Sunday, March 08, 2009

Enough With Superheroes

http://media.comicvine.com/uploads/0/2355/107647-12191-ozymandias_super.jpg

When Watchmen came out in the '80s, it was good enough and interesting enough and self-critical enough that it convinced me that superheroes had a reason to exist as a comics genre. The existence of the superhero genre was not up to me, obviously. But I was a comics fan, raised on '70s Marvel superheroes (and reprints of the classic '60s stuff), and I had turned my back on the genre when I discovered Love & Rockets and classic '60s undergrounds. I decided to live in a superhero-free world and to pretend that the mainstream of comics--the comics that were read by 90% of all American comics fans, the comics that were, for many, synonymous with the word "comics"--simply didn't exist.

This attitude carried me along for a long time. Watchmen put a kink in that armor though. Eventually I allowed myself to be sucked back into superheroes (although never full bore). My tastes ran to revisionism and thinly-veiled parody. Think Garth Ennis.

OK, now I have seen the Watchmen movie. It starts off pretty good and just gets worse and worse. (Although I have to say that Ozymandias's scheme is a lot more logical here than in Alan Moore's original.) The movie helped me realize something. I was right--the net good of superhero comics is negative. It would have been better for comics if the superhero genre had died out in the '50s.

Among rock fans, there is a parlor game of creating an alternative history of rock. For me, it has the Velvet Underground as a popular "underground" band, with Love as a big rock hit-maker of the late '60s and Big Star in the '70s. The Village Green Preservation Society would have the same stature in my alternate universe that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band has in ours.

It's much harder to construct an alternate history of comics this way because there aren't as many published examples of the alternatives, the might-have-beens and artistically successful commercial failures. It can be done, though, and in my alternate history, there is no comics code, and comics are aimed at multiple market niches (by age, by interests, by demographics, etc.). Superheroes are just one small niche, aimed at boys. They never dominate.

That's what should have happened. Watchmen was supposed to have revolutionized superheroes in a positive, self-critical way. Moore has acknowledged that it failed in that regard, and that's a tragedy I suppose. But the real tragedy is that Watchmen had to exist all--that Moore thought that it was important to subject the superhero genre to this level of auto-critique in the first place.

I can't change history, but for me personally, I am done with superheroes. In my mind, comics equals art comics and old comic strips, with a few interesting translated comics tossed in. All the rest is noise to be tuned out.

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