In this episode, Don and Rob delve deep into the history of American superhero comics. From their early murky and pulpy origins to the modern digital age, the pair explore the rocky history of superhero comics and how they reflect American society. All this, and the Crimson Bee, is waiting for you in this episode of The Department of Nerdly Affairs.
Ode to Joy performed by Oliver Eckelt
A Brief History of American Comics
The Scarlett Pimpernel
The Grey Seal
Gregg Taylor Pulp DNA Episode
Superman Old Time Radio Show
The Shadow Old Time Radio Show
Captain Nazi (I was wrong, he’s a SHAZAM villain)
The Crimson Bee (actually the Red Bee, but I don’t think it matters….)
Lucy Meets Superman
Gold Key Comics
The Comix Book
Devil Hunter (I kinda combined a few versions of the name)
Merry Marvel Marching Society
The Marvel New Universe
Yuusuke Murata Spiderverse Poster
Crisis on Infinite Earths
The Death of Superman
Woman in the Fridge Trope
The Marvel Adventures Line
Posted for Jack Ward:
“Argh… as grateful as I am for the long show, this made my head hurt a couple of times and shout at my car stereo and as I had my evening constitutional (It was long!)
A couple of things:
1. Superman WAS a villain when he began.
2. No. It wasn’t that DC went dark, dark, dark. They just got rid of the silly from the 50’s to the 70’s.
I’m glad you mentioned Crisis on Infinite Earths but you mentioned it too late.
This was a seminal event in DC history because it did exactly what Don recommended they do in the future (that being reboot and stick). DC stuck with this for several years. It also predates “The Dark Knight Returns” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dark_Knight_Returns) and sets up the new direction.
It was a golden time for the Bronze Age of Comics. DC was trying desperately to fight and win against the Chris Clairmonts and the like of Marvel.
They rebooted Batman a little later… but it was there.
They rebooted Superman with John Byrne’s Man of Steel
They rebooted Wonder Woman with George Perez
They rebooted Flash after killing Barry Allen and promoting Wally West.
They rebooted the Justice League as JLI with hilarious results (Giffen and Dematteis) adding in a bunch of humour that wasn’t there. “One punch! One punch!”
They brought in a bunch of old absorbed comic heroes with success- Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Blue Devil, hell as you pointed out, even Animal Man did well.
The new focused universe got rid of a lot of the silly and the dead wood. No Supergirl. No Streaky. No Krypto. A lot of dead super villains forever.
Marvel attempted this and sucked out with the Secret Wars series. They actually did better with the Captain America’s “Scourge” series in cleaning out a lot of the awful (Goodbye Turner D. Century you schmuck!)
This got them so much popularity they had things like Legends of the Dark Knight a phenomenal series.
It wasn’t dark, dark, dark as JLI, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Blue Devil and Ambush Bug proved. It was GOOD WRITING, CLEAR COHERENT UNIVERSES, AND CONSISTENCY.
3. This is why when comics in the 90’s turned to speculators and “buy the prettiest comic” Malibu was doing so well out of nowhere. Malibu Comics worked good action adventure stories and that’s why they got bought out. They were doing great work. But their downfall was tied to the big two comic industries. As DC and Marvel were dragging everyone down for their slavish attention to art, Malibu’s sales suffered too and they got acquired by Marvel who obviously thought they were worth buying.
4. What about Eclipse Comics? What about FIRST COMICS? Grimjack? Starslayer? John Sable-Freelance??!? Before there was “Longbow Hunters” there was Sable by Mike Grell. All excellent books. No mention? Bad form!
5. I disagree vigorously with Rob’s final assessment. Don’s right in that there’s no real difference between mass media appeal of superheroes then as there is now. As Rob pointed out- EVERYONE listened to Superman the radio show back in the day. And the Superman radio show created a symbiotic relationship between comics and mass appeal that would occur for decades. The radio show created Jimmy Olson, Kryptonite and a bunch of other elements that didn’t exist but were picked up by the comics later. In the same way as in the 90’s the Batman Animated series created Harley Quinn. Everyone could believe “A man could fly” in the 70’s, the Superman television series was a hit, as was Batman in the 60’s, and Burton’s first two films in the eighties were smash hits. Superheroes haven’t outgrown comics. People have just stopped reading comics. (Even non-superhero comics have gone down from the heyday which is why we know this).
