Comic books suck. We all know this. But none of us can actually stop reading them because they’re also super awesome. Most of the time, the good outweighs the bad, but sometimes the bad is just so annoying it makes you want to burn your entire comic collection down just so you can feel some warmth. The sad fact is, comics are incredibly regulated and monotonous. If it’s a cape comic, you can pretty much set your calendar to things that will happen.
Now, if it were something like, every six months, Godzilla is going to have a new comic where he fights Superman, that might be cool, but mostly it’s something like, “Hey, that book you like, it’s getting a new writer, artist, and number. It’s basically a new book, but the same title. All of your favorite characters are gone. It’s six bucks now. Pre-order or you’re a parasite.” Ah, comics. We all love them, but they really need to work on some of their… nastier aspects. With that in mind, let’s neg the heck out of comics and tell them all the things we hate to hate about them. Maybe one day they’ll be good enough for us… maybe one day.
15. UNMASKED & FORGOTTEN
Superheroes have this tendency to hide who they are until their comic sales are low… err, until some dramatic event happens and everyone finds out their identity. Perhaps the most famous superhero whose identity was revealed is Peter Parker as Spider-Man back in Civil War, but he’s not alone. Heck, Tony Stark has had his identity revealed and then hidden half a dozen times, Matt Murdock wears an I’M NOT DAREDEVIL shirt, and even Clark Kent has had his metaphorical mask ripped away a couple dozen times.
But in the end, it doesn’t matter. Worse yet, in the beginning, middle, and end it doesn’t matter. Heroes don’t suddenly stop swinging/crawling/flying around. Heroes rarely get killed because of it. It’s just a thing that happens, until it doesn’t anymore. Although, at least most of the times people forget it’s not because of stupid freaking devil deals. Yes we’re still angry, Spider-Man!!
Reboots aren’t inherently bad, but for some reason, in practice, they always turn out to be terrible. See, nowadays, reboots are just a completely silly and awful way to get people to come back to a series. Most of the time these “reboots” don’t change a single thing, except for the numbering of the comic book. Half the time, the new numbering doesn’t even last. We all know that it’s all going to grow and grow, and then when it all becomes interesting… some big calamity will happen and it’ll all be rewritten. Sometimes the stories don’t work if you just press pause, but if you keep them going, eventually they’ll end, so what comic creators do is just rewind and start the whole show over from the beginning. Worse yet, it seems to happen on a startlingly regular basis. There are more reboots than there are leap years — and at least leap years serve a point… or so we’ve been told.
13. IT’S ALL CONNECTED
Have you ever been fighting with someone — dunno, a neighbor, maybe an ex — and then, quite suddenly, you realize that this person has deep dark ties to your life? NO?! Well, congrats, then you know you’re not a comic character. (Note: If this did happen to you, try using laser vision. If you can still read this, sorry, you’re probably not a superhero.)
In comics, it happens all the time. The Court of Owls is a long shadowy organization with deep roots. Ra’s Al Ghul actually created Gotham, or lat least laid down the foundations for it. There’s Ezekiel in Spider-Man’s story who is his father… sort of? Then there’s Romulus, who has actually controlled the flow of Wolverine’s life the whole time. Look, we get it. Whenever a new character is invented, the writers need a way for this character to get your attention; so most of the time, it’s revealed that he’s secretly super important and has been there (in the shadows) since day-one. But, hey, how about we just make the character cool enough that he doesn’t need some ultra-contrived backstory? Now that would be refreshing!
12. LONG LOST [INSERT FAMILY MEMBER]
One of the nicest things that comics do is expand the families of their heroes. Normally this is by teams getting together and becoming close as families, but sometimes it’s done through a much, err, worse way. For example, eventually you find out that one of the main characters’ long thought dead relative is actually alive. Dun dun dun! For instance, Batman has a secret brother, and maybe his dad’s alive? Peter Parker’s parents were alive, or they were, until he found out they were super-stretchy androids… for reasons? Also Peter has a special Spider-twin in the form of Silk. Supergirl’s alone on Earth? Not now — her father’s back… and he’s a villain. Batman’s fighting the League of Assassins? Turns out one of them is his son. It’s weak, gang, and at this point pretty trite. Some of the stories turn out pretty all right, but this specific trope is so overdone that, honestly, we’d prefer if all of our heroes’ families pulled an Uncle Ben.
