From a Comic Book Junkie: Comic Books Through the AgesPermalink +
Mon, Feb 28, 2011, 1:31 am // Riley Sweeney
As always, you can get the latest from Riley at his blog, The Political Junkie
In the past month, when I have not been working to shrink the over-sized jail (see Bellingham Herald article) or organizing a forum on the Cherry Point Facility (see Whatcom Democrats article), I’ve been reading comic books.
Yes, I am an unabashed comic book nerd. Comics have changed in the last 75 years. What started out as simple morality tales aimed at 8 year old boys has blossomed out into a variety of genres, tastes, and audiences. Stick with me as we take a quick trip through the history of comics
When most people think about comic books, they think of the Golden or Silver Age of Comics. The Golden Age of Comics spans from 1938 with the creation of Superman, till 1954 when McCarthyism convinced everyone that comics were corrupting our youth. Here is where you see Captain America slugging it out with Nazis and bright vibrant colors as Batman and Robin race off to stop goofy guys with funny names. Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, all of them deal with moral absolutes.
The bad guys were always wrong, you could tell by their mustache twirling sneers and black clothing, and in the end, the good guys always won to the delight of an adoring public. Politics, as they always do, snuck in, with Superman flying off to blow up horrible caricatures of Japanese soldiers, and the aforementioned slugging of Hitler.
But Red Scare paranoia brought down comics for a while, as it did all creative arts. Comic book writers were investigated for subverting our youth and superhero and sidekick relationships were examined for coded homosexual influences. In response, the comic industry went dark for a while, sanitizing everything they could and publishing nothing controversial.
Creative energies cannot be suppressed for long. In the early 1960s, Stan Lee invented a whole host of fresh characters at Marvel Comics. Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Iron-Man, the Incredible Hulk, all of them shared a critical difference from their predecessors, they were flawed. The Fantastic Four bickered with each other continually, Spider-Man was constantly broke and hounded by the press. The Incredible Hulk . . . well, he kept getting angry and smashing things. None of these comics were truly “dark” in the modern way of thinking about things. The good guys still won, the bad guys still lost, no one died. In fact, some stories were downright goofy, (“Oh no! Jimmy Olson married a giant gorilla . . . AGAIN!”) There was little controversy because most of the plotlines were too ridiculous for anyone to take them at face value, much less look for hidden meanings. The Silver Age is still fondly remembered by many fans and is the source material for most movies.[/caption]
But all good things must come to an end. As a generation of comic book readers aged, so did the subject matter. Enter the Bronze Age of Comics. In 1970, a wave of industry changes (editors retiring, new writers being hired) brought an end to the bizarre and humorous storylines of the past decade. Spider-Man’s best friend dropped acid and had a psychotic breakdown, Captain America hung up his shield in disgust and wandered the earth, the Green Lantern and Green Arrow teamed up to travel the country, highlighting the plights of labor unions, native people, and poverty.
More women appeared in comics as heroes themselves, rather than damsels in distress. The X-Men were reintroduced as a metaphor for racism, and villains began to win occasionally. Batman returned to his roots as a pulp hero, doing more detective work than trading barbs with The Penguin. The industry felt comfortable enough with itself to start tackling real world situations through the medium of comic books. As the country lost its collective innocence with the Watergate scandals, we saw our heroes open their eyes to the human struggles going on beneath their feet.
With a trajectory like this, it was only a matter of time before the industry took it to its natural conclusion: The Dark Age of Comics. In 1986, two comics were introduced that truly changed how people saw superheroes. The first was Watchmen. A true deconstruction of why people would put on costumes to fight crime, this twelve issue series remains one of the highest selling comics ever. The other comic was The Dark Knight Returns, a Batman story set in the future, where Batman is a near psychotic old man, mowing down criminals with little regard for life. Vigilantism, violence, and brutality were all explored in comics from this period. The term “graphic novel” was introduced as a way to convey that, yes, these comics were more literary and definitely not for kids. Comics moved away from superheroes and started featuring political revolutionaries, Science Fiction, Noir Detective Dramas, and imaginative genre-breaking series’ such as “The Sandman.” Finally, with all the dark themes, the comic consumer had had enough, and in the late 90s and early 2000s we entered the modern era of comics.
Modern comics are more diverse now than they have ever been. Walk into a comicbook store and you can find romance stories, political dramas, police stories, historical literary pieces, and yes, superheroes. They feature more diverse casts, and a variety of artistic styles. The superhero stories are more reminiscent of the Silver Age than the Dark Age, you see broad splashy stories of heroes and villains with the world hanging in the balance, but they retain the sophistication of the Bronze and Dark Ages.
