For whatever reason, I’ve been re-reading comics from my youth lately that could charitably be considered as “mid-level” in terms of both quality and relative importance to the publishing lines to which they belonged when they were release, and it’s left me with less of a nostalgic attachment than I would have expected, but instead a simple question: Whatever happened to shitty, pointless superhero comics?
Don’t get me wrong; we’re still surrounded by shitty superhero comics today. Just go into any comic book store and you’ll see more than you can shake any number of sticks at. I’m not arguing for a second that we’ve stepped into an era where every single superhero comics is inherently good in any real manner (although I’d argue that even the worst have a level of quality that’s somehow above the worst of days gone by, somehow. Don’t ask me why, it doesn’t really make sense if I stop to think about it).
What I really mean is, in re-reading all these comics from the 1990s, I was struck by the number of times I read an issue that didn’t seem to have any kind of intent behind it other than “let’s just try and get through another month together.” Stories in which nothing happens, sure, but also where there’s no actual attempt to tell a story with a beginning, middle, or end — or even some form of continuation of a bigger idea. Stories in which there aren’t really any ideas, in fact, just creators desperately and clearly trying to get to the end of their page count for the month.
And all of this is happening in series where the central character has… no real personality…? This is a particular problem to superhero comics, I feel, and especially superhero comics from the 1980s and ’90s, where central characters were almost intentionally bland copies of the Spider-Man template, because that’s what creators grew up reading and loving; they’re reactive, passive-aggressive quip machines who complain about situations but end up doing the right thing eventually and magically save the day. But there’s nothing to them, beyond that. They’re just… there.
None of this should be taken as condemnations of what were, to be honest, comics that probably should be condemned; I enjoyed them for what they were, relics of another time and another approach to comics that I grew up with but can recognize with some distance now. More than anything, it’s recognition that we’ve lost something in today’s superhero comics: a celebration of mediocrity and hackwork that, in so many words, I kind of wish we could see back to some degree.