Saturday, January 15, 2011

T'ain't The Silver Age

I have not been much of a DC fan for a few decades now. I did like both the Mike Grell and Kevin Smith takes on Green Arrow but, aside from those two series, I haven't really read much from DC since I was a kid.

My original comic book collection sprang from a friend of the family who gave me some comics he had lying around from 5-10 years before. I believe he would sometimes read them on his lunch break at work, and just didn't bother to throw them out. So I had a stack of 50 or so comics. Mostly a combination of Action Comics, Detective Comics, Batman, Superman and World's Finest. I think there may have been a couple Justice League issues in there too. But it was heavily weighted towards DC, and even then primarily focusing on two specific characters.

My other source to learn about superheroes back then was the Super Friends cartoon. Especially the really early ones with Marvin and Wendy. But I also loved seeing the appearances of Green Lantern, Flash and Hawkman. It was basically like reading Justice League without much nuance or subtlety.

So my impression of the DC Universe is firmly rooted in the early-to-mid 1970s. The tail end of the Silver Age.

I'm not completely oblivious to comic news, though, so I'd see news reports about Aquaman losing his hand or Batman getting his back broken or whatever. The one book I did pick up was Avengers/JLA and that still had a sense of Silver Agedness to it, in no small part thanks to writer Kurt Busiek (who loved that Silver Age stuff too) and artist George Perez (who had been working in comics since the Silver Age). I had a vague sense of things going on in the DC Universe, but since I didn't bother reading the vast majority of those stories, my impression largely remained.

So that's me coming to Identity Crisis which I received from my brother for Christmas.

I thought the book was generally well-written. I'm sure it helped that it focused on the larger players that I was somewhat familiar with, but everybody seemed well-defined for the reader. The biggest question marks I had mostly revolved around who a lot of those villains were, but they were largely inconsequential; I just needed to know that they were villains. I think it did help, though, that the story is mostly told through Green Arrow's perspective and, as suggested above, I do rather like that character. And, unlike my last experience with Marvel, the book was surprisingly inviting to new readers given the large cast involved.

Of course, this wasn't the DC Universe I grew up with. And that was a bit difficult to swallow.

I guess I'd heard that DC was a bit of a darker place than I remember it, but seeing it was something more visceral. Yeah, I'd seen some rape and murder stories in Green Arrow, but I suppose I'd managed to emotionally isolate that character from the rest of DC. I'm certainly not looking for sunshine and rainbows all over the place (what is any story without conflict, after all?) but the level of darkness that I saw in Identity Crisis was, for me, comparable to what I saw in Marvel's Civil War. And that was the book that almost single-handedly kicked me off my 25+ year habit of Marvel Comics.

I'm not about to suggest, much less demand, that DC return to the types of comics that I read as a kid. Not only is that selfish on my part, but I'm pretty sure that my 38-year-old self doesn't appreciate comics in the same way that my 8-year-old self did. But it IS a good indicator for myself that I'm not missing anything over in DC-land. Not to say that what they're doing isn't good, just that it's not really for me. I can appreciate the good storytelling, and Rags Morales' artwork is almost guaranteed to be superb, but DC just isn't delivering the types of stories I want any more.

I mention all this because I think it's too easy to just dismiss something out of hand. Just because I stopped buying superhero comics a few years ago doesn't mean that they're either A) unilaterally something I don't want or B) not subject to change. So I think it's good to test the waters from time to time, and see where things stand. Just as it's bad to keep buying comics out of habit, it's bad to keep NOT buying them out of habit!

5 comments:

Philosopher's Mess said...

What is it specifically you don't like about more "mature" comics?

I am almost thirty years old, and as a child I wasn't into comics, but in the last couple of years I have really become a fan.

I love the more "mature" story-lines in comics, and can find some of the original super-hero story lines simplistic and boring. Do you hold an opposing view? Why?

Sean Kleefeld said...

It's not that I don't like mature comics, it's that the Marvel and DC universes seem, by and large, very dark and disturbed/disturbing places any more for everyone. I would just prefer SOME measure of light to penetrate the negativity.

Yeah, a lot of that Silver Age stuff was hokey and I wouldn't want to read that all the time either. But never having anything like it any more seems like never being able to have dessert. It's just not very fun.

Like I said, I can appreciate the craft that went into Identity Crisis and, critically speaking, it was the best superhero book I've read in quite some time. But at the same time, it wasn't very 'fun' either.

Philosopher's Mess said...

I think this is a very interesting subject, and I appreciate you blog very much.

The thought that comes to mind on this subject is does this transition in comics express a greater change in society at large?

Have we more generally lost our belief in heroes? And was this ushered in by revelations about the dastardly behavior of our "real-life" heroes?

For example in the current Marvel world, it seems very much that the S.H.I.E.L.D organization correlates and represents the actions of our own intelligence agencies?

Once again thanks for your blog.

Rhoadey said...

@Philosopher's Mess:

I'm not sure that "mature" is synonymous with "dark/disturbing" imagery. I'm not entirely sure you meant it that way, but if you did, I think there's a tendency in comics to equate unrelenting darkness with maturity.

I mean, I happen to have liked Identity Crisis, but "classic" superhero-style stories can be exciting, full of light and fun (with darker elements to provide contrast), and still contain mature themes.

All Star Superman, Secret Identity, and Astro City definitely strike me as fun, exciting, but mature stories that display themes meant for adults to understand and enjoy (it helps that I'm a HUGE fan of those books).

Apologies if I misunderstood you, though.

@Sean, great stuff. I like your open-minded take on the comics of today.

Anonymous said...

I'm not fond of Identity Crisis, and I don't feel it's a good indicator of where DC is right now, or even as it was in 2004. Likewise for Civil War and Marvel. There are brutal comics being published right now, but I feel like the tendency in comics right now is big, bold, colorful stories. They aren't lighthearted, but neither are they anything like Identity Crisis.