Does the man have a point?

Why hast thou forsaken me, Robinson?

Be glad I didn't use an image from the inside of this comic

So Darwyn Cooke got caught on video saying that superhero comics should “…stop catering to the perverted needs of forty-five-year-old men.” He called out rape, children being forced to eat rats, explicit sex, foul language, and a lack of new characters. And now some people are getting upset. Oh come on, like you’ve never thought any of that.

Unfortunately the whole thing got derailed by his swipe at turning Batwoman into a lesbian, which came off as rather homophobic to some. Personally, I have to admit, I read it more as the character continuity issue of a man who likes his Bronze and Silver Age comics, which is somewhat humorous, given that he’s complaining about comics being ruled by the whims of forty-somethings, but he is large, he contains multitudes. (To which I say, Darwyn, it wasn’t “overnight”. She may have been around since 1956, but she hadn’t made any significant appearances since Crisis on Infinite Earths which basically changed everything. SEE? I can be as big of a geek as you are.)

So let’s break this down from the point of view of someone who is not forty five or male — me.

Perverted needs

Batman would never say this

I'm sorry, what?

Let’s be honest. The disturbing scenarios described by Cooke don’t disgust twenty and thirty-somethings — not to mention the sick little teenage boys we all went to school with — any more than they do forty-five-year-olds so much as they repel new readers of any age.

I’m going to come right out and say it — when you don’t know if a heretofore demure superhero title is going to dissolve into an orgy of rape and disembowelment in the next issue, it makes it that much harder to recommend to a new reader.

There’s definitely room for darker titles. I don’t think that anyone gets too up in arms when Hellblazer features yet another unlucky magician getting eaten by demons, but when you’re reading a JLA title and unexpectedly a hero gets dismembered and his preschooler gets murdered, it is all rather “What next, the moon turns to blood?”

While I’m not suggesting a return to the days of the Comic Code Authority, frankly, I think it would help matters immensely if readers knew, even unofficially, whether a particular comic title would be more likely to be shocking in the sense of “I had no idea the Batcave would explode!” or “On panel rape, graphic murder, more rape.” Having the stomach to handle prurient atrocities should not be a necessary skill for reading superheroes aimed at a post-grade school audience. If you really want a larger and more varied audience, keeping some of your titles and characters definitively away from the ultraviolence and disturbing content would be a good place to start. After all, did we really need to see evil dominatrix Mary Marvel?

No wonder many non-comics fans imagine us to be unwashed, socially inappropriate goons.

Forty-five-year-old

No commentBut yes, let’s get back to the question of whether or not comics cater to older fans in a way that makes for bad comics and excludes younger readers. Do they? Yeah, sometimes.

More than one comics professional has expressed the idea that all superhero comics are fueled almost entirely by nostalgia, and I have to say, I think that’s a very dangerous position to take. In my own experience, this isn’t true, at least not any more. How many adults under 30 even have fabled halcyon days as an eight-year-old at the supermarket spinner rack to want to recapture anymore? Most of us couldn’t get our hands on real comic books until we were in our teens, and when we did, we were probably more interested in the exciting stories or colorful characters than getting in touch with some lost era. Trying to get a new reader to recall the Silver Age or even Bronze Age of comics with a tear in the eye is a self-evidently ludicrous proposition.

Mainstream and superhero comics have a lot more going for them than simply a long history and great name recognition. Superhero comics aren’t really some sort of bizarre cult worshiping the desecrated remains of the 1930′s. They’re entertainment, and they’re fun. Forget this at your peril.

If Marvel decides to bring back Loxy the Dancing Bagel, they’d better have a very clear idea in mind of why somone who has never heard of Loxy would also enjoy and follow that book. The individual stories have to have some entertainment value of their own beyond simply being the next bit of paper with the character’s name printed on it. Otherwise, by issue 14, “Loxy and the Sinister Spread Scenario”, even the hardcore Loxy fanclub will start to tail off buying it, and good luck recruiting new readers!

Part of the power of the long-running superhero universes is that you can fall in love with a character and follow his or her exploits for years, watching the character change and grow in fascinating and unexpected directions in the hands of one creative team or another. The DC and Marvel Universes are one of the most fascinating and multi-faceted experiments in collaborative storytelling ever to see print, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. But precisely because they are so large and complex, it’s short-sighted to expect all of your readers to have to remember a ten-year-old plot point in order to get the story. A well-written story ought to work for longtime fans as well as new readers.  Yes, I know, that’s hard to pull off. But at the very least, it should be a priority to try.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard something like “I want to read X-men / JSA / Marvel Comics / superhero comics, but where do you even start?” I would be able to buy several deluxe edition hardcovers, that’s all I’m saying.

Men

Dear comic book artists,

Stop tracing porn for your mainstream superhero comics.

Love,

Me

Look, there’s nothing wrong with eye candy. But when the storytelling takes an obvious back seat to illustrating your sexual fantasies, don’t be surprised when girls and women are turned off by it. That doesn’t mean that superhero comics aren’t for women, or that women don’t like or read superheroes

So do young people read superheroes?

Give me a break. Of course we do! There’s a lot to love about superhero comics. Walk into any comic book store today that isn’t a den of ’70s carpeting and stultifying testosterone and I would be willing to wager that at least 60 percent of the customers are under 40. The kids at my local library are continually checking out superhero books — they always seem to have the ones I want when I’m trying to find one.

Many, many superhero comics are having wonderful runs right now. Personally, I’m enjoying Justice League: Generation Lost, Prince of Power, Booster Gold, Gotham City Sirens and Young Allies at the moment and I can hardly wait for Batwoman to return this fall. There’s absolutely no question that there are good books out there, or that there are younger people reading them.

But don’t expect a twenty-three year old with fond memories of Wally West and Bart Allen to give a damn that Barry Allen got brought back from the dead or be cool with the fact that you sidelined his heroes to do it. He was a year old when the “real” Flash died.
Kate Fitzsimons writes for Publishers Weekly, Publishers Weekly Comics Week, and her personal comics and geek culture blog geekiferous.com.

Comments

  1. According to J. Bone (long time friend and collaborator of Darywn) it wasn’t a swipe to Bat-Woman, it was a swipe at The Question.

  2. Peter says:

    Which makes his comment event more out of touch considering the “passing of the torch” storyarc of the Question identity happened over a year in DC’s weekly 52 series. And was well told, made sense, and not “stupid” or “uncreative” as Cooke wrote. If anything, it breathed a bit of life into the character and exposed the Question to a wider audience than before – especially considering his last “successful” series was in the late 80s.

    This has happened twice now in a matter of weeks: creator makes a stand, people revolt, creator returns with “what I meant to say was…”. Perhaps they should get it right the first time?

    Sorry – all off topic to the above article. Back to reading…

  3. “If ____ decides to bring back ____, they’d better have a very clear idea in mind of why somone who has never heard of ____ would also enjoy and follow that book.”

    Huzzah!

    The same goes for guest appearances and crossovers (which isn’t a new problem to the 2000s I’m afraid). I didn’t grow up reading Marvel, but as an adult I’d try reading one of their series from time to time, but they kept getting interrupted by walk-ons (or even takeovers) by unintroduced characters. (DC’s just as guilty, I’m sure, but I’m a 45-year-old insider there, so it doesn’t bother me.) If the reader has to be/consult a fanboy to appreciate what you’re writing… you’re doing it wrong.

    Also, in the interest of providing demographic data points, I am a 45-year-old reader, who grew up with DC but currently read only a few of the less crossovery comics from them. Most of ‘em just aren’t any fun.

  4. Strange that you quote Gotham City Sirens, because it seems that it has all the flaws you’re talking about: after Dini left, I felt that the title lost a lot of humour and got as unusefully dark as Streets of Gotham.

  5. Darwyn didn’t change his position at all. He was nice in not referencing a specific character. It’s common for people to “read into” a statement made by a creator and make assumptions based on that. Then attack them based on those assumptions which can be (and often are) wrong.

    Personally I’m a 35 yr old male and don’t read very much Marvel or DC anymore. My tastes have changed over the years and it’s no longer in line with who they are selling to. When I do get the urge for superheroes I’ll check out a title if it looks to be pretty self contained. Usually I just pick up an Essential/Showcase and read Invincible.

