A friend and I were talking online recently about the number of “pulp heroes” getting their own new comics. “I want new stories and new characters, not these old guys and girls. Why can’t they come up with something new and different?”

The answer I gave him was one given to me by a sales expert I got to chat with once: Nostalgia sells!

NOT EVERYBODY LIKES IT, OF COURSE!

My friend isn’t alone in this. A lot of readers look at these characters with disdain. One person at a local comics shop was complaining bitterly that his favorite heroes were staying on the shelf while people from the ’40s and ’50s were getting their own titles. (He’ll be happy to know that She-Hulk is indeed getting a new book soon!)

Granted, the original comics often don’t measure up to today’s standards to those of us reading today. I find their panels small, and there’s just way too much dialogue. But that doesn’t mean the characters are poor. I like to say that there’s no such thing as a bad character, only writers who don’t know what to do with them.

I’ve often read messages that question the desire to bring back TV shows that have been cancelled, such as Battlestar Galactica, Firefly and Jericho. “Those programs didn’t last on television. Why would they want to sell comics based on them?” Then, too, Charlie’s Angels, The Beverly Hillbillies and others were made into big-budget movies. More on all this later.

HALLMARK ORNAMENTS WOULDN’T BE AS BIG WITHOUT NOSTALGIA

There are many examples of people buying items that reflect our desire to revisit things or times we miss. I often see holiday cards with characters from seasonal shows from long ago, most notably Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, the very first animated Christmas special. (It debuted one year before Charlie Brown bought his little tree for the pageant.)

Batman: The Animated Series was set in what appeared to be a Gotham City of the past. I thought it fit the show very well.

But the biggest example of nostalgia selling has to be Hallmark’s ornaments. If you pick up this year’s catalog, you’ll see many ornaments fashioned after characters from past shows, strips or comics. Regulars this year include Superman, Batman, many Marvel heroes and the kids from Peanuts. This doesn’t even begin to talk about the nostalgic ornaments that focus on memories from past time periods, like carolers and snowmen.

Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Batman, Superman, Captain Midnight, The Shadow, The Owl, Mouse Guard, Spider-ManThe company rolls out many of their products at various times during the year. Hey, they’re even continuing their efforts to sell Easter ornaments as well as selling a new Peanuts character every month. That keeps us coming back for more.

WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH COMICS?

While Firefly isn’t likely to be back on TV anytime soon, it still has comics and video games selling pretty well. The same principle applies – there aren’t enough fans to restart the series at this moment, but there are more than enough who want to plunk down their hard-earned cash for new stories or other related merchandise. You only need a fraction of the viewers to buy your products to make them successful.

Also, a lot of us weren’t around reading the “pulp heroes,” so on many levels, they’re “new” to today’s readers. Some books still keep the characters back in or focus on their previous decades, like Batman ’66, The Rocketeer, Masks and Mobsters and Mask of the Red Panda. They’re particular favorites of mine.

As hard as it may be for some to believe, those of us who have been reading comics for a long time also feel warm inside when we see a hero we’d followed years ago getting a new lease on life. We can still read, you know! And the comics industry needs to sell every issue they can these days!

Not every book keeps characters in their original time, though. Captain Midnight, The Owl and The Shadow are good examples of heroes from previous eras being transplanted into today’s setting successfully. We see them struggling to adapt, which often reminds me of how the rest of us who already live here find it tough to keep up. Many of us feel like a “fish out of water” in the current rapidly changing world.

Like everything in comics to me, a good story means everything. Don’t get me wrong – I love certain characters, but I’ll read a comic about a hero I don’t particularly like in order to dive into a terrific tale!

If you’re like me, you’re hungry for variety in your reading experience. I give newer books like Mouse Guard my attention just as much as I read Batman and Captain Midnight. Just because it’s a character you’re familiar with doesn’t mean it’ll be bad. After all, Spider-Man is now more than 50 years old, Superman and Batman even older. But they still have life in them.

If you’re curious just what’s going on with a character you don’t know much about, I’d recommend you give that book a try. After all, you weren’t born knowing about (insert your favorite hero here)! You had to read about that person for the first time. You might even find a new hero to love!

The Author

Wayne Hall

Wayne Hall

Wayne Hall creates the Wayne's Comics Podcast. He’s interviewed Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, John Layman, Kyle Higgins, Phil Hester, Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, David Petersen, Christos Gage, Mike Grell, and Matt Kindt. Each episode also includes reviews, news and previews. On this site each week, he writes his "Comics Portal" column (general comics comments and previews) and reviews comics.

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1 Comment

  1. Oldcomicfan
    October 2, 2013 at 7:27 am — Reply

    It’s interesting to hear people complain about the revival of pulp heroes as comics while, at the same time, they happily plunk down their dollars for Superman and Batman comics who are just about as old as the pulp heroes they denigrate. Personally, I prefer comics like Starstruck and The Rocketeer which are better described as homages to pulp heroes and classic sci-fi serials than revivals of the original characters.

    In my opinion, revivals of Doc Savage and The Shadow (or other pulp heroes) have the same problems as a lot of Superman and Batman stories – either the writers are bogged down under the weight of so much backstory and are unable to shine, to the disappointment of all, or they completely ignore the continuity to the outrage of the diehard fans.

    Licensed comics rarely live up to the potential of the original work, probably because of restrictions imposed by the license holders, coupled with the basic fact that they are usually nothing more than a money grab on the part of the publishers and not motivated by love of the original material. My lack of enthusiasm for such comic revivals can be explained by the cyborg Shadows and giant green bunny Jedis I’ve had inflicted upon me.

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