A few weeks back, a comic book writer by the name of Alan Moore (you may have heard of the bloke) blasted super hero comic books for being aimed at a juvenile audience. He further went on to make some rather rude remakes about adults who continue to read these comics, referring to them as “emotionally subnormal”. The crux of his argument completely ignores that fact that the literary-visual mixed-medium of comic books has matured quite a bit in the last half-a-century, but he does, in his own Moore-ish way, have a point. Though I would argue that the problem with super hero comics being thought of as a “lesser” or “childish” form of entertainment lies not in the content of the stories, but in the way the world of comics has refused to leave behind some of its traditions in favor of growing the medium intellectually. So here, for better or for worse, I present five things I think the comic industry could do to improve the way super hero comics are perceived by cranky old men with gigantic beards. And everyone else, of course.
I will preface this by saying that I don’t read too many comics these days. At a certain point during the late 90s, when the following problems were the norm of every super hero book, I gave up. I left behind my “emotionally subnormal” lifestyle and moved on to books without pictures. I have always come back to enjoy the odd tale here or there, particularly when I hear good things (luckily, I have plenty of comic-book addicted friends that can always point me in the right direction), but for the most part I stay away from anything that doesn’t have a graphic content warning on the front of it.
Thus, I have noticed that many of these problems have indeed gotten much better over the years. It’s a good sign that those who write and design the books are thinking about the future instead of grasping desperately at the past. Still, there are troubles that need to be addressed.
Issue #1 – Costumes Designed for Mardi Gras
There are many issues I have with super hero costuming. Most of it has to do with the complete lack of realism. First and foremost, the old classic “underwear on the outside”. This tradition was started simply because they wished to make the heroes look more athletic, like wrestlers or acrobats. Now it just looks ridiculous. Luckily, this is one of those things that artists are tossing aside. Unfortunately, some fans still hold on to the archaic idea and cause many headaches for those trying to make progress.
Second up is the almighty battle-thong. Nothing pissed me off more than when, back in the day, they swapped out Psylocke’s original (albeit a little goofy) outfit for the battle-thong. Unless her psychic abilities extend to purging hemorrhoids, she’s going to have some serious problems from all that chafing. The cause behind the change is, of course, so that teens could fap away to the epic splash pages. The reality is that virtually no one is going to war in a fkn thong. Luckily, this too is one of those archaic crimes that is fading.
And third – battle armor anyone? What most comic books fail to address is that almost any hero can be stopped with a well-placed bullet. Sure, there are ways to avoid said bullet, but it makes more sense to be prepared for any eventuality. I’ve seen body armor pop up more and more as comics have matured, but it still seems like staying alive should be top priority among the super-powered.
Issue #2 – Only Sexy People Are Super
Flip through the pages of any popular super hero comic, Marvel, DC or otherwise, and you’ll come to the conclusion that super powered people, no matter how they got their powers, are movie-star gorgeous. Sure, you’ll find an anomaly here and there (the Blob is fat because his power is fatness, Toad looks like a fkn toad, etc.), but for the most part it’s big titties, luscious booties, chiseled jawlines and rippling muscles.
I get the fact that people in the super hero line of work are going to be fit. If you don’t stay in shape enough to do battle you’ll end up dead. And swinging to work on a web every day is probably going to do wonders for your upper body. But it’s a little bit overboard. The only time they bring in the uglies is when they want to make a point or they have a good idea for a villain and really want people to know that they’re evil.
I begin to wonder if the thing that makes you super also makes you naturally fit. Of course, that theory fails to hold up when you realize that this magic gym-membership only functions on the men. Pretty much everyone is sporting a Captain America physique. How many of the women are looking like they’d kick ass in the Olympic weight-lifting division?
If the comic industry wants to be taken more seriously, they need to start designing their characters after the way real people look, not just making sure that each and every one is fap material.
