Monday, February 14, 2005

What happened to Comic Books?

I started collecting comics in about the 8th or 9th grade. Recently I was reminded how far things have changed for the worse when I picked up the newest issue of Superman (#212) at the bookstore. Superman has always been one of my favorites and even though I don't collect anymore, I still look for stuff I may enjoy. In this recent run of Superman, one of my favorite artists, Jim Lee, was drawing the book so I thought I'd take a look. What begins with Superman taking Lois Lane in his arms and flying off, ends with Mrs. Lane wrapped only in our hero's cape which barely covers and in some places accentuates her nude form. In the following panel she says to him, "Incredible. Just as mind-numbingly incredible as the first time." Then she looks over her shoulder with a sexy smirk and tells him "You really are something of a man of steel aren't you?" To which our hero cleverly remarks, "Glad you noticed."

Are you kidding me?

Thank you DC comics. You finally ruined comics. You finally ruined the last GOOD superhero. You corrupted Superman by turning his comic into a thinly veiled harlequin romance. Look, I'm not naive. I realize comics have become more gritty, sexier, with a bent towards realism, but why do I need to know about Superman's sex life?  Is this why people read his comic?  To watch the Last Son of Krypton get busy with Lois Lane and engage in silly pillow talk?  Nevermind that it does not even make the slightest attempt to be ambigious should a younger reader pick it up.

Maybe I am naive.

In the late 70s and early 80s comics began to shift toward a more realistic product. This was done sporadically with certain characters in certain comics. Writers and artists who loved the characters as kids wanted to make their heroes accessbile to a modern audience and bring the stories up to date. I can remember one of the major shifts in the early nineties when many of the top artists left Marvel Comics and founded their own company, Image Comics. I remember at this time comics were starting to be more violent, outfits became tighter and skimpier, breasts got larger, but there were still some standards. The vast majority would still be appropriate for all age groups.

Since then, comics continue to be increasingly vulgar, violent, and sexualized. In a medium that was originally intended to tell fantastic/supernatural stories of good and evil to kids, the current product is completely inappropriate for kids.

And it goes beyond sex and violence. Writers and artists now seek to use comics as a vessel to relay their politics. Back in the 60s, Stan Lee created the X-men. The appeal of the X-men is that they were different, shunned and even hated by society. Many kids at one point or another could relate to X-men for this reason. Communicating values in story telling one thing. Politics is quite another.

In 2003, Marvel restarted the Captain America series. It began with a post 9/11 story called The New Deal. In it Captain America is faced with the new threat of global terrorism. OK fine. I'm okay with seeing Cap putting the hammer down on some Islamo-Fascists the same way he did the Nazis in WWII. The story is shameful. Captain America finds himself trying to explain America's role in causing the 9/11 attacks. So now, readers are at the mercy of writers who use one the most beloved comic book characters as a platform to spout their leftist, anti-american politics.

I know comics have been marketed toward adults for a long time, but my question is at what point did comics stop marketing to kids altogether?

Batman and Wolverine always had room to be grittier and darker. But not Superman and Captain America. They're the boy scouts! Their appeal lies in their determination to stay true to their values.

Marvel and DC comics should be ashamed of themselves. Not only have they disregarded a sense of deceny in content and marketing, but they have fundamentally changed the character of the heroes that made them beloved by the public.

29 comments:

Tim Lewis said...

Why do you think there are so many comics being released as movies? I think that comic book writers and artists have whored themselves out to this obious desire for the mighty dollar and have sold out good character development and stories to flashy images and catch phrases.

The shame is that most of the comic book movies released just seriously suck, which will tell you what the comic book writers are eventually mimicking.

ted said...

I have been disappointed with comics for a long time, though there are some exceptions. My dissatisfaction stems more from the realization that most comic book stories are weak than from being fed up with the increasingly graphic nature of the content.

That said, which came first: the poor stories which then needed to rely on sex, language and violence to attract readership; or the sex and violence was attracting readers so the creators went that way?

