Robot 6

Quote of the day | Giving up on superhero comics

Superman #75

After more than a quarter century, I found reading the last big stack of Marvel and DC books I brought home at tremendous expense to be the last thing I wanted to do. Trying to read the last few of them was incredibly difficult — the art was detailed but unclear, the scripting was clever but not informative, and the stories inched along at so slow a pace, with so little happening on any given page or in any given issue, that nothing registered as being remotely interesting. Six weeks later, or however long it’s been, I not only do not miss my weekly comics shop visit but I feel somewhat relieved. I no longer have to keep track of what I have and don’t have, what the big crossover of the moment is, or how much it’s going to cost and whether I can still afford it.

Tom McLean, on why he gave up on superhero comics after 26 years of faithful reading. His lengthy essay at Bags and Boards charts his growing love of comics and then his disillusionment with the superhero genre, and it crystallizes what a lot of people have been saying for the past few years. And there’s a happy ending: McLean is still reading comics and finding plenty of satisfaction outside the superhero realm.

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37 Comments

Read what you like. Superheroes do not necessarily equate to comics as a medium. I’ve never gotten burned out on superheroes, just certain ones or certain titles. That happens to all of us, I think.

While the diversity isn’t as great as it was years ago, at least there are other alternatives.

Standing ovation – and I endorse pretty much everything in the author’s post.

I gave up on the weekly grind over a year ago. Still buying a lot of books in varying formats – a lot of hardcovers/trades, some digital, and a bare handful of floppies. Most everything is creator owned, and it feels just fine.

A few years ago I was reading about 60 titles a month from Marvel and DC.
Today I’m reading 5. I felt much the same way as McLean. Reading the books was a chore and now that I’m not, I’m not missing them at all.

I’ve been slowly whittling my weekly pull list down for a while now…haven’t quite got to the point of trade-waiting on everything, yet. One day.

Its the decompression of stories that is pushing a lot of us away.

Every dog has his day. Priorities change. I quit reading 20 years ago, and started again three years ago.
If you try to take my Batman monthly from me, I’ll rip your skull off.

Having said that, I’m finding comics outside the capes to be at times better than anything. Fialkov’s ‘Echoes’ and ‘Tumor’, Terry Moore’s ‘Rachel Rising’, Rodriquez’s ‘Black Fire’, – ‘Green River Killer’, and the list goes on and on..

I completely disagree with hondobrode – there is a much greater diversity of genres, titles & publishers now than there was a decade ago. The great flood plain of comics has been continually spreading and shows no sign of stopping. It is very easy to drop $100 on comics and not even think about buying something from the Big Two.

There is no difference in superhero comics and the “greatness” of the vaunted independent and creator-owned comics. I am pretty tired of the mantra of how wonderful independent comics are. Why is “creator-owned” so universally beloved? It is the same set of writers and same artists that the author is lamenting against. Every single comic has to stand on its on merits, not based on some poorly and pre-defined notion of the genre it inhabits.

I am getting more superhero comics now than ever before. I have my usual Marvel stack every single week and with the New 52, I have picked up a few of the more interesting titles from DC.

MAKE MINE SUPERHEROES!

Read what you like is a great way to put it. It’s sad to see someone lose interest in something they love, but when I read statements like

“I no longer have to keep track of what I have and don’t have, what the big crossover of the moment is”

used as a justification for losing interest/abandoning ship, I can’t help but feel like some people bring it on themselves. I love superheroes and superhero comics, but I also love all sorts of alternatives to them, as well, and I simply don’t read comics that I don’t like when I can help it. While I don’t necessarily think all this is true of the McClean, people that buy comics just to be in-the-know and be up to date on continuity don’t have any credibility with me–wikipedia can do that for you.

Huh. I was about to ask the question when someone was going to show up to shit on the idea of not reading superhero books. But someone already did. Thanks Alemander!

Great article.

My cool story, bro:

I got back into reading superhero comics via “Infinite Crisis” in 2005 and had completely given up on superhero comics by the time “Final Crisis” rolled down the tracks (Marvel’s output was barely readable in that period, except for Brubaker’s comics and Ultimate Spider-Man).

