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For DC and Marvel, the content of their books is the least of their problems

rant1001

Well, that’s a cheery title, isn’t it? I’m going to write about Futures End and Original Sin, both of which had a “zero” issue that I didn’t read and both of which shipped their #1 issues this week. So, um, SPOILERS be below, arrrrrr!

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To start: I didn’t hate either of these books. I didn’t exactly like them, but I recognize that I’m not the audience, and while I could rant about some of the storytelling, I’m not going to (or at least I’m not going to very much).

Why did I buy these two issues, if I wasn’t terribly interested in them and probably wouldn’t like them very much? Well, you know me – every once in a while I like to dip my toes in the Big Event Pool and see what’s what, after which I run screaming back to my hipster indie books and weird-o corners of the Marvel Universe (the DCnU doesn’t seem to have any weird-o corners anymore, unfortunately). I wasn’t going to get Original Sin #1, but once I decided to pick up Futures End, I figured I should go for the two-fer. But why did I get Futures End #1?

Well, I missed the Free Comic Book Day issue #0, because I was too busy getting those aforementioned hipster indie books, but then I read about it on Caleb’s blog and regretted not getting it, if only because I missed yet another DC hero getting a limb cut off. rant4004I mean, that’s just tremendous commitment on DC’s editorial and creative teams to ensure that a hero gets a limb chopped off every few months or so. Plus, the panel with Frankenstein opening his shirt to reveal Black Canary’s face stitched onto his chest just might be the greatest panel in the history of comics. So I read Caleb’s thoughts about it. I had already read Chris Sims’s thoughts about it. Caleb linked to Jog’s thoughts about it. Then I read that Mark Waid was, um, talking smack about it? Is he? Is he not? You be the judge! So a lot of people were writing about Futures End #0 and wringing their hands over the state of DC Entertainment. Everyone agrees that Futures End #0 is wildly derivative of a bunch of disparate, better sources, and everyone agrees that it’s a pretty crap issue. Everyone also agrees that if DC was going to put out a FCBD book that shows what you get in 2014 from a DC book, this is a perfect distillation. Sims comes as close as he can to unironically crying “Won’t someone think of the children?!?!?” in his best Helen Lovejoy voice, which cracked me right up because he considers Snyder and Capullo’s Batman one of DC’s best comics right now (it might be, but that doesn’t make it a good comic, and isn’t it the one in which the Joker just went around wearing his own skin as a mask, which doesn’t scream “kid-friendly” to me). I’ll get back to this idea of “kid-friendliness,” as it’s kind of the point of my post. First, Futures End #1 and Original Sin #1 came out. What’s up with them?

Futures End #1 starts off with Batman (the Beyond kind) getting attacked by a cyborg, but there’s nothing terribly objectionable there. Then we switch to Stormwatch, where Apollo pays for his filthy, sinful lifestyle by getting fried by some energy beam just before the Midnighter pays for his filthy, sinful lifestyle by getting blown up on the Stormwatch ship, where his enabling teammates get the same treatment. Before we can process that, we switch to a suburb, where a kindly dad is getting shot in the head. Then his wife gets shot several times. It’s okay, though, because it’s Grifter, killing evil “Body Snatcher”-type aliens, including the one inhabiting the little girl in the house (to their eternal shame, DC doesn’t show Grifter putting two in her head). I mean, if you’re going to be derivative, at least you make sure Grifter explains that they’re being derivative (which he does). Then Jason Rusch interrupts Ron Raymond about to have sex with a girl so that they can become Firestorm and fly to Seattle to help Green Arrow, but they reach him too late (thanks to Ronnie’s inability to keep it in his pants) and our pal Ollie is dead. So things are off to a rousing start!

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Meanwhile, over in Original Sin, Captain America, Wolverine, Black Widow, and Original Nick Fury (wait, isn’t he dead?) are eating at a diner talking about steak. Dear sweet Jeebus, are they talking about steak! They get a call about something weird happening on the moon, so they all head there, where they find Uatu dead. Yeah.

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Then it’s all about gathering teams to find Uatu’s eyes and the gun that killed him, with a bunch of B- and C-list Marvel heroes hooking up (ew, not like that) and plotting. Before we get too bored, we find a Mindless One that suddenly has a mind tearing up New York, and before Ben Grimm and Spider-Man can stop it, it commits suicide by sticking the Ultimate Nullifier at its head and pulling the trigger. And then we get a few more pages of the heroes gathering, before we end with the villains, one of whom is holding one of Uatu’s eyes. That’s the final image of the issue.

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Neither of these issues is all that good, but that’s not really the point, is it? Mike Deodato and Frank Martin turn in some nice art, as Deodato continues to evolve in his work (hey, if only someone were doing a series of posts about artists’ evolution over the years!), although the use of a Photoshopped moon is kind of annoying. Patrick Zircher does a pretty good job on Futures End, although there’s a sequence when Terry fights the cyborg that I can’t parse. Zircher has turned into a dependable superhero artist, although I prefer some of his more experimental art from previous years. rant6006On event books, the art is often ahead of the writing, and it does feel a bit as if Aaron (on Original Sin) and Misters Azzarello, Lemire, Jurgens, and Giffen (on Futures End) are phoning it in a bit, but there’s nothing terribly egregious about the stories. I’m sure that we’ll read plenty of posts about how DC is driving away any casual comics fans and kids will never read their books and other stuff, while no one will mention that the big moment in Original Sin is the Watcher lying on the ground with his eyes scraped out of his noggin. Marvel just sells this shit better.

So what’s my point? Well, I’d like to ponder the idea that Sims brings up, about DC comics not being aimed at kids. Sims doesn’t have any children (I’m reasonably certain I’m right about this fact), although I don’t know if he has nephews and nieces (or, heck, even young cousins) in his life. Caleb doesn’t have any children, either, but he does write about his nieces often, so I assume they exist (unless he’s writing the longest work of strange blog fiction in the short history of blogs). That doesn’t mean they can’t write about comics for kids, of course, but I wonder if they really hang out with kids that often, or if they’re viewing these books through the lens of their own experiences when they were 7-14 years old. I just don’t know. My daughter, sadly, is more interested in prose than comics (she reads some comics, but she’s not that into them), but I have been volunteering a lot at her school this year, so I have been hanging out with a lot of third-graders. With regard to Futures End and Original Sin, I have one thing to say with regard to 8-year-old boys:

They would eat this shit up with a motherfucking spoon.

Look, the world is different than it was in the gauzy past, when The Dukes of Hazzard was about all kids could handle in terms of sex and The A-Team was all they could handle in terms of violence. rant7007I don’t know about you, but if there had been even more violent stuff on television back then, I would have been all over that shit. Kids are bloodthirsty – even girls. The only reason we think of these comics as not being for kids is because when we were kids, they didn’t make comics like this. Kids aren’t delicate flowers who need to be protected from stuff. Sure, I wouldn’t want my daughter to watch certain things on television or read certain comics, but I’m talking about stuff like Game of Thrones or Faust. I wouldn’t have any problem with her reading Futures End or Original Sin. She’d probably laugh at Uatu’s misfortune. I can guarantee you that I know plenty of kids in Norah’s grade who would see what happens to Apollo and say “Cool!” Kids are vicious bastards. I love ‘em to death.

The people who complain about these comics not being for kids are the parents, not the kids. I get that parents want to monitor what their kids consume, but comics like Futures End are not going to scar any kids. Original Sin‘s worst sin for kids is that there’s not enough carnage, so it might bore kids to tears. At least Futures End has a pretty good body count-to-page ratio – after 1½ pages of stupid talking, a cyborg almost drills (literally) Batman’s head off – with a drill that extends out of its mouth (see above); on page 7, Stormwatch’s ship attacks the team; on Page 9, Apollo gets fried to a crispy skeleton; on Page 10, the ship explodes, killing everyone on board; on Page 11, Grifter kills two people; on Page 12 AND 13, he fires more bullets gratuitously into the corpse of the “mother”; on Page 14, he kills a “kid”; on Page 20, we get the full-page splash of Oliver Queen’s corpse that I showed above. The grossest thing in the book for a kid would probably be Ron Raymond and Emily with half their clothes off!

The problem with comics like this and the comics cognoscenti is the same problem popular television shows and popular movies and popular music has. Futures End and Original Sin are crap, but people love crap. NCIS is shit, The Big Bang Theory is shit, the Transformers movies are shit, Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” is shit. It doesn’t matter. Many people, especially ones who aren’t as into a certain thing as others (like comics, or television, or movies), don’t care too much about quality, they just like something to pass the time. We all know this is true, but when we’re confronted with evidence, like the fact that DC apparently sells enough limb-removing comics to make it worth it, we rail against it. rant8008We like being comics snobs, because we like to pretend we’re too good for shit like Futures End or Original Sin. “If I read DC comics, I read Wonder Woman and Batman ’66 because I have taste,” we sniff. “And look at that Matt Fraction, totally reinventing comics on Hawkeye!” But most people like popular culture like this. They aren’t huge fans of any medium, they just like to mildly entertained every once in a while. That’s true whether they just want to sit down in front of the television and vegetate for a while, pick up the latest thriller by Brad Thor (that can’t be his real name, can it?), go see something with big explosions on the big screen, or read a comic where Green Arrow ends up dead. The vast majority of people don’t care that it’s crap. And that’s okay. As I’ve noted before, I don’t read comics that way, but everyone reads or watches or listens in a different way. DC and Marvel don’t care if I don’t read these event books.

The problem, as usual, is not that the content is crappy. It’s that these comics aren’t available and cost too much. I hate to beat this dead horse, but it’s true. I went to FCBD, as I’m sure many of you did, and both stores I visited were packed. They were packed with kids, too, because parents saw that it was Free Comic Book Day, saw the word FREE, and thought it would be a good idea to get something for nothing. My retailer did quite a lot of business, too, so he liked the day even though he had to pay for the books. Kids love comics, parents love comics, and kids would love to read shit like Futures End or Original Sin. But, as has been noted for years, you can’t find comics at 7-11 or at random places a kid might go. It’s a bit better than it was in the recent past, as Marvel and DC are trying to get into places like Wal-Mart (and they might be there, for all I know – as a snob, I avoid Wal-Mart like it’s your mom after her latest night of rough trade). But I rarely see kids in my comic book store, and those I do come in because their dads (usually) buy comics. Kids don’t go on their own to comic book stores, and that means they’re not developing the habit of buying serialized fiction. Comics is an active pursuit, like movie-going and unlike television, because you have to go out and find it. Many of the people I’ve given comics to over the years enjoy them but don’t have the urge to seek them out. That kind of obsessive behavior is very hard to instill in people when they’re older – you have to hook them when they’re young. DC and Marvel have the product, but they don’t have the accessibility.

Obviously, price is a big factor too. I know so many people have gone over this again and again, but it’s worth mentioning. Original Sin #1 is $4.99, which is just too spendy for a kid, no matter how many shots the Watcher takes to the dome. Futures End #1 might be “only” $2.99, but it’s weekly, and that adds up. Parents want cheap entertainment for their kids, which is why they buy them video games and let them play them until their eyes bleed out of their sockets. Even if kids get hooked on comics through FCBD and they have easy access to a comic book store, are they or their parents really going to invest so much money into the product? rant9009That’s one reason why digital comics are handy, because of accessibility, but I guess most companies charge the same fucking amount of money for a digital comic that they do for a print one. That’s, not to put too fine a point on it, insane.

DC and Marvel, like a lot of movie companies, have reached a point where I doubt if they care too much if people read the comics. Movie companies have reached a point where butts in seats for their movies isn’t the entire point, and might not even be a major point. Ancillary revenue is the point, and it’s why Amazing Spider-Man 2 can do fairly shitty box office but Sony doesn’t give a shit because every kid in the country is getting Spider-Man Happy Meals (and remember: girls only like pink Spider-Man accessories!). I suspect that DC and Marvel don’t care too much about the comics selling because they feed into the movies (let’s hope Ed Brubaker is getting mad royalties for the latest Captain America movie), where all the crazy cash is. They’ll keep publishing the comics and hope that old farts like me keep buying them, but they don’t particularly care about reaching out to new readers. Kids know who Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman and Spider-Man and Wolverine and Captain America are, and they get what they want out of them from the movies. And DC and Marvel are perfectly fine with that.

I know I’m beating an old dead horse with this, but it’s worth saying every so often, especially when other people get up in arms about DC and Marvel not publishing comics for children. Almost all of DC and Marvel’s publishing output is perfectly fine for kids, even ones in which Batman’s arm gets lopped off or Uatu’s head gets perforated. I know at least two third-graders who have seen both Hunger Games movies and loved them, even though as a parent I don’t think they’re all that appropriate for third-graders. Kids are far tougher than we think they are, and not much DC and Marvel publishes in their regular, mainstream superhero line will affect them too much. Their problems aren’t about what’s in the comics, it’s about the fact that they can’t the comics into the hands of kids. They could easily hook new readers if they fixed that, and they wouldn’t even have to stop publishing charming stories where Grifter shoots children or villains carry eyeballs around in their hands.

But, as usual, what the hell do I know?

rant10010

73 Comments

Bill Williamson

May 8, 2014 at 11:02 am

I honestly couldn’t agree more.

The big two don’t care about comics any more. So long as they’re making profits from TV, Film, Video Games, Toys and memorabilia, it really doesn’t matter to them how many or how few comics they sell, or how great or how poor their products are.

If comics are to regain their previous glory, there needs to be a revolution from the bottom. Smaller publishers need to be getting their books into supermarkets and convenience stores, because the big two certainly won’t do it, at least not on their own. They have too little reason to care about the state of the industry.

I dunno, I think the problem with, say, showing the heroes torturing some dude for information or lingering on the Watcher, sort of an icon of old-school goofiness, with lurid detail of his head blown apart as if this somehow makes the death of a giant-headed spacer voyeur “stark” or “realistic” or whatever is more that it promotes some stupid, potentially dangerous attitudes in general. Art and entertainment need not be didactic, but can they at least be less actively on the side of dumb ideas? (Headsplatter and brain-gore seem to be the new “Geoff Johns de-limbs someone;” they’ve figured heavily in a bunch of comics over the last year, always presented as “big” or “shock” moments. I suppose if Garth Ennis remains popular, we’ll see some latter-day Johns turn genital injury into the thing that proves this month’s showdown between Captain Beefcake and his archenemy Trahison Clerc is For Real Serious.)

I’d have loved this at age eight, too, because it precisely fits a child’s idea of grown-up or serious content.. The Watcher just got killed, yo! And it’s all bloody, just like it really would be! People have sex and they’re not afraid to admit it! When of course the reality is that sex is less glamorous than it is wonderfully intimate, endearingly awkward at times, and always very sticky afterwards, while real violence is less spectacular and gory than it is dehumanizing and depressing.

So, no, I don’t think kids should be protected from this. I think the middle-aged fanboys who actually buy it should be asked to outgrow it.

Mike Loughlin

May 8, 2014 at 11:18 am

True, Greg, when I was a kid other kids were watching Nightmare on Elm Street movies and listening to music with swears in it. So what, right?

Well…as a parent, I don’t want my kids (both under 10) getting into anything they can’t handle. I don’t want my son having nightmares because of a drawing of a dude holding the Watcher’s eye. I don’t want my daughter pretending to be Katy Perry because she saw a video. Realistically, I can’t control everything my kids see or hear. But! I will control everything I can. Therefore, I won’t let my kids watch the Hunger Games movies even if all their friends are into it and I won’t buy my kids comics featuring gore or dismemberment no matter how annoyingly they beg…

Which means Marvel & DC are leaving money on the table. Maybe the kids won’t be scarred by the content but I’d rather not take the chance or have uncomfortable conversations with my kids about sex and violence. My son would like to follow Justice League but I won’t let him read about super-torturers who hook up with each other. My daughter likes Teen Titans, but there’s no way I’m letting her read a book featuring Sex Doll Starfire (Teen Titans Go! is allowed, however).

Kid versions don’t sell because they’re not the “real” versions. The Big 2 could tone down the violence & sex without losing the hardcore fanboys *and* grow their audience a little. They won’t because they’re scared, but they could.

You’re 100% right about price, accessability, revenue streams, and kids’ tastes. If kids can’t get the comics, parents could. If parents won’t, they won’t sell as well. Even if merch & movies sell well, I doubt the Big 2 wouldn’t like to expand their comics readership.

Jorge Martinez

May 8, 2014 at 11:29 am

I agree with the part that 8 year olds would love this stuff and I agree. I think as children that used to read comics we have the “back in my day” mentality.

I think comics are stronger than ever. I think marvel and DC are both putting out high quality books. Can be they better? Sure. But that’s ALWAYS been the case…even “back in my day”.

We also play Monday morning quarterback these days. Back in my day that’s wasn’t the internet but a few kids at school or at the comic shop talk about the latest issue for a few days and then forget about it.

Do DC and Marvel care about making comics? How can they not? You are telling me Quesada, Brevoort, Geoff Johns, Jim Lee don’t care? Yeah making millions is fun…and a requirement…but what these guys REALLY care about (the creators) is making comics. That’s the real fun part of their jobs…not the revenue meetings. if by marvel and DC you mean some guys on an executive board in suits? No, they don’t care about the comics…but people in comics are getting paid more than ever (another problem…in tune to high paid athletes). If they really didn’t care we wouldn’t have star creators getting paid lots of money to a story. They’d farm it out to a bunch of no names writer/artists.

Also nice point about the artists evolution. We have a large number of high quality artists. I’ve been looking at many different comics lately…just checking out the art. Small comics no one has heard of (DC/Marvel) that look amazing. These guys are getting paid…Marvel/DC wouldn’t pay them that much if they didn’t care.

This is a refreshing look at comics and probably the single best piece of comics criticism I’ve read in a long time. It’s true; we do think we’re better than Futures End, but here we are reading it anyway. And it’s true; people love crap. They eat it up. I can’t remember what it’s called, but there’s a psychological effect in which each individual thinks they have good taste and everybody else doesn’t. But this can’t possibly be true because really — look at all the crap out there. Superhero comics are 99.9% crap but at least it’s entertaining crap. I’ve never used the word crap so much in my life.

Greg, you’ve just about summed up my own thoughts on the subject. The only kids that I know who are regularly reading comics are picking up from their Dad’s longboxes. They enjoy them, sure, but, it’s not ‘a channel’ they’re invested in. Gaming and to a lesser extent movies are where they’re hooked.

Whilst I might think that’s a shame, I’m fully aware that my bronze-age sensibilities count for now’t, when considering the habits and tastes of ‘da youth’.

I’d have loved this at age eight, too, because it precisely fits a child’s idea of grown-up or serious content.. The Watcher just got killed, yo! And it’s all bloody, just like it really would be!

And frankly… it’s not all that different than how it used to be back in the day. The most excited I’ve ever been by a comic as a 13 year old was The Omega Men in 1983 because it was full of gore-tastic violence with vibrant crimson blood on gorgeous white baxter paper. So the age level for viewing and appreciation has gone down by about 5 years in the intervening three decades.

But your rule still applies. I loved that stuff as a 13 year-old because it was “dark ” and “adult”. It wasn’t. And it’s still the case.

My problem isn’t that they have comics isn’t about the age appropriateness. It’s about the stunted growth of its readers and creators. I gave up on DC because I just decided that a book like Future’s End with a shock reveal of another hero either being beaten, killed, eviscerated or depowered and humiliated every 10 pages or so is a nightmarishly dull formula and the dissonance with iconic characters who used to be childhood symbols of power/hope/awesomeness became too much. I’m not really interested in seeing a cyborged Wonder Woman with the incumbent narrative of failure and humiliation that comes with that. Any more than I am to watch Dick Grayson tortured and have his identity revealed on TV.

Maybe Greg is right– maybe they’re writing for a mass market and nobody cares about me even though I’ve voted with my wallet for over a year now. But I’m also astounded the model for making comics that attract the public hasn’t actually changed in 30 years.

True, kids love gore.

True, most people like crap.

True, Marvel and DC’s dwindling sales are due to things external (marketing, price, availability).

True, Marvel and DC are more worried about movies.

So, yeah. Agree with the comments 100%.

Dear sweet Jeebus, are they talking about steak!

FOR PAGES! I only picked up the issue because there was some knob who was tying up the line at my LCS. How do they expect anyone to casually pick up this book and have any interest in the book after 20 panels of people talking about steak, especially kids! Blech.

I agree with Bill too, but I would add that the only reason they put out comics at all is because they know die hard fans will buy them. The fans will bitch about them endlessly, but they will still turn out for the latest event, teaching the Big Two that they’re on the right track.

And what Omar said. And probably Mike too. I have to get back to work.

Bill: I honestly think comics in general are perfectly fine, perhaps healthier than they’ve ever been. It wouldn’t upset me too much if the mainstream superheroes went away, as I don’t read them too much anymore. But I do think if superhero comics are going to gain readers, it has to be from the bottom up.

Omar: Dumb ideas drive the world! :)

And yeah, your final point is a good one. That’s a whole different post, though!

Mike: I agree with everything you wrote, pretty much. I’ve pointed out before that there’s no reason Parker’s Batman ’66 couldn’t be the “real” Batman with just a few tweaks, but that ship, I think, has sailed. As you know, I pay fairly close attention to what my daughter consumes, so I’m with you, but that’s an individual parental choice. I really don’t know if seeing Starfire in that costume has the detrimental effect on kids that adults say it does. I don’t think it would have any effect on my daughter except to make her laugh at its ridiculousness.

Jorge: Yeah, I wasn’t talking about Joey Q or Dan DiDio, although these days, who knows what they care about? I was talking about the Disney and Time Warner overlords.

matthew: Join the crap brigade! :)

When I was 8 years old, my favorite comics were The Haunted Tank, Enemy Ace, The War Time Forgot and other war comics. Big body counts in every issue. No gore, of course.

Every other show on TV was a western, Gun fights and body counts on every episode. No gore, of course.

Then there were the WWII TV shows, like Rat Patrol and Combat. Huge body counts. Even on the sitcoms like Hogan’s Heroes and McHale’s Navy, every episode ended with a convoy being blow up or a ship sinking and our heroes getting a good laugh about the hundreds of people they just killed. No gore, of course.

I loved them all. And I grew up to be just fine.

BTW, I would love to see a supercut of every time Marshall Dillon got shot in the shoulder on Gunsmoke. He’d be shown wearing a sling at the end of the episode, then be just fine next week. As long as that show was on, it had to have happened 100 times.

I could not agree more about the tastes of the average 8-year-old. Folks have been wringing their hands about gross-out violence for generations (e.g. EC Comics, Mars Attacks trading cards, Heavy Metal album covers). Somehow, society has survived. Sex is a little more complicated, because it has been more censored. Still, I’d be willing to bet that most of the kids that read Little Annie Fanny in their Dad’s Playboys grew up able to form healthy relationships. Every family is going to have their own level of tolerance for content, which is why accurate labeling and a genuine diversity of content matters.

On the other hand, I disagree with you on the quality question. Comics are not cheap relative to video games, TV and movies. If they aren’t providing a good value, then they won’t endure as a medium. To me, that is the big difference between the DC cross-over and the Marvel one.

