Today, Superman turns 75; he’s taken on the extra years really well and looks fabulous. I think it is no exaggeration to say that Superman is, indeed, one of the most celebrated and well-recognized superheroes in the world.
So it’s been 75 years since Superman was created, 74 since Batman, 50 since Spider-Man, almost 40 since Wolverine, and about 27 since Watchmen.
What “Supermen” of tomorrow are major publishers currently creating in their laboratories?
Answer: probably none.
Certainly, no new concepts or characters with the level of joy, inspiration, and long-term public appeal as Supes, the Fantastic Four, Batman, Spider-Man, Watchmen, etc.
You might argue with me on this point. Certainly, Venom was — and is — a hoot and a holler. And I’m really enjoying the new adventures of Vibe.
But really, how many new characters — or comic book story arcs — are going to be remembered 20 years from now?* How many will be taught in schools and universities? How many new Supermen will be created in twenty years, “gods” relevant to the eras, amazing concepts that will replenish the “well?”
Answer: it’s not looking too good in that department. Though we can safely assume, with a degree of certainty, that books featuring characters like Batman and Spider-Man and the lot of them will continue to do well. Because they are icons; childhood friends. They are the equivalent of Santa Claus. They are, in a sense, the “new” religion. So it doesn’t really matter that much what the content is for those stories — as long as the Icons are present.
But today’s comic book creators do not have the incentive to essentially “sell” the rights to their best, most creative original ideas to the Big Two. Seventy-five years ago, two kids named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster did — poured their absolute heart and soul into creating the Man of Steel. But years after Siegel & Shuster’s woes with the rights of Superman, and Kirby’s woes with the wealth of brain-children he gave to Marvel, comic creators know better.
No, today’s comic creators are saving their next “Supermen” for their own creator-owned work. And can you really blame them? Most of their concepts, however, without the major distribution of Marvel and DC, will not reach Superman levels of public awareness (with MAJOR exceptions: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Walking Dead, etc.).
So the job falls to the big publishers, then, to try and recreate “lightning in a bottle.” To artificially harness the infinite creative genius of a Jack Kirby or Siegel/Shuster in their prime — to create “comics by commitee,” carefully planned enterprises informed by the latest in marketing data.
Of course, in the end that really can’t be done. You can’t “force” genius. Any idiot knows that. So the publishers, smartly, continue to lean on their iconic characters, retelling their mythologies over and over and over again. And the fans, they eat that stuff up. They can’t get enough of how Superman came to Earth, or how Peter Parker was bitten by that spider. It’s pretty much Holy Writ at this point.
But it is not new. It is not Superman blasting into the scene 75 years ago. It has none of the excitement and wonder of the Fantastic Four discovering their powers for the first time.
In a world where a thrilling, edgy anti-hero such as Wolverine can be turned into a shill for the Avengers — from lone wolf to Company Man — can we really expect anything else?
I want to expect more.
Bring the magic back, Comics. Or don’t. I have about 1000 hours of original TV programming to get through on my $8-a-month Netflix.
* Actually, I think “Hark, A Vagrant” will be remembered in twenty years. Does that make Kate Beaton a superhero?
Note: this is an op-ed, and does not reflect the views of MTV Geek as a whole.