Wednesday, November 20, 2013

When Comics Were...Crazy

My interest in comics is a relatively new era of my life.  I did not grow up with them.  Aside from the Robert E. Howard related sword-&-sorcery comics, my current interest in superhero comics started once I was pulled into the animated series Justice League/Justice League Unlimited.

Suffice to say I am somewhat spoiled by that--and by "recent" graphic novels--that can take the best elements of things past, blend them up, and present them in a well-formed narrative of character development, plot and action.  I've been playing a lot of catch-up, along with touching base here & there with recent stuff.

Occasionally, I try to educate myself by delving back even further into titles.  The Marvel Essentials or DC Showcase Presents collections are an inexpensive way to do that, if you don't mind the black-&-white interiors.

Comics - you've come a long way, baby!  Getting through these collections can be arduous for me.  I know to leave my hyper-critical story-reader mind at the door, but still.  It's obvious from these collections how far comics have come from being children's media, to attempted "adult" seriousness, to the much smoother presentations we find these days.

My latest foray is All Star Comics, the 1970s revival of the 1940s title that showcased the Justice Society of America.  I thought maybe going with the 1970s would be a bit more readable than 1940s stuff.  Who knows, maybe the 1940s stuff is easier to swallow (though we know the war-related racism that was in the comics during WWII.)

The things that irritate me;

1.) Constant narration, thought bubbles, dialog, expository dialog even though the action illustrates what is happening.  It gets tedious.  Now, I would guess there are at least two reasons for this; 1.) to spell out exactly what is happening for the children to understand 2.) paid to 'write.'  If there weren't words on the page, editors would try to dodge out of paying a writer.  (Marvel tried to do this to Steranko when he started a Nick Fury story with 3 pages of visuals, no words.)

2.) Lip service characterization via attempts at social consciousness and seriousness.  Rather than work it in organically, there are moments oddly dropped in here and there.  Abruptly Alan Scott (Green Lantern) drops out of a mission because his business is failing due to his continued absence.  (Never was a problem for Bruce Wayne.)  The "feminist" dialog and narrative notes around Power Girl are absolutely cringe-worthy.

3.) Insane and semi-random plotting.  Things just keep coming out of left field.  Either to tease the next issue, or just to conveniently add to the story.  I remember reading the Essentials Captain America where the issue's story would end, and then there would be a final, unrelated frame to hook into the next issue.  DC was doing the same thing here, though sometimes they'd drop the hook in the middle of the issue - where it feels even more random.

Oh, don't get me wrong, it's all fun in its own way.  But if you go in with a modern mindset, these are some crazy looks back at the worlds of superheroes.


On the other hand, we have the modern facet of comics going too far to the dark, serious and gritty.  Obviously, they were trying to get away from the kids' stuff, and certainly comics are a wide enough pallette for all kinds of stories.

I have nothing against comics that are aimed at older crowds.  But sometimes I believe there is too much focus on that lately from the main publishers and their main titles.  Would you rather have an animated Justice League style storyline and presentation or a New 52 presentation as your main flagship?  I know my preference.

Again, I must pay tribute to Atomic Robo.  To me, this is how wonderful a modern comic can be.  Character, fun, plots that work and nothing overly grim, violent or sexual.  Not to say it is written for kids - but you could share it with your kids easily.

I guess I'm just a centrist in nearly every aspect of my life - superhero comics included.


  1. Ironic. I saw this today not long after the post went live.

    Supes & WW Space Sexy Time

    That's not fan art, folks - that's the official variant.

  2. I read a few comics as a kid but mostly bypassed them. I went through a period a couple of years ago where I suddenly started reading lots of graphic novels but I've cut way back on that this year. Not quite sure why.

  3. I read (and still have) some of the All Star issues when they were published. A few years ago I read the collected omnibuses, the two volume color collection. My reaction was similar to yours I worked great when I was 11. Not so much 30+ years later.