11. HEEL-FACE-HEEL TURN
Ah, the much beloved heel-face-heel turn. Basically, this has to do with villains become redeemed… only to turn evil a day later. It happens a lot, perhaps most frequently with Batman’s rogues. For instance, Riddler has been a detective and the Joker is healed, Harley Quinn’s a landlord and Clayface is a member of Batman’s team over in Detective Comics. But even when they turn good for a little while, we can never stop watching them, because we know they’re going to become villainous again, sooner or later.
Heck, Venom turned into a superhero, saved the galaxy, and got his villainous urges burned out, but now he’s back to massacring people in New York — because comics are never allowed to change. This is especially insidious because it sends the message that villains can never become better people, so if you’re not a great person, tough! That’s who you are forever. Heck, remember the Sandman? He joined the Avengers! Doc Ock became Spider-Man! But now both are back to the rogues gallery… the place they’ll always call home.
10. DEATH AND RETURN
One of the reasons people seem to hate comics is because everything is changing all of time but also none of it ever sticks. Bruce Wayne is always rich, Tony Stark always sucks, and like the tide rolling against the shore, it is all eventually gets taken away. But the single worst part of the whole thing is people dying. It’s a huge event every time it ever happens — and yet, it never sticks. Comics make such a big deal about it — it’s going to change everything forever except no, no it won’t. Nothing will ever change everything forever because if everything changed, eventually the story might have to end, and since that’ll never happen, nothing will ever change. Comic books are limbo, and that’s all there is to it!
9. WRITING FOR THE TRADE
Comic books are supposed to be fun. One of the things that’s always been cool about them is that anything can happen in them — any type of story, any type of magnificent war — and it’ll be told in an issue, maybe two… three if it gets out of hand. At least, that’s how it was. Now there’s a thing called “Writing for The Trade.” The idea is that most comics are collected int what are incorrectly known as “graphic novel” collections, designed to be read as one complete story. Most of these have enough space for about six issues. So, instead of doing a bunch of fun one-offs, most stories now are stretched to six issues. Listen… Brian Michael Bendis can do this. Tom King can, too. Heck, some other writers out there can probably do this, but this expectation has build up an almost by-the-numbers style of storytelling in the medium, making it feel more stale and stagnant than in years past.
8. REAL LIFE EVENTS
Speaking of 9/11, you know what’s really offensive? When comic books decide to actually depict 9/11 and then show superheroes being mopey about it. That’s more offensive than… no, honestly, there’s nothing more offensive than showing Doctor Doom crying out of his mask about a building falling down when he wants to destroy all of Manhattan. Comic books aren’t supposed to be connected to the real world.
Here, things are bad — sometimes really bad — and comics are supposed to be an escape. While implementing real themes within a story has been part of fiction since the storytelling began, and can still result in powerful messages in any genre or medium, directly comparing real life tragedies or using real-world scenarios within comics often comes across as, at best, hollow, and at worst, insulting to the victims.
7. AFTER SCHOOL SPECIAL
One of the only things comics does worse than having tie-ins to real life events is having morals that we’re actually supposed to use in real life. Comics are about allegory, not telling us to strap on a stripey suit and swing around Manhattan. Comics are about being brave and fighting against injustice — not necessarily by throwing a shield around while screaming EXCELSIOR or exposing ourselves to radiation in hopes of getting super strength!
Unfortunately, many comics don’t undertake subtlety within their allegories, so you get books where Batman lectures about drug use — or the evils of punk music. You get comics about Spider-Man fighting drug-fueled baddies and Captain America teaching kids about recycling. Again, as with any medium of storytelling, any time a message becomes TOO maudlin, it will hurt the story, no matter how powerful the medium.
6. EVENT FATIGUE
You know what’s great about stories? They end! Even comic books have natural flows to them. After events, normally, is when people jump on or off. That’s why some of the biggest and most popular stories in recent years have been big events — because they’re more or less self-contained stories set in a universe we all know and love. More and more recently, these stories have stopped being actually self-contained. Take for instance, Secret Wars.
