Comic Fodder

The Signal Watch - Week 3/1/2009

Scans_Daily Gets Shut Down

I guess there are a whole ton of people who care about the fact that Scans_Daily or Scans Daily or whatever it was called got shut down. I think I'd jumped from Journalista! once or twice to rubber-neck something particularly reprehensible.

I was unaware that Scans_Daily considered themselves a community in quite the way that's come to the fore, but you know, goodie for them. If I sound a little "meh" about the whole thing, it's that the Scans_Daily "community" has taken the shut down of their site of pirated material as some sort of attack on female comic fans. And even commentary stating that people up in arms are wrong, and it was piracy, still falls back on the idea that it was some gender war issue.

I guess this writer sees any very public piracy (as what one could find at S_D) as so poorly conceived, that its a surprise it didn't occur before. This writer sees it as (just maybe) a gender-free slap down that one of the Big 2's attorney's finally got got around to dealing with a site that was using copyrighted material without permission.

I don't celebrate the shut down. I'm not mocking the group. I'm not even using naughty language. Honestly, I don't know much about Scans Daily other than (a) it existed, and (b) seemed to be illegal, as it re-printed copyrighted material without permission. Generally, it seems typical of the trend that most people feel pretty entitled to do whatever they darn well please online, like a herd of bratty middle-schoolers. It doesn't surprise me that even some of the folks in agreement that S_D was performing illegally are still seeing boogeymen. But until the law is changed, that's more or less how it works. Reprinting stuff without permission is illegal.

And the fact that the comic audience is so cavalier about illegally distributing materials is exactly why we saw John Cunningham's freakout that we talked about earlier this week.

Free content or very, very cheap content may be an inevitability of comics. But it will STILL have a copyright, re-printing agreements, etc... Grabbing content and reprinting it may never be considered okay in our society of ownership (at least here in the U.S., where copyright law is very strict). Even if technology can't prevent such spreading of content, we'll never be short of lawyers or corporations trying to protect their material.

For all the folks who feel some moral battle has been lost by the closing of Scans_Daily, the battle will fair better if you're actually falling within the realm of fair use. And, if the commentary I'm reading is a suggestion of what was going on as per reprints + commentary, pulling the tiger's tail.

And, it sounds like Scans_Daily is up and running elsewhere, anyway.

Battlefields: Dear Billy

Garth Ennis is most famous for his work on titles such as Hitman, Punisher and Preacher. He's a talented writer, and seems to have a particular affinity for depicting the horrors mankind doles out upon itself, whether he's working for comedy or tragedy, for whimsy or pathos.

What's striking is how prolific the man truly is, from his Punisher work to his Dan Dare series for Virgin (which hopefully will find a home at Dynamite), and usually one or two other works announced or on the shelf. He's never been at home with superheroes, but has still managed to carve out a name for himself in a market where getting on Spidey for a 4 issue stretch can carry you for a few years after.

As he's aged, Ennis seems to have refined the different avenues of exploring man's inhumanity to man. He's still capable of a something like "The Boys", which I apologize for never having had read. I was in a mood when it first came out, and never caught up when it moved from DC to Dynamite. But he's also been able to expand on his superlative Vertigo "War Stories" mini series, and his Marvel Max series "First Flight of the Phantom Eagle", bringing the same idea to Dynamite under the "Battlefields" umbrella.

Each 3-issue series tells a tale of those caught in the grip of World War II, an area of study that Ennis has an excellent understanding of the history, mechanics, etc... and seems to have meticulously studied each topic upon which he writes before pounding out a script. The details seem accurate enough that the characters' dialog always feels natural, even if you weren't ever in a bar in Cairo describing the latest movements of your squadron.

Americans may wince occasionally at Ennis' portrayal of Americans in Battlefields or elsewhere (he doesn't beat around the bush in presenting a parallel viewpoint to that of the American common story regarding WWII), but in these narratives he shouldn't have to tiptoe around America's attempts to claim the historical record. Not when he's creating characters to speak for the day-to-day grind of the battlefields of Europe, Africa and Asia.

