Oftentimes, when I can tell comic book companies are cashing in on trends, it seems toxic to me. Comics should be art, right? But when comics are rebooted or reimagined to better suit the public’s current fixation, it drags the whole medium down. That’s why I was more than a little annoyed when a few years ago everything was zombies-this, zombies-that. In the book world, there was the popularity of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, World War Z, and The Zombie Survival Guide, while in theaters there were films like Resident Evil 4 and Zombieland, and in comics there was Marvel Zombies which was followed on the heels by Blackest Night at DC. To be perfectly honest, I enjoyed Marvel Zombies and Blackest Night, so I shouldn’t be complaining, but still, the timing of the series seemed to suggest they were as much about paychecks as artistic integrity. The Walking Dead on the other hand managed to cash in on the zombie craze while showing integrity by crafting some of the smartest stories on the shelves today (and on TV).
The zombie year then ushered in a trend at both Marvel and DC: superheroes who mixed with the supernatural were in, lighthearted comics were out. More and more comics are integrating elements of horror into their storylines, and occult or supernatural characters are starting to be commonplace. The zombie fad was followed by an infatuation with vampires which dominated the X-books at Marvel in 2010-2011. This would have been perfectly fine had they found a way to draw no connections between the awesomeness of the X-Men and the lameness of Twilight, but alas, the vampire story started out with the creation of a teenage vampire, Jubilee. I grew up watching the 90s X-Men cartoon, where Jubilee played a much larger role than she ever did in the comics. She was always the spunky, adventurous girl–to see her reduced to a mopy, emo vampire who dressed all in black was a sorry sight.
At that time, DC was starting to look better. DC Comics offered a respite from vampires. I was sick to death of hearing about Charlaine Harris’ True Blood, the Twilight books, and whatever supernatural-romance dreck Amanda Hocking keeps mass-producing. If I could see Superman simply punch Brainiac instead of talking about his feelings for forty pages at a time, I was happy. Plus, as I’m a writer myself, I’ve grown pretty tired of people telling me, “Why don’t you write a book like Twilight…” and so on.
Then it turns out DC was only gearing up to go all out with supernatural stories. Part of the reason the entire universe was rebooted was to let some darkness in. The problem was, DC scrapped one of its few good supernatural franchises in the process, Xombi, and replaced it with I, Vampire, which I refuse to read.
…Enough complaining, right?
I love horror and supernatural stuff when it’s the subject of indie, non-mainstream, or anthology comics. I can’t get enough of Mike Mignola’s stuff like Hellboy, B.P.R.D., Witchfinder and so on, and I like comics featuring terrifying little vignettes like The House of Mystery and Journey into Mystery. I enjoy comics where humor and horror are blended together, like The Goon and iZombie. I just can’t say I like comics mixing superheroes with the supernatural all that much. There’s exceptions of course, but generally, I like superhero comics to be bright and flashy, featuring men and women in tights flying into outer space for some ill-defined reason and then they fight egotistical villains who somehow grow larger as the story goes on. If Spider-Man fights Moebius once in a while, that’s fine, or if Batman tangles with Man-Bat, well, I don’t know how you can’t like that, but if a comic is all about Storm trying to decide whether or not to kill her former teammate Jubilee because she’s gaga about the vampire way of life… You lose me there.
If I were the head of either Marvel or DC, I would insist that all the writers and artists at the company take a time out from thumbing through volumes of Edgar Allan Poe for ideas and have a refresher course in the superhero books of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. People should be reminded of how fun bright and flashy superhero books can be.
It’s horror month here at Panel Discussions. Bookmark this site or subscribe for free if horror’s your cup of tea.
What’s your opinion about superheroes and the supernatural?