Some things that are on my geeky mind:
1) Avatar is just damned amazingly good. Kid-equipped people should be making it preferential viewing. Non-kid people should also consider watching. The episode that really convinced me it was the kind of kidvid that my brother and Kevin were calling for in Saturday Morning Fever was the one where the title character convinced two warring tribes that their mythological narratives of ethnic conflict are in error, because he was around a century before when their conflict supposedly started. After he’s convinced them that they’ve mistaken a children’s sporting match for a huge primal cultural conflict, the two tribes make nice and wander off together happily. The protagonist sighs and turns to his two close friends. They express amazement that he happened to be there a century before and that the story was so simple to resolve. The Avatar laughs: he lied, just to get the two groups to stop being so stupid.
I fell in love right at that moment: it’s exactly what would never have happened in 1970s era kidvid but also what doesn’t happen in ironic self-referential kidvid either. The show is marvelously moral and yet also incredibly entertaining and wise at the same moment. First-rate stuff.
2) I’m almost done with superhero comics. That’s an amazing thing for me to say. There’s a few that I still enjoy, but largely only as trade paperbacks (Geoff Johns on Flash, Bendis on Powers). I was afraid about Identity Crisis a while back and I think my anxiety turns out to be well-warranted.
Superhero comics are serial drama, and the desire to consume them turns on parallel forms of arrested development involved in the consumption of soap operas. I’m not at all apologetic about those preferences. However, doing it right is a real trick: a good creator of serial drama has to both satisfy the consumer desire for more of the same while also delivering the impression of something new. I’ve written in the past about how the inability of the owners of the contemporary mainstream superhero universes to allow their metafictions to develop a more consistently imaginative foundation or backdrop has undercut the storytelling capacities of their creators.
Nothing’s changed as far as that goes, but the major remaining strength of both DC and Marvel, the nostalgic investments that long-time readers have with characters, is being steadily eroded. This is the same thing that brings soap opera viewers back from temporary disaffections with particular storylines or phases of their favorite shows: once the creative team moves on, the characters are still there, the mood of the genre form is still there. The genius of the core fiction behind a character like Batman is still there, a trusty if somewhat antiquated engine capable of churning out new narratives. A writer can even mess with some aspects of that core fiction to good end, but the anchor is still there as a last-instance guarantee of the reader’s pleasure.
But there’s a kind of malign spirit gripping both companies at the moment: stories that aren’t just mean and grubby in their narratives, but which backwash that sense into the characters and their anchoring mythologies. There are a lot of recent examples: the gratitutious unpleasantries of the “Disassembling” of the Avengers (and the crassness of a “New Avengers” that includes the most overexposed character in the history of the comics, Wolverine), but the worst I think I’ve seen lately is Batman #644. I read through it in the comic store rather than buy it: it’s almost finished my interest in reading standard-form superhero comics, at a time when I’m down to only one or two titles already. In it, the character of Dr. Leslie Thompkins, a long-time fixture in the comics, the character whose anchoring morality was an important part of the development of Batman’s origins, is consigned to the dust heap, as DC decided to make her a murderer out to end superheroic activity. Whatever. It’s more than a stupid story: it’s a kind of throwing water on the embers of an almost-dead fire. In the end, the main thing I ask of the intrinsic silliness of mainstream superhero titles is that they still be fun to read. Most of them aren’t fun any longer, but they’re still not about real people in real situations or even fantastically real people in fantastically real situations, so what’s left? Very little, at least for me.