Friday, September 03, 2010

Darwyn Cooke is Right About Comics

As someone who has been saying for years that the comic book industry needs to start focusing more on catering to children again, I am in complete agreement with everything that Darwyn Cooke says in this brief interview. Much as the Batman television series of the 1960s is blamed for ruining comics by making them campy, the Batman movie of 1989 along with The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen comics from 1986 are responsible for turning superhero comics into completely unsuitable reading material for kids.

While it is nice that super hero comic books grew up with the readers who followed them from their Stan Lee infused rebirth in the late 1960s, it's a shame that they stopped being acceptable reading material for a new generation. After all the superhero comic book is really about adolescent power fantasies for the quiet, unathletic kids who never quite fit in, who behind a mask and secret identity were able to shine, defeat the big bullies of the world and earn the admiration of society, and more importantly, the pretty girl who they believe wouldn't give them the time of day in their non superhero persona. I could go on and on about all of the aspects that these power fantasies serve to fulfill in the imagination of children who grew up reading the adventures of Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woma, or the Hulk, but all you need to know is that right now, those needs are not really being served in comic books anyway.

You could argue that there is room for an adult oriented Batman comic book, but is there any reason why all of the other comic books can't be read by "all ages?" Is there any reason the Green Lantern can't entertain without filling it's pages with dismemberment and blatent sex? It's a comic book about a man who wears a magic ring which gives him powers for crying out loud. My feeling is that is a fifty year old man, seventy year old, or even thirty year old still wants to read Aquaman or Captain America, then to each their own, but it should not be at the expense of all the eight and nine year olds who could truly benefit from these comics. "All ages" does not have to mean "stupid" or "inferior." Both the Batman the Animated Series and Justice League animated series television shows proved this.

The other detrimental aspect of superhero comic books becoming all mature is that they've really lost that sense of awe and wonder that they used to have where anything could happen and it didn't necessarily have to comply with the laws of physics or continuity. Why do we need to concern ourselves with the realities of friction and caloric intake when it comes to a character like the Flash, when we don't wonder what exactly Superman is pushing away from when he flies, or how he hovers in the air, or why Spider-Man's gloves don't stick to his webs, or Cyclops can miss. Have you ever tried to look at something and missed? Not to sound like an old fuddy duddy, but I liked it better when the Flash could be turned into a living marionette. Stories like that really appeal to the eight year old in me, which I think is how it's meant to be.



Martin Arlt said...

I'm of the opinion that any of the established "Big Two" comics should always be all-ages (that doesn't mean just for kids). No Batman or Spider-Man or Superman book should ever be inappropriate for kids, even if they have something on another level to offer adults as well. If you want to do an adult comic featuring superheroes, make up your own characters, even if they're analogues of known heroes. This is partly why I like Watchmen and loathe The Killing Joke, despite being written by the same guy.

Bubbashelby said...

"Have you ever tried to look at something and missed?"

Haha I love it!

Robert Pope said...

Hear Hear! (and to Martin's comment, I thought I was the only person in the Western Hemisphere who didn't like "Killing Joke!")

diana green said...

I teach comics history. I think comics should be for kids, but they should not be pabulum. Comics should be exciting, scary, violent and smart. And they should be for kids. We continually underestimate kids' capacity for understanding nuance in a story. And without nuance, you have a pretty dull story. If a story's dull, a kid won't stick around for it. Look how scary parts of the Disney Pirates movies were, or for that matter, the 1939 Wizard of Oz, or the harry Potter books. Does anyone really believe these things harm kids?
Above all, kids need smart stories. If they don't get them from comics, they'll go elsewhere.

John Rozum said...


I agree. The one thing I learned from kids above third grade is that when they see comics aimed at them with stylized art that looks cartoony it has the same effect of telling them the movie they want to see is rated "G". They want nothing to do with it because it's for kids.

I've been trying for years to get the big comic book companies interested in doing all ages comics that look like the adult stuff but with the adult content removed, using the success animated series I cited as a content model. I've even suggested genres beyond super heroes and formats different from the adult comics, all to no avail.

It's tough to tell truly compelling stories with the licensed comics, as the property owners have their own needs which often curtail these efforts.

All I know is we spent decades making acceptable for grown-ups to read comics without shame, and in another decade we'll have to do it all over again, because my feeling is someone who didn't grow up reading comics as a kid won't be interested in starting as an adult without some urging.

I know you teach college, but you may want to visit my companion blog: