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Last week, Tom Spurgeon took a page from Monty Python and said he’d like to have an argument: “What are all these superhero comics really saying?” Given the genre’s domination of both the Direct Market and the comics internet, Spurgeon said he wanted to see a more in-depth discussion of what the heck is going on in these weird and wild comics, particularly regarding their heroes’ behavior and any potential larger message beyond “superheroes are awesome.”
In response, I proposed an argument of my own: “Why do superheroes dominate the online conversation the way they do?” In light of how many comics commentators and critics clearly read a wide variety of comics, or at least have been known to from time to time, I’m perplexed by why The Rise of Arsenal gets so much more airtime than Art in Time or 20th Century Boys.
This weekend, Marc-Oliver Frisch managed to thread the needle of these two overlapping questions. On his personal blog, Frisch, best known as the DC number-cruncher for The Beat, posted a list of “10 Things Superhero Comics Do Better Than Any Other Genre in Any Other Storytelling Form”…and then announced he wouldn’t talk about superhero comics on his blog at all for an entire year.
Both ends of the post strike me as pretty provocative. Some of Frisch’s contentions are a little flimsy, I’d say — anyone who thinks superhero comics “Let Creators Explore the Limits of Their Imagination Without Being Hampered by Logic or Plausibility” or depict “Brightly Colored Folks Punching and Throwing Lightning Bolts at Each Other” better than anything else on the planet hasn’t played Super Mario Galaxy 2, for example.
But if you tone down the superlatives just a bit, you’re left with some sterling analysis. Check out these bits, arguing in favor of the superhero universes’ never-ending storylines and patchwork construction:
You can call the fact that nothing ever truly fades away in superhero comics tiresome, or creatively bankrupt, or kind of creepy psychologically, or you can sit back and enjoy them as a narrative perpetual-motion machine that can at times be entirely self-sufficient and feed on nothing but its own history to keep going.
I tend to groan and throw a coin into the piggy bank whenever the cliché of “playing in the sandbox” comes up in a creator interview, but if we’re honest for a moment, it’s absolutely true: The Marvel Universe and the DC Universe and the characters who populate them are fictional constructs thought up and realized in collaboration, passed on, left behind, inherited and remade, time and again.
And that’s a huge part of their appeal. It tends to make even the least among those constructs fascinating by association, and it tends to make the Marvel and DC worlds more than the sum of their parts.
I actually think these aspects of superhero comics make them far more interesting on a formal level, even if they’re occasionally, even frequently, stifling in the context of a single issue or storyline.
Then there’s Frisch’s farewell to superhero blogging. I know there are other critics out there with a hands-off approach to the genre — The Comics Journal’s Rob Clough comes to mind — and in the past I’ve always found that sort of self-limitation, well, limiting. If I find I have something to say about, f’rex, The Mystic Hands of Doctor Strange, shouldn’t I say it?
But sometimes imposing parameters on your writing, paradoxically, helps it blossom. By cutting his personal blog off from the easy go-to topic of the superhero serials, Frisch frees himself up to discuss…everything else. And there’s a whole lot of “everything else,” much of it worth discussing more often.
What do you make of Frisch’s post? Do you agree with his ten arguments in favor of the strength of superhero comics? And do you agree with his subsequent decision to ignore the genre entirely to explore the rest of the medium instead?