  6. Updated*

    “More than one comics professional has expressed the idea that all superhero comics are fueled almost entirely by nostalgia, and I have to say, I think that’s a very dangerous position to take. ”
    What? Superheroes were originally intended for children. I see that you conveniently left that fact out. What got many people into comics was their exposure to it as kids. Their exposure sometimes constituted of all ages superhero material. That kind of introduction to comics isn’t possible anymore . DC Comics is a company that exisits soley because of the forty plus crowd. What “young person” would read Wonder Woman?

    “Mainstream and superhero comics have a lot more going for them than simply a long history and great name recognition.”
    For some reason, there’s this bizzare notion that comics in general are undergoing some kind of renaissance. I’m pretty sure we stil have the same ratio of good material to not so good material, even though the industry has shrunken in the last 20 years.

    “Superhero comics aren’t really some sort of bizarre cult worshipping the desecrated remains of the 1930’s. They’re entertainment, and they’re fun. Forget this at your peril.”
    Superheroes are relevent because Hollywood and the gaming industry are so eager to use them. Has that resulted in better comics? More fans? I can’t say. But it’s clear that there are more Spider-Man tooth brushes and tottler versions of Marvel superheroes in on childrens’ items in addition to all the big budget movies, that are aimed at the 13 and up crowd.

    “The DC and Marvel Universes are one of the most fascinating and multi-faceted experiments in collaborative storytelling ever to see print, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. But precisely because they are so large and complex, it’s short-sighted to expect all of your readers to have to remember a ten year old plot point in order to get the story. A well-written story ought to work for longtime fans as well as new readers. Yes, I know, that’s hard to pull off. But at the very least, it should be a priority to try.”
    The last time I bought that line was when I was a child which was coincidently the last time I read superhero comics on a regular basis. DC and Marvel have a short term based business outlook. They only really care about their current fan base who are LONG TERM readers.

    Although I haven’t read Batwoman, I will say that its success was probably based on the fact it was a Batman related book with a likeable artist on it. As long as DC can keep the artistic standard on it high, and can avoid keeping readers from getting bored, readers will continue buying it.

    Mainstream comic books take themselves very seriously nowadays. Artists used extensive photo reference to the point many comics appear very close to fumetti. (photo comics. Actual photo comics are probably very expensive to make. ‘I paparazzi’ must have cost a small fortune to shoot. ) Mainstream comics are hyper-conscious. It’s still in the “comics aren’t just for kids” mode. With a few very rare exceptions, there’s an industry littered with Bendis’ and Millars’ and others trying to show the world how mature and grown up (but not sophisticated) Spider-man or whatever soon-to-be-optioned superhero is. I call it the Keven Smith mentality and it’s what’s dominant. The other mentality is the nostalgia mentality better embodied by older artists and writers who churn out the same stuff over and over again, less interesting each time they churn it out.

  7. I need to see evil dominatrix Mary Marvel.

  8. Saber Tooth Tiger Mike, I’m confused. I’m not saying most comics are that way, I’m saying they should be. If a comic doesn’t do these things, in my opinion, it won’t attract new readers of any age, kids, teens or adults.

    When I say superhero comics have more going for them, I mean they can genuinely be entertaining beyond some tenuous connection to nostalgia – not that they always live up to this potential.

    Superhero comics should be for kids – and teenagers and adults of all kinds, not that any one comic should be expected to cater to all these audiences at once. There ought to be more exploration of options other than darker and edgier or pure nostalgia fest for whatever era the creators like best. It can be done, I’ve seen it done.

  9. On the other hand.

    I remember the first time (and the second time) Kitty Pryde used the word “nigger”. I remember Wolverine gutting Phoenix. When Slaymaster assassinated the telepathes, when the Fury killed and killed and killed. When Captain UK wet herself. That was the eighties, when I was a boy, reading superhero comics.

    The exposure to the child of aspects of the adult world through comics is something I appreciated when I was that side of the age divide, and something I’m having to consider in my own children’s development…

  10. Jaime:

    He was being passive-aggressive. It’s not wrong (as you seem to imply) for people to read into a passive-aggressive public statement to better understand what the hell the speaker is talking about.

    The Batwoman and The Question, are both really good comics from what I’ve seen. They both featured old characters who’ve been recently developed into lesbians. Saying “oh, it wasn’t THIS, it was THAT” misses the entire point. His statements are a shot against BOTH, if you just look at what he SAID. Not what he claims to have MEANT. His words mean what they mean. He can recant, or he can dig his heels in, but he can’t tell me that left means right and north means west.

    I don’t understand the J. Bone comments at all. “He didn’t mean to slag that character, he meant to slag this other, similar character.” What. Ever. Just another version of “Person doesn’t mean what they say when they’re confronted.”

  11. Synsidar says:

    I need to see evil dominatrix Mary Marvel.

    Here you are.

    Mistress Mary

    As you might expect, reactions to the sexy version of Mary Marvel are mixed, but there are also pix of women dressed as Mistress Mary at comics cons.

    SRS

  12. Synsidar, you really need to have an irony detecter installed. Sigh.

  13. As a fumetti creator, I can absolutely say that it’s not very expensive to make photocomics at all. There are a bevy of up-and-coming photographers with high-end digital cameras and full photo studios who don’t have monstrous hourly rates. And even more models who have very low fees.

    I imagine that a larger publisher would incur larger costs as the production values ramp up, but it’s surprisingly easy to make fumetti on a shoestring budget, if you are willing to be creative.

  14. Oh, there’s no doubt that many kids and teens enjoy the adult aspects of comics, Rich. There’s room for lots of different kinds of comics, it just would be great if it were slightly more obvious what sort of comic you were getting in the vast space between Batman: The Brave and the Bold and The Boys, you know? Surprise, entrails! is not a happy
    moment.

  15. Synsidar says:

    Marvel apparently doesn’t do layered stories anymore, unfortunately.

    One of my favorite Avengers storylines by Englehart was in WEST COAST AVENGERS. Mockingbird had been trapped in the past, kidnapped by the Phantom Rider, subjected to mind control, and (implied) raped. She eventually recovered her self-control and let the Rider fall to his death after a fight. When she got back to the present, there his ghost was, vowing to make her pay for letting him die.

    The storyline presented ethical problems that I, at least, had never seen before. Two heroes had both erred, grievously, and there was no way of undoing the wrongs. The conflict was adult material, but it was a continuing subplot, while the main stories had the usual heroics. The material was still all-ages.

    Doing sophisticated superhero storylines is probably a matter of having the proper background, training, and skills. Scientific literacy enables a writer to examine how a power works in detail and how it could be neutralized. Attention to details generally makes a story more involving and enables the writer to make small developments important, even critical, so when a climax or major development surprises a reader, he can be informed that “X” happened because a logical extension of his power enables him to do ____.

    Recently, Ben Bova wrote a piece that criticized comics for lacking depth and plot development. He overgeneralized, unsurprisingly, but some commenters proceeded to jump on him without, apparently, realizing what his actual points were. Much of the power of fiction is in the details.

    SRS

  16. Chris Hero says:

    I’m a 33 year old male and I’ve long been on the side of Alan Moore and Darwyn Cooke on this one. Superhero comics should be all ages appropriate (i.e. content that could reasonably be read by anyone, not kiddie stuff). Chris Giarrusso’s G-Man comics are the perfect example – they’re funny, they’re smart, and none of the characters are taking heroin, talking about which superheroine they lost their virginity to, or bragging about which superheroines they’ve had threesomes with. The manga One Piece is another excellent example of all ages appropriate material.

    I don’t read Marvel and DC stuff, but it seems to me the content is largely “superhero decadence,” or taking characters that were constructed to tell stories like One Piece or Bleach and making them “edgy” and “mature.” Swearing, gratuitous sex, and gratuitous violence for its own sake isn’t mature, yet that’s what most of these books seem to have.

    I think the whole argument about which lesbian character Cooke was referring to is a bit of a strawman argument. It doesn’t matter – if a character was made a lesbian to appeal to the prurient interests of grown men, it’s an epic fail. (On the other hand, if it was done because someone was like – hey, let’s explore what it might be like to be a superhero who happens to be homosexual, it’s a win. It seems like there could be a lot of stories told about characters like that.)

  17. Synsidar says:

    Synsidar, you really need to have an irony detecter installed. Sigh.

