“Your family can make memories that last a lifetime. Do you know what else lasts a lifetime? BAD BREATH…” Some guy on the radio totes just said that. He obviously doesn’t know my family.
But seriously kids, oral hygiene is important. If you ever find yourself incarcerated, a pretty mouth can be worth its weight in gold. Do you know what else is crucially important? Talking about DC.
You’re in luck because this is DC Talk – with Hal, our semi-irregular column looking at the goings on in the DC realm and offering pro-tips for prison popularity. I am proudly Scott’s brother Hal, and this week I want to talk about something I don’t like… Steam + Punk.
Steampunk is a popular genre in nerd culture today. Merging old-school, steam driven mechanics with modern applications of technology (and merging gears with everything imaginable). “Steampunk” culture envisions a world where edgy youths on the fringes of Victorian society use available (primitive) technology to influence the world to be less lame.
In short: I hate it.
I may not really hate it, that just seems like an easy description of my feelings. But why do I carry this animosity toward dapper individuals with a few unnecessary gears glued to their hat? I think it may have something to do with my past acquaintances.
Some of my friends in High School considered themselves “punk.” They wore soiled, torn t-shirts, they pierced themselves with household objects, they swore with abandon. Within my naïve realm of experience they were as punk as it gets. Then one night they came face to face with what punk-ness really means.
Wandering downtown one night, they encountered an older woman who challenged their punk cred. “You’re not punk!” she charged in a raspy, accusatory tone. Eager to vindicate themselves, my friends approached the aggressive, seemingly transient woman. “You’re not punk! You’re nothing,” she said, upping the ambiguous punk-status ante. My friends were well versed in punk culture, but still they floundered for an appropriate way to respond.
Then she laid down the gauntlet, in a more or less literal way… “Piss in my hands!” she challenged. My friends looked at each other with uncertainty. “Piss in ‘em,” she repeated, holding out her hands at waist level.
My friends couldn’t let this assault on their punk-osity go unanswered, but at the same time, they felt uneasy about allowing the situation to play into her hands, especially if she was more of an escaped mental patient with a strange fetish, rather than a wandering punk guru. So they made the logical move, my one friend forced himself to vomit on the other. Like a multi-colored Gatorade shower at the end of a successful football season, he unleashed a Technicolor yawn on his unsuspecting compatriot, and then looked to the woman expecting some sign of recognition or respect.
With her hands still held out expectantly, her squinting eyes glowered in skepticism. Then she pronounced her judgment… “You’re not punk! YOU’RE NOTHING.”
They had no choice but to run away in terror before she showed them what it really meant to be “punk.” And today, it is only by God’s mercy that I was able to hear that story and relay it to you.
Considering that that story is the experiential reference I recall when I hear the word “punk” used in any context, I hope it is at least somewhat understandable that I bristle when I hear that some goggle-wearing dingus is described as “Steampunk” because he is piloting a zeppelin. YOU’RE NOT PUNK.
As far as I can tell (without research that I am too tired to do), the steampunk genre evolved out of the cyber punk genre. Oddly enough, I am okay with the cyber punk genre. (If you haven’t read Snow Crash it would probably be worth your time.) Cyber punk’s basic premise is that disaffected youths use their tech-savyness along with their punk leanings to mess society up technologically as well as hygienically. Steampunk arose when they extrapolated that approach back to the “steam age,” because radicals in that era would be content to think of ways to build steam-powered automatons rather than seeking to advance technology beyond steam power (like what really happened.)
Maybe my problem with steampunk fans is that it’s hard for me to have any respect for someone who watched the 1999 remake of Wild Wild West and thought, “Yeah, I would have liked to live then…”
So why did I even bring this up? Aren’t we supposed to be talking about DC?
On January 7 Jason Pearson posted a steampunk variant cover for the February issue of Teen Titans on his Facebook page. As you can probably imagine, I was overjoyed.
A friend once told me that they know the guy in the picture at the top of the Wikipedia article about “Steampunk.” (I assume the same picture is still there.) I don’t know what sacrifices you have to make on the gear-covered altar of steampunk to get to be the poster boy for it on Wikipedia, but if nothing else I’m sure his parents are proud. Anyway, my friend was really excited about knowing Mr. Steampunk, and I’m sure lots of people are excited about this cover. I am not.
Aside from my general dislike for the genre, it annoys me that DC is obviously messing with it to cash in on the cane carrying steampunk cosplay kids hanging out in comic shops. (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: In my day the only cosplay we needed was Picture Pages.) The original punk movement was started as a rejection of polite society. But eventually the punk movement got co-opted and became a way to market to rebellious youths. Now steampunk takes it a step farther by hijacking the concept of edginess that is still associated with the term punk, and using it to sell costumes to LARPers so they can have something to wear to their tea parties. And now DC is jumping on the bandwagon with a variant cover that is little more than a blatant gimmick. DC is basically urinating on the grave of Sid Vicious (which is actually kind-of punk now that I think about it). This whole fiasco is absolutely UN-PUNK and it is a gross misappropriation of the term, just like that *bleep* show Ashton Kutcher had on MTV. If you want to read a comic that has anything at all to do with the meaning of the word “punk” then go read Punk Rock Jesus.
