"I Quit You, Super-People!"

By | Friday, July 09, 2010 2 comments
I don't follow him on Twitter, but somebody re-posted a recent Tweet from writer Mark Waid as their quote of the day...
Annnnd today was the day I stopped reading super-hero comics. One that I won't name finally broke me. Collection stops as of now. No joke.

Not surprisingly, some people jumped on that and started to make a big deal out of it. Waid countered and clarified through a series of additional Tweets...
It's not one bad comic. It's the unbearably last in a long string of bad comics.

...It's been building. I didn't say they were all bad. I said I've reached a limit.

...I LOVE comics. And I LOVE super-heroes. And I'll keep writing 'em. But there is a new, recent cynicism to many of them that I find exhausting and mean-spirited and uninspiring and life-denying.

Lotta good super-hero comics out there. Grant's stuff. Bru's stuff. Fraction's Iron Man. Etc. My issue is much deeper than that.
To my understanding, Waid's always been more of a DC fan than a Marvel fan and, being raised more with the Marvel mythos myself, I can't really comment on too many specifics with what he's been reading. But that's pretty much the same reason I stopped reading superhero comics.

But you don't really know me, right? You don't know how enthusiastic I was for superhero comics or for how long? I essentially ditched whatever reputation I may have had in the online superhero fan community shortly after starting this blog, and have tried to build that reputation back up with an entirely new and different group of people. But those people were didn't even start to see me until my superhero fandom was well on the wane, and probably didn't know I had my letters published in Marvel comics going back as far as 1988! So my dropping superhero books, to them, was not a big deal.

Ah, but Waid, he's a big name in the business. People have been keeping their eyes on him for years! He's the guy who wrote that great love letter to superheroes called Kingdom Come. He's the guy who wrote that Fantastic Four issue that sold over 700,000 copies. He's the professional who almost always win comic book trivia contests at conventions. This is one of the handful of comic creators who is associated with not only writing good superhero yarns, but really knowing and loving superhero history. He pulled Bob Phantom out to use in a story for cripes' sake!

So when he drops superhero comics, you KNOW there's something going on!

He cites a seemingly ever-present cynicism in superhero books these days that he doesn't care for. I've seen the same thing. That does beg the question: why are superhero comics like that? Now you could say that it's just a trend, or the direction charted by one or two head people in the publishers' offices. Which may both be accurate. But I think those answers belie deeper problems with the industry as a whole. Let me throw out a few questions to stew on...

1. Even if, as a creator, you're told to write a certain way, wouldn't your own creative integrity push if not compel you to find as unique a voice as possible?

2. Wasn't there a time not too long ago when any given comic title did have a unique tone and voice, even within a single publisher, sometimes within the oeuvre of a single creator?

3. It's easy to say, "Shouldn't comics be fun?" and that does come across a bit vapid, but don't some people legitimately want to make their comic reading experiences a form of escapism from a turbulent and oppressive world?

4. Does a line-wide tone or theme indicate heavy direction from the upper echelons of publishing or simply a self-referential group of creators? Are there too many creators today relying on Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns as models instead of, say, any other medium?

5. Though art is generally modeled/based to some degree from real life, what portion of the real world is being reflected in this comparatively recent cynicism in superhero comics? Is it how we view the world at large, is it a response to threats of terrorism, is it simply how we view authority figures...?

I don't necessarily have answers here, but I think it's food for thought that requires more probing than whatever invectives are thrown at Waid for becoming a genre traitor.
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Matt K said...

Waid is not known for being the absolute most mild-tempered man at all times... but this is still a bit remarkable coming from him.

Or, really, maybe it isn't. I mean, you, comics' #1 fan can obviously relate.

I still pick up the occasional superhero book, but not often, and when I buy a new one as opposed to something published 15 or 20 years ago, it's mostly as a lark. It's difficult to look at the material published by Marvel nowadays as anything but a joke, occasionally amusing in some novel way but often not even that. Like you, I've never been much of a "DC guy," but I think both companies have largely evolved in parallel for many years.

In my own case, I don't know whether or not there's any significance to be found; I've told you about reaching my own "straw that broke the camel's back" point with the Fantastic Four, but that was nearly 10 years ago. But I also note that people change, tastes change, and I of course am an increasingly grumpy old man. :-)

Beyond that, I sense these comments standing at the precipice of the old, and bottomless, "what's wrong with comics" conversation, which particular rabbit hole I'd just as soon stay out of today. :-D

Jeff said...

I suppose he'd better hope other people don't follow his example, because then he'd be out of a job. Really, if he's so upset with the quality of super hero comics, then he should work to make them better - especially as a man in his position.

I'm not saying that he doesn't have a right to be put off by comics (and super hero comics specifically), but to say that the industry he works in doesn't hold his own interest seems a bit self defeating. I wonder if he proofreads Irredeemable and Incorruptible when he's done writing them, or if he can't stand to flip back and look at the pages.