Let’s be honest, the idea of the Watcher having his eyes gouged out is kinda … funny. That sort of Mad Magzine sense of humor drive a lot of the better ‘dark’ content in comics. It certainly informed Watchmen. I certainly laughed when Batman and Robin beat Green Lantern with a can of yellow paint in ASBAR. The best of the neo Silver Age content that followed the Dark Age had the same twinkle in its eye.

The higher-ups at DC seem deathly afraid of anyone laughing about their properties. “No underwear-on-the-ouside please, we are VERY serious”.

My favorite part of Future’s End, better than Frankenstein-bot with Canary-face-chest, was Constantine-bot with a cigarette in his mouth. NuDC is truly terrible, but the unintentional camp can sometimes lead to hilarity. Another great camp moment was Crying Sandwich Guy from the most recent Flash comic.

Okay, I admit it. I shot the Watcher. But I did not shoot the deputy :)

The problem is that adults usually have a poor idea of what would cause kids to have nightmares. When I was a kid, fictional violence and death weren’t particularly scary. I suppose that’s because as a kid I still hadn’t a strong notion of my own mortality.

You know what would case me nightmares? Movies about covert alien invasions like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. Or stories where the hero’s friends were mind-controlled to act against the hero. I think that is because it was terrifying for a kid to think that all his friends and family would turn against him or be replaced by aliens.

Now, torture and maiming? Not scary. Though I don’t remember being heavily into them either. I read WATCHMEN as a kid. The Comedian neither thrilled nor horrified me. He sort of went over my head. I didn’t realize that Alan Moore was painting a monster and I hadn’t the maturity to understand rape, so I just ignored it. Now Rorschach was wicked cool, beating up bad guys and scaring them to death. Obviously I also didn’t realize how broken he was supposed to be. Living almost like a crazy street person, to a kid, sounded like a lot of fun.

Let’s be honest, the idea of the Watcher having his eyes gouged out is kinda … funny. That sort of Mad Magzine sense of humor drive a lot of the better ‘dark’ content in comics. It certainly informed Watchmen. I certainly laughed when Batman and Robin beat Green Lantern with a can of yellow paint in ASBAR. The best of the neo Silver Age content that followed the Dark Age had the same twinkle in its eye.

The higher-ups at DC seem deathly afraid of anyone laughing about their properties. “No underwear-on-the-ouside please, we are VERY serious”.

I agree. I’m not a fan of either storyline in concept to be honest, but from what I’ve seen, the Marvel one at least has a chance of being readable and having some sincerely high-quality moments. The DC storyline just looks like lowest common denominator embarrassing dreck.

Also, isn’t it depressing that DC will drag this story over 11 months and lots of tie-ins when Claremont and Byrne already did it so much better in 2 issues of DAYS OF FUTURE PAST?

Well, my oldest daughter reads comics, a lot of my old “kid” stuff (Adventures in the DCU, Archie Turtles, Archie itself, etc.) mixed with a large amount of newer, more “kids oriented” stuff (copper, zita, owly, tiny titans, etc.) mixed with some dabbling in more standard fare because she’s getting to a point where I think she’ll find it interesting.

However. my reasons for keeping her off the mainstream has nothing to do with kid appropriateness; it’s mostly because most of it is crap, and when it isn’t, it isn’t stuff that I think she would like anyway (or that Mom may not approve of; do I think she’d like the concept of early Fables? Probably. Would her Mom kill me if I let her read Goldilocks having sex with Little Bear? Yeah, I think that’s a safe bet).

The problem as you and others note about Future’s End (and I can’t speak of Original Sin…haven’t read it), but the zero issue made me think “they really want to do a Borg story, don’t they?” And then at the end it felt like they were ripping off Armageddon 2001…badly. And maybe that doesn’t matter for an 8 year old who has no concept of those things (highly likely), but as the one with the dollar to spend on what my kids read now, I’ll spend it on other things that may be more creative. Snobby? Sure. But it’s my buck to spend until she gets to make the choice herself.

Also, isn’t it depressing that DC will drag this story over 11 months and lots of tie-ins when Claremont and Byrne already did it so much better in 2 issues of DAYS OF FUTURE PAST?

Hey dude there’s like 51 weeks left to this story. How do you know this won’t be as good or even better than Days of Future Past?

Just kidding.

Mutt: Yeah, there’s more gore these days, but I’m still not sure if it has much effect. I could be wrong, of course!

Dean: I do wish DC and Marvel (especially DC) would take themselves a tiny bit less seriously. On the other hand, it does give us a lot of unintentional humor.

T.: I forgot about cigarette-smoking cyborg Constantine. That was pretty funny.

Ben: (Slow clap)

renenarciso: That’s very true. When I was 8 I saw the old BW movie of Treasure Island and it scared the bejesus out of me. I actually didn’t read the book until at least a decade later, because the movie scared me so much. I have no idea why it scared me, but it did. There’s no reason a parent should believe that it should scare their 8-year-old, but it scared this one!

Smokescreen: Yeah, so much of pop culture is crap. We don’t let our daughter watch the sitcoms on Disney Channel (except for Good Luck Charlie, which was a tiny bit better than the rest), mainly because they suck, not because they’re emotionally scarring. So I love being a snob too!

When I read the Future’s End zero issue, I was mostly struck by how it seemed like they were doing a shitty version of the recent Animal Man/Swamp Thing “Rotworld” storyline. Maybe that’s why they have Jeff Lemire helping to write it.

“Hey Jeff, remember that amazingly well-paced, sweeping, emotional alternate-future story you and Snyder did last year? Will you help us rip it off?”

Usually Jason Aaron is the type of writer who recognizes the inherent absurdity of superheroes and celebrates it. If anything, he’s shown the opposite problem in Wolverine and the X-Men, by trying to promote the Hellfire Kids and their Axe-Cop-style connection to reality as serious villains. His script for Original Sin has the characters lampshading the absurdity of the situation (I’m getting no energy readings whatsoever from the body! I’d say that menas he’s almost certainly dead! Yeah, there’s that….and the giant HOLE in his forehead). I think the main problem with this story’s tone is Mike Deodato’s art, which casts everything in deep black shadows and way oversells the seriousness of the story (see also: anything drawn by David Finch).

Neil – great points.

It brings me back to the smoking Constantine robot bit from Future’s End. In a fun writer’s hands, I could have seen that as tongue and cheek and absurd on purpose. With DC, they’ve got such a track history of being tone deaf that even if they meant it in that way, my tendency is to assume it’s totally meant in earnest.

I somehow imagine this weekly will be less 52 and more Countdown to Final Crisis.

Andrew Collins

May 8, 2014 at 5:13 pm

My wife is a third grade teacher and she likes to keep some comics stocked in her class room library for the kids to read. A few years ago, I bought a complete set of the Power Pack digest-sized trades that Marvel released collecting the “kid friendly” PP series and gave it to her for her kids.

The kids almost literally DEVOURED them. They read them every chance they got, to the point where she had to hide them until special reading times of the day. One year she even had to bring them all home because the kids would not stop looking for them in the classroom! I had to buy a few more copies because the spines began falling off them, they were THAT loved.

Star Wars: Clone Wars, Spongebob, Spider-Man, and Owly have all also been big hits with the kids. Children will read comics if exposed to them. The trouble is that few of the kids had parents willing (or knowledgeable enough) to buy them comics. Whether it was knowing where (or what) a comic store was, or having the time to take them or the money to spend on them, my wife’s school library is generally their only exposure to the art form. And as evidenced above, it doesn’t have to be violent, bloody, or even superheroes, kids will read what appeals to them.

DC and Marvel need to do more to produce these comics and find ways to get them into children’s eager hands. They audience is there, trust me.

The steak is a metaphor for murder.

entzauberung

May 8, 2014 at 5:22 pm

“They could easily hook new readers if they fixed that”

How would you go about fixing that in an economically feasible way?

And if you don’t know th answer, what makes you think there is an easy one?

T. -

51 you say? Good God! Can you believe that somehow I had missed that the story is a weekly? I had thought it was a monthly. That means they will stretch it 5 times longer than I had thought.

Smokescreen –

You know, I am not a prude in any way, I have no problem with graphic sex in stories. But FABLES is one story where the few graphic sex scenes seem… unnecessary. It’s like they figured they had to include them, because it’s Vertigo. I remember a couple of graphic scenes in the first few storylines, then it has been used very sparely.

Isn’t it also strange how FABLES in Vertigo seems less violent than the standard superhero comics published by DC concurrently?

I’m enjoying the “Life with Archie” marriage series. It’s better than about 80% of the DC and Marvel TPBs I’ve read recently.

Rene-

I do think early Fables went for the sex and violence maybe to the extremes a little more than necessary (and may have been an outgrowth of just being a “mature” title), but yeah. The recent arcs are relatively tame compared to what DC puts out in Nu52 or slightly before that (and still enjoyable). I also enjoy that Willingham explained a somewhat major point about why Bluebeard got the love potion in Peter and Max (which if anyone is into Fables, you should definitely check out if you haven’t yet).

Don’t mind sex or violence in a story if it has a point to it; when it doesn’t, it just feels today (and probably wouldn’t X years ago) like they’re going for pandering (i.e., this is a cheap thrill to get people talking) over substance.

TJCoolguy: I didn’t read Rotworld, but I have seen others comparing it to that, too.

Neil: I’d like if that’s what Aaron is doing, but I also think that Marvel takes itself a tad less seriously in general than DC, and characters like Iron Man are taking cues from the movies these days, so I don’t know if Aaron is playing on the absurdity of it or just trying to write the characters like the movies do.

Andrew: That’s very cool, and I could have predicted it. That’s why I don’t get why Marvel and DC don’t try harder to get comics into kids’ hands.

entzauberung: Well, luckily, I don’t work in the Marketing Departments of those companies, so I don’t have to think of one! I don’t think it’s easy, but making no effort whatsoever seems somewhat counter-intuitive. I don’t know what goes into the cost of producing a comic, so I don’t know where companies could cut to make them cheaper, but trying to get them back into the general population seems like a step, because impulse buys are often the ones that get people hooked, and you can’t make impulse buys when the only place to get comics is in a comic book store.

Rob: I really need to read those Life With Archie trades!

At this point, after seemingly several hundred characters have lost their arms in the last 10 years and the internet commenting on it and mocking it on a regular basis, DC has to be in on the joke, right? I mean, there’s no way at this point that Didio or Lee or Johns or anyone else can seriously be saying “You know what would make this badass? Cut off an arm.” They don’t live in a bubble. They have to be aware that the arm-chopping-off thing has become a running joke in many circles online. I figure at this point they’re intentionally fucking with everyone.

entzauberung

May 9, 2014 at 1:39 am

Greg: Again, what would “making an effort” mean in reality? A theory needs to be testable to be maeningful.

Less expensive paper. Distribution deals to get into convenience and grocery stores again, leading to larger production runs and lower average total cost.

Brian Cronin

May 9, 2014 at 7:19 am

Grocery stores and convenience stores pretty much just want digests from comics, and only at the price point Archie charges. That’s a price point that Archie affords only by using 95% reprinted material in their digests, material that they don’t pay reprint royalties on the same way Marvel and DC do (EXTREMELY little of the material they reprint they pay royalties on). So by using a reprint model that would pretty clearly never work for Marvel and DC while using a royalties system that Marvel and DC contractually cannot do, Archie is able to use a price point that makes their digests make sense for grocery stores and convenience stores.

In other words, it is not something that Marvel and DC can do.

In fact, Marvel’s current price points for their comics make them BETTER suited for convenience store/grocery store shelving, as it makes them competitive with what magazines charge, therefore making it worth the while for grocery/convenience stores to shelve them, at least in the abstract (in the specific, they still likely don’t sell enough to be given precious shelving space).

Do kids (even some small kids) get a kick out of gore? Sure.

Can they “handle it” emotionally? Sure.

Will it warp them? Not unless there’s already something else seriously wrong.

Incidentally, all of those answers also apply to pornography.

But here’s the problem: Will they bond with it? Will it mean anything to them? Will they identify with the main character? Will they care?

There’s quick money to be made by goosing primordial urges, especially if you can package your product in a less-embarrassing way (Kids can ask their parents to buy you superhero comics but the parents don’t know these are really horror comics, ha ha!) but it doesn’t build you an audience.

The reason that adults buy many more comics than kids is not so much the violence or even the cost, it’s that adults BONDED with the comic versions of these characters back when the comics were written in such a way that they created lasting meaning and built strong identification. In comics written by Bendis, Johns and their even-weaker imitators, it’s simply impossible to bond with the characters. Modern comics are extremely “cool”, which is to say that they’re chilly and uninviting. The only people who will buy them month in and month out are people who fell in love with the characters back when they were less cool and more indentifiable.

Matt -

You’re absolutely right, man.

Another problem with Bendis, Johns, and immitators (though I’d prefer to call it Quesada, DiDio, and company), is that the manic and constant changes in status quo make it hard for anyone to bond with the characters and feel like they’re a part of that universe.

Back in the 60s, 70s and 80s, the Marvel and DC Universes had what I’d call a 5-year policy. The status quo in a certain title lasted for about 5 years. There were minor changes more often, of course. But the general direction and tone in a book, and most of the cast, stayed constant for about 5 years. After 5 years, things usually had changed enough so that the comic felt like a completely different beast.

Nowadays, and since about 2003 or so, that period changed to 1 year. It causes readers to feel either confused or jaded. Nothing seems to matter, because next year, after the next summer event, everything will be reshuffled again.

You want to know what’s wrong with comics today? Look at the characters featured on this page. Almost none of them were developed after 1970. Several were in action before the U.S. entered WWII. Comics are a zombie medium.

So for 50 years The Watcher has been depicted with blank white eyes, but when you forcibly pull those eyes out of his skull they look like regular human eyes -but bigger- with an iris and everything?
LAME.

But then, Original Sin is about The Watcher, so who give a fuuuuuuuuuck?

Jazzbo: I’d like to think DC is in on the joke, but when you look at how often we see cliches in television and movies and book, used completely earnestly, I start to wonder.

entzauberung: Again, that’s not my job. If I had solutions, I’d probably be a highly paid consultant. Since I don’t know about the economics of how comics get produced (as Brian’s comment points out, returning to spinner racks isn’t an option), I don’t want to comment about it. I’m just making the point that Marvel and DC either don’t seem interested in growing their business or don’t know how to do it. If they’re happy with where they are, the point is moot anyway.

@ T.

I’m not a fan of either storyline in concept to be honest, but from what I’ve seen, the Marvel one at least has a chance of being readable and having some sincerely high-quality moments. The DC storyline just looks like lowest common denominator embarrassing dreck.

The mistake that we have made as fans is assuming that because the publishers are in the same business and employing many of the same creators that they are evolving at the same rate. We slap labels on periods, like “Golden Age”, “Silver Age” and etc., and sort assume that the Big Two are in the same place at the same time. They really aren’t.

DC entered the Silver Age earlier than Marvel and left it later. The Marvel Silver Age ran from Fantastic Four #1 (in 1961) until Amazing Spider-Man #122 (in 1973). DC entered the Silver Age with Showcase #4 (in 1956) and did not leave until their loss on innocence moment in Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (in 1985). Marvel had a twelve year Silver Age and DC was in the same creative period for almost three full decades. They’ve never been in synch since.

