Features & Columns

Can Comic Books Be Saved?

Comics remain both relevant and marginalized

I wish to make a complaint. There are exceptions, and I'll try to name them, but most mainstream media coverage of comics sucks the air out of the room. And this in a time when the lively medium needs all the help it can get.

One of the bigger comic-book-related stories of 2014 was a copy of Action Comics #1 selling for $2.3 million on Ebay. Sadly, the monster price of this issue containing the first adventure of Superman doesn't trickle down. You-Store-It lockers, crowded with double cellophane-wrapped 1990s hologram collectable covers in varying colors, didn't rise in value.

Right about the time of the San Diego Comic Con in mid-July came the news that Archie Andrews was going to catch a fatal bullet for defending his gay friend in issue #36 of Life With Archie.

"We will not be retconning [sic], reversing or backtracking on this story," Archie comics CEO Jon Goldwater told CNN reporter Henry Hanks.

Archie's death was a side plot to something more exciting: the ongoing walking dead situation in Riverdale in After Life With Archie, a horror title that transports zombie infatuation to the Archie universe. The hell vortex was opened by Sabrina the Teenage Witch, leading ultimately to her possible forced marriage with the Elder God, C'thulu. A huge improvement over Beth Broderick and the taxidermied cat puppet from the Sabrina TV show.

In the meantime, the news kept churning: Batwoman is a lesbian. The Golden Age Green Lantern is gay. Wonder Woman is going to be apparently slightly women-identified (in an upcoming version by comic-book writer Grant Morrison), superhero Miles Morales is now a sometimes Spider-Man, the new Captain America will be the Falcon and ergo African American. And Thor is to be reincarnated as a dumb gurl.

Marvel Comics burned up the feminist goodwill it got from Thor's sex change by leaking an alarming picture of Spider-Woman in an alternative cover for this fall's Spider-Woman #1 by Italian cartoonist Milo Manara. The heroine, decked out in a nigh painted-on costume, is posed in a splayed butt-thrust you wouldn't see outside of the Catwalk Club. "What Is Marvel's Problem with Women?" shouted the headline in the Hollywood Reporter over this not atypical drawing by Manara.

You can count on ink or pixels any time Superman dies. The aforementioned Morrison recently killed him again, thoroughly and touchingly, in All Star Superman. Incidentally, this was made into an animated film which beats Zack Snyder's Man of Steel like a red-headed stepson.

Transformation and resurrection are essential to the comic-book legacy and its survival—it's the Ovid built into them. But comic books—the mainstream ones—require regular attention, not attention grabs. In the opinion of Kris Bartolome, owner of Santa Rosa's Comics FTW, "One highly acclaimed comic series that doesn't get enough attention from the rest of the world is Love and Rockets. It's just really good storytelling, with some of the best characters in comics ever. It really expanded my interests in the medium, and art and storytelling in general."

There is good regular writing about comics, beyond the parody of the tunnel-visioned fanboys on Tim Chamberlain's "Our Valued Customers" blog. The Los Angeles Times' intrepid "Hero Complex" section gives comics the respect they deserve, as does Scott Mendelson's comic coverage in Forbes. Various female bloggers who love comics maintain an uproar against the cheesecaking of the classics, as per DC's tits-and-ass-laden New 52 series, which in 2011 relaunched the company's entire line of titles. As payback, they get a good deal of squalid, sexually threatening outrage... continue reading