Okay, so it’s been longer than I anticipated since my last post. Things have gotten busy in my life lately. I’m not apologizing or making excuses, simply stating facts. Like all of us, I work full time, and am getting married in under three months. But enough about me.
Comic books are currently in a “movie mode” of production. This is not just because the last few years have seen a resurgence of comic-related films, mostly from Marvel’s titles, but because comics themselves have taken on a more cinematic layout and feel to them in the past twelve years or so, largely getting rid of narration text boxes, have more dynamic panel styles, larger panels on a whole, and, in many cases, less verbiage. This verbal trend seems to be changing back the other way recently, with some more words on average it seems, but nothing like twenty or more years ago with “Classics Illustrated” or Golden Age books.
The writer-driven market of comics is to thank for this trend, which in turn was a reaction to the not-so-great books of (approximately) 1989 to 1995 which I term the “Dark Age” of comics. In the Dark Age, art was king and those making the art had a gloomier approach to things with Spawn, The Maxx, the tone of the X-books, all the Ghost Rider-related things, the deaths of Superman, Hal Jordan, Zero Hour, and the breaking of Batman providing the guidance for this time period. I’m not quite sure what to call the Age after this one. I believe we are still in this current age (always referred to as the Modern Age whenever it is the present) or just coming out of it with the advents of Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, Son of M, and Civil War.
For the moment I have been calling 1996 to 2006 the “Neo-Silver Age” or the “Bronze Age” when mainstream books became brighter and “cleaner”, more kid-friendly books came out and the big two revamped their classics; Marvel restarted with the Ultimate line, the JLA and JSA came back, and there was a lot of new ideas and really different concepts in side imprints and independents like Bone, Fables, Sin City, and many more I have not the space to mention. It’s been a great age.
But what about the beginnings of the comic book medium? It is appropriate that we discuss this now, since as noted, the main companies are hitting the restart button on their figurative company Nintendo sets and going back to basics. Hey, if you think that’s dated, I remember overturning the dial controller on my Atari 2600 until it made a permanent metallic sound at the end of the arc while playing the upper levels of the fever dream that is “Kaboom.” (I’m starting to show my age, yikes.)
For the moment, and I believe for the first few columns, I will be focusing on two broad roads which were distilled into the two archetypal comic characters, from which all others are in some way a reaction to: Superman and Batman. Superman follows in the fantastic adventure and science fiction viens of H. G. Wells, George Griffith, Jack London, Lester Dent (Doc Savage), Dick Calkins (Buck Rogers), and Edgar Burroughs (Tarzan). Batman meanwhile is the inheritor of the other major literary line of the detective story with “human” protagonists created by Poe, Wilkie Collins, Doyle, Bram Stoker, Walter Gibson (The Shadow), Sax Rohmer (Fu Manchu), Chester Gould (Dick Tracy), Charteris (The Saint) as well as the gangster and horror films of the 30s.
I am focusing mainly on Superman and Batman because the other major characters in comics in the Golden Age are more pre-established archetypes of the mer-man (Submariner), android (Torch), speedsters (Flash), bird-men (Hawkman), and others, with the exception of Captain America since he provided a different kind of clear-cut pop fiction American chauvinistic (meant in the original sense of “ardent adherence to patriotism”) figure. Cap was new because of his country and historical situation, but the others, not so much.
Elements of these others are fair game: Torch’s being an android that can burn, Submariner’s being half human, and other facets, but the basic premise of the other characters were “recycled” from other myths or genres and weren’t blends of things so much as they were imitations of other ideas or stories. While Wonder Woman was original in stature, pre-dating Rosie the Riveter, her character was more of a political statement and female Superman knock off. That, and her character came along simply too late, when the superhero elevator was already getting so crowded you couldn’t push your floor’s button. When considered in point of time, her character was actually less original than some other heroes like Dr. Midnight, the Blazing Skull, and Green Lantern.
I will continue on this topic (most likely) next week.