I Don’t Need Another (Super)Hero

“Oh quit your whining, Scott.”

I literally said that out loud when while reading Uncanny X-Men #1 last night.  And, immediately after, I realized: with some exceptions, I just don’t care about the problems of superheroes.

This is something that has been happening for a few years now. I realize that most of the trades I recommend tend to be more along the lines of Criminal, Parker, and Daytripper, and in single issues, I enjoy the family discussions in Animal Man and blossoming relationships in The Flash much more than the epic heroics of Superman or The Avengers.

I assume there are many of you who are reading this, nodding, “Yeah, join the club, Mike, I haven’t read  ___man for years!”  Maybe this is the fate of most comic book readers who stay current for longer than a few years. I mean, after awhile, you just start feeling this strange sense of sequential art deja-vu, finding themes and plots…familiar, somehow, variations of previous pages and panels.

To be clear, none of this is new and it is not even necessarily bad. As the iFanboys would point out, no one is forcing me to keep reading, and is a myriad of non-superhero books out there to enjoy. Perhaps it is because of their recent discussion in one of the podcasts that I am so aware of this feeling, which reminds me of that very sad moment of realization, during a date, “wow, I’m just…I’m not interested in you anymore.”  I care about current superhero comics, but just not enough to maintain the relationship. I’m still attracted…but my eyes are wandering (and wondering) something fierce.

I try, I really do. I picked up all the X-Men: Regenesis issues and I think it is very telling that my favorite one of them all was less about explosions and battles and more about the judgement of skeptical school board members (Wolverine and the X-Men #1). And it’s more than my identifying with the struggle to do well on the first day of your job, working to impress people who may be more than a little skeptical of your abilities.  While I picked up most of DC’s first issues, I have been kind of surprised to see just how few of those books I am actually coming back to, either waiting until they are cheaper or just choosing to spend my money on different kinds of comics. I just find myself less interested in taking that leap of faith to commit to the stories, whether it be the admittedly well-regarded Spider Island arc or the new adventures of the new Superman, or who Captain America is going to pick for a new Avengers team (if we ever get to that issue).

I admit, maybe part of this is because I never got to fly. I never figured out heat vision and, try as I might, no matter how fast I ran, I was never able to go back in time.  As I kid, when I read these books, to be clear, I was not taking them literally, but there was this sense of possibility, the opportunity to truly identify with characters like Peter Parker, who was going through many of the same issues I was, and the notion of being able to leave all normal life behind and become a hero.  Now that I am older, I find myself appreciating those stories just fine, but less interested about the glossy sheen of possibility and more interested in gritty tang of just surviving. 

Of course, “surviving” can mean different things. Coming back to a different world after years in the slammer? Sure. Realizing that the only way to still that burning fear is by taking revenge on those who screwed you over? Totally. Just figuring out how to be happy while working at a massive used book store in New York…these kinds of stories are my new “riveting.”  Which, I know, sounds kind of sad, almost pathetic, but I’m okay with that.

Taking a breath, I sit back and glance at the various headlines in the news, and wonder if we’ll see all this frustration and despair out there impact the kinds of comics that come out. One could very easily make the argument that the fears and pain of a scared dispirited nation helped create Superman, a hero that was unlike any other at the time, a protector from another planet that reminded us of our humanity. But what about now, when superheroes are pop culture?  When a movie costs $10 and a comic book $4, can superheroes inspire anything more to an anguished country than more frustration? Why should I care enough to pay $4 to read about some kid’s inability to tell his dad that he can turn invisible when my dad hasn’t worked in 16 months and can barely afford rent? Is my frustration with superheroes just a symptom of our modern era?

Yes, superheroes can inspire us to do good, to shoulder exhausting responsibilities and help our fellow man.  For older readers, they can be windows into one’s youth, for younger readers, permission to dream. And, crucially, comics offer escape, if only for 22 pages, into a world where heroes win and the hero gets the girl. Usually…these days, even the happy ending seem to bite you in the ass.

But you and me, we read lots of comics, and I think we view comics a bit differently than most.  We have celebrated great stories and suffered through malignant events together, and understand that comics are an ongoing conversation,a collaboration between reader and creator, something that goes far beyond the spinner racks of our youth.  We are, for the most part, in for the long haul – that is, until you start wishing Scott Summers would stop being so defensive and just get on with it, already. “Extinction team?” Gimme a break. The only think going extinct are the dollars in my wallet.

