I’ve loved comic books for almost as long I’ve loved sunny weekends, my mom, and fried chicken. I started with kids’ comics like Richie Rich and Casper, then quickly graduated to the Justice League, X-Men, All-Star Squadron, and Dr. Strange. That led to a love of the 80s British Invasion titles like Watchmen and Doom Patrol, interest in the alt comix scene, and close interest in both the gritty comics of the 90s and the resurgence of cheeky, fun titles in the past decade. So here I am, a 40-something reader of comics. I have a love of sequential art, pretty good knowledge of mainstream comics history, a sound education, carefully crafted tastes. And I am part of the problem with comics.
Think for a moment about Batman’s origin story. A young Bruce Wayne leaves the movie theater with his parents after a great night out–The Mark of Zorro was playing. They’re confronted by a thug who shoots Ma and Pa Wayne in a robbery gone wrong. (Sometimes he’s unnamed, sometimes he’s connected to the Joker, sometimes he’s a career criminal named Joe Chill.) Bruce devotes his time to perfecting his body and mind, his fortune to building an amazing secret headquarters, his very life to fighting the city’s criminals. He’s got Alfred, the Batmobile, Robin and/or Batgirl, Commissioner Gordon. Longtime comics readers: how many memories do these bring back? How many stories from Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Denny O’Neill, Doug Moench, Bob Kane and Bill Finger? Batman has moved on to success in several TV series, movies, toys, and games. He’s affected popular culture in general–we would look askance at a modern American who couldn’t identify Batman or Joker from a picture.
Now name a comic character created within the last 25 years that’s crossed over into mainstream success. 25 years is several lifetimes for popular culture, yet we’re still flocking to stories about Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Captain America, the X-Men–all characters created before most of you reading this were born. It’s not like those original stories were brilliant–Golden Age comics were unsophisticated and often crudely drawn, for all their fun. Silver Age stories from the 60s are hardly better–the characters only have more depth compared to the one-note heroes of the 1940s. But people have done brilliant things with those stories: “The Killing Joke, Doom Patrol, Kingdom Come, the Chris Claremont-John Byrne run on X-Men. Inspired by the wide-eyed stories of their youth, first-rate writers and artists created those, inspiring yet another generation to love those same characters.
We’re caught in a loop: we’ve built up Logan and Janet Van Dyne and Green Lantern and Dinah Drake into mythical figures, retelling their best stories in different interations. As veteran comics fans we need to be more adventurous, more willing to embrace new titles like Astro City and more willing to accept the change or demise of classic characters. Many of us will be around for 2039; do we really want the ridiculous scene of yet another Batman origin story a full century after the first one?