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As discussed in the previous articles in this series, Marvel Comics’ deterioration began in 1968 after its sale to a corporate raider, and was exacerbated by the departure of Stan Lee from editorial and writing duties in 1972. The premier of Star Wars in 1977 and Jim Shooter’s assumption of Editor-in-Chief duties in 1978 turned around the decline for a time, though sales once again dropped once Shooter was fired in 1987. The change-over from the Greatest Generation old guard at Marvel to a significantly less learned and skilled Boomer Bullpen caused the departure from the Classical Romance themed stories that made Marvel Superheroes such a powerhouse from 1963 to 1968. The poison of ‘realism’ that the new Bullpen and Boomer editorial staff brought to the titles began to take its toll on the stories and characterization, abandoning Marvel’s Classical Romance themes of the 60s, leaving little but traveling from one super-charged battle to the next, and ultimately devolving to base genre signaling.
But what about the Other Big Dog of Comics in 1968? What was National Periodical Publications doing at this time? First, let’s take a look at a little of the history of National Periodicals, known to us today as DC Comics.
National Periodical Publications was established originally as National Allied Publications in 1935, and grew from several comic book company acquisitions from the 40s through the 60s, eventually changing its name to DC Comics in 1977.
But that was after National Periodicals was sold.
As with Marvel Comics, a corporation bought up National Periodicals to add to its portfolio. Kinney National Services, Inc. purchased National in 1967 along with a number of other businesses, including Warner Brothers-Seven Arts. After further acquisitions and spin-offs, Kinney National Services became Warner Communications in 1972.
Two anchor points for National Periodicals were Mortimer “Mort” Weisinger and Julius “Julie” Schwartz. Both were also very active in Science Fiction fandom since the early 1930s. The pair formed the Solar Sales Agency literary agency to represent science fiction authors in 1934. Weisinger moved on to become the editor for Standard Magazine’s Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1936, then he moved to National Periodicals in 1941. Schwartz continued with the Agency until he was convinced to join All-American Comics in 1944 by one of the authors he represented, Alfred Bester, who was at that time writing for Green Lantern. Not surprisingly, National Periodicals had several well-known Pulp writers working for them to include Bester, Gardner Fox, and Edmond Hamilton.
See JD Cowan’s new series on Science Fiction Fandom for more on Weisinger and Schwartz and their involvement in Science Fiction fandom activities.
At National Periodicals, Weisinger edited Superman- and Batman-related titles early in his career, and was the long term editor for Superman titles until 1970. Schwartz took over editorial duties on Batman in 1964, shifting the character back to the Dark Detective format. But the top titles (Superman and Action Comics in the lead, with Batman titles following behind both) had been falling in sales since 1950 with the rest of National’s superhero titles. There was a desire to try to re-invigorate sales, especially in comparison to the incredible sales performance of Marvel Comics between 1961 and 1968. Recall what the sales profiles of the top selling books at Marvel and DC looked like over this time.
National Periodicals began to lose its lead over Marvel Comics about 1966 to 1967. After the 1967 sale, National wanted to bring some new blood into the company to turn around the downward slide.
Part of the answer is Charlton Comics.
In 1968, Charlton Comics editor, Dick Giordano, came to National Periodicals, along with writer, Denny O’Neil. Giordano was a long-term contributor to Charlton Comics as both an artist and eventually its Editor-in-Chief. In the mid-1960s, O’Neil worked for both Marvel Comics under Stan Lee and for Charlton Comics under Giordano. These two were asked to revamp a number of National’s titles to spark greater sales, and hopefully capture some of the reader engagement that Marvel Comics enjoyed. These were not the only activities of this type, but they were some of the most obvious.
Dick Giordano worked on re-introducing horror, mystery/suspense, westerns, and other genres to test the waters just as Marvel did in 1969-1972. The art opportunities at National allowed him to work with Adams and other artists, but the editorial opportunities were lacking. Giordano chose to depart National in 1971 with Neal Adams to form Continuity Associates. He would continue to freelance as an artist for both Marvel and DC through the 70s, and then return to DC in 1980 to eventually become DC’s Vice President/Executive Editor.
