Superheroes are in serious trouble. Many people watch some of the movies but have never bought an issue of a comic book in their life, so that statement shouldn’t be surprising. But as someone who has read comic books since “X-Men #1” in 1991, a recent change in my reading showed me that there’s a lot of wasted potential in the industry.A couple of weeks ago, DC Comics – publishers of many of the world’s most popular superheroes, like Batman and Superman – sent the Campus Times four issues and two collections for review. I snapped them up, of course. There was “Pride & Joy,” a miniseries that had been put together in one collection, “The Losers Vol. 1,” a collection of the first storyline of an ongoing series and “New Frontier #1,” the first of a six-issue miniseries. There were also the first issues of three ongoing series – “Swamp Thing,” “Kinetic” and “Hard Time.” “Swamp Thing,” “The Losers” and “New Frontier” are reinventions of old characters and ideas, while “Kinetic” and “Hard Time” are part of DC Focus, a new line consisting of “gritty, character-driven comics,” according to their Web site. Both of these Focus books are very much like horror or dark fantasy, though I think others in the line are more about “superheroes with a twist.” Individually, these are all good comics – if they weren’t, DC wouldn’t use them to generate hype. They all have good characterization and plotting, and although the art styles are worlds apart, they are all clear and easy to follow. Taken as a whole, though, these comics show a sad trend. Superhero comics are getting worse and worse, not because there’s anything wrong with the subjects but because the publishers are stagnant. I’ll concentrate on “Pride & Joy” and “New Frontier” here, since they are on opposites side of the comic book spectrum. “Pride & Joy” is set in modern America. Jimmy Kavanagh is a man with a criminal past who made a new life for himself, but a psychopath from that past has returned to take revenge on him and his children. “New Frontier” is three different stories in one issue, and I gather the rest of the series is also like this, about the period between the Golden Age of Comics and the Silver Age.Superman and Batman make cameo appearances, and the boy who would become Green Lantern and the World War II version of the Losers both star in this issue. “Pride & Joy” could be an award-winning novel or movie. I couldn’t help but feel for the characters of Jimmy and his son, so much so that I got misty-eyed at the end. And the story is more clear-cut and self-contained than most novels. There are no mysteries or dangling plot lines, which is a breath of fresh air from most comics where even death isn’t final. The art is simple, clear-cut and realistic, and even so it managed to make me gasp and stare in shock at times. There is some ambiguity about whether it is praising or the machismo at the center of Kavanagh’s character or trying to expose it as a faade. I personally didn’t like that much, but if you read it as a story rather than looking for a message, it’s a very small problem. On the other hand, “New Frontiers” is very ironically named, considering its subject matter. It’s about a lost chapter in the continuity of the DC Universe. As far as I can tell, it answers the question of what happened between the Golden Age and the Silver Age. The real-life reason for that division is simply that superhero comic books became less popular during the 1950’s, replaced by other genres like cowboy, horror or science fiction, but this series addresses where the heroes were in their universe. Reviewing this book is automatically difficult because I don’t have the following five issues, but even so, a big problem was obvious to me – it is only interesting to people who know these characters and are already familiar with their world. The story about the Losers is a fun and moving story about heroes who fight to the last, no matter what. However, the story comes to a very definitive end so if you aren’t familiar with everything else written about the characters, you won’t care much about this. And the story about Hal Jordan, a popular and controversial character even now, has a similar problem. A young, idealistic man makes a heartbreaking choice at the end of the Korean War. But this vision of an idealistic young soldier is overdone and stereotyped if you don’t already know what he becomes later. The art is old-fashioned as well, a tribute to Jack Kirby and many other creators of that day. This showed me, in a way I had not really appreciated before, how much the creators of superhero stories are suffering. When trying to make a good, original story, their publishers can publish a good, original story. But when trying to make a good, original superhero story, their idea of a “New Frontier” is yet another lost chapter in the history of characters almost 70 years old. Levesque can be reached atclevesque@campustimes.org.



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