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Sunday, December 24, 2006 

The missing (or lacking) setpieces

There are many reasons why comics of today seem stagnant in contrast to yesterday's gems. And I think I may have an explanation - and an example - of why. Because they're missing some of the funnest story elements of yore, like bank and jewelry thieves whom the heroes must thwart. They may not have totally disappeared from comic books today, but compared to yesterday, these storylines come in but a trickle today, if at all.

Now it's true that a lot of the bank and jewelry heists you may see in comic book plots are just lead-ins to the main stories at hand, and may just be secondary to the real plot featured. Nevertheless, there was some very good story value to be found in stories where the heroes had to foil a bank robbery, jewelry heist, convienience store robbery, or even a hijacking, before they got around to facing the main villain-of-the-month.
One of the cleverest heist sideplots was in Amazing Spider-Man #49, when the Vulture menaced a helicopter carrying a diamond broker, threatening to knock the aircraft out of the sky unless they gave him the coveted case of gems the broker was carrying. This led to a dukeout between him and Kraven the Hunter, who was determined to keep his own title as New York City's leading supervillain. Spidey subsequently defeated them both.
(I scanned these pictures from Marvel Tales #189, which reprints that great battle with two of Spidey's most menacing foes.)

Today, there almost never comes a story like that. Supervillains today seem far more obsessed with beating the superheroes out of personal grudges...but what for? So that they won't stand in the way of their attempts to claim the whole city as their playground for theft, or, so that they can think of themselves as high-and-mighty because they defeated their archfoes? Sometimes, I figure that it's not as clear as one might think today.

And it's not just bank robberies, hijackings-for-ransom and jewelry heists that are largely missing today, but also rank-and-file villains of a more street-level variety. In plenty of Marvel and DC comics alike, you could find all these non-costumed criminals who were causing trouble for the public, and even if they weren't too hard for the heroes to foil, they didn't have to be, it was part of the entertainment of seeing the heroes knock down a couple of bungling thieves while dishing out a nice good selection of wisecracks.

And there you have it, that's another problem with today's comics - they can rely far too much on costumed crimimals rather than rank-and-file street villains, which may be another clue to if comics aren't as realistic as their publishers may claim them to be. (That said, Marvel, at least at one point in the past few years, may have suffered from either the opposite problem, or both of them.) The overpadding for trades is another detractor, because that too can leave no room for a good sideplot involving a bank heist the heroes can foil before arriving at the main villains-of-the-month.

And that the villains can only seem to think of besting themselves over the heroes just shows how bankrupt the writers are turning. Come to think of it, it shows just how much they don't seem to know what to do with the supervillains, any more than they know what to do with the heroes. May I point out that stories with bank and jewelry heists do not have to appeal solely to youngsters, and that adults can also find them entertaining? There have been a few heist movies in past years aimed at adults, and if it could be done there, I can see no reason why it adults wouldn't dig it here too.

(That said, the younger crowd does deserve its own enjoyment even today, one more reason why the fight against whatever's making comics unsuitable for them needs to be kept on with.)

No matter how comics are written, sideplots like bank and jewelry heists can still be as good a story idea today as they were years ago, not to mention rank-and-file, one-shot villains who don't wear any costumes. And that's exactly why comic books need to get back to them.

Open trackbacks: Is it Just Me, Leaning Straight Up, NIF, Outside the Beltway, Third World County.

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About me

  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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