Since I currently find myself with excessive amounts of free time, I stopped by my parents’ house yesterday with the intention of retrieving my old comicbooks. My main period of comic collecting (aside from Hellboy in the last year or so) was 1991-1992; it began with Wolverine #41 and ended with X-Men #20, from what I can tell. In any event, I knew my old comics were buried somewhere in our terrifying cluttered attic. I went up there, fully expecting to spend the next two hours climbing over boxes and generally making the attic an even worse mess, when, to my shock, I discovered my father had cleaned the entire attic. At first I thought this might be a bad thing; I’d had a vague notion of where my comics had been. To my surprise, it only took me about thirty seconds to find the comics box.
Looking over those old comics was an interesting experience. I was a fan dead-center in the period where artists were very much trumping writers; the comics I was reading were being plotted and even written by the likes of Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane. Bleh. Some of these comics had decent writers—Larry Hama on Wolverine, Chris Claremont on X-Men, Peter David on Incredible Hulk—but for the most part this was a very style-over-substance era. I’ve also been reading old collections of 1960s comics, where Stan Lee ended every line of dialogue with an exclamation mark, but the dialogue in many of these comics is much worse—like a buffoonish caricature of Lee’s expository-heavy style.
In light of my recent resurgence of interest in comics, I’ve started flipping through some recent Marvel and DC comics, and even picking up a graphic novel or two. My feelings are mixed. On the one hand, the writing is definitely better, now that we’re in the Writer’s Age of Comics (Warren Ellis, Brian Michael Bendis, Neil Gaiman, Joss Whedon, Mark Millar, Grant Morrison, and so forth—I leave out Alan Moore only because he hasn’t written much lately). But my God, are these companies obsessed with their superhero worlds, what with the Infinite Crises and Civil Wars. Every comic has ten characters in it, be they villains or heroes.
Am I old-fashioned because I’d like to read a story where Batman foils a normal human terrorist, or Wolverine, say, sneaks into Iraq to save a Canadian captive? I’d like to see some small-scale stories and some good characterization. Maybe that’s happening in some places…J_Stone informs me that DC has been quite good lately. I’m not as fond of the DC characters, except maybe for Batman and/or Superman, but I could try them. Unfortunately I don’t really like the concept of the Ultimate Marvel universe…I can’t really say why, other than I just prefer the mainstream world.
Of course, I really haven’t bought many comics lately. I keep telling myself I’ll buy various series when they come out as trade paperbacks, and in the meantime I’m enjoying myself more by reading old 1960s and 1970s comics alongside my goofy 1990s ones. But for a good perspective on why people like me have mixed feelings about today’s comics, check out this excellent article by Greg Hatcher: A Friday Spider-Epiphany. Hatcher’s theory is that
There’s two groups of fans reading superhero comics right now, the illusion-of-change fans and the real-change fans, and each one is absolutely convinced that the other group is going to destroy their beloved superheroes. And it terrifies them, because they both love comics fiercely, and neither can stand the idea that they might get taken away. So each group is constantly yelling at the other to for Christ’s sake STOP it, d’you have any idea what you’re doing? I suspect that this underlies a lot of that free-floating fan anger out there. This is why so many comic book message boards have the social niceties of Mad Max’s Thunderdome.
I think Hatcher may be on to something here. For instance, the only Marvel or DC comic I’m reading regularly at the moment is Wolverine: Origins, which I’m trying out solely because it features Wolverine back in the brown costume I first encountered him in. So where does that put me? I suspect I prefer the illusion of change to real change. I agree with Hatcher, if you want to make real changes, create a new character (as Mike Mignola did with Hellboy) and maybe even a new universe (like Ultimate Marvel or All-Star DC). (That said, I loved what Peter David did with the Hulk during his run—joining the three personalities into one—and I always thought it was a shame they brought back the dumb savage Hulk, cool as he is.)