NOTE: This post only has a passing relation to comics, but I felt that some of the issues I discuss are particularly relevant to a lot of the problems I have with mainstream comics today.
See, this is what happens when I can't get my weekly Doctor fix: I watch sci-fi television series I have no particular interest in.
Finished watching Torchwood on Saturday. It's link to the Doctor Whoverse, and its standing as an official spin-off are somewhat perfunctory. Sure we have the appearance of a Cyber(wo)man, but a Cyber(wo)man whose appearance and behavior in no way resembles what we are used to seeing in Doctor Who. Sure the TARDIS makes a sort-of appearance or at least is alluded to at the very end of the series finale, after Captain Jack makes the first mention of the Doctor in the entire series. Other than that it just appears to be another mediocre sci-fi team drama.
That was mean, wasn't it? I mean, I do really like some of the characters. Of course, none of the characters that I'm supposed to love or simply be enamored with. I have such a contentious relationship with Captain Jack at this point that I can't decide whether I want to kiss him (which he would love) or if I want to punch him (which I'm sure he would also love in some sick/twisted way). I do, however, love Ianto & Toshiko. I can barely stand anyone else on the team at this point. Even if Owen did have a good performance during the whole Weevil/Fight Club thing.
My main problem with the show seems to be its fixation with "love" sex. Not that there's anything wrong with a person being obsessed with that, I suppose.
Character "depth" comes in the form of an episode-long romance doomed to end tragically before the 50 minute mark. If the experience of said romance was particularly effecting, then that plot thread will continue into the next few episodes, only to be exploited on an explosive level in the season finale.
I had it pegged from episode three.
Over at the Journalista blog Dirk Deppy gave a perfect dissection of the state of current mainstream super hero comics [specifically pertaining to this image]:
"…isn’t that it’s misogynist, but that it’s fucking ridiculous. This looks like sexual-fetish material, sure, but it would have exactly the same weird-ass vibe if both of the depicted characters were men. This image isn’t “sexist,” it’s emotionally stunted. Wrapped in the garb of teenage fantasy, it cannot help but take on an air of unreality that no infusion of sex or violence will dispel. Sixty years of accumulated kiddybook clichés won’t suddenly become adult reading material if you add lesbian relationships, hardcore gore or extended scenes of chartered accountancy; the latter only throw spotlights on the childishness of the former."
Oddly enough, this tends to address almost all of my issues with Torchwood and a lot of genre fiction coming out these days in mainstream media outlets.
This leads me to another point.
For almost a year now, I've had to listen to some of my closest friends colleagues sing the praises of Battlestar Galactica, to the point that I am now morally obligated, as a fan of science fiction, to catch up on the entire series. It's not that I haven't given the show a chance, it just honestly doesn't interest me that much.
That's right. I said it. I don't care about BSG.
I really don't.
The problem with shows like Torchwood and BSG, and subsequently most mainstream super hero comics, is that in spite of sci-fi and comics being treated as a cultural ghetto, these stories are trying desperately to tap into a cultural vein that allows more "mature" stories to be told within their respective genres. But as most intelligent comic fans know at this point, blood, guts, and sex do not a mature story make. I mean, any adolescent with a word processor can produce a work of fiction that contains "mature" elements like violence and sex, but that doesn't make it any better than the story they wrote when they were eight, that lacked those things.
Torchwood does not make sense to me as "Doctor Who for adults" or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets the X-Files". Likewise, BSG doesn't make sense to me as "The West Wing in space", because with each of these shows maintained/maintains an identity wholly unto itself. Doctor Who doesn't try to emulate anything other than Doctor Who. X-Files never claimed to be anything more than X-Files. These stories were strong enough to stand on their own without comparison and without contrast. I honestly don't believe that Torchwood proves itself to be a good enough work of fiction to do that. BSG's standing as a piece of fiction in this regard, after three seasons, is arguable.
It doesn't make sense to me that someone would write a novel or a short story, in hopes of being as good as or comparable to something else. That's just not how the creative process works.; Sure, there's the Picasso line about how "all artists borrow", but that's something entirely different. That's about the transference of inspiration, of ideas. If you set your sights to emulate a specific work of fiction, when your work reaches that level, but never manages to rise above that or become something wholly new and exciting, you have no one to blame but yourself.
You can't make "Buffy meets the X-Files" into a sustainable series. At a certain point, your story is going to have to grow wings of its own and be able to carry itself on its own merits. You can't emulate a show like The West Wing, but have your show set in space or under the sea or on a zepplin, and expect it to be any good. The West Wing operates on completely different rules than BSG.
Emulating a piece of fiction that is important, doesn't make your piece of fiction important by association. All it does is make your work momentarily relevant. There's nothing wrong with that, but it will certainly not go down in the history books as even a footnote. Your work can only be encompassed in the cultural dialog if you offer something new and noteworthy to say. It doesn't how clever you spin someone else's ideas, because at the end of the day, there still somebody else's ideas.