I spent my youth reading comics featuring superheroes created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Those were the good ol’ days, when a kid didn’t have to worry about his favorite characters dealing with real world problems or getting bumped off (again and again). Things were much simpler back then : you had good guys and bad guys, they fought, the good guys won, the end (till the next issue).
Nowadays, comic books have been getting darker, especially since the advent of Frank Miller‘s The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore‘s Watchmen in 1986. And this trend doesn’t seem to be abiding. Don’t get me wrong. As a “mature” reader, I adore these grittier storylines and cherish the fact that authors now have an audience for more complex tales. But when did it become necessary to pander exclusively to an adult audience? And who decided that grown-ups have to be serious all the time?
I honestly don’t understand why comics need to be so grim for them to attain a level of acceptability reserved for movies and novels. It just seems like sequential art is still trying to shed the image it acquired in the 1950s. During this period, comics were targeted as a major contributing factor to the social problems involving the youth. This idea was legitimised by so-called experts on the matter, such as Frederic Wertham, M.D., in his book Seduction of the Innocent. Since then, it’s been an uphill battle in America to rid comic books of it’s inferiority complex.
But the consequence of pandering almost exclusively to a more mature fan base is that today’s kids are getting left behind. Add to this the limited distribution model (dedicated comic book stores vs spinner racks at convenience stores) and steep prices, and you have the perfect recipe for killing off an industry. The equation is quite simple : fewer older readers + less new readers = the end of comics! (as we know them, at least).
P.S. For readers wishing to be enlightened further about the “darkening” of comics , I suggest you view this illuminating video podcast from the fine folks at iFanboy entitled : Comic Book Tone – Dark vs Light.