To actually understand that series, you would need to read all of Secret Avengers, Avengers, plus Infinity. For Secret Empire, you need to have read Standoff, Civil War II, Civil War II: The Oath, plus Captain Americas both Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson. It’s a staggering amount of comics. Heck, DC’s new event — Dark Nights: Metal — is designed to launch an entire new imprint of comics; dozens and dozens of comics spinning out of and therefore connected to this one event. Events never end anymore, and that’s a problem because without finality there can be no gravity.
5. LEGACY (ENDING)
One fun thing that comics sometimes do in order to make them at least appear to have forward momentum is give legacy characters a chance. What’s especially cool about this is that sometimes it actually works. For instance, Captain Marvel is now Carol Danvers and Kamala Khan is Ms Marvel: it seems like that will continue happening for a long, long time. But over in Captain America land, we’ve got two Caps because Marvel couldn’t go more than a year without a white dude holding the shield. Heck, Batman’s given his cape and cowl up more times than we can remember. Superheroes give their visages to others only to steal it back, which sucks, because honestly their replacements are often cooler, or at very least refreshing. Miles Morales is cooler than Peter Parker, Jane Foster is cooler than the Odinson, and Sam Wilson is cooler than Steve Rogers. Just let the cool people live and save the world in peace.
4. SUPERHERO… NO MORE
Worse than legacies are characters giving up their alter egos… forever. Recently, The Button has been teasing the idea that Bruce Wayne will ditch his alter ego for good (because his time travelling, alternate reality, murder dad told him to). This is in fact the second time within two years that Bruce Wayne will maybe give up his superhero alter ego. The last time wasn’t entirely his fault, but guess what happened at the end? He came back! Just like he did after Final Crisis. Listen, it was a momentous occasion when Spider-Man threw his suit away and decided to walk away from the hero life, because it had never really been done before, at least to that extent. It was unique, it was iconic, but now it’s passe.
3. DANGLING PARTICIPLES
Do you remember Sera, the awesome trans girl from Angela: Queen of 1602 Asgard? She was great and when we last saw her, she was living with Angela in Brooklyn and now she is in… who knows where! It’s not just her. When series end, half the characters end up floating in the blank space between the panels. This is so common in comics that, during his run on Animal Man, Grant Morrison created a place for these characters to go — a special limbo where characters that writers don’t care or write about anymore end up.
Oh, and remember how Pandora united the different worlds to prepare the universe for a coming war that… never came? Oh, yeah, that plot thread. At this point, we’ll be more than a little surprised if Batman’s revelation from the Darkseid War — that the Joker is actually three people — ever comes back. One thing comics are good at is leaving us hanging.
Look. Comics. Can we have a talk? You’re fun. You’re great. We love you. Please stop putting real characters in your comics. It’s not that it wasn’t fun the first few times. Who wouldn’t want to see Stan Lee and Jack Kirby accosted by Doctor Doom? And when you implied Nixon blew his brains out in the Oval Office, well that was just good clean fun. But your standards have gone down in recent time. Now you just put cool politicians in, like Barack Obama? Why did he need a comic?
The only thing it really does is to solidify what time this comic takes place in and will therefore need to just be retconned. Worse yet, you had a comic featuring Eminem and the Punisher. The freaking Punisher, gang. How did you do that and think it was okay? This addiction comics seems to have to adding real people — mostly folks who have no business being in comics — is a strange distraction that does little for either party and pretty darn well needs to stop.
1. SLIDING TIMELINE
Ah, yes, the dreaded sliding timeline. Much as we all feared, time isn’t solid. But in comics, it’s so slippery, it’ll fly out of your hand and smack you in the eye. See, comics have to keep being current, because as mentioned, nothing can ever actually happen. The way comics combat this is by keeping the timeline ticking along with its readership. Captain America getting pulled out of the ice? Five years ago. Rick Jones using a shortwave radio? It’s social media now. The Punisher fighting in Vietnam? Sorry, nope, it was the Middle East. As time passes, things change and characters either grow or… wait, no, they’re not allowed to grow so their past is endlessly rewritten. Ergo, not even the smallest minutiae matters. Spider-Man never went on Johnny Carson. He went on Stephen Colbert… until he didn’t.
What are some comic book tropes that you can’t stand? Let us know in the comments!
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