Issue #3 – Immortality = Money
One of the major problems with writing comic books is that only a certain number of issues can come out in any given year. Thus, the timeline of the story progresses even as the characters remain the same age. I’ve watched Peter Parker go from listening to radio broadcasts and using pay phones to surfing the net and checking his twitter. And not one grandchild along the way. While this does have to deal with a weakness inherit in the medium, it doesn’t have to be so blatantly stupid. You can age your characters just fine and have people write stories for them that fit between the cracks. Or, the solution currently being used (for many more reasons than just time inconsistency) is to reboot the world. So, problem solved, sort-of.
Along the same lines is the fact that the powers-that-be are unwilling to part with their star heroes. So a character dies, then he gets brought back. Or they go through situation after situation and never even have a scar to show for it. Yeah, they’re super, I get it, but how can you possibly care about what’s happening to a character when you know there are no consequences to his or her actions? It’s one of the hallmarks of poor writing and it’s one of the bigger issues keeping comics from being taken seriously. It also happens to kill the potential for new and interesting characters to take the stage for a while.
Issue #4 – The ‘Wolverine in Everything’ Syndrome
Popularity is money, plain and simple. And when you have a character that everyone loves, why not throw them into every fkn comic book you can find? It’s the desperate ploy of an industry that’s being forced to deal with rising costs and a lessened audience. It sucks, but that’s the way things are going right now in both super hero comics and movies. And while it may be amazing for Hugh Jackman’s wallet, it’s a killer for originality. I used to like Wolverine, I really did. Not so much anymore.
Lately the phenomenon has been evolving into the “Deadpool in Everything” syndrome, so I guess Marvel’s found a new cash cow. Ultimately, however, they’re just paying lip service to fans and trying to keep their bank accounts growing. With so many characters and stories to be told, so much untapped creativity and originality, do we really need to recycle so much? Yeah, it pays the bills, but when I read a comic that is 90% like the last 5 I read I start to wonder if comic books have anything going for them? Or are they, as people might suggest, designed to cater to kids and those with ADHD?
Issue #5 – It’s All About the Money
Closely tied with all previous complaints I have voiced on this cold winter night, I shall say that the root of the problem and the lack of evolution of super hero comics from teen entertainment to viable mixed medium is money. Big comic companies use the tricks above to keep people interested and perpetuate the myth of the collectable comic by putting out 42 variant covers for anything they think will sell. Artists and writers – the ones that are doing the actual work – make way less than they deserve and have to worry about job security if they make a complaint. And the world of super hero comics fails to evolve because of this.
Yeah, they have to make their cash to keep on operating, especially in a world where the price of a couple of comics is as much as a movie ticket. But it is this very problem that will keep our favorite super hero characters from becoming serious literary figures.
Of course many of you out there, upon reading this (or half-way into the first paragraph) may be thinking that there are indeed many comics out there that feature super heroes and do it in a realistic fashion. I agree, and those are the ones I read these days. I would love to go back to X-Men or Spider-Man, but I can’t get past the fact that I’m essentially reading something that is written to appeal to the masses instead of a story that tries to improve upon itself regardless of public outcry. There are a few gems here and there (again, thanks to my more informed friends for their recommendations), but the majority of it falls short.
There are also plenty of you out there that no doubt enjoy the way the classic super hero stories are presented. Well, lucky you. While the medium is evolving in many ways, you’ll likely have dozens of years left to enjoy the books before they take themselves seriously. Still, fairy tales are fairy tales and it does not mean that people who enjoy a good Superman comic are in any way “emotionally subnormal”. It just means that they haven’t turned in to crotchety old men with a chip on their shoulder. Until then, try not to take anything that Alan Moore says to heart. For while he may be touching on something that has a measure of validity, enjoyment is ultimately in the mind of the reader.
Feel like I’m talking out of my ass? That nothing I’ve said here is relevant in any way? Or are you one of the few that might actually agree with me? Sound off in the comments with your opinions, or just call me an asshole. Hell, tell all your friends about this article and have them all come over and call me an asshole. Don’t worry, I can take it.