I have been paring down my superhero books for awhile now, but the past few months have provided a real opportunity to make some fundamental choices. We’ve seen lots of books come to a close and begin again, and I, for one, have been using the break to take a deep breath and honestly evaluate what I am reading, and why. For example, with three different Avengers books (and another one on the way), I find myself not deciding to only read one title, but really, honesty thinking that I don’t want to read any of them.  I did my time; I’m not getting anything out of those books.  The team dynamic is fun, but after so many years of Bendis-fueled Spider-quips, I think I’m done. I’m happy to take a walk with Foggy Nelson. Maybe, this is just what happens, after awhile; at one point, we all have a walk with Foggy in our destiny, when we re-evaluate our relationships with superhero books.

That being said (and to avoid Ryan’s accusation that I hate comics),  I am not totally done with all superheroes. I am still going to pick up Batman and Daredevil, the first because I have always enjoyed the dichotomy of Bruce Wayne and his cowled alter-ego, the second because Waid has injected a real sense of fun into my favorite lawyer.  I am really enjoying Action Comics, because it’s just a different time in Superman’s history that I am finding really appealing, probably because it is less about powers and more about finding one’s place in the world.  And The Flash – because my eyes need that art and I’ve always been a sucker for Barry and Iris.

Tellingly, those books are all pretty much “street level” books, dealing as much with characters trying to live their lives as they are about heroes saving the day. These heroes get hurt (who knew a bruised Clark Kent could be so compelling?) — and they get back up. On their own or with the help of their friends. These are the kinds of imperfect heroes who I want to read about these days. When Hal Jordan came back to an apartment full of bills and a landlord asking for rent, I had to laugh—it was a wonderful way to bring the past few years of space battles down to a level that people could really identify with.

And yes, I admit already that I have felt that tinge of feeling left out during a few podcasts when the guys talk about a really good comic that I’ve dropped…but that’s okay. If anything, I am now pleased to hear the book is good — they need to be good. It’s just that that particular kind of good? I’ve been there. I’ve enjoyed it. I know what it feels like, and if I really want to go back to that, I can dig up a trade. I love comics, and, like a really good relationship, this love is taking me to some new places.

It’s fitting that, during this manic time of transition for DC (and, to an extent, Marvel), I find myself using this time to make one of my own. This is not about dropping comics — I’m not going anywhere – it’s about taking advantage of this wonderful art form and exploring different aspects of the medium.  But, for the time being, the superheroes? They are going to have to save the world and the universe without me for awhile; I’m gonna be busy solving crimes and finding a girlfriend.

How about you? With so many books ending and others starting anew, do you find yourself making some fundamental choices? Or have you dropped certain genres of books long and ago?

 


Mike Romo is an actor in LA. He’s not really looking for a girlfriend, but he can’t help but feel it’s a crime he’s not on TV tonight.  You can reach him through email, visit his facebook page, connect with him on google +, and collect his tweets on twitter.

Comments

  1. A thought: maybe it is less about “street level” and more about team books? Sometimes team books bring out the worst in superheroics. The books you are sticking with seem to me to have a singular creative vision and a focused set of characters.

    I strongly encourage you to dump the books that you are neutral about. I dumped Avengers after a few years of Bendis, because I felt like there wasn’t anything new. Life got better.

    Meanwhile, I encourage you to keep reading your favorite creators, in tights or not. The creators are really what people should pay attention to, not the publisher, tights, etc. The ones that are great just are.

    And did I mention you should dump the books you don’t care about?

    Finally, don’t feel obligated to “get the X-Men”, follow the latest meta-event, etc. When there’s quality work going on that intrigues you, you’ll know. Hell, you’re at IFanboy, so you’re gonna hear the buzz (like I bet you did on Daredevil), and find your way to the good books. Good luck!!

    PS – I’d recommend Northlanders and Scalped to you if you’re not already reading them.

    • Excellent article….
      Ive been in the Mike Romo camp off and on a quite a few times over the years.. but what keeps me in superhero comics is kind of what Urthona was pointing out.. … quite often the most talented writers can still bring something new to the table whether or not its a superhero book or some other genera. and yes team books can be a mess if not handled in the correct manner…. Everyone.. urthona’s also right.. about dropping books too.. giving an individual comic a few issues and then dropping it if its not stellar ultimately will keep you in the medium. If you keep reading crap or even OK stuff you just may quit the hobby all together.. and nobody wants that.

      Ya Northlanders and Scalped….. 2 of the best. And Northlanders has completely new characters and story arcs every 3-5 issues so you guys can jump on and jump off without missing anything.

  2. “When Hal Jordan came back to an apartment full of bills and a landlord asking for rent, I had to laugh—it was a wonderful way to bring the past few years of space battles down to a level that people could really identify with.”

    Which lasted for all of, oh, half an issue.

