The Major Problem No One Wants To Admit With Superhero Comics

When did Marvel and DC decide that playing things safe was the right answer?

Spider-Man facepalm
Marvel Comics

If you're reading comics in 2019, chances are you've heard the old spiel about comics being nowhere near as good as they used to be "back in the day." While yes, it's true that the medium itself is nowhere near as popular as it once was (discounting cinematic franchises and video game series, of course), it could be argued that we're in a new golden age. New creative partnerships are being forged, there's quality no matter where you look, and generally, it's just a great time to be a comic book fan.

But that doesn't mean everything's so rosy. At times, it can feel as though there's an imperceptible force working to stifle genuine change; an atmosphere of inertia that precludes certain figures from ever developing or changing too radically, lest they stray too far away from the mainstream.

Now to be clear this is a recent phenomenon. There was a time where seismic change and character progression weren't reset with an easy retcon or creative shake-up. Developments were lasting, and they informed future storylines. Sliding timelines were present - yes - but there was at least the illusion of linear progression; Peter Parker grew old, graduated from college, and married his girlfriend Mary Jane; Batman expanded his family almost every other year. They were always moving forward.

Spider-Man One More Day
Marvel Comics

Today, one gets the sense that publishers are less keen on messing with the established order. Spider-Man's gone from being a married adult to an eligible bachelor in order to preserve the life of his elderly aunt; the Dark Knight found his most radical enterprise yet (Batman Inc.) cut short thanks to a line-wide reboot, and most impactful changes are only a convenient retcon away from being forgotten completely.

As a result, readers have looked to Elseworlds stories and other adaptations to take the risks that mainstream comics ostensibly can't - at least when it comes to Marvel and DC. Often, it seems as though creators succeed despite the barriers that are seemingly put up in front of them, and while genuine change can and does happen, does anyone really believe it'll last forever?

This is the frustrating reality of modern day comics. There's a general lack of permanence, engendered by a revolving door of deaths and revivals, retcons, and the occasional effort from publishers to line up the source material with what's popular on the big screen. It's not pervasive across every title or company, but it's a worrying trend that encourages editors to hit the reset button, take stock, and go with what people are familiar with.

That wasn't how comics used to do it, and it's not how they should be doing it now...

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Comics Editor
Comics Editor

WhatCulture's very own Comics Editor. Cats, comic books and spaghetti westerns are my thing. Rants about stuff @EwanRuinsThings