DC just sucked me back in with their New 52 but I’ve already dropped half the books I tried out including “Batman”, which was supposed to be one of the best superhero comics out there (according to the internets). Even with the books I enjoy, they’re starting to become more of a chore than a pleasure, and by the time they hit the double-digits, if I’m not actually looking forward to the next issue of any given title, they’re getting dropped.

All the criticisms Tom made ring true: It’s often hard to figure out what’s going on in any given panel or page, the writing is often competent but rarely compelling, I often finish an issue in ten minutes, and have to re-read it the next month to even remember what was going on, since the author is writing it for a trade collection instead of a monthly reader.

Thank goodness for RASL, Walking Dead, (a few more volumes of) 21st Century Boys, The Unwritten and a few other titles that still make it worth visiting the comic shop. And thank goodness for reprints of classic comic strips (Terry & the Pirates, James Bond, Rip Kirby, Popeye, etc.).

quote:
“I no longer have to keep track of what I have and don’t have, what the big crossover of the moment is”

used as a justification for losing interest/abandoning ship, I can’t help but feel like some people bring it on themselves. I love superheroes and superhero comics, but I also love all sorts of alternatives to them, as well, and I simply don’t read comics that I don’t like when I can help it. While I don’t necessarily think all this is true of the McClean, people that buy comics just to be in-the-know and be up to date on continuity don’t have any credibility with me–wikipedia can do that for you.
end quote

I didn’t get that feeling from Tom’s article at all. I know the feeling where I walk into a store and see an issue of a comic and I literally can’t remember if I’ve read it or not. And unfortunately, keeping track of the big crossover of the moment is apparently now a requirement for reading 90% of the superhero output of the big two. I mean, I couldn’t even read an ostensibly stand-alone miniseries like Gaiman’s “Eternals” or JMS’s “The Twelve” without having awkward references to Civil War take me out of the story and make me want to spit.

Besides, his larger points are much more important anyway. Mainstream comics have gotten to the point where they’re not about *anything* except their own continuity. There’s virtually no story there to appeal to anyone who doesn’t care about who’s joined/quit the Avengers or who the founding members of the JLA were and who just wants to be entertained for a brief period of time (extremely brief, in most cases).

I always find it sad to see people leave super-heroes. They are the bread and butter of comic books for me, and always will be. I wonder, though, if he’s left all super-heroes.

I also wonder how much of the New 52 he read, because while I think he’s right about decompression and maybe about some of the scripts, I think the art in most of the books is great and (at least for now) you don’t have to ready all 52 books to follow the ones you like. It’s probably the best time in ages to be a selective DC reader. At the same time, though, as much as I like many New 52 titles, very few demand you read them immediately.

I also would add that some of these problems are hardly unique to superhero comics. Especially decompression. I love Morning Glories, but when I read the second book and then realized I could easily find the most recent issues and be caught up, I passed. The idea of reading it in monthly form was a turn-off. It would seem unsatisfying to read it in small chunks.

My buddy here at work buys 7 to 8 comics a week (!) — I’m buying 7 to 8 comics a month, and even that’s going to drop. DC did suck me in on their new 52, but I’ve only retained the one. I’m reading what interests me, and dropping or ignoring what is not.

Most of the superhero comics have fallen by the wayside…. crime, cowboys, science fiction all get my vote. I’m reading a ton of comics through my local library.

By no means should this become a “superhero = bad, indie=good” sort of argument. McLean doesn’t trash the idea of superhero comics at all, just the way they’re currently being done.

I found myself agreeing with almost everything he wrote. To me, it’s rare to feel that magic/thrill in reading a new superhero comic anymore, esp. with the New 52. Add that to the financial illogical of buying floppies, and you end up with a person who loves comics buying a LOT fewer new comics (unlike McLean, I haven’t gone cold turkey…yet). This is a problem for an industry with not very many customers in the first place.

