With a few exceptions, Superhero Comics worked best, and made the most sense, in the Silver Age. Although the genre was born decades earlier, it was a product of the Pulp Era of magazine publishing, and the early work, while often having interesting artists, was crippled by preexisting genre conventions. (Name a single Golden Age character not drawn by C.C. Beck or Jack Cole that’s immediately memorable for the storytelling and not later uses of the character. The Spirit doesn’t count.)
Following WWII, the superhero was dead. Other genres flourished, blah blah, and finally, the superhero was resurrected around 1956. In the interim, these other genres (specifically romance and horror comics, in my estimation) had innovated enough to get comics unmoored from literary pulp convention. When the superheroics genre returned, it functioned on a new platform supported by these previous developments. (Look at Fantastic Four #1‘s cover. That thing is a monster comic. But it isn’t.)
Featuring condensed stories with truly dynamic artwork, no profundity was expected of it, and thus none was offered. At one point, Stan Lee started calling his books “Marvel Pop Art Productions.” This is the perfect way to conceive of the era: they are art, functioning on an iconic level superior to their own meagre offerings but still basically just pop. Disposable culture, weird trash and somehow also timeless.
I realized yesterday that the Classic Albums of 1967 are forty years old. Amazing Spider-Man #50, the best “I QUIT BEING A HERO!” Spider-Man story, was published in 1967. Currently Marvel are doing their latest crap iteration on the idea; it’s a trope they drag out about once every year or so. Imagine if one out of every twelve CDs released was a Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club tribute album. Same thing.
The problem with superhero comics is that no one figured out what to do next. The genre died decades ago, spawning an industry of necrophiliac fans and creators. There’s a reason why there aren’t any new readers: no one under twenty-five has any desire for these rotting bodies. The path from 1969 is a dark one lit only by the occasional appearance of creative talents slumming it amongst the hoi polloi. I’m not dealing with it. Needless to say that, in 2007, superhero comics are broken so profoundly that there’s no way back. The 70s offered a handful of ideas, which failed, and the 80s did as well. Those too failed, except for one peculiarity: the introduction of Maturity and Grimness.
And with this in mind, kids, I recommend you return for the next installment in which we tackle J. Michael Straczynski’s recent Thor #3, possibly the most flagrant example of everything wrong with mainstream comics. Not only is it a crap unnecessary story by tired creators, it’s profoundly, profoundly offensive and just possibly racist, too!
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On Steve Ditko
From Sunset Blvd
Welcome to Kurdistan