The difference at National for O’Neil as opposed to Charlton and Marvel would be working almost exclusively on Superhero titles. If there is one significant writer at whose feet we can lay much of the change from “Classical Romance” to “Realism” it is O’Neil.
Consider his significant assignment at Marvel Comics after Steve Ditko’s departure in 1966: writing for Doctor Strange. The dimension-spanning multi-issue battle against the tyrannical Dormammu had just concluded with Doctor Strange’s return to his home in Greenwich Village. From the Grand Comics Database, this was Denny O’Neil’s idea for a 3-issue Doctor Strange story just after Ditko left the building following Strange Tales Issue 146. Partial plot synopsis of the Doctor Strange story from Issue 147:
Strange walks the streets of Greenwich Village and after stopping a robbery returns home to find his bills unpaid, his bank account empty, and a city building inspector informing him he has six months to bring his house up to code. He instructs Wong to sell some jewels to pay the bills, checks up on Baron Mordo, thinks back on recent events, and then contacts a theatrical agent, Hiram Barney, about a possible nightclub gig. But he’s told magic is “out”– rock bands are “in”!
[ Battle with Kaluu follows, with plotting help from artist Bill Everett ]
Upon returning to the title after O’Neil and Roy Thomas took their whacks at it, Stan cleaned up monetary concerns by having an exasperated Dr. Strange yell at Wong then conjure an enormous pile of money, jewels, and coins, after which Strange tells Wong to never bother him with these petty issues again.
This should have been a sea of red flags to Stan Lee and other editors about Denny O’Neil writing for Superheroes, as well as a red flag regarding Stan’s ability to write and plot for Dr. Strange without Steve Ditko.
This is what Denny O’Neil brought to National Periodicals. Let’s do a run down of his efforts at DC Comics begun in 1968.
Justice League of America Issue 66 was O’Neil’s first foray into ‘modernization’ of DC’s Superhero characters, taking over from Gardner Fox, one of the co-creators of the JLA with Mike Sekowsky. Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman were quickly dropped as members, and familiar Superhero stories became full-steam ‘socially and politically relevant’ as of Issue 78.
Wonder Woman Issue 178 (September/October 1968) ended an 80-issue run by Robert Kaninger and Ross Andru that updated the character and the supporting cast from the Golden Age to the Silver Age. Denny O’Neil began his run by removing Wonder Woman’s powers, vanishing Paradise Island, and changing Diana Prince a pantsuit-wearing, strong-woman adventurer in search of inner peace with the help of a blind wise man. The changes were deeply despised by Wonder Woman fans and by feminists who complained that one of the few superpowered heroines at the level of Superman was ruined. Kaninger’s return to the book in Issue 204 began the reversion to norm of the character, undoing O’Neil’s changes.
Green Lantern Issue 76 (April 1970) began the Denny O’Neil take-over of the flagging title. The book was changed to Green Lantern/Green Arrow. Plot lines featured ‘realistic’ events vice the typical interplanetary adventures. In fact, O’Neil pretty much confined GL to Earth to deal with ‘relatable problems’. Plots included the famous copycat drug stories (“Jeepers, Speedy is a heroin addict!”) in Issues 85-86 (Oct-Nov 1971), just a few months after the FDA-requested Amazing Spider-Man Issues 96-98 (May-July 1971) from Marvel Comics (with no Comics Code Authority stamp). These activist-driven issues drew positive recognition from the national media talking about how comics were ‘growing up’, but the media hype around the stories didn’t translate to sales. Issue 89, the environmental awareness issue with its cover featuring an activist crucified on a jet plane engine, was the last Green Lantern for four years.
O’Neil’s work on the Batman titles conformed more to the original character, taking him back to his grim crusader against crime roots. Both Adams and Giordano assisted on many of the classic stories, such as the introduction of Ra’s al Ghul. O’Neil brought back classic Batman villains, to include Joker and Two-Face, and also returned them to their classic criminal personalities. These stories, along with the Frank Robbins era of Batman titles, set the tone that Frank Miller would adopt for his Dark Knight series.
