SUZY SPREADWELL #1 by John Linton Roberson, available at Google Play Books!
I Didn't Write That!
22 July 2013
  Deconstruction Inevitably Becomes Reconstruction

Looking at some old war comics--not SGT. ROCK or BLAZING COMBAT or TWO-FISTED TALES, but the actual workaday, average war comics there were the most of back in the day--brought a few thoughts to mind. Apparently not the kind of thoughts Garth Ennis has when he reads them.

So you've read some Kubert, some Kurtzman, some Goodwin, and you're nostalgic for war comics. Delve a bit deeper. You won't be. it amazes me that people don't realize those artists were making comics reacting against, and commenting upon, what war comics mostly were--which is to say straight-up grunt propaganda, often affected by the fact that army canteens were a huge captive market for comics.

When you read a lot of war comics, especially before 1970. you're reading stories actually intended for the soldiers, who were almost kids themselves and the comics helped hold that trusting state. They were meant as morale-boosters and psychological simplifiers, as well as stimulating a desire to be a soldier in kids back home who would, at the time, be subject to a draft at 18.

Most of them were basically like this:

Not exactly "make war no more." (And British war comics are, Pat Mills' thoughtful and sad CHARLEY'S WAR aside, even more enthusiastically violent and racist)

And yet people think it's a genre that should be kept going. One thinks of the episode of M*A*S*H where Father Mulcahy, wanting to write a Korean War song, comes to the conclusion that war songs probably shouldn't be written at all.

It reminds me of a couple of things. Firstly, it's very much like the misplaced nostalgia people have for westerns, forgetting, similarly, that the westerns they like were reactions against what westerns once were and commentary on same. Films like LITTLE BIG MAN or ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST--which are films that I like a lot--were meant as the closing of a genre, not its extension.

Which leads me to another similarity: WATCHMEN. Nowadays taken as some kind of artistic justification of the superhero genre when its intent was to end the genre.

The lesson is that if you've got a problem with a genre, you kill it best by starving it, not giving it fresh blood even as metacommentary. If you don't like a genre, don't work in it, and discourage others from doing so.

Ultimately every attempt at a genre's deconstruction is condemned to become its salvation. Can we name one instance where something intended to tear down a genre actually did so? Or were they taken as, "Well, if you do the genre like THAT, I like it!" Example again: WATCHMEN. Did mainstream comics move on from superheroes? No, they just decided to soil them. Problem solved and another three decades of life infused.

Sometimes things shouldn't be revived or perpetuated. Sometimes dead is better.

*Title inspired by Emmett O'Cuana
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