How to Make Superhero Comics Interesting Again

While listening to the hilarious 4thletter Fourcast! podcast talking about Namor, Aquaman, and the Atlanteans — seriously, you should check it out, Aquaman’s various origin stories are demented — I found myself realizing what I wanted from Marvel and DC.

I want superhero comics that do “ripped from the headlines” stories. I want to see Aquaman respond to the environmental disaster of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. I want to see Daredevil try and track down the Times Square car bomber. I want Green Arrow, fed up with transportation costs, hunting oil profiteers (or maybe Batman, since he’s got more vehicles). I want every superhero in New York to avenge themselves on fat-cat Wall Street criminals.

This is what made Superman the success he was, and spawned the entire genre: he was an outlet for the little guy frustrated with bigwigs and sprawling events that felt out of control. Superman would bring justice where it seemed no one else could. That describes the feelings of readers today as much as in the 1930s.

I know that there are two huge problems with this idea. One, big comic companies are fraidy cats, scared that they will annoy potential customers, so they don’t want to take a stand on anything or have their heroes seen representing one particular point of view. Which is why so many of them are bland and interchangeable.

But if they took this approach of finding drama in real life, both their characters and creators would find new passion, and the titles might even get free publicity. People would be talking about them in terms other than “a humongous but boring all-title crossover AGAIN?” They’d spur interest and emotional involvement.

The second problem is timeliness. It takes time to write, draw, and publish a comic, so characters would be tackling challenges after they’d fallen out of the newspapers. But Law & Order manages to handle this problem by fictionalizing events (something you’d want to do anyway) — when we see the story on TV, we remember reading the headlines, and then we stay tuned to see what spin they’ve put on them.

Plus, as digital comics grow, the publication delay diminishes. Creators would still need time to create the work, but it could be released online almost immediately, and with the whole story collected into print (with cool extras comparing how the story went to the real-life events) later.

This, by the way, was one of the things I enjoyed about The Hacker Files. (I liked that title so much it was one of my very first online reviews, back in 1992.) The cases in that comic miniseries were based on actual investigations, often badly mangled by the feds. And you know, geeky old me has to adore that the letter column (remember those?) was called “usr/hacker/mail”.


42 Responses to “How to Make Superhero Comics Interesting Again”

  1. david brothers Says:

    Thanks for the compliment! That was a fun one to do.

    I tend to agree with you as far as superheroes getting involved in real world issues goes, but I think we’d also need an upgrade in general quality across the board. Like the current big DC story, the Rise and Fall of Arsenal, could be a heartbreaking look at loss in a superheroic setting… but instead it’s just kind of boring and poorly written and overwrought in execution. Lots of people shouting “NOOO!”, lots of hallucinations, and lots people with robot arms. Bleah. This was a fun look at it, complete with images.

    Matt Fraction’s Iron Man could easily lean in this direction. The new issue set up Tony Stark vs The Military Industrial Complex, but that is barely even a “real world issue” at this point. They’re so cartoonish that they’re divorced from the real life war profiteers.

    I think Joe Casey’s Wildcats 3.0 direction was neat, with a former superhero attempting to bring high tech equipment to the masses, whether the White House wants him to or not. I’d love to see more done with that.

  2. SMKNL Says:

    You should check out Brubaker’s Captain America, especially the current arc “Two America’s.” It has Bucky Cap taking on a home grown Militia lead by the 50’s replacement Cap. You probably heard about the group arrested in Michigan, and recent reports have shown that these violent extremist groups are on the rise in the U.S.

  3. Nick Marino Says:

    okay, first off Aquaman may be convoluted… but he’s awesome! i especially enjoyed the Rick Veitch-Will Pfeifer-John Arcudi run of issues from a few years back. it wasn’t perfect, but it did a good job of reconciling a lot of crazy backstory. Peter David’s stuff also did the same (and was even awesomer, one could say).

    but i came here to basically say the same thing as SMKNL, which is that Bru’s done a decent job of “real” superheroics on Cap. most of the big bads are still supervillains, but the stories are rooted in real issues that often have very real obstacles for the heroes to overcome.

