Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Greatest Hits #1

Busy week, but let's get this one done before another wave of books arrives...

"Come Together"

Writer: David Tischman
Artist: Glenn Fabry
Letterer: Todd Klein
Colourists: The Hories
Editor: Shelly Bond

David Tischman used to be a regular collaborator of Howard Chaykin. But X-Men fans will probably remember him best from his brief run on Cable, in the days when Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada were putting out all sorts of oddball titles.

With Greatest Hits, he teams with Glenn Fabry to produce a superhero book, of sorts, for Vertigo. This is a six-issue miniseries about the Mates, a group of English superheroes blatantly intended as a riff on the Beatles. The series seems to follow them through their career, with the framing device of filmmaker Nick Mansfield - apparently one of their offspring - making a documentary. Most of the issue, though, is given over to flashbacks chronicling their early career, complete with costume changes from early black suits through to what seem to be vaguely Sergeant Pepperish affairs.

Earlier in the week, I complained that Young X-Men didn't really seem to know what it was about. I should be pleased, then, that Greatest Hits knows exactly what it's about. It's about the Beatles as superheroes, a concept that it hammers home repeatedly.

The thing is, though, it's the sort of book that leaves me thinking: okay, the Beatles as superheroes. Yes? And? Are we just doing a "superheroes as celebrities" schtick here? Because that's been done better by X-Statix and, frankly, by several incarnations of Youngblood. Or are we supposed to be basking in a warm glow of nostalgia and going "Ah yes, the Beatles. Weren't they awesome?"

I suspect the problem here is that I'm supposed to react to the Beatles as legendary figures, as lynchpins of my pop culture mental landscape. And, um, I don't. Never have.

It's not that I don't appreciate the Beatles. Their songs are dulled by massive overexposure, but it doesn't take much reflection to figure out why the Beatles mattered. They hit an unprecedented level of fame in the days when the ground rules of celebrity weren't so clearly established; they laid down a new paradigm for what a pop group could aspire to be. All this, I appreciate.

But still, for heaven's sake, the Beatles split up some five years before I was born. They are a story for my parents' generation. (Actually, dad never listened to music, and mum seemed to prefer Leonard Cohen. But you know what I mean.) Of course, none of this means you can't interest me in a story about the Beatles, but you can't just assume that I'm going to care about them.

And that's what's missing here: any apparent attempt to explain WHY we should be interested in a Beatles-themed superhero team. That's not to say Tischman is writing a hagiography; the characters are flawed, the team squabble. Nick is only making his documentary out of grudging career necessity, and doesn't want to glorify the team. But the story never really engages with the question at the front of my mind: so what?

Ultimately, what we get is a bunch of semi-cryptic Beatles references, interspersed with some rather crass comedy. It clearly means something to Tischman, so perhaps it's going over my head somewhere. But, as they used to say, it says nothing to me about my life.

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