My Comic Book Manifesto
5 Problems with the Comic Industry
I've been a lifetime fan of comic books, and while I do believe comic books are one of the most under appreciated art forms, they are not without their problems. The reason comic books do not have a higher place in society are largely because of errors of their own accord. These are just a few of the problems that keep comic books from reaching their full potential.
I'm just not a fan, I guess I'm a one universe kind of guy. The multiverse to me is the ultimate example of covering bad writing with more bad writing. The overuse of the mulitverse is a big problem with DC Comics in particular. Just thinking about Crisis on Infinite Earths, Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis, Crisis Crisis, Crisis of the Stars, Crisis in the Crisis: The Final Infinitude, all make me want to tear my eyes out. The problem with DC is that they give their writers almost free reign over their titles (Marvel writers are kept on very short leash), the results are some great comics and many continuity errors. After a while so many continuity errors start to pile up that the DC universe becomes unmanageable, and time for a little spring cleaning, which brings us to the multiverse. Instead of correcting problems with good story telling, they choose a convenient magic wand approach. Basically, every comic book is part of some multiple DC universe, and after a nice convoluted miniseries, all these universes get parred down into one universe. Poof, story fixed. But, of course, a couple of years later they always have to wave the magic wand again.
Specialty variant covers and gimmicks represent a time in comic books when the corporate machine was at its peak, it's the decadence of Rome combined with 80's consumerism. The 70's and 80's brought countless comic book tie-in's: comic books that created toys and toys that created comic books. However, merchandising was one thing, but the idea of the variant cover was to create a market value for comics. This is when comic books stopped being for kids, or even 30-year-old fanboys, or readers in general, but for an investor. Oh no, these comic books weren't meant to be read, they were an investment for the future. Rare comics have values, not simply just because of limited editions and hologram covers, but because a story resonated with readers that coincided with that particular comics availability. Just making it rare doesn't matter, it has to be worth reading, too.
The Comics Code Authority (CCA) was very nearly the kiss of death for comic books. The CCA was created because Fredric Wertham thought Batman and his ol' chum were getting a little too chummy. This very restrictive comics code banned excessive violence as well as "lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations." Also, the code stated good had to always triumph over evil, and that "policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions,” could not be presented, “in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority." So, other things like surprises or suspense were definitely bad. Also, comics could not use the words "horror" or "terror" in their titles, and usage of the word "crime" could only be used a limited number of times. The top selling books at the time, of course, being horror and crime comics. What saved comic books? Super heroes, super heroes flew to the rescue because while overly chummy, they did fit the rest of the comic code. The problem is super heroes have a limited appeal. Comic books could be for everyone. Japan for instance has comic books for every kind of person: comics for kids, for boys, for girls, tentacle porn comics for pervs, old people comics for grandma. There's no shame in reading comics because they have universal appeal because they have subject matters that extend beyond one dimension. The Comics Code Authority set comic books back 60 years, and Batman and Robin are no less gay than ever before.
The Return of Bucky Barnes and Jason Todd
Comic books are a soap opera for boys, I get that. Sometimes people survive outlandish deaths. Comas happen. Evil twins happen. I'm fine with it all. Two deaths had permanence though, they had weight and meaning behind them, and it was an unwritten rule to keep them dead. It's something known as the Bucky Clause: No one stays dead except Bucky, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben. Yet in the past 5 years each has been strutting around town in some form or the other. Why did their deaths deserve such a high place? Well, they created actual anguish for their respective heroes (Captain America and Batman), actual emotional depth was achieved. If anyone ever disrespected comics, a fan could point to these moments and say that there's actually something there. The worst part about Jason Todd is no one even liked him to begin with! Fans voted for his death, and he actually became a more important figure in his death than he ever was in life. These characters returning from the dead are almost like telling Batman that his parents are alive and well in Boca Raton. I'm Batman. No, you're just a dude with parents who love you. If Bucky can't Rest in Peace, what does it all mean? What's the point of it all when anything can just be painted over?
In my opinion, Alan Moore is the greatest comic book writer that ever lived. So, how can the greatest comic book writer be one of the worst things to ever happen to comic books? The essential problem is there is only one Alan Moore. Marvel and DC both have around 100 titles apiece with hundreds more on top of that from the smaller companies. There are some very good writers and artists out there, but not enough. Although, not every title needs to be written by Moore, and, in fact, they shouldn't be. The real problem is a general misunderstanding of Alan Moore's work.
Watchmen changed the comic book industry, and the problem is every writer, artist, and editor read Watchmen and wanted to emulate it... poorly. Most went the course that said, comics are serious and comics are real. Cutting out a lot of the wonder and magic present in the Golden Age of comics. Comic books have been taking themselves way too seriously. Another, unfortunate side effect: trench coats. Since, Watchmen and Rorschach a legion of trench coat wearing heroes have hit the scene: Gambit, Jubilee, Grifter, Hellboy, Punisher, The Crow, Columbo, almost everyone in Sin City, even Thor rocked a coat. There's a whole Trenchcoat Brigade. This means some high up editors in comics read Watchmen and all they were able to take away was: More Trench Coats!
The point of Watchmen was never to say this is what comic books have to be, simply this is what comic books could be. It was just one direction it could go. Just like Citizen Kane is the most influential movie of all time, it doesn't mean every movie needs to be a thinly veiled parody of William Randolph Hearst and his lover's privates (Rosebud... get it!).
Great comics should influence us, but to greater heights, not the status quo.
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