There’s a misconception that The Simpsons and Family Guy are alike because they reference things. In fact, these days, nearly any show/movie/comic book that references another piece of work risks being labeled as Family Guy-style. Or is explained as “You know, like Family Guy.” Worse yet, someone pulls out “Family Guy-esque.” Yeah, you took a film class or two, Me (or person incredibly similar to me). You’re not that smart! Anyway, The Simpsons, and other works on that level pulled off references, or “allusions,” if you will with skill, precision, and purpose. The gag wasn’t based on you knowing the reference (South Park has shit on Family Guy far better than I ever could, so please view their “Cartoon Wars” episodes if you don’t know what I’m talking about). The gag was based on if it was funny or not, and if you got the reference, all the better for you. And if you didn’t get the reference, but learned it later at college while getting your head filled with literature and foreign films and naive political notions, well then BULLY FOR YOU! That made what The Simpsons writers had pulled off all the more impressive.
Why, Paul? Why are you going off on Simpsons and Family Guy and writing vaguely like a Dusty Rhodes promo on your blog about comics that you haven’t posted on in nearly a year?
It’s cause of Hawkeye. I know. Groan. Fart. We covered this in 20 other posts. But Hawkeye has expanded in scope in its second year. The first year focused on Hawkeye (Clint Barton), and what he did on his non-super hero-ing days. The creative team was headed up by writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja, with Javier Pulido taking on issues 4&5. The second year has seen the book grow into almost two books (which will surely converge again into one), following both Barton, and his female protege Kate Bishop, with the focus alternating monthly. Also alternating monthly, are the art teams, with Aja telling Barton’s tale, and Annie Wu telling Bishop’s (Though Pulido got Kate’s tale going in the Annual).
Anyway, we’re talking about the Kate issues. The Annual, and issues 14 and 16.
This is from the second to last page in the Annual. I missed the reference at first, but then my friend Jeff pointed it out while we were geekily talking about issue 14 coming out. The cat with a taste for a specific brand of cat food is a call-out to Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye starring Elliott Gould as Raymond Chandler’s Private Eye Phillip Marlowe.
The annual’s tease paid off with cat food aisle conversations in 14 and 16 between Kate and an unnamed P.I. that looks quite a bit like Mr. Gould did back in 1973.
The latest issue also visually references the characters of Dr. Verringer and Roger Wade from the film, while also bringing in a bit of the parasitic relationship as well. Henry Gibson, who played Verringer in The Long Goodbye, is an easy visual shorthand for villain. Just ask Tom Hanks.
So why does it matter? How is this just not the same thing I derided Family Guy for, except for people who took a film class about the films of Kubrick and Altman? Because rather than dealing in the surface level of “We like the same things,” Fraction, Wu and Pulido are communicating through the reference. It’s part wink, part context, and for those not in on the references, part “Go check these books out at the library Reading Rainbow episode wrap-up” to get readers to take in the art that played a part in influencing this story.
Modern storytelling is constantly derided by lazy people across all mediums as “having been done before.” Well, good for you, enjoy your show about a carefully workshopped marketing construct masquerading as reality. Things have been done before yes, but sometimes there’s an art in acknowledging it, and maybe even in saying that we’re all trying to tell one big story. Yeah. That’s it. My wrap-up is that Fraction and Wu are bringing Altman’s Long Goodbye into the Marvel Universe. I can’t wait til Marlowe brushes off Thanos with a “That’s okay with me” as the Mad Titan wishes half the universe into non-existence one more time.
Going back to the series as a whole, though, it seems to be exploring many of the themes and storytelling techniques that were present in many of Altman’s films: Humanism. Non-conformity. Expansive messed up families. Overlapping dialogue. Telling a story from a dog’s perspective-no, wait. That one doesn’t really fit.
What I’m saying here (if I’m conveying anything coherently at all), is that Fraction and his many talented collaborators are telling a fantastic story, and they’re doing so using the paints, the ingredients, the whatever-metaphor-you-want-to-insert-here elements that make Altman films like The Long Goodbye great to make their story even more richer and satisfying.