If you define the Bronze Age as a style (as opposed to a time), then things become clearer still. The Bronze Age style focused on progressing soap operatic narrative, less heroic heroes, more street level realism in superheroes, greater racial diversity and “mature” content in horror and/or fantasy titles. For Marvel, that period starts with Luke Cage: Hero for Hire (in 1972) and runs until Secret Wars #1 (in 1985). DC entered the same period later Dark Knight Return (in 1986) and remained in it until the New 52 debuted in 2011. Bronze Age Marvel had its Marvel Horror (Tomb of Dracula et al) and Bronze Age DC had Vertigo.

Now, DC is in the toyetic Chromium Age that took Marvel to the brink of bankruptcy. Maybe in 2-3 decades, my kids will enjoy “Ultimate DC” and its ensuing cinematic universe.

That’s a brilliant analysis, Dean.

Of course, it breaks down a little when major creators jump ships and bring with them the style they formerly used in their former publisher. Also, some particular comics are more immediately influenced by their rival publisher. Stuff like Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Perez/Wolfman New Titans, and Giffens’s LSH, feel more at home as part of the Marvel Comics’s Bronze Age delimited by you.They’re certainly not Silver Age. Maybe that is why they felt a little like brilliant aberrations in their own shared universes.

But yeah, when you take into account the general direction of the two publishers, your theory holds a lot of water. Another way of looking at it is that DC is always pursuing Marvel, and Marvel is one or two decades ahead.

I was making a complicated point above and missed the point.

The reason that this does a dis-service to DC is that fans become fan-pros who have incorrectly filed properties by era. For example, the Wolfman-Perez Teen Titans are every bit as much Silver Age characters as Barry Allen. The whole first volume of Justice League of America is a Silver Age title. Like the X-Men, the Doom Patrol has separate and distinct Silver and Bronze Age versions by Drake & Premiani and Morrison & Case respectively.

As a result, DC almost literally has no idea what they are doing. They are in a completely different stage of their evolution than their major competitor, but they cannot see it. Instead of looking at Marvel’s Chromium Age mistakes and learning from them, they seem utterly intent on simply repeating them.

“For example, the Wolfman-Perez Teen Titans are every bit as much Silver Age characters as Barry Allen.”

Don’t know that I agree with this bit. The Wolfman-Perez Teen Titans were very much DC’s version of Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men. Characters like Starfire, Raven, Cyborg, and Deathstroke were solid Bronze Age archetypes.

Your theory is very good, I’m not trying to disprove it. Only it doesn’t explain every comic ever published by DC and Marvel. There must be exceptions to the general rule.

@ renenarciso:

Thanks.

Like the Bronze Age, I’d argue that the Silver Age was a style instead of a time period. The heroes are traditionally heroic, the villains are not generally very dangerous and, therefore, the stories are pretty light. There is an emphasis on romantic subplots that can be played for comic relief. The “world” of the stories is really big with lots of aliens and other science fantasy elements. On occasion, a major storyline drops in that is darker and more epic (e.g. the Galactus story in FF).

To me, that puts both the Wolfman-Perez Teen Titans and Levitz-Giffen LoSH pretty solidly in the Silver Age tradition. They are just really well done (or advanced) versions of that style. Neither had much success when DC entered its Bronze Age.

GL/GA is a little more complicated. The Golden Age DCU is much, much larger than G.A. Marvel. Lee-Kirby were able to debut S.A. versions of their pulp heroes very quickly. DC took much, much longer to get around to updating everyone. A B-lister, like Green Arrow, did not get updated for the post-war era until 1969 (in The Brave and the Bold #85). By the time he got promoted to the A-minus list, DC was actively trying to catch up to Marvel. GL/GA was sort of a hybrid.

I have to disagree with Dean Hacker. The changes at DC started when folks like Wein and Wolfman switched over from Marvel and the company started importing the Brits like Moore and Bolland.

I would argue that DC actually leap frogged over Marvel in terms of quality during the ’80s. Look at the two defining series of that era for each publisher – Secret Wars and Crisis. Secret Wars more resembled the cartoons of the day, while Crisis was a mature take on the nature of super heroes in general.

Also, I don’t get this “Marvel updated its Silver Age heroes sooner” stuff. Marvel updated Captain America and the Sub-Mariner. That’s it. You could maybe argue for the Human Torch. Maybe. Other than that, there was no update of, say, The Whizzer or The Destroyer. In that way, it was playing catch up with DC, which had introduced new versions of major characters in the ’50s.

Uncanny X-Men, not Secret Wars, was the defining Marvel series of the 1980s.

Not in terms of affecting every title Marvel published, Omar.

Not that Dean needs defending or anything, but he was talking about style, not quality. It doesn’t invalidate his point that in some time periods DC produced more high quality comics than Marvel.

In any case, though people love to bring it up when they bash the Shooter years, SECRET WARS was not an example of the average comic Marvel was publishing at the time. Pretty much every monthly comic they had was way better than SW. And the effects SW had on other comics were far less comprehensive than those of CRISIS.

Rene,

Even in terms of style, I’d argue DC moved toward a different style by the 1980s, one that deconstructed the super hero concept. Crisis does this to an extent. Swamp Thing, Watchmen and Dark Knight take the concept to the extreme. Then there was the Justice League, Animal Man and even Byrne’s Superman to an extent.

And while SW may have been one of the worst comics Marvel published in any month, it was the company’s centerpiece for an entire year.

Jeff Nettleton

May 9, 2014 at 1:49 pm

I agree with a lot of the sentiments above; but would suggest that it isn’t just rose colored glasses of the past that skews my comparison. I watched violent movies, read violent comics, and delighted at cartoons like Jonny Quest and Battle of the Planets, where people were killed left and right (no one ever believed 7-Zark-7 when he claimed that people who were obviously killed survived or that planes and ships were piloted by robots). I read the more sanitized superheroes, but I also read war comics, Deathlok, Killraven, Master of Kung Fu, and the like. Those books were hardly bloodless, though you didn’t have chunks of viscera flying everywhere. Heck, even provocative books like some of DC’s Vertigo offerings of the past seem tame, compared to their mainstream books of today. And yet, they told much better stories. The difference was that there were consequences to the violence and they were in service to the overall story, not just there for shock value.

DC and Marvel haven’t made their money from publishing since at least the end of the 70s. Licensing generated far more revenue and still does; disproportionately so. However, you used to feel that they at least cared about putting out the best book they could, given the resources at hand. I don’t feel that anymore. All I see now are comic stories which replace storytelling with shock value, in pursuit of a minor sales bump. For me, the end of DC as a publishing house came in a few stages. The first was the death of Archie Goodwin, which seemed to take a lot of the soul out of the books. Then, there is the exodus of the top editorial talent, like Karen Berger. A big hit was the departure of Jeanette Kahn, an unsung hero who turned a backwards DC into a hot innovator; one that captured tons of media attention for publishing, not just tv and movies. The final nail was the “ousting” of Paul Levitz and his replacement with someone who has no background in publishing and talks about “synergizing” DC properties, across media platforms; while the day to day operations were turned over to an artist who sold his own rather mediocre publishing company to DC, a writer who rehashes 20 year-old plots, and an editor who seems to wallow in gratuitous violence, especially against women.

Marvel has had its ups and downs, starting before the bankruptcy and continuing to well after. Right now, it seems to be mostly concerned with making the comics match the movies, which still puts it ahead of DC. You aren’t likely to see any innovation from them, but you get the occasional well-crafted book.

Count me in the world of alternative comics. I read more European reprints than anything else, these days. There’s plenty of sex and violence, but little gratuity. Heck, even Judge Dredd seems tame compared to much on offer from the Big Two. I content myself with these, and the odd offering from quality American creators, while yelling at kids to get off my lawn, then ducking when they open fire.

Ted,

Like I said above, I don’t think I subscribe to Dean’s theory completely. In all time periods, there were some comics published by DC that were “fitting” to the comic book age they appeared in, such as New Titans being an example of the height of the Bronze Age, and the ones you mention being examples of the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of something new.

