There's a Batman fancomic making the rounds lately. I'm sure you've seen it. But in case you haven't, take a look.
Why does it leave such a bad taste in my mouth, I wonder? I like Batman. I like Bill Hicks. I like dark "what-if" narratives and from time to time I still enjoy "meta" stuff. And the writing is good! And the art is great! So why wasn't I knocked out of my chair by this?
I just remembered something from Jaron Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget. The subject of the section from which this is excerpted dealt mostly with music, but it does expand to other media as well:
Even the most seemingly radical online enthusiasts seem to always flock to retro references. The sort of "fresh, radical culture" you expect to see celebrated in the online world these days is a petty mashup of preweb culture.
Take a look at one of the big cultural blogs like Boing Boing, or the endless stream of mashups that appear on YouTube. It's as if culture froze just before it became digitally open, and all we can do now is mine the past like salvagers picking over a garbage dump.
So. You take one thing that people on the Internet already recognize and like (Batman). You mash it up with another thing that people on the Internet already recognize and like (Bill Hicks). And voilà! Batman + Bill Hicks = Internet sensation.
That's probably an oversimplification, and it discounts the power of the artwork and the drama of the story, surely. (It's much more than just a straightforward mashup on these accounts.) But I can't think of any other reason for why I'm not as impressed as I'd like to be. It's just two things I'm already familiar with and I already like, and they're put together--and to me it feels somehow calculated and unimaginative.
Preciado (the writer) comments that what he and Bayliss (the illustrator) have in the works now stuff involving original characters -- which I do plan on checking out. They clearly know what they're doing.
And that makes the Batman comic a brilliant move on their part. You bring everyone to the table with something a whole lot of people are guaranteed to be impressed by (Batman + Bill Hicks; people already like what they already know), and some of them are guaranteed to stick around afterwards when you ask them to swallow something unfamiliar.