I think that when I started reading a lot of fiction is when I realized just how poor some comic book writing is. Hot dogs taste pretty good until you try steak.

Now there are some comics which by the very nature of their character need to be darker, such as Punisher, Blade, Ghost Rider, Sin City, Hellboy, and Archie. This segment of the industry already exists, so why do the comics writers and artists feel the need to take almost all comics into that territory indefinitely?

Are they seriously trying to make Superman more realistic by having him knock a piece of Lois Lane? Here's reality, Superman writers: Superman convinces Lois Lane that he'll really love her if she has sex with him. She believes that having sex with Superman will make up for all the anger she has toward her father who never really told her he loved her because he was a cold man who never cried. So she goes ahead and lets Kal-el get freaky. Unfortunately for Lois, that yellow sun is beating down on that solar panel Superman calls his butt and his super strength kicks in and in the throes of passion he crushes her and she dies. There you have it, kids. Just say no to sex outside of marriage.

Oh, and by the way Jake, this post is more like it.

Tim Lewis said...

Amen

everyday.wonder said...

Since several of Jake's other points have already been undertaken by comments, I'll pick up this angle.

What does it mean to be acceptable for kids or marketed for kids? The question that swirls around this whole idea is just what is okay for kids? I'll be specific: for a mostly male readership (since apparently girls are only reading Manga these days according to my observations at Borders...) between the ages of 8-14, what precisely is acceptable? Okay, let's fuzz it a little. What's generally acceptable? Today's kids are not like we were when we were kids. We were nothing like our parents as kids. Where is the objective standard by which we can judge whether or not something in a comic book is acceptable or not?

(sounds like a blog post of my own coming on...)

ted said...

Is "would you let your son between 8 and 14 read it" a legitimate litmus test?

SHAZAM! said...

I think Ted hit it on the head, and this goes back to the argument that Jason made a while back: Is gritty good? I don't necessarily have a problem with darker content in the case of the comics Ted mentioned. But clearly, comics as a whole have suffered because of a lack of creativity. When one has no good ideas insert:
a) violence
b) sexual content
C) vulgarity
d) a more "gritty" feel (this one's my favorite)
e) dark twisted characters or themes (villains who are child molesters, or themes involving rape)

I know it can get mushy on what some people consider offensive and what isn't. However, I believe there are some general standards on what is acceptable. I would never let my boys read most of the comics that are out there today.

I hope you all checked out that "story" link regarding Captain America. I'd like to get your take on it. I am still pissed off.

ted said...

I did just now follow that link. I read four paragraphs before I got too pissed off. It's my birthday and I'm not going to get myself worked up.

Tim Lewis said...

Oh no...now I can continue to not read Captain America. Why didn't they just create a character named "Mr. Fight Crime". I can't help but think how craptacular a character I thought, and now continue to think he was.

ted said...

Here's my new idea for a comic book. All the superheroes from the seventies and eighties travel forward through time to the year 2005 to fight crime. Once they get here they wind up fighting themselves since they've all become criminals.

Tim Lewis said...

Except for Tony Stark (Iron Man). The only thing he fights is heart failure.

ted said...

No, actually while travelling forward in time he collapses as his liver turns into a lump of stone.

Gunslinger said...

What about North Star Jake?

ted said...

North Star Jake. That's funny.

Gunslinger said...

Hahaha, that wasnt how I meant that, but it is funny.

I recently got a whole bunch of my comics(all of them actually) back from Ted. I entrusted them to him when I went off to the Army. So I sat down a few nights in a row, and read most of them. I gotta tell ya, that Jughead, hes a real cut up.

Of all of them I have read, Punisher War Zone has to be some of the best I have. I have almost all of the first run image stuff, and yes the art is fantastic, the storys are pretty lame. I don't mind the whole big boobs/stacked superhero looks in comics. but any real skin or sex is way over the top. IT IS A CARTOON. If I want to see skin, all I have to do is type any number of words into google, and in a milisecond produce millions of results. Or so I have heard.