Prompted by now-Superman editor Julie Schwartz, in Superman Issue 233 (Jan 1971) Denny O’Neil took over scripting, running through Issue 242. A research laboratory accident causes Superman’s powers to be significantly reduced, apparently to make him more relatable and vulnerable to readers. Simultaneously, the same event destroys all kryptonite on Earth by changing it to iron. Once O’Neil leaves the title, Superman’s powers are slowly returned and more kryptonite falls on Earth, rendering the series’ changes moot.
Reviewing O’Neil’s output for National in this period, it’s clear that he never broke out of the very thing he demonstrated during his very brief run on Strange Tales: Bring the hero ‘down to earth’. Make him ‘relatable with modern problems’. Make him ‘less superior than he is now’.
O’Neil’s comfort zone was perhaps street level heroes, such as Batman. He definitely wanted to deal with social issues rather than romance and adventure. The problem was that other than Batman, the characters he was given to write were mythic in stature and ability. Rather than writing the characters as they stood, O’Neil tried to whittle down the futuristic and mythic adventure heroes to be ‘real’. His 70s superhero stories don’t often stay fresh in the can for that reason. Sales results showed that while the stories could gain recognition and awards, they could not move books. Comic book readers didn’t want these stories.
This finagling was not limited to O’Neil. Robert Kaninger was also responsible for ‘modernizing’ storylines and characters to no effective value for average sales.
With Metal Men Issue 33 (Aug-Sep 1968), Kaninger returned to the title he created with the ‘hunted Metal Men’ series through Issue 36, then the Denny O’Neil/Len Wein team wrote Issue 37, introducing “new” Metal Men. The robots were given human appearances as a disguise to live in society as they hunted for the kidnapped Doc Magnus, with the expected sociopolitical accouterments. Mike Sekowsky wrote and drew the remaining Issues 38 through 41, after which the series was cancelled.
In Lois Lane Issue 93 (July 1969) with the first Robert Kaninger script, a de-powered Wonder Woman appears to compete with Lois for Superman. Kaninger shifted many subsequent stories to sociopolitical themes similar to O’Neil’s work, likely at editorial direction. Notable examples are Issue 106 when Lois uses advanced tech to temporarily alter her appearance to that of a black woman, and Issue 110 where she has custody of a Native American baby. These stories were rather out of place for the typical Lois Lane “try to marry Superman” story, but they did feature the new strong, independent Lois, who didn’t need no Superman–as much. Sort of. Maybe.
Amid this ‘realism explosion’, the comic book master of the fantastic, Jack Kirby, brought his “4th World” series to National Periodicals in Jimmy Olsen Issue 133 (October 1970), the very first Jack Kirby 4th World story. These stories ran through Issue 148 (April 1972). Three new titles were also part of 4th World: The New Gods Issue 1 (Feb-Mar 1971) through Issue 11 (Nov 1972), Forever People Issue 1 (Feb-Mar 1971) through Issue 11 (Nov 1972), and Mister Miracle Issue 1 (Apr 1971) through Issue 18 (Mar 1974). These titles stood in sharp contrast to the ‘Down-to-Earth Realism’ of many other National titles.
Does this mean that individual stories were necessarily bad? No. But it did mean that the writer was not writing to the form presented, i.e. the Superhero genre and its Classic Romance theme. The story itself might be worthy outside that theme. I argue most of the GL/GA stories fit into this category. While I was not a fan of O’Neil’s work in this title, I could see where these stories could be taken into a police procedural or street level adventure. Breaking the Superhero isn’t an effective means of getting around a writer’s discomfort with the Superhero.
