Aug 26, 2015

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 183: X-Calibre #2, April 1995

I've written extensively over the course of the last 6 months about good writers versus bad writers in superhero comics. Though he's often said he doesn't like writing superhero comics, I'm going to let Warren Ellis have a few words today. This is from the opening page of this issue:

"America is dead.

What sits in its place is a gangrenous wound of a nation -- the American dream of the creature Apocalypse.

These altered states of American have become a staging area for Apocalypse's next, best nightmare -- the corruption of the rest of the world."

There follows some exposition about the specific events of the previous issue, but really those three sentences should have been the preface to every issue in the crossover. They capture exactly the flavour and atmosphere of the series.

(And not to be particularly political, but don't they seem, written as they were about 20 years ago, somewhat prescient?)

I think that Warren Ellis is perhaps the Wolverine of comics writers. He's the best there is at what he does, but what he does isn't very nice. And for a little while there, he was thoroughly over-used.

It may seem odd to point this out in an Ellis comic, but one of the things that gets me about this crossover is that we see very few instances of hope or kindness. Bear with me. This is something that I think is endemic of 90s superhero comics in general. Everything was grim and horrible. But, horrible as it is in this particular alternate universe, there have to be moments of hope, moments that stave off the horror, or people would just kill themselves. I often, when I'm confronted with the atrocities that go on in the less-stable regions of the world, wonder how humans can continue to exist in such deplorable conditions, and the answer that often comes to me is that there are small moments of peace, small acts of kindness, that kindle the tiny spark of hope that has to burn within each of us. We don't see much of this in AoA, and even less in Ellis' corner of the universe. I think, for the crossover to be not simply a successful superhero narrative but to be a successful apocalyptic story (in this, I mean, revealing of something fundamental about humans and heroism, to be literary, I guess), the story needs to show that these people, the foregrounded and the backgrounded, have reasons to live. The rescue of the child in Amazing X-Men is a glimpse of such optimism. I'll be keeping my eyes open for more.

I've invoked that term, "literary." I am curious as to whether or not a collaboratively-written piece like AoA can be literary, or if the conflicting visions of the world stand in the way of true greatness. Another thing I'll bear in mind as we continue through this "gangrenous wound." See you tomorrow.

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