“Sadly, the lesson that was gained from these books was not that comics didn’t need to be hacked-out, disposable, interchangeable stories but could be well written and relevant. Instead what happened was every superhero comic, whether it lent itself to the transformation, or not, was made grim and gritty, which meant more violence, more sex. more trying to fit the superhero world into the real world.”
— John Rozum, putting the Grim and Gritty Era into historical context.
The quote is from a longer discussion of how comics reflect the times they’re created in, but what made it stand out to me is what it adds to a very old observation. When we look at the darkness of modern superhero comics, it’s easy to point to the late ’80s as the start of that trend, and a lot of people have done that. Watchmen, Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns changed the way we thought about comics, and I’m not alone in lamenting the extent of their influence on superhero comics.
In doing that, though, I’ve often held up the fun, kid-friendly comics of previous eras as the ideal, but Rozum reminds us that they weren’t perfect either. As he says, they were usually “hacked-out, disposable, interchangeable stories.” I eventually realized this and wrote about it on my own blog, but I’d never stepped back to get the historical perspective to see that Grim and Gritty comics were a direct reaction to that. It’s a pendulum swing, and I’m hoping that we’ll soon figure out where the middle of it is. I see steps in that direction, but we need more.