Result in thread: are superheroes as a concept...silly?
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10th Oct 2018, 9:48 PM #1
Registration date: 28th Apr 2015
Location: North Carolina
Matt Comics:imo, the 80s were the best era of superhero comics. (I'm more familiar with Marvel, but I assume many things were the same in other companies)
80s are a good period.
I have always argued that the Bronze Age was the best era of comics. It occurred from about 1972 until about 1985, ending with COIE and definitely with Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. After those titles came out, comics generally changed, although some series, like Perez's Wonder Woman or Barb and Karl Kesel's Hawk and Dove remained unquestionably Bronze Age-y into the late 80s/early 90s.
I made a graph once, entirely qualitative but just to illustrate why I make this case. In my view, there are two competing stylistic elements of comic-books: the fun-factor, and realism. These tend to be inversely related. Reality is, let's face it, far from fun. There's a reason for the expression "Life's a bitch; then you die" (and its variants). In real life you have to go to work, deal with death of loved ones, deal with your own illnesses, heartbreak, etc., etc. Which is not to say that reality is ALL bad, but it definitely is more work/difficulty than fun. And so the more "realistic" one makes a story, the less pure fun it is. You can easily see this with children's stories, which are often massively unrealistic (e.g., Charlotte's Web, James and the Giant Peach) but are also tons of fun to read/watch (which is why they are beloved generation after generation).
When comic-books began in the 1940s-50s (my graph doesn't go back past 1950 because everything before that would be the same), they were kids' stories sold on rag paper for a nickel, intended to be read, enjoyed for fun, and thrown away. (That's why 1938 Action Comics #1 is worth a fortune -- almost nobody kept it.) Comic-book stories were wildly unrealistic but meant to be just a blast in terms of pure fun and innocence.
Over time, more and more realism crept in. But along with this, the "pure fun" factor declined. By the 1980s, the era you mention, there was still some fun left in comics, but it was leavened with some more realistic stories. Continuity mattered, Actions had (some) consequences, and so on. In this era, I maintain, they struck the right balance between comics that were fun to read, but realistic enough not to be just kids' stories. On the fun/realism axis, the amount was about 50-50. I call this the "sweet spot."
Then with the advent of DKR and Watchmen, which were much more realistic and not even slightly fun to read (they are actually kind of depressing to read, on purpose), and their wild success, comic-creators started trying to make things more realistic (copying what worked). Angst became a major part of the story. As the realism went up, though, the fun factor went way down, until what you have today is an unremittingly bleak, depressing, "realistic" version of superheroes. Which people who didn't like the "fun stuff" might prefer, but, it sure as hell isn't any fun to read -- as GMan discovered with the Nu52.
Anyway, here's the graph (the horizontal axis is time; the vertical one is %, i.e., 100 fun means the comic is 100% fun, 0% realistic):
My argument is that the BEST comics occurred where the lines intersected, early 80s. They were equal parts fun and realistic, so they were believable as story narratives (but NOT as something that could actually happen in the real world), but they were fun to read and would still put a smile on your face.
Before this, comics were hugely fun but the story narratives were full of holes and things you could not believe, like Superman using an old World War 2 brainwashing gas to make an entire town forget just one single set of events (that they had seen Supergirl, who was supposed to be in hiding). This is not just unrealistic in the real world, it's a last-page "deus ex machina" that doesn't even make sense from the internal rules of the 1960s DCU (because to be honest, there WEREN'T any rules to the 1960s DCU).
To me a story needs both fun AND believability (realism) to work. Bronze Age, early 80s, comics almost universally had both of these and in equal measure. Some earlier and later comics had the right mix as well, such as the ones I mentioned above (e.g., Post-Crisis Perez WW). But there are fewer and fewer with the right balance of fun and realism as you move away from the intersection point in either direction.
Now if I have to choose to go one way, personally, I always go earlier rather than later. If I can't have both fun and realism, I will generally prefer fun. I want to at least have a good time while reading a story, and I don't really find myself with the urge to read bleak/depressing stuff.