23
Jan 09

Thrill-Power Revisited

FT6 comments • 308 views

Comics Should Be Good links to my old Pitchfork essay on THRILL-POWER, a term I use a lot without ever having managed to give a good summary of what I mean by it. (“Earthlet, if you have to ask, you’ll never know”)

This awesome comment however perfectly indicates why there’s still some way to go before the Dictators of Zrag are fully purged from the US market: “Call me crazy but I’ll take a “story” over a “thrill” any day.”

In terms of current comics discourse, here’s where I think thrill-power fits in: there’s a divide between “grown-up” (for which largely read: adolescent and post-adolescent) comics and “all-ages” material, and a lot of people lamenting the fact that the market isn’t set up in a way that allows the latter to sell very much.

Thrill-power is the giant scorpion in the room, reminding us that what kids are given to read and what kids want to read are very different. It’s the inner 11-year-old boy of comics howling to be let out, the imitation Freddy Krueger glove, the secret alternate version of Amazing Spiderman 583 in which Obama fist-punches a hole through the Chameleon’s stomach and splatters the press corps with gore. It’s Jack Kirby, sure, but it’s also Rob Liefeld – the mad structureless free-for-all of early Image titles, a new superteam every 3 pages….which was also the post-60s commercial peak for comics. It’s audacious and stupid and disposable, except somehow it never quite gets disposed of, it lodges in your mind like pop songs and old TV shows, a glorious flaw in the diamond of the adult you who wants your comics to have “stories”.

Comments

  1. 1
    Tom on 23 Jan 2009 #

    Not that stories and being a grown-up are bad or anything! :)

  2. 2
    Martin Skidmore on 23 Jan 2009 #

    It’s what I love about Grant Morrison and Mark Millar – the Superman 3-D Final Crisis story I read last night, or Millar’s current Wolverine run that I am reading at the moment, are the combination of high intelligence of a mature kind, with all the qualities people want from that, with real thrill power. The latest Wolverine gives you a deeply affecting explanation of why our hero has not fought for 50 years, which is certainly story and maturity, but it offers tons of spectacular action (Wolverine vs dozens of headline villains), a daring twist and then a cliffhanger ending that outdoes any giant scorpions. There aren’t many who can offer that kind of excitement alongside character and intelligence.

    If I’m only to have one of the two, I would mostly opt for thrill power – if I want mature stories about real characters doing ordinary things, my first choice is novels rather than comic books (this is obviously not to suggest that I don’t love the Hernandez Brothers, for instance). Comics do fight scenes and explosions and outer space action and so on better than books, mostly.

  3. 3
    Tom on 23 Jan 2009 #

    I need to read that Wolverine run!

    Final Crisis is a weird and wonderful example of someone trying to do thrill-power for adults, definitely, and mesh it with some pretty experimental (for superhero comics) storytelling techniques.

  4. 4
    David R. on 23 Jan 2009 #

    The latest Wolverine gives you a deeply affecting explanation of why our hero has not fought for 50 years, which is certainly story and maturity, but it offers tons of spectacular action (Wolverine vs dozens of headline villains), a daring twist and then a cliffhanger ending that outdoes any giant scorpions. There aren’t many who can offer that kind of excitement alongside character and intelligence.

    Martin is giving Millar WAY too much credit here. “Tons of spectacular action” = endless and numbing barrage of panels of Wolverine doing what he does best over & over & over again (shades of Millar’s spotty year-long run w/ JRJR on the book a few years back), and what MS is calling “daring” I’m calling “totally expected & hokey.” I would’ve rather MM stuck w/ the off-the-wall tweaked future stuff, where the real thrillpower lies in “Old Man Logan” (like the cliffhanger of the latest issue Martin references, definitely a scorpion moment), than actually trying to explain something that would’ve been better left unexplaind (which seems to be the way Wolverine works best).

  5. 5
    Matthew on 23 Jan 2009 #

    Does 2000AD have thrill-power any more? I ask because I bought it every week come hell and high water between Progs 492 and, oh, 1300 or something, but I can’t muster up much joy except via nostalgia when I pick up the odd copy these days.

    If thrill-power is hiding out in places outside of 2000AD now, I want you to set me on its track asap…

  6. 6
    Al Ewing on 26 Jan 2009 #

    I’m doing my best, Matthew… actually, Tharg just asked me to start thinking about Tempest II which will big-up thrill-power no end.

    Matt Fraction’s very zarjaz – he has an obvious love of some pulpy SF tropes that jumps out occasionally, especially in Iron Fist, and Casanova, especially the first series, is a good example of short-form, every-episode-a-different-wild-idea thinking.

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