  3. I’m sick of reading superhero stories that take place in New York City. There is something so incredibly selfish about the most powerful superheroes in the world spending all of their time, energy and powers on an incredibly small percentage of the world population. Stuff happens in other parts of the country and world.

    I’ve been making choices, trying to weed out the stuff that feels fresh and fun and getting rid of the “more of the same” types of books. I’d like to try more indie books, but the problem i face is that they often turn a very serious or dark tone which is not what i’m looking for. I know its a generalization, but i feel caught in the middle at times.

    • Seriously. We could use some more heroes in Atlanta. We’ve got Damage and um….er…that’s about it. He’s not even allowed here anymore.

    • That’s why I loved the Great Ten. New takes on characters, and set in the China of the DC Universe.

    • Regarding different locations, I totally agree. What about mainstream heroes in Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, Seattle, or Washington DC? I know this is a gross generalization, but it seems that the American cultural imagination rests in New York City and California.

    • That is a great point. I remember really enjoying that issue of Batman INC that took place on an Indian reservation because it was such a contrast to what one usually finds in a superhero book setting.

  4. We’ve spent so long trying to convince people that comics aren’t just for kids that we forgot about the ones that were.

    Honestly, you can tell mature superhero stories, but they work best in an all ages format. They don’t need to grow with their readership, the readership needs to move on to more mature, challenging works.We’re a generation of people who have clung to their adolescence more than most, but eventually you just have to let it go.

    And this applies to creators even more than readers! Every time I pick up a book that’s promises “everything you know is wrong!” I just have to think it’s cause the writer has read so much superhero stuff they’re sick of it, but haven’t realized it yet. Or whenever the Batman and Superman are calling each other “Bruce” and “Clark” in public, because honestly, no grown man would call another “Batman” in public… Maybe it’s time for the creators to hang up the cape.

    I’m just saying, ask a superhero fan about the best adventures of X superhero? They’re probably going to give a classic Lee-Kirby-whoever story written before 85, when superheroes managed to occasionally tackle more mature subjects but were by and large all ages books. There’s nothing wrong with growing up.

  5. Great story….I’ve often asked myself over the last few years if keeping up with all this mess is worth it when I have so many real problems. The answer is yes, but an apprehensive yes. I hate to say it, but I am drawn more towards books in the last few years that won’t bleed over into other titles. Detective comics is my one exception. I tend to look for those titles that I know will not require me to have to read another issue until a month later. I have a wife and baby now and 6 titles a week are not in the cards. My dad is the same as your dad (assuming that was true). I do, however, get inspired by comics and try to shoulder responsibilities and problems as best I can. Let’s face it. Batman’s exploits could make anyone push their self-doubt and fear into a corner. I also get inspired by Iron Man b/c he’s had a lot of crap on his plate the last few years. I have to say that I try to stay away from the X-men since early 2000. I was big reader in the 90’s, but after seeing all the stories repeat themselves (in one way or another) and seeing almost every Xman become a horseman for Apocalypse, I am done. Unfortunately, great art and storytelling brought me back for Uncanny X-force, but I’m done when it’s done. Damn you Opena!!!

  6. Superman in Action > Superman in Superman. For the first time in YEARS I’m getting the two Superman titles and I think with the way it’s trending I’ll drop Superman after the first arc and keep Action as long as Grant Morrison’s vision remains intact.

    With the new 52 I lost some titles, but I’m trying some new ones. Many of them didn’t stick, but if they stick for others, that’s fantastic of course, and enjoy your comics. As I start my slow conversion to digital, I’m putting my toe in the water with Animal Man and loving it. But I have to stick with printed for my Green Lantern titles. Can’t take those away from me! 🙂

    At our local comic shop they’re seeing lots of new business with the new 52, which is good, because 1) It’s great for business, especially around the holidays 2) This could have gone in a different direction since this new era is also a great jumping off point for readers who are tired and will take their closure and be done with it.

    I’ve been mulling looking over my pull list at the shop and dropping some things. Mostly stuff I buy out of habit. Time to focus on what I really enjoy and not what I feel obligated to buy.

  7. “after awhile; at one point, we all have a walk with Foggy in our destiny”

    this made me smile!

  8. I am already bored with the DCnU. I find myself dropping more and more superhero titles, and the ones I pick up have something else going for them (Demon Knights is sword-and-sorcery, Cloak & Dagger is about their relationship for me) After years of avoiding X-Men, I’m picking up Wolverine and the X-Men because it’s shaping up to be more about a mutant Hogwarts than ~earth-shattering events~. Because really, superhero comics should be fun. If they’re not fun, I’m less likely to be interested.