However, when we look at the general trend of the publishers, I think Dean is right. At the same time Swamp Thing and Watchmen were being published, the supposedly big names in the DC Universe seemed locked into a tired Silver Age mode: Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern (GL was a mild exception, as he was more transitioned to a Bronze Age vibe), the Justice League at the time was struggling to enter the Bronze Age with the Detroit era, but doing it very badly.

I also agree with Dean that today’s DC is roughly similar to Marvel in the 1990s. The New-52 feels a lot like Heroes Reborn.

Captain Haddock

May 9, 2014 at 1:57 pm

To slightly divert back to the topic of what gets kids into comics, I will say the one that got my younger cousins (ages 15 and 11)into comics was the TPB of Ultimate Spiderman they picked up at their local book stores. They have since tried other books, but with mixed success. They also tend to try the events more regularly, recently they told me they’re really into Infinity, and the main reason they bought that was because they wanted to read more Thanos stories after seeing him in Avengers (and the beheading of children didn’t freak them out, they loved it).
So all that advertising and shehorning, as far as I can tell, does work, cause that’s what got them to pick up the comic. But the main reason they don’t pick up singles is not just the cost point, but they say buying single issues is “boring”, and they’d rather read a full, long story from start to finish that takes them more than a day. Otherwise they’d rather just watch tv or surf the net or play playstation. So what it takes to get them into comics is 1) length and 2) “big moments” like when Thor killed a builder, which they both liked so much they immediately texted me after reading it.
TL; DR: Kids have more to distract them now is my feeling, basic violence doesn’t bother them, and when they read a comic, they want to sit down and spend hours with it, which they can’t do with single issues these days.

Omar Karindu

May 9, 2014 at 2:00 pm

I don’t know that Secret Wars was actually that much more influential than X-Men.In SW, Spider-Man got a new costume, She-Hulk went from the Avengers to the Fantastic Four, and Magneto became an ally to the X-Men. What else did it really do in the wider MU?

Compare that to the way that X-Men storylines like the resurgence in anti-mutant prejudice turned up in many non-X books, the way Mutant Massacre, Inferno, and Fall of the Mutants crossed over into multiple books, launched others, and had consequences. More than that, it influenced the very way in which team stories were told; heck, even DC’s Teen Titans of the era was essentially their version of Claremont’s Uncanny.

@ Ted Craig

As renenarciso said above, I am talking about style and not quality.

James Robinson wrote a great Bronze Age superhero comic in the 90s in STARMAN and Brad Meltzer wrote a terrible one ten years later in IDENTITY CRISIS. The fact that Marvel had largely moved beyond that style in mid-80s didn’t make either one better or worse.

Almost by definition, this shift in perspective makes hard and fast lines difficult. Talented creators can work in different modes. The relative popularity of title (or a creator) might allow a lag between its mode and where the publisher is. On the other hand, brilliant creators can race out ahead and define things before the publisher is ready to change its whole line. Complicating matters further, creators can produce deliberately retro work to call back an earlier style. Finally, the intended audience adds a further wrinkle. A comic written in Bronze Age mode that intended for adults looks different than one intended for children, but the underlying style might be similar.

In other words, it is rare for one-and-only-one thing to be happening at any given time.

In 1985, Marvel was putting out at least one retro-Silver Age book in the Byrne’s Fantastic Four, a bunch of Bronze Age titles and the first Chromium Age book in Secret Wars. That is three different “eras” happening at once under a famously tight manager in Jim Shooter. Wein and Wolfman did Bronze Age-y work for DC around the time Marvel was putting out its Bronze Age title, like Wein’s Swamp Thing. However, their superhero work was not some huge departure from the likes of Gardner Fox and Bob Haney. Even in their more horror and fantasy work, DC was not using that corner of its publishing slate to push the envelope in the way Marvel Horror did, or Vertigo would. The failure of something like Wolfman and Colan’s NIGHT FORCE is pretty easy to understand when you realize that it is Bronze Age comic as produced by a publisher that was still in the Silver Age.

entzauberung

May 9, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Greg:”or don’t know how to do it.”

Of course they don’t. No one does – otherwise it would have been done by now. The way that comics can reach into mainstream when the old newstand model broke down must have been a discussion for twenty years or so by now.

I just don’t understand how you can say simply “they should try get their comics out to more people” and espect it to be a meaningful or profound thing to say. Of course everybody knows this.

Dean –

You are absolutely right about STARMAN being a great Bronze Age comic. I never saw things that way before, but that must be why I fell in love with STARMAN almost immediately, and it was a blissful, transcendental love affair. It reminded me of the comics I loved so much from 10-15 years before, but done in a better, more polished way.

How would you classify ASTRO CITY? The more common view of the comic was that it was Silver Age retro, but now I’d say it’s more Bronze Age, really, like STARMAN.

Travis Pelkie

May 9, 2014 at 4:44 pm

The ironic thing about Brian’s comment (haven’t gotten to the rest of the piece yet) is that of all the comics companies out there, Marvel is the one that DOESN’T have a presence on newsstands any more. They quit releasing newsstand versions to the local grocery store of mine that carries comics on the magazine rack a few years back, and then by the end of last year, they got out of releasing them to the big box store.

Oddly enough, just as most of their monthlies are going to 3.99 cover price.

More thoughts about Dean’s theory:

It really does make sense. CRISIS effectively shunted the DCU as a whole from the Silver Age to the Bronze Age. Byrne’s Superman and Perez’s Wonder Woman are very much Bronze Age comics. Ditto for Messner-Loeb’s Flash, Suicide Squad, Hawkworld, the Kesels’s Hawk and Dove, Stern’s Starman… they’re all very Bronze Age.

Even comics that break from this mold started with a Bronze Age sensibility. The first storylines in Morrison’s Animal Man, the first storylines in JLI (before they became all-out comedy), even the beginning of Sandman was kind Bronze Age-y, until Neil Gaiman started doing his own thing that he does so well beginning with the Doll’s House.

@ Rene:

I would have to say that ASTRO CITY is mostly in what I consider the Silver Age mode.

To me, the defining quality of the Silver Age mode is that the superheroics themselves are mostly low-consequence affairs. The bad guys are just not that big a threat. That shifts the focus from crime itself onto other aspects of the life of the superhero. You get a lot of process stories about how the secret headquarters works. You get love stories and comedy stories. ASTRO CITY does a lot of that, but it is targeted at mature readers.

Bronze Age comics are more focused on real world concerns, a general increase in the danger of the world and are blurring (or elimination) of the line between heroes and villains. A heel-face turn is almost impossible for a character like The Punisher. He is so close to the line that it doesn’t really matter what side he is on. The same thing is true for Bronze Age characters, like Wolverine, Swamp Thing, Ghost Rider and the rest. When the JLA show up in Saga of the Swamp Thing #24, it is not exactly clear whether they are the good guys or the bad guys.

Robinson took things a step further with his treatment of legacy. Jack Knight and Nash aren’t really that different to start. Their respective motives for becoming a superhero and villain are not that different from one another. Shade is neither good, nor bad, exactly. Having no “white hats” or “black hats” is pretty much the point of the Bronze Age for me.

Busiek’s villains maybe understandable, but they are clearly criminals and distinct from the good guys.

At the risk of beating another dead horse, why are comics with violence and gore considered acceptable entertainment when even a topless woman will get a comic slapped with an “M” rating? If kids won’t be traumatized by yet another character getting his arm cut off, then I don’t think they’ll be traumatized by a nude character.

If I can use another genre, then I think fantasy movies & TV clarify how I view each mode:

- The Golden Age is like John Milus’ CONAN THE BARBARIAN. The hero is the obvious person, who may not always act in the most noble ways. The world the hero inhabits may be a pretty hard boiled place. Still, the moral universe is pretty manichean and force is a good solution to most problems. As a result, the ends pretty much justify the means.

- The Silver Age is like Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS movies. The hero is not the most obvious person. It could be a Hobbit, or quiet police scientist, or a geeky High School kid. Force is the preferred solution of the bad guy and the hero is better of relying on their head (or on rare occasions heart). While the moral universe is still pretty manichean, bad means do not generally lead to good ends.

