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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Fan-Fiction Age of Superhero Comics -- Over at Dick Hates Your Blog, Mr. Hyacinth observes the schism between fans of Brad Meltzer's lousy superhero comics versus Brian Michael Bendis's. Meltzer takes the baton as the leader in the race to create the worst superhero comics available today, but Bendis makes a strong second-place showing. The fact of the matter is, both are guilty of being master planners in the current, awful Fan-Fiction Age of superhero comics. From Straczynski's Spider-Man to Millar's Civil War, from Johns's Infinite Crisis to Bendis and Meltzer's narrative ass-rape of Marvel and DC's two top team titles (or TTTT as I like to call 'em), any informed observer of the current state of Marvel and DC's "universes" can see that the past few years are populated almost solely by events and storylines that just cry out to be retconned out of existence by creators who are actually committed to telling good stories with every drop of their creative gifts they can muster.

Unfortunately, the days when top creators were willing to give their all to corporations servicing superhero trademarks seem long past. I remember vividly when Frank Miller came along and reinvigorated Daredevil; when Walt Simonson showed us why Thor was so goddamned cool; when Claremont and Byrne were humble enough to exercise their talent before their egos and create probably the best X-Men comics ever created; when Alan Moore took Swamp Thing from industry joke (sorry, Mike!) to the most compelling comic book being published.

Creators today -- the smart ones -- take their best work to companies that will allow them to own their own work. So it's hard to imagine who the next Frank Miller or Alan Moore or whoever will be. Not that we need anyone to rehash those creator's visions or steal their best ideas -- that kind of bullshit is what has gotten us where we are now in corporate superhero comics. No, what is needed is, to paraphrase Alan Moore, someone to come along and twist the knobs to a setting no one ever thought of before. A new paradigm that makes corporate superhero comics not only readable, but fun and entertaining again.

Marvel and DC will probably have to shift some paradigms of their own, first, though. It wasn't that long ago, but can you imagine Marvel giving Grant Morrison a free hand to do what he did with New X-Men in today's market? Sure, DC let Darwyn Cooke create New Frontier, but why not allow someone that gifted and committed to the genre to just take over one of the main titles? Why ghettoize the quality stories while dosing fanboy junkies with the sort of continuity porn found in Meltzer/Bendis/et al's "hot" titles?

Another observation Moore once made was that he tried to give readers what they needed, not what they wanted. It may be a subtle distinction, but it's at the heart of what is wrong with corporate superhero comics at the moment, and why the direct market is locked in the death-grip of The Fan-Fiction Age of Superhero Comics.

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