But taking into account a quote from Mort Weisinger as related by his assistant editor, E. Nelson Bridwell, there was a reason for Mort being the hard-driving boss: “You’ve got to keep in mind that while there are a lot of people who’ve read about the characters before, there are always new people coming along, and you’ve got to realize that you can’t count on them to know the whole legend of the character.” Did the post-1967 additions to National’s staff not know this? Don’t know for sure, but evidence leans toward this answer being “NO”.
The end result of the ‘modernization’ of National Periodicals was no increase in average sales, which continued to trend downward until 1977-1978, with the Star Wars and Superman movies coinciding with a small bump in overall sales. The moodier, grim stories of 1969 through 1976 were no more wanted by National readers on the whole than they were at Marvel in the same period.
The end result at National was the same as it was at Marvel: the Silents and Boomers shifted the themes of comics and comic characters from “Classical Romance” as the primary driver to basic adventure without any higher purpose. The same results as Marvel experienced took longer at DC, and didn’t have the benefit of a brief ‘Shooter Turnaround’. In fact, the “DC Explosion” of 1975 to 1978 likely did more to dampen the small 1977/78 sales spike than to aid it.
But the seed of Realism was planted at both Marvel Comics and National Periodicals. Were both driven by new owners looking to break sales slumps? Was this just a few people who didn’t understand the Superhero trope’s dependence upon Classical Romance for its appeal? Was it a dash to find new genres and modalities for comic books in an economic downturn during the early 70s? Was it some or all of the above? Without some of the people who might know these intimate details, it is hard to say for certain. What can be noted are the results.
New writers and artists at National Publications/DC Comics learned the same lesson as those new staff at 1969 Marvel: ‘Realism’ gets awards and press coverage. Readers don’t know what they want, other than new, novel, and modernized. Classic Romance was out at both of the Big Two, which colored the landscape for all other remaining comic book companies, as well as any that might follow.
Why is all of this at all important? It is necessary to recognize that the deterioration of comic books was a long, slow process. We think at times that the 1997/1998 break was something sudden and unexpected. No. Much as with many cultural erosion sites, the damage is done in small steps, increasing in a geometric fashion, so that when you begin to notice the effects, turning around the destruction may not be possible.
If comic books have a cultural value, then they need to be rebuilt from the very foundations. To understand what the actual foundations *ARE* is most important so that the new edifice is not built on the sand of the old. In my view, Classical Romance must be rediscovered and absorbed by new creators to effectively rebuild a culturally robust comic book ecosystem.
11 thoughts on “Attack of the Silents: When Was the “Realism” Poison Injected into DC Comics’ Superheroes?”
“Jeepers, Speedy is a heroin addict!” I’m ded. 😀
I had no idea this SJW stuff has been going on all this time. Great article Man-of-the-Atom.
This is why Jeffro Johnson keeps saying “Regress Harder”. We have to keep moving back to find the mistakes that were made, in order to bring the lessons forward for rebuilding.
Remember: Ice Cream Parlors were an anti-civilization event.
Realism was the second excuse to dumb standards down. It’s hard to imagine good, beautiful, and better with bad art and stories stamping on your head, forever. Spiderman was changed to become an eternal teenage loner – bad idea, and not real. Marrying his sweetheart, stepping up in married life, and turning the duty over to his sons? Teaching his children early about why their reactions and strength are different? What about Coach Spidey, figuring how to leave practice or a game to stop criminals? How do you bring in fiance or fiancees, and when, on the family secret? That would make trickier and positive story arc sets, and call for real creativity.
Regress Harder, and look at several variables. Unintended consequences emerge from the combinations, so look for other combinations to get intended outcomes.
This. The depth of opportunities for storytelling only increases with this thinking. The FF almost got there just before Kirby left, then it was dropped for “MOR BAXTR BILDING! and more of the same.
Peter and Gwen, with a family, and extended group of regular friends, would have made for some wild and crazy books for a really creative team. When you have a corporation in charge, these kinds of changes make no sense–stay on the same track and change nothing.
Thanks for reading!