    Marvel hasn’t shied away from doing “real” superheroics in the past. the recent War Machine series dealt with some parallels to modern war profiteering among many other things. Soldier X was the X-Men line’s attempt to insert Cable into real-world conflicts. even the original War Machine series started off as a book that attempted to tackle problems that were allegories to real international conflicts.

    the reason why i think that your desired direction of superheroics is somewhat rare nowadays is because it requires a lot of assumptions. who knows what the deal was behind the Time Square bombings? and who do you entrust to let their imagination run wild and tell that story? one writer could plop out something about it being perpetrated as a US gov’t conspiracy, while another writer could assume that it was the handiwork of an Islamic extremist group.

    who are acceptable enemies for real-world allegories in superhero comics? even Bru’s had this problem when he made a Tea Party-esque group in a recent issue of Cap, and party members caught onto the story. they were infuriated because Bru portrayed many members as racist. what if a group you aligned yourself with was the villain of some comic and you found the depiction of said group to be deplorable? would you still want more stories like that?

    i think the difficult part is in restraining stories that deal with real issues from being too preachy AND from making assumptions about large groups of people. henceforth the easier solution for character with corporate backing and licensing concerns — use supervillains.

  4. Jer Says:

    Do. Not. Want.

    Seriously, I couldn’t disagree with you more.

    Not that it isn’t a good idea – it’s a great idea, actually – but the current crop of writers cannot handle it. At all. It would be awful people doing awful things to other awful people and it would just. not. be. fun.

    As evidence, I submit Mark Millar’s Ultimates 2. Ripped from the headlines story (what could be more timely than the US invasion of the Middle East and its repercussions, even if it’s done by way of superheroes) where awful people do awful things to other awful people.

    Granted, you might say “but Jer, that’s just Mark Millar – the entirety of his output these days can be summed up as ‘awful people doing awful things to other awful people'” and you’d have a point. But do you think Bendis could do better? Or Johns? Or Winick? Or Rucka? I have no faith that any of them could handle it without it turning shocking for the sake of being shocking. And they’d excuse it as “realism” since it would be “ripped from the headlines” and superheroes dealing with “real world issues”.

    I’m all about the idea of putting more fantasy into comics. Unless I’m mistaken that’s what I read your idea as – more fantasy in our comics. Aquaman cleans up the oil spill and makes sure the executives that caused it are brought to justice. Daredevil find the guy who was planting a bomb and brings him to justice. Batman brings the law down on a giant Wall Street banker. All fantasy – just like when Superman kidnapped the mine owner and trapped him in his own unsafe mine in one of his early appearances. I’m all about stuff like that – but that isn’t what the guys who write the stuff today would do. They’d take that idea and make it “realistic” and “dark” and “true to life” and generally write it like the stories I wrote when I was a depressed teenager.

  5. Johanna Says:

    David: Yes, I may be putting the cart before the horse, but I thought this was an interesting hook to ask for a different approach to what appears to be, in many way, a played-out genre. You’re right, of course, that ultimately it’s about quality.

    SMKNL: That’s the story mentioned in the “annoy” link above. And it’s kind of the opposite of what I want, with a company running away from the real world as soon as anyone notices there might be similarities. But obviously, I need to read the story, so thank you!

    Nick: That podcast made me realize the awesomeness of Aquaman. Does he have a new series coming soon? Because I want to read one.

    Interesting that so many of the already existing examples people are bringing up relate to war, since what I was thinking about were other kinds of heroics.

    And yeah, I did think about someone going in an “opposite” direction from what I thought was just, but I’d still rather see that than the blandness we have now. (Although in the cases I cited, I’m not sure how someone would justify a car bombing or the oil spill as good or valid.) You’re right that it would be harder than much of what we have.

