By Kelly Harrass
The other day I picked up Batman: Year One. I’ve been reading comics since I was three and I spent the majority of my comic reading career as a Marvel only guy. It wasn’t until several years ago that I started reading indie books and it was only about three years ago that I started reading comics from DC.
Needless to say, I’ve been playing catch up over these past couple of years.
I’ve been in the process of reading some of the classics from DC, both new and old. Batman: Year One is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to pick up. Year One got me thinking about another book that I don’t own, but I have read; The Dark Knight Returns.
The Dark Knight Returns is one of the most influential comics ever written in terms of how it affected the entire genre of superhero comics. Two other books that I would throw in the same category as TDKR are Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil and Watchmen. Some might disagree with me on Millar’s Daredevil, but I’ve included it because it was hugely influential in bringing a more mature edge to superhero comics.
What two things do these three comics all have in common beyond contributing to the revitalization of superheroes?
1. All three offer a perfect marriage of writing and art. In Daredevil and TDKR that comes from the writer and the artist, Frank Miller, being the same person. For Watchmen this comment could be left up for debate. Most only acknowledge Watchmen for the dynamic writing of Alan Moore, but the art by Dave Gibbons is just as important. If the wrong artist had been on Watchmen, it wouldn’t have been the classic that it turned out to be.
2. All three were published in the 1980’s.
I believe that these two things are connected. The 80’s were the perfect time for these books to be released. The industry was at a time where it needed a bit of shaking up and creatively this was the perfect time to make something like these books happen. Creators were starting to break away from the norm; these books just provided the final kick over the edge. Could these books have been made or could they have made the same impact in another decade? If they had happened in the 90’s or the first decade in this century I’m not sure that they would have.
1990’s won’t be remembered for good stories. What they’ll be remembered for is a huge speculation market that almost killed the industry. They’ll also be remembered as a decade where the books were mostly driven by the art. Plenty of those books sure do look pretty, but good art alone does not make industry changing (in a good way) classics.
The 2000’s started off as a reactionary period to the 90’s. The comic companies realized that they just had to try and survive now. The 90’s hurt bad. Hell, Marvel went bankrupt. The industry realized that a focus mainly on art wasn’t going to work. So instead they swung to the other side of the pendulum. The focus is now on the writing.
In my opinion, the stories have greatly improved. Comics are at a much better quality than they were in the 90’s. As comic fans we’re really fortunate to be reading comics now, but have we had any earth shattering comics in the past ten (eleven really) years? I’m going to say no.
Please, don’t misunderstand me. There are fantastic comics coming out right now. As far as comic fans go, I’m pretty happy with the industry. I don’t complain anywhere near as much as other people do. I LOVE COMICS!!!!
That being said, I don’t believe that we have seen anything hugely earth shattering or industry changing like we saw in TDKR and Watchmen. What we’ve seen in this decade is gradual change to a certain type of storytelling that seems to revolve around big events. There’s nothing wrong with that, but instead of anything ground shattering happening, we’re stuck in a cycle from both companies. The big two have an event, then there’s a period where all the books go off and do their own thing while one of the titles builds up to something, and then the next event happens. We can see it happening right now with Fear Itself and Flashpoint.
This cyclical nature of the big two is the reason why I believe that we aren’t in a comic making environment that would facilitate a comic that makes big changes like Watchmen did. The big two are too busy looking toward the next event, or in DC’s case, too busy trying to build a new universe.
You could make an argument that the next earth shattering book could come out of the indies. I’d like for that to happen, but I don’t think that’s where it will come from. Not enough people are reading books from the indies. The top selling creator owned book, The Walking Dead, which has a hit TV show behind it, sells around 30,000 copies a month. That’s around one-third of the top selling book on the market. The indies just don’t have the reach to make a Watchmen like impact on the comic world.
So, now to answer the question asked in the title of this piece: when’s the next shake up coming? I don’t know. If I had to make a guess I’d say it’s not going to be in the near future. At the end of the day, I don’t know if there ever is going to be another big shift in the world of superhero comics. I’d like for there to be one though. Not because I’m unhappy with how things are, but because there’s just a chance that things could be even better.