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CSBG Archive

A Year of Cool Comics – Day 27

Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!

Today we look at Neil Gaiman’s “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?”

Enjoy!

Now, perhaps naturally, Neil Gaiman’s two-issue stint on Batman (following Grant Morrison and preceding the “Dick Grayson takes over as Batman”) was hyped to the point where anything outside of the quality equivalent of “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” would have been a let down, but I don’t think we should let that affect our thinking in whether it was a cool comic, because it still was.

The basic concept of “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” (told over Batman #686 and Detective Comics #853) is that a bunch of Batman’s friends and foes show up at Crime Alley for Batman’s funeral. Then, much like Gaiman’s classic “World’s End” storyline in Sandman (which, in turn, was a cool riff on The Canterbury Tales), they stand up to tell stories of how they killed off Batman.

The first story is told by Catwoman, and it is a great mixture of both Robin Hood’s death (well, one version, at least – and even then, only one part of it) and classic noir stylings.

The second story is by Alfred, and it is a stunning take on the whole Batman Rogues Gallery. Very, very cool. Essentially, think of Alfred hiring actor friends to pretend to be super criminals. What a clever idea and the sadness of it all is executed beautifully by Gaiman.

The whole book is put together beautifully, as it is clear that Gaiman and artist Andy Kubert have spent a whole lot of time planning this book out. Kubert’s pencils are as impressive as they’ve ever been in the past, and he captures the various styles requested of him by Gaiman wonderfully.

The little touches really made the comic, though, especially the introduction of the major Batman villains, from Catwoman to Two-Face to Joker. Their entrances were almost note-perfect.

Here they are, so you can marvel at the touches by Gaiman and the impressive art by Kubert…

Batman fans who appreciate the history of the character sure are in for a treat, as Morrison’s great Last Rites storyline is followed up by this story, which is likely even better.

Both amazingly dense and lush stories evoking the past of Batman but also telling an interesting story in the present.

After spending so much time on the stories in the first part of the tale, it put Gaiman into a bit of a corner with what should he do with the second part (with so many characters still left to tell their tales), and he quickly addresses it by having a variety of characters telling short stories of how Batman died. Seven different stories on six pages – and they’re all really strong work by Gaiman and Kubert, giving us heartfelt stories told in one page each (and one page with TWO stories – Harvey Bullock and Clayface).

Then Gaiman takes his best shot at telling a “How Batman dies” story without actually saying “Batman dies,” because, well, Gaiman knew very well that Batman does NOT die here. So he has Batman clearly establish that this all very well could be a Near Death Experience, or in other words, this could all be a sort of hallucination in Batman’s mind.

That’s a smart way to handle it, because, really, there was no other way you COULD play this.

Andy Kubert does a nice job with the pencils in the second part, but not quite as good as part one (but part one was so strong that it would be hard to match that success, especially since he had a lot more lead time to work on part one than part two)

Gaiman picks up a few notes that Morrison left at the end of his run, basically the whole “Batman never gives up” tune, which Gaiman plays well with a montage of cool Batman scenes mixed with some other possible deaths. Gaiman makes a strong point where he argues, of COURSE Batman dies, that’s the whole POINT of Batman – Batman IS going to die, and we should not expect anything other to happen to him. You basically would HAVE to kill him to stop him, so going in, it is not a surprise that he will die. I think that’s a nice take on the character.

The book ends with an interesting children’s book homage that, while well done (by both Gaiman and Kubert, who depicts the effect of a child “reading” Batman’s life), seemed a bit out of place here, seeing as how Gaiman introduces the notion of the book in this very issue and then calls back to it at the end like it was an established part of Batman/Bruce Wayne’s back story.

Still, it’s well done, just out of place.

It’s a nice little two-part story that I think will be an enjoyable reading experience for years to come, well after Bruce Wayne is back as Batman.

The story is collected into a book with the other short stories Gaiman has written about Batman over the years (two stories from DC’s Secret Origins, written before Gaiman was a superstar, plus one short black and white Batman story – the best story in the whole book is likely Gaiman’s Riddler Secret Origin story).

NOTE: This is basically what I said when the story first came out – BC

33 Comments

Why would that dumb ass kid sit around and wait for the coin toss after hearing those two choices? I don’t think $1 is really worth risking getting shot.

