Before Social Justice and Comicsgate, there were Comic Books

I’ve written about the modern state of mainstream comic books before (DC, Marvel) including how at least some of them aren’t safe for children, and the whole comicsgate vs. social justice comic books drama. Some of this still pops up in my twitter stream, though I don’t respond because, why bother? Still, I do consider the state of the industry as it relates to some of the movies I watch (I caught Deadpool 2 on DVD the other day). And that takes me back to the comic books I used to read, many years…okay, decades ago.

I’ve read some things about the upcoming Captain Marvel movie, which seems interesting, and maps to the original Ms. Marvel comic book of the 1970s, based on a non-superpowered Carol Danvers who appeared in 1968 in this comic book:

Here, Captain Marvel was an alien spy, obeying the commands of his Kree overlords in a spaceship orbiting the Earth, but eventually, he used his space suit’s powers to help human beings, bringing his loyalty into question. Not long afterward, he got a make over and turned into this:

Still pretty old school but more superheroish. It would take quite a while for his powers to be bequeathed to Danvers, and then several other women, including a 16-year-old Muslim girl from New Jersey (and as an aside, the character’s creator is a Caucasian woman from New Jersey who converted to Islam when she was 20).

I mentioned I saw Deadpool 2 not long ago, which featured some of the X-Men, but when I was a kid, the X-Men were quite different:

xmen

The X-Men in the mid-1960s

Of course, by the mid-1970s, they’d turn into something more like this:

xmen

X-Men comic books from 1998.

I actually enjoyed the new team for a while, but by the mid-1980s, my enthusiasm for comic books in general was waning.

Oh, it wasn’t an objection to the content becoming more mature, because at that point, I was an adult, but being married, going to graduate school, and working full-time didn’t leave a lot of room.

Before you think I have problems with socially relevant issues in comic books, the modern creators at Marvel and DC should remember that they aren’t doing anything new. In the 1970s, a drug abuse storyline in Spider-Man caused the Comics Code Authority to revoke its seal. You can see it’s missing in the upper right corner of the following:

spidey

Amazing Spider-Man #98

The Authority had a change of heart by the time DC published its own drug abuse related story:

snowbirds

Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85

What pulled me back to comic books in the 1990s was the fact that my children were old enough to enjoy them, and the wonderfully fascinating “Death of Superman” story arc:

supes1

Death of Superman

This was Superman at his finest, giving his life to save the innocent. Still, in my heart of hearts, the old George Reeves Superman TV show will still be “my” Superman, as will the comic book below. I still remember reading this issue as a kid:

supes

Superman

It creeped me out that Superman’s hand could actually be bitten.

I could go on, but perhaps you’re wondering what my point might be? My point is comicsgate and social justice posturing aside, comic books used to be fun, and that was the whole point. Once they became a “cause,” and that became their primary or only role to their audience, the fun ride stopped.

I don’t know if (physical) comic books are dying, but they sure are changing. There used to be several comic book stores in the Boise area. Now there’s only one, and I’m not even sure it still exists (EDIT: it does). I remember when you could buy comic books in the local drug store. Not anymore. And given things I’ve said above, I’d never read a modern comic book to my grandkids the way I read them to my children when they were little.

When were comic books fun? I guess the answer depends on your point of view. For me, this is the answer.

atom

The Atom

avengers

The Avengers #4

JLA

The Justice League of America

magnus

Magnus, Robot Fighter: 4000AD

sfr

Space Family Robinson: Lost in Space (which came along before the TV show).

solar

Solar: The Man of the Atom

This, for me, was when comic books were fun. I guess that’s how nostalgia works, but it’s more than nostalgia that tells me these comic books are a lot better for children than what I hear is being produced today, at least some of it.

I could go on, but I’ve said what I came here to say. Tha-tha-that’s all, folks. For now, anyway.

EDIT: I’m not sure if the links I’m posting here fit, but if the content can be verified, it makes Marvel Comic books a very strange place, and more highly biased than I could ever imagine. The first blog post is written by the controversial SF/F novel and comic book creator Jon Del Arroz, but mainly he’s quoting the even more controversial Vox Day’s article Mailvox: Marvel and the Swamp. Really, I don’t know what to think.

Another Edit: The Atlantic article The Real Reasons for Marvel Comics’ Woes was published in May 2017, but it gives a good summary (a bit of a long read, but worth it) of how Marvel Comics has been continually shooting itself in the foot. The author obviously approves of Marvel’s social justice direction, but also outlines the contention within the industry, between Marvel and its fans, and how ownership by Disney is primarily about using existing Marvel IP to fuel blockbuster movies, not to drive new audiences to comic books or to produce better and more interesting print/digital stories.

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9 thoughts on “Before Social Justice and Comicsgate, there were Comic Books

    • Perhaps I’m just out of touch with mainstream comic books today. I love the comic books I’ve referenced in this blog post, and those would be the ones I’d most likely read to my grandkids. After my grandson saw the first Ant-Man movie, he let me read him one of the old Ant-Man stories featured in Tales to Astonish from the 1960s. He said he was surprised it was so good. Oy.

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      • Back in the day, they were fun, but the more I find out about what’s being published now, the more I’d be concerned about reading them to my grandkids. Oh, I put an “edit” at the bottom with a couple of links. I’m not sure if what’s being alleged by those sources is true, but if somehow it is, then Marvel may have changed way more than I ever imagined it could.

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  1. Good post James. Very nuanced and objective. Myself, I’m a bit younger so I started reading comics in the late 80s and thought I was gonna draw them for a living—it’s why I learned how to draw in the first place. However, in college circa the turn of the millennium I fell out of love with comics because the stories just got less fun. Too dark and depressing, too many bad ideas, and too few new, fresh, and exciting properties.

    And yes, too much overt politics creeping in, at least for my taste. I see much the same in comics today.

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    • And too repetitive. Like a lot of movies and TV shows, they keep remaking everything. Doomsday was unique and inventive when he showed up to kill Superman in the 1990s but now he, and a lot of other story lines, keeps getting recycled. Where has the creativity gone?

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’ve hit the nail on the head James. At some point, yeah, maybe Superman and Batman and Spider-Man, etc., need to end.

        But these characters are such cash-cows the beat will roll on . . . and on . . . and on . . .

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      • These classic characters will probably never end, and they’ve spawned numerous alternate characters (the Calvin Ellison Superman and the Miles Morales Spider-Man). I know it must be terrifically difficult to think of something new to do with a character who is is well over half a century to nearly a century old, but it’s sloppy writing to do otherwise. Of course, as I mentioned, they do manufacture different ways to engage them, such as the aforementioned Superman and Spider-Man who are of different ethnic backgrounds than their white originals, Thor being turned into a woman, and Captain America being made into a Nazi, however, those changes don’t honor the legacy of these iconic heroes.

        I suppose, if they can’t be retired, they could be used more sparingly, and the DC and Marvel writers/artists could create new superheroes who have never existed before, which should give them the space to make up more “socially just” comic book characters, if that’s their desire.

        The beauty of indie publishing, is that audiences no longer have to depend on the two big corporations (though I enjoyed several Gold Key comic book series as a kid), and have a wider set of selections. Maybe, besides the accusations of racism, why DC/Marvel object to the Comicsgate producers. They should be too big to be afraid of competition at this point, but then again, Microsoft, Apple, and a whole bunch of other huge, successful companies will do just about anything to narrow the field to just them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I have nothing more to add, save that there’s some combination of fear and a lack of creative talent preventing new characters from being made.

        Too bad yet another iconic American cultural institution is a walking corpse.

        Liked by 1 person

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