”, says the two-time Batman director. More recently however, I saw it in Jessica Jones on Netflix (Daredevil was somewhat guilty of this, too).

One of the big draws of Jessica Jones was that it was part of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”, which  basically means it set in the same world as Robert Downy Jr’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America. Though it would never happen, it’s entirely feasible within the show that either of these characters could actually make an appearance, and can be referenced in-show. Except Jessica Jones really doesn’t like referencing superheroes. The Hulk is “the green guy” and Captain America is “the flag-waver.” Jessica Jones hates superhero characters so much it can only actually reference them euphemistically, even though a big selling point of the show is that it co-exists with said characters.

Now, on its own I don’t really care about that. The showrunners are clearly going for a particular aesthetic and tone and are keeping as far way from the capes and costumes brigade as possible in order to achieve that. Literally nothing in Jessica Jones would have been any different if it wasn’t connected to the MCU, meaning the connection it does have is nakedly commercial in nature. Say its part of the MCU and you get +X more viewers.

What this really makes me think about is how superheroes evolved from popular, pulpy kids entertainment to being dominated by 18-40 year old men. How this audience seems to need to legitimise the stories by making them as brutal and bleak as possible. “Look, comics aren’t just for kids! This woman got raped, see? This is mature stuff.” But it isn’t mature stuff. It’s juvenile, usually. Bendis got it right with Alias, but for every Alias there’s two Identity Crisis or Superman breaks someone’s neck.

I liked Jessica Jones. I think its a great story of PTSD and surviving abuse and coming out the other end. I think its a great story of not being defined by your abuse or abuser. And I even think linking in the superhero aspect lends proceedings a certain power. I’m just not so sure it should be in the same world as Ant-Man and Rocket Raccoon. My 4-year-old son loves Guardians of the Galaxy, you know? (I censor when appropriate). But I’m betting that come Infinity War we’ll have Daredevil and Jessica Jones in the same shot as Rocket Raccoon and Groot and now I’m totally with the JJ showrunners – they don’t belong in the same place.

This isn’t me saying comics shouldn’t ever deal with these kinds of issues. Of course it isn’t. But I do question the wisdom of superhero comics looking at these issues, especially while they double down on corporate synergy and link everything together for good or ill. There’s a longer entry in here about the nature of franchises, corporate ownership and stewardship of characters. Remind me to write it?

Frank

I’d forgive you for thinking I’d just jacked in the blogging thing. I don’t have a great track record of keeping it regular. The past week’s absence, though, isn’t that. I came down with the flu and tonsillitis and was just pretty wiped out. Trying to write something coherent between dizzy spells and stroking a picture of my bed just wasn’t going to happen. Hopefully this is the resumption of regular service.

I’ve seen comic writers online talk about how, if you’re freelance, you don’t get sickdays like I just had. You get sick, you lose money, it’s that simple. And horrible. And while that’s a particular peril of freelance work that needs to be addressed, it puts me in mind of what I think is a particularly nasty, narrow minded school of thought – suffer for your art . The idea that you need pain to make your work worthwhile, that you need to grind it out. I’m all for hard work to create something, but I draw the line at actual suffering. Art isn’t supposed to be like that. There’s nothing noble or magical or beautiful about suffering, whether you’re creating something or not. Suffering is suffering and anyone who tells you that you *need* to suffer or that it will ennoble you is someone you need to get out of your life. There’s nothing worthwhile in the world that can only be achieved through suffering. There’s always another way.

This puts me in mind too of the related idea of mental illness being some kind of magical creativity enhancer. That the trade off for depression or any other illness is talent. It’s not. (I’d recommend the film Frank if you want to see a great takedown of the mental-illness-as-muse trope.) Mental illness will no more help your creativity than the flu.

Anyway,  just a short one today to get back into things. It’s December tomorrow so expect me to become annoyingly festive as the weeks go on. You’ve been warned.

 

 

 

All Filler, No Killer

First off, an apology. I had always intended to keep my deadlines for the blog, and I was due one yesterday. It didn’t happen. I have no defence other than “I was busy”, which I don’t like so much. I’ll try not to let it happen again, as I know you guys were utterly furious yesterday. Yes, in my head you were all furious. All 18 of you.

The truth is, I’m not sure what to write today. My media intake has been, while steady, also pretty stagnant of late. There’s only so many times I can wax lyrical about the TV shows I watch and the comics I read (the number of which is dwindling rapidly). It’s at the point where, instead of watching something new, I’m rewatching The West Wing. Again. My love for the West Wing is no secret, and one will will be the subject of a much longer blog than the one I am writing today. (Yes, even the post Sorkin stuff. Santos ftw.)

I find that I often go all-in on one medium at a time. I’m either watching a TON of TV, reading a TON of books, listening to a TON of music etc, but never little bits of everything all at once. I’m not sure why. Perhaps my attention span is a little TOO great. This generally leads to me getting really far behind on one thing or another – I haven’t discovered a new band since Chvrches, who aren’t new at all. I have a reading pile that’s approaching my height. I’m tall. Does anyone else work like this? Please, let me know. And let me know if you have any tips on how I can vary my intake a bit without going down rabbit holes.

I wonder if I’m just too entrenched in the “box-set” mentality, so that even when I’m not watching TV I still feel the need to marathon things. (First person to say that my generation lacks patience and we get everything we want instantly gets punched in the face, instantly. Millenials aren’t a thing. Baby boomers who wrecked the world and blame it on my generation are a thing.)

I know, this kind of sucks as a blog entry and is entirely too navel-gazey and quite obviously a piece of filler till I get the time to write something properly. It’ll happen, I promise.

In the meantime, do yourselves a favour and go watch Steve Jobs in the cinema. If you’re more of a plot person over a character person then you might be left a little cold, but the character work in here is absolutely stellar. Not quite The Social Network good, but still fantastic and insightful. Fassbender, Rogen, Winslet and Daniels all put in star turns, too. Oscars all round, if the Oscars were fair.

 

 

 

Page one, panel one

So NaNoWriMo isn’t going well, he says, to the shock and alarm of approximately no one. The project requires 1600 words a day, and I barely manage three blogs a week. I’m not being down on myself here, I work a lot and have other things to do. If I could write more, I would. Taking on NaNo along with the blog was always more to just spur me on to write, rather than to have a novel at the end of November. I’m still writing the blog, so it’s helped.

Thing is though, I just want to write comics.

See, I’ve spent the weekend looking at photos and Facebook updates from friends who were attending Though Bubble Comic Arts Festival in Leeds. It’s basically the best comics convention in the UK, filled with panels, high profile guests and signings and everyone in the UK comics community. Which I count myself a part of. And I wasn’t there. You see where this is going.

I love making comics. I want to be making comic right this minute. I love the community (not the industry, such as it is). The people. The enthusiasm. Did I mention I love comics?

I’ve been a comic book fan since I could recognise basic pictures. Blame my brothers. I grew up reading comics, from Superman and Batman to the X-men and Spider-Man and the Beano and the Broons and Oor Wullie and on and on. Eventually I started reading about comics. Books on the form, how they do what they do, what makes a comic different and how we’re criminally squandering their potential.

In a comic, the world of the comic, the whole universe, is the page. The panels. And as the creator, you have control over that. You can change panel six and frequency to control your reader’s sense of space and time. You can render things that Hollywood budgets couldn’t reach in a thousand years.  You have complete control, which appeals to a control freak like myself. As much as I love books and film and music, I’ve never been as affected by any of them as I have been by comics.

So, while I tried to focus on the blog or NaNoWriMo, I couldn’t help but imagine new comics. I can’t walk away from them even when I turn the other direction and break into a sprint. And that’s just fine by me. Why would I walk away from control over time and space?

Pumping Irony

One of the big ideas behind doing a fitness section of the blog was to gym-shame myself. Shout about going to the gym loud enough and often enough and I actually have to go to the gym. And I like going to the gym, so it shouldn’t be that hard.

I haven’t been to the gym this week.

This is where I say how terrible I feel that I haven’t made it. And I do feel a little bad. But the truth of the matter is I’ve been unavoidably busy and sometimes things like the gym fall by the wayside so I can do things like go to work and earn the money I use to pay for the gym. Working the shifts I do often means that entire days are lost to either the work itself or fatigue. Protip, if you want to keep your bodyclock, don’t go into subtitling.

Time was I’d be incredibly stressed about this. I’d be cursing my lack of time or energy or willpower. I’d be immediately thinking about losing every improvement I’d made since starting at the gym. I’d hate myself a bit. (a lot.) Before starting at the gym I wasn’t in great shape, but I wasn’t in terrible shape either. No one would have looked at me and worried about my health, The biggest health benefit I get from going to the gym is stress and anxiety relief.

I’ve never had major problems with stress or anxiety, in the grand scheme of mental health issues I barely register, what has affected me has knocked me off kilter and made me miserable for longer than I was willing to tolerate, while still leaving me in the position to do something about it. So I started running, and that helped, and the gym, and that helped even more. Call it endorphins or confidence or whatever you want. It worked for me.

So when I miss the gym, it’d be easy for me to go into stress mode. I could stress about the potential to be stressed, which is comedic and ridiculous. Instead I’m accepting it. All the gym memes about no excuses are bouncing off me like hard rain, unpleasantly expected but ultimately harmless. I don’t lack for commitment, nor am I lazy. I’m not a terrible person and I won’t get fat overnight – rather that will be a slow process beginning in my 40s, irreversibly.