6. I like Don’s idea of bringing comics to Starbucks. Making them cool again. The problem with comics today is four-fold:
7. People aren’t reading comics anymore. Nothing we can do about that without working on the other four.
8. The distribution system sucks. It’s top-down and amorphously huge. Last I heard there were only two distributors. That might have gone to one. You guys mentioned about how awful comics are flooding the system because of the demands of the companies to push bad products through stores and no ability to stock up on good. Why not get all the comic stores together through an independent supply co-operative? Get them to make better demands. This is very much like when the Hollywood system bought up all the independent theatres and movies nearly died out (as they are now). Break up the monopolies and bring back more flexibility!
9. SJW’s. As you guys pointed out. Nerd rage culture isn’t nearly as a much of a problem as non-nerd rage culture. The non-readers are pushing the buttons and breaking the entire system. Everyone needs to take a page from the Republicans. Do your own thing, and wait for the SJW’s to find something else to rage about.
10. One of the things that are working are the comics that provide backstory before a movie. People buy them because they hint at upcoming stories and provide needed depth and understanding. So, LEAN INTO THAT. Here’s what Marvel and DC should do. They should be working hand in glove with the Marvel Studios at Disney and Warner Brothers people. The comic people should be signing non-disclosure agreements and working to provide three years of comic storylines to happen before, during, and after the movie releases. Same could be done with audio drama series. Why not produce MORE content that can help deepen the MCU and the DCU? This is how you bring fans from the movies back to comics. You keep running things parallel but not connected and there’s no reason for fans to buy comics. They know they have nothing to do with the movies.
THEN, when you have those main products tied directly to the movies, you work in newly rebooted heroes that aren’t a part of the television or movie series and fit them in and around the film MCU. When people finally ride that pony into the ground- THAT’S WHEN You run a brand new Crisis-style series that begins everything from the beginning.
11. You guys should have had a guest on that loves superhero comics. You’ve made it clear on more than one occasion, they aren’t really your thing. God helps us all, you prefer manga. 😉 “
>1. Superman WAS a villain when he began.
HAW! Yeah, but that’s the Superman from “Earth Pulp;” so he got edited out in Crisis.
>2. No. It wasn’t that DC went dark, dark, dark. They just got rid of the silly from the 50’s to the 70’s.
Kinda. I’d say that after the “Dark Knight Returns” they went dark; as did everyone else ‘cos that series was crazy popular and seemed to be the way to go.
>This was a seminal event in DC history because it did exactly what Don recommended they do in the future (that being reboot and stick).
….AND what they did in the past when they redid their Golden Age characters. At least until the original Crisis. But that’s still 20 years of uninterrupted story.
>It was a golden time for the Bronze Age of Comics. DC was trying desperately to fight and win against the Chris Clairmonts and the like of Marvel.
Yeah, but I think the Bronze Age was better for Marvel all around ‘cos they were writing tighter series. DC seemed to not quite know what to do about that, so you’d get odd flareups of different. Crisis (the original….*SIGH*) was them FINALLY adopting the Marvel technique of everything being one big story. It really was a big deal, but given the nature of publishing supercomics, it’s something that wouldn’t last forever. (But not something you need to reinitiate every 2-5 years.)
The later reboots you mention played off Crisis. As I recall, the outline for them was planned ahead of time, and the series were how DC enlightened the audience as to how the new continuity shakes out. It really was a new beginning. Not a bad idea; they’re shooting for something more solid than you’d seen in previous decades, something to appeal to a longer term fan than in the olden days. They also had a mix of styles. Batman wasn’t written or drawn like Superman, or JLI.
>The new focused universe got rid of a lot of the silly and the dead wood. No Supergirl. No Streaky. No Krypto. A lot of dead super villains forever.
Kinda. Some of that came back, but under more restrained origins. To a degree, I think this was a BAD thing ‘cos there began a thruline of everything needing a plausible explanation and in doing that they stripped away a fair bit of the novelty.
>Marvel attempted this and sucked out with the Secret Wars series.
Secret Wars was something different though. Crisis was MEANT as an exercise in housecleaning. Secret Wars was more of a battle royale event. (Like the “Contest of Champions” form a decade or so earlier.) I think that’s why it ended up becoming the first superhero non-event.
