When I started this blogging project, the idea was to talk about how my tastes have changed over the years, and how my changing tastes may be influencing my feelings towards comics I loved when I was younger. I’ve kind of gotten away from that a bit, and changed it into a history/overview of popular characters.
So I thought I should take a second to let you know how I’m feeling about superhero comics right now.
I hate them.
Well, maybe hate is a strong word. As I’m doing my culling, I’m still going out every Wednesday and buying new graphic novels, and I find that I’m getting far more
satisfaction from reading books like Northlanders, Acme Novelty Library, Two Generals, or Grandville Mon Amour, than I do from MOST of the superhero stuff that I’m rereading. So why am I keeping so much? I think a big part of it is familiarity. It’s comfortable to read a Batman comic where you know who all the players are, know the kind of the story you’re going to get, and also know that eventually Batman is going to win in the end. Or be hurtled through time while his protegé fills in for him, only to come back but for some reason announce to the world that Bruce Wayne is funding Batman even though that would just open up any businessman to a billion lawsuits and also make people start to wonder if Bruce Wayne really IS Batman after all? One or the other.
Don’t get me wrong. There are still superhero comics being put out that I enjoy, and I will ALWAYS love superhero mythology. Mark Waid’s Irredeemable, Gail Simone’s Birds of
Prey and Secret Six, Roger Langridges’ Thor: The Mighty Avenger, Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern and Superman: Secret Origin, and Jeff Parker’s Atlas are all fun and interesting, and totally worth your time. Other recent superhero titles such as J.M. DeMattheis’ Savior 28 or John Arcudi’s A God Somewhere attempt to push the envelope as to how modern societal complexities can be tied into the superhero genre, and are the equal of any of the pretentious European bullshit that I love so much these days in terms of emotional resonance.
I’m finding that as I go, my tolerance for “just ok” stories is waning. I’m definitely starting to cull more, and once I’m done rereading my entire collection (based on my current rate of consumption, I’m predicting that I’ll be done in May or June), I think I’ll probably go back and cull some previous keeps. I also expect to cull a lot more Marvel than I did DC for some reason, though we’ll see how that goes when I get to it. For those of you who care about such things (i.e. my wife), I’m actually currently almost done DC in terms of reading, though I’m still only in the J’s when it comes to writing about the project. Next will be Marvel. Then the really big part, which is my “indie” section. It’s sorted by writer, and includes everything from Vertigo books to indie autobiographies, and so-on.
I do think age has something to do with it. As you get older, its natural for most people to want their entertainment to evolve as they do. But because the North American comic
market has such a fixation with superhero comics, the publishers constantly pump out books that kids can at the very least not be offended by, and tend to err on the side of caution when it comes pushing any type of storytelling barriers. Superhero comics HAVE grown up to a certain extent, and now deal with themes such as death, sexuality, and politics in ways that mainstream comics of 60’s, 70’s, and early ’80’s never could. But they still cater to an audience that wants it’s storylines wrapped up in a tight little bow. Not to mention that both DC and Marvel are owned by major media companies that will never willingly push the envelope when it comes to content when a bit of judicious censorship will do the trick. And while you often read posts in blogs and articles by comic book fans complaining about how they wish superhero comics could go back to the way they used to be, the sales don’t back them up, and even the most critically acclaimed books that cater to younger readers don’t last very long. That’s fine, if your sales are strong in other areas. But even the sales of top comic books (Batman, X-Men) are decreasing every year, and so the comic book companies find themselves placating an increasingly shrinking fan base, with no real strategy for attracting new readers. So if you’re a comic reader in your mid 30’s and you are finding yourself increasing dissatisfied with the superhero tripe you are reading, you have two options: You either broaden your horizons, and try new comics that don’t necessarily have tights or guns in them, or you quit all together. Sadly, most people are taking the latter option.
So what’s my point?
I guess my point is this: There are good superhero comics out there. Just like there are good action movies and good fantasy novels. But limiting your entertainment
consumption to one or two genres is like only eating cheese. It’ll taste good for a while, but soon your urine will start to turn orange and then your liver will burst. So if you find yourself discouraged by DC’s latest “We actually came up with a good idea that should have lasted 7 issues but because they sold well we decided to extend it to 107 issues through 30 titles and you REALLY NEED to own every one” cash grab, or Marvel’s latest “Character X just died in a thrilling 10 part cross-over that you really need to buy every issue of even though we all know that we’re just going to bring them back next year when sales are soft again” remember that superhero comics are only a very small part of what’s out there.
Next up: More superheroes!