    Well, the popularity of Mistress Mary and the existence of Byrne’s Malice (a possessed Sue Storm) point out how writers cater, or pander, to tastes that might be better left unsatisfied. What real storytelling purpose does having a heroine go bad serve?

    SRS

  18. Chris Hero says:

    @Kate Fitzsimmons:

    Hell F-ing Yes to your entire column, btw!! I agree with you 100% on every point you made.

    “I’m going to come right out and say it — when you don’t know if a heretofore demure superhero title is going to dissolve into an orgy of rape and disembowelment in the next issue, it makes it that much harder to recommend to a new reader.”

    YES!!!

  19. The shame of it is, rape, children being forced to eat rats, explicit sex, and foul language can all be used in honest ways, to make a story more interesting. It just has to be done well. So to me this all boils down to, tell good stories… which in it’s self means different things to different people.

    Sorry, if this has already been said in the comments, I didn’t take the time to read them all.

  20. Chris Hero: It’s exactly the latter. They are superheroes who happen to be gay. They both appeared as concurrent (but unrelated) features in the recent run of Detective Comics.

    I keep looking for the back issues, but so far, the stories that I’ve read are well-told crime-fighting and at the end, the protagonist goes home to her same-sex partner. SCANDALOUS!

    For god’s sake, the comics are even COMICS-CODE-APPROVED. Apparently, DC still uses the code for some of its books.

  21. I have a lot of issues with the article (“most of us couldn’t get our hands on comics until our teens?” WTF?) but picking it apart isn’t going to contribute to the underlying issue.

    I think Darwyn’s point wasn’t so much “let’s cling to the status quo” but an observation that a lot of what drives sales (and thus stories) in comics today are shock tactics that are designed to generate buzz/interest/headlines in fandom circles. It’s change for the sake of change, not character development or story evolution.

    This is bad news because these stories tend to have no long-term meaning and fandom is only a small portion of potential comics buyers, but oddly the group that comics seem to be written for.

    If the overall focus was on better stories and staying true to the core attributes of a character (and that doesn’t preclude homosexuality or death), the industry might be better off (it certainly would not be worse).

    The most successful revivals of characters that have occurred when talented writers and artists either pulled another layer off the onion or returned the character to it’s core purpose in the context of solid stories (see Daredevil, Batman).

    Today’s industry is not structured to allow that, and the sheer number of books and editors in the food chain, combined with the focus on niche audience instead of mass audience is a huge mistake that drives more bad stories and lame “events”.

    When an Iron Man or similar movie comes out, the publisher usually throws some “out of continuity” mini series or one-shots out to attract the “Non-comics reading public” into buying a book. How wrong is that? Would fans flee a regularly-published book if there were great stories that weren’t so mired in continuity? Of course not. So why not follow that path?

    Look at Darwyn’s own “New Frontier”. It’s a great book for non-comics fans AND for comics fans – proof that well-done material can bridge both worlds and SELL.

    Marvel is better at pulling off the big events (and generating publicity) than DC, but as Bendis’ 7-year plan grinds to an end, it now feels hollow and empty as no one is running with it. Is there a DC book outside of Vertigo or Jonah Hex that isn’t impenetrable to a non-fan?

    Keeping old fans and fear of losing the direct market (they will) is the last thing publishers should be worrying about.

    If comics publishers want to grow their sales as their characters get more and more popular, things need to drastically change (and don’t get me started on digital, where they are failing as spectacularly as the music business did). With the blinders they currently have on, I doubt they will.

  22. Rich:
    Was there anything close to “babies being killed with bare hands on live TV” in the 80s as seen in Faces of Evil: Kobra?

  23. “Well, the popularity of Mistress Mary and the existence of Byrne’s Malice (a possessed Sue Storm) point out how writers cater, or pander, to tastes that might be better left unsatisfied. What real storytelling purpose does having a heroine go bad serve?”

    A majority of the so-called “artists” on forums like DeviantArt, I’d imagine.

    Of course, the question exists whether these folks may eventually be next-in-line for “breakout artist” at one of the Big Two when one of their Top Cow/Image-sytle stable pencillers breaks his hand.

    What does any of this have to do with the current decadence in mainstream superhero fare? A quick buck, and that’s all it’s really worth. Heck, perhaps throwaway, trashy entertainment shouldn’t be held to same high standards as what long-term nostalgia buffs crave. There’s a lot of overused entitlement masquerading as “think of the children!”, and the kids are busy reading something else anyway.

  24. hikaru go says:

    “The shame of it is, rape, children being forced to eat rats, explicit sex, and foul language can all be used in honest ways, to make a story more interesting. It just has to be done well. So to me this all boils down to, tell good stories…”

    I think you hit it on the head, Christopher. For example, I never hear people complain about “Batman: Year One.” It’s almost universally praised as one of the greatest Bat stories ever told…yet Selena Kyle is a pro, etc. Zoom ahead 20 years and “All Star Batman” is best known for what Cooke describes. So what’s the difference? Stories done in good taste as opposed to the glorification of trash culture.

    @ Chris Hero: Thank you for giving examples of All-Ages alternatives. It’s easy to lose sight in the vacuum of this debate what solutions are out there. I would hope stories like “Fantastic Four & Iron Man: Big in Japan” would be best sellers, capturing the essence and spirit of mainstream comics for every type of person. I loved the Marvel Adventures books… these stories ARE out there. We are not forced to read about Rapey McRaperson, but as Kate said, it’s nice to have that warning. Editors have to find a common ground and not totally blind side the audience. “The Wire” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” are both television shows but I really don’t want to see the Turtles eating heroin pizza and decapitating drug dealers.

  25. Geembeast, most of the comics people I personally know who were kids in that period between the death of the spinner rack and more libraries carrying comics in the kids section got into comics as teenagers. That’s totally anecdotal, I’ll freely admit.

    KET, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m not saying “No one should write dark stuff think of the children!” I’m saying it would be awesome for recruiting fans of all ages if it were slightly clearer which comics were about to go megadark.

  26. Synsidar says:

    One example of a plot development in a superhero story that could be used in an all-ages piece: Suppose an injured Marvel mutant is treated with water from a magical healing spring. Would the water erase his mutant power or have no effect on it, and if so, why? As I see things, the water would permanently erase the powers of Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Thing, et al.

    Following a writer’s chain of reasoning in such situations can entertain an adult while a younger reader is entertained by the action and sense of suspense.

    SRS

  27. I hate comics because of the porn and the big breasts. It just makes me uncomfortable. I can’t relate.

  28. Because of the porn? I’m just going to try that statement out on a few other things, replacing the word porn, and let’s see how it tests…

    “I hate books because of the porn and the big breasts. It just makes me uncomfortable. I can’t relate.”

    “I hate magazines because of the porn and the big breasts. It just makes me uncomfortable. I can’t relate.”

    “I hate movies because of the porn and the big breasts. It just makes me uncomfortable. I can’t relate.”

    “I hate music because of the porn and the big breasts. It just makes me uncomfortable. I can’t relate.”

    “I hate theater because of the porn and the big breasts. It just makes me uncomfortable. I can’t relate.”

    “I hate art because of the porn and the big breasts. It just makes me uncomfortable. I can’t relate.”

    I’m hoping that this is just a case of my “irony detector” not being turned on, but I’d like to state that (to me) the most frightening word in these statements is not “porn” or “breasts” but “hate.” Especially when the word is used in such a blanket way.

  29. Sorry, replacing the word comics, not porn. I guess I was just busy wondering about where this person is seeing so much porn in comic shops that they would see it as one of their main staples.

  30. “Following a writer’s chain of reasoning in such situations can entertain an adult while a younger reader is entertained by the action and sense of suspense.”

    I’m not so sure that’s an age thing. I’m 34 and if I’m watching Capt. Kirk pull his ray gun, the whole story would grind for a halt for me if he stopped to explain how it worked. He either fires it, or he doesn’t, and moves on with the story. I’m going to put this one on the “matter of taste at any age” side of my conclusions.

  31. jmrowland says:

    What?? Barry Allen DIED?