- The Bronze Age is like GAME OF THRONES. There is no hero, only a bunch of protagonists. Either force or smarts work to get characters what they want. There is no moral assumption about one versus the other. There are major consequences for bad decisions, including death.

- The Chromium Age is like … say … XENA, WARRIOR PRINCESS. There is a lot of post-modern winking. There are good guys and bad guys, but no clear moral system. Fan culture is kind of baked in the cake.

Interesting, but what about the Iron Age? There is a big difference between, say, the Uncanny X-Men and the Authority.

@ Rene:

I’d consider The Authority, Planetary and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to be the peak of the Chromium Age (so far) in terms of quality. (I know that DC owns Wildstorm, but it was a separate imprint with separate management and I think that matters.) A significant part of the enjoyment of each came from knowing what they were referencing.

In thinking about the Chromium Age, the key quality is that the story at hand in not intended to be the complete product. That was true of Secret Wars (the progenitor of the form) in two ways. First, it was conceived as a toy tie-in. There was supposed to be a set of physical things that it related to. Second, you really cannot get the full experience of reading Secret Wars outside the context of a comic shop in the mid-80s. It felt far more consequential than anything that the text gives you. The same is largely true for Claremont & Lee’s X-Men #1, McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1 and all the launch titles from Image. Their text only contain part of their meaning and that is pretty much by design.

That is why I consider both Future’s End and the New 52 as a whole as Chromium Age comics. They only matter in relationship to the prior DCU which “never existed”.

Ted Craig – regarding your first comment
Almost all the DC characters on this page were created after 1970
Firestorm, Grifter, Apollo, Midnighter, Engineer, Hawksmoor, Batman Beyond, Nina Mazursky

Hawkman and Green Arrow were created before then
(I don’t recognise the cyborg woman)

Nice.

Planetary and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are the peak of the self-referential Chromium Age, and the early Image Comics guys and the New 52 are self-reference done clumsily.

I realized that this scheme is the same used for other forms of storytelling.

If you look at cinema, you roughly get:

Golden Age – That would be the beginnings of cinema, from the silent age until the mid-1930s, before the Hayes Code. It’s a time of roughness but also unbound vitality.

Silver Age – This would actually correspond to Classical Hollywood Cinema, that lasted until the early 1960s. Technical advances (but those advances didn’t call attention to themselves), and a greater preocuppation with morality and “decency”.

Bronze Age – That would be the New Hollywood period. Easy Rider, The Godfather, The Graduate, early Woody Allen, etc.

Chromium Age – The Blockbuster era, Lucas/Spielberg, etc.

Now, if we consider literature, that would be:

Golden Age – Mythology, oral stories, religion.

Silver Age – Romantism.

Bronze Age – Realism, Naturalism, Modernism.

Chromium Age – Post-Modernism.

It’s sort of a natural progression, I guess. People start with rough, primal stuff. Then comes the second stage, that is worried about ideals, dreams, perfect morals. Then comes the third stage, that is concerned with reality, with matter. Then finally the last stage, that is concerned with discourse itself.

We should write a book.

I’ve been doing the comic retail thing for about 8 years now, and there are a few truisms you pick up:

Book solicit release dates are a rough guideline (with the exception of Image, which are a joke).
The louder a person complains about a book, the more likely they are to buy it.
Dr. Who fans don’t have money.

But the big one. Kids LOVE Venom. Girls, boys, 3 year olds, 15 year olds whatever. They love him.

I have a comment trapped in moderation hell.

Rene: Sorry! Beats me why that happens. I fixed it. I’m enjoying the back-and-forth – I just don’t have anything to add!

@ Rene:

Absolutely, although I have difficulty finding time to read books these days.

My one caveat would be that I think Marvel has found a fifth phase. The Ultimate line, at least, was something a bit beyond post-modern. Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis took the general shape of the prior Marvel U and used it to tell their own stories. The Ultimates wasn’t in dialogue with Lee-Kirby’s Avengers. It was a Millar-Hitch creation assembled Frankenstein-liike from the parts and pieces of the old.

I would find this all more upsetting if I didn’t know that William Shakespeare basically never came up with his own plots. Not compare Millar to Shakespeare, but re-telling old stories and making them your own really does have a pretty noble tradition. Not sure what to call that as an Age, but it seems pretty clear that it what naturally follows the Chromium Age.

You think so? I think the Ultimate line is still somewhat Chromium Age.

The Chromium Age could also be called the Re-Age. It’s the age of reboots, reimaginings, remakes. But it’s true that the Ultimates sort of told a very 21th-century story also, a sort of chronicle of the Bush Era, the War on Terror, etc., more than having anything to do with Lee-Kirby.

Maybe it’s like a wheel? The fifth phase being partly a return to the Golden Age, where aggresive and very physical heroes punched Hitler?

If the Big 2 didn’t care about comics they’d be publishing bland inoffensive tripe, not disgust offensive crap

A wheel is even better!

K-Box in the Box

May 22, 2014 at 12:32 pm

I’m apparently going to be A Man Without A Country in this dichotomy, as in so many other online debates, because while I also relished entertainment that was absolutely age-inappropriate for me when I was a small child, sneaking late-night viewings of horror and action films which my parents had deemed far too violent for my sensitive eyes and impressionable mind, it didn’t take me all that long to realize that this wasn’t what I wanted from superhero stories.

Yes, the aggressively sanitized blandness of the Super Friends left me hungry for some kind of transgressive break from those characters’ musty old status quos, but when all that the “deconstructionist” comics of the ’80s did was live up to the most shallow and literal definition of their label, all I could think was, “Is this all there is?”

Because it felt like all that could be done with those characters was to either hermetically seal them up in an artificially sustained Silver Age, utterly removed from the real world, in which Superman’s only real dilemma would be how to prevent Lois Lane from figuring out what Clark Kent looked like without glasses, or to smash all the toys to bits and assert that their fans were stupid for wanting to find inspiration, in solving their own real-life problems, from such silly fictional characters.

Because you’re right, it’s been a long time since I’ve been a child (chronologically speaking, anyway), but I damn sure well remember what it felt like to be a little kid in the ’80s, when every newspaper and TV newscast was telling me to be afraid of AIDS and acid rain and Ayatollahs and the Mutually Assured Destruction that seemed to be the inevitable end game of our arms race with the Soviets.

And yeah, I liked to dip my toes into the deep end of the pool every once in a while, and feel the fear that came from facing Freddy Krueger or the chest-bursting creatures from the Alien films (back when there was only “Alien” and “Aliens”), but at the same time, I was also scared shitless of a world that seemed to be governed by nothing but crazy goalpost-shifting grownups with grudges on all sides, whether they were Communist caricatures or brinksmanship-playing cowboy actors, so I still needed someone, somewhere, to tell me that heroes could beat the bad guys, because when I ran short on that supply, those were the moments in my childhood when I literally didn’t believe that I would live to see puberty, and worse yet, I didn’t even want to, if it meant that the best I could expect from the future was to live long enough to bury my parents in the post-apocalyptic wastelands that I saw in the Mad Max films.

But then again, it’s not like kids today need any kind of similar reassurances, right?

After all, it’s not like they’ve grown up in the shadow of the fallen Twin Towers, during an ongoing and intentionally endless “War on Terror,” which is consuming young people as rapidly and mercilessly as a lawnmower cutting down blades of grass.

So, yeah, I’m sure none of today’s children feel traumatized or shellshocked simply by the utterly fucking horrific state of the modern world, which makes my own Cold War childhood seem like a goddamn Candyland by comparison, so you just go ahead and keep feeding them a steady diet of amputations and nihilism, from one of the few places where they’re entitled to be offered some minor, meager measure of hope, however silly its spandex-suited superheroes might seem.

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