Welcome to the first day of the first annual Superhero Week on the blog!!!!
I’m a huge fan of superheroes and my first exposure to them wasn’t through comic books. Comics weren’t a “thing” in my family nor were they something that our friends talked about or read. I got into comics much much later but the exposure to superheroes came from the next best thing: television. In the 1990s/early 2000s, if felt like television was saturated with them. I grew up with Peter Parker’s spidey senses tingling, Batman striking fear into the hearts of criminals and the X-Men being the targets of hate from the very same people they helped. These fictional characters were dazzling and beautiful because they did miraculous things and used them to help people!
I wanted to be a superhero and save the day. I wanted to leap into the air or punch a hole into the wall like Rogue in the 1990s X-Men show. I’ve spent my childhood watching these caped crusaders and thought I should list the shows that started (and fed) this obsession of mine. Be warned: You may get hit by nostalgia.
Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)
The Tick (1994–1997)
Batman Beyond (1999–2001)
X-Men: Evolution (2000–2003)
Spider-Man: The New Animated Series (2003)
Static Shock (2000–2004)
The Powerpuff Girls (1998–2005)
Justice League (2001–2006)
I can still hum the Justice League song from heart as well as the new theme it got when it went from Justice League to Justice League Unlimited (despite the current hook up between Wonder Woman and Superman in the New 52, I will forever be team Wonder Woman and Batman).
So as I’ve said, the cartoon shows were what got me into superheroes but, as I got older, other things held my attention (Harry Potter, Meg Cabot books, Inuyasha etc) and superheroes began to fade into the background. They weren’t completely gone but they weren’t at the forefront either.
Funny enough, this felt a lot like what was happening during the latter part of the Golden Age. The Golden Age of comics is measured from the late 1930s to the early 1950s (the thing about these eras is that there isn’t a specific date of when one ends and the other starts. These are just approximations). The appearance of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman in 1938 marked the catalyst of the superhero genre in comics as we see it today (tights, cape, cowl). The Golden Age ended due to multiple factors. People saw the superhero stories as predictable and opted for some comics that weren’t such as science fiction, horror and war comics thanks to the end of World War II. Then you throw in Fredric Wertham’s campaign to censor comics which led to the 1954 Comics Code Authority and you’ve got a genre that just fizzled out of existence for a bit before it’s return years later.
So back to my story. What got me back into superheroes? There were two things that got me back into superheroes: Smallville and Batman Begins. I started watching Smallville completely by accident while channel surfing. The episode was called Jitters (Season 1 Episode 8) and it was halfway through by the time I turned it on. It was at the end when I found out it was a show about Clark Kent before he became the Man of Steel. It was a really cool concept and it got me to connect to a superhero who I didn’t actually like all that much before (I ended up watching the show until it ended in 2011). Even though it was Smallville that sparked my interest in superheroes again, I’d have to give credit to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins for getting to fall head-over-heels in love with them (or, more specifically, with Batman). I was hooked ever since.
And just as I got back into superheroes, so did comics. Welcome to the Silver Age of comics which was said to have started in the late 195os and end in 1970. This was when superheroes such as Spider-Man, Supergirl, the X-Men and Fantastic Four were introduced. The Comics Code Authority didn’t go away just because the superheroes returned. Nope, the stories were written within the parameters of the code which meant no sex, no grey area when dealing with crime, no gore and etc. Superman was given a Superdog and a Supergirl as part of his super family and Batman became less brooding and more campy. Things, however, got much darker and more socially relevant when the Bronze Age came around.
