Comic books, once the abode of children, then the fare of adults, dreams that eventually became commodities, creations finally enslaved by corporate ambition. Comic books, truly a lamentable art.
So let’s get to it: comic books are suffering. Yes, I know there is an independent scene, a struggling independent scene. The holy trinity of Marvel, DC, and Image hold power over the industry and therein lies the problem for comic books. Marvel and DC are wholly owned by corporate entities. Image is a confederate model that is always in flux. These are the guys that drive the business and the problem is they treat it like a business.
Should I start with the political correctness of Marvel which has gone completely out of control with a black Captain America, a Muslim Captain Marvel, a female Thor, and a gay Iceman? Or the vindictiveness Marvel has shown for the properties whose film rights they do not control? Do I remark on DC and its third, fourth, fifth reboot in so many years of its properties? Or how it has literally raped creativity with Twixgate? And what properties do Image still cover since that has always been a revolving door of creator owners?
The problem with comic books are they have become stale. There is nothing new, there are no threats to the status quo. There is nothing worth reading on the page. Let’s get real, comics have always been best when dealing with the real world under the veneer of fantasy. Superman began as a public crusader against the ills of America during the Depression. Batman was the vigilante likewise trying to save his city in decline during the same era. They dealt with social injustice, rampant crime, and a world on the brink during the age of fascism. They were the beacons of hope in a world without, daring us to stand up against the insurmountable, to believe tomorrow was within reach. It was the affluent fifties that killed Batman and Superman for a time as they became more pop culture than insightful, attempting to sell products and television shows.
Then came Marvel whose comics were once more a revolution. They were the epitome of the sixties and seventies, tearing down the facades of perfection and nobility showing man as flawed. But it also dealt with the issues of racism, the military-industrial complex, and the struggle for justice. We were given insight into teenage angst, of teams struggling to hold together, and the difficulties of altruism in a world that doubted in the good of their fellow humanity.
But the wonder is gone. People can lament the issues of characters not staying dead, of the resurrecting of old plotlines, even the increasingly more invasive advertising and rising comic costs. But the greatest threat to comics now is the refusal to embrace what comics are, and that is a social artform. It is cinematic. It is intimate. It is us upon the page…or it once was.
The eighties largely saw the end of new characters, of good writing, of chance taking. The Dark Knight Returns, The Watchmen, Days of Future Past, so many classic stories came out of that last gasp of free creativity. Where is our new Superman? Where is our new Spiderman? Where is that character that changes the game like the Beatles or Nirvana? Where is that artist with the bravery to not give us what we want but what we need?
If comics are to survive they need to take risks again. They need to relate to their audience. They need to have a purpose. A story without a reason is a shell without a soul. What’s the point? Storytelling has been and will forever be a means of understanding the human condition. It’s not meant to be a rollercoaster catering solely to our instincts. A good story is supposed to make us think, question, and grow. And despite what elitists may say, comics are a grand avenue for storytelling. It is the word and the visual given form at our fingertips. It is possibility. It is a window that we need to open.
So come on guys. We need a hero!