1986 is sometimes touted as the annus mirabilis of comics, giving us:
- Maus I: My Father Bleeds History
- The Dark Knight Returns
Of course, other years saw impressive achievements (see, e.g., the introduction to Best American Comics Criticism for an argument that 2000 – the year of Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan and Daniel Clowes’ David Boring – is more important). Nevertheless, 1986 marks a watershed in the history of modern comics. So why the $#@& does the comic industry seem committed to messing it up?
Over the past year, a number of works have appeared, or been announced, that connect in some way to these three seminal works. It began well enough, with Art Speigelman’s MetaMaus – a collection of interviews, essays, et cetera for the Maus-o-phile. MetaMaus isn’t perfect. It is marred by the inclusion of interviews with Speigelman’s kids which, while sometimes cute, are clearly filler, and more seriously by the general tone, which makes the reader (or me, at least) wish that Speigelman were a bit less aware of his own importance. Nevertheless, there is nothing genuinely bad here.
MetaMaus was followed by other works revisiting, directly or indirectly, The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen.
First, we have Frank Miller’s Holy Terror. It is hard to overstate the offensiveness of this bigoted, extreme right-wing piece of trash. In addition, it is impossible not to read this comic as either:
- A Batman story in disguise
- A comment on earlier Batman stories.
The comic was originally announced as Holy Terror, Batman! and the connection to both Batman and DC comics was severed relatively late in the creative process. As a result, it is hard not to view the offensive, vindictive, racist actions of the Fixer as actions also taken (or that might be taken) by the Batman. In short, Holy Terror forces a reevaluation of The Dark Knight Returns (as well as Miller’s more recent Batman work).
Finally, we have DC’s announcement of Before Watchmen –seven miniseries telling the backstories of characters or teams from the original comic. We will have to wait and see if this is any good, but I’m willing to bet that it won’t be as good as Watchmen. Furthermore, it is hard not to see this as anything other than a simplistic money-grab on the part of DC (“We upset people with the complete reboot of our universe… we upset them again with the new logo… Hey, we’re getting pretty good at fixing things that aren’t broke – let’s go for a trifecta!)
The timing can be explained by the 25th anniversary, even if Holy Terror isn’t billed that way. The badness (or potential badness) of the last two cannot. With twenty-five years to plan, how is it that the industry’s best efforts to celebrate the great works of 1986 are (in two of the three cases) almost certain to badly tarnish them?