This week, Dynamite Entertainment announced the details of the new Shadow comic that they’re planning to bring out in April.
I was expecting to love this – the Shadow is one of my favourite pulp characters (as I’ve mentioned before) and I love comics.
But it’s being written by Garth Ennis, who writes the Punisher and is known for the extreme violence of his work and his subversion of super heroes.
My first though was, how can anyone – let alone a comic writer – dislike super heroes? Especially if he’s writing about a proto-super hero. (A lot of early Batman stories were inspired by Shadow pulps)
After all, when you think of American comic books, you automatically think, “super heroes”. They dominate the medium in America.
It wasn’t always the case. Back in the 1950’s there were comics featuring crime, war, horror, westerns and funny animals.
But as I’ve discussed before, a moral backlash did away with the horror and crime comics. Western and war comics followed the decline in popularity of their celluloid counterparts.
Meanwhile, the super hero genre went from strength to strength, building up shared universes and iconic characters – they became almost the only game in town (although funny animal stories still continued – Carl Barks’ Duck Tales are still considered a masterpiece of the medium).
But, the peculiarities of history aside, there’s no reason why this should be the case.
For instance, Franco-Belgian comics (bande dessin) cover every genre from comedy, through history to future dystopia. Manga does the same (including some unique subgenres of its own, like giant robots). British comics are pretty much gone, but still include the venerable Dandy and Beano and the increasingly misnamed 2000AD.
The message from all this, as Scott McCloud points out in his stellar “Understanding Comics“, is that comics aren’t a genre – they’re a medium – a way of telling stories – any story. Restricting comics to super heroes is as ridiculous as restricting films to westerns.
So, even though I love the super hero genre, I can see why someone in the comic industry would hate their stranglehold.
Small publishers are producing things outside the super-straitjacket – there are adaptions of novels and TV programmes, as well as steampunk and sci-fi. But will the cape-and-tights dominance ever end? Not for the foreseeable future, I fear.