1602 Note, Plus a Ramble

I finally got around to reading 1602. I mentioned before that I hoped to quibble with Jim about its merits, since he found it quite wanting. No quibbles yet. My overall response was a bit more positive than his, though we agree that the first issue was awkwardly paced and full of inelegant exposition. A knock-your-socks-off opening would have been much better, of course, but there’s still plenty of time for the story as a whole to pick up speed. I liked the art very much – it has a painterly, saturated quality that fits the setting nicely. Overall, the jury’s still out – I’ll hold off on more commentary until there’s a couple more issues out there.

Part of 1602’s charm is the interplay of familiar characters and superhero topoi with a new setting. But is this sort of coy self-reference a well that’s been drawn from a few too many times? Its central to classics like Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns. Alan Moore has practically made a career out of it – witness League and Top Ten. It’s not the basis of Planetary, though that comic is constantly engaged in sly homage. Even a great, straightfoward superhero comic like Ultimate Spider-Man is getting some of its juice from the fact that we like to see how familiar characters are re-imagined.

The odd thing is that I ought to be annoyed at this rash of self-referentiality, but none of the above examples suck. What makes them good isn’t their metacommentary, but old-fashioned stuff like strong characters, deft art, solid dialogue, and engaging plots. Navel-gazing by the craft’s top practitioners isn’t limited to comics – it’s commonplace in twentieth-century literature, and I’d wager a guess that you’ll find the same dynamic in other art forms as well. In comics it seems more pervasive and yet less egregious, somehow. Still, I’d like to see more excellent comics that stand without referring to other comics. I’m sure it’s out there and I’ve just overlooked it – examples?