The first series, "Night Witches" details the braver story of the first all-female air squadron from the Soviet Union as Mother Russia fought back ferociously against German aggressors. The second, now on its 2nd issue, is "Dear Billy", the story of an English nurse who is brutalized in China and left for dead by the Japanese army before she is placed in a hospital in India where she's left to attend both British patients and Japanese POW's. The titular Billy is an RAF pilot with whom she falls into a romance.

There's a common misconception among comic creators and, more often, readers that "comics aren't just for kids" translates to the ability to put decapitations, nudity, sex, and other elements of an 80's metal band album cover into a comic. And for a certain audience, maybe that's what they're looking for. Ennis is certainly capable of that, but he's always done it with such a talent for a wink and a nod in his more satirical work (see: Preacher), that he's comfortable enough with the material as a story not necessarily aimed at a juvenile, thrill-seeking audience in stories like "Dear Billy", that any nudity or violence is simply incidental to seeing our characters develop a romance amidst the horrors of war.

"Dear Billy" is a fictionalized account of very real atrocities, and rife with the necessary and unnecessary decisions made on the Battlefield (whether in a Hurrican or on the night shift in a hospital). It's a compelling story of human behavior for which the reader can sympathize with the characters as each decision is made (even if the doom of war hangs overhead as much as the fatefulness of decisions being made). Perhaps because Ennis has armed the story with characters that grow on the reader well before the conclusion of the first issue.

It's not that Garth Ennis doesn't receive attention. But because he does work outside the superheroic periphery, he seems to dwell in an odd tier of attention among comic fans. "Battlefields: Dear Billy" is a reminder that Ennis is one of the three or four most important writers working in comics at this moment. And it's a damn shame that because his work doesn't appear as part of a "Dark Reign" cross-over, he won't receive the sales or attention of any of Marvel or DC's millions splinter spin-offs to the latest event. Or that he doesn't seem tos pend his days online building a cult of personality or slugging it out with fanboys in the discussion boards.

Battlefields hasn't received much buzz, but if we're serious about comics as a mode of storytelling, the two series that have appeared thus far are as good of an example of what's possible in the medium as anything.

Watchmen Coming on Friday

It isn't the job of the movie reviewer to have read the book before watching the movie. They can only review and possibly critique what they've seen on the big screen. It's hugely promising that as of this writing that Watchmen has an 81% "fresh" ranking on Rottentomatoes.

What's concerning me is that what's being discussed is that Watchmen made it okay for nudity, violence, a bit of salty language, etc... to appear in comics, and that's what made superhero comics "adult". Which is completely missing the point of a book that took the black and white morality of superhero tales and placed them in a world which operates not unlike our own messy world. Eventually taking the concept of "saving the world" to an ugly, logical conclusion. But mostly, the characters were fully developed within the world defined as an extrapolation of the book's events.

To reflect upon the comments I made above regarding what makes an "adult" comic, will Watchmen the movie take the somber tone with which I've always read it, or will it take on the "bad-ass" tone which the post Dark Knight/ Watchmen approach to comics so often takes when writers and artists have taken the license those books gave them, using the gratuitous bits but lacking the ability to create a complex or engaging narrative?

I'm re-reading the Watchmen comic now. I'll be traveling on business when the movie is released, so I don't really know when I'll see it, but I'll be seeing it at The Alamo Drafthouse on S. Lamar here in Austin. I wouldn't really want to see it anywhere else.


Questions? Comments? Hate mail?

Come on, I can take it.

=======


Ryan is an Op/Ed columnist for Comic Fodder. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas where he manages the long running blog League of Melbotis.

He likes Superman.

You can reach Ryan (aka: The League) at theleague.cf@gmail.com

Hey Ryan,
Just wanted to say thanks for following up while I was "away." I'm back now.
I've been enjoying the Signal Watch from afar--keep it up.
Cheers,
FanBoyWonder

-- Posted by: FanBoyWonder at March 4, 2009 8:33 AM