Saturday, November 17, 2012

A medium, not a genre

In writing a review of the last arc of Y: The Last Man (to be posted here in the near future), I was writing about how great it was that in the 2000s, comic books had moved beyond their superhero heritage and were embracing a wide range of genres.

But I have been reminded by a series of entries at TheLongbox Graveyard blog that comics have long been a way of telling a wide range of stories, far beyond just superhero tales. Paul O'Connor often writes about his love for Marvel's horror comics of the 1970's, and for Master of Kung Fu and Conan. 

To be fair (to me), Paul is a few years older than me, so these particular books were not on my radar screen when I started reading. The only non-hero comics I ran across in my early days of reading were the decidedly not-very-good Gold Key Star Trek, and the disappointing Logan's Run adaptation. These experiences colored my opinions of non-hero books for more than a decade. So I firmly set my feet in the "capes & cowls" world of the mid-seventies, becoming a fan of (of course) Batman and Superman, but also Flash, the Legion of Superheroes, Iron Man, and Captain America. 

There was a local comics shop within walking distance of my college campus, and that was the first time I browsed full shelves for reading, as opposed to subscribing to a few titles, or picking from the limited selections on the spinner rack at the local drug store. At this time, independent comics were breaking into the mainstream, and some of the ones I liked the most from these publishers were non-hero books, including the excellent Jon Sable Freelance (First Comics, 1983), from Mike Grell, whose writing and art I have always been a fan of. Over the years, I also discovered Somerset Holmes (Eclipse, 1983), Eternity Smith (First, 1986 & Hero, 1987), Evangeline (Comico, 1984 and First, 1987), Maze Agency (Comico, 1988 and Innovation, 1989) and Baker Street (Caliber, 1989). 

Somehow I forgot all of my love for these non-hero books when I began to wax poetic about the 2000's boom in this style of books. Yes, these publishers were unstable, and some of these books did not last very long, but I was simply wrong in thinking that the comics world has recently moved from superhero to non-hero books. 

Comics have always been a medium, not a genre. And even though Superman and his powered friends have always dominated comics, there have long been creators using the form to tell very different types of stories.

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