  6. Johanna Says:

    Jer, that’s an excellent point that I hadn’t thought of. It would require a different approach to writing superhero comics than we have today. For example, while checking out Hacker Files links for that last paragraph, I discovered writer Lewis Shiner talking about how much research he did to try and get the background right. And in an industry that rewards quantity over quality, I’m not sure anyone could do it right and still make a living. But I can dream. :)

    You’re also right that I am asking for fantasy. That’s what I like about superheroes — the fantasy that someone strong and brave and true will make the world a better place, a place where injustice is punished and wrongs righted. And that’s not what the companies or creators seem to be interested in turning out now.

  7. James Schee Says:

    Its not a bad idea, but as you said would never happen because the profitable characters are too much corporate shills now.

    Turnaround time is interesting, I know many comics are supposed to be done months ahead of time. Though I’ve heard from some people in the industry that getting the book in for proofing two weeks before print makes you a hero these days.

    It amazes me how a show like South Park, even with poor quality animation, can get such quick turnaround on hot stories though. I’ve seen them lampoon stuff within weeks of it first coming to light.

  8. lynn Says:

    I would read Aquaman if Kate Beaton took it over: http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=260

  9. Andrew R Says:

    I think that stories that have an element of real world experience can work and work well. There are many examples of books that do this well: Civil War, Captain America, and Ultimates (as a whole not just Ultimates 2 which would have been too much without the background from the previous volume).

    The problem is that the books would end up being a reminder of our own impotence because we are unable to solve the real problems of our world with a wave of our hands.

    You use Law and Order as an example of headlines-into-storylines, but it fails as an example because the show uses real world solutions to the problems. In fact, probably the same solutions that they used in real life. Translating their success on Law and Order to the comic book world could be dangerous.

    Think about how closely Ex Machina comes to shitting on the victims and heroes of 9/11, but doesn’t because of stellar writing. Not all writers have that skill.

  10. Caanan Says:

    I completely agree with this. I’ve been saying it in various places over the net for a while now, since I started losing all interest in the superhero books, but the more you think about it, the harder it would become to maintain, and the more you would eventually lose your parallels to our reality.

    Superhuman solutions to real problems would change the world as we know it. Each time something was tackled, the comic world it takes place in would become less and less like our own.

    Invincible did a great thing where Atom Eve went off to use her molecular restructuring powers in Africa, to help build wells, and dams, etc. It wasn’t touched on nearly enough, but it was a neat idea while it lasted.

    If it HAD lasted, the repercussions from such a gesture could be disastrous and lead to a whole new series, let alone taking up room in Invincible, but would it be interesting? I guess, but the real world repercussions could be: violent reactions from strongarmed militia who can no longer control through withholding. She may inadvertently cause weather problems elsewhere by disrupting the delicate balance of nature. The general public will no longer give to certain charities because they see a superhero on the news doing everything for them. Maybe she didn’t know to get all her vaccinations before she went and brings back some crazy pandemic to the States and gets into a heck of a lot of trouble. And so on…

    You don’t even have to be controversial about it. Some superheroes could spend their spare time flying down and grabbing polar bears for repopulation programs. Heroes that can go into space would work alongside NASA to alleviate budgetary constraints. Heroes who can HEAL people, work at a HOSPITAL, for cryin’ out loud! Superman, go hang out in an ER and free x-ray people for a while, please. Heck, a superhero would have found Bin Laden like that. *snap* Like THAT! ;o)

    I suppose that all sounds boring, but it COULD be interesting. :oD

  11. Gene Ha Says:

    This argument seems to advocate for webcomics and South Park. We’re in a faster paced era than 1939, where issues get discussed and dropped in hours, not weeks. We want our editorial cartoons overnight from Mark Fiore, not 4 months later from the Batman line.

    Modern villains deserve satire, not serious minded punches to the face. Do we really need Bruce Wayne to slip on the cowl and punch BP’s president or Tiger Woods in the face? Will that really make anyone cheer or laugh? Is that worth 22 pages of story?

    I think what you’re saying could be done, but as a webcomic or quickie cheap animation, with a humorous tone. Superheroes like the fake reporters on the Daily Show.