I was a fresh faced first year in University, still riding the high of 2008’s The Dark Knight, when I started to obsess over superhero fiction. I got into primarily because the thought of inserting myself into the world of comic books scared the crap out of me. It had a history that spanned decades and the decades were filled with numerous backstories of various superheroes that would drown and confuse me. So I did the next best thing and read novelizations of comic story arcs (Infinite Crisis, Batman: No Man’s Land, The Death and Life of Superman, Enemies and Allies ). Then I started to search for books that were based on superheroes not found in comics which was harder than you’d think if you removed stories that satirized superheroes. Next thing you know, I started borrowing graphic novels from the library to build my knowledge about comics and the superheroes that inhabit them (Kingdom Come, Identity Crisis, Who is Wonder Woman and a bunch more that I can’t list). I just found myself getting deeper and deeper into this world which was exciting for me.
What was even more exciting was the shift from campy superheroes to darker, more compelling characters. This was what the Bronze Age of comics was all about which ranged from 1970 to 1985 (the end is debated but more on that later). It was during this era that the Comics Code Authority started to lose it’s power as stories began to push the constraints a bit each time to create great storytelling. An example of this would be Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 in which Roy Harper/Speedy (Green Arrow’s sidekick) was hooked on drugs which was huge at the time. The times were changing but comics and superheroes were still seen as kids stuff. It’s true that they’re still seen as that today but, in 1986, one particular graphic novel gets published and shakes up the meaning of superheroes in a big way.
(Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85. October 1971. Cover Art by Neal Adams)
It was September 2011 and I made my first trip to the comic book store which 20 minutes from my house. I had just gone to FanExpo Canada during the last week of August for the first time (only for a day) and was excited for DC comics’ New 52 launch. This was a brilliant way for novice fans like myself who were too intimidated by the history of comics to dive head into the medium. I remember that I started with Wonder Woman, Justice League, Batman, Batman and Robin, Detective Comics, The Dark Knight and Batgirl. Although my brother did get Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, Blue Beetle, Flash and Action Comics. So between the two of us, I read a decent mount of the new 52 the first few months it was out. As the months went on, I dropped and added comics. I’ve gone from buying print every month to buying the eComics for my phone and only buying print for special occasions. I’ve branched out from the New 52 to other comics within DC but also into Marvel (Captain Marvel & Hawkeye) and other publishers. I even branched away from just superhero comics to other genres but superheroes will always be my first love.
There has been some debates about the Bronze Age of comics and whether or not it ended in 1985 or if it never ended at all. For those of us who believed that the Bronze Age ended in 1985, came a new era known as the Modern Age of comics which started after 1985 until present day. This new era was marked by one graphic novel by a guy named Frank Miller. A graphic novel called The Dark Knight Returns. Just as the first issue of Superman was the catalyst for the creation of superheroes and the Golden Age, The Dark Knight Returns marked a time when the Comics Code Authority became nothing but a distant, depressing memory in the past and the heroes we’ve come to know will be transformed into grittier, darker and straddling the fence between good and evil. Yes, there was a whole lot of grey going on as demonstrated by The Watchmen (Alan Moore) which was a popular and equally dark graphic novel published around the same time as The Dark Knight Returns. I’d like to think of it as a time where it’s sometimes hard to see your superheroes as the good guys. A lot of great stories came out of this time and even depictions of characters such as Wonder Woman during George Perez’s time with the Amazon.
(The Dark Knight Returns #1. February 1986. Cover art by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley)
Today’s comics might be less restricted in the content they produce but there’s always room for improvement like in the representation of women and minorities in comics as well as a part of the creation of comics as writers, illustrators and editors.
It’s 2013 and I’m behind on my comics (I know. It’s terrible) but I’m up to date on the world of comics and especially my superheroes. I still watch my animated series (Young Justice), my movies (The Avengers) and play my video games (Batman: Arkham City). I still consider myself a novice and I don’t consider that a bad thing because it means there’s so much more to learn about the world my heroes protect. Hopefully, you’ll take away from this week of flying men and ground breaking women something new that you’ve learned. Most importantly, I hope you guys have fun this week and remember that time when you stood on the arm of your couch, the pinned towel on your shirt bellowing in fake wind that your brother or sister helps create and dreamt of flying into the air like Superman or Wonder Woman. If you can remember that then I’ve already succeed.
A. A. Omer