  32. briguyx says:

    I may have loved comics as a kid, but I really got into them years later thanks to things like “American Flagg” and the work of Frank Miller and Alan Moore. I’m guessing many of today’s creators aren’t much different, and that’s the adult standard they’re shooting for…

  33. Christopher Moonlight, please don’t feed the troll. We have a strawwoman in the comments.

  34. hikaru go says:

    @ briguyx: The thing is, the adult standard that you speak of is a horse that’s been beaten to a fine pulp for the last 20 years. Alan Moore has spoken vehemently about the negative repercussions of Watchmen on the industry and a big reason that drove him away from Marvel and DC (aside from the business end of things).

    “American Flagg” is an awesome series and a fine example of what Darwin Cooke is in favor of– creators branching out and doing their own thing, not using characters originally intended to be noble and heroic and bend them for a short sighted, monetary gain.

  35. I still don’t see what the problem is in the sense of the content not being somehow age appropriate for children.

    I say this because, if you’re reading Harry Potter, Twilight, Wrinkle In Time, Scarlet Letter, Great Gatsby, etc (and we were all reading that stuff at least starting at 10) you can handle everything that they’re doing in comics.

    Now if we want to make a possible separate argument about dealing with how it all looks with the art, that’s another discussion for another time.

    But kids are reading prose books with a far bigger maturity level and plot points then ANYTHING that’s still being written by these “perverted 45 year old men”.

    But I also don’t think Mr. Cooke should say anything when he doesn’t actually read comics at all and I’m sure doesn’t have any current information on what kids are actually reading nowadays.

  36. When I was a kid, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #121-122 were some of the first comic books I read. Gwen Stacey was killed by the Green Goblin who, in turn, was impaled by his own Goblin Glider in the next issue. I suppose those two big events one right after the other are considered pretty dark. But I wasn’t scarred by reading these events at a young age; in fact, it made me like superhero comics more than silly comics from Archie, Dell, Gold Key, etc., where nothing serious or significant ever seemed to happen to the characters.

    How would online fandom today react if ASM #121-122 were published now instead of 30 years ago? Would they be condemned for being too dark, too dismal, wallowing in excessive violence? I know at the time that killing off Gwen Stacey was controversial and garnered writer Gerry Conway a lot of hate mail. Conway acknowledges one of the main reasons for killing off Gwen was because he felt he couldn’t develop the relationship with Peter any further than it had already gone. Gwen’s death was, essentially, a plot point in motivating character development for Peter Parker.

    Today, Gwen is a statistic for the “Women in Refrigerators” movement and another example of sexism because women in comics are seen as only as good as the extent to which they spur male character development. I think what we’re seeing today is just the latest iteration of a long development of what some might call “more mature” or darker themes in comics.

  37. Sorry Kate. Haven’t been reading all the comments so I didn’t catch onto that. Never heard the term “strawwoman” either. You’ll have to tell me what that means sometime. I’m sure we’d all rather be feeding the muse.

  38. Evan@ “I say this because, if you’re reading Harry Potter, Twilight, Wrinkle In Time, Scarlet Letter, Great Gatsby, etc (and we were all reading that stuff at least starting at 10) you can handle everything that they’re doing in comics.”

    The difference there is, all the images the reader “sees’ from the words in those books comes from their own mind, their own imagination. They can control what they see and just how graphic the image is.

    It reminds me of the reaction to an old X-Men book (late 70′s/early 80′s) from the comics readers of the day. The X-Men were in Ka-Zar’s Savage land, I believe, and Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler & Wolverine wee trying to sneak into the bad guy’s lair, that was guarded by two guards.

    Wolverine takes control and puts them out of commission (wounds them? kills them?) while all the reader sees is the reactions by the other characters.

    Whatever Wolverine did to those two fellows was all left up to the readers imagination.

    And what I recall was the reaction by superhero comics readers at the time was all positive. Everyone talked about how cool that scene was, yet there wasn’t so much as a drop of blood or rendered carcass drawn.

    It was all in the reader’s mind.

  39. Maybe we should ask all the kids commenting on the Wimpy Kid post what they think about comics…

    http://www.comicsbeat.com/2010/07/29/diary-of-a-wimpy-kid-the-ugly-truth-gets-5-mil-print-run/

  40. Almightygosh says:

    I mean, if you don’t like superhero comics, there are plenty of other amazing genres and comics waiting to be read! When people make statements like these, they seem odd, and kind of reinforcing superhero comics’ willingness to write whatever they want. Because apparently when we are unsatisfied and disgusted by a book, instead of no longer reading it, we plead for the publisher to change it so we don’t feel as bad when we keep reading it!

    RASL is still awesome for example. And Cooke’s own Parker series. Not to mention countless other series that could certainly use the ink.

  41. Almightygosh says:

    @Torsten Exactly! Kids just migrated elsewhere.

  42. Synsidar says:

    I’m not so sure that’s an age thing. I’m 34 and if I’m watching Capt. Kirk pull his ray gun, the whole story would grind for a halt for me if he stopped to explain how it worked.

    You seem to be arguing that stories should be written so that they’ll entertain the least intelligent people in the readership. That would result in situations constantly being very simple and binary.

    Having a healing spring (the technological counterpart would be DNA regeneration) affect powers creates the potential for a dilemma where none existed before. The hero’s dying. Does he heal himself with the water and risk losing his powers, find another way to heal himself, or die? If the healing process does erase the power, that has to be explained somehow.

    Reality alteration without logic results in very simple threats and situations. Oh no, the villain altered reality! The heroes have to defeat him and restore reality to what it was! Having a device that affects reality in specific ways creates complications. Perhaps the device can be used to alter reality in desirable ways — but with unforeseen complications. Perhaps some reality alterations can’t be undone. If the heroes have their own reality alteration device, can they use it against the villain’s device? Are they equally powerful? Could a weaker device undo some alterations but not others (such as resurrecting the dead)?

    Reality-alteration devices could potentially be used against each other: Cosmic Cube vs. any combination of the Infinity Gems; Evil Eye vs. the gems, Cube, or Eye of Agamotto; Bendis’s Scarlet Witch against any of the aforementioned devices, singly or in combination, and so on. Decreeing that since all reality alteration is unexplainable, none of those devices can be used against each other doesn’t make sense. Is the reader supposed to conclude that they’re all basically the same thing?

    Another plot point would be power neutralization. Suppose that two groups of paranormals each have someone who can neutralize the powers of others within a certain radius. What happens when the two groups come into conflict? Do the two neutralizers cancel each other’s effects? Do they leave both groups powerless? Do the neutralizers have the same effect, but in different ways, so that technological shields are possible? Such situations shouldn’t be off-limits either.

    The answer to the X-gene question I raised depends on what’s considered genetically normal, since healing springs van restore lost limbs and organs. If the X-gene was an endogenous retrovirus that had been activated, it would be an infection and shut off or eliminated. If the X-gene was an artificial add-on or mutation of an existing gene, it would be shut off or eliminated. The only situation that would allow the X-gene to remain active would be that the gene was a normal element of the human genome — and if that were the case, then practically all humans could have the gene, and gaining a power could simply be a matter of switching on the gene or removing an inhibitor. Supposing that all humans have the equivalent of the X-gene wouldn’t contradict current stories, since it’s never been claimed that anyone knows the functions of all of the genes in the human genome.

    Taking a hard SF approach to plotting stories allows writers to do stories that haven’t been done before.

    SRS

  43. Bill Scurry says:

    I hate to sound like a troll, but Darwyn Cooke is being a bit hypocritical if he’s stabbing at comics made for 45-year-old men whilst his own stock in trade is “The New Frontier,” a nostalgic, backwards-looking idea were there ever to be one. Does anyone have any anecdotal evidence of anyone under the age of, say, 35 reading anything Cooke himself has created? I’m not being a jerque, I’m asking a serious question.

    Also, I think the lights were out in my awareness for a moment, but where did the incident(s) of rape occur that people are talking about? Is this the Sue Dibny thing again, or did someone else deploy it more recently?

  44. “I mean, if you don’t like superhero comics, there are plenty of other amazing genres and comics waiting to be read!.”

    Wow… out of all the posts that one hits home. This entire thread almost translated to superheroes = all comics. Which is aking to action movies = all film. Or romance fiction = all books. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the general thrust Kate and others are making, she is talking (I assume) specifically about superhero comics, but it seems if the majority of the genre has turned a new direction then the reader should move on or find alternatives that fit their criteria (Echo comes to mind). Moving entire mountains that have changed with the passage of time is a hard nut to crack. That genie won’t go back in the bottle.