Even if a comic is a rip off of an already done story, that wouldn't bother me, so long as the story was really good. WildC.A.T.S. by Image could have been realy good, but it was a pretty weak story.

I am not sure when it happened, but for the longest time, I bought comics that had awesome art no matter what the story was. Now, I have to have a good story, even if the art sucks.

SHAZAM! said...

You know, it must be a comfort to you guys to always have North Star in your back pocket whenever you can't thing of anything funny or original.

And Tim's unwarranted attack upon Captain America's merit as a character only strengthens my suspicions of his tenuous familiarity with superheroes. This clearly illuminates the need for me to use my blog for a media for an introductory course in comic book literature. Lesson one forthcoming.

And I would argue that many comic book movies as of late have been more true to the character and spirit the heroes than recent comics. Just look at the X-men and Spiderman movies.

ted said...

I don't think that having Northstar in my back anything would be in any way comforting or comfortable, but hey, to each his own.

And by the way Jake, if you would like to see something original and funny, I'm sorry. We had a very funny thread going here but apparently your .realman.exe file was corrupted and the whole thing was deleted. But it could also have been that Blogger was infected with that new Wussy virus.

But I will get serious here and agree with Jake that the characters in the movies do seem to be more in line with the original feel of the characters (except for Northstar, I swear I don't know what he feels like), with some exceptions like Daredevil, Hulk, and at least the last two Batman movies. But until I see them make a movie with a high budget based on Luke Cage, I'm not going to really get behind these comic book movies. Sweet Christmas, that would be one cool movie, no jive.

Tim Lewis said...

I think we're on the same page as far as the quality of the comic book movies. Xmen, Spiderman, the first two Batman movies were great as far as I'm concerned, but take a look at pretty much every other one: Punisher, Daredevil, Hulk, Elektra, the third Blade movie (so I've heard), and they are laughable at best.

Now my comment on Captain America, I know what I said. All you have to do is SHOOT HIM. The Nazis are long gone, and Red Skull is a chump. Watch out...I might throw my shield at you!

SHAZAM! said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
SHAZAM! said...

Tim, have you never heard of the Super Soldier Serum? He's stronger, faster, and tougher than any human, and he's a master tactician. He's supposed to be the best hand to hand fighter in the world. And he's leads the Avengers. If Thor takes his orders, I think you could show him a little respect.

And by the way, you can shoot Batman too. He has no powers unless you count looking tough and tossing batarangs around. Not to mention spends all his time with a teenage boy.

It's quite clear you are in need of some comic book mentoring.

I sure hope nobody else I know reads this and finds out what geeks we are.

Tim Lewis said...

Batman has body armor though. Super serum is enough to not die from diseases and for helping old ladies across the street. Apart from that, my bullets will still make him be dead.

I'm sure everyone already knows what geeks we are!

Besides, Batman is terribly mysterious.

Tim Lewis said...

Oh wait, I forget he has a shield to block my bullets. I hope it's big enough to cover his whole body.

ted said...

I can't believe I'm reading this and thinking that you both make good points.

Jake, you make the argument that there is something wrong with Batman since he hangs around with a teenage boy. Have you so easily forgotten Bucky?

I think what you are both missing is that the guy who could take out both of these pansies is Frank Castle, the Punisher himself.

Somewhere I once wrote a thing for Jake where a bunch of the Marvel Comics characters who don't really have super powers fought. I wish I could find it. It would make a good blog.

SHAZAM! said...

I think if the Punisher were to face off against Captain America, he would be overwhelmed by Cap's charisma and unwavering will to the right thing no matter what. The Punisher would regain a sense of Esprit de Corps and join Captain America as his new sidekick -- Franky!

SHAZAM! said...