>They actually did better with the Captain America’s “Scourge” series in cleaning out a lot of the awful (Goodbye Turner D. Century you schmuck!)
Every character is SOMEbody’s fave. *shudder*
>Malibu Comics worked good action adventure stories and that’s why they got bought out. They were doing great work.
Hmmmm…. “good” is a subjective concept; but at the time Malibu and a few others were producing decent stuff that was DIFFERENT. I think THAT’S the key; if you didn’t dig the Marvel/DC thing you had more options.
>But their downfall was tied to the big two comic industries.
Well…. big two and a half. Image won, and everyone copied them, and when that went out of fashion there was nothing else.
>What about Eclipse Comics? What about FIRST COMICS? Grimjack? Starslayer? John Sable-Freelance??!?
We covered that in the general history of American comics. (Although there IS a lot more we could say about the 80’s independents.) One thing that I think hints at your point is that WAY back in the ancient days of the 80’s you had a thriving independent comic market that the Big Two used to “draw” from. It was another level of different stuff going on, and I think that’s one reason the industry collapsed in the 90’s: those companies had all become Image rips, and the Big Two were Image rips, and nobody was trying anything different.
>Superheroes haven’t outgrown comics. People have just stopped reading comics.
Well…. you’re mostly right; but I think the average person is more used to the tv and movie way of doing superheroes nowadays, and that method of storytelling is different from how comics work. I sorta think the constant reboots are comics’ way of dealing with this. The scope of a movie…. even the inevitable trilogy…. is WAY smaller than a continuing comic; and it’s easier to to a cold reboot of a movie series or tv show: wait a year, change some actors and bring it back with a slightly different title.
>People aren’t reading comics anymore.
THIS I disagree with; depending on who you count as “comics.” It’s not just Marvel and DC. (In some ways we’ve gone back to when I was a kid in that regard.) So you have a lot of people reading some form of “comic;” but they aren’t grouping up onto a small number of fan bases. There’s a LOT of folks reading a LOT of different comics. That means, if you’re looking at a specific genre or company it looks pretty grim. (Especially if you’re used to the 80’s and 90’s “mainstream” comics theory.)
>The distribution system sucks. It’s top-down and amorphously huge. Last I heard there were only two distributors.
….for your old school mainstream comics. A lot of comics have moved into the bookstore/online sales thing. And out of the comic shop.
>Why not get all the comic stores together through an independent supply co-operative? Get them to make better demands.
That’s a neat idea! I think part of the problem is that there aren’t that many comic shops these days, and the publishers are moving away from the old “brick and mortar” sales model. Funny thing: you’re suggesting something that’s a backwards version of the WAY old underground distribution system.
>As you guys pointed out. Nerd rage culture isn’t nearly as a much of a problem as non-nerd rage culture. The non-readers are pushing the buttons and breaking the entire system.
Yeah; that’s part of the bigger problem of not being able to accurately gauge who your audience and potential audience are.
>People buy them because they hint at upcoming stories and provide needed depth and understanding.
Hmmmm…. I disagree with this; but I kinda agree with where you go with this. The problem is that the comics DON’T reflect the movies, so movie fans get an issue or two and have no clue what’s going on in the books. Plus, the comics have a lot more going on at any given time.
>The comic people should be signing non-disclosure agreements and working to provide three years of comic storylines to happen before, during, and after the movie releases.
The problem with that is: comics that way less time to produce, so they can/should react quicker to changing trends than movies do. Three years is FOREVER in comic time. (Hell; that used to be the life expectancy of a fan.)
The movies are a Coles Notes version of the comics. (Are Coles Notes still a thing…?) Condensed quick hits of the character, as opposed to a more complex comic story.
>You keep running things parallel but not connected and there’s no reason for fans to buy comics. They know they have nothing to do with the movies.
Y’know what’s weird? You just suggested doing the multimedia thing exactly how the Japanese do it. (One of us! One of us! One of us!) They can do this in Japan though, ‘cos there’s a lot more co-ordination between the different media groups (they’re usually part of the same conglomerate) and the assumption is that the comic will end one day. THAT’S a big problem for us in this regard; that our stuff is perpetual. It’s tough to have a movie that’s depicting a specific occurrence in the story when the consequences of said event are likely gonna be rendered invalid in a year or three.