    But it is nice to vent about it, so I understand the frustration. Nobody likes seeing their childhood heroes raped. You have my sympathy and I wish something more dramatic could be done. But I’m a realist, and I don’t see a proper way out of this beyond a shinier object to sway the industry from the current object that fascinates them (and the majority of readers).

    But there are plenty of books out there that do not fit this model. Granted they don’t sell over 100K like the rapey books, but they do exist.

  45. Steve says:

    >>It seems if the majority of the genre has turned a new direction then the reader should move on or find alternatives that fit their criteria

    I think there’s a certain trendiness and sense of superiority in bashing superhero comic books, as if “indy” comics like SCOTT PILGRIM don’t fall into their own bit of predictable formulas.

    I’m still trying to figure out why it seems to be an inherently bad thing for superhero comic books to be aimed at/consumed primarly by boys or men of any age. I don’t see nearly the same level of condemnation towards comic books or other genre entertainment aimed at/primarily consumed by adolescent girls and women.

    True, there are certain things that Marvel and DC could do less of that might not turn off potential female readers (such as toning down the admittedly oversexualized portrayal of women) but sometimes some forms of entertainment attract more men than women, or vice versa, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. The entire CW television channel is aimed at/primarily watched by a female audience: does that make CW programming wrong somehow?

    And of course, there is a strong streak of gender essentialism in these arguments, assuming that “men” is some kind of unified category with a single mindset and everyone with a penis who reads comic books reads them for the exact same reason and the exact same way. As a male reader, I can tell you I’ve never read a single Punisher comic book and maybe one issue of Wolverine, in my entire life (just to pick out two superheroes well-known for tending towards the ultra-violent side).

  46. Joe Lawler says:

    “Does anyone have any anecdotal evidence of anyone under the age of, say, 35 reading anything Cooke himself has created? I’m not being a jerque, I’m asking a serious question.”

    I was 24 or 25 when it came out and read it then. I think Cooke’s argument is less focused on the nostalgia aspect of appealing to 45-year-old men, and more focused on maturing the characters too match the maturing readers.

    And Christopher Moonlight, I’m pretty sure the “strawwoman” comment was just a feminized version of the “strawman.”

  47. Karen says:

    A well-written story ought to work for longtime fans as well as new readers….If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard something like ‘I want to read X-men / JSA / Marvel Comics / superhero comics, but where do you even start?’ I would be able to buy several deluxe edition hardcovers, that’s all I’m saying.

    Thank you for this. I’ve uttered that money quote on several occasions myself. I just didn’t grow up reading superheroes; I grew up reading indie comics. And now I am an old, old woman (even older than those 45-year-old men), and I am just confused by it all. I hear over and over again how brilliant “All-Star Superman” is, so I get it and I read it and, well, it’s a nice Superman story and all, but it’s also clearly predicated on previous events about which I don’t know anything at all, and so it just feels like a nice albeit somewhat confusing Superman story. Which, yeah, I know, means to an extent the onus is on me to get caught up but…

    …well, when a friend pushed “Watchmen” on me for the first time, six years ago, I was completely mesmerized by it. And, yes, I would have gotten more out of it if I had known the history of each of the characters in it, but I didn’t actually NEED to know the history of each of the characters in it to appreciate it. It worked on many levels.

    I like to cite “Rocky & Bullwinkle” as an exemplar. When I was a little girl, and my family sat down to watch that show, I didn’t know what the Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayyam was alluding to nor what the student at Wossamatta U. was talking about when he strolled on screen and said, “We’re going down to the Student Union to boo Norman Mailer.” But Jay Ward put enough material in there for me, to make me happy, and when I heard my parents giggling behind me I could ask them to explain. And so we learn.

    But if all the “great” elements of your story rely on an encyclopedic knowledge of one or more characters’ histories–you’re not gonna get a lot of new fans without making them do a lot of work.

  48. @ Steve, good points. The superhero bashing is an easy target and the formulas inherent with other comics (auto-bio, indy slanted, manga, et.) often get a free pass. But it is all art, and art is subjective to the viewer. I’m a firm advocate for diversity and I want pitch-black gritty comics out there just as I want all-ages appropriate material (which I do both in my career). That of course, depends on a healthy market.

    Perhaps the current market feels a bit slanted to some… but again, that’s also subjective to what one is focused on. For many people seeing their childhood heroes, or the characters that introduced them to comics, turn to the dark side is troublesome. Like I said, I have sympathy for them. I got into comics late, so I don’t have as much nostalgia as others. The loyalty gene isn’t in me. But I understand that it is in others, so I give them their soapbox.

    As for women and what they read? It’s the same question that Steve posed about men. Perhaps we shouldn’t imply that either gender is in a particular mindset for what they want in comics. The best bet, in my opinion, is to cast a wide net with a wealth of diverse comics and allow those readers to find what they need. Because the taste in readers will also change. Kate’s opinion is just one of many, and for her it is a valid concern. Nobody should talk her out of it. But it goes both ways. Kate, likewise, has to step lightly in not talking others out of what they want, as well.

    It’s a slippery slope. But one worth talking about, and I wish Kate luck in finding like-minded readers who will rally her cause for diversity. I’m one, myself.

  49. Synsidar says:

    I’m still trying to figure out why it seems to be an inherently bad thing for superhero comic books to be aimed at/consumed primarly by boys or men of any age. I don’t see nearly the same level of condemnation towards comic books or other genre entertainment aimed at/primarily consumed by adolescent girls and women.

    Writing about heroes and heroines isn’t inherently entertainment for boys. Combining action with heroism as the major elements in a story, and reaching for a wide audience (lowest common denominator marketing), implies that a story will rely heavily on simple archetypes and stereotypes. Constantly featuring damsels in distress or creating heroines that are obviously derived from male counterparts is insulting to women who want to see female characters treated as individuals. Writing a heroine who can kick ass and curse as vehemently as any guy isn’t a compliment to women.

    It’s not a coincidence that Steve Englehart, who took one of the most intellectual approaches to writing about superheroes that the market has seen, was also renowned for writing women well. Set out to display one’s skills in creating and developing characters, and in giving stories some complexity and depth, and a balance in treatment of the sexes will naturally follow. Conversely, write a story about stereotypes that uses a formula plot, so that the story can be written with a minimal amount of effort and not force a reader to think hard — the story will probably be sexist and will certainly be predictable.

    SRS

  50. Brendan T says:

    Huh.

    This is such a back and forth issue that I don’t think I have anything to add to it.

    More’n anything, I’m wondering if this Chris Hero is the same guy as the wrestler whose shirt I’m wearing right now.

    Which gets me thinking about a comparison Mike Quackenbush made between comics and wrestling once.

    Anyway.

    I still think using events taken from an out of continuity novelty comic like All Star Batman is a bad starting point for commentary on the industry, aside from the need for DC to use an actual ratings system on their books to seperate that from Detective Comics.

    The lesbian comment was stupid and makes me wonder if he actually read the stories involved, whether it be Renee Montoya through Gotham Central to her becoming the Question or the new Batwoman. Either way, they were well written and well developed.

    Moreover, ‘just introducing new characters’ is an ideal which works fine until you realize how poorly that tends to sell. Sure, you can have a new gay superhero, but it’ll face the same problems as a turned character in addition to having to find its own audience to build in a market that’s decidedly unfriendly to new concepts and characters.

    I think there were some good starting points for conversation in there, but it was nothing more than an off the cuff comment. Whatever valid criticisms of the industry are to be found in the ideas, they won’t be found in the comment itself. I’d be fascinated to see him, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Geoff Johns discussing the issues at hand though.

  51. Jimmie Robinson, I am specifically addressing Big Two superhero comics and whether or not they are serving the needs of “forty five year old men” to the detriment of other demographics because that’s what Darwyn Cooke was talking about, and that’s what I’m addressing.

    Actually, I love superhero comics, and I don’t need to find something else to read. I do read plenty of other things, including other sorts of comics, and I don’t like a great number of superhero titles, but this makes me different from any other superhero comics fan how?

    I can’t speak for all women – and I don’t intend to – anymore than you can speak for all men, but I can speculate based on being a woman and listening to many, many other female comics readers what some women would find concerns.

  52. Steve says:

    >Writing a heroine who can kick ass and >curse as vehemently as any guy isn’t a >compliment to women.