  12. Johanna Says:

    Caanan, I don’t think the world in superhero comics looks at all like ours anyway, so the “it’ll be harder to identify with” argument fails for me. I don’t want “realism” in superheroes; I want escapist fantasy with a sense of justice. I want them to get back to their roots, in other words. Andrew thinks it would remind us we can’t solve these problems easily; I know that already, I want something with a sense of hope that something *could* be done about these problems, even if it’s totally unrealistic.

  13. Thom Says:

    I am now picturing a storyline where Aquaman uses his resources to clean up a BP-like oil spill, and afterwards demands that the surface world gets the heck out of his seas. We’ve pushed our luck and his generosity. He does not desire conflict, and goes about trying to non-violently as possible get people out of the water.

  14. Caanan Says:

    If the superhero world looks nothing like ours, surely the headlines would be different too, so how can you call for ‘ripped from the headlines’ stories?

    And… you ‘don’t want realism in your superheroes’, but you want stories ‘ripped from the headlines’?

    *perplexed* :o|

    I wasn’t making an ‘argument’, I was agreeing with you. Of course you want realism in your comics. That’s what your whole post was about! What does ‘ripped from the headlines’ mean to you, exactly?

    To me, what you seem to be saying you want now, is writer’s to base their stories off of real life, but to research no further than the ‘headlines’. Is that right? That would make comics more interesting? Sounds like that would just make comics more half-assed.

    If a writer is going to commit to handling ‘drama in real life’ (your words), then commit!

    (Please note, this is all in a fun tone. I like this post and think it’s worth talking about! But your reply to me seems deliberately combative, or dismissive. I don’t know why the ‘harder to identify with’ argument fails for you since, to me, it appears you started out on the ‘for’ side. Explain yourself! :o)

  15. Johanna Says:

    I think you’re understanding more than you think: Yes, I want real-life headlines as a jumping-off point for superheroic fantasy. What’s commonly called realism in superhero comics boils down to heroes being grumpy, angsty, and overly violent, none of which I like. I don’t want any of that. I want escapist stories about how heroes can make a difference and be inspirations by helping in time of crisis and fighting for justice. These ideals seem to have been left behind as today’s writers try to make their heroes more “adult” (which seems to be code for mopey and boring). I guess, to sum up, I want “realism” as event starting points, not emotional trauma.

    (And yes, I’m enjoying the discussion too.)

  16. Caanan Says:

    Ouch. I’d hate to think ‘realism’ equates to being grumpy, angsty and overly violent. I mean, I live a real life and there’s none of that going on here. Life here is bright, sunny and optimistic!

    I do get what you mean though. I guess I just call it something different. I hate the term, but ‘emo’ seems to fit nicely.

    I mentioned Invincible before, and I will again, because it seems the more the series has progressed, the less bright and hopeful it’s been. The stakes are getting higher and higher, and the violence and blood levels have gone insane.

    Maybe writers are mistaking escalation for progression? Like a movie sequel, it’s got to be bigger! faster! bolder! with three more villains! Ak! How about taking the story in a ‘different’ direction, gang? And ‘different’ doesn’t have to mean ‘worse’. In fact, it most definitely shouldn’t mean ‘worse’. ;o)

  17. Mike Joffe Says:

    I usually completely agree with you on super hero comics, but this is one case I at least slightly disagree. I don’t want to see Superheroes tackle real life stories ripped from the headlines for two reasons.

    One, it dates the stories a great deal, especially is they do the story poorly or get some facts wrong (like Law and Order-style shows tend to do so often). Two, it can be a bit…. I’m not sure what word to use, something combining demeaning and depressing. Like those terrible PSAs from the 90s where the X-Men fight hunger in Africa by fighting an evil demon named Hunger or Hate or something. Real problems can’t be solved by silly people in tights punching each other. Its one thing to address real world problems, its another to patronizingly “solve” them in a comic book. World hunger, terrorism, government oppression, racism, etc as concepts still exist no matter who Superman punches and that kind of ruins the fun in my opinion. For another example, its like in Captain Planet when they went back in time and fought Hitler. That’s why no one liked Captain Planet.

