Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Comic books and the national mess

What do we know about the country's economic biliousness? That greed played a huge part. That politics played some part. And that basic incompetence remains a force to be reckoned with, even in an age when cynicism should have taught us to doubt the credentials of anyone claiming special expertise. In anything.

We go to people for an array of services we can't provide for ourselves, short of becoming contemporary financial and technological da Vincis. And to our repeated horror -- as well as uncomfortably belatedly in too many cases -- we discover there's no real buffer between the illusion of proficiency and bona fide knowledge and skill. Pick any profession, in fact, and so it goes.

People were chasing pots of gold in the financial scrums and also barely understood the paperwork they were shuffling. The clueless hired the foolish who honored the fakers. Corruption just added the rhinestones to the whole cheap fabric.

This all makes me think of comic books. Of all the self-destructive industries I covered as a reporter, the comics biz was always the most consistently suicidal. Here was this marvelously American font of both accessible and inspired art and storytelling, but it never failed to waste an opportunity.

We've arrived at a peak moment for the comics culture, thanks to two sensational movies, "The Dark Knight" and "Iron Man." And what did DC Comics just wrap up? A big-event tale, "Final Crisis,'' that showcased its iconic characters and was unreadable. It wobbled from incoherent to arcane and back to incoherent. How about that for blowing an opportunity? How about that for putting another impediment in the way of people reading things?

I can understand how "Final Crisis" got made. I can understand how the writing and editing process went off the rails (been there, seen that). I just can't understand how it got published. Or perhaps, as I look around at the state of American know-how, maybe I can.

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