“Trying to read the last few of them was incredibly difficult — the art was detailed but unclear, the scripting was clever but not informative, and the stories inched along at so slow a pace, with so little happening on any given page or in any given issue, that nothing registered as being remotely interesting.”

But enough about Bendis!

I agree with the other posters who say, read what you enjoy…and drop what you don’t. Hopefully you’ll find something in the non-superhero genre that will replace the fondness you had for them in your youth. I buy new release super hero comics but I’ve also found myself digging up classic runs of my fav characters from the 70s and 80s much more than I did before.

I, too, have experienced a strong pall in my interest in comics–and by that I do mean superhero comics, because other types, with very rare exceptions, don’t appeal to me. I buy very few titles now on a weekly/monthly basis. I don’t feel at all compelled to keep up on company-wide continuities or crossover events. But there yet remain a few titles that I enjoy, and it is because of those that I wonder if it is not my taste or appetite that has soured, but rather that story themes or manners of writing have changed away from what I enjoy. I have no hope that trends and styles will regress to the (Silver Age, I suspect) way I’d prefer it to be; but for the present, I will keep sampling and reading, and seeking those few writers, in happy conjunction with characters I like, that still create the old thrill.

I, uh, suspect McLean wasn’t reading Daredevil when he came to this decision…

I’m in total agreement with the author in giving up superhero comic books. And I’ve been a comic book addict since 1967!!! That’s forty-five years of feeding the coffers of DC and Marvel!

But today’s superhero comics are deflated puffs of wind. Too little story, too much money. Most of the artists do not understand the basics of storytelling, nor do they understand drawing the human figure. I read a Jim Lee comic and I can’t tell what’s happening in the panel!

And most of the writers wander Bendis-style, with pages of cutesy dialog and no plot movement. And current writers do not have a feel for the long-standing personalities of Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Thor, etc — these characters are now portrayed with radically different personalities.

So I dropped DC at their reboot (but I’m still buying The Shade) and I’ll be dropping all Marvel Super-heroes when the Avengers fight the X-Men for the umpteenth time. I really should have dropped Marvel when Bendis took over the Avengers, because I’ve hated what’s become of my old favorites. Gag me with a spoon.

I will still buy comics (like The Boys, and anything by Terry Moore) but Marvel and DC have chased me away.

I have also gone through this myself. I started collecting comics with my grandfather at age 7. I’m now 38 and had amassed quite a collection, but I found myself becoming less and less interested over the past 5 years. I read a lot of independent titles now because they have characters that are new and refreshing. I officially gave up on superhero books with The Return of Bruce Wayne. I thought that was a proper way of saying goodbye. I read a lot of Vertigo titles when they come out in graphic novel format, but don’t buy any single issues anymore. I’m a big fan of the Showcase Presents volumes by DC. Don’t get me wrong. I love superheroes. I’m just not in love with them. I currently write and draw the digital comic “Sanctuary” published by Slave Labor. (SLGcomic.com)

i feel this.

my shop is kind of out of the way on my commutes, so i only go every few weeks or so. i read the titles i love really quickly and then stare at a stack of books for weeks thinking “why do i still buy this?”.

needless to say, i’m dropping titles left and right and pretty much trade waiting every single miniseries put out. some titles i just buy out of habit and i need to force myself to stop. It’s hard when you’ve been buying something monthly for years and years. i recently dropped Fables after not really enjoying it for like 25 issues. i need to pull the plug on Invincible also…

Haven’t read his full blog post, but I definitely indentify with what he’s saying. The past few years I’ve been reading only comics from the smaller publishers (IDW, Archaia, Aspen, Image, BOOM!). The big 2 are going through what American soaps have been going through the past few years. Stagnation and rinse/repeat/recycle story telling. I still check out Vertigo from time to time and DC/Marvel have some comics I would love to check out or have checked out (i.e. X-Factor, Young Justice, Uncanny X-Force), but mainly I stick with the small house press.