Everything which you’re suggesting points to the need to retire superheroes in a crafted fashion. If Peter Parker, Tony Stark et al had been gracefully retired much earlier then everything could have been smoothed out. This is where Stan Lee deserves a strong share of real blame and the boomers who came in in the 1970s deserve more understanding. When Stan Lee quit in the early 1970s the issue was hovering in the air about Peter and Gwen getting married. Stan Lee seems to have opted in favor of getting out of that with the death of Gwen, but he turned it over to Gerry Conway to avoid directly besmirching himself with it. That was a cop-out.
Around the same time Pietro and Crystal married. Good move forward, though it left things hanging about what to do with Johnny Storm. One gets the impression that it was easier to handle with characters who appeared very irregularly (Pietro and the Inhumans) than with a regular feature series like the Fantastic Four. In a series like Tomb of Dracula, Marv Wolfman could easily introduce twists like Dracula marrying Domini and then the son Janus being born. But in the major comics like Spider-Man there was a tight restraint on what the writer could do. The fault for this really belongs to Lee, not to any boomers.
Most of the great comics of the 1970s appeared in second-string series where the writer had more latitude. Jim Starlin could make Captain Marvel cosmically aware and declare Adam Warlock as the Champion of Life simply because no one cared much about what happened in the series. Apparently though, Gerry Conway did try to lecture Starlin on what he should do with Warlock and this made Starlin quit until Archie Goodwin invited him back to wrap things up in the summer 1977 annuals. But when Steve Englehart introduced changes with Captain America and the Nomad he knew in advance that he would have to reverse it later.
Simply retiring the older characters in a phased shift would have alleviated all of this. But Stan Lee really seems to have convinced himself up through the 1990s that his older characters could go on forever. That is 100% Lee’s fault.
Stan Lee had nothing directly to do with these decisions after 1972, and they were completely out of his hands by the end of 1975. His role moved to managing and marketing IP to Hollywood. He was bound up in live action Spider-Man and Hulk TV series in the 70s and 80s, as well as production of several Marvel cartoon programs during that time. The only active role Stan had was executive in nature, not editorial. When he returned for short periods to the company, it was in an executive role, not an operational one.
Those choices were on Roy Thomas and his fellow Editors-in-Chief, as well as any writing staff whose ideas were approved by that same editorial staff. In fact, Stan was blindsided by Conway’s choice to kill off Gwen Stacy, being informed of the published story during a comic book convention.
Whether any of these decisions were directed by upper management is somewhat in debate, but several creators have publicly stated that senior editorial policy that was given after the 1968 sale was to “create the illusion of change”. The end results are clear that change slowed and stopped between 1969 and 1976. Did Stan ‘start’ it? One could argue that. Did Stan continue it? No. The facts don’t bear that out. That was on the company owners and the Marvel Bullpen rejecting the Classical Romance forms they had used successfully from 1961 to 1968, and dropping them for Realism, at roughly the same time National Periodicals started down the same failed path of Realism.
Retirement of heroes serves no purpose if the creators are dead to compelling, meaningful, and consequential storytelling. The few Silents and the larger group of Boomers that took over from older Greatest Generation creators rejected Classical Romance tropes for empty serial action with no overarching moral themes. Marriage leading to creation of family, extended family formation, friendships through hardship, honor and courage, sacrifice for greater things than themselves, devotion to neighborhood and community, as well as devotion to nation were all discarded over a short period from 1968 to 1976.
I don’t argue that all these Greatest Generation creators believed in these things, but they conformed to tropes and mores that traditional societies had held for thousands of years, resonated with readers, and made the company monetarily successful. Silents and Boomers did not, and the companies paid for it.
Silents and Boomers rejected those traditional ideals and the storytelling concepts that came with them. The sales figures were immediately negative in response at Marvel and showed no upward turn at National Publications. Fewer and fewer people wanted the watered-down action-all-the-time-with-no-real-consequences that the Silent-backed Boomer contingent pushed onto their customers. Coupled with missed deadlines, failed experiments, canceled long-term selling books, and typically leftist politically laced themes, the customer base at both companies dwindled. The Silents and the Boomers at Marvel and DC own that –from 1968 to almost 2000, it’s all on their heads.
