With my current YouTube backlog still in December and being a month behind seems like a hill I can’t climb (I now understand Sisyphus’s plight and I don’t even have a boulder) I haven’t watched as much Comicstorian as I used to. Readers from the early days may recall I used his “complete story series” as a discussion point or just filler, especially after I lost my job and couldn’t buy new comics. I’m hoping that I can watch some of the stories I’m interested in out of actual love of the story or morbid curiosity.
Recently, Benny (formerly known as Eligible Monster) posted a commentary on the current state of comics, or the perception of same as it turns out. Entitled “Why You May Have Stopped Liking Comic Books” (or according to the thumbnail “Why You Hate Comics Now”), Benny goes over the reasons he feel is causing a wave of malcontent when it comes to current US comic stories, specifically at the big two, DC Comics and Marvel. I listened to the video and while he makes some good points the complaints he list doesn’t quite jibe with what I’ve heard from other storytelling reviewers and commentators who discuss comics either exclusively or as part of the wider range of “genre” media. (You know, the stuff us geeks read, watch, and play.) Of course I will play the video first. We’ll listen to his commentary and then go over why the critics I follow have taken issue with US comics in 2023…and my own issues. There’s one big one he dances around but never quite sticks the landing, and it has nothing to do with our current “social” climate.
For the record I still love comics. I still want to make comics. If I thought I could the stories I wanted, I’d gladly write for Superman, Transformers, or Godzilla. I think I could better modernize some lost classics because I care about good storytelling and the characters, but we’ll complain about modern Marvel Studios and Disney+ some other day. I need to start with what I feel is the biggest problem, which as I said, Benny is close to but still hasn’t touched lava.
The idea that circular storytelling is the big issue for me comes up short to my theory, or at least my reason why modern comics (just assume we’re talking DC and Marvel because yes, we both know there are other publishers, indie creators, foreign comics making appearances in the US, and webcomics) is the obsession with epicness. That’s where all these events are coming from, along with the trade writing style that the marketing people has pushed on us all. “Well, if they like trades so much then make every story a multipart story and then collect it in trade form.” This has led to the worse afflictions of Eventitis we’ve seen thus far. Benny is talking about how every writer wants to tell the story of Batman having to regain the city, repeating No Man’s Land I guess. These stories collect well in a trade, but if that’s the only story they want to tell then the other cause of Eventitis is trying to tell that next epic story…but not really having a new epic story to tell.
I come from the Bronze Age of comics, where things could be silly one issue and serious the next. Batman can fight Mr. Freeze one story, work with Wonder Woman to fight gorillas who were taught brain surgery and didn’t come from the secret hidden city of supergenius gorillas with human voice boxes, and then deal with a simple murder investigation that has the police stumped. These were done in one or two issue stories, with a running subplot being Batman’s personal life. Things like moving to Gotham City to be closer to the people while Dick was at college or whatever was going on in Lucius’s life were part of the story. They weren’t four to six issue padded out stories. They told the story they wanted to tell and then moved to the next one. If they did something huge like “Demon In A Bottle” it still had long-lasting effects without altering the status quo. Tony Stark has lost his business multiple times and then got it back but there were long stretches between those events, and Tony doesn’t get drunk and end up in a sewer the next time the writer changes hands.
If all every new writer wants to do is remake No Man’s Land, that could be the problem. Every story has to be huge. You don’t hear of a simple murder investigation or a smuggling ring or a one-issue story involving sex traffickers or something. Everything has to involve a body count that should have left Gotham City a ghost town storylines ago, or deconstructing Batman to death (literally) and not rebuilding him to tell new stories with a different take on Batman. There is no status quo because it keeps getting shaken up. I don’t expect Batman to die every story, but I also don’t expect “city goes insane” every story, either. You can have a nice, quiet investigation and still make the trade quota.
This happened in the 1990s, where there seemed to be a lot more miniseries. Nightwing had a miniseries where he investigated a possible alternate connection to his parents’ murder involving a “Man In The Iron Mask” situation in a foreign country but it turned out the guy we thought killed the Graysons actually got to them first. Meanwhile there’s a subplot involving a girl he met being abuse by her father and her being forced to kill her father because Dick wasn’t there to help her. It sounds superfluous but it led to the direction Nightwing would take in trying to make the character stand out from his mentor, leading to his original series and moving to Bludhaven where he left Bruce’s shadow. That was a change that lasted for years and still gets referenced in other material today. And every story wasn’t Nightwing dealing with the same plot line, but there were subplots involving Blockbuster and a crazed detective somehow still alive after his head was twisted on backwards. He has no powers, what was the point? That’s pretty much where I stopped reading.
Thus we get to why I slowly lost interest, especially during DiDio’s Darker DC. Superhero stories stopped being fun. It slowly pushed out kids, the age group most of us got into comics, with stories that were depressing, the brighter colors darkened, the mood all serious and gritty. It was as if the writers even in the 1990s wanted to push young readers out, thus pushing out the age group that usually starts in comics, in order to convince peers and adults who aren’t paying attention that comics wasn’t a “kids medium”. Not that the people they were trying to court cared and still don’t. Even now, how many people running around going “Wakanda Forever” actually reads a Black Panther comic, or praised Jon and Tim going bisexual and still won’t buy a story. You can’t win the media snobs over.
