Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Looking through the previews of Archie’s New Crusaders revival the other day, I had this odd reaction that took me a while to work through. My first impulse was a sense of … dissatisfaction, perhaps, that it looked too “cartoony” and aimed toward kids, which was immediately followed by its own backlash as I remembered, oh, that’s right: that’s what they’re supposed to be.
It seems odd to think about that these days, now that The Avengers is breaking box-office records like a hobby and mainstream pop culture has been hijacked by what used to be four-color fantasies. Somehow, the world at large has bought into the idea that we’ve been playing with for years that superheroes are modern-day myths and therefore deserve to be taken seriously, to the point of finding myself at a party recently listening to two men who’ve seen the movies but never read the comics arguing at each other about the origins of their new favorite characters and the metatextual roots of Tony Stark’s Afghanistan armor-forging. (Also, note to both: Alan Moore didn’t create Iron Man. Sorry) On the one hand, it feels like a victory because, hey! Everyone finally gets it after years of abuse! But on the other…
Somewhere, the “mainstream comic audience” — the direct market fans, the ones who not only know that comics come out weekly on Wednesdays but try to get to the store that day to pick up their books — became too possessive about their characters, I worry. “Comics aren’t just for kids anymore!” went the 1980s slogan created in the wake of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, and that’s obviously, undeniably the case because it’s an entire medium, how can a medium be solely for any one audience? But in trying to prove that to everyone, we’ve reached a point where the idea of superhero comics created for kids has become as much an anomaly as those created for adults was 30 years ago.
This isn’t a new thought, of course; everyone’s been here before me, and knows that (a) the western comic industry skews weirdly, self-destructively older than it should as a whole, and (b) it’d be great if the larger publishers in the direct market made more of an effort to cultivate a younger readership than a couple of specialty books a month. But quite how that translates into New Crusaders feeling too much like a kids’ book and therefore not for me is the thing that has stuck with me: Exactly what is that all about, my brain?
Annoyingly, it’s likely the art, which doesn’t fit into the detailed hyper-realism school as pioneered by Neal Adams and then twisted into the Jim Lee and/or Bryan Hitch schools in the last couple of decades? It’s far closer to something Mike Parobeck or Mike Wieringo would do, if a little more static right now, which is annoying because … I prefer Parobeck or Wieringo to Hitch or Lee, and the idea that I’d jump to “not for me” when I see their art seems particularly like I’ve missed the part where over-exposure has programmed my brain to think that way (I didn’t agree to that, dammit).
There’s a tendency to accept received wisdom over your own taste, sometimes, because it’s easier; you can look at something and think “Yeah, that’s the way things aren’t meant to be” or “that’s what sells” or whatever and be okay with it in ways even if a moment’s thought would put you elsewhere on the spectrum of good to evil. Maybe that’s just me, but it’s something that I have to be aware of and push back on more than I’d like. New Crusaders may benefit from that kind of course correction, because I know I’m going to sign up when it launches tomorrow if only to try and deprogram my brain from this weird preconception. After all, I have to try and learn not to be so stupid sometime, right …?