This is an amazing piece of work by Gaiman and Kubert.

Gaiman initially narrows his focus on the central idea of Batman, which is that his the story of Bruce Wayne is a tragedy. From the moment his parents were shot in Crime Alley, he was doomed. The specifics of his story can play out in dozens of different equally valid ways, but it does not change the central fact that he will never stop his war against crime. He will never surrender and, because crime cannot ever be ultimately defeated, he will die trying.

It is the classic formula for a tragedy. Bruce Wayne is a great man with a fatal flaw that is central to his greatness. Unlike Frank Miller at the end of DKR, Gaiman does not flinch away from the implications of this. Batman is going to die, or he would not be Batman.

However, what Gaiman does is transcend it. The second half of the story says, in essence, “So what?” Why does it matter that Batman dies, because there will always be another version of the story. The character persists. It is both deeply true to the core of Batman and a stiff, stern rebuke of the gore-obsession that grips modern superhero comics. None of these characters actually die in any meaningful sense. The good ones always come back. Superman came back, so did Captain America. Heck, Hawkeye came back and so will the Wasp.

And Batman is the most persistent of them all. He is the God of Persistence.

I always feel . . . lacking for not loving this story “like I’m supposed to.” I’m a moderate Gaiman fan, don’t have any dislike of his pervious work, but I just felt like this one didn’t stand up or missed the mark . . .
Its still a fine piece, but not the one I’ll pass on to nieces/nephews when I want to illustrate the possibilites and magic of comics when they hit that teenage mark and are looking for more serious stuff.

I found this to be a very uncool comic, myself. I really didn’t like it. The very similar story from Morrison that immediately preceded it said everything better, as far as I was concerned. Gaiman can do better, and has.

Kubert did pretty well for himself, though.

The very similar story from Morrison that immediately preceded it said everything better, as far as I was concerned.

In the end, yes, Morrison’s two-parter was better than Gaiman’s two-parter (and impressively, it did so in less pages). I didn’t think it would be at first, but Gaiman’s second part dragged the story down a bit.

But I think Gaiman did a fine job, as well – it wasn’t his fault that DC had him directly follow Morrison doing basically the same exact story, ya know?

I think you nailed it in the inro, and a big part of the initial problem here was naming it after a piece that’s at least in the conversation for greatest Superman story ever.

Artistically, has that ever worked out well? Direct sequels are almost always received more poorly than the originals (for exceptions, there’s, let’s see, arguably Godfather II? The Dark Knight? And maybe two or three more in the entire history of creative arts?). But at least there they have the excuse of wanting to tell another story with the same characters without being artificially coy about it. Why would you try to draw a direct comparison between yourself and a story that is generally considered better than 99.99% of all other comic book stories? I know it’s Gaiman, but c’mon, what are the odds you’re really going to live up to that?

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow is easily one of the worst and most overrated superhero comics I’ve ever read. The real reason not to name it after that piece is not to be associated with that turd. Qualitywise, honestly, I really have trouble seeing how Gaiman could write a WORSE story than Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? I didn’t read Gaiman’s Batman story but it would be difficult for Gaiman not to top it.

Movies I’ve heard near-universal acclaim as being better sequels (aside from the two you mentioned):
Wrath of Khan
Empire Strikes Back
Terminator 2
LotR 2 (though that one may not really be considered a sequel, sure)
Friday the 13th 2 (who cares about Jason’s mom!?)
Spider-Man 2
X-Men 2

The Jason Bourne movies got consistently better reviews as the series went along.
A lot of people think Toy Story 2 is the better movie, though I prefer the first.

And, personally, I think Back to the Future 2 and Dawn of the Dead are better than the originals.

So while there are a lot of sequel failures, there are more than 4-5 superior sequels in the history of creative arts. There are in movies alone! Anyway, I think the book did suffer from comparisons to Man of Tomorrow. It suffered more, though, from not being nearly as good. The book would have been hyped as much if it was Gaiman writing it and it was called something else altogether, but it wouldn’t have been better reviews.

What interested me about this story when I first read it– and still now– is that the much-maligned second half rests on Gaiman fundamentally approaching Batman as a child’s wish-fulfillment character, essentially a childish fantasy.

