Comic books have become increasingly popular over the last few years. Ten years ago, comics were still largely relegated to the small confines of the local comic shop, where only true fans ever dared to set foot in. Most of those shops also sold other trinkets and doo-dads, like dungeons and dragons game pieces and magic the gathering cards, arguably two of the most universally un-cool things to ever grace the earth, no matter what circle you operate in. However, 2013 is a different time, and there is a largely different opinion as to what is “cool” or not, as it pertains to everyday life.
Comics, and comic book culture, have undergone a transformative shift in both perception and appeal over the past decade. With comic characters and their likenesses so present over so many different platforms, what used to be exclusively consumed by “nerds” has now consumed the general public. Grown men who have never read a comic a day in their life, proudly wear faded vintage t-shirts (no doubt purchased for $40 from Urban Outfitters), proudly donning the bat symbol or S shield on their chest. Soccer moms in suburbs all across America now know Captain America by the striking jaw line and perfect biceps of Chris Evans, but, has this level of popularity been detrimental to the once exclusive pack of comic book fans?
Comics have always reflected the times and culture of the current decade. Things like style, lingo, and current events make characters and their many adventures more relatable to readers. For example, in 2006 Marvel Comics ran the Civil War story arc that introduced the Super Human Registration act into the marvel universe. In the comic, The US Government requires that all super powered citizens register as government employees and requires them to reveal their identities, powers, and personal data at the risk of incarceration. Naturally, this causes a rift in the super human community, pitting hero against hero as they defend their pro or anti view on the act.
The book’s narration mirrored a lot of the immigration issues happening at the time it was written. While the core issue was different, as an adult, it’s a lot easier to recognize the importance of immigration reform right in our backyard, than it is to accept super heroes having to out themselves in the pages of a comic book. But for an observant 16 year old, similarities abound.
While most publishers intend to make their superheroes likable, they often take unnecessary creative risks. Comic books have a strong influence on their readers (hence the popularity of ComicCon), but are they using that power to empower worthwhile ideals? Marquee heroes have their own animated series, block buster feature length movies, toy lines, and are featured on popular brands of footwear. One of the most pressing trends in today’s society is women’s empowerment, and breaking down barriers. With so much positive exposure, why still is it the norm to dress heroines, in over sexualized costumes? Why not use the unprecedented level of exposure to show a strong female character in its entirety? Action and violence, is inherent in most comic books; it’s something that in large part is institutionalized since the times of WW2 era propaganda comics. Views on body image and sexuality however, don’t have to be institutionalized. That, as a culture, we can change. In large part, it doesn’t have to be standard practice any more for artists to use their platform to show women as overly endowed objects, rather than strong superheroes just to sell copies. I’m not saying that’s the case for every heroin. Each hero, male or female, has their own history that defines their individual characteristics. Harley Quinn for example is a nut and a half, but most characters don’t have the deep psychological troubles that she does. What doesn’t help is that both DC and Marvel, the two premiere publishers in the industry, recently launched new functional costume designs for most of their heroes both male and female, leaving out a noticeable few. At the very least, it must be extremely uncomfortable (and distracting!) to fight a villain wearing nothing but a leotard or a corset, am I right?
This leads to the even bigger question of who comic books are being marketed to in today’s culture. Comics are intended for younger crowds but often miss the mark. With blockbuster movies now becoming the norm are publishers like marvel and DC catering to an ever growing fan base of casual fans that only see a superhero movie once every summer? Is it still the 10-14 year old demographic of old? Or is it the 20- 30 year olds that grew up hiding in the back of comic shops when it wasn’t cool to be in them?
I’ve always been a fan of comics ever since I was young. I was the kid, hiding in the corner during class reading the past issues of Teen Titans. I was the kid that recorded the X-Men, Batman, Superman cartoons on the same VHS every day, so I could sneak down stairs and watch them when my parents were asleep. As an adult, I can handle the nature of comics today. I went to a college with a lively party scene, I get it, some girls do and dress worse than what is portrayed in the pages of a comic. I’ve always read comics for the story telling and creativity, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to see the X-Men bust some heads every once in a while. I just wonder if the next kid hiding in the back of the classroom, reading his favorite comic, is looking at it as an escape into a rich creative world, or an excuse to look at some comic book boobies.