In my travels about comics fandom, one of the most common complaints seems to be about how humorless and grim they’ve become.  Murderous psychopaths and slavering lunatics are everywhere (and that’s just the fanbase!)  This weekend, I was disturbed to read a story wherein a beloved character of my youth was crushed to death and his corpse eaten by scavengers during the course of the story.  While this development was effective in conveying the hopelessness of the heroes’ dilemma, in the long run I suspect the death will long overshadow the story itself, much as the rumors of John Stewart’s demise have overshadowed whatever has been happening in ‘Green Lantern Corps.’  At this point, it seems that any and all characters are subject to debasement, corruption, maiming and death as regularly as fistfights and alien invasions.

The MS-QOTD (pronounced, as always, “misquoted”) doesn’t get why people would want to read about the corruption of a character like Mary Marvel anyway, asking: Are the majority of modern audiences really unable to appreciate stories that aren’t brutal and ultra-violent?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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11 Comments

  1. March 25, 2013 at 12:52 pm — Reply

    I hesitate the say the majority, but I certainly feel that the controlling powers operate under the “grim & violent = serious & legit”. As a result, the audience is conditioned to follow that mindset. If the powers that be went for crazy, wacky, & off-the-wall for as long as they have for darker stuff, then that’d probably be what they’d sell & what would sell the best.

    There’s enough complaint out there about the content that you can tell the audience is getting sick of every Bat-villain being a serial killer & every death making Fatalities look subdued, but you get the feeling that they’re louder than their numbers would suggest. And that’s… honestly, kind of depressing. But so long as most people buy the dark stuff, that’s what we’ll get.

  2. Ross
    March 25, 2013 at 1:03 pm — Reply

    The comic book industry lost a lot of fans because of the violent death of Robin, so many of us just did not enjoy that level of violence. When it continued, more left being replace by an audience more accustomed to violence through video games. The “Death of Superman”, the “Death of Robin”, the Death of Batman”, the “Death of the Flash”, the “Death of Green Lantern”. etc. when will the good guys win??

    • March 26, 2013 at 7:10 pm — Reply

      I quit with the Death of Stephanie Brown.

  3. March 25, 2013 at 4:14 pm — Reply

    I know at least one modern series that’s pulled away from the trend: Daredevil. Used to be Daredevil was everything the dark age of comics was. Violent, gritty, filled with angst. Thank Frank Miller for that, which was good when he did it, but it was so popular it didn’t stop for years.

    And then this new ongoing starts, and Daredevil renounces his moody ways. If only for his own health, he stops being a grump and starts being a superhero. Lo and behold, the series is great and a big hit. Which is not to say it’s not without its drama. Matt Murdock’s partner Foggy Nelson is currently struggling with cancer (technically a bone tumor, whether it’s fully cancerous is yet to be revealed). And the comic takes this seriously. But it doesn’t spend the entire time being super serious, because that would just get monotonous. The book has fun where it can, while also giving serious topics their deserved respect.

    The book, in a nutshell, is just really good. And that’s why its popular.

    The reason those darker stories from the eighties started the whole Dark Age was not because they were dark. They were popular and influential because they mature, serious stories. They dealt with issues pertaining to real life, and it made people think. It rewarded those with mature tastes.

    But when I say mature, I mean being adult about issues, not just throwing adult situations in just because. That’s not mature, that’s immature. And the Dark Age happened because a lot of immature stories came out with the pretension of being mature, and everything was dark for the sake of dark.

    Darkness is meaningless and unpalatable if not contrasted with the light. Daredevil is great because the fun is contrasted with the mature, and it’s done in a satisfying way. If I had to choose between a really light story and a really dark story, I’ll probably go with the light one (unless I’m in a particular mood) simply because massive light is fun, massive dark is just depressing.

    But ultimately, I would love to have a little of both.

    I have no idea if in all that I’ve actually answered the question. Oops.

  4. AllenBT
    March 25, 2013 at 4:35 pm — Reply

    I would take your question and turn it on its head a little bit. It’s not that the majority of readers are unable to appreciate stories that are not violent, grim and gritty, but that the majority of creators are unwilling to try to produce them. The risk of failure is pretty high. Usually, an element of humor is the substitute for the violence, and frankly humor is hard. Really, really hard.

