As my recent birthday reminded me, we’re all getting older, including creators way more successful than me. And just like everyone else, age can warp us creative types in various ways.
To take an obvious example, let’s say you start out your career doing something both original and good. The response from readers is often not “now give us something else original and good” but “give us more like that one.” The financial pressure to keep doing the same thing, even if you want to experiment, can be very strong (I’m reminded of Jack Kirby’s lament that he wanted to inspire other comics creators to do what he’d done and create new things; instead he inspired a lot of them to work on stuff he’d already created like New Gods or Fantastic Four). Even if that doesn’t happen, very few creators can stay on the cutting edge forever. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s work on Oklahoma was ground-breaking, as Ethan Mordden details in Beautiful Mornin’. By the 1960s they were still successful — Sound of Music was a mega-hit on stage and on screen — but their shows were what the avant-garde musical creators were breaking away from.
Another effect of age is that creators, just like the rest of us, get nostalgic for old stuff and grumpy about new stuff. Richard Rodgers didn’t think anyone would be able to make a musical out of rock music. Harlan Ellison, in his late 1980s writing, objected to DC’s reboots of Superman and the Shadow (admittedly the latter was dreadful) — why were they disrespecting fans who like the old stuff? — but he also objected to Marvel’s New Universe line. Not because it was crappy (it was) but what if fans spent money on the new books instead of Spidey and Captain America? What if that led to the classic characters getting canceled in favor of the New Universe? Not good!
If it’s not acceptable to launch new books or reboot old ones, the only option is to keep doing old ones the way they’ve always been done (which was the point of his short story Jeffty Is Five). Ellison was in his fifties by then; he’d gone from being an angry young man speaking the truth to power (okay, yelling the truth to power) to a crotchety old fart wishing kids would get off his lawn (of course, George RR Martin’s Armageddon Rag was bewailing how the world had turned to crap and he was in his thirties at the time)
Alan Moore seems to have wound up in a similar place.
It’s noticeable in LGX: Century in which he seems displeased with 21st century culture in general and particularly with Harry Potter — what a sad, juvenile set of stories those were, unfit for mature minds! In the series’ finish, LGX Tempest, which I just finished (review to come soon), we get more of the same. James Bond, who was believably vicious in Black Dossier, is now a homicidal maniac taking great glee in killing people for sport. Complaints about how America has been infatuated with superheroes, plus snark that Birth of a Nation was the first masked-superhero film (the KKK as masked vigilantes — makes you think about Batman, doesn’t it? Well DOESN”T IT?). Elric (not officially) tells Orlando in one scene that stories about superhumans make readers think “only impossible beings are capable of greatness … they cease attempting it for themselves.”
It appears the characters are speaking for their author as Moore has made the same points in several interviews (here, here and here). They’re not fit fodder for adults. People who watch superhero movies are clinging to their childhood, afraid to face the world. They’re escapist fantasy. Despite a little added diversity, they’re a master-race fantasies fit only for white supremacists.
My short answer: bite me, Mr. Moore. As JRR Tolkien once said, the only people who object to escape are jailers.
My longer answer: Getting nostalgic for childhood, wanting to escape whatever your life’s woes are for a while, these are not bad impulses. And it’s not a binary thing, where if you read comics you can’t possibly read anything serious or “mature.” I read superhero comics. I also read a lot of other stuff (very little of it is serious literature, true), and I stay informed about politics and what’s going on in the world. And no, reading comics or fantasizing about larger than life adventures does not mean we give up on doing anything ourselves (he reminds me of a Bill Maher rant I blogged about a few years ago).
As Kurt Busiek once pointed out, if comics can express the fantasies of teenage boys, they can express anything: the fantasies of girls, fantasies of justice, the frustrations of middle age. Nerd Reactors compares comics to videogames, another field that initially targeted kids but now spreads out to appeal to all kinds of people.
I’m sure part of this is Moore’s frustrated anger over the way DC Comics has made his work into their intellectual property (you can find the details of his issues online). But that doesn’t make his argument any less cranky and unreasonable.
#SFWApro. Covers by Howard Chaykin and Kevin O’Neill, all rights to image remain with current holders.