The Middle Ground #22: Not What It Looks Like

I can't help but feel there's some kind of weird ageism in comics fandom, some idea that things were always better before, even if (especially if?) you weren't there the first time around. Superhero fans worship at the altars of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Watchmen or whatever else, indie comics talk about Hate or the original Love & Rockets or whatever. I do the same thing, and then have to stop and remind myself that (a) I am talking nonsense and (b) it's not really worth punching myself in the face about that, really.

The most recent time this has happened was the other day when I was complaining to myself about a lack of indie creators pushing the medium forward in a setting aimed at mainstream (ie, superhero) readers, a la (or so goes my admittedly potentially-flawed) Zot or American Flagg! from the '80s. Now, you've got to understand that when these books were originally coming out, I hadn't even really graduated to American comics bar the occasional issue of Super Friends or something my parents thought was similarly suitable for an eight year old, so if nostalgia is at play in this complaint, it's not necessarily my nostalgia - or even a real nostalgia. But, nonetheless, it was there - some sense that everything was more... I don't know, conducive to everyone just getting along and Team Comics working together towards the common goal of Making Comics Better, perhaps? Or that there wasn't such a schism between superhero comics and everything else, maybe.

(Like I said, I'm not entirely sure how sound this theory actually is, but I do know is that Zot and American Flagg, both of which I read for the first time in collections last year, seemed to be more contemporary and "modern" when it comes to superhero comics than many things that actually are contemporary... Put Flagg against the majority of DC or Marvel's output and it seems fresher, more pleasing to modern sensibilities, for some reason. Or maybe I'm just stuck in the 1980s.)

Thing is, of course, I was wrong: There's as much of that happening now, it's just that it's happening in different places - Brandon Graham's King City, for example, which I should really write about more someday because it's amazing, or Matt Fraction's Casanova, which is in many ways the truest heir to American Flagg I can imagine - or in different ways than I'd considered (Marvel and, increasingly, DC are using "indie" creators on superhero books, and even if the results are sometimes more traditional than I might want, I should stop using my expectations as flagstones and get over myself). If there's one thing that nostalgia, real or imagined, does for us, it's allow us to re-order things in ways that make the world make more sense to us, and it's more than a little ironic that, as I was feeling blue about the lack of comics that do something new for superhero audiences, the problem may have been more that I was thinking about old ways of doing something new.

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