I was listening to old SplashPage episodes recently, as one does, and during a discussion of Kirby Genesis Chad Nevett utters the eternal question, "Does Alex Ross suck Silver Age Cock?" so here we are, does Alex Ross drop to his knees and turn his mouth into a vacuum cleaner? Does he slurp it down like a toothless meth head trying to afford a midnight fix? No, i don't think so, maybe a little, but he defiantly lick that shits prostate clean.
See the Silver Age is known as a simpler time, a funner time, a time when Batman could turn into a baby one week and be abducted by aliens the next. The Silver Age was a time when comics were for kids, and no one cared what was in them.
Well actually someone did care about what was in them, actually a lot of people cared. See all that fun and wackyness of the silver age didn't come from a vacuum, it was the byproduct of censorship. EC Comics the largest publisher before the Silver Age and the Comics Code, producing socially relevant and conscious material making them the industries vanguard. Actually i might be giving to much credit to EC, they primarily wrote 8 page horror and sci-fi strips, which every once in a while would hit on something relevant (primarily when drawn by Wally Wood) but 1 strip in every 100 is still better than the schlock everyone else was publishing. The problem though is that adults don't like their kids seeing violence with repercussions, that's why you can shoot up a school in a PG-13 movie as long as theirs no blood, so enter Fredric Wertham and the Comics Code with their metaphorical baseball bat to kneecap EC and anyone else who dared push the comic medium forward, and thus the Silver Age was born.
The Silver Age was the disneyfication of comics.
So what was a journeyman to do? He had 20 pages due next week and didn't get paid unless it passed the Comics Code, well he made it as wholesome, clean, and non-offensive as possible.
And this is how it went for 30 years, sure Neal Adams would slip something in every once in a while, but your allowed one "Fuck" in a PG-13 movie (so the kids will think its hip) so it wasn't to subversive. Then came Alan Moore and Watchmen, the highest selling and critically acclaimed book DC ever had the pleasure of not fucking up*. Watchmen was a EC comic at its core, socially conscious and overtly political, it even had a dramatic twist ending. And once everyone saw the sales figures the floodgates opened. Journeymen where directed to make their stories "more like Watchmen"; the only problem was that Watchmen was a intricately plotted 300 page serialized novel and not a monthly comic churned out under a deadline. So a cliff notes version was created, just like with EC, the industry latched onto the cynicism and "grittiness" of Watchmen and Frank Millers Dark Knight Returns.
The Silver Age is dead, Long live the Modern Age.
Enter Alex Ross, at the height of the Image boom. See Ross was a child of the Silver Age, and if theirs one thing everyone knows its that everything was better when they were a kid. So Ross began trying to figure out ways to revert comics to his idealized childhood from. The Comics Codes was all but irrelevant, and the government was to busy clamping down on "Rap Music" and "Rock and Roll" to care much about funny books. Ross therefore had to wage his ideological war alone.
You know when you're a kid and you read about the first Thanksgiving and everyone seems so happy? Then you find out how they skipped over the part where the Puritans were religious zealots who burnt people alive for witchcraft, or how they left out the part where the Indians have all their land stolen and are the victims of mass genocide? That's what Marvels is, a Silver Age whitewashing.*
Marvels is the story of the Marvel Universe, told from the perspective of Phil Sheldon a young photographer who "luckily" was present for all of Marvels Greatest Hits. Ultimately that's all Marvels really is though, a greatest hits album.
Hey remember that time Reed Richards slaps Sue Storm and tells her to shut up? No, ohh. How about when Sue Storm was basically turned into a helpless housewife every issue? No, ohh. Oh how about that time Hank Pym slaps The Wasp? No, ohh*. See if you only read Marvels you'd miss all this stuff, all the woman are glamorous models and the men are all brilliant heroes. Marvels make it sound like Stan Lee was being ghost written by Malcolm X on every X-Men issue. In reality the silver age was filled with sexism, racism, and the subtlety of a Michael Bay movie. It wasn't the worst of times, but it certainty was not the best of times.
When artists releases their greatest hits they are not trying to rewrite their legacy they're simply trying to cash in. Which isn't a good thing, but at least its not dishonest. What Alex Ross does though is rewrite the history of a entire universe so that others will agree with him. Its intellectual dishonest, and my Papa didn't fight those damn Ruskie's in North Korea for someone to go and Stalanize up my comics.
"Britania was at war with Eurasia.Britannia had always been at war with Eurasia"
Following his rewriting of history Ross published his call to arms. Kingdom Come centered around a world in which the old hero's (Silver Age heroes) have retired and allowed their legacies to take over. These new heroes though used violence and murder to wipe out the villains to the cheers of the general public*.These new heroes though soon begin to run rampant, ultimately turning into the villains they eradicated (It seems like someones read some Nietzsche "Whoever fights with monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster in the process. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you"). Eventually the "real" heroes come in and kick these young wippersnappers into shape, as in 90% of them die in a nuclear holocaust by the hands of the UN. The series ends with Superman promising to earn the trust of humanity again, well that is following his violent rampage which ends when he notices Batman and Wonder Woman didn't get holocausted.
The ultimate failure of Kingdom Come is that it never fulfills its promises. Ross begins the revolution but never follows through, he never makes comics "fun" again. Instead he gives lectures on why the Silver Age is better, and if theirs one thing kids love, besides "fun" its lectures.
Ross has two other works of note, first was Justice a rehash of Silver Age JLA stories which accomplishes little besides boring one to tears, and Kirby Genesis an attempt to utilize lesser known Kirby creations in a shared universe. Kirby Genesis though, highlights something unintended by Ross, his complete lack of any "supposed" Silver Age tendencies. Kirby is the most prolific Silver Age creators in comics, throwing away idea's lesser creators would spend issues on in panels (seriously people are still digging through his books for ideas), but the main tenant of Kirby was innovation, his art and mind were in constant motion. Something no one would say about Alex Ross who's panels more so resemble failed failed covers than actual pages. A tribute to Kirby is not to take his creations and tell stale stories with stale art, its creating a completely new universe full of new characters. Ross doesn't seem to understand that much. Even Astro City which Ross creates characters for is filled with derivatives. Rob Liefeld, a creator synonymous with the Image Boom, so much reviled by Ross has greater ties with Kirby than Ross does. Yeah, think about that.
Ross tried to convince comics to return to the Silver Age, but never shows us why they should. Comics are always progressing, even when their not, but what Ross wants is to kneecap the industry like Wetham and drag it back 40 years. The problem is 40 years ago wasn't so great, even if you try and whitewash it.
* Well until Watchmen 2! Coming to a comic shop near you!
* Im not suggesting the two events are equal, far from it, the former is just a example of white washing.
* Theirs a lot of domestic abuse in the Marvel super hero community* Various pertencious quotes by Orwell and Nietzsche.
* Get it he's talking about everyone buying X-Force
* I started this off with dick jokes so i get to be liteary at some point.