    Actually, wait, one more example! Its like in Morisson’s JLA run when the White Martians pretended to be new proactive super heroes who rebuild rainforests and kill criminals but in the end its a ruse and Superman reminds the world that its up to EVERYONE to fix the big problems not a handful of gods in tights. We have to let super heroes inspire us to greatness, not use them to escape from responsibility. I’m not accusing you of this, but we already have way too many people in the world who use escapism as a means of maintaining apathy or sheltered opinions.

    What I’d like to see is super heroes tackle themes ripped from the headlines rather than specific stories. I think the better comic writers already do this (or did at least). The majority of writers use outdated or alienating themes and stories because they try too hard to tell the same stories over and over again. While if you have Superman get involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it doesn’t solve anything or give the sense that we can solve anything, if you do a story that incorporates the themes and issues raised by the conflict and ends on a hopeful note, then maybe smarter readers will pick things up and affect change when they get older. Does Aquaman have to tackle this specific Gulf Coast crisis or could he tackle a fictional oil spill and take the fictional oil drilling to task? That way we still get our justice porn without dating the comic or reminding us how powerless our fantasies really are.

    Vaguer news stories can be an ok basis for comics though. When I first got into super hero comics I loved the preachy but fun Green Arrow and Animal Man comics of the 80s and they were full of “based on ripped from the headlines” type stories. My favorite super hero is Silver Surfer and I’d say nearly everything he’s been in has been some kind of parable or metaphor.

  18. Scott Says:

    I’m of two minds on this…

    I read comics to escape from the headlines, not continue to be chased by them.

    On the other hand, one of my favorite comic stories is the Englehart’s “Secret Empire” arc in Captain America which was clearly inspired by Watergate.

    So, I guess I do want relevancy to current events… just done with a little more intelligence, subtlety, and timelessness.

  19. James Schee Says:

    On the reverse side just thinking about it, comics trying to be relevant to today
    s topics or trends. Can wind up being like DC’s Decisions miniseries by Winnick and Willingham.

    Or the laugh out reaction I had to a Wolverine Diary book, done in the same style and format as Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

  20. Chris G. Says:

    The biggest obstacle to this idea (which I think is a great one) is that it would require superhero comics to be written by people who are interested in and aware of things other than superhero comics.

  21. Vincent S. Moore Says:

    Johanna, I couldn’t agree with you more. There’s so much fun in reading golden age Superman stories where he is strongarming fat cats and war profiteers and even bringing Hitler to the World Court for justtice. Superhero fiction is fantasy. All the angst and what not is what is killing the superhero genre. Angst isn’t realism, dealing with topics ripped from the headlines is.
    Keep up the good work.
    Namaste.

  22. Cole Moore Odell Says:

    Oddly, I was thinking about this just this morning as it pertains to Superman in particular. While there are any number of reasons why DC/Warner would never allow it, what a breath of fresh air it could be to let Superman be what he was at the start–a populist wish fulfillment fantasy against the corrupt ruling classes, smacking around crooked authority figures with a smile and utter disregard for the consequences. At least then the character had an actual point–rather than existing mostly to reaffirm how awesome he is, (no, really, hey come back here, I’m not finished telling you what an important, ennobling icon I am) while keeping a valuable trademark active.

    Joe Casey did an arc in Adventures of Superman years ago exploring how the original conception of the character could never work today, but of course it could–it’s just that DC would never publish it.

  23. Cole Moore Odell Says:

    At least we got this fantastic cover out of that Casey story:

    http://www.comics.org/issue/129796/cover/4/?style=default

  24. Johanna Says:

    Caanan, there are better terms than “realism”, I agree, but that seems to have become the word in use. And yeah, I think you’re right about the “always bigger” demands on them.

    Mike, you have great points about the downsides. My proposal was just a brainstorm, and I’m sure there would be issues to face in actually implementing it. I’m not looking for actual solutions in the stories, but inspiration and getting people to think about the issues with hope, even if it’s totally fantasy hope. And yeah, I’d be ok with a similar-but-different major oil spill; that would probably be easier to handle while still addressing my desires.

    Scott, I think all comics would be improved with more intelligence and subtlety.

    Chris G., cheap shot, but funny.

    Cole, I’d forgotten about that, good reminder, thanks.

  25. Jim Perreault Says:

    Personally, I think going after the fat cats on Wall Street would be tailor made for a Green Hornet updating. Those are exactly the kinds of criminals that he went after in his original stories.

    I’m not sure what would be the modern day equivalent of his alter-ego ; probably a Ted Turner style media mogul.

    But overall, I think this general approach can be done with some characters, but I don’t think an entire line could be sustained by it.

  26. Johanna Says:

    Oh, no, I wouldn’t want an entire line — the idea that all the books a publisher puts out have to share an approach is one of the things I DISlike about today’s market. Different titles with different appeal makes for a healthier company and a wider customer base.

  27. Hsifeng Says:

    Johanna Says:

    “I want superhero comics that do ‘ripped from the headlines’ stories. I want to see Aquaman respond to the environmental disaster of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. I want to see Daredevil try and track down the Times Square car bomber. I want Green Arrow, fed up with transportation costs, hunting oil profiteers (or maybe Batman, since he’s got more vehicles). I want every superhero in New York to avenge themselves on fat-cat Wall Street criminals…”

    Cool, but a feasibility problem could be how these stories work as backstories further down the line. Outside superhero comics, I’ve noticed most have one of two primary kinds of serial story format:

    #1) Standalone storylines that stay internally consistent and mostly linear instead of crossing over with other storylines, rebooting, being part of “one big story” with other series, and/or whatever. For Better or for Worse has no more than 1 origin for April Patterson, Kyra Davis’s mystery series doesn’t have any characters visiting from Jennifer Sturman’s mystery series and vice versa, etc.

    Of course, it’s too late to do this with anything involving Aquaman, Daredevil, the Green Arrow, Batman, and/or whomever.

    However, this could work for a new (again, new as in not a spinoff, not sharing a milieu with any of DC’s existing series, not even a cameo role for Spider-Man or whomever else Marvel already has, etc.) superhero storyline. Even if a new fan might want to start at the beginning and catch up in order to see how plot twists ripped from previous headlines affect the main characters and their approach to the plot ripped from the latest-as-of-the-deadline headlines, it wouldn’t be as awkward for him or her to find and keep track of. For example, there wouldn’t be more than one issue #1 that a fan would need to read in order to get all the available backstory of all the characters.

    Canaan summed up how this would still have drawbacks:

    Canaan Says:

    “I completely agree with this. I’ve been saying it in various places over the net for a while now, since I started losing all interest in the superhero books, but the more you think about it, the harder it would become to maintain, and the more you would eventually lose your parallels to our reality.

    “Superhuman solutions to real problems would change the world as we know it. Each time something was tackled, the comic world it takes place in would become less and less like our own…”

    #2) Standalone episodes that don’t depend on or even refer to previous ones. Lisa Simpson is always 8 and her sister is always a baby in The Simpsons, Paige Fox is always 14 and her younger brother is always a fan of the latest SF/fantasy franchise instead of preferring any older one in Fox Trot, etc. No retcons required. ;)

    Now this could actually work even better for the “ripped from the headlines” storytelling you’d like to see. Of course, it’s still too late to do this with anything involving Aquaman, Daredevil, the Green Arrow, Batman, and/or whomever.

    Meanwhile, if a new (again, new as in not a spinoff, not sharing a milieu with any of DC’s existing series, not even a cameo role for Spider-Man or whomever else Marvel already has, etc.) superhero storyline would have its characters always stays the same age and you wouldn’t need to read any previous issues about him or her to understand the latest issue, then it could stay even more focused on plots ripped from the latest-as-of-the-deadline headlines. Each time something was tackled, the comic world it takes place in would be back to the status quo at the beginning of the next issue. Even when 2 of these kinds of serials cross over for an episode, the audience of 1 wouldn’t need to look up any backstory from the other to understand what’s happening.

