[24 May 2012]
PopMatters Comics Editor
I read “SuperCrooks” and I reread it. Not only because it’s good, and it is (it’s truly, truly sublime in hindsight, against my broader concerns for this issue)… And like anyone who’s stumbled into something good, I want more and more of it. I reread “SuperCrooks” not only because it’s good, but because it hints at the bigger picture for the magazine it appears in. And why CLiNT Editor Mark Millar can do even more, should do even more. Because CLiNT is not only an opportunity, it is rich with promise. And it is this kind of promise that comics fandom has waited for, for far too long.
They’re all really good, the stories that appear in the first issue of the CLiNT reboot. “Rex Royd” is probably the most demanding, and immediately you sense it will ultimately be the most reward. But you’re going to need time with “Rex Royd”, time yourself to decode the myriad tropes that wend their way through this installment. And you’ll need to give the book time. It’s clear that there’s a kind of grand moment that will come at the end of all the episodes, one that will allow you a view that will tie everything together. More than anything “Rex Royd” will be a grand adventure in text. Like Alice in Wonderland or Twin Peaks, there are signs and moments and sequences to decode.
Equally as good, but far more immediate are “Death Sentence” and “Secret Service”. I suppose the phraseology would be “youth at risk”. There was a moment, in the early ‘90s and perhaps earlier, when AIDS was a severe psychic, sociocultural shock, as much as it was a medical hazard. It was that you’d probably die from the virus. It was that late high-school kids and post high-school kids were most at risk.
At a moment in their maturation when previous generations were afforded the chance explore their own sexuality, the generation of the ‘80s/‘90s faced the very real possibility that they could die. And not only die, but die doing what earlier generations had done freely. AIDS left a psychic scar that education would later resolve only in part. The genius of “Death Sentence” is that it taps exactly this psychic scar by posing another question; what if a trade off for the death sentence is superpowers?
“Secret Service” earnestly addresses the issues surround the London street riots of last year. Was it budget-cuts to inner city youth development and outreach responsible for a sense of hopelessness and exclusion in the young people of London? And on the other side of the equation, was it budget-cuts to police that critically hamstrung a response to the violence, even before such a response needed to be mounted? Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons’ artwork vividly animates such social concerns to incorporate them seemingly as a character in the story as well. Both the Secret Servicemen and their children are palpably, visibly at risk.
And then there’s “SuperCrooks”. As with “Secret Service”, also written by Mark Millar himself. But illustrated beautifully by Leinil Yu. This first episode is a gathering-of-the-pieces for a Super-Crime heist story. Think Soderbergh’s arrestingly comic Ocean’s Eleven as a major influence in the mind that gave us the arrestingly comic Kick Ass. Or possibly even better, don’t think in those terms at all. Think in terms of the bigger picture.
It’s a simple story. Smalltime SuperCrook Johnny Bolt, fresh from a stretch in supermax, and needing to help out an old school bank robber friend, hits on the idea to do a heist in Europe. Because “…nobody’s ever heard of a Captain Spain”. The Ocean’s Eleven/Kick Ass confluence is interesting, sure. But even more interesting is the idea of a man needing to escape his own history. Can Johnny Bolt be Johnny Bolt in a place where no one has any response to him? Can he go Over There and be the Johnny Bolt he always had it in him to be?
This is the same psychology that keeps watching American Idol season-in, and season-out. The psychology of outwardly evidencing our own inner value. It’s the psychology of social media, and social networking. And when it comes to superstars, it’s the psychology of needing to free yourself from the expectations of the crowd, of fans and haters alike. Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus deals exactly with this decades-long turn in Dylan’s career. How could Dylan free himself from the Idea of Bob Dylan, Marcus asks? And then traces how Dylan did effect that escape. Tom Waits, almost from the get-go, realized the dangers of adulation and so built a very private life for himself. But perhaps the most absorbing chronicle in this regard is Lester Bangs’ obit for John Lennon. The Crowd will ransom your very creative future for the estimation they’ve made of the quality and tone of success they expect from you, Bangs instructs us.
It’s hard not to read this into Millar himself, who rocketed fame with Marvel’s The Ultimates, a 21st century reboot of the classic Avengers. Millar of course went on to see his own series Wanted adapted for the big screen. As well his Kick Ass. But what future will Millar build for himself beyond the superhero genre? And by what road will he arrive there? Those are the questions that can uniquely be answered by a magazine called CLiNT. A magazine whose very title is a poke in the eye of the now-defunct Comics Code Authority’s “Code” which specifically forbade the use of words contain “Li”, for fear that this conjunction may be read as “U”.