I am torn between my love of comics as a vehicle for superheroics and my love of comics as an art form. Comics as a medium can support both, but for me, I will always associate comic books primarily with superheroes (and vice versa). Over the course of the past week or so, I’ve been reading all appearances of the Abomination in chronological order, and last night it struck me that the superhero comics of today are just as different from the comics of my youth as the comics of my youth were from those of the Golden Age. Using the introduction of Superman as a starting point, midway between 1938 and today is 1975, juuust about the time I was really getting into comic books.

Last night, I pulled the next stack of comics I plan to read out of one of my “recent” boxes. I am up to the five-part “Dark Mind, Dark Hearts” story written by Bruce Jones (Hulk #50-54). I had kind of forgotten that this story existed, but flipping through it (I don’t plan to re-read it in its entirety until this coming weekend) I was reminded of the plot elements. Excuse me if I get some of the details wrong (I’ll correct myself next week if I do), but essentially Bruce Banner has an affair with the Abomination’s ex-wife. There are several fairly graphic (yet tasteful) sex scenes, some of which end up on looped video tape played back to the Abomination to torment him in captivity.

I compare this to the Abomination’s first appearance in Tales to Astonish #90-91, which I read for the first time (reprinted in Marvel Super-Heroes)… right around 1975 (comics “midway point”) come to think of it. That was definitely my first exposure to the work of Gil Kane, and there’s a particular one-page sequence (you’ll remember it if you’ve ever read it) of a prostrate Rick Jones hugging the Hulk’s ankle and begging him for help as the Hulk drags him across the missile base, that remains as powerful today as when it was first drawn in 1966.

Anyway, the topic is “Are Today’s Superhero Comics Too ‘Realistic’?” and the floor is open for discussion.

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Yes. Absolutely yes, but there is a problem with hoping for a return of that era.

Without a doubt, I prefer comics with far less adult themes. I like to see people outsmart one another. I like to see the bad-guys lose. I like the idea of alien races shuttling to Earth to steal our water.

Still, we have plenty of crazy plots around (Spider Island). We just get them with a dose of adult situations.

But those comics and the days where my kind of comics could sell out at a newsstand are long gone.

Instead, the kinds of stories I like can now be mostly found elsewhere ... online comics, cartoon shows, video games ... even if I don't like those formats.

I'm not really upset about this. The one good thing about the adultification of comics is that the historian types are driving the golden age of reprints.

The stories live on, even if new ones are few and far between.

There was a time when I was excited by comics that pushed the envelope in the direction of greater darkness and violence, but I'd gotten tired of such approaches by the later 80s. (To be fair, there were other things getting me down at the time.) I don't think comics with very violent, very dark or highly sexual content shouldn't exist, but I think such stories shouldn't be done with characters who are widely perceived as children's characters, and who have predominately been marketed to children. (I think it's suicidal for the companies to publish such material; how is a librarian buying trades supposed to know that this particular Superman or Batman trade isn't suitable for children?)

 

That's not to say I want nothing more in a comic than a younger kid might want. The stuff that keeps adult me interested includes good art, imaginative ideas, sly humour, and the hero's acting in clever ways.

 

What's Paul Grist's Mudman like? Does anyone know?

 

(edited)

Mudman is very early Spider-Man-esque.  I like it.

 

I buy a lot of comics for my sister-in-law's middle school media center and there are still some great long-term comic series (Action, Dan Slott's Amazing Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, The Flash, Archie books) that I never have to worry about, but some recent series (Justice League, Aquaman, Daredevil) that I was getting for them have gone a bit too far for that age group and I've stopped supplying new issues. 

Yes.

I can enjoy mature themes, philosophical arguments, etc. in comics.  However, I think they don't fare well in any universe with super-powered beings, and worst of all, they leech all of the fun and enjoyment out of the story. 

If I want to read about politics and the potential effect of superheroes in the real world, I can read something like Ex Machina. If I want to read about the mundane, everyday lives of people in the real world, I can pick up something like Love and Rockets.  When I pick up a superhero comic, the vast majority of the time I want to see a good battle between good and evil, I want to see people who always try to do the right thing whether they fail or not, and I want to see the villain caught--and if not punished, then neutralized.  Sure, stuff like Watchmen or Miracleman is great, but I'd rather read something like "Birthday Cake for a Cannibal Robot" or "Saga of the Super Sons", or Batman solving a mystery or Superman fighting a natural disaster or Wonder Woman laughing gaily while she fights an army of angry men out to destroy her.

I like the scare quotes around the word "realistic" there.

Realism in the current sense apparently means Dr Light being turned "intellectually challenged" by the JLA for years to be used as a sort of training plaything for the Teen Titans, until he gets his wits back and becomes a rapist.

It means the US putting a known psychopath with recent form in charge of its security services and much more besides (it also means that whoever controls the super-police controls the country - constitution or no)

Realism means that the only characters we see are miltary-age males working more or less as soldiers in an army (all the Avengers, all the X-Men, in a more paramilitary sense. Who does that leave out?)

It means that most of the characters of less than military age are inducted into child armies anyway.

It means that the Avengers and the X-Men start shooting lethal force-blasts at each other at the drop of a hat.

This isn't realism, it's pessimism. According to the dissection of this subject in Flex Mentallo, it's the pessimism of a frustrated teenager who only sees the worst in things because the world is full of warmth and fun that he's not being a part of. Of course, that teenager is middle-aged now (hence stuff like the sexual humiliation of the Abomination), but the frustration and pessimism is still there.

Sing it brother!

 

Obviously it all appeals to the hardcore audience.  To read most of today's 'realistic' comics as a sort of document of their inner lives would be to be horrified and astonished!  Most comics today seems to be aimed at that one specific corner of the potential market.

