So I’m walking with two of my daughters to school a while ago—the middle one and the youngest one (aged 10 and nearly 12, at the time)—and the one turns to her younger sister and asks her what she thinks is the most confusing comic story that I have ever read to them.
Comics have been in my kids’ lives ever since the beginning, simply by virtue of being related to me. They all enjoy them and we’ve had a good time over the years reading different stories together, ever since they were very little.
Anyway, the three choices suggested by the Middle Daughter for this question were:
• JLA / Avengers – the massive inter-company crossover written by Kurt Busiek (who maybe knows everything about every comic character ever) and drawn by George Perez (who seems to have an ambition to draw as many of them on the same page as possible.
• DC: The New Frontier – the massive retelling of the origin of the Justice League by writer / artist Darwyn Cooke, set in the time of the original publication that team, and examination the nature of heroism against the backdrop of cold-war era America.
• JLA: One Million – a trade paperback of the line-wide cross-over in which the Justice League from thousands of years in the future visits the original team. Written by comic super-star Grant Morrison, the series tells of an epic struggle between good and evil that spans generations and galaxies.
(Obviously, I’m a bit of a DC guy.)
A bit of discussion follows, and they both agree that New Frontier is the least confusing of the bunch: there were lots of little plotlines but they all came together in the end.
One Million and JLA/Avengers are tied in the mind of the Youngest Daughter for most confusing. But that may simply be because of the number of characters involved, rather than the story itself. For example, Middle Daughter at one points was asking me who the strange purplish creature is who at one point replaces the Hulk in JLA/Avengers. I had no idea who she was talking about, and all she could tell me is that even though it has arms and a head, it definitely didn’t look like a person. Meanwhile, the Youngest Daughter was wondering who that guy with the big brain was. Middle Daughter has just re-read the story and at first said there was nobody with a big brain, but then remembered…it was the Monitor.
I pipe in: the Monitor isn’t in JLA/Avengers, that’s a character from Crisis on Infinite Earths, which the girls haven’t read. After more thinking, we realize that she’s not talking about the Monitor at all, but rather the Watcher, who does indeed have a big brain. Or at least a big head.
Middle Daughter says the most confusing of the stories is One Million, an opinion that I share. I ask her what made One Million confusing, and she mentions a bunch of things:
• Time Travel (always potentially confusing)
• How Lois came back to life (A bit confusing, but poetic)
• How Martian Manhunter became Mars (Confusing but AWESOME!)
• How come even though Starman destroyed Solaris in the past, Solaris was still there in the future. (Did that even happen? I don’t remember!)
She concludes by saying even our conversation was getting confusing.
For me, the confusing aspect isn’t the number of characters (though there are a fair few), but rather the oblique way the story is told. If you are not paying really careful attention, it can be tricky to keep track of what’s going on. But that’s Grant Morrison for you, who at times gets into a thing of seeing how little exposition he can put into his stories before they get completely impenetrable.
I understand this tendency. As a storyteller, you want your narratives not to feel obvious to people. At the same time, you don’t want them to be so obscure nobody knows what’s going on. It’s a tricky line to walk. And One Million is not even Morrison’s most challenging work, not by a long shot. I probably won’t ever read Final Crisis to my kids, for example.
So how do you put together a story that includes the high concepts, the grand scope, the wild flights of imagination, and still make it clear and accessible, even to children? Well, for me, you look no farther than something called Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, by Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones. This 6-issue mini-series includes time travel, multiple dimensions, non-linear storytelling, evil doppelgangers and super-powered cats, and yet it also remains accessible and easy to get into. Also, it’s funny, it’s dramatic, and it features a completely non-sexualized female lead.
I ask my girls if they think that story is confusing, and the Middle Daughter says no, while Youngest Daughter concedes that it was a little bit. But now they want to read it again.
See—it can be done! Comic stories that are accessible to children. Stories that stretch our imagination while still making sense. Stories that are non-offensive, non-patronizing, and still awesome. I’m grateful for this. I’m grateful there’s stuff out there I can share with my kids and not be conflicted about, that can stretch their imaginations and make them laugh and cheer, just like I did when I was growing up.
Just like I still do.
This post was drawn from material originally written for MyTrendingStories
(Incidentally, it turns out that purplish creature was the Yazz, who debuted in Justice League America #95)