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Sunday, March 11, 2012 

British envy American superheroes

The BBC's American website wrote a post about 5 things American things they've been jealous about, and may have given a clue why they can't measure up with their own attempts:
4: Superheroes
We genuinely cannot pull off a decent superhero, try as we might. We don’t really have the Good Man archetype the way American storytelling does. All of our cowboys would’ve had grey hats, and so Captain Britain was a far more complex character than Captain America, because he had to embody both British lionheartedness AND the capacity to see the value in a diplomatic solution. So our best comics depicted either a bleak view of the here-and-now, or a dystopian view of the future, or characters pretending to be American anyway. So yes, we have V For Vendetta and Watchmen and a host of astonishing comic book ideas from 2000AD, but we also had Dan Dare (Buck Rogers meets Biggles, essentially) and Judge Dredd (a despotic cop in an American mega-city). Not a Superman among them.

The sole exception to this is that our Dennis The Menace is TONS better than yours. We do snotty kids rather well.
But the bleak POV is probably what keeps them from pulling off decent superheroes long-term, because if Judge Dredd and other dark-laden stories from 2000AD serve as examples, that seems to be pretty much all they can accomplish. The main achievement of Judge Dredd was depicting the USA as a quasi-totalitarian regime, and if that's the best they can do, no wonder they're not going to impress with that kind of approach.

But coming up with their own superheroes to match American ones isn't the only problem they've got: there's also that matter of how some of their writers have forced their troubling viewpoints upon American superheroes and other American-made comics to boot. Mark Millar, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, for example, have either made their stories too dark, or too political, or have no idea how to write a book where an optimistic viewpoint serves it best. In fairness, though Chris Claremont and John Byrne have long lost their flair, as some of the earliest writers who immigrated from Britain, they did serve up some of the best writing in their time when they wrote not just X-Men, but also Marvel Team-Up, Power Man & Iron Fist, though as time went by, they too had a problem with lacing some, if not all, of their storytelling with too much darkness.

And speaking of Capt. Britain, whatever they say, was he really that more complex than Capt. America? Not by the time Excalibur rolled around, I don't think. That series did have its high points during the first half of its original run, but Claremont and Herb Trimpe's creation aimed primarily at UK audiences became pretty tepid by the early 90s as he became little more than another member of the X-Men cast (He was even depicted as something of a klutz, as seen at one point in issue 8 at the time when his clothes got ripped while performing a superhuman feat during a trip to NYC). And if there's one storyline there that disappoints me today, it was when Claremont just killed off Courtney Ross after ostensibly building her up and then replacing her with an other-worldly doppelganger. What was the point of that? I just don't see it.

For the British to really catch up with their American counterparts, they have to prove they can really master brighter, more optimistic storytelling as much as darker storytelling, and also not to be too reliant on black comedy. But alas, there's little chance they ever will.

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It seems to me that the British writers have largely contributed to the decline of the American comic book. Not that there aren't Americans who are responsible (Bendis, Johns, etc), but really it seems like the British writers are responsible for the Dark and Edgy nonsense that pervades superhero comics to this days.


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