DC takes a lot of flak for making stupid decisions, but in my book they have hit a new low with this one. I’m trying hard not to take it as a personal insult. After all I’ve done for you guys, all the times I gave you the benefit of the doubt and defended you, and you’re gonna do me like this?! Huh-uh. You done did me wrong, and I don’t get did like that. You really screwed the pooch on this one, and I don’t see it getting unscrewed any time soon…
But then again, it’s DC, so whadayagonnado? This shouldn’t be a big deal. I don’t even read the new Teen Titans, so why do I care what derp business happens to show up on a variant cover? If they want to straight-up jack Dynamite’s swagger, more power to ‘em.
It’s a problem for me because in recent years DC has done a decent job of making sure that what’s on the cover has something to do with the story inside the comic. Sure, Batman didn’t become a full-on Yellow Lantern in Forever Evil #4, but he did briefly put on a yellow ring. Sure, Batman never became Bat-beard the pirate, but he did meet some pirates. So, I don’t really expect to see Superboy and Kid Flash strap on some cog covered corsets and start punching a giant steam-powered Brainiac. But I do expect the writers will incorporate some steampunk elements into the story somehow.
It’s not even hard to come up with a scenario where the story would arc in that direction. The Teen Titans have already been lost in time after a shake-up with Evil Flash in Forever Evil #2, so as they’re cruising through chronology they could easily wind up in an epoch where exposed pistons and gears cover all surfaces. “Oh, snap! Are we in Bespin, Cloud City? No, wait, the year is 1904 and we’re in Steam-punksylvania.” Cue the sad trombone.
It’s annoying to me because I don’t want any steampunk nonsense to get incorporated into the canon. “Oh no! Silly trends getting shoehorned into the canon in order to appeal to clueless geeks and drive up sales? *Sarcastic voice* That’s neeevvveeerrrrr happened before!” I know, but part of the purpose of the New 52 was to get away from stuff like that. STOP LAUGHING! I know the New 52 was largely a marketing gimmick and it has already been chock-full of nonsense. I’m the DC guy; I know. Expecting any comic publisher not to pander is like expecting a monkey not to stink, it might be possible for short periods of time, but highly unlikely. Even so, I’m also an idealist, and I’m going to push back when things violate my idealism.
My deep, dark concern is that these issues could have longer lasting implications. What if something follows the teens out of steampunk land? Who knows? I didn’t expect Nightmare Nurse to stick around, but there she is, making Justice League Dark dumber than it has to be. Why not invent a new steampunk Teen Titan?
Why not? Because characters whose whole persona is tied to an era or a trend generally do not hold up well over time. Remember Disco Dazzler? They can be reinvented and used effectively, like Vibe, but those are more of the exception than the rule. Eventually any fad loses its coolness, and then any characters tied to that fad have to be discreetly disinvited from the team before their lameness starts to bring down the whole crew’s mojo. And any steampunk character would be lame from the start.
So let it be known: Any persistent steampunk characters shall heretofore be referred to on this blog as “Doctor Facepalm” regardless of their age, gender, medical training, or any other aspects that might make that name kind-of awkward. So let it be written, so let it be done.
I feel better now. Then again, I’m the DC guy around here, so I’m going to have to go to the comic store and check out that issue to see how bad the damage is. But I’ll tell you what: I am not going to buy that issue, I’m just going to flip through it in the store and put it back. And what’s more, I’m not going to brush my teeth that day, and I’m going to mouth-breath really hard on every page. Who’s punk now?
Disagree? You wanna’ step to this? Are you wearing gears as you read this? Leave a comment below. I can’t promise you that I won’t judge, but I will at least respect your courage to speak up for yourself. Think you’re more punk than me? It’s doubtful; you’re reading a blog about comic books. But leave a comment, and if you play your cards right maybe we can meet up and I’ll let you piss in my hands (right after I put on elbow length medical gloves and you provide documentation that you don’t carry any transmittable diseases.)
No matter who you are, we appreciate your patronage. If you are a fan of steampunk, I’m impressed that you read this far without assaulting your computer, and I’m grateful that you were willing to take time away from your repeating loop of Macklemore’s Grammy performance to check out our blog.
So, until I realize I am running out of time next month, keep musing.
*Update* – It’s worse than I thought. Apparently DC plans to release steampunk variant covers for 20 different titles in February. There’s no telling what this might mean or how this might relate to a DCU-wide steampunk event debacle.? You can view all the covers here: http://www.nerdist.com/2014/01/dc-comics-goes-steampunk-this-february-with-20-killer-covers/
Looking through this gallery it is clear that some of DC’s artist comprehend the concept of “steampunk” even less well than I do.
Why is Aquaman holding a diving helmet? Did he steal it from someone in that zeppelin that Cthulhu is eating in the background? I would like to amend my position: Steampunk can make some things better, and by some things I mean Aquaman. But he is still nowhere near punk.