    Um, why not? That’s kind of a sexist comment in and of itself. Did you have any particular heroines in mind when you wrote that statement?

  53. Steve says:

    >Conversely, write a story about stereotypes >that uses a formula plot, so that the story >can be written with a minimal amount of >effort and not force a reader to think >hard — the story will probably be sexist >and will certainly be predictable.

    Your complaint about genre and stereotypes might logically lead one to conclude that the story will be predictable but it doesn’t necessarily follow from there that superhero comic books that follow a familiar formula are inherently sexist.

    To borrow from the movies, many romantic comedies these days – especially the ones featuring Katherine Heigl and Jennifer Aniston is seems – feature highly stereotyped and predictables plots. These are fils that also appeal primarily to women, who, I can only assume, derive some sort of pleasure from these films that follow a predictable narrative arc. It doesn’t follow from that, however, that these romantic comedies are therefore also sexist towards men.

    I know we are talking about comic books but the premise of your argument doesn’t logically follow. You’re entitled to your opinion, I guess.

  54. In regards to the changing of characters, I think Darwyn is looking at it from a creators perspective. Maybe he wouldn’t want his creations changed that drastically and just feels that morally creators should be asked first before doing it to characters they’ve created.

    Did DC ask Steve Ditko if it was okay to turn The Question into a lesbian? I’m sure they didn’t as they own the character and don’t legally need too. I wouldn’t be surprised if they (like a lot of people) think todays potential sales trumps any misgivings an older, no longer commercially successful creator might have. Going by his rep though, Ditko probably wouldn’t care as he doesn’t own the character.

    It doesn’t matter if the stories are entertaining or not. Those stories could have been just as entertaining if it was an original character in place of the Question.

  55. Army of Dorkness says:

    Stahl, go write some comics. You seem to have a good grasp of what makes a good story. Of course your preoccupation with supposed sexism and all that still bother me, but that one post where you talked about what makes for a better story was excellent. (However, I usually live to regret giving you compliments.)

    I wonder how many people commenting in this thread have watched the video more than once. I’ve watched it twice. It played differently the second time for me because I wasn’t just experiencing it I was trying hard to listen to what he was saying instead of just “hearing” what he was saying. For example, it’s this line (loosely quoted) “I want to see new characters for a new time” that pretty much justifies his entire statement aside from it being a personal opinion that really needs no justification. I support his opinion.. but I also wouldn’t mind seeing superhero stories with the DC regulars doing horrible things to each other on EARTH MAX or something because I think those stories should be told too. Just not in the typically “mainstream” titles.

    Anecdotally, under 35. Loved New Frontier. Don’t really know jack about DC history/continuity. Thought All Star Superman was decent and fun because I enjoyed the ride and didn’t sweat the small stuff.

    And finally, please don’t respond to or quote me directly. It may force me to post again, and nobody really likes it when I post. Thanks.

  56. “…stop catering to the perverted needs of forty-five-year-old men.”

    Your industry focuses exclusively on fanboys because they always give you money no matter how shitty the product becomes, they wind with nothing but fanboys for readers. Go figure.

  57. Joe Gualtieri says:

    I hear over and over again how brilliant “All-Star Superman” is, so I get it and I read it and, well, it’s a nice Superman story and all, but it’s also clearly predicated on previous events about which I don’t know anything at all”

    It’s not. ASS does have references to other stories, particularly Morrison’s DC 1,000,000, but the events of the story are all self-contained.

    “…well, when a friend pushed “Watchmen” on me for the first time, six years ago, I was completely mesmerized by it. And, yes, I would have gotten more out of it if I had known the history of each of the characters in it, but I didn’t actually NEED to know the history of each of the characters in it to appreciate it. It worked on many levels.”

    They don’t have any history before the series, unless you count them being heavily revamped versions of the Charlton superheroes of the 1960s which DC bought.

  58. Synsidar says:

    Um, why not? That’s kind of a sexist comment in and of itself.

    Reverse stereotypes aren’t good things.

    A woman might choose to read formula fiction, but she’s being lazy, if not fetishistic. A story that isn’t formula fiction and doesn’t rely on stereotypes will have intellectual elements and tend to be non-sexist.

    SRS

  59. “You seem to be arguing that stories should be written so that they’ll entertain the least intelligent people in the readership.”

    I would not judge a person’s intelligence by their preferred story telling techniques. It is both ignorant and condescending, and as I marked it as my own preferred story type, I take umbrage to the wording of your assumption.

    “Taking a hard SF approach to plotting stories allows writers to do stories that haven’t been done before.”

    Yeah, Jules Verne used to argue the same points against H.G. Wells, but we can still read Wells without it seeming dated and silly. You can have all those other elements in your story, but it won’t hold up without strong characters which are a constant in all the successful stories, no matter what techniques one employs. Does William Shakespeare explain how Hamlet’s father manages to appear before him after he is killed? No, he’s just there, and the plot rolls on. Can you honestly tell me that Shakespeare was writing so that he could “entertain the least intelligent people in the readership?”

  60. “So Darwyn Cooke got caught on video saying that superhero comics should “…stop catering to the perverted needs of forty-five-year-old men.””

    Maybe authros and artists shouldn’t agree to impromptu “interviews” at conventions. They should be conducted at a later time and date, and not originate as idle chit-chat at the professional’s table.

  61. “I would not judge a person’s intelligence by their preferred story telling techniques.”

    I would.

  62. Karen says:

    @Joe Gualtieri: yes, I was counting them as pre-existing Charlton characters, which I didn’t know until a year after the first time I read the book.

    As to All-Star Superman: all I know is that I felt very lost reading it.

  63. Shooter’s Maxim: Every comic book is somebody’s first comic book.

    Mine was Spidey Super-Stories #4. I knew who Spider-Man was (having watched The Electric Company), and there was a quick origin of Medusa printed on the inside front cover. There were three stories in that comic, and even the last story, with the Beatle, did not require much knowledge to figure out. (Beatle is stealing a new Rose varietal. Spider-Man stops the Beatle.)

    When I was seduced back into comics with Amazing Spider-Man #254, the story included enough information for me to understand why Spider-Man was wearing a black costume, and why he was chasing an RV pulled from the Hudson River.

    As for shock… I was a bit surprised with the Spider-Man/Power Pack PSA comic… but I understood the reason.

  64. Synsidar says:

    What separates an amateur from a professional in any field besides knowledge of, and attention to, details?

    SRS

  65. Joe Lawler says:

    “What separates an amateur from a professional in any field besides knowledge of, and attention to, details?”

    I would think payment for said work is the real delineation.

  66. Calvin Reid says:

    Darwyn Cooke’s response on that video interview really just brings together all the threads of a debate about contemporary superhero comics that has been going on for a long while. Now that superhero comics are clearly not just for kids, there are a lot of professionals much like Cooke who seem to want the category’s heroes to return to fighting burglars and purse snatchers and tossing off corny quips while throwing haymakers at the bad guys. The comment about Batwoman newly transformed into a lesbian sounds worse than what I believe Cooke was saying—-he clearly wants to see new characters, presumably lesbian and gay, for a new era, not older characters easily recast, although it seems that’s one of the things superhero comics do best these days. Cooke’s says todays’ comics cater to the “perverted needs of 45 year old men,” and while that’s only partially true, it seems that even people who disagree with that take—-who champion the new gritty dark world of superhero real world versimilitude—-don’t disagree with him entirely.

    Kate’s response seems on point. Today’s superhero comics are a lot different from the ones I read as a kid—-I’m a nearly 60 year old DC and Marvel baby that was obsessed with Superman and Batman before turning into a Marvel groupie after discovering the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and the rest of the Kirby-Lee-Ditko body of work in the early 1960s. Admittedly, these days I don’t read superhero comics that much—-I browse, I skim, I check out B. K. Vaughan’s Ex Machina and maybe a few others, but the thrill is gone for me when it comes to the costumed superhero genre-—that’s personal taste, not a judgement on the entire genre. Much has changed since I was obsessed with superheroes but I think what Kate says highlights what makes this time in comics special. There has never been a recent time of such variety and diversity—-and the continued possibility for new creative visions–in the comics that are available to readers today.

