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Monday, December 2, 2013

Comics AREN'T Supposed to be fun? I Guess I Didn't Get that Memo

According to DC Comics publisher Dan Didio comic book characters aren’t supposed to be happy. They aren’t supposed to do things like get married or have normal lives outside of their costumes. They’re supposed to sacrifice their happiness so other people can be happy.

Good Gravy, Get out of the 1980s Dan. That story model went out of style 30 years ago.

Growing up in the 1980s I always thought comic books were supposed to be FUN.  After all the first word of comic book is Comic. And the definition of that word is to cause laughter.

So why the editorial mandate to make all the characters miserable?

According to DC’s market research people aged 18-34 want dark depressing characters in their comics. Blood and guts gore. Misery is what sells.

Unfortunately, that no one sent readers that memo. Maybe that’s why they’re abandoning the New 52 in droves.

There’s an old saying in entertainment: Always make sure the customer leaves happy. Because when people walk away from your product with a smile on their faces they share those products with their friends, their family and they go out and tell others about the enjoyable experience they have.

It’s hard to sell comics featuring dark angsty characters who are angry brooding loners. It’s hard to sell comics to people where the hero never wins. It’s hard to sell comics where the main character is never happy.

Eventually the reader finds this kind of character grating. They call them whiny and emotional like people call the New 52’s bitch-made™ Superman.  After reading their constant complaining, readers just want them to get over it, because the audience just get tired of hearing the bitching and moaning over and over again.

As a writer, I’d dread going to the keyboard to write that a story featuring an angsty brooding character. Where’s my incentive to keep writing adventures if the hero is going to be miserable all the time? I mean, part of the joy of writing for me is building up a plot to a climax where everything I set up pays off. The way I see it when the hero achieves their goal they deserve to have some sort of happiness as a reward for all their hard work.  If the hero can’t have some sort of happiness then what’s the point of writing the story? 

As a writer who writes character driven stories like theIsis series, I try to see things through the characters’ eyes. And I know it’s hard to for a character to stay motivated on their mission when they LOSE ALL THE TIME. When they can’t have any form of happiness.

If all a hero does is get shit on at the conclusion of every adventure then sooner or later they’re gonna wake up and hang up their costume.

Being a superhero is a volunteer position; no one is getting paid for it. Why should they put their lives on the line when Police, military and Emergency services are paid to put up with the craziness?

Personally, I feel too many writers, editors, and artist in comic books today are too busy trying comic books into real life. They want to make superheroes live their lives instead of living their own. Projecting their issues onto the characters.

The way I see it they’re taking the fantasy of comic books WAY too seriously.

If I wanted real life I’d go look out a window.  At $3.99 I read a comic to read about people who aren’t living real life.

Comic books are supposed to be an escape from our everyday lives. A place where good always triumphs over evil. Where the good guys live to fight another day. The hope at the end of the story that things get better is what keeps us coming back to buy the next issue.

Sure the heroes have are problems in their personal lives and in the lives of their secret identities. Conflict is what drives a great story. But part of basic storytelling is giving the reader a payoff. Something that will give them an incentive to go out and buy the next issue. Something that will make them CARE about the character and their stories long-term.

If the heroes’ life SUCKS then why should the reader care about their adventures? What’s their incentive to keep buying comics? 

This is why the New 52 continues to alienate readers with each passing month. There’s no payoff when a reader buys a DC Comic.

Some of my favorite moments in comics were when superheroes did things like the ordinary people they were when they were out of costume. I can remember one of the first Comics I had as a kid The West Coast Avengers where the heroes hung out around a barbecue and Hawkeye wore a Happy Chef apron. Or reading issues of my brothers’ X-men comics as a tween and seeing the team hanging around the mansion planning to go out into the city to hang out. Or as a young adult reading about Tim Drake pondering how he was going to tell Ariana Dzcehrnko how he felt about her.

It’s a shame we don’t have moments like that in comics anymore. Because it’s panels like this that make the characters relatable to people. It’s what humanizes them to the reader and allows us to identify with their experiences.

In all those cases I mentioned this was what the hero was working for. Making the world safe so they could enjoy those little moments in life. Yeah, they’re working for the greater good.

But they should also get to reap the benefits of that hard work. Not everything is 24/7 misery, misery, misery. Again, people need an incentive to go out there and keep fighting the bad guys.

Dan Didio may want comics to be miserable, but Shawn James wants them to be FUN. Moreover I want them to be BALANCED. I understand that readers want to experience the good times in a characters’ life just like we experience the bad times. Life like drama is filled with highs and lows, rain and sunny days. If I published comic books, they’d have a balance of good times and bad. Everyone including fictional characters deserves to experience a little happiness.   


  1. This might be because of the overly successful Batman. Comics are no longer targeted to little boys and girls but to young adults.

  2. I'm a big Batman fan, but Batman's story model doesn't work for everyone else. Everyone can't be dark. If everyone is dark, then no one stands out. Making every hero into Batman (dark, brooding and angry) turns DC Comics into Dull Comics.

    All this darkness reminds me of the 1990s live-action superhero movies where everyone was wearing Black and looking angry.

    I may have to do a blog talking about how Every DC hero can't be Batman.

  3. I do know of a comics reader who wrote extensively about how he can't stand the growing gore in the Flash stories he reads (though sadly he kind of tolerates porn).

    He was rather spot on with a critique that he can't stand the inclusion of a murdered parent in the DC New 52 stories of the Flash. Which I see it as an attempt at depth but failing because there could be other ways to include more depth in Barry's character and stories.

  4. Ad Mina, there are much better ways at adding depth to a character than a dead parent.

    I've added depth to characters in many ways. For example in All About Marilyn I added depth by showing how her life became like an episode of the Twilight zone where many of the people around her only saw her as the character she played, not the content of who she was today.

    And in The Temptation of John Haynes I showed depth in E'steem's character by showing how she was giving away her personal power in her quest to get a powerful position from Lucifer. There's a powerful scene in Temptation where Lucifer demands she sacrifice her dress, a symbol of her past reputation to get ahead in the future.

    Adding depth is something that requires skill, Really great writers understand that adding meaningful depth to a character's story is in the nuances between the lines, not in overt actions.