Comics in the Rear View Mirror


A boy's elders telling him he'd grow out of comic books used to be a common American cliche. That was back when America was still a country, we didn't hate our kids, and the comics industry wasn't just an IP farm for rootless megacorps. If you want a picture of the comics business today, imagine a caped superhero lying brain dead in a guarded hospital room like Pete Postlethwaite's from Inception, kept alive only to harvest his blood and organs.

The standard response from the kid was always to declare that he'd never grow out of comics. Take a quick look at the pop culture landscape, and you'll see that many Boomers, Jonesers, Xers, and Ys kept that pledge. As recently as the mid-90s you could get stuffed in a locker for being a comics nerd. Now comic book movies are bigger than Star Wars. Only A list characters like Superman, Batman, and Spidey used to have broad mindshare. Now everybody knows even niche characters like Deadpool.

It's a testament to our cultural dysfunction that liking comics back when they were good made you a social pariah, but it's hip to like comics now that they're garbage.

Another, more personal paradox: My folks never gave me the "You'll grow out of it," speech. My dad actively encouraged my comic book hobby. Yet I did in fact grow out of comics. Chalk it up to the fact that I've always a) been an introvert and b) viewed the in-crowd's fads with skepticism. I read comics because reading comics was fun. When they stopped printing fun comics, I stopped reading. That's all.

Case in point: The Spider-Clone fiasco was the canary in the coal mine that alerted me to the possibility that all was not well in comicsland. A quarter century later, Marvel is still trying to squeeze juice from the Clone Saga's rotten fruit.

The SJW vandalism going on at Marvel and DC has drawn a lot of eyeballs, but look past it, and you find that the Big Two are simply out of ideas. They have been for a long time. Consider that Bane, a Batman villain created almost thirty years ago, was the last comic book character to break onto the A list. A couple years before that, Marvel revamped their jingoistic 1960s Howard Hughes pastiche into a glitzy whip-smart megastar. Now Marvel is scrambling to foist Tony Stark's black female replacement and Ms. Marvel's secularized Muslim replacement on the normies.

That is not a House of Ideas. That is a Tomb for Ideas. Yet they keep crawling from their graves like zombies. See Lucasfilm's recent efforts to propagandize Star Wars for a preview of what's in store for the MCU.

Folks in our camp take pride in being the reality-facing side. We know that the bitterest truth is better than the sweetest lie. Maybe it's time to consider the unpleasant possibility that comics aren't coming back. While Sad Puppies alums have gone on to bigger and better things, and print science fiction is flourishing, #ComicsGate succumbed to internecine rivalries faster than #GamerGate. GG had its faults, but we did take down Gawker. In contrast, CG made a few folks some money, but DC and Marvel remain. When the Big Two finally fold, it will be due to their own incompetence.

Comics as we knew them were largely the product of some nice Jewish boys working in mid-20th century New York. They had a work ethic that only hungry artists can muster and prevailing cultural conditions that have long since disappeared. The whole concept of any property with universal appeal is become more and more meaningless each day. Whatever the future holds for comics, it's not going to look like the heady days when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby presided.

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  1. The Big Two are the Whitewashed Sepulchers of Comic Books. The zombies just keep getting loose.

    Call Solomon Kane.

    1. That might just be the solution we need.

    2. Brian,

      But this begs the question why the European comics are still in very good health?
      Could the fact that it was a marginally artistic endeavour by a disliked minority be a factor?
      Another factor to me is the constant incorporation of Lovecraft/Weird tales leitmotivs but without the requisite talent. The esthetic ugliness as well as the creepy weirdness turned me off to American comics.


    3. There were still very successful adventure and fantasy comics in the late 90s. Now you can't open one and not get smacked in the face with some nihilistic super-serious dirge about some hot button issue.

      People read comics for fun before anything else. The writers are miserable, small-minded people who have never left their tiny backyard of New York City. They wouldn't know fun if passed out drunk in their overpriced, bedbug-infested bachelor pads.

    4. JD

      Thanks. I guess reading comics that were written in the 70s really turned me off reading American comics.yeah, I have noticed that many of the comic creators are a bit off and strange. They don't seem to lead normal lives or have regular interests.


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  3. That exemplifies a lot of my beef with "hardcore" fans.

    Who do I think is a better judge of quality? The millions of readers who saw how bad comics were getting and left, or couple thousand who saw how bad comics were getting and stuck around?

    Normies get out, indeed.

    A new comic industry will pop up, but it will have to completely jettison every bad lesson Marvel and DC have made since the Crisis and crossover events. Back to episodic storytelling and linear serialization, just like the way it started and just like the way manga and bande dessinee work.