    And yet, despite a much reduced superhero marketplace, the category still dominates American comics and there is a younger generation of 20 to 30 somethings (and more girls and young women than I would have ever thought) who buy superhero comics and seem to like what they see. Kate offers some common sense observations to publishers—-when it comes rape and ultra-violence, maybe try and signal to readers what they’re in for—-as well as her glib take on the representation of female superheroes (“stop tracing porn”), a tricky proposition in a category that dramatically hypersexualizes costumed superpowered men as well as costumed superpowered women. Personally I’m not sure superhero comics can go back to a more innocent time—-offering “good taste” taste to most readers interested in superheroes is a nonstarter–and we’re going to have to live with a split in what reader/audiences will accept and I’m not sure that’s such a bad idea.

    The reality is that many folks who will never read a superhero comic book—-ever—-will go to see a movie about superheroes. This doesn’t mean that superhero comic books don’t appeal to today’s younger audience—-it just means they don’t appeal to all of them. Maybe we don’t even know who this audience is. Kate says that younger readers, the 20 to 30 somethings I mentioned earlier, are out there buying and reading superhero comics and I have no reason to doubt her. But the real dramatic difference between superhero comics way back when I started reading them and what’s going on today is this incredible dialogue we’re all a part of. This internet blog communication thing is working wonders despite its tendency to generate occasional incivilities. It lets us communicate across generations and different tastes and presumptions quickly and easily and I believe this is the basis for bringing a wider variety of comics to a larger and more diverse audience. At the end of the day, that seems to be what we’re talking about here.

  67. Steve says:

    >>Reverse stereotypes aren’t good things.

    I’m not sure what you mean by a “reverse stereotype”? Are you saying that, for example, when Angelina Jolie stars as the lead in an action movie and shows that she can be just as strong and smart and brave and confident as any male lead, that’s somehow a bad thing for women?

    And if a man were to embrace stereotypical “feminine” qualities, that’s a bad thing too? Instead of being, oh I don’t know, an example of gender diversity?

    >A woman might choose to read formula >fiction, but she’s being lazy, if not >fetishistic.

    I’m glad to know you’re so confident in judging people’s personal characteristics based on their tastes in reading material. Are you capable of making arguments that aren’t ad hominem attacks?

    >A story that isn’t formula fiction and >doesn’t rely on stereotypes will have >intellectual elements and tend to be non->sexist.

    Not necessarily. Just like not all formula fiction is inherently anti-intellectual and sexist. In fact, compared to other types of action-oriented genre entertainment in film, television, and video games, superhero comics are far and away ahead in terms of their portrayal of strong, confident, brave, and powerful female characters – all of which bely the stereotype of women as passive, weak, and dependent on men.

  68. who ate a rat? says:

    Um. Can some one provide me with examples of the comics that are being described? I’m not a current reader but interested in the whole ‘censorship’/’the more things change, the more they stay the same’/ and whether DC is turning EC (as in Seduction of the 45 year old innocents)

  69. hikaru go says:

    “This internet blog communication thing is working wonders despite its tendency to generate occasional incivilities. It lets us communicate across generations and different tastes and presumptions quickly and easily and I believe this is the basis for bringing a wider variety of comics to a larger and more diverse audience. At the end of the day, that seems to be what we’re talking about here.”

    I wish I can share your optimism, Mr. Reid. That isn’t a knock at you and I commend your forward thinking. At this time among internet comic book circles, I find that there is an almost Comics Godwin’s Law where every discussion about comic books eventually always reverts back to 3 tiresome debates which tend to fall under one giant umbrella debate:
    1) Sales Numbers (and how do we get more non-comics readers into comics)
    2) Digital vs. Print (and its bastard child– the piracy debate)
    3) The Superhero genre vs. all other comics (this is usually where the creator owned rights debates come to take shape).

    It’s not that these are bad debates. They constantly pop up because they are relevant and problems that need discussion and think tanks to resolve. It’s unfortunate however, for how many time these debates come up that it’s rare that people have something new to say. Darwin Cooke hasn’t said anything different than tons of other professional types (but I praise him for putting his money where his mouth is). These debates are so broad that it’s easy to overlook an individual’s statements to say say anything on the subject. The internet is just too damn big to stay focused and everyone (myself included) has their own opinions that don’t always benefit the discussion.

  70. hikaru go says:

    The rat eating thing was in Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s “All Star Batman and Robin” and well as a couple other things Cooke mentioned. This book seemed to be Cooke’s prime target of his diatribe.

  71. Synsidar says:

    Not necessarily. Just like not all formula fiction is inherently anti-intellectual and sexist.

    The repetition in formula fiction is what makes it “anti-intellectual.”

    Drawing superheroines as pin-ups wearing body paint tends to diminish their other qualities.

    Many mysteries are written by women and read by men and women alike. That might be because the intellectual efforts involved in solving a mystery are non-sexual, and the female lead doesn’t need to conform to a stereotype. She can be as much of an individual as the writer cares to make her.

    SRS

  72. “Having the stomach to handle prurient atrocities should not be a necessary skill for reading superheroes aimed at a post-grade school audience.”

    Well said. Love it. I’d would say Alan Moore ruined the genre, but someone else would have come along and done it anyway.

  73. thanks for the reference to All Star B and D (I mean R)

  74. You know, ASBaR is pretty violent, but it is also the.work of a comics auteur. Heck, I’d say the entire point of the comic and that continuity of Batman is a big eff you to Wertham. I’m much.more.annoyed.that.a rape served as a.lynch point into TWO major DC Events. Now that’s overkill, to use mild terms.

  75. Joe Gualtieri says:

    “Can you honestly tell me that Shakespeare was writing so that he could ‘entertain the least intelligent people in the readership?’”

    Replace “readership” with audience, and yes, Shakespeare did write for the groundlings (there are lines directed at him) and he mainly worked at the Globe theater, not at the more exclusive indoor theaters such as the Blackfriars.

    Oh, and he wrote plays, which were not considered high art in Shakespeare’s time. Ben Johnson was regarded as something of a pretentious twit for having his plays collected in a folio edition (read: deluxe hardcover). In Shakespeare lifetime, his plays were only ever printed in quarto form (read: single issue floppy), and even those were usually bootlegs.

  76. Joe Gualtieri says:

    “I was counting them as pre-existing Charlton characters, which I didn’t know until a year after the first time I read the book.”

    They were all revamped quite a bit for Watchmen. Knowing their Charlton stories really won’t tell you anything else about them.

    “As to All-Star Superman: all I know is that I felt very lost reading it.”

    That’s a damn shame.

  77. Comicartwrangler says:

    @Kate, thanks for the wonderful column. I collect original art. I have a lot of it. I run a discussion list with over 3000 members who do the same. And I don’t buy comics any more. Granted I’ll get a graphic novel, or a collection if someone recommends it. But I’ve gone cold turkey on regular comics for about 8 years. For me it was largely about keeping up with storylines. Having to find every issue of a series to make heads or tails over what was happening became a real drag, and the $$ involved stopped being worth the 5-10 minutes to read the latest chapter. That is, if the creators could keep on the schedule. As a parent though, I don’t even think of letting my kids get comics off the rack. I stick with bronze and earlier tpbs etc. I don’t want them exposed to R rated material, (they’re all under 10), and frankly I can’t guarantee that with what comes out on the rack. I’d love to be able to get them subscriptions to Superman, Batman, the FF etc, but frankly I don’t know if I trust the publishers not to put some ‘new hot edgy’ writer on and engage in the kind of thing you’re talking about. Why can’t we let the ‘edgy’ guys write their own characters in an ‘edgy’ universe under another imprint and keep, as some on this thread have suggested, an all age appropriate storyline for the mainline titles? To those that say you can’t do both, look at Star Wars. I can put that movie on and not worry that my kids are going to be talking like sailors, or having nightmares after watching it. If one of the most successful movies ever can do that, any writer who says he can’t is lazy.

  78. RJM:

    I have a different memory of the Wolverine/Savage Land incident than you, as I think fans in the 80s did quite a bit of debate about Whether Wolvie Should Killed the Savage Land guard. I’ll bet some of the moral ambivalence was preserved in the Byrne interviews of the time.

  79. Jon_in_Austin says:

    What a great post.

    Echoing what @comicartwrangler said: I’m 40 and have 2 kids, ages 8 (boy) and 5 (girl). There is so little comics material I feel comfortable encouraging them to read. I don’t even like taking them into the comics store because of all “mature” stuff dripping off the covers and interiors of “mainstream” comics. As a parent and longtime comics reader, I very much want “mainstream” to be something that I can share with my kids.

