Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
This probably shouldn’t bother me, but it does.
You have to understand, if the 13-year-old me were to look around this apartment that the 44-year-old me inhabits, that kid would think that he had found the promised land. Walls lined with books– real BOOKS! — that collect entire RUNS of his favorite comics. Most of his favorite characters — Batman, Spider-Man, the Justice League, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four — are still being published, and a couple of them just got kickass new makeovers. The books are printed on real paper now, not that crappy old newsprint. Even the current television, kid’s-cartoon versions are infinitely cooler than the ones he had in the 60’s and 70’s… and they’re available for private viewing in your home whenever you want, you can just BUY them on DVD like record albums to play as often as you like. Same with the movies… and oh my God, check OUT these movies. Superhero movies that are actually taking the story seriously, movies that are tough and cool and, well… good.
And what about that respectability issue? The constant defensiveness, the vague embarrassment whenever an adult caught you reading a comic? Long gone. Comics have their own section in libraries and bookstores now — and it actually is reserved for COMICS, or “graphic novels,” not just a couple of books dumped into the bottom of the “Humor” section.
Really, for fans of my generation, we are living in a new Golden Age. There are more options for readers than anyone my age ever dreamed were possible, more venues, more formats, more EVERYTHING. It seems really crass and spoiled to complain, when I remember what it used to be like.
Understand, I love the way things are now, compared to the hassles I endured in my youth just GETTING comics to read. Compare biking three miles in 1974 to a 7-Eleven that carried more Marvel books than the Village Drug did, in the faint hope that maybe THEY’D have the conclusion to that Spider-Man story… to today, booting up Amazon.com and hitting “Buy with 1-click” to get two year’s worth of those very same Spider-Man stories in one Essential volume without leaving the house. Pfft. No contest. And that’s not even counting eBay, a San Diego-convention-sized back-issue dealer’s room that’s open every day.
For all our bitching, the truth is that comics fans my age have it made in the shade, baby. We are living the good life.
So what’s the problem?
I’m not sure… but I think what’s bothering me is that it IS all seemingly designed for guys like me. At least as far as Marvel and DC are concerned.
I brought this up before, talking about the new Justice League book, and our other Greg very sensibly pointed out that lately it seems like the whole mainstream superhero comics output is slanted that same way.
I looked around at the new books on the racks and was really shocked to see how MANY of them are retellings, revamps, reboots and homages to other books… books of MY era. Just last week the Ultimate FF faced off against a version of Jack Kirby’s Forever People. In 52 we just got a new version of the Mighty Isis. Ultimate Spider-Man is revisiting the Clone Saga. Neil Gaiman’s reviving the Eternals. The Creeper just got a reboot. There’s a new White Tiger on deck at Marvel. I mean, no one adored Deadly Hands of Kung Fu and Bill Mantlo’s Sons of the Tiger/White Tiger epic more than me… but come on. How many of us out there were panting for that revival? Who other than a middle-aged comics aficionado is even going to get half of these homages and references and what-not?
Some of this stuff is great. I’m not as high on All-Star Superman as some of my brethren here on the blog, but even I can see that it’s fun and well-crafted and accessible to people under forty… but I also see that it’s stuffed to the gills with homages, winks and nods to stories that are thirty and forty years old. I love Wagner’s Batman and the Mad Monk, but how many times has DC gone to the well for this Batman Year One kind of story? And this particular one is a retelling of a story that was already homaged/retold by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan in the 80’s.
For some reason this new wave of homage/reboot/relaunch stuff seems way BIGGER than usual.
Marvel and DC have never been shy about going back to the same well, but this last couple of years it seems almost… cannibalistic. And really, I should be clear about this — this isn’t a problem for COMICS. Comics are doing just fine. It’s a problem for Marvel and DC superhero comics.
They’re the ones that are homaging themselves to death. A “Batman Year One” story made a certain amount of sense when Frank Miller did it in the 80’s, because no one had ever actually done it before. But as delightful as Batman and the Mad Monk might be, it’s still about the 27th to come down the line, and it can’t help but feel a little tired just BECAUSE it’s a “Year One” kind of story.
I don’t know why this bothers me, since I’ve always been one of those guys that said support the good stuff and ignore the bad stuff and it’ll all shake out, no one’s holding a gun to your head and making you read comics you don’t like. And God knows there are lots of things out both old and new that I DO enjoy reading. There really has never been a better, easier time for the adult consumer of comics to get hold of the good stuff. NEVER. The difficulty — “difficulty,” he calls it — is that there are so MANY comics coming out that you might miss something cool in the tsunami of books flooding every issue of Previews. Some difficulty. I’d have loved to have that problem in 1979.
But I still, in my heart of hearts, love Marvel and DC comics and I’d like to see them succeed and branch out and bring in lots of new readers. Right now it doesn’t feel like that’s the game plan, though. Right now it seems more like they’ve decided that there are only about 50,000 guys like me reading superhero books, and the key to success is to get every one of us, rather than go after the other MILLIONS of people out there who maybe aren’t reading their books at all.
That seems unhealthy and stupid and a dumb way to do business. After all, we’re all middle-aged and getting older, and there’s really no big next wave of fans coming in behind us. A glance at the last decade’s sales charts will tell you that. So, as much as I like feeling cosseted and catered to by the Big Two, I can’t help feeling vaguely guilty about it. Because, you know, they really shouldn’t be sucking up to guys like me. They should be going after new readers, casual browsers, the college kids and the 13-year-olds of today. I can’t really enjoy all this stuff when I feel like I’m in the last dwindling generation of fans that’s going to get to see it.
But maybe that’s just me, being a morbid old man. I hope so. I’d love to be proven wrong.
See you next week.
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