In case you missed it;
TRACING IDENTITY THROUGH THE CHRONOLOGY OF WORKS: THE POST-MODERN PERIOD
THE EARLY YEARS lasted six years, possessed nine works, and ended with DEMO: VOLUME ONE. In the last post, I’ve just stated that THE MODERN PERIOD also lasted six years, also contained nine works, and was concluded by DEMO: VOLUME TWO. If you subscribe to this theory based on the evidence I’ve presented, then one could speculate that Brian Wood is due to now run a third period, which will end when he completes something akin to DEMO: VOLUME THREE, which will be the ninth project in the period, some time around the year 2016. From there, it’s likely that he would be evolving toward a fourth period of creative output. I realize that sounds wildly specific, but I think it’s pretty fun to make bold predictions based solely on pattern recognition. In fact, in a Robot 6 interview over at CBR in early September, Wood commented: “I mentioned DMZ in its final year. I also concluded DEMO recently, and I finished writing DV8 many months back. A lot of stuff ending and requiring a bunch of new stuff to replace it. A new “era” in my career, really….” I’m prepared to lean forward based on the divergent tone of this one most recent work, and say that after this logical demarcation point, we’re actually entering that new era. It’s called “THE POST-MODERN PERIOD,” the first foray of which is…
DV8: GODS & MONSTERS (2010, DC/WildStorm): DV8: GODS & MONSTERS is unlike any previous Brian Wood book. While it does share a couple of similarities, it also does something that he never really attempted before. Let’s first knock the similarities out of the way quickly. Most importantly, it does share the unifying theme of identity. While it’s not necessarily focused on the identity of a single POV character, all of the assembled team members struggle with defining their identity very directly. They are aware of their previous incarnations as superheroes, and seek to move past them. By juxtaposing their powers with a primitive society, Wood is able to tease out the questions they ask themselves: What are we? Are we forces for good? Are we fueled by the id and simple hedonism? Are we in control of our own destiny, or are we being manipulated by a greater force? Are we Gods? Are we monsters? The book boasts a slew of well written female characters which are alternately examined, particularly Gem Antonelli, who we see being interrogated/debriefed aboard The Carrier, her flashbacks informing the narrative structure of the story. We learn that as “Copycat,” Gem possesses four distinct personalities, some of which she’s not very fond of. There’s Soldier, Nihilist, Spy, and “Little Gemma.” We really aren't certain which of these personas we're seeing and these various facets and her murky sense of self typify the identity struggle that the entire team is contending with. She says honestly and directly of the superhero-come-God-fueled war on the planet: “I lost any sense of who Gem Antonelli was supposed to be.”
The identity crisis is so intense that it transcends the characters and begins to attack the genre. Wood is slowly and steadily suggesting that the basic notion of a super-powered being is intrinsically a flawed paradigm. For the most part, their “post-human” powers are their undoing and only further expose their very human flaws and weaknesses. Though it’s in an inverse capacity, we see that their human personalities, egos, and insecurities are actually more powerful than their overt and traditionally “positive” powers. If humans can succumb to their base motivations and fallible psyches, and if they actually possessed powers, then the world would be a very dangerous place indeed. The entire concept is not only problematic, but quite an implausible premise. That self-aware recognition of the flawed construct suggests a post-modern slant. In a single issue review
I made the bold statement “this is Brian Wood’s Watchmen.”
Though it’s the hyperbolic, begging-for-pull-quote-status, brand of line that critics relish the opportunity to craft… I absolutely stand by it. Aside from the name “Bad Floppies” in CHANNEL ZERO,
I can really only think of one prior example of Wood extending beyond his identity focus and attempting some industry meta-commentary. In issue three of LOCAL
, Wood highlights a fictitious band called Theories & Defenses. While one of the band members is conducting a phone interview with a reporter, there’s a long string of dialogue about creator obligation to fans. I found this sequence to be extremely powerful and instantly considered that it was a thinly disguised cipher for Brian Wood to discuss his rights as a creator. This type of industry commentary isn’t revisited with such intellectual vigor until DV8.
This secondary trait differentiates this particular work, and by extension, quite possibly the entire emerging period.
Brian Wood isn’t the first to deconstruct the superhero paradigm of course, but he adds his name to an impressive list of creators who have done so formally. When I rattle off some favorites, I think of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ requisite WATCHMEN
, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s cult favorite FLEX MENTALLO
, Joe Casey and Ashley Wood’s underrated AUTOMATIC KAFKA
, B. Clay Moore and Jeremy Haun’s hardly noticed BATTLE HYMN
, J. Michael Straczynski and Gary Frank’s reimaged SUPREME POWER
, and more recent examples like Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp’s tour de force work at Avatar Press, like BLACK SUMMER
and NO HERO
. While DV8
’s basic premise and subtitle do support the original theory of identity being a constant element of authorial voice threading through Brian Wood’s work, we also see this new trait formally emerge as a characteristic. It’s emblematic of the flawed superhero paradigm and subsequent commentary on the topic, its very presence subverting the genre to his will. Superheroes, Vikings, a Young Adult line, urban crime, or any other genre, are merely a sandbox; he’ll play the game he wants within it.
It makes me desperately curious to see what’s next from Brian Wood. In an August interview with Atomic Comics, Wood mentioned that there could likely be a fall announcement (possibly some time around the impending New York Comic Con, October 8-10) about a new ongoing series which would be ramping up as DMZ
begins winding down. [Note
: This projection was initially suggested prior to the recent DC restructuring, which may impact the announcement timeline.] I feel fairly confident that new works might continue to utilize the identity theme as the backbone for storytelling, but it will be very telling to see if any more of this post-modern commentary seeps into the work and helps to flesh out this emerging era, or whether new secondary traits might solidify that help to define the next arcs in his career. For now, this concludes this portion of our program. Stick with us for just two more posts, one quick set of observations, and then our rousing conclusion about Brian Wood’s legacy in the history of comics and his larger social message as an indie creative voice.