The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Comic Books and Superheroes: Do We Need a Change?

Written by: Ron Bricker

Odds are, if you’re coming here to the comic book section of CC2K, you know a thing or two about superheroes. In fact, I’m sure some of you know more about them than the combined knowledge of all of CC2K Comics’ writers. That doesn’t matter. No matter how much more about superheroes you know, or may think you know, than us here at CC2K, I am going to drop a bomb on you that will make you regret admitting that you love Captain Marvel. Shazaam! Bitch!

Superheroes, under the guise of the best writers, can be amazing. Their stories are always founded on their original mythos, so good writers can take that foundation and do just about anything. But without a good pen, superheroes are nothing more than garbage with capes. Below I am going to rant on a few of the reasons why superheroes and their stories tend to be letdowns and how they damage the comic industry.

Superheroes have a lot of it. Think about it, most of the major heroes around today started off before the 60’s. That’s around or over 50 years of back-story that you dip into every time you pick up one single issue. When you read a contemporary issue of Action Comics, you are relying heavily on the concepts by Jerry Siegel that date all the way back to 1938 with the first issue of the series. That’s 70 years of history that you’re plunging into; 70 years of character development and 70 years of universe explanation. Superheroes have been around for so long that it makes getting into their world’s possibly one of the most difficult things a new reader can aspire to do.

I’m not trying to suggest that all heroes have a difficult history to break into… Superman, for instance, has a relatively simple past compared to others. Alien crashed on Earth as a child, raised by farm folk and found out that he has super powers. Story progresses. But think back to a team like the X-Men. The first issue was released in 1963. From there, the characters have earned development, the team has earned development and there have even been additions and subtractions along the way. Think about the first time you stepped into an X-Men book… I’d be willing to bet that you pretty much had no idea what you were reading. The same can be said for most all superheroes. Their histories are so deep and involved that it discourages most from wanting to get into their books. I know I’ve had a difficult time reading X-Men books because of the problems brought on by their enormous mythos. In fact, I don’t read X-Men books because of how damned hard it is to read one single issue. So many members, so many pasts…

It may seem simple enough, but tights are probably the largest turn off for potential comic readers standing on the outside looking in. For someone that hasn’t been exposed to the genre for a while, seeing a ridiculously huge man packed into tights (or a ripped chick with nothing but spandex string over her crotch and nipples) during their first exposure is a big turn-off. Like I said, it’s insignificant to the current fans, but definitely a reason to avoid comics and superheroes alike.

Changing of the Guard

Superhero books, as I’ve already demonstrated, have a tendency to go on forever. Because they last so damned long, writers and artists have to change regularly. This may not really be a direct attack on the notion of ‘superhero’ itself, but it does serve as a challenge to the superhero medium and its fault of lasting forever. I intend to expose another flaw in the superhero book permanence a bit later, but for now let’s stick with this one.

So say you get over the tights and the ridiculous depth of superhero history and you wade around in a few issues of Detective Comics. You get used to the methodology behind the standard character development and even the way the book is penciled and colored. 10 issues later, bam, another creative team is introduced to your beloved series and now Detective Comics runs right down the shitter. That’s the issue with ongoings, as new writers and artists are set up with one character the whole book takes a huge risk. Everyone I know that reads comics regularly has been following one hero or team of heroes until they were placed in the wrong hands. Then it’s over.

Because of the constant change in creative forces, superhero books undergo a massive set of inconsistencies in the realms of storytelling and character development. It may not be an affront on superheroes themselves, but it is due to their medium that this flaw itself is exposed.

The Kitsch Factor
Another aspect of superhero focused comic books that may in be in less effect now is the overall kitschy-ness of the stories and dialogue. While Adam West’s Batman was undoubtedly campy (corny on purpose) comic books themselves have a past of being kitschy (corny without knowing it). Face it; a superhero that is weakened by a glowing rock is kitschy. A man that was bitten by a radioactive spider and given most of its abilities, and then some, is kitschy. A being from space that is charged as one of the heralds of a devourer of worlds that is made of pure silver and rides a surf board is kitschy. Hell. The Batmobile is kitschy.

Superheroes are damn cornballs. Forming leagues and wearing utility belts, these people have no business being taken seriously in any realm much less worshipped as literature stars. What sets more realistic comics apart from the superhero lot is the fact that they aren’t predestined to being kitschy. Superheroes, regardless of who is penning their dialogue, are bound to say something absolutely ridiculous at least once per issue. No matter how dark or wonderful the arc may be, the superhero is going to ruin it with some explanation or some excuse. This is the essence of the superhero book. When it comes time to do some explaining, the weight of the matters at hand is turned into a sense of ‘oh God, really?’

Status Quo
The final, and possibly most detrimental point I want to hit on is the fact that all superhero universes must return their characters to a key starting point in order for other writers to take over. If Superman looks like he is going to finally be thwarted at the hands of some mediocre villain, audiences will know without a doubt that Supes will never lose. That would destroy the series. Unless we are looking at a once-in-a-while universe wide event, certain doom is never going to be met.

This is a fatal flaw held by superhero books that you’ll almost never find in a more low-key publisher. Look at Vertigo or Image. Books like Y: The Last Man, DMZ or 100 Bullets have a definite beginning and end. Superhero books by major publishers only have a definite beginning. Supes has died only to be brought back. Batman has always been Bruce Wayne, no matter what danger he’s faced. Spider-man was even forced into a crazy suit in light of the Civil War books only to return to his own status quo. Superheroes can’t escape their foundation mythos, and that’s way that no matter what happens in one arc, the stories can never reach the potential that other, smaller books have. Detective Comics can never have important characters be shot directly between the eyes like Y can. Superhero books are doomed to resting in an infinite loop between peril and reset. This, in my opinion, is what forces major superhero books to a level of mediocrity.

I don’t mean to say that superheroes should be ignored. I love them like anybody else. But, as CC2K’s own Erik Norris put it, “It’s sad that superhero comics are what keep the industry afloat, but that they are also responsible for the inaccessibility of the industry as it is consistently viewed as a medium for children.” Explore all that the world of comics has to offer, don’t just read stories about men in capes and women in next to nothing. There’s plenty to be had, superheroes don’t rule the world.