    Furthermore, I got into comics via Sandman, Alan Moore, and The Invisibles. I’ve had fun in the years that I’ve immersed myself in the Big Two, but at the end of the day I’d rather find some comics that bend my mind and challenge the way I view the world, or at least storytelling.

  9. My love of Superheros has not waned. It has gotten stronger.

  10. Sounds like we’ve moved out of the Dark Reign, leapt into the Heroic Age, and regressed into the Stoic Age. Take note publishers. The readers demand more Watchmen! 😉

  11. I’ve had this internal debate myself…bascially, I just care about the story and characters. When a book is basically just heroes vs. villians, I don’t care. When it’s about something else and happens to have superheroes, I love it. I lost interest in Voodoo when Kyle Rayner and Blackjack showed up. I liked it better when it was an alien on the run from humans.

  12. well written. i appreciate the fact that the writers here can have an opinion that is against comic norms or expressing dislike of something while constructively explaining why and not devolving into childish negativity and abject complaining. Also appreciated is the fact that if fans disagree with the writer of said article they are not immediately labeled a “troll” and summarily dismissed. We seem to be mostly mature and intelligent here and that is somthing that cannot be said for other sites i have recently stopped going to (specifically B.C.).

  13. Honestly, its about BALANCE. Its something a lot of hero books can’t get quite right.

    Scott Summers brooding is fine in moderation and as long as its balanced out. Him whining issue to issue incessantly is just annoying and a one-trick pony.

    Another good example is Damian Wayne. Just as it seemed like he was learning the lessons of his father and his time w/ Dick Grayson, suddenly in the rebooted Batman & Robin he’s back to psycho-socio pathic, born to be an assassin lacking compassion and patience. AGAIN? I thought we were past this! I cancelled B&R after issue #2… its not interesting, and we sort of been there w/ Jason Todd 20 years ago…

    A good writer is able to balance these things out. if you find yourself rolling your eyes or not getting anything out of a hero book… its not about outgrowing men in tights, its about the creators not balancing it out right or bringing it to a greater level.

  14. Another piece of advice… STOP buying comics. I kid you not. While I’ve been collecting since I was a child (literally started in elementary school), I have had a huge gaps where I stopped. While there were plenty of extenuating circumstances, one thing is the comics obviously weren’t engaging me or else I wouldn’t have stopped so easily.

    Then, a couple of years later… find a starting point and jump back in. By that time, there are new creators, new stories, new things that they didn’t do before. Its hard to see it when you collect non-stop for years.

    Like an old couple been married for 50 years, you have to find some space every now and again to keep the relationship going.

  15. The greatest thing about comics is how versatile it is as a storytelling medium. Twenty-five years ago, as a teenager, I was all about the X-men and every X-comic out there. In the mid 90’s, I stopped collecting for a decade. When I came back, I tried and was disappointed by any X-comic I read. But then I discovered BPRD and Fables and Unwritten and my love for comics is as strong as ever.

    And that’s also why I love iFanboy, because you guys are great (especially with the Book of the Month) with helping comic fans get out of a rut and branch out into more obscure and often more interesting nooks of the comic industry. Thanks for providing a forum for us to share our love of such a diverse medium.

    As for recommendations (aside from the ones above), some of the early pioneers of the independent comics movement of the early 80’s (like Nexus and Grimjack) are couple of fun choices.

  16. I’m going to go ahead and call a Simpsons on this one. What I mean to say is that for the first 11 seasons of the Simpsons the same people more or less watched the show. At some point they outgrew Bart. The producers realized this and switched to making the show Homer-centric. I would argue, very inarticulately, that the same thing has been happening in comics, as the readership has remained constant but gotten older or lapsed and then came back when they were older. Its not that we’re totally tired of Bart its just that we all reach a certain point in our lives where we want a little more Homer.

    • Your analogy seems kinda shaky. People didn’t “outgrow” Bart, they got tired of the mediocre writing.

    • I would say 8 seasons.

    • i like where you are going with that. I’d add for me, I always enjoy the Simpsons when its on, but i know its going to be “more of the same” so i never really seek it out or make it a regular thing to watch it anymore. I’ve definitely outgrown the niche, but i like to come back to it every so often.

    • @josh 8 may be closer to the truth I have to go back and work my way through. I seem to remember some gems in 9 thru 11.

      @Blargo the writing did get mediocre but the switch happened well before that. thats not to say my analogy wasn’t shaky anyway. im sure it was.

      @wally absolutely. that is why i still love copper age marvel.

