So I get this email from Cronin the other day. Apparently Comics Should Be Good is turning ten. Ten actual years, not like a little over one year for dogs. Actual decade. Ten years ago a group of nerds that met on comic book message boards (remember still going to those?) and decided to make some sort of vague stand on the quality of comic books. I think we were, in part, tired of repeating ourselves on message boards and decided if we could just have a link to, say, "Why Crisis on Infinite Earths sucked," well, we might as well make a dang blog ourselves.
Of all the things in my life I've started and abandoned, this is the only one that is still going. The lesson here is if you want something to last, do it with Brian Cronin.
(Also he'll make it better than you ever thought it could be, An Actual Thing.)
Anyway, Brian emailed those of us that started this thing and asked if we'd like to contribute something to the anniversary. I immediately agreed and near-immediately thought "Oh shit, I haven't written about comics in years. What the eff am I gonna write about?" I mean, it's been a loooooong time since I've done this, it feels. Which is weird, because I'm probably reading the most great comics I've ever read at this point in my life. It's not like I gave up comics, not in the slightest. There is SO MUCH AWESOME out there. Marvel is chucking out great superhero comics at a rate I almost find alarming. The creative cabal there is just killing it, overall. Hickman's meta-narrative just keeps getting awesomer. Scott Summers is my hero. The slow burn of the end of the world in BPRD and its associated books just gets more chilling. Al Ewing makes me very happy.
But if I were to pick two books that are really connecting with me the most, it'd be Jasons Aaron and Latour's Southern Bastards and Rick Remender and Wes Craig's Deadly Class.
Holy shit, guys. I don't see much being said about these, but my comics blog reading is basically just here these days. They're fantastic! I think, in part, because though these books drip in genre beauty, they are also deeply personal in their own way.
It's funny, I didn't expect much out of either book despite being very fond of both writers' recent work. The high pitch I've heard used for Deadly Class is "John Hughes does Hogwarts for criminals." And on its own, that's kind of a little too on the nose, right? But, hell, I gave it a shot. And it grabbed a hold of my brain's testicles and hasn't let go yet. Cause that pitch is just the window-dressing, awesome though it may be. This is a book about growing up in the 80s and all your teen angst is right. Your government is led by a shithead ex-actor with shenanigans aplenty that by the present time have really come back to bite us in the ass. We were right. They WERE assholes. It's about that frustration of knowing the powers that be are, in fact, horrible human beings and what can you fucking do about it? You're a kid!
The central character's main goal is the assassination of Ronald Reagan. See, the John Hughes comparison is bullshit. Yeah, it's school kid outcasts in the 80s, but this isn't the sanitized (and weirdly pro-rape) stuff where it all works out in the end. This is actual punk rock, boomers already up their own asses, fuck you 80s. And it is glorious. Though the kids are mostly children of crime families throughout the world, they translate perfectly to the social deathtrap that teenage politics can be. Every move seems fraught with emotional peril. Every heartbreak monumental. All in all it is a tasty cocktail of hash and stolen beers that does my brain right.
And if I, in depressingly deeper ways every week it seems, can connect with the righteous outrage of Deadly Class, then count Southern Bastards even moreso. The two Jasons have talked at length about how it is an ode to all they love and hate about the south. I don't know if eastern Kentucky counts as southern, truly, but Appalachia is kind of like the south, let's be honest. I grew up in Ashland, Kentucky (now three years in a row the official Most Miserable City in America and Most Obese City in America) (I did not make that up sadface) and I left at 18 and have spent the subsequent 18 years here in New York, thirteen of it in Brooklyn. I got the hell out and never really looked back.
The south can be an infuriating place. The plague of obvious racism in the news lately isn't news to anyone that grew up down there. It's an ugly truth. (This is not to say the north is not racist. It absolutely is, people just work harder not to seem like it.) Almost everyone you know has bought into right wing bullshit because of fear, misinterpreted religion, and the fact that most of the folks with the power keep feeding them the same lines. Kentucky specifically has been in the news lately, for some gross reasons. Apparently it's one of the most corrupt state governments. And some literalist nuts are making a giant Noah's Ark theme park and they might even be tax exempt, despite being disprovable creationist horseshit.
The south just rips your soul up and spreads it across the fields. BUT there is so much beauty to it, too. The culture, the music, the food ...rich and amazing. And despite all the bullshit I mentioned above, it is filled with wonderful people. It's a frustrating problem.
Southern Bastards knows all of this. I'm not going to go into plot too much. A man goes back to his hometown to deal with his late father's stuff, and he can't wait to get out. It's exactly as shitty as he remembered. But then other things happen. That's all you're getting out of me. It's another great example of pulpy, grindhousey genre work being used to explore something personal while allowing it to be equally mythic and grounded.
Both series have their first trade out now and have only had one or two issues out since, so they're easy to catch up on. I recommend the heck out of them.
So, at least from my perspective, comics ARE good these days. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED and with relatively little torture.