It completely flies in the face of how you’re “supposed” to write Batman these days and how the character has actually been written since roughly the late 70s. I don’t think anyone but Gaiman could’ve gotten away with it in the wake of The Dark Knight.

T – While you’re certainly entitled to your opinion, it’s not particularly relevant to the point. Seemingly by your own admission (“most overrated”), you represent a pretty tiny minority here. I may personally hate Citizen Kane, but I’d still be an idiot to name my movie CItizen Kane Jr. and expect critics to open-mindedly evaluate it as a serious feature.

Dan – While IMDB backs you on your first three examples and the comic book films, popular appeal seems to favor the sequel less in all the other cases. It’s actually not even with me on Godfather iI. But yeah, that was hyperbole, I admit. Still, while I agree it wasn’t as good, I’d argue that the way you promote something has a big effect on the way people process it. It’s been argued, and fairly, I think, that Final Crisis took a lot of unjustified heat for basically being promoted as a big smash ‘em up summer crossover when it was really, well, a Morrison comic. Via the title and marketing, D.C. was basically saying, sight unseen, “This belongs in the classic upper eschelon of all the comics we’ve ever produced.” Would people still have been excited for a Gaiman Batman? Sure. Would many have been let down? Probably. But they wouldn’t have had nearly so far to fall. Or to put it another way, if they had called it Hush II: The Shushing, 70% of all internet reviews would have opened with a paragraph about how much better Gaiman’s writing was than Loeb’s.

When I read this the first time, I really enjoyed it. However, the more I think about it the more I realize just how well done it was but also, the more I realize I was expecting more from two issues written by Gaiman. He’s well known for his done in one (or less) stories that this feels slightly (just slightly) disappointing.
Luckily for the reader, Kubert’s art is incredile and makes it entirely worth the purchase.

Forgot to mention that it felt like a slap in the face by DC that other Gaiman Batman stories were collected with this. I picked this two part in singles but now I wish I had those other Gaiman Batman stories even if they’re arguably not worth my time (I bet they are!).

T – While you’re certainly entitled to your opinion, it’s not particularly relevant to the point. Seemingly by your own admission (“most overrated”), you represent a pretty tiny minority here. I may personally hate Citizen Kane, but I’d still be an idiot to name my movie CItizen Kane Jr. and expect critics to open-mindedly evaluate it as a serious feature.

I don’t think that comparison works as well as Batman is serial comic fiction and Citizen Kane is totally standalone. Classics constantly get revisited and homaged repeatedly in comics, no matter how great and “untouchable.” How many times has Action Comics #1 or Amazing Fantasy #15 been revisited and reinterpreted? There was even anofficial sequel to the single best run in all superhero comics, Lee/Ditko Spider-Man, in the form of Untold Tales of Spider-Man, and it was well received.

I think it’s a lot more forgiveable goal in comics than in movies, and even in movies I don’t think it’s all that unforgiveable.

Here’s the thing I found really facinating that no one talks about when discussing this story:

The second part (and arguably all of it) shines a spotlight on Bruce’s relationship with his mother. In all the Batman comics I’ve read the focus has always been on Bruce living up to the ideals of his father or protecting his father’s legacy, but I can’t recall a single instance where Bruce mediates on his mother as an individual distinct from “my parents”. I found that aspect extremely moving and emotional. I don’t think Gaiman executed the story as a whole without flaw, but he certainly did something with the character that had never been done, but still made it seem like a logical extention of Bruce’s psyche. I give him props for that.

Why would that dumb ass kid sit around and wait for the coin toss after hearing those two choices? I don’t think $1 is really worth risking getting shot.

You do realise that guns work at a distance, right? Sure, maybe he could get behind something in time, but maybe he couldn’t. Running away from a person who has a gun at you would normally seem a very provocative action. At least with the coin he had the possibility of surviving (assuming that Two-face wasn’t lying). We, the readers, know that Two-face will make his decision solely on the coin, but the kid wouldn’t know that, he might have heard stories, but not enough to bet his life on it. You run from a normal murderer, and they’ll likely kill you for spoiling their fun. You call the kid a “dumb ass”, but running away from people who a threatening to shot you seems to me a very good way to get shot. Of course as an American, you probably know much more about gun violence than me, so I’ll have to bow to you wisdom.

What is interesting, though, is how this links in to views on Superman as a pacifist. You seem to have a philosophy that activity is always the answer for everything, and the more active the response the better. This seems to show a potent counter-example, sometimes the best response is no response at all.

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow is easily one of the worst and most overrated superhero comics I’ve ever read.

“This is an imaginary story … aren’t they all.” If the measure of art is how much meaning can be expressed in the fewest possible words (pictures, notes, etc.), then with this sentence alone the comic would be better than 98% of all other comics. I’d like to see one line in the entreaty of the Lee/Ditko run that said so much with so little.

“I don’t think that comparison works as well as Batman is serial comic fiction and Citizen Kane is totally standalone.”

That’s a basically corporate decision, though. From an economic standpoint, the comic book profit model is structured around continuing a character ad infinitum. The movie industry is built for a couple of sequels at best But I’d argue that if you asked Alan Moore or Orson Wells if they worried about how easy it would be for a hypothetical writer to continue their tale down the road, you’d get the same answer: “Who cares?”

“Classics constantly get revisited and homaged repeatedly in comics, no matter how great and “untouchable.” How many times has Action Comics #1 or Amazing Fantasy #15 been revisited and reinterpred? And how many time There was even anofficial sequel to the single best run in all superhero comics, Lee/Ditko Spider-Man, in the form of Untold Tales of Spider-Man, and it was well received.”

Sure. I’m not denying it’s possible to do a not-terrible follow up to a classic run. But how many of those revisitaions, reinterpretations, or sequels improved upon the originals? In fact, most of those original stories are, I dare to say, historically important but Not Very Good The Lee/Ditko Spiderman is an awkwardly written, two dimensional soap opera with fists. I, personally, believe that there are a lot of Spiderman stories that are far better. But you disagree. Hell, MOST people disagree. And i tend to think that the artistic culture would be more advanced if those subsequent creators had pursued their own ideas. But even if I were to bow to popular opinion, the mere fact of revisitaion is not proof of excellence. It’s more likely to be proof of which characters were most marketable in the eyes of Marvel/D.C. sales. And in the late sixties through the late eighties, the big two had nearly total control of the market in the U.S. That fact, more than any other, is responsible for the shape of American comics today.

“This is an imaginary story … aren’t they all.” If the measure of art is how much meaning can be expressed in the fewest possible words (pictures, notes, etc.), then with this sentence alone the comic would be better than 98% of all other comics. I’d like to see one line in the entreaty of the Lee/Ditko run that said so much with so little.

My problem with Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow is that it spits in the face of everything we know about Superman leading up to that story for decades. In the past, whenever Superman lost his powers, he would keep fighting the good fight, ready to sacrifice himself if he had to anyway. The beauty of Superman is that he didn’t just do the right thing because he was super-powerful and it was easy for him, he did it because being helpful and sacrificing for the greater good were just part of his character, his powers just made him capable of being more helpful than anyone else on the planet. That story though basically just says that Superman only does it because it doesn’t inconvenience him too much and its easy. Because the moment he sees his death is imminent, he goes from this brash adventurer to this coward who runs home to the North Pole and cringes cravenly like a coward. Then his nonpowered friends have to actually step up on his behalf and go outside and face seasoned supervillains and die on his behalf just because he’s too scared to risk his life for fear he might actually die this time. He doesn’t even lose his powers or anything, they’re totally there, he’s just scared because he might actually die this time. And even as a civilian like Lana Lang is outside mustering up the guts to risk her life when he’s too afraid too, he then reveals that he’s never loved her, he’s always loved Lois Lane, but he’s never had the guts to tell her because he didn’t want to hurt her feelings, (translation: he was scared and too much of a wuss to take a stand and risk being the bad guy) so he’s basically strung both of them along and kept Lana from moving on to a guy who would love her. Not that it matters since he’s about to let her die anyway, making the point moot. I guess these foibles are supposed to make him more relatable to flawed people like us, but I don’t read Superman for relatability. That’s not his appeal. His appeal has always been that you CAN’T relate to him.

Then throw in the unnecessary darkening of elements like Bizarro, Toyman, Prankster and Mr Mxyzptlk, just because its the 80s and grimness automatically confers “depth” to the aging audience in those days and you have a single comic that captures so much of what was wrong with the grim and gritty era. It actually makes Superman look terribly like a coward, and it’s overrated status mainly comes from the fact (1) it’s dark and signifies the innocence of the Golden and Silver Ages as being a naive crock that the protaganist cynically must wake up to, which to most comic readers of the era automatically signified depth, because many were insecure about still reading superheroes and were desperate to embrace anything that they felt helped them make the case that comics aren’t just for kids, (same goes for why Killing Joke is more highly regarded than it deserves to be) (2) it was the capstone to an era that was about to end and on the surface seemed to be paying respect to it, (3) highly regarded talent, (4) it made SUperman more human and relatable, which in the post-Marvel post-Spider-Man era is often praised, even if its not appropriate for the specific character.

It’s not only Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader that has trouble matching up to the hype of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow. I only got round to reading the latter story this week, and it has trouble matching up to its own hype.

I greatly prefer the Batman story, but then I think Gaiman’s twice as good as Moore and Batman’s a million times better than Superman, so I would say that, wouldn’t I?

I’ll agree with anyone who says The Killing Joke is overrated, but Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow is one of my all time favourites. If Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader comes anywhere close I’ll be happy with it.

@ T.

I know that we have discussed “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” in the past. In defending it, I always feel like I am rooting for the house in blackjack. However, I also think it is a wonderful story and that you are being unfair. I will address your points in order:

1. Context matters. Alan Moore wrote his last Superman story well before the wave of darkness that has hit comics over the last 20 years. Moore is a Bronze Age creator and, therefore, has a birthdate at the height of the Baby Boom. Like a lot of Bronze Age creators, Moore was all about introducing the mainstream superheroes of his childhood to the sensibilities of the counter-culture. Unlike many of his peers, Moore really embraced the counter-culture as it applied to comics as well as other media. This was not darkening for its own sake. Moore was responding to the critique of Superman found in underground comics.

2. Whatever you can say about Moore, he did a great job pacing those issues. All the major players from the Weisinger era got a little “screen time”. Many of them have rarely been better. Moore had clearly read and enjoyed those comics at one time and that affection comes across. Again, this is different in both tone and intent than the “extreme” movement that this helped spawn.

3. Moore is certainly on of the four heads on the “Mount Rushmore of Superhero comics”.

4. No one hates the Marvelization of the DC universe more than I do. However, I really do not think this is an example of that. To me, Marvelization is something more akin to what has happened to Hal Jordan. He has an entirely new and different personality that has replaced whatever was there before. The cool, womanizing fighter jock of today has no relationship to the guy I read about as kid that was constantly getting clonked on the head. However, as a result of this personality transplant, Hal Jordan is now able to lecture Superman in JLA meetings about being “pro-active” and banter with Ollie Queen about three-ways. Ta-Da! Instant personality and it is eXtreme!

This is something else. Like Grant Morrison has done with Batman, Moore went back to the old comics and made logical inferences about the character having those adventures. The truth is that Superman was playing Lois and Lana off one another for decades. Logic dictates that he preferred one and was stringing the other along. It is a character flaw, but an organic one.

Similarly, retreating to the Fortress of Solitude in moments of doubt was something he had always done. It shows up over and over in the cheerful Silver Age tales. Moore plays that tendency as Superman being prone to indecision. Again, it is a flaw that comes from looking at Silver Age stuff through adult eyes. I hardly think that wanting take a step back and think through a bad situation is necessarily cowardice, but like all good pieces of writing it can be read in multiple, valid ways.

This is something else. Like Grant Morrison has done with Batman, Moore went back to the old comics and made logical inferences about the character having those adventures. The truth is that Superman was playing Lois and Lana off one another for decades. Logic dictates that he preferred one and was stringing the other along. It is a character flaw, but an organic one.

Similarly, retreating to the Fortress of Solitude in moments of doubt was something he had always done. It shows up over and over in the cheerful Silver Age tales. Moore plays that tendency as Superman being prone to indecision. Again, it is a flaw that comes from looking at Silver Age stuff through adult eyes. I hardly think that wanting take a step back and think through a bad situation is necessarily cowardice, but like all good pieces of writing it can be read in multiple, valid ways.

