Every two weeks, I drive thirty miles to the nearest quality comic shop to pick up my pulls. The place is a little cluttered, a little crowded, but a far cry from the dank pick of the unwashed and socially maladjusted anti-nerd types (most of whom are other nerds, but that’s a different blog post) like to paint them as.
I don’t get much time to hang out there, but I usually end up having one conversation while I’m there; usually about non-comics topics, oddly enough. But this week, it dawned on use just how unbelievably good comics have been lately.
True, there have been some face-plants: DC’s debut of Red Hood and the Outlaws, comes instantly to mind, but in general, there’s been a sudden, inexplicable rise in quality of late. Where before, many of us found ourselves hanging on to multiple series in the hopes that they would get good because we like the setup or the characters, suddenly we’re excited about the titles themselves again, talking about how great the writing and story and characterization is.
Normally, I would arrange my comics so I get the comics in danger of being cut from my pulls out of the way first so I can read the genuinely great ones last. This week, I looked in my bag and found Deadpool, New Mutants, X-men:Legacy, Wolverine and the X-men, Blue Beetle, Thunderbolts, and Legion of Superheros… and I had no idea when ones to read first (I read Blue Beetle first because, bugsuit)
And it’s gotten to the point that my pull list is now limited by my budget, not by the number of quality and wish-they-were-quality comics I want. Green Arrow and Legion Lost look amazing, but I just don’t have the cash to make them mine.
Things are so good on such a scale that I dare say that we might have stumbled into a new Age of Comic Books.
In case you don’t know, the history of comics is divided into Ages: the Golden Age, where superhero comics were born, war stories and two-fisted tales ruled the Earth, and where sexism and racism ran wild and free; the Silver Age, which is the silly time of rainbow kryptonite and talking animals that every piece of non-comic media imagines when they talk about comics; the Bronze Age, defined by the end of the Comics Code, which allowed more mature stories; and the Dark Age, where ‘mature’ came to mean childish blood, guts, guns and rape and where artists gave up on anatomy and publishers gave up on sane business models.
We are currently in the Modern Age, which is much less defined, but is characterized mostly be revivals, more realistic art and integration of silver age elements back into the mythos in a less nonsensical manner. It was also, in my opinion, plagued by cynicism masquerading as realism, silver age characters and concepts twisted into Dark Age insanity (Wonder Dog in Teen Titans, anyone?), and the same constant cycle of event comics that ‘shake up the status quo’ that played a hand at accelerating the continuity snarl that locks new fans out of the hobby. There was also a meta war going on between writers who lived the Silver Age and those who loved the Dark Age wherein they constantly tried to ‘prove’ the other one wrong and bad in events and when titles changed hands.
It’s too early to say that things have changed for good, but I believe that two events and one title may have struck a harmonious balance that have changed the tenor in their universes: X-men RE-Genesis, DC’s New 52, and Avenger’s Academy.
In terms of my reading it started in Christos Gage’s run Avenger’s Academy. Gage, who already became a favorite of mine with his work on World War Hulk: X-men, where he wrote every member of every current terrestrial X-men team and gave each member a nice in-character moment, and Avengers: the Initiative, where he explored the seedier side of Pro-registration in a fair, but critical way; knows how to blend Silver age fun and wonder with Modern (actual) realism by exploring both the positive and negative effects on the kids given the shortest end of the stick. The stories here are fun, complex and mature without being gross, stupid, violent, or cartoonishly angsty.
And he bought the same thing to his run on X-men: Legacy. Following the very Modern Schism miniseries, which split the X-men into the dark and militant Utopia and the Jean gray School, which focuses on trying to give young mutants a better life, Gage was tapped to take over Dr. Mike Carey’s excellent X-men: Legacy. He’s been doing an amazing job, blending humor, insane and hammy villains; and serious and complex drama into a harmonious whole.
Meanwhile, fellow ‘Team Wolverine’ comic, Wolverine and the X-men has gone full on Silver Age, reintroducing Krakoa, and adding a cast of humorous and vibrant characters like Broo the Brood, Kid Gladiator, and the best rendition of Quentin Quire ever while keeping Modern art and complex storytelling that promises years of interesting, gripping plots.
And outside of the X-sphere of influence, Thunderbolts have been on an entertaining trip through time and space, harkening back to madcap adventure while still making time to return to the original draw of the thunderbolts: villains forced to act heroically.
On the other side of the industry, DC rebooted the whole damn universe (again), but this time, they didn’t half-ass it. No more ‘this is a list of small changes that really only matter to a few books. Nope, they hit their world with the fist of and angry god and came out with something incredible.
Teen Titans, which had become top-heavy with continuity and angst, returns with a vengeance; dropping the angst for a dangerous new enemy, brutal fights and Bunker, who is the most fun new character either company has introduced in a long time. Scott Lobdell manages to pack every issue with action, comedy and surprisingly touching small moments like Bunker and Solstice’s friendship, which might be the most adorable thing ever.
The New 52 also brings up the reboot of Blue Beetle. Though decidedly darker than before, it remains true to the core of the characters of Jamie Reyes and Khaji Da. But blue Beetle was always a good blend of the best parts of all ages of comics… I just wanted to soap box on how you should be reading it.
From what I’ve seen all of these titles are doing well, which is what the Big Two care about far beyond artistic merit or enjoyability, so there’s a very real hope that this trend will spread and flourish. It’s only been seven months since RE-Genesis and the New 52, so it’s a bit too early to declare a new age.
But I can certainly hope.
Join me on the forum or comment below so we can talk comics, hopefully about all the good ones coming out now and in the future.