Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Old Comics

While I no longer regularly collect comic books, I still duck into comic stores every now and then to see what might tickle my fancy. While I still by current or recent comic books, whether in single-issue or trade paperback format, for some reason I find myself increasingly drawn to some older comic books, like John Byrne's Fantastic Four or his all-too-brief nine issue stint on Captain America with Roger Stern, or even Walt Simonson's run on Thor (though I haven't bought any of this last one yet). I wouldn't mind getting a hold of that compilation of Alan Moore/Alan Davis Captain Britain stories either, or of a paperback of Byrne's Superman: Man of Steel miniseries, to name a few.

In terms of craft, it certainly wouldn't be fair to say that the older product trumps the new (though some of Byrne's FF issues, at least in terms of their artwork, might go some way towards making that point), as there are a lot of new comics out there that are well-written and illustrated, but I think what really sets these older issues apart is how, even as recently as the 1980s, pure they seemed to be in that they weren't written with film adaptations in mind, even though by that time many of them were already the subject of popular merchandise like pajamas and toys. Sure, the stories weren't always that imaginative and the dialogue and artwork were often embarrassingly dated (like some of the Stern/Byrne Cap stories, which prominently featured bell-bottom pants and some decidedly bushy 70's hairdos), but there was something really special about how, in many if not most of these old stories, the creators of these books do not come across as self-conscious. Even from their scripts and story beats, a number of today's comic book creators seem eternally conscious of the fact that Hollywood execs may or may not scan their pages for movie or TV ideas, or how brutal legions of internet fanboys may be if what they read is not to their liking. If there were agendas back then, or if the authors were intent on achieving the 1970s or 1980s equivalent of "breaking the internet in half," it didn't really show. A lot of current writers, like Ed Brubaker, Mark Waid, or on a good day, Brian Bendis, seem intent on telling good stories, but so many of today's storytellers, event guys who've written stuff I like, like Dan Slott or Mark Millar, are so fond of referencing pop-culture, or even the fact that comic-book characters are so firmly ensconced in pop-culture these days, that it's nauseating.

Like the saying goes, they don't make comics like they used to...