OK Ted. I remember that email so I looked for and found it in my archive. For everyone else, this is an email Ted sent me in response to a rhetorical question I posed in random conversation a couple years ago:

Who do you think would win in a battle royal of Marvel's no superpowered/slightly superpowered heroes? such as:
Daredevil, Wolverine, Punisher, Captain America, Ghost Rider, Tender Heart Bear, Sabertooth, Black Panther, Conan, and the Vulture.

Here is Ted's response:

Let's start with a few ground rules. 1.) I am
picturing Daredevil in his yellow costume. 2.) I will
assume that Tender Heart Bear is not being joined by
any other Care Bears, thereby negating any use of the
"Care Bear Stare". 3.) I will use only the Marvel
Comics version of Conan and there are no women around
for him to mistreat, even though they like it. 4.)
Ghost Rider will have his motorcycle with the flaming
wheels. 5.) Punisher has a lot of guns, some grenades
and is very angry. 6.) The Vulture is NOT Condorman.
7.) This fight is taking place in a metropolitan area
of strangely sparse population at night. 8.) The
fight will follow all official rules governing Battle
Royales. 9.) Wolverine is wearing his "leather
bomberjacket and jeans" official anti-hero bad-ass
uniform, the one with the cigar, ya know?

The fight would obviously begin by Beyonder summoning
the most average powered guys in the Marvel Universe
to fight it out for his enjoyment because that's what
guys like the Beyonder do. Punisher would start off
as far away as possible with a Barret Light .50 with a
military grade night vision scope of some sort.
Daredevil would be on a roof. Ghostrider would be
tearing ass all over the place setting stuff on fire
with his tires. Vulture would be flying around trying
to look like Jean Luc Picard in an Icarus costume.
Wolverine would be stalking the battlefield with his
claws already snikted. Sabertooth is eyeing Wolverine
using his best snarl. Black Panther is getting ready
to do something. Captain America is making sure the
tops of his boots are folded over just like Hawkeye
taught him. Conan is getting ready to hear the
lamentation of the women. Tender Heart Bear is
wondering why everyone just can't get along.

The bell rings.

Punisher starts unloading rounds of .50 BMG into these
lightweights, starting with that goody two shoes
Captain America. Having reflexes slower that 3200
feet per second, Captain America goes down hard with a
sucking chest wound. Black Panther makes his move for
Punisher while Ghostrider gets ready to ride him down
like every brother's worst nightmare. This in effect
saves Black Panther's life since Ghostrider's flaming
head screws up Punisher's night vision as he was
trying to target the panther. Wolverine mumbles
something that ends with "bub" and charges Sabertooth.
They lock in a vicious melee designed to sell comics.
Daredevil leaps from rooftop to rooftop heading for
Punisher, his superhuman hearing allowing him to
flawlessly pinpoint where Punisher was firing his
100+dB rifle. Vulture swoops down and offers Tender
Heart Bear some peanut brittle if Tender Heart will
get in Vulture's van and help him look for his lost
puppy. Conan grabs Captain America's sheild and
charges into the middle of the Wolverine/Sabertooth
comics marketing tool.

Ghostrider catches Black Panther and gives his black
ass a good old fashioned chainwhipping, the
demonically charged metal though is not powerful
enough to make Black Panther cry out "Massah."
Punisher is firing indescriminantly into the now
Conan/Wolverine/Sabertooth tough-guy-line off. The
half inch copper coated pieces of lead finding their
mark once each on Wolverine and Sabertooth with arm
and leg shots respectively. Conan lays his sword into
the arm wound of Wolverine, breaking his sword, but
also severing the arm at the elbow. Tender Heart and
Vulture are nowhere to be seen.