And retirement of heroes is not the road the Greatest Generation was taking. Kirby was clear that the Fantastic Four was expanding by adding Franklin and having Reed and Sue search for a home in Connecticut. Multi-generational family formation was in the offing under the 60s Bullpen, and it was quashed under the Silent and Boomer regimes. Ditko left the company partly over making Peter a college student vice letting him work as a news photographer or other profession and get married. Interesting and complex story lines would have formed from the Fantastic Four becoming the Fantastic Family, with older heroes going into semi-retirement and younger family members taking up the reins of frontline heroes.
Any of the 60s Marvel and DC books could have taken these routes and many books, it could be argued, were on the way to doing so. Boomers chose instead to break pairings and engagements, divorce characters, refuse to have children under marriages, and in general, engage the characters in the same ‘realistic’ mores of the time of their writing. Worst of all this dated the Boomer books horribly. It’s easy to mark a typical book from the 70s, 80s, and 90s by its ‘spirit of the age’ theme and lack of objective moral stance, just as easily you can by their art styles.
Does this mean that one can say that the Greatest Generation had a better moral sense? No, one cannot. But, they had a vastly superior sense of verisimilitude for the characters and their story arcs, coupled with the ability to convey that in both story and art. Most of the 50s and 60s creators had professionally trained to be in the business of writing and illustrating stories, whether in books, magazines, ad copy, technical and educational materials, or even comic books. This was less true of the new post-1968 creators. They had by-in-large trained to be in comic book field, typically by reading comics.
The Greatest Generation creators understood that making timeless stories with real consequences was a better goal than making stories that meant nothing–consequence-free stories that would be reverted, retconned, rebooted, or rendered ‘dream sequence’ or ‘imaginary’. Readers have no long term investment in such stories. Worse, this decay into repetitive meaningless action, led to the further devolution of comics into what they are today: “flavor packets” of mood and feeling and little else.
Modern comics can’t often hold 10% of Issue 1’s sales for Issue 2, much less build a long-term series. They are the least of US comics — they provide a “feel”, a “vibe”, a “flavor” — which is why I refer to “flavor” on the third dial. Comic readers consume seasonings and condiments today instead of a square meal, and that meal then used for a greater purpose.
“No Consequences” was the ultimate Boomer Signpost. It’s where comics are today. They arrived at that destination in the 70s and 80s, and comics rotted down from there.
Without removing the poison of ‘Realism’, nothing would have changed by retirements. Not if characters were retired, not if killed and replaced, not if magically returned to their origins. How do we know this? Because it’s all been tried before, again and again, over the span of 50 years. And it’s all failed before, and it will all fail again. And again. And again. It’s still failing. The poison is still in the body.
The comic characters aren’t the problem. The creators are the problem.
I’d say that the Fantastic Four sank in 1991 when it was decided to retcon the Johnny-Alicia marriage away and declare that Alicia had been replaced by a Skrull. That really killed it. But up till then I think they did show a lot of steady growth in Johnny Storm. First, he went with Doris Evans in high school. That was like Peter Parker and Betty Brant, though not quite since there was no secret identity. But the break-up there was portrayed as teenagers growing up. Then Johnny fell in with Crystal. Some would argue that maybe this should have become a marriage. I can see the idea there. But I was OK with Crystal and Pietro marrying instead. Then Johnny got in with Frankie Raye and this seemed to have possibilities, but she dumped him for Galactus. Then Johnny got it going with Alicia Masters and this resulted in marriage. At that point a reader could really see how Johnny was growing up. If it had been kept at that it would have been nice. But Tom Defalco I believe was the one who decided to railroad it. That completely destroyed the story-telling credibility of Marvel. But I have to disagree that such damage was done in the 1970s. There were signs of stress and strain in the 1970s, but lots of great stuff as well and the general picture still held together.