    Some non-superhero cartoons have already proven that this can work. :) For example, each time Jason Fox earns straight As in Fox Trot, he goes back to the same grade at the beginning of the next school year instead of eventually making it into high school. For another example, the writers for The Simpsons don’t need to add any arrested-development backstory for Maggie even though the show started in 1989 and she’s still a baby now. Fans who do want to see Jason in graduate school or Maggie in the office can turn to fan fiction instead of pressuring the creators to convolute the sources. :)

    cite>Nick Marino Says:

    “…who are acceptable enemies for real-world allegories in superhero comics? even Bru’s had this problem when he made a Tea Party-esque group in a recent issue of Cap, and party members caught onto the story. they were infuriated because Bru portrayed many members as racist. what if a group you aligned yourself with was the villain of some comic and you found the depiction of said group to be deplorable? would you still want more stories like that?…”

    That doesn’t stop writers of plain-text fiction, so why should it stop writers of fiction with pictures?

    Mike Joffe Says:

    “…What I’d like to see is super heroes tackle themes ripped from the headlines rather than specific stories. I think the better comic writers already do this (or did at least). The majority of writers use outdated or alienating themes and stories because they try too hard to tell the same stories over and over again. While if you have Superman get involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it doesn’t solve anything or give the sense that we can solve anything, if you do a story that incorporates the themes and issues raised by the conflict and ends on a hopeful note, then maybe smarter readers will pick things up and affect change when they get older. Does Aquaman have to tackle this specific Gulf Coast crisis or could he tackle a fictional oil spill and take the fictional oil drilling to task? That way we still get our justice porn without dating the comic or reminding us how powerless our fantasies really are…”

    Yeah, that makes sense too.

    Johanna Says:

    “Oh, no, I wouldn’t want an entire line — the idea that all the books a publisher puts out have to share an approach is one of the things I DISlike about today’s market. Different titles with different appeal makes for a healthier company and a wider customer base.”

    Hear ye, hear ye! :)

  28. A Podcast with Ross and Nick #47 – Get Real at AudioShocker Says:

    [...] hates fun, Nick hates Rambo: First Blood, Johanna Draper Carlson wants real superheroics, Ross proposes metaphors instead, Nick is wary of the notion of “real” villains, Peter [...]

  29. Patrick Says:

    I’m kind of torn on this. You’re right that superheroes taking on more “real” things would be cool. Superman didn’t start out fighting aliens and over the top supervillains, Batman can be great when his comics deal with the realization that cleaning up a horrible city requires more than just beating up criminals, etc.

    On the other hand, I would definitely echo the point others have made that there are relatively few writers today who I would trust to do such stories in a way that didn’t come across as over the top and corny.

    Side note: I would LOVE to see a writer on Daredevil deal with the fact that Hell’s Kitchen is now a safe, wealthy neighborhood full of young professionals instead of the grim hellhole that it used to be and as it’s still portrayed in the comics.

  30. darrylayo Says:

    In the superhero world of, let’s say, Marvel Comics, any one of sixty fellas in tights could have prevented 9/11 in the first five pages of an issue and devoted the rest of the issue to discussing their personal problems.

    In real life, that attack changed the entire world. Without 9/11, the last ten years of our real reality basically didn’t happen. So then you basically have breaking-off points for a fantasy world that can’t help but spiral further and further from our world.

    :-/

  31. Johanna Says:

    I see that as support for my idea, actually — the superhero world is already so different from ours, what would it matter if there were a few more points of divergence?

  32. Jim Perreault Says:

    cite>Nick Marino Says:

    “…who are acceptable enemies for real-world allegories in superhero comics? even Bru’s had this problem when he made a Tea Party-esque group in a recent issue of Cap,[...]”

    Of course, Bru did not create the group. It originated during Gruenwald’s run, 15 – 20 years ago.

    cite>darrylayo
    “In the superhero world of, let’s say, Marvel Comics, any one of sixty fellas in tights could have prevented 9/11 in the first five pages of an issue [...]”

