Hoo boy. The temptation to ramble, curse, and rave will be strong in this one. Mest, Talmor, BCON, I promise to do my best to do my duty and not be one of “those” fanboys. Rudie, I apologize in advance to our dear editor.
But blast it, look at DC’s Superman films since poor Brandon Routh took up the cape. Look at Ben Affleck being given a Batman who kills. Look at Marvel’s totally creative and progressive introduction of a gay superhero in the form of Northstar (cough who was totally not introduced in 1979 as straight then retconned into being a gay man in the 90s cough*), and take a look at Captain America! He’s a Nazi! Always has been! Didn’t you know?** And that’s just for starters. Shit may have already been said a million times, but still ain’t being heard by the folks who brought the world superheroes as we know and love ’em, so shit still needs to be said.
The Infinity Gauntlet has been thrown down.
In the Beginning…
Actually, there was Switzerland. No, really! Historie de M. Vieux Bois, by Swiss teacher and artist Rodolphe Töpffer is a whimsical story told in cartoon panel format that was first published in book format in 1837 (making it the earliest example that historians agree upon as a comic book). Töpffer went on to publish more of them, and even to write essays on the form (so you see, fellow fanboys and fangirls, never be ashamed of taking the comic book soapbox. It’s in our history!).
Fast forward to one fateful comic book issue from the offices of Detective Comics, Inc. published in June, 1938, when this casual, still almost gentle new art form suddenly exploded into the limelight “faster than a speeding bullet”. In a flash of red and blue tights, the superhero comic book was born, and the world changed.
I Wish I Could Live in the Golden Age…
Superman, Batman, The Justice Society of America, Captain America, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, we were introduced to all of them and more, and we loved it. There was Hitler punching, fiery androids, vampire hunting, even… spouse abuser thrashing?*** (Comics are weird and I love it.)
World War Two’s end saw the decline of sales for the superhero comic book, which was somewhat to be expected, partly due to our nation being rather tired of war at that point, and partly the superhero comic having been rather heavily Axis Powers-battling emphasized for those several years to boot. In the early 1950s, however, Mccarthyism, the “Red Scare”, and Dr. Frederic Wertham were not so expected.
Dr. Wertham had a crusade, and it was to fight the distribution of comic books to children, due to them being “Seduction of the Innocent“. He was a psychiatrist who was a fervent believer that comic book reading led to juvenile delinquency, poor self image in young girls, and the promotion of homosexuality. His book became a bestseller, and many parents rallied behind him. In the already fearful climate of the United States at the time, his efforts were so successful that he was called to testify in Senate hearings on the topic, and the comic book industry in the United States (which WAS frequently publishing images of overt sexuality and graphic gore in comics that were quite literally sold on the same shelves as Donald Duck comic books at the time) was not charged with anything, but was officially encouraged to create their own form of self-censorship, which they did- the Comics Code Authority.
The rest of the Golden Age comic book was largely superhero in the aftermath, and so very, very weird. We had our very first superheroes who had bickered and had personal problems (Happy birthday to Marvel Comics!), we had baby Batman, Superman having to be careful when he sneezed lest he destroy us all, and even stranger things.
The Men of Bronze
Fast forward to the end of the Bronze Age of comic books (1970-1985) and the publication of Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons as well as The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson, easily THE seminal works on deconstructing the superhero, and easily THE works that the comic book industry misunderstood the most (see, when something is a huge hit because it’s completely different from what came before, this does not mean that copying it over and over will ensure success). This started decades of “grim, gritty realism” in most of our monthly superheroes that is still prevalent today.****
Back to the Future
Now, the internet connects much of the world, the comic book industry, AND the fans as well in ways that would have been utter fiction in Rodolphe Töpffer’s time, and the discussion of the comic book has gone global. That discussion shows, too, that fans are tired. Look at the feedback on Batman vs. Superman. Look at the continuing love for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Look at the feedback on Marvel’s One More Day. Look at the love for the CW’s The Flash. Look at the feedback on Man of Steel. Look at the intense love for a random girl in a pink Deadpool outfit. The YouTube comments on the recent Superman movies said it best (surprisingly enough); we want our cheese.
The superhero was always supposed to be a reflection of real life, but only in the way that the stories of Hansel and Gretel and Paul Bunyan were supposed to be; recognizable, but greatly exaggerated to tell their stories. The superhero was never meant to a copy of all things sad, dismal, and disgusting (occasionally wearing tights and in the air). Ask the fans, writers, artists, publishers, actors, actresses, etc. of The Flash, The Unbelievable Gwenpool, Voracious, Adam West… We want action, drama, AND cheese, dammit. Just… keep giving it to us, but more of it, please? PAY ATTENTION, MARVEL. PAY ATTENTION, DC. You’ll be happier, we’ll be happier, and it’ll be simply because you’re allowing ALL stories to exist; not just the ones that focus groups or marketing departments tell you we want. Give us the ones we the fans want AND the ones writers want to write. These aren’t mutually exclusive.*****
Igor, Possibly a Box