Jason mentioned the library as a great way to check out comics and I think thats a great idea. I read a few TPB’s of Invincible and decided I didn’t enjoy it. I think there are like 15 TPB’s of Invincible now, so I saved a ton of money. I’m not reading The Walking Dead in addition to Superman/Batman. Also I discovered The Sword Vol. 1 at my local library and am now picking up the trades.

For me, it’s just simply a time thing. I have two young children, both with hobbies and interests of their own. I still have my comic room, with my thousands of comics purchased over the past 40 years. But I’ve scaled back my current issue buying habits – not due to the problems listed above, but because I just can’t keep up. I’m a Marvel Zombie at heart, and still love to follow the stories. But, you know, life and all that…

However, I did just start buying Masterworks and am working through the Marvel Universe chronologically, so maybe I’m the problem…

Help me.

Great article.
And I agree with the author 100%!

A couple points:

@Alemander: “There is no difference in superhero comics and the “greatness” of the vaunted independent and creator-owned comics. I am pretty tired of the mantra of how wonderful independent comics are. Why is “creator-owned” so universally beloved?”

Why? Well, if you have a creator-owned book all (if not most of the book) is one person’s voice. Their characters are their own creation so they won’t be taking someone else’s characters and writing/drawing them off model and incorrectly. Too many of Marvel & DC’s characters have been bastardized over the last few decades by authors and artists who want to tell stories that don’t fit the characters they’re using.

@Matt: “Its the decompression of stories that is pushing a lot of us away.”

IMO, this along with the price points are the biggest reason why mainstream monthly comics aren’t worth the effort. I’ve said this before and will say until I’m blue in the face, why in the world should I pay for just a chapter of a larger story? Why should I invest time and money in a monthly comic that has a story with no beginning or end?

@Tom McLean: “the art was detailed but unclear, the scripting was clever but not informative, ”

Amen Tom. I think it needs to be said that this era of mainstream comics is the WORSE era for artwork. Pick up a random Marvel or DC comic and flip through the pages. It’s filled with huge panels that don’t fit the story, muddy coloring and HORRENDOUS story telling. Seriously, have any of these artists even bothered to attempt to draw coherent panels that show backgrounds and tells the story VISUALLY? If they want to draw pin-ups or posters, do so and sell them at a convention, don’t try to jam them into a comic and call it story telling.

I haven’t been back to my LCS in months and don’t miss it. Like Tom, I haven’t given up comics (why would I?) I’ll just seek out the one-and-done graphic novels and reprints of classic work done by seasoned professionals rather then waste it on the tripe being hawked every month.

I reignited a childhood love of comics about three or four year ago thanks to a friend lending me trades of 52 and Top 10. At around the same time an LCS opened up ten minutes walk away from my house. I dipped my toe back in the weekly periodical market but a lot of the things I had found exciting and loveable about superhero comics had dissipated. The art – particularly it seemed in the Marvel titles – looked interchangeable to me and I found the digital coloring massively unappealing. And, yeesh, hadn’t the covers got boring? Luckily thanks to the comics internet I found a whole wonderful world of art-comix.

Daredevil rocks though.

A shame he couldn’t see outside the “all or nothing” paradigm. I’m perfectly happy reading only those Marvel & DC books I’m interested in, and saying “To hell with the wider universe.”

You may now burn me at the stake for the end of that last sentence.

if reading superhero comics equals “keeping track of what the big crossover of the moment is”, you’re doing it wrong. Crossover events are the Katy Perrys of the comics world.

Congratulations, Tom— you’ve taken your first steps into a MUCH larger Comics world!

Now if only other “Marvel Zombies”/”DC Diehards” could do likewise. But it’ll probably take finding the burnt-out corpses of their super-hero addiction splayed out in front of their LCS to force them to do so…

(The Big Two’s insistence on $3/$4 price point per issue and endless manufactured X-voers and Universe-al continuity reboots ARE a good starting point for that, certainly.)

I have to admit I’ve considered this as well. Its hard to continue to invest any more money or time into a genre that when the talent working on the comics don’t seem to care about the quality of their product.

I don’t know if it is due to a different generation of management and editors, but when I have to turn to message boards on the internet to understand what I just read in a comic, then something is seriously wrong with the industry.