    There’s a tremendous difference in art and story between the mainstream JLA of today (rape, all the other examples listed in the above posts), and the JLA comics of the 1970s (let’s fight off Starro to save the universe!). While I want content to reflect the sensibilities of the 21st century, I also want some kind of editorial compass that can help separate “inspiring” from “edgy.”

    Was that “bladder spasm” panel real?

  80. No, Calvin, I wasn’t being glib. Some comic artists actually trace porn.

    (All pictures are PG-13 rated, FYI. Because they look like… obvious porn traces but they have clothes put on)

    http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2007/03/superhero_pornf.html

    http://kungfurodeo.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/12/land_porn.jpg

    http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=134443&page=8

    http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=134443&page=4

  81. Jon and other comics parents:

    there is a lot of material for younger readers, much of it from mainstream publishers like Scholastic and Lerner. And don’t forget Toon Books.

    Ideally, a parent should feel no more worried about taking a child into a comic store than they would going into a book store.

  82. Yes, the Batman bladder spasm panel is real, from the latest Kevin Smith Batman mini, Widening Gyre #6.

    In it, Kevin Smith revealed that Batman peed his pants during a classic moment in Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. He also reveals in the same series that Silver St Cloud’s nickname for Batman was DD: because they had sex so many times, it went into the Double Digits.

    Or something like that.

    It’s being labeled as one of the worst Batman stories ever written.

    For reasons like that and others mentioned above, I’m with Katy, ComicArtWrangler (whose original comic art list I am a proud member of).

    And where I disagree with Cooke about the industry catering to the perverted needs of 45 year old men, because if he was talking about the readers, most over 40 year old readers are turned off by the rape, extreme violence, etc.

    The only catering being done is to the over 40 year old EICs and editorial staff who are polluting the form with unnecessary, tasteless trash.

    Great article!

  83. Calvin Reid says:

    Just to highlight The Beat’s remarks: there is really a tremendous increase in material aimed at younger (grammar school age) to pre-teens and teens. Even the superhero publishers are trying rope off some of their brands for pure kid-fare.

    Heidi mentioned Scholastic, Lerner Graphic Universe, First Second, Disney/Hyperion, S&S Kids publishing the list goes on. Archaia has some great stuff, Capstone, Udon, VizKids and Tokyopo all offer age appropriate, high quality comics for kids and teens.

    Now whether your local direct market comics shop is seeking these comics out and offering them for sale is another question. I’ll bet your local chain bookstore has them.

  84. Kate said:

    “More than one comics professional has expressed the idea that all superhero comics are fueled almost entirely by nostalgia, and I have to say, I think that’s a very dangerous position to take.”

    That depends on how you define nostalgia.

    There’s one species of nostalgia, most widely associated with Roy Thomas, in which the author endeavors to treat everything in a character’s history as one giant tapestry. In this tapestry such trivia as why Namor the Sub-Mariner switched from green trunks to black ones is seen as a worthy subject for a story. I suspect this is the sort of nostalgia Kate would see as a dead-end, even more than a story bringing back Barry Allen.

    However, there can also be nostalgia for a type of storytelling, and I think Morrison’s ALL-STAR SUPERMAN does not force one to know about Weisinger-era Superman in order to get into the “sense of wonder” Morrison tries to put forth. I don’t think a first reading of ASS needs anything beyond a few crumbs of continuity, like knowing about the long rivalry of Luthor and Superman.

    I think Johns is a guy who has to some extent milked that type of nostalgia– for, say, the Paul Levitz JUSTICE SOCIETY– though he continually hedges his bets by inserting gratutious violence. Hmm, can one wax nostaglic about one’s first encounter with ultraviolence and superheroic rape? Food for an essay there.

  85. “Ideally, a parent should feel no more worried about taking a child into a comic store than they would going into a book store.”

    But since we’re dealing with a visual medium the best solution for having a variety of age-targettings would probably be one of compartmentalization, as I’m told the Japanese have been doing for some time.

  86. Wraith says:

    The industry does not cater to the perverted needs of 45 year olds, it caters to the perverted needs of 18 to 55 year olds.

  87. Jon_in_Austin says:

    Calvin, The Beat – My local store does a great job of stocking kid-friendly stuff. I buy them Batman B&B, the occasional Archie, and they both loved Super Friends. They might like Boom comics too. Thanks for the other suggestions; I will check them out.

    Speaking from the point of view of a DC fan primarily, there doesn’t seem to be a “graduation path” in the mainstream from kids comics – to read Batman, you either get cartoony Batman (which my 8 year old son will quickly outgrow, just like I outgrew Spidey Super Stories) or pants-wetting Goddamn Batman. A middle ground would be a great thing.

    And on the subject of “Ideally, a parent should feel no more worried about taking a child into a comic store than they would going into a book store.” What a great feeling that would be…Try walking with a 5-year-old girl through a comic shop and see her ask about the covers featuring Goth Mary Marvel and other super-heroines in unusual or proportion-breaking extremes. This has happened, and it’s embarrassing.

    I’m sounding like a really old conservative fart, but I’m really not – now that I have kids of reading age, I want to introduce the best of this hobby to them to see if it’s for them, to see if they’ll get as hooked as I did. The industry does not make it easy for me!

  88. Calvin Reid says:

    Jon in Austin mnakes a great point and I’d like to add that while I can’t give you a number, there are comics shops that are determined to transform the unfortunate stereotype of comics shops as dark-icky-boy-caves to something else entirely. I don’t want to list names because I’ll leave mnost of them out but there are great comics shops that offer a well organized approprioate reatil environment and market and promote comics to all readers. We just need a lot more of them. And did I leave out of Archie comics? How could I leave out Archie Comics?

  89. Jeff Albertson says:

    Wait a minute: TWO DC events had a rape as a linchpin? I know about Identity Crisis by Brad Melzer, but what was the second?

  90. I would suggest the Showcase volumes of Batman (and other characters) as the “missing link” between Johnny DC and the current DCU.

    Each volume contains about 25 issues/550 pages of comics in an affordable paperback edition. Almost everything reprinted so far was approved by the Comics Code Authority, and the newest volumes are from the mid-1980s.

    I’ll second Calvin’s observation:
    kids comics are the new manga. Educators and librarians (many of them fans) have embraced the medium as an excellent way to get reluctant readers hooked on reading. Almost every mainstream publisher of children’s books now offers graphic novels.

    If you want a good website for suggestions, visit:
    http://www.diamondbookshelf.com/public/
    or peruse:
    http://www.diamondbookdistributors.com/downloads/dbd_2010FallKidsCatalog.pdf

    Of course, as a dutiful parent, you will need to read each graphic novel to make sure it is suitable for your child… “I’m sorry son, you’ll have to wait until I’m finished reading it.”

  91. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew.

  92. So why did Cooke say “perverted 45 year old men” anyway? I always got the impression that it was the 20 and 30 somethings buying the very stuff that they complain about.

  93. Synsidar says:

    One more comment on a “hard” approach to superhero plot material.

    For a systematic treatment of reality alteration, suppose that there are only two types of causes: psionic energy amplifiers, such as the Cosmic Cube, and universe-wide spells, whether the magical energy is obtained from a deity or from a talisman.

    Either of those causes results in natural resistance to alterations. Energy beings, artificial intelligences, and, optionally, powerful telepaths would resist psionic transformations; energy beings and avatars would resist spells (AIs and technology generally could be rendered nonfunctional by the spell).

    Naturally occurring resistance provides the basis for a battle over the nature of reality, instead of the writer being forced to have the heroes take the villain’s power source away or have the villain do himself in. A resistance group could use numbers to enable themselves to use a smaller amplifier to battle a single entity with a powerful amplifier, or they could undo an alteration in steps and isolate the would-be ruler in a pocket universe.

    Countering a magic-based transformation would require some assistance from a deity. That assistance might have a price, and a battle could result in a universe split between opposing groups of worshipers.

    A logical approach to reality alteration is difficult, of course, in the absence of a reasonable cause.

    SRS

  94. Jeff Albertson says:

    @ Tom Spurgeon: You bastard. Do you have any idea what Diet Coke spurting through one’s nose feels like?

    Well played.

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