As far as Stan Lee goes, it’s hard for an outsider to piece together what really went on. I remember that statements made by Marvel in the 1970s clearly led the reader to conclude that the death of Gwen Stacy was something which the general company had arrived at as a decision because they specifically decided against marrying Peter Parker at this time. Those statements have been contradicted by others made at a later date which imply that Gerry Conway and Johnny Romita just spun the whole thing by themselves at their own initiative. But it’s hard to know what to believe.
We aren’t really discussing the same thing. The issues are not with the characters; the issues are with the creators. The discussion is a cultural shift in writing, not character history.
Regarding when you choose to cut off your collection due to which characters do what, that choice is yours. As I’ve said, I curate my own comics. You can obviously do the same. Again, this is not the issue being discussed here.
The discussion of Stan Lee’s non-involvement with Marvel operational decisions after 1975, to include the Gwen Stacy decision, has been documented in works by Stan and other biographers.
Forgot about Speedy the junkie. Although that is unintentionally hilarious, like making Puff the Magic Dragon a pothead. The creators are the problem indeed. Extend that to idiot editors who keep them around. And whatever morons decided to listen to “the press” – however configured – rather than what the audience wanted.
A core problem in realism is the shift from writing to younger escapist fantasy fans to adult losers. Not adults in general who enjoy a classic comic, but the developmentally challenged gammas and omegas that evolved into modern “fandom”. Because realism soon begat grimdark, and that sunk the big two as a ubiquitous childhood presence long term. Realism is an inherently retarded concept in superhero-based world that also ensured kids would never have started reading when we did. Obviously there are other factors, but the correlation between your timeline and those sales graphs is pretty convincing. I suspect that there is corresponding shrinkage in the dwindling readership. To the point now that the difference in audience size essentially makes it a different medium. It’s also worth pointing out that neither Star Wars the movie or the comic were “realist” at all.
O’Neill should have been drummed out of comics from the jump rather than lauded by the same non-paying audience of critics and shills that were narrating the collapse. Recalling his Question revival in the late 80s, he was still at it. Taking a character that should have been a home run of cool and turning it into a proto-white guy doofus getting his butt kicked by mystery Asian mystery woman. Because reasons.
It’s clear now that the demolition of the Silver and Golden Age heroes is part of the deliberate beast assault on the culture of the West. I wonder if “realism” was when the intentional destruction of heroism in comics began.
Deconstruction and destruction of Golden and Silver Age heroes. It is quite possible that was the intent and Realism was the tool. The results certainly are in line with injections of ‘realism’ in other mythic and futuristic adventure stories. I’ll think on that.
Though I didn’t intend this series as a coda to J.D. Cowan’s series on the origins of Fandom and its cancerous effects, there is so much more regarding comics that dovetails with his investigations. What were originally interested and entertained readers of comics who wrote into their favorite magazines to express gratitude or disagreement, much as Science Fiction Fandom of the 20s and 30s, morphed into Comic Book Fandom. This was of a kind to SF Fandom and dropped its own poisonous seeds into comic books.
J.D.’s series is a long read, but an extremely worthwhile one. Link to the main series page, with the newest posts linked at the bottom: https://wastelandandsky.blogspot.com/p/science-fiction-illustra.html
The annoying thing for me about O’Neil is that while his Batman books were good, Schwartz didn’t see that he didn’t have the skill set for Superheroes and didn’t move him to other books immediately after the Wonder Woman debacle was underway for a year. That fiasco was almost universally panned by readers. O’Neil wasn’t corrected at that time, so garbage like DC’s Question occurred. As a long time Charlton Comics fan, Dick Giordano also has my undying ire for bringing the Action Heroes to DC and not allowing those characters to languish in obscurity. They were treated shabbily by DC, much as were the Quality and Fawcett heroes that National acquired.
I will point out that while not a Batman fan, Frank Robbins’ work to bring back the Dark Detective elements were much more successful than O’Neil’s in my view. Robbins’ issues stand the test of time and are just as good today as they were in the early 70s.
Hot take: Frank Miller’s Dark Knight was just Frank Robbins’ Batman at 60 years old. Fight me.
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