    1. I've been saying for years now that to save themselves, American comics will have to adopt the French or Japanese model.

    2. Fandom needs to die. Comics fans are some of the worst clingers and rationalizers of trash, speaking as a recovering one.

      You have to just go cold turkey and quit it all. Starve the unholy beasts. It's no different than TV and movies.

      Build the new by remembering what was good from the old. Marvel and DC from 1958 to 1974 make a fine memorial. Bury the rest in a lime pit.

    3. Catering to the fandom instead of the customers was a fatal mistake repeated by every entertainment medium in the last twenty years.

      Not mentioned in the OP: Blackest Night did draw me back into comics in grad school. After a decade plus absence from the scene, I found the layouts difficult to follow. But I toughed it out for the story. I'll never forgive the writers for putting pure quill nihilism in the mouth of Barry Allen of all people.

    4. I think what chased me out was X-Men's Onslaught stuff. I always thought the wedding of Jean Grey and Scott Summers was more or less the proper ending for X-Men. Everything else afterwards felt like a bad excuse to keep the story going.

      That was then I realized that it would never end. So why read it?

      That was one of the ComicsGate things I never got over: those complaining about Dan Slott's Spider-Man.

      Did you not see One More Day? If the Clone Saga didn't show you how badly they wanted to milk you, then One More Day outright told you that not only will the story never end, the story can be trashed and thrown out at any time.

      The curtain was drawn back by Quesada long before Slott decided to mock readers. None of these stories matter because they will never amount to anything.

      And the CGers think this is worth saving? Please.

    5. Brian:
      "Blackest Night".

      Green Lantern evolves into the Care Bears.

      Hal Jordan was one of my heroes growing up, but that involved Gil Kane.

      It was obvious in the late 80s that X-Men would be milked as a cash cow until dead, dead, dead.

      X-Men should have stayed cancelled with issue 66.

    6. Re: X-Men, good points, all. The Apocalypse storyline presented another logical end to the series. You have the mutant theme taken to its ultimate conclusion with a villain who is to mutants what they are to humans. Nate Summers is prophesied to destroy En Saba Nur. After overcoming obstacles including time travel hijinks and contracting a debilitating disease, Summers confronts and kills Nur. The series ends on a chord that harmonizes the arcs of the hero, the villain, and the main themes. They've resurrected Mr. Monogrammedbelt McPurplelips how many times now?

      Re: Hal Jordan, Emerald Twilight desecrated a national treasure.

    7. I will say that the next generation of X-Men had a lot of promise, and the stories should have focused on them after the Scott/Jean and Apocaplyse stuff was over. I think that's one of the strength of the Gifted TV series.

  4. I just gotta wonder how long the shambling corpse will go. Maybe Bendis will kill DC faster...looks like the vertigo line is total sjw convergence now.

  5. "That is not a House of Ideas. That is a Tomb for Ideas. Yet they keep crawling from their graves like zombies."

    What I keep coming back to is that the comics industry is largely based on concepts that were created to thrill audiences of the 1930s and 40s. I like Batman, too, but holy shit, you can only rework that concept so many times before you have to confront that maybe it's time for something new. The classics will always be there but you need to make new stuff to generate real excitement.

    Another thing is that comics had their shot at becoming a mass medium in the early days but the industry chose to doom itself by creating the Comics Code, which was really just a weapon for the more cowardly publishers to smother the horror, romance, and crime publishers that were kicking their asses at the time.

    1. William M. Gaines has a chapter in his biography about his testimony before the Senate over Werthan's book. Everybody remembers Gaines as the EIC of Mad Magazine, but before that he ran EC Comics of Tales from the Crypt fame.

      Gaines reports having been a bit loopy on cold meds when he gave his testimony. Who knows what would've happened if he hadn't been accidentally high.

  6. Recommended viewing.

  7. Shuffles feet.

    Looks left and right.

    I liked the Clone Saga.

    Yeah, I LIKED it! I thought it could take the Spider-Man story into some interesting new directions if the character we'd known for years turned out to be a clone, and the clone the original.

    The drama: Peter 'stole' Ben's life, but by now it's Peter's life, he'd make it with his time and choices. Where would Ben go from here?

    I thought it was the best way for - on the one hand, Peter to hang up the webs for awhile and have a family life (but occasionally get called back into the super life to help) while Ben continued the classic Spider-Man adventures: best of both worlds.

    I wish they'd stuck with the idea!

    1. Marvel's failure to follow through and subsequent vacillating is what ruined the potentially serviceable Clone Saga. I stuck with it until it became clear they had no idea what they were doing. It was Lost in comic book form.