9 June 2009: Comics musings

Comic book superheroes

In the past month or so, I’ve been able to catch up on reading and filing comic books and graphic novels. Here are some of my observations.

The trend of adapting licensed properties to comic books has continued, just as Hollywood keeps raiding the medium — and not just superheroes, but also other genres — for ideas. I’ve already mentioned the solid translations of Conan/Red Sonja, the Lone Ranger/Zorro, and Buffy: the Vampire Slayer/Angel, as well as Star Trek, Star Wars, and Farscape. They’re being joined by revivals of Sherlock Holmes, the Muppets, Doctor Who, and Buck Rogers.

Unlike some past comic versions, most of these are being done with reverence for the characters and stories of the source material, and the art and writing is nearly as good as
reading a classic book or
watching the original TV shows they’re based on. Other independently published books that I recommend include anthropomorphic animal fantasy Mouse Guard (in the same spirit as Watership Down and Redwall), the noirish Powers, and the surreal Umbrella Academy.

In more mainstream superhero titles, I’ve drifted off from DC Comics‘ “Blackest Night” and Marvel’s “Dark Reign” back to monthly issues based on individuals or smaller teams rather than crossovers. Although Batman and Superman aren’t even appearing in their own titles right now, the writing has been pretty good, as it has been for Captain America and the Flash. In the case of most of these superheroes, former sidekicks have stepped in to replace Bruce Wayne as Batman and Steve Rogers as Captain America, while the Silver Age icon Barry Allen has returned to take back the mantle of the Flash from Wally West. Justice Society of America and Titans have also illustrated the appeal of so-called legacy characters.

As a longtime fan of Green Arrow and Black Canary, I’m disappointed at the cancellation
Birds of Prey, which focused on the DC Universe‘s superheroines. However, as part of Grant Morrison‘s trippy replacement Batman storylines, perhaps Gotham Girls will be good. Of course, most big changes are only temporary in these fictional universes, as writers must balance decades of continuity with most readers’ desire for their favorite characters to be unaging.

Despite continuing speculation about the imminent demise of print, costumed vigilantes are also doing well in other media, with Smallville, Batman and the Brave and the Bold, Wolverine and the X-Men, and a new computer-animated Iron Man on television, as well as X-Men Origins: Wolverine starting off the summer movie season. I haven’t yet seen the revisionist origin story of Wolverine, partly because of mixed reviews and partly because of the recent glut of mutants, metahumans, and antiheroes in theaters.

On the other hand, Batman and the Brave and the Bold continues to impress with its tribute to the sensibilities of the 1950s and 1960s, and in the coming weeks, Disney XD’s energetically retro Spectacular Spider-Man will begin its second television season. I’m also looking forward to direct-to-video releases such as the upcoming Green Lantern: First Flight.