This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on June 2, 2016.
Every two weeks in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Mark Stack will ask Comics Bulletin’s very own Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.
So without any further ado…
Art isn’t always meant to be enjoyed. What are some great comics that you might never want to read again?
Have you ever picked a worse question to ask me? That’s not really joke. The fact of the matter is that I am the WRONG guy to answer the question.
I can typically find something of interest, if not value, in just about any comic book. So to ask for a great comic I’d rather not read again makes for a very difficult proposition. Even when it comes to comics I loathe, there’s usually some facet or unconsidered angle that can pique my interest and keep me engaged in multiple readings. Let’s not forget that I am the guy who read both Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 and DC Universe Rebirth #1 three times each last week before reviewing them. While subsequent readings of each of those terrible (albeit for very different reasons) issues didn’t reveal unseen values or joys, they did provide me with a better understanding of what I was reading and the people creating them. That’s the kind of thing that fascinates me.
To take a less recent example, let’s consider Ultimatum. That’s a comic I loathe; it’s irredeemable from top to bottom. The plot is a bungled mess, there’s not even a semblance of a thematic core, the art is ugly and overly rendered, and it’s gratuitously mean-spirited for the sake of being mean-spirited. But if you were to ask me about this comic for this column, I’d happily dive back in. Despite it being a tire fire of a comic that its creators should feel genuinely bad about, I suspect there are some things worth discussing within its pages. First and foremost, how the hell did this get made? But on a more serious level, what state of mind was Jeph Loeb in that he would write this comic that is so tonally different from his previous work? Given the overall work of the writer, Ultimatumbecomes a fascinating look into a creative person’s loss of control over their own work as it begins to exhibit their emotional state more than any creative intention.
But please don’t ask me about Ultimatum next week. I’ll read it again, but I don’t want to spend money to make that happen.
For real though, I’m the guy who would love to reread Jimmy Corrigan on an annual basis in order to teach and who seeks out We3 once a year for a good cry over some tremendous Frank Quitely artwork. I love comics a lot and it’s difficult for me to find myself in a position where I don’t want to engage with one.
But this isn’t “Refuting Questions” or “Dismissing Questions”, it’s “Leading Questions”. So I thought long and hard about this, and I’ve come up with a few answers of “great comics” that I don’t want to pick up.
Let’s start things off with an answer that’s bound to be controversial: Kingdom Come. I read Kingdom Come a few times in high school and once more during college. It’s beloved and, reflecting on my high school years, I understand why. Now I find it to be largely overrated though. The comic is obsessed with superhero comics and doesn’t have very much to say that’s interesting. Of course that dull, angry-at-the-90s center is coated in lots of biblical language and strum und drang, but it’s really just a story designed by a dude who cares A LOT about mainstream, superhero comics. Alex Ross has lost a lot of his luster for me as well. I appreciate a fine looking cover or poster, but his storytelling in Kingdom Come is really lacking outside of the “Where’s Waldo” appeal. While someone else may find a hook that I’d like to read about this comic, it’s one that I know has become a complete drag for me to experience.
I don’t mean to pick on DC Comics, or even superhero comics, but my next pick lands in the same camp. That’sCrisis on Infinite Earths. It’s admittedly a bit of a plot-driven mess, but it’s also very historically important to both the superhero genre and one of the two largest publishers in American comics. Understanding both of these things require you to engage with COIE at some point. However, outside of Perez’s art which I think is better viewed in carefully selected panels than as a cohesive narrative in this case, there’s not a lot you need from this comic that can’t be gleaned from a Wikipedia entry. The most interesting things about COIE are best understood from interviews, essays, and histories discussing the text, rather than the text itself.
Those answers probably feel like decoys to allow me to dodge your question though. While a poll of comics fans might confirm both as being great, perhaps even canon-worthy (whatever that means), I just made sure to knock them down a peg or two before asserting my disinterest. Kingdom Come and Crisis on Infinite Earths may be “great” comics, but I definitely don’t think they’re all that great.
I’ll give you one real answer though, one comic that I really do believe to be great AND that I have absolutely no interest in picking up again. It’s a comic by a historically important cartoonist that shows him to be a tremendous draftsman and exposes his interior life in a compelling manner. This is a comic that shows the medium to be capable of both artistic innovation and personal exploration. Looking at this book, you know in your bones that he is one of the most honest cartoonists the medium has produced thus far.
I’m talking about Robert Crumb’s My Troubles With Women.
Ultimately, it’s the reasons I praise this comic that put me off from wanting to read it again. Crumb is not the least bit ashamed of his sexuality and preferences putting all of his lewdest and most socially unacceptable thoughts and desires on the page here. That level of honesty allows Crumb to construct an experience that is deeply affecting, even if its effect may be to shock and appall. As a reader you can experience the man’s id unleashed on the page, providing a mirror directly into his imagination and how he views this one very explicit aspect of his life in the form of a “graphic” novel.
That honesty doesn’t make Crumb or his comic appealing though. I find much of it to be revolting. Crumb objectifies women throughout My Troubles With Women turning them into highly muscled, long legged Amazons who he aspires only to fuck. That objectification leads to him mistreating them in a variety of fantasies, many of which turn into sexual assault. He remains the odd-looking, gangly caricature that he has always been, but beat up hordes of women twice his size and place his cartoonishly large penis anywhere he pleases.
It’s the sort of thing that I have no interest in reading or even discussing for pleasure, and I’m really not interested in sharing any images of what I’m talking about here. You have the internet, you can look it up.
I’m not passing judgement on those who might enjoy My Troubles With Women or even on Crumb himself though. In fact, I would say I’m glad to have an understanding of the text and his work. He is a very important figure in comics all over the world and much of his work, including this particular collection, can easily be defined as being great. It’s just not a comic that I feel any need to ever read again.
There’s nothing wrong with finding a great comic you don’t enjoy or want to read though. Whether it’s a highly lauded work like Kingdom Come that you don’t think is actually great, a supposedly important one like Crisis On Infinite Earths that you can barely force yourself to read, or one that is clearly great for some objective reasons like My Troubles With Women that you still can’t stand, those assessments are honest reflections of your own taste. The only dishonest response would be to claim to like or even love these “great” works in order to fit in with the crowd.
Claiming a comic repulses you or isn’t half as good as other make it out to be isn’t “shit talk” and it’s especially not a form of censorship; it’s a response. Not providing a true response to comics or any other form of art is one of the only ways to truly disrespect it. Reading a comic and seeking to understand your experience, that’s the way to do it. Even if you never want to do it again.