Today’s comics confront political issues more candidly than ever before. You can find comics about growing up in Iran, or traveling through Bosnia during the 90s. The heroes are often pitted against each other, not because of misunderstandings but as differing moral perspectives.
The genres have grown and I really urge people to give them a second shot. Maybe you flipped through a few Fantastic Four comics when you were younger, give them another try now. The artwork is incredible, truly scenic, and the characters you love still have their charm. Get lost in an interstellar mission to save a dying world, wander through darkened alleyways of Gotham City with Batman and Robin (although they are no longer Bruce Wayne and Dick Greyson.) Pick out some “All-Star Superman” and feel the wind in your hair as he races toward a robot to save Jimmy Olson again. You won’t regret it.
Mon, Feb 28, 2011, 1:31 am // Riley SweeneyRiley Sweeney gives a brief history of Comic Books
2 comments; last on Mar 03, 2011
Sat, Feb 26, 2011, 11:51 am // Kamalla Rose KaurBellingham, WA - A Living Local Economy
Fri, Feb 25, 2011, 10:17 am // Riley SweeneyRiley Sweeney gives a short post about Harry Reid's old school politicking
2 comments; last on Feb 27, 2011
Thu, Feb 24, 2011, 2:09 am // Tip JohnsonYou've gotta be kidding!
13 comments; last on Mar 01, 2011
Mon, Feb 21, 2011, 5:17 am // Riley SweeneyRiley Sweeney talks about why it is time for legalization of hemp
1 comments; last on Mar 29, 2011
Sat, Feb 19, 2011, 12:23 pm // David CampSupreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is either incompetent (by his own admission) or criminal - why has he not been impeached or even investigated?
6 comments; last on Feb 23, 2011
Thu, Feb 17, 2011, 6:30 pm // Guest writerGuest writer Doug Karlberg follows up with report from Tuesday's Port Commission meeting
7 comments; last on Feb 20, 2011
Mon, Feb 14, 2011, 6:35 pm // Guest writerWhy the price of moorage matters to all Whatcom County. A guest article by Doug Karlberg.
5 comments; last on Jun 30, 2011
Thu, Feb 10, 2011, 8:14 am // John ServaisKelli Linville and Jack Louws are expected to file for Bellingham Mayor and Whatcom County Executive
12 comments; last on Feb 12, 2011
Wed, Feb 09, 2011, 2:00 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley Sweeney compiles several local writings about the County Council breaking the law
1 comments; last on Feb 12, 2011
Fri, Feb 04, 2011, 4:29 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley Sweeney talks about the Jail Meeting
5 comments; last on Feb 09, 2011
Wed, Feb 02, 2011, 9:22 am // John ServaisEgypt - just one citizen voicing his perspective on what is happening. Speaking freely.
4 comments; last on Feb 07, 2011
Election InfoCounty election results
State election results
Coal, Oil & Trains
Community Wise Bellingham
Powder River Basin R. C.
Local Blogs & NewsBellingham Herald
Bham Herald Politics Blog
Bham Politics & Economics
Friends of Whatcom
Get Whatcom Planning
League of Women Voters
Western Front - WWU
Local CausesChuckanut Community Forest
City Club of Bellingham
Futurewise - Whatcom
Lummi Island Quarry
N. Cascades Audubon
NW Holocaust Center
Reduce Jet Noise
Salish Sea Org.
Save the Granary Building
WA Conservation Voters
Whatcom Peace & Justice
Port of Bellingham
State election results
US - The White House
WA State Access
WA State Elections
WA State Legislature
Weather & ClimateCliff Mass Weather Blog
Nat Hurricane Center
Two day forecast
Watts Up With That? - climate
Edge of Sports
Famous Internet Skiers
Good Web SitesAl-Jazeera online
Foreign Policy in Focus
Innocence Project, The
Intrnational Herald Tribune
Julia Ioffe/New Republic
Middle East Times
New American Century
Paul Krugman - economics
Personal bio info
Portland Indy Media
Project Vote Smart
Stand for the Troops
Talking Points Memo
The Crisis Papers
War and Piece
NwCitizen 1995 - 2007Early Northwest Citizen
Quiet, Offline or DeadBellingham Police Activity
Citizens of Bellingham
Cordata & Meridian
Facebook Port Reform
N. Sound Conservancy
No Leaky Buckets
Protect Bellingham Parks
The American Telegraph