    Further, this modern generation of writers (and to a lesser extent artists) are some of the most talented we’ve ever had, as a group, but they all suffer from two concurrent pressures that are pushing them to mature themes and violent stories.

    The first is career management. The reality is that many writers have aspirations to transition into other more lucrative and “exciting” media, whether its novels, movie or TV. And more than a few writers from other media (Whedon, JMS, Dini, PAD, Smith etc.) have come into comics and made an impact on the art form.

    But nearly uniformly, they all want it extremely clear that they are writing for an adult audience, not kids. There’s no acclaim in writing for children and little financial reward.

    And because Comics has a legacy as children’s fiction, consciously or not, the writers have tried to ensure that their product isn’t mistaken as something for kids. No one gets lauded outside of the artistic ghetto of children’s properties, whatever their commercial success, for producing kids stuff.

    The second pressure on current creators is purely a question of artistic expression and ambition. Many if not all of these writers would like to push the envelope of what the media can provide. Every writer wants to pen the next Watchman, or Killing Joke whether they admit if or not. To do so, they want to utilize the full spectrum of plot tools, and therefore won’t want to play in the much smaller sand box of all ages titles and non-violent stories.

    In the 35 odd years I been reading, I can really think of only a few books that really hit the mix of humor and plot without an undercurrent of ultra-violence, and were both commercially successful and critically lauded. The Giffen and DeMatteis run of JLI comes to mind immediately. Until these outside pressures are addressed, we’re not going to get many stories that match that success.

  5. Frank
    March 25, 2013 at 5:05 pm — Reply

    I think pretty much every fan can appreciate a good story, with or without gore and violence. There is the idea that violence sells and it probably does.
    I’m probably the exception, but if a book is labeled as violent, I won’t pick it up. There is so much violence mentioned in the media, I don’t want to see it in my comic books.
    After collecting several Batman titles for 25+ years, I dropped them when the New52 came out. I don’t regret it with the current trend of violence in the Batman titles.

  6. B.V.K.
    March 25, 2013 at 5:19 pm — Reply

    I don’t know if it has to be grim and ultra violent, but there is a low tolerance for silver age silliness. There has to be a happy medium between the zaniness of the silver age and the over the top cursing and gore infested pages of the Marvel Max series. Take something like the Super Man/ Batman series. They had plenty of super heroey action that people like, fighting Darkseid and whatnot, but it still had its moments of levity. Like when Power Girl uses her “assets” to distract a 13 year old Toy Man.
    Of course I think by generational standards (read: old people) the idea of what constitutes something as being hyper violent has changed. Back in the 80’s Wolverine going all slashy slashy on a ninjas rear end was considered violent and hard core. Now, you can see that type of thing in almost any title. While the old guard may see this as uber violence many Gen Y’ers and Millennials would not bat an eye. Of course, as an occasionally insightful man said many many times, your mileage may vary.

  7. Ross
    March 25, 2013 at 6:53 pm — Reply

    What was unacceptable violence, became common place, greater violance was needed to continue to shock (satisfy), it became common place and greater violance was needed etc. When does it stop? It doesn’t!It just means good story lines and good art are harder to find.

  8. DrNobody
    March 25, 2013 at 10:29 pm — Reply

    I tend to love the more innocent//less violent stuff… I adored the Power of Shazam book from back in the 90’s, and also loved Billy Batson and the Power of Shazam all-ages book from recent years… Characters like DC’s Captain Marvel (or Shazam as he’s now known), really do lend themselves to this type of story telling… I’m not sure why the 2nd book was cancelled, as I remember it getting a ton of buzz for a while… Li’l Gotham is also now a fave of mine as well…

  9. March 26, 2013 at 7:14 pm — Reply

    I think a lot of fans don’t get it that overly dark stories are as immature and unrealistic as the older lighthearted ones.

  10. March 26, 2013 at 7:21 pm — Reply

    They call them comic books for a reason, and the concept of people in tights with magic powers is childish from the getgo. Violence and smarminess ain’t gonna make them any more realistic. Up through the Silver Age comics were bought and read by a lot more than a subculture of fans.

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