    And that did not prevent a Spiderman issue (or a Cap storyline, for that matter) from dealing with the issue even though such an event happens practically every day in the Marvel U. Yet both stories worked fine.

    I think having real world events occur in fictional universes is just part of the suspension of disbelief ; the internal continuity just don’t have to be that tight.

    There is lots of SF that have histories completely divorced from reality, so that works as well. But those would be very different kinds of worlds than the tradditional Marvel and DC universes.

    Jim

  33. Dwight Williams Says:

    Isn’t this one (smallish) part of why DC switched to fictional heads of state and government for real-world nations that have DCU analogues, from the Luthor Administration onwards?

    Awaiting the counter-arguments…

  34. Speed Reading: Flash Deaths, Sightings, Pricing and More « Speed Force Says:

    [...] Comics Worth Reading’s Johanna Draper Carlson has some ideas for how to make super-hero comics interesting again [...]

  35. Nick Marino Says:

    Hey Johanna, this post spurred a pretty lively conversation in my latest podcast. Thought you’d like to know! Thx!

  36. Nick Marino Says:

    Oh right a link would help, wouldn’t it?

    http://www.audioshocker.com/2010/05/05/a-podcast-with-ross-and-nick-47-get-real

  37. Johanna Says:

    I listened to that when your site created a pingback (see #28), but I got lost in all the Rambo stuff. :)

  38. Strip News 5-8-10 | Strip News | ArtPatient Says:

    […] Comics Worth Reading had an article on how to make [superhero] comics interesting again, which is a good idea. I don’t think it would hurt to ease up on being so focused on […]

  39. Idealistic Says:

    I suppose I am alone with this view point. But personally I fell in love with Superman when I was a small child. I grew up watching a man, albeit superman standing up to the KKK and Nazi. His act of sabotage and relentless determination aligned with my sense of optimism.

    He stood up for the little man and was not afraid to intervene in world events. He knew his limits and restrained from becoming a dictator. Thus to me showed true heroism.

    Plenty of people have commanded great power. Only to give it up to the ‘people’. Look at George Washington, he managed to secure a victory and left office after eight years. He didn’t turn out as a dictator, rather the opposite.

    My point is, I wish we had a Superhero who was shown to strive for this ideal. We have plenty of heroes who seem to spread their pessimistic messages, go around killing innocent people or ignore global threats and problems.

    To me Superman, the guy I routed for is no more. Admittedly I don’t read enough Superman comics. But I am follower of the cartoons, films, tv shows and the odd comic issue here and there.

    A Superman who continues to help feed the needy, despite the opposition and blackmail? yes please

    A Superman who decides to give up and resort to just ‘inspiring’ people? no thanks

    What message do we aim to put out there. When we can’t have a person with great powers act responsible? As if our generation will feel any less empowered if they say a Superman trying to handle the issue of world conflict, poverty, terrorism.

    To answer the charge that such topics could risk being corny. I argue, what superhero film, book or show is not corny? fighting a character named Doctor doom with a metal mask, is less corny than fighting global terrorism.

  40. They Took My Idea! Brightest Day #5 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] I opened Brightest Day #5 to see that Aquaman and Mera were heading off to stop an oil spill, as I suggested in May. Taken from the DC preview available at the first link, here are the first two [...]

  41. What Makes a Jungle Girl Different? More on Savage Beauty » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] again: I’m impressed by the real-world connections (something I’ve been looking for in comics), and it’s thoughtful of them to donate an ad page. I’m not sure, given the [...]

  42. Ed Catto Says:

    Yes,that’s right, Johanna. Our Savage Beauty comic will donate on ad page a charitable cause each month. We’re working with folks like Oxfam, Just a Drop, Invisible Children, etc. to give them a little extra exposure. It’s not really the “hit them over the head”-ness of a Green Lantern story dealing with pollution (or somesuch) but a way to give a platform to some groups that are trying hard to do some good.

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