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Tuesday, January 01, 2013 

Comics store manager in California acknowledges how heroes have been cast into dark

The Woodland Daily Democrat of California spoke with a local comics store owner who confirms the darkness comics have fallen into, though there's some disappointments to be found in how it's discussed too. First, he said about the ostensible death of Peter Parker:
"I think it's just a gimmick," said Dan Urazandi, owner of the Bizarro World comic book store in downtown Davis. "Every single superhero character that's been killed has come back."
Not all, though some of the ones who did come back have often been the ones whose deaths were done in good taste, like Barry Allen's, and for all I know, even Mar-Vell of the Kree may have shown up in recent years too, for no discerning reason. And his passing in the Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel from 1982 by Jim Starlin was surely the best of its kind, because Mar-Vell died from cancer rather than in battle. That makes his passing a lot more unique because it shows how, if the writers and editors wanted to, they could draft a story where a hero/supporting character just dies of natural causes or even a car accident (as was the case with Donna Troy's ex-husband Terry Long in 1997), which can be much more widely accepted by the audience than the shock value deaths that have taken up the bulk of today's storytelling. The problem is not deaths and resurrections in themselves, it's nasty shock tactic deaths laced with hate for the characters who've fallen victim to the stunt, and resurrections of characters whose deaths were done in good taste making it much easier for the audience to accept them.
Urazandi, who has been in the comic book business for two decades, said there's nothing unusual about Peter Parker's recent misfortunes. And behind these marketing gimmicks, Urazandi believes comics still have the ability to take society's pulse, to tell us what we're really thinking and feeling.

"All art reflects the society that it's coming from," he observed. In the case of comics, he said, the society being reflected isn't that of the upper crust, but of everyday people.

For all their flights of fancy, comics show us "what people are really living through," he said.

So what is it that today's comic books are showing us about ourselves and possibly about the near future?

Though it's not an easy question, one thing is for certain: "The comics are getting darker," Urazandi said.

He pointed to a rack of Marvel Comics - which include such heroes as Spider-Man, Captain America and the X-Men - and noted that even aesthetically, the bright hues and heroic poses of 50 years ago have largely been replaced by shadowy images of intimidation, pain or bloodshed.

But it isn't just a visual difference: "The characters and the situations are much more cynical," with depictions of sex and violence more commonplace, Urazandi said.

In part, this is because the intended audience for comic books is older today than it was a half-century ago. But it also points to a certain loss of innocence, as readers no longer believe their heroes are incorruptible.
He does admit they've become increasingly dark, but there are drawbacks: does he think that this is truly what an audience that's become very sparse wants? Not me. Or, is it what the millions of potential readers across America who aren't taking to comics just now want? If they haven't checked out anything like what he speaks of, that can tell something. The point missed here is that escapism was once the name of the game, and that's what was thrown away.

But if they really do have to be dark, what makes that whole angle abortive is that there's no meaty purpose behind it, and the resulting stories provoke no thought at all. If there's no convincing moral lessons to be learned, then what's the whole point of writing a dark story?

The part about readers not believing the heroes are incorruptible is peculiar. These are fictional characters, so I don't see how this applies. Sure, there have been plenty of anti-heroes, and Spidey is just one who's had his share of moral flaws, but nevertheless, they're not real people, and it's not a question of whether they're corruptible. Rather, it's the fault of the writers and editors - are they corruptible? Can they lose their faith in the positive messages they once tried to convey? That's the challenging query.
But just as no hero is incorruptible, no villain is irredeemable. In the case of the latest Spider-Man development, for example, longtime menace Doc Ock, now inhabiting Spidey's body, appears bent on using his new powers for good.

Often times, it's difficult to tell who's right and who's wrong. Marvel's "Civil War" series, in which the good guys took up arms against each other over political disagreements, came out in 2006, as Americans continued to clash over the Iraq War, using Guantanamo as a site for political prisoners and other issues.

"That was a very successful attempt to represent what was going on in the real world," Urazandi said.
Was it? No, it was just an insult to the intellect. What is going on in the world is there's jihadism eating it up, Iran cooking nukes, European governments failing to protect their residents against encroaching Islamofascism, and maybe the biggest problem of all, that some of the left won't acknowledge that Saddam was a monster and that there were some people in Iraq glad to be free of his tyranny, and are no doubt feeling awful that politicians no better than him are being allowed to take over.
Meanwhile, "'Archie' is putting out a gay character," he said. And the politics of the current Great Recession have not escaped comic books' pages either.

"Probably the Occupy movement was the biggest recent topical event that showed up in comics," Urazandi said, noting that many protesters wear the Guy Fawkes masks popularized by "V for Vendetta," a comic book series first published in the United Kingdom in the mid-1980s.

Davis became Ground Zero for the Occupy movement when a UC Davis police officer pepper-sprayed students staging a peaceful sit-in. The photographic images captured the nation and world.
I'm afraid that's not telling the whole story: one of the Occupy protestors admitted on TV that they deliberately provoked the police by getting in their way as the cops were trying to leave the campus. If he's siding with propaganda the Occupy movement was surely hoping to cook for their own exploitive purposes, what a disappointment. And again, I'm at a loss to comprehend why homosexuality is still infinitely more important than an Armenian or a Danish background.

They also bring up Superman: Red Son, and their description is awfully clumsy:
About eight years ago, Marvel even released a Soviet version of Superman - a "what if" edition where his space pod, launched from Krypton, landed in the former Soviet Union instead of a farm in Kansas.

"We've got a post-nationalist comic about one of the great American icons," Urazandi said, pointing to the cover of "Superman: Red Son."

The "Red Son" series demonstrates how an America less nervous about the Soviets is more inclined to put itself in their shoes. Similarly, a politically polarized America can expect more comic books depicting that polarization, as the "Civil War" series did.
Oops, they goofed; that's DC who published that story by Mark Millar and Dave Johnson, and under the erstwhile Elseworlds imprint, something they haven't used in a long time. (As for Marvel's What If? anthology, they haven't tried it out since the second volume ended in 1998.) But a post-nationalist tale? Gee, isn't that just what the world needs.

And we could honestly do without more books like Civil War, but sadly, we can be quite sure there's still bound to be more in the works, and each one possibly worse than the last. In the end, this article does describe a few problems with today's output, but still comes up short because of the unfortunate angle of the politics involved.

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  • 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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