I agree with you that when looking at the Silver Age stuff through adult eyes, those are logical inferences to come away with. But therein lies the crux of my problem. This material was never originally created with the intention of withstanding mature, adult analysis, and to suddenly change the rules of the game like that to me is like the creator using cheap trick to make himself seem much more enlightened and brilliant than the creators who came before him. For example Superman could get away without making a decision because no matter how much time passed in the real world, none was passing in Superman’s, he lived in a frozen, timeless status quo. It’s not fair after decades of the stories being written in one context, to retroactively change the rules and apply mature adult relationship analysis to those stories and condemn Superman by those new rules.

I always got the impression that Moore changed the rules of the game specifically because he was tasked with writing the very last Pre-Crisis Superman story and clearing the decks for the Byrne revamp. So “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” broke rules in the course of breaking the Silver Age status quo that at the time DC needed people to put out of their minds if the new launch was to succeed. Breaking the rules that kept the Silver Age status quo sustainable created a dramatic necessity that could explain why Silver Age Superman just couldn’t be around anymore.

Had “Whatever Happened…” been written in a different context I might have found it snide myself, but when I read it now there is a feeling of very deep sadness that comes through to me. It is especially powerful in the Legion sequences. I didn’t feel the story condemned Superman, it was mourning the Superman the world was about to lose, even though we were promised a new one. Hence the ending involving Lois’s son– it implies that while one era of Superman is gone, there will eventually be grand adventures again. Kal-El’s are just over, but he’s clearly okay with that, and maybe we should be, too.

@ T.

It’s not fair after decades of the stories being written in one context, to retroactively change the rules and apply mature adult relationship analysis to those stories and condemn Superman by those new rules.

Jeez… now you are condemning the entire comic book Internet.

Kidding aside, we all know that the audience changed and Moore led that charge. The Big Two followed our generation into adulthood, so they could sell an average of, say, five $4 comics a week to 350,000 customers instead of trying to sell two $1 comics a week to 3.5 million customers. That meant making things more adult.

There are a finite number of ways that you can make a product like superhero comics more adult. Moore (and Gaiman) did it largely by making them more literary. Part of that requires holding those old stories to a different standard and looking at them through different eyes. It is certainly my preferred method, but then I watch stuff like MAD MEN and THE WIRE that does much the same thing with the TV medium.

To be honest, that is why I think “… Caped Crusader” is an ideal companion piece to Moore’s story. Gaiman is doing exactly the same thing, which write an elegy that takes the sometimes silly old stuff way more seriously than it was ever intended. Frankly, I would love to see DC do more of these. I’d buy “Whatever Happened to the Amazing Amazon?”

T, it seems like you are taking Tomorrow as a person insult against past creators. It is as if you are saying “Past creators could have made the comics more adult, they were just writing for children.” I think that you need to take the people out of the question, and look at the comics.

Tomorrow is a more mature look at Superman, this seems to be something you agree with. Yet this is a bad thing, because it makes past creators look bad. But lets just look at the comics themselves. If Tomorrow is a more mature work than those previous works, if it tells us more about the human condition, isn’t it then a better work, no matter who created it.

The message of Tomorrow to you seems to be “This is how Superman would actually be, past creators were stupid”. I think the message of comic is “This is how Superman would actually be, past comics were stupid”. You yourself have said that they were written for children. You say that fans stop liking children’s comics because they became insecure. Could they have not just become more intellegent? What they were willing to accept as children now seemed ridiculous to them. You say that past comics shouldn’t be look on with adult eyes, but those are the eyes that adults (well, at least most adults) have.

Moore didn’t make past comics ridiculous, readers (well, most readers) had already worked that out for themselves. He was just one of the first to put in writing what had already been accepted in the outside world.

Ted, I know it’s not an insult to past creators, at least not an intentional one. I even believe it means well. I just think its misguided.

You say that fans stop liking children’s comics because they became insecure. Could they have not just become more intellegent? What they were willing to accept as children now seemed ridiculous to them.