I guess that leads into the “woke” commentary. You have to understand that, at least with all the people I follow and I’ll drop some recommendations for you tomorrow, “woke” doesn’t just mean having a woman or a character of color in the lead role. If that was true then my Saturday Morning viewing was woke as hell, and that was 1979 as a starting point. Black superheroes and women in the lead or shared lead role, or even both as supporting casts who were actually needed by the hero, were all over my daily viewing. I didn’t really start reading comics until The Transformers and then I got other series when I came across them and had the money to spend or could get my folks to get it because at the time it was under a dollar. My first Firestorm story ends with a dude taking a bomb to the face as Ronnie starts having everything go so wrong the tale was Martin trying to snap his mind back to reality. That’s a character I first met on Superfriends, which goes back to that whole thing about not necessarily writing for kids but with kids in mind, what we call “all-ages”. There’s a world popular children’s cartoon from Australia doing the opposite and being successful with all ages and comics can’t do that? They used to.
So no, the original Black Panther wasn’t woke. He also wasn’t a response to the black power movement. The comic, created by two Jewish men, took place in Africa. If the movement had any influence it was only to show there was a potential market that needed filling, and that was only after T’Challa’s popular appearance in Fantastic Four. (Note that Marvel tried to change his name to Black Leopard because the comic and the organization appeared apart from each other at roughly the same time.) That’s the same reason Wonder Woman changed the whole concept of the series, and we know how poorly that ended when Gloria Steinem found out. They didn’t really understand the feminist movement…who now treats Wonder Woman as a pariah because she has cleavage or something. X-Men used the civil rights movement as a plot but the point was for Stan Lee to get lazy with the origin of superpowers. “Oh, um, they were just born with it because of a..ah…special gene.” It wasn’t until Chris Claremount that they became an analog for marginalized groups because Stan Lee didn’t believe in hitting his readers over the heads with politics, but was willing to use them to make a good story out of it.
Meanwhile characters coming out now are part of an agenda. We have two Drakes coming out as gay or bi, Bobby and Tim (only related in Super-Team Family) despite years of them being depicted as straight, and Tim’s creator saying he never wrote the character with being gay in mind. This was to please the Tim and Connor Kent fanshippers because that community doesn’t believe in platonic friendships and doesn’t think people care about each other unless they’re shacking up. However it was also done to fill an LGBT quota. I don’t even care that Jon Kent is bi now, since it isn’t the worst thing done to the character and makes a bit of sense given what Bendis did to him (and that’s not a slight against anyone LGBT+ out there, it’s a slight against Bendis hyperaging the character for no good reason except maybe to play up to The CW as they prepared their Superman show). However, and Benny would know better than I would, has he fallen into Bobby’s trap of the stories now focusing only on his being gay? Because I don’t see any solicits or discussions about supervillains who aren’t thinly disguised villainizing of the critics like the group in the She-Hulk show.
The characters are black, Latino/Latina, or gay first and superheroes second. That would be fine in a slice-of-life story if written well (unlike the DC Young Adult comics that reimagine superheroes as not-superheroes) but superhero fans want to see them fighting supervillains, alien invaders…possibly each other which seems to be all Marvel wants to do at the moment. We don’t hear about these stories. When Batwoman returned to comics they made her gay just to giver Wertham the finger…and did squat with her for years because all they had was “make her Bruce’s gay cousin now”. The black superheroes I saw on TV were just superheroes, no different from the white heroes. We also didn’t insist the tomboys were anything other than girls who had more traditionally boy interests. Currently we seem to have embraced the tomboys are lesbians or trans stereotypes because they weren’t “ladylike”, and now we also have non-binary because we can’t believe a straight girl wouldn’t play with Barbie instead of He-Man. That’s what “being woke” is, not the existence of a black lesbian but that she replaced the classic hero because the creator didn’t have the guts to make them a good original character instead of sticking them in a legend’s shadow…or they do something really stupid and insulting like the New Warriors “characters”. More like woke point concepts by people who have no idea what people actually in those groups are like. When I can do a better job with those character, and I probably could, you know you done messed up, son. I’m old, right-leaning moderate, and Christian and I can could make less insulting non-binary and gay heroes…by doing the same things you did with the straight heroes and just changing who they date in between the hero battles.
So those are my theories: tone down the trade writing, don’t be afraid to not have every story be for the planet and cover some smaller situations (you’re making and ongoing series which is more like a TV show, not a movie unless you’re making a graphic novel), stop making things so dark, violent, and gritty that you push out the next generation, and focus your minority characters on being characters first, with minority influencing the character and subplots…and even then not every minority has the same viewpoint or experience so keep that in mind. Get people to think, not telling them what to think (another tick of the “woke” bingo card) and having them spend more time on protest rallies and social statements when there are criminals to beat up, let superheroes be heroic, stop deconstructing everything, and just tell a good long-running story. It worked until recently. I grew up with it. Also, try hiring comic writers instead of novelists, or at least hire novelists who care about comics like Roger Stern or Peter David. Make your superhero comics about superheroes, your slice-of-life comics like slice-of-life comics, and maybe you’ll start winning people back. In short, care about the product your making or go make the product you want to make and let someone who wants to write Superman…write Superman.
I’m available. Just throwing that out there. I promise to keep Jon kissing dudes, though you called him bi and I could get away with it but it would have to make sense to the story. Otherwise I would leave Jon and pink haired boy dating, but they just have to do it after defeating Braniac’s conquest attempt or Toyman’s latest robbery scheme.