I’m always fascinated by the reaction of “mainstream” commentators who talk about comics as a result of San Diego Comic-Con. After all, it’s the one week of the year when just about everyone wants to talk comics!
I happened across an intriguing article by Senior Editor Jeet Heer that was on the New Republic’s website discussing the current trend in comics and particularly comic-related films and TV shows. He feels the best use of superheroes is to make them “all-ages,” or accessible by adults as well as children.
He had seen the trailers for Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, and described them as “everything that’s wrong with the genre today.”
A COUPLE OF POINTS HE MAKES
Mr. Jeer says, “the superhero genre was originally created as all ages entertainment, aimed mainly at kids but sometimes done in a manner that allowed adults to enjoy them as well. So isn’t it odd that the dominant mode of the genre is now so skewed towards an adult audience? And is this really the best use of the genre?”
“Superheroes were not meant to be exclusively for adults,” he continues. He feels that since comics were originally targeting children, they should return to those roots. After all, some of the original creators of superheroes were barely adults themselves.
In the article, Heer suggests that this all changed in the ’80s with the release of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, followed by other creator-lead projects like Alan Moore’s The Watchmen. Interestingly, Heer doesn’t think the creators helped mature the heroes, but instead, “seemed mainly to mean including explicit scenes of torture and rape.”
His solution is to return to all-ages entertainment. He feels comics are mostly based in children’s daydreams: “to be able to fly like Superman, to wield a lasso like Wonder Woman, to run like the Flash, or to leap from building to building like Spider-Man.” A return to all-ages storytelling would appeal to both kids and adults while returning them to their original function, in his opinion. This would make them more successful since they’d reach out to a broader audience.
I’d be all for his suggestions except for the fact that many all-ages superheroes simply don’t sell these days. I remember in 1991 when DC gained the rights to the Red Circle comics, including The Fly, Fly Girl, Black Hood, and The Comet to name a few. They released a line of all-ages books under the Impact brand featuring many of these characters.
DC’s Impact Comics lasted just over a year (May 1991- December 1992) before they were cancelled due to lack of sales. Archie Comics has relaunched these characters under the Dark Circle banner, also told in darker settings and storylines. And they seem to be selling better.
When I get the chance to talk with younger readers or fans of the genre, even they don’t seem to care for all-ages storytelling most of the time. Instead, what draws their attention are action-oriented videogames and the very books Mr. Heer doesn’t appear to like.
Often comics shops will put on their stands comics based on shows like Ben 10 or programs featuring DC or Marvel characters. The trick is, most of the time, they don’t sell unless the series is airing on TV at the time.
As I often like to point out, it’s called show business for a reason. If a comic doesn’t sell enough to put it on the stands, be it all-ages or adult-specific, it won’t last long.
I’m all for all-ages storytelling if it’s a good story. I often recommend Atomic Robo, Bone (or Jeff Smith’s Shazam!), Captain Ultimate, Mouse Guard and other books along those lines especially to teachers in various grade levels when I get the chance to talk with them about this very subject.
The challenge is finding a big enough audience who will buy it.
Maybe the thing to do is consider Mr. Heer’s article something of a challenge. If you’re a comics creator and think we could stand more all-ages storytelling, the time is now to make that happen.
Granted, you’ll face a lot of challenges making that take place. The perception of “all-ages” is that it’s dull or uninteresting. We all know that is not necessarily the case, but there have been many books for a wide range of readers that have sold well.
And the industry seems to move in cycles. Back when Frank Miller and Alan Moore were breaking new ground, comics were in a different place. Now that we’ve had a good number of years with “darker” books, there could be a new direction we’re ready to travel in. And perhaps you have that idea!