    • To be honest, I think the writers of The Simpsons switched the focus to Homer at the end of season 2, Homer plays a pivotal role in most episodes from season 3 onwards. Having said that I do understand where your going with your analogy.

  17. Well said, Romo. While I don’t currently share your state of mind, I have been there. In my experience, this kind of exhaustion can lead to some great diversity and exploration of what’s out there. I for one am constantly changing my pull list (much to the chagrin of my LCS owner). I have been for years now, and I”ve found that it truly does keep my love of the medium fresh and positive.

    I know you’re probably not looking for suggestions, but ya may wanna jump back onto Demon Knights. It’s mega fun. I’ve been loving the hell out of it for all the reasons you mentioned. It’s superheroes, but it’s medievil superheroes. That’s something that’s never been tried long-term before (at least not as well as this so far), and it’s a real shot in the arm for someone who may be tired of the same old, same old tights and fights. Just a thought.

  18. Looking back, the times I grew bored with superheroes and went to something else – before coming back – was due to bad writing or boredom. I never thought of myself as “growing out of” superhero books. I relate it to a sports fan who roots for his team even though it has sucked for years. I like the storytelling of superhero books. I like the characters. Art too, but mainly story. It was a good thing I experienced those lulls though, because it caused me to look at other genres and try them. And through these cycles, it got easier to try stuff I never would have dreamed of picking up. (Here comes more sucking up Josh, Ron and Conor) This is also due to great podcasts that recommend these books. But I’ll always come back to the heroes.

    Now, if a book stinks, I’ll drop it with no hesitation. However, right now there are too many good books out there, superhero and other genres. I’ve had to sacrifice some books to get others due to the cost – regardless of whether they’re digital or not. For instance, I’m dropping Demon Knights to get Wolverine and the X-Men. I have no problem with Sword and Sorcery type books, but I also enjoy Wolverine, and even more importantly, Jason Aaron’s writing. Certainly there are heroes I will always follow – Amazing, Bat and Tec – these are books I’ve collected since childhood.

    Still, I know plenty of people who grew out of hero books and never looked back. Okay, that’s fine. But for every Fables, there’s a Manipul Flash. For every American Vampire, there’s a Snyder Batman. I love all four of these books. THose that think comics are for kids because “they’re all just about superheroes?” They don’t know what they’re missing.

  19. Great article, Mike. I found myself nodding quite a bit in agreement. I think part of my growing problem with super-hero comics (and I still read and enjoy my fair share) is that I’ve grown tired of the ‘events’ that seem to be necessary yearly or more for the past couple of decades. I dropped almost all DC & Marvel books after the Brightest Day & Heroic Age storyline began. Twice in the past ten years I all but gave up comics completely, except for USAGI YOJIMBO and various Hellboy/B.P.R.D. titles.

    It seems that just when I begin getting into a book by the Big Two the writers have to stop what they are doing to tie-in with the current editorially driven “universe shattering” sales booster. How long before entertaining books like BATWING, BATWOMAN, RESURRECTION MAN, GRIFTER and a handful of other DC 52 titles all start crossing-over to stop Darkseid again?

    My super-heroes don’t have to be ‘street-level’ but I would like them to stop saving the world and deal with individual problems in their own books. I’m also tired of seeing hundreds of unnamed civilians wiped out without a thought, except for maybe one panel of the ‘hero’ looking grim and swearing vengeance.

    • “I’m also tired of seeing hundreds of unnamed civilians wiped out without a thought, except for maybe one panel of the ‘hero’ looking grim and swearing vengeance.”

      I’ve always wondered what happened to the Average Joe whenever a Crisis happens and parallel universes start smashing into each other and rearranging everything.

  20. as i get older and wiser (plus more attractive) i realize less and less that’s it’s not the superbattles, the bad guys, the status quo shaking events and story mechanics of superhero comics that i enjoy but the voice of the writer.

    there’s a reason Jason Arrons stories are great. it’s because of his idiosyncrasies. the same with bendis, Vaughn, Moore, Morrison etc

    i could read tired old origin stories from those guys all the time. because the act of reading those actual stories is enjoyable.

    • If you ever begin thinking that nothing new can be done with a certain character or type of character, look at what Moore did with “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” or that he and his stable of writers did with his America’s Best Comics titles. Same can be said for Frank Miller’s BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. Both writers took characters we thought we knew too well and infused them with something memorable and fresh. I can’t recall who said it first, but the line goes something like, “there are no bad characters only characters who are not well-written.”

    • I think the fact both of your examples are 25 years old proves Mike’s point

  21. If you are tired of the typical superhero comics then I suggest trying the Walking Dead or the current G.I. Joe/Cobra comics.