Samples.

“Honestly, when it comes to comics and nostalgia, I want more Public Enemy than Puffy. Meaning, you should take the old stuff and mix it into some weird ish that is only vaguely familiar.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

The comics industry is awash in nostalgia and has been for decades. And though the word nostalgia has become distasteful to many, it is not the existence of nostalgic work that is a problem. The ubiquitous nature of it is.

We need our rituals and our well-worn tales. They provide comfort, instruct children as to how to make their way in society, and honor those who have come before. In comics, many creators choose to pay homage to the elders they admire through mimicry and the utilization of classic characters. Wonderful stories in many genres have been created via this method. The stories are akin to “party joints,” songs where a rapper raps over an existing beat ripped from an older song. Puffy (Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Diddy, Sean Combs) was notorious for this. The result is fun and fanciful, but it brings absolutely nothing new to the table. The creative effort involved in such a project is negligible. These works are needed to pay tribute—to enact a ritual—but if they are all that a society produces? Said society is no longer moving forward artistically. It has become stagnant.

The comics industry has become so bound by its nostalgia that it has nearly ground to a halt. Rigid adherence to what has come before is only useful and enjoyable in small doses. The majority of the artistic works produced must be innovative. What is created throughout the ages must change as our society changes. Like a closed commune, the comic industry primarily watches society change from afar and makes no changes within.

After I made the comments posted above on Twitter, Brandon Graham asked me what comics I would consider “Public Enemy comics.” I wanted to say Prophet, but I am completely ignorant of the Extreme universe prior to the recent relaunch. However, having read enough Conan, I can safely say that Prophet could be placed within that category.

At the time of the group’s debut, Public Enemy’s sound was completely novel. It was nothing like what had come before. What was fantastic about the music produced was that it lovingly paid tribute to the founders of modern black music and yet honored the new community it was creating for simultaneously. And one does not have to actually sample older works to achieve this. Frank Ocean inspires vague remembrances of the Dramatics and Prince, but his work is wholly his own.

I wish to see this method adopted by comics. I want to see love letters written to Kirby and the world that we live in now. To survive as an industry? Comics must embrace the past and the present at once.


Supremely prophetic visions.

A month ago, if one had asked me if I would be interested in reading a handful of comics concerning a hypercompetent white man who saves the world through his sheer strength and determination, the withering gaze that would have served as my response could have silenced the most effusive of fanboys. And yet here we are to discuss Prophet and Supreme, and how much I’ve enjoyed both.

Prophet

When I discovered that Brandon Graham would be taking the reins of Rob Liefeld’s Prophet series, my initial feelings were bittersweet. I was pleased that a creator I had always admired was being recognized for his incredible talent, however, I felt said talent was wasted on a character clearly unworthy of it. I was adamant that, similar to other titles such as Batgirl, placing a creator I adored on a book featuring a character I despised would only result in increased resentment for the character in question. More importantly, it would most certainly not result in a sale.

Brandon Graham proved me wrong. Brandon Graham gave me Conan in space.

Truth be told, I don’t have a penchant for tales of Alpha males—men who have assumed a position of dominance in their community. Even the most congenial of characters, such as Superman, leaves me cold. They are fine, even charming, when they appear in a panel or two, but an entire comic focused on their activities? I am simply not the audience for it. However, there are paths around my wall of indifference. The path Graham chose was to rip John Prophet once again from his community, this time placing him in an arena where his dominance is far from assured. A former Alpha male completely off balance in a new world? It is a concept that envelops me completely, drawing me in deeper the weirder the world gets and the harder the antagonists become.

And Graham likes it extra hard and really weird. The sanitized sci-fi scapes that the majority of us are used to are of no use to Graham. Instead, he draws his influences from myriad places, pooling them into a world that becomes dirtier and more off-putting due to the severe juxtaposition—a landfill full of different dreams of our futures. Bubblegum bodysuits, giant mechs, organic cargo trains that run on excrement, primitive hunters—all share the same terrain. Of course, Roy and Dalrymple deserve credit as well for the skill they exhibit in folding Graham’s conflicting visions into a world one can visually navigate. However, the road is a bumpy one, all the better to keep things interesting. John’s opponents and occasional compatriot are as perplexing as the land they hail from. Each character is a puzzle in appearance as well as deed, preventing the reader from simply assuming a passive role in his entertainment. As John represents the last of humanity, his fate becomes our concern, forcing us to question the motives of all who stand in his path. The tactic works. I care about John Prophet. See if you do too.

Supreme

The world presented in Supreme, once helmed—as recently as last month—by the talented Alan Moore and now in the hands of creator Erik Larsen, is one that is soothingly common to any individual familiar with the superhero genre. It is our world, albeit one that has been tweaked slightly to accommodate for men who can fly and women who shoot beams of energy from their eyes. We have been a part of this world for over half a century, and have adored every minute of it. However, like a grain of sand in an oyster, Larsen has injected an irritating element into this escapist’s world that many find comfort in. Surprisingly, it is the lead character himself.

Neither a benevolent god nor a humble everyman made good, Supreme is a belligerent bully in the guise of a superhero, one who has made his debut as a perverse pastiche of the icon of excellence we all hold dear. And though there are many twisted depictions of Superman, very few of these depictions are presented as the lead protagonist. Generally, they are the adversaries of the characters we truly cherish.

What turns this grain of sand into a pearl is Larsen’s humor and his stubborn refusal to avoid themes many others have shied away from in an attempt to present the superhero as a serious subject. The superhero is delightful and extravagant and violent and ridiculous, and Larsen embraces every element of it, throwing him into our familiar world and enjoying the mayhem that ensues.

Armed with the power of a deity and the emotional maturity of a child, Supreme is a bull in a china shop, or perhaps deer in a bar. The wreckage he leaves in his wake is awesome and, like the clip above, quite frankly, hilarious. We have seen the physical destruction clearly with Larsen’s debut issue, beheadings and disemboweling occurring mere panels after the character’s reappearance. I am curious as to when we will bear witness to chaos of the emotional variety. The world of the superhero has changed as our world has changed, and often caresses, cajoling, and compromises are required where pulling and punching once sufficed. For twenty years this character has been isolated, and now he has been dropped into a world he can physically dominate but is emotionally unable to navigate—a situation ripe for comeuppance. And who doesn’t want to see the bully get what’s coming to him?