I suppose the point of this post is just to address something I think every fitness enthusiast feels at some point, the pressure to work out. It can become a monolith hanging over your day and ends up sucking the fun out of something you otherwise enjoy. A stress reliever becomes a stress creator, something that made you feel good about yourself is making you feel terrible about yourself. We can’t let it work like that.

They say the gym and fitness is about commitment, and that means not giving up just because you stumble a few times. Failure isn’t falling down, it’s not getting up again. The “motivational” gym memes will mock you for phrases like “I’ll go tomorrow”, but you know what? Maybe you’re busy today. But you’ll go tomorrow. I believe in you.

The pen

I was considering not posting at all today. It’s Armistice Day, and I’ve seen some really thoughtful posts from friends and figured that my planned discussion of the latest Doctor Who episode wouldn’t quite be appropriate. I’d have felt like the guy telling his favourite joke at a funeral.

Wednesday is meant to be culture/comment day on here, so why am I talking about WWI and WWII? Because I’m wondering about how art and writing react to war. We’ve seen war poets like Wilfred Owen write eloquent verse about the horror, the hardship and the wrongness of it. The Rupert Brooke glorifying of a soldier’s sacrifice. We’ve seen war through a fantasy lens in Lord Of The Rings. What will our generation add to this kind of canon? I’d hedge a bet it’ll be things like the Hunger Games and the Divergent series. Even Harry Potter, to an extent. Books for the young, about the young in wartime. Not all wars are declared, or can be delcared. The Hunger Games is about the war on the poor. Harry Potter is about the war against death, against sadness and fear.

There was a theory about postmodernism, forgive me, I can’t remember who espoused it, that no art of real merit could be created after WWII. That after we drop a nuclear weapon on two cities then we’ve pretty much made everything meaningless. Once you can unravel atoms then the form of things doesn’t really matter any more, I guess. This probably explains why postmodernism lacks definition. Nothing matters.

The problem with that, I think, is that it all feels a bit teenage angst, all too easy. Nothing matters, so why bother? Slam the door and refuse to engage. Now, some people quote from great philosophers and some people quote from great artists and musicians, but all too often I’ll quote from Joss Whedon*. In one episode of Angel, the title character says, “If nothing we do matters, all that matters is what we do.” I think I like that. Yes, we can unravel atoms, but we can also make new ones, smash particles together to discover things we don’t have names for and that will only give us more questions than we had to begin with. I don’t believe in an afterlife, in the great beyond, but that only means that this aimless one I have is more important, and because I live in a free society, I can aim it anywhere I like. Not everyone has that privilege, the boys pressed into war, trenches, airplanes and boats, didn’t have that privilege. So I better make the most of it.

Alter Ego

It’s not long after 6am and my son is snoring loudly beside me. He got up in the early hours thanks to a cough and couldn’t get back over till now. So I’m awake and looking at WordPress, because apparently I now live and die on site stats, and I see a stat that amazes me.

A post I wrote on basic income is clocking in at 243 views. In the grand blogging scheme of things that’s nothing. 243 is what a kid on Instagram
gets of their morning coffee. (it’s pumpkin spice. #pumpkin #fall #blessed etc). For me though, that’s probably the most eyes I’ve ever had on anything I’ve written.

In the indie comics scene I did print runs of 50 or 100, which usually sold out. While I’ve shifted more than 243 units in my time, there was likely a great deal of crossover in buyers. 250+ units was probably about 100 actual people buying issue one and two etc. But this post is individuals and it’s global and cost me absolutely nothing while making those comics I loved so much cost into the thousand pound range. The conclusion is clear. If you want a big audience, use the internet. A shame then that the peak of my internet powers is scheduling a blog update.

The audience reach implications are actually only at the back of my mind. What’s really been niggling at me is how easy it would be to play to the crowd. To chase the stats, the likes, the comments. Superhero comics practically do this as a business model. Kill character X, bring them back heroically 18 months later, watch the fanbase collectively lose it. And if you can have one good guy beat up another? You’re making it rain. And that’s why, with a few exceptions, superhero comics aren’t very good right now.

Before I started the writing blog stuff I toyed with various ideas, including one on why I wanted to write at all, which is a question every writer has asked themselves at one point or another. I’d like to think that no one’s answer is “so I can say the popular thing and tell people what they want to hear”.  That kind of utilitarian content philosophy is worthless to art and useful discourse. I write because I love to do it, because it might be my only talent and because I’m a good day I might say something worth saying.

If one day I stumble into an opinion that resonates with people and gets me those sweet sweet WordPress stats or comic sales then that’s amazing, but from the days of writing power rangers fanfic as an 8 year old I think I knew I’d just be writing anyway.

But please, keep reading.

(Update: Nano, not going well. I’m not cut up about it, been busy, but it rankles. Getting the comics itch again too…)