 

Maybe I'm a wide-eyed innocent, but I wonder if they are putting off more peole than they are keeping with this approach.  Joe Schmoe picks up a book with Nick Fury and a massive gun and a child army, and all the women being ridiculous stereotypes, it doesn't come across well.

 

And there is a sizeable group of people on this baord alone who don't want to feel alienated by their comics, who want to spend some money every month on them,. but they are just too off-putting.  Considering that we are a small group, we must represent 10s of thousands of potential buyers who are feeling out of the loop.  It's surprising that they can't serve both markets, as you say.

 

 

BTW Flex Mentallo is a 4-part Vertigo comic written by some British dude back in 1996.  It goes over exactly the ground that this thread focuses on.  In fact this thread would be a kind of 'key' to it.  (Have you read Flex, Jeff?  Anyone other than Mark S and Other Other Jeff?)  Sadly it still reads as very relevant today.  Who knew that the trends in comics it was decrying would become ever more entrenched in the following 15 years?

Well, I'm going completely by guesswork, but I'd imagine that the people who love comics but don't like stuff like Secret Invasion and have been largely ignoring most of what Marvel has been producing for the last 5 years or so would outnumbner those that buy into current Marvel comics.

 

But that's completely shooting in the dark on my part.  Thoughts anyone?

 

DiDio and Quesada are probably smart guys, with reasons for what they do, but both are very much fanboys who have concentrated on making all the comics under their purview have a consistent tone and worldview, and tie together as tightly as possible.  They probably see it as 'world-building' and 'consistency' but it means that their comics generally provide just one take on what a superhero comic should be.

There should also be "suspension of belief" as far as super-hero stories go. The real world can be a harsh place with no second chances or last minute saves. Every action has a reaction and a consequence. That part is generally skipped in comics. There are no penalties, at least long-lasting ones. Everyone for the most part recovers quickly. Death is temporary.

 There can and should be lessons and morals taught in this fantasy-driven medium. There should be meaning and allegory. It is an artform but it is also entertainment. The problem lies in what we find entertaining. 

Thanks, Doc.

 

I should note I was talking about the kinds of comics I prefer, not what the market wants. Marvel and DC seem to be good at putting out comics for the existing market. I think this market won't remain viable forever and I worry they'll damage their brands by some of the stuff they put out, which can reach a larger audience through library trade purchases. Someone who tried a Superman or Batman trade and didn't like it has a good reason for not trying another. Why should he or she suppose another trade with the same character might be better?

Coincidentally, Flex just came out last week in collected form: http://www.amazon.com/Flex-Mentallo-Muscle-Mystery-Deluxe/dp/140123... I don't actually remember much about it at this point, but its Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, so it's got that going for it.

The problem is that I don't find all of the dystopian futures and harsh violence to be "realistic" or adult. They're just depressing.

The SA and BA Legion had fairly optimistic views of the future and they still created stories that had danger, death and excitement. But they weren't "realistic," like the current Legion, where Saturn Girl wakes up after a drunken bender to find herself in Cosmic Boy's bed.

To some point, writers are writing for comic books guys who've been reading for 20-30 years. They have to up the ante to make it interesting. After Batman has saved the universe from destruction a few times, how interesting can it be to have the Joker robbing a bank? But if the Joker is skinning people alive or raping children, then we've got a villain that Batman has to stop. And heroes are only as good as their villains.

I read comics to be entertained, and that kind of stuff doesn't entertain me. I don't want to see the heroes doing things as evil as the villains and saying the end justifies the means. It's adult and "sophisticated" to understand that the world is all gray and the line between heroes and villainy is thin. Yeah, well, that's your world, and you're welcome to it.

As Luke notes, the comics I want probably don't sell well. But maybe they'd sell to all those people who have dropped comics altogether because they were dissatisfied and pushed out by all the grisly "realism.".

I think there are a lot more former comics readers out there than current comics readers, and publishers would be rewarded by figuring out why they left and attracting them back. DC's attempt to recapture them with the "accessible" new 52 makes me wonder if they understand any of that.

-- MSA

On “Realism”: I meant “realistic” in a world where men can fly, magic exists, aliens run rampant, etc., but I agree with the point about pessimism being mistaken for realism. The most far-out, fantastic plot (Jack Kirby’s New Gods comes to mind), can be as “real” as today’s crop of pessimistic, often depressing fantasy stories.

One of my least favorite stories of recent years was “Avengers Disassembled.” I didn’t buy Avengers vs. X-Men #0 when it first shipped, but because I bought issue #1, I gave the second printing of #0 a look yesterday. I didn’t buy it, but I read the resolution of the Scarlet Witch story in the story. I have been waiting for… how many years has it been now?… for the Scarlet Witch to be redeemed. I once had hope Brian Michael Bendis had plotted “Avengers Disassembled” as part of a classic rise, fall and redemption story arc, but his story in Avengers vs. X-Men #0 brought the arc to the only “realistic” conclusion it could have.

Aside to Figs: Yes, I have read Flex Mentallo. Although I liked it very much and planned to read it again someday, so far I have read it only once. When I read Grant Morrison’s Supergods a while ago I did pull it out to re-read at that time, but I moved on to something else before I actually did.

Come on, man, it's four issues! No time like the present, and the discussion has just gotten started.

Jeff of Earth-J said:


Aside to Figs: Yes, I have read Flex Mentallo. Although I liked it very much and planned to read it again someday, so far I have read it only once. When I read Grant Morrison’s Supergods a while ago I did pull it out to re-read at that time, but I moved on to something else before I actually did.

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