Have you ever seen yourself watching a film, reading a comic, playing a video game that was promoted as old school or retro? It’s not as uncommon nowadays as many games like Rogue Legacy and Shovel Knight try to homage and take their style from the 8-bit era. Films like Hostel and Cabin Fever were promoted as retro horror and films the Artist being called tributes to classic Hollywood.
It is not at all surprising, we all have our inspirations and genres we love like me with anime, classic Universal Horror and the 2000-2006 Batgirl comics. Many of us would love to makes tributes to them and make our own works inspired by them.
I recently wrote a piece on how Bruce Timm seems to get a free pass on his art despite being just as bad and sexist as others out there in my opinion. There was a lot of good discussion about the topic and one of the counter arguments I got from several commenters is that his art style is based off Good Girl Art of the 40s and 50s. That’s fair and if you love that art style, more power to you. But I have a problem with this argument which is, so what? It’s still bad sexist artwork in my opinion and just because it’s trying to be retro and incredibly stylized doesn’t change that for me.
Also as an aside because I will likely never have a chance to say it and please feel free to ignore this part, I also don’t think the artwork being just pin-ups and not official is a good reason either. It’s still artwork he’s published for retail (with a cover which for me, really just says I think female superheroes are just sex objects and I don’t care about my female audience), it’s still unappealing artwork for me and it doesn’t mean I can’t criticize it or call it out.
Back on topic, this got me thinking on other works that were defended or tried to avoid criticism by saying it is retro or that it is inspired by older art styles and eras. Frank Miller comes instantly to mind when it comes to comics, most notably his Holy Terror book which was a tribute to the American propaganda comics of the 40s. If you know anything about that comic, you know that it is considered one of the worst comics ever made, heavily criticized for its racism and sexism and was even despised by other comic writers berated Miller for doing like Grant Morrison.
The 2008 film adaptation the Spirit was also another example of this, with the film trying to do a 40s comic strip style and failing miserably, with stilted dialogue, a poor plot and again, horrible sexism.
Non superhero films are also areas where this happen. Horrors are bad for this such as the Eli Roth films I mentioned earlier. They call themselves tributes and homages to the horrors of the 70s and 80s, but it comes across as they use it as an excuse to make stupid gorn fests (nearly all of them terrible).
Personally, if you’re going to do a tribute or use a style from the past, then you have to do something either new to say about it or try to subvert the genre and art style. What seems to be one of the main failings of a lot of works is that they stick to the genres and art styles too strictly, keeping all the bad and out dated concepts with it. This is probably why Bruce Timm art (last time I promise, I realize some of you are sick of me bad mouthing him) feel so unappealing to me, it keeps all the sexism and weird posing (the pointy spines are never going to look good for me) which feel off and degrading.
The Incredibles does a far better job of using this style while at the same time, updating and improving it, with the women far less sexualised and feel more like real people, with all of them having unique bodies rather than sex objects with the same body. Hell, the original DCAU stuff of Timm was a better improvement then his later (and some of his early) work. The original Star Wars is a perfect example of this, with it expertly both being a loving tribute to the 30s shorts while at the same time being its own thing. Even Horror films like New Nightmare and Cabin in the Woods brings new life to a genre that has become overdone and tired.
What do you think? Do you agree with me that being retro is not an excuse for bad quality and if you’re going to do a tribute or use a certain style or genre, you need to do something more with it? Or do have a differing opinion or believe I’ve been too harsh on a work?
Again I would like to stress that this is not meant to be a judgement call on anyone who likes these styles or works and I do not hate anyone who disagrees with me. Please feel free to make counter arguments. Also sorry for continuing to harp on Bruce Timm, I don’t hate the guy, I don’t think he os being intentionally sexist and I love his work on the DCAU, I just don’t like his other work and I feel brings out a really bad message.