I’ve noticed this problem in particular with the NuDC. The artwork on Titans, Wonder Woman, Superboy, Hawk & Dove and Stormwatch has been completely sub-par in terms of storytelling, and its frankly shocking that it could be considered professional-level work.

I agree with Michael P in theory, but in practice it’s a lot more difficult to pull off. I buy comics to read them, not just collect them, and with Marvel and DC (well, not DC since I’ve already bailed on everything New 52 but Swamp Thing) I increasingly feel like I’m paying money for, say, a novel, and then getting it home and finding large chunks of it missing. There’s enough of it there to be able to follow what’s going on, but it’s annoying to see the torn out pages, or suddenly have the story hijacked and new elements thrown in without a proper set-up. The information is fairly readily available to fill in blanks, but it’s not the same thing. If you’re watching a TV show and you miss an episode you could read a summary of what happened in that episode, but it’s not anywhere near as fulfilling as watching the actual episode. So you either grin and bear it and buy something else, or you toss the baby out with the bathwater and stop reading something you might be enjoying, if not for the constant tapping on your shoulder by someone trying to get you to buy more product. As the reader, you don’t ‘win’ either way.

Continuity can be a great storytelling element, but when it becomes a heavy-handed marketing tool is where the problem occurs, and that’s something that you lay at the feet of editorial / administrative, not the creative teams. It’s a wonder, really, given all the restrictions that many of the writers, especially the non A-list ones that have some say in or pull with editorial directions, are able to turn out interesting stuff. Can’t use that character because this writer just killed them. Someone else writing the other book featuring your character is doing something that contradicts this really cool idea you have, so back to the drawing board . . . er, keyboard. Add in these things to build up to the next big line-wide crossover. Yeah, I know you’re writing the Punisher but we NEED him to find the Ultimate Nullifier, that’s important for next year. That really intense subplot you’ve been expertly building to a boil for a big payoff? Put it on hold, ‘cause the Skrulls / Asgardians / Kree are invading, Phoenix is coming back, Galactus is on his way, Rocket Racoon has merged with the Beyonder and is mad, threating all reality, etc. and it’s all hands on deck for three or four issues, plus a maxi-series and a bunch of one-shot tie-ins.

There’s really no easy fix to this, either, because it’s a near perfect Catch-22. The more they use continuity as a quick-fix noose to increase sales, the more readers they invariably drive away, and the tighter the noose gets to keep the readers that haven’t had enough. And no one is going to look at those poor guys with their faces all red and their eyeballs popping out and say, hey, maybe I should go back to being on that side of the fence, just for old times’ sake, no matter how cool or fun the movies were and how nostalgic you’re feeling.

Some of these characters can still be very entertaining, but they’re in the hands of a bunch of business types who don’t seem to care that the money they’re making is a fraction of what they used to make, and all the way up the corporate ladder that’s completely acceptible, because it’s someone else’s fault: bad economy, the overall state of the marketplace that never recovered from an implosion that a lot of other folks were responsible for, etc. Disney and Warner Bros. isn’t going to come in and clean house, either, because as long as their comics divisions are turning a profit, the real money is in the merch and the movies, anyway. Long as people still buy the videogames and go see the movies, whether or not the comics still get published is irrelevant, they’re just another IP in a portfolio. The actual comics themselves are just a niche . . . unless you’re someone doing a comic that isn’t intended to be anything else other than a comic.

You can say what you want about superheroes, but these are the cultural icons that symbolize the industry and medium, the ones that should be accessible to readers of all ages. These are the seeds that new generations of readers grow on, you get them in and hooked with the capes and tights and then they discover the cool indie stuff. It’s a trickle down effect. Whether or not you personally care for the genre and its trappings, it’s bad for the medium as a whole to see the icons flounder and become inaccessible. You can blame the ‘zombies’ or fanboys, but I think the current administration of caretakers deserve a little of the shame, too, for not having a backbone and just willing to keep the underperforming status quo alive and well.

