Superheroes' New Optimism Didn't Last Long

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Before either Marvel's The Heroic Age and DC's Brightest Day have even launched, both companies are publicly announcing that their future isn't that bright after all. Whatever happened to the new age of optimism?


Back at the start of the year, we noted that both Marvel and DC Comics were planning linewide relaunches this year that focused on a less dark, more hopeful future. Marvel's Heroic Age has been the most bold in that marketing, describing the relaunch as "a bold new era for the world's greatest super heroes as they emerge from darkness with a renewed sense of hope and optimism," but Marvel editor in chief Joe Quesada is already suggesting that that sense of hope and optimism isn't as bold as it seemed. In a recent interview, he said that people had preconceptions about the Heroic Age's optimism:

Globally speaking, in the Heroic Age, the heroes have won, things are looking up for a change and the skies are that much bluer. But, and I'm going to leave it at this, because things are finally looking up, you really need to be that much more vigilant because that is when they are the most fragile.

It's a message mirrored by Geoff Johns, the co-writer and architect of rival DC's Brightest Day, who went on the record yesterday to say that his series isn't exactly going to be all smiles and rainbows either:

‘Brightest Day' is not a banner or a vague catch-all direction for the DC Universe, it is a story. Nor is ‘Brightest Day' a sign that the DC Universe is going to be all about ‘light and brighty' superheroes. Some second chances work out…some don't.

That both companies' versions of a bright new tomorrow are tinged with darkness shouldn't be surprising; drama is necessary, after all, and no-one would really want to read superhero comics where there was no danger at all. But isn't it a little depressing that neither new status quo could even launch before their companies started revealing the metaphorical man behind the curtain?



To quote Buddy "Syndrome" Pine: "Ooooooh, how dark."

Dark, violent superheroes are so 1987. The whole trend is a holdover from the post-Dark Knight/Watchmen "Biff! Pow! Comics Aren't Just For Kids Anymore" period, when comics publishers, desperate for sales and publicity, would kill off second-tier characters to demonstrate that superheroes weren't light-hearted camp but deadly serious literature, man.

Thing is, it's easier to be dark and nasty instead of optimistic. Even the "relevant" mainstream comics of the '60s and '70s, like the Englehart Captain America or Denny O'Neil's Green Lantern/Green Arrow weren't so fucking uptight and self-conscious. Watchmen is dark because it's a violent, self-destructive world; there's no need to export that template to every other superhero comic book. Moore's Swamp Thing was "dark," too, but there was a lot of joy and happiness to counterbalance the darkness. Even Moore dumped the dark heroes meme pretty quickly. It's like the rest of the mainstream comics industry has been stuck in the same tedious funk for nearly a quarter century.

I realize that things aren't looking up in the world right now, and that popular culture has to reflect what's going on. But a lousy economy and two wars still aren't an excuse for lazy, self-indulgent writing. If you really want to address serious issues, maybe adults running around in tights beating each other up isn't the ideal venue.