Comics. They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To!

I’m a comic book nerd. Anyone who knows me will tell you this. But, funnily enough, I don’t read that many comics anymore, and haven’t done in recent years. The reason for this is because they simply don’t have the same kind of sense of wonderment that comics once did. (And when I say “comics”, I’m referring to superhero comics. I still read other comics that don’t involve superheroes.) Now this might seem like some old fogey talking and bemoaning the fact that they don’t make them like they used to. And, I’m sure there were 60s comics fans who made similar complaints in the 80s and 90s. But it’s more than that.

When I was a kid I got a bumper omnibus reprint of a load of 60s Superman comics. And the imagination and inventiveness in these stories was breathtaking. Yes, there were some naff stories too but overall I was blown away by the ideas in there.

It’s a well-known fact that comics became much darker in the late 80s and early 90s, following the publication of Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Moore himself has often bemoaned this fact, stating that he didn’t want to make comics grittier, he just wanted to write a story about what it would be like for superheroes if they lived in the real world. He wasn’t setting out to make them all alcoholics and rapists, but his successors didn’t seem to understand this and took them in a different direction. But I didn’t have a huge problem with these dark and gritty comics; I loved Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison, for instance.

The problem for me arises from the fact that that sense of wonder and boundless imagination is gone from comics to a large extent. I believe it’s possible to be dark and still have that sense of endless possibilities. And some might say that the reason comics no longer have that is because I’m not a child anymore. But there’s one fatal flaw in that argument, and that’s Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman. This was a 12-issue, out-of-continuity, limited series, where he basically took all the craziness of the 60s Superman mythos and updated it for a modern audience. It’s the one and only comic that resembles those crazy 60s Superman comics. And it was brilliant. Elena, a reviewer for website Sequential Smarts sums it up thus:

“Clark Kent/Superman, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor, and zany scientist Leo Quintum do pretty much the exact same things that they’ve always done – but fabulously. A modern Superman story that somehow manages to perfectly capture the limitless wonder – and complete insanity – of the Golden Age Superman stories, All-Star Superman is both a quintessential distillation and a fresh repackaging of everything that makes Superman awesome.”

So, it can be done. But – despite the fact that All Star Superman was a huge success – that, sadly, doesn’t seem to be something that the writers or the readers want.

Mores the pity.


9 thoughts on “Comics. They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To!

  1. Completely agree, Derek (I started collecting when comics were 15 cents–I have now been an English Prof for 20 years.) Here’s a bit from my “influences” bio:

    “-Stan Lee, author of hundreds of Marvel Comics. Some have called him heavy-handed or naive, but to me, from an age even before I learned to read, really, Stan’s plots, characters, and dialogue epitomize soul. Considering the increasingly cynical environment in which his work appeared, it’s truly inspiring to see the spirit of the Romancer carried on with unwavering trust that young people still get it.”

    (caught your article in the “Triberr” stream.) Best,

  2. I grew up on DC comics, then Marvel came along. I used to trade 1 Mad Magazine for 3 comics with my next door neighbor. Thanks for reminding me why those graphic novels (!) helped make me a better reader. They were awesome!

  3. Having worked in comics, your critique is very astute. The dark element was interesting at first, but soon descended into a Freudian mess of goofy fanboy angst. Alan Moore could really tell a story, but most of the writers got their job through a kind of nepotism so their skills were only mediocre and never developed. Having worked with a lot of these guys, I saw them isolate themselves in their own society becoming more distorted over time. Now they have fan sub-culture and corporate overlords who control enormous profits because comic creators have no ownership. Stories have suffered because of it.

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