I’ve been consistently dropping titles since 2004. Looking back, that was when Marvel and DC got over their neo-nostalgia of the late 90s (teams and titles more resembled their classic incarnations) and got increasingly edgier and weirder. And then the nonstop cycle of crossovers hit, and I decided I was (mostly) done. I still religiously follow the Hulk family of books, because I’ve been a Hulk reader since 1982.

But I still love comics. What to do? I’m leaning towards “classics” now–comics that will ALWAYS be on somebody’s shelf, 10 or 20 or even 50 years from now. There’s a reason why Shakespeare is still read after 500 years while 95% of everything else has faded. My wife got me All Star Superman for Christmas, and I’ll read and reread that thing more than any of the various Superman comics I used to have in my longboxes. Give me what lasts, not what sells.

There have always been bad comics, and there have always been great comics! I don’t think the percentage has changed.

I do enjoy to kick back with an Essentials or Showcase reprinting my favourite superhero comics from a more innocent age when the storytelling of the genre suited the source material (eg: John Busema and Jack Kirby are appropriate superhero artists; Greg Land and Alex Maleev are not).

I will agree the dominance of expensive, decompressed trash that poses as ‘adult’ comics is a disturbing trend. However, there are a handful of great SUPERHERO comics out right now that rank with the best of any published in the past 40 years:

Action Comics by Grant Morrison, Batman by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo, Daredevil by Mark Waid and Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang.

To ignore these comics for the sake of nostalgia for a more ‘pure’ time that never existed is a disservice to these great comics and to your self! Just do some searching and you’ll see there are great comics out there waiting to be discovered.

http://www.comicbooksyndicate.com

There have always been bad comics, and there have always been great comics! I don’t think the percentage has changed.

I do enjoy to kick back with an Essentials or Showcase reprinting my favourite superhero comics from a more innocent age when the storytelling of the genre suited the source material (eg: John Busema and Jack Kirby are appropriate superhero artists; Greg Land and Alex Maleev are not).

I will agree the dominance of expensive, decompressed trash that poses as ‘adult’ comics is a disturbing trend. However, there are a handful of great SUPERHERO comics out right now that rank with the best of any published in the past 40 years:

Action Comics by Grant Morrison, Batman by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo, Daredevil by Mark Waid and Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang.

To ignore these comics for the sake of nostalgia for a more ‘pure’ time that never existed is a disservice to these great comics and to your self! Just do some searching and you’ll see there are great comics out there waiting to be discovered.

“Give me what lasts, not what sells.”

Truer words were never said, sir. Thank you for that.

Wow

This story’s so familiar, ok its also my story.

I started reading a little after Tom McLean in the late 70s and just stopped aroung the Green Lantern Corp War. I used to get my new comics every two weeks and would devour them quickly and anxiously await the next batch, but more and more I would find myself with unread issues. I had just losing interest over the last couple years and them just totally lost interest and stopped buying.

I haven’t bought a new comic since then and really don’t miss it. I still read back issues from my collectiions and pick up the ocassional biographies of comic books legends (just read Jerry Robinson’s) and I read older books like BWS’ Adastra in Africa, Icon, Terry and the Pirates, etc. I buy the ocassional original art and still travel to a convention or 2 when I have the time, and I buy the ocassional full run of some 1980s that I always wanted to try buy I have no desire to spend my money on or read current comics. I read The Beat and Comic Book Resources and I get Alter Ego and Back Issue magazine regularly.

That’s it, after 26 or so years I am out and I don’t miss buying comics.

I love comics. Always have and always will. My first comic was an x-men issue back at the inferno saga and i haven’t stopped reading since. The great thing about continuity comics is the different take several creators have on your favourite characters. Of course I don’t always like it but like someone said you only read what you want. I love the new x-force or the stories dan slott writes about spider-man. As for independent comics they are the breath of fresh air outside the super hero genre. They are diferent and unique, and it’s nice to read something diferent from time to time. That said, as long as there are great writers, great artists and great characters I will be reading comics no matter if the are new or old creations or super hero or not.

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