Monday, June 3, 2013

STL #113: The Boys

And with this I end what has become a half-year-long accounting of the reading of the previous year. At this point, I don't care that much about The Boys. There was a spiritedness I felt (or imagined) when I first discovered it last year, but as it has sunk in, I recognize the series clearly is lesser than and derivative of other earlier critiques of the superhero genre. There's a whole tradition of super-hero critique starting in the mid-80s with Watchmen and Dark Knight (maybe). It's well-known that Alan Moore intended Watchmen as a final nail in the coffin, the ultimate critique of the genre's fascist tendencies. What happened was that subsequent work embrace the darkness of the critique--that's probably what's happening in Frank Miller's work since that time, it pretty much explains the flood of "grim and gritty" comics of the 90s. Around the new millennium, the critique returned with Warren Ellis's work on Stormwatch and The Authority and has been a part of the landscape ever since. There are essentially two ways of looking at this movement, both of which involve the having and eating of cake. One one hand, the fans can feel all sophisticated being hep to the critique while indulging in the most gratuitous tropes. On the other hand, this formula allows the writers to get paid best they can while making fun of a genre and fanbase they disdain. I'm pretty sure both things are going on with Garth Ennis's first extended creator-owned series since Preacher. It's about a covert org bent on policing the abuses of superheroes, who run amok with violence and sexual debauchery. The series then gets to portray orgies and decapitations, all in the name of critique of the fascist love of power inherent, they say, in superhero comics.

So maybe for a short time I played the mark, the drooling idiot who thought he was in the know. But in any case, The Boys may remain important in the history my reading practices (a topic I understand is of interest to no one but myself). My first contact with The Boys came through a stack of single issues, the "floppies" that for so long remained the cornerstone of the comic book industry. I got these at a library discard sale, along with the TPB (trade paperback collection of previously published issues) of a mini-series featuring all the same characters in the most "shocking" excess. The mini-series was called "Herogasm" which says everything I need to say about it. The first phase of my reading was therefore disjointed--I had the first four issues, a gap of about 30 issues followed about 20 of the next 30 issues. I also had partial mini-series spotlighting main characters and the aforementioned 'gasm. The result of this kind of reading, an artifact of the publication culture based on serial publication and a collector's mentality, is a sense of the "world." You know the types of things that happen in the world, but not all the details of what "really" did happen. A friend then loaned me a digital archive included all the issues published at the time, which was all but the last. I read these on a cbr reader on my iPad. That final issue I purchased and read on Comixology, a store with its own reader. So it might be that The Boys will the the first of a chain of hybrid reading experience that I experience in a range of media. This hybrid species probably won't last that long; floppies at least are sure to disappear in the near future. The question I wonder about, then, is how does the material condition of reading an incomplete stack of issues differ from the continuous reading of a digitally archived body of work? It certainly does, and it seems clear the previous is soon to disappear from our world.