Conan grabs Wolverine's severed arm with claws
extended to replace his broken sword and goes after
the now effectively one-legged Sabertooth. Ghostrider
gives Black Panther the Penance Stare only to find
that years of black oppression by whitey not only stop
the Penance Stare, but force Ghostrider to make
reparations in monetary form. Ghostrider now takes
off for the nearest ATM. Black Panther mumbles
something about betting on black, but I won't repeat
it here. Daredevil crashes through a window on the
Punisher's right flank and advances armed to the teeth
with a white cane. Punisher, nearly startled to
death, draws a cocked and locked Springfield
high-capacity 1911 with loaded options from the
factory and teaches Daredevil that while
"Down-With-Whitey out there may always bet on black,
in a white cane vs. a good old fashioned piece of John
Browning engineering, I will bet on Mr. Browning every
day." Daredevil takes upwards of 10 rounds of 230
grains to his central body mass. Daredevil's
heightened sense of touch makes this even more painful
than it would be for normal people who get shot a lot.
Punisher takes out his glasses from his
Frank-Castle-is-an-upstanding-businessman disguise and
puts them on Daredevil thinking it is funny, which it
isn't. Conan has managed so slice Sabertooth more
times with Wolverines claws than Wolverine did before
Conan got in the middle of thier fight. Conan has
also managed to hit Wolverine in the face with Captain
Americas shield several times, thinking it is funny,
which it isn't.

Vulture and Tender Heart are still nowhere to be
found. Punisher is heading out to the
Wolverine/Sabertooth/Conan fight, reloading his
sidearm. Black Panther is crouched in waiting for
Punisher. Ghostrider is looking for an ATM that
doesn't charge a fee. Punisher makes it to the ground
floor of the building and is dry gulched by Black
Panther. Black Panther bonks Punisher on the head
several times with a metal pole like the ones that are
always laying in piles of rubble on Marvel Comics
Urban Battlefields. Punisher does manage to get off a
few rounds of .45 and three hit the pole-weilding
Black Panther who manages to whack Punisher one more
time in the head, losening a clot in his brain which
in turn blocks a blood vessle causing a portion of his
brain to be starved for oxygen and brining to an end
the Punisher's reign of terror by way of a
cerebro-vascular accident. Conan gets in a good one
on Sabertooth with Wolverine's arm, taking out a large
portion of his windpipe and severing his carotid
arteries as well as his jugular veins. Sabertooth
starts the long, arduous process of bleeding out in
the big city. Conan turns around in time to get the
claws from Wolverine's good arm in the chest, under
the sternum, and up through his heart. Conan's
cimmerian reflexes and strength allow him to return
the favor, giving as good as he got. Both Conan and
Wolverine collapse in a mortal embrace as their hearts
beat, flaying themselves on the razor sharp shards of
adamantium within them.

Just then Vulture and Tender Heart pull up in
Vulture's van, with his lost puppy which they found.
Vulture, true to his word, rewards Tender Heart with
some homemade peanut brittle. Tender Heart goes after
the peanut brittle like Peter Parket on Mary Jane (the
woman, not the weed). Tender Heart begins to
immediately have trouble breathing as his body goes
into anaphylactic shock due to his peanut allergy, the
oils of Jimmy Carter's favorite legume sealing the
fate of America's favorite Care Bear.

From his inscrutable perch, Beyonder laughs as Vulture
is crowned the most powerful not-that-powerful Marvel
character.

ted said...

I got problems.

Gunslinger said...

The only problem is that you don't publish this stuff.

everyday.wonder said...

I gotta hand it to you, SHAZAM! You've managed to corner the market on comments. Not bad, 3 blog posts and 150+ comments. You ought to be selling ads on your comment pages. Especially if you sold numchucks. Maybe the ad could feature a chance to click your vote for whether the Cap is lame or not...

Tim Lewis said...

I would click his terrorist-lovin' butt straight to the front of the Ghost Rider Penance Stare line and make him see the folly of his ways.

rebecca marie said...

I know I'm a chick, and I probably wasn't invited to this conversation based on that fact alone, but I think that comic books lost all crediblity when the began being referred to as "graphic novels..." Huh? whatever...