If they became more intelligent and past comics now looked ridiculous to them, they should have left superhero comics behind for a new hobby and left the superhero comics behind intact for new generations of kids to discover, not try to reconcile the inherently ridiculous with the logical real world just so that they could keep reading them as they age. If they reach an age where the work becomes to ridiculous for them to enjoy, they need to move on.

Archie comics are now ridiculous to me too now that I’m older. That’s no fault of the Archie comics and that’s no fault of mine. We’re just in a different place. But thankfully no one tried to turn Archie into an adult literary high concept drama just to hang onto aging readers.

Man, I can regard “Whatever Happened…” as a lot of things, but realistic? That’s ridiculous. The whole point of the story is that it’s driven by a completely arbitrary change in Mr. Mxyzptlk’s behavior. So he changes the other villains in ways that are drastically, ridiculously horrible. The horrible things that happen as part of the status quo breakdown aren’t realistic at all– more gruesome than deaths tended to be in Silver Age Superman, perhaps– but ultimately they’re just Grimm fairy tales instead of Mother Goose.

But thankfully no one tried to turn Archie into an adult literary high concept drama just to hang onto aging readers.

I honestly do not think that it was a choice.

The news stand distribution business kind of dried up in the eighties. The returns were killing both DC and Marvel from what I understand. A lot of publishers went away during the Bronze Age. The companies that paved the way into the Direct Market (First, Comico, Eclipse) were all doing it by selling more adult-oriented stories.

To this day, the Big Two have an uneasy relationship with mature story-telling that suggests some ambivalence on their part about how the market changed in the late-80s.

they should have left superhero comics behind for a new hobby and left the superhero comics behind intact for new generations of kids to discover, not try to reconcile the inherently ridiculous with the logical real world just so that they could keep reading them as they age.

First of all, I don’t think kids stopped reading comics because they became mature. Rather, I think comics became more mature because kids stopped reading them. Children are fickle, and they’re always looking for something new for entertainment. When I was a kid, it was all about the Power Rangers. If I were to talk to a primary school kid now, I don’t they’d even know who the Power Rangers were, yet no-one ever attempted to make the Power Rangers more mature. Kids aren’t interested in what the last lot of kids liked, they want something that is just theirs, and why shouldn’t they? Much as we might want them to be, kids really have no interest in living our childhoods.

Secondly, I don’t think that Archie comics are strictly comparable to superhero comics, as superhero comics are a genre, while Archie comics are just a member of a genre, namely romance comics. True, few romance comics are published in the US, but they are in Japan. If modern superhero comics are grown-up children’s superhero comics, then wouldn’t Josei manga be grown-up Archie comics? I imagine that a major audience for Josei manga would be those that have outgrown shojo manga. Should they have just abandoned romance comics as they grew up too?

The 18th Century French critic Catherine Bernard said of fairy tales, and I think that the same applies to superhero stories, that the stories themselves “should always be implausible and the emotions always natural”. Yes, superhero comics will always have implausible plots, but I don’t see why they can’t also have realistic emotions, rather than the often farcical melodrama that typifies the earlier comics. T, you seem to have a belief, and I saw this in your criticism of the Dark Knight as well, that a story must be entirely realistic for it to have even one realistic element in it, or at least it must be entirely realistic for any realistic elements it does have to be taken seriously. I, for the life of me, can’t see why that should be the case.

That was me, by the way.

I’d never read this because, really, i don’t care about Batman.

After finishing it my first thought was “If this had been written by someone who wasn’t Neil Gaiman it would be accused of being a slapdash knockoff of ‘The Wake’ and ‘Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow’.” it meandered, hovered near a few points, told a story with no drama or tension, and then fell facefirst into bathos. With a Goodnight Moon stand-in nonetheless.

It felt like something Gaiman did because he wanted to buy something big.

Car Watching Kid is supposed to be Jason Todd, I thought.

Mychael Darklighter

July 28, 2012 at 6:14 pm

power rangers are one of the most popular properties today.
my understanding is that they did it largely by making it more ‘mature’ (filming less corny, american fight scenes, jettisoning corny elements like rita repulsa, adding more drama, longer arcs + continuity call-backs, etc…)

this was the most vaporous superhero story i have ever read. (and the last time i bought Gayman, heh)

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