Comics used to be for stupid kids

Anybody who complains that comics used to be for smart kids should realise comics also used to be for stupid kids. In the sense that the plots were down right ridiculous with equally absurd heroes and villains like Bouncing Boy, Calendar Man, Kite Man, Moth Man and any other character not taken seriously by nerds. Heck, Lois Lane and the like also and ironically outsold Marvel comics before.

There was arguably room for bad taste in comics as there is today. It’s just that superhero nerds remember very little of anything else. Let’s not forget that Babysitters Club and Goosebumps were far more relevant and popular with most 90s kids than Robin and Superboy ever were. That and Mills and Boons or if you will, Garfield.

There’ll always be people with bad taste in media anyways.

Doesn’t feel so American

I often suspected the real appeal Archie comics have in India (or Disney comics in Europe) has to do with romantic notions of Americana. If that’s really the case, this explains why some French philosophers associate Disney and America with hyperreality or artifice so convincing as to pass off as reality or the truth. (Indians might feel the same way with Archie or at least close to it.)

I mean Archie Andrews is in some regards closer to romantic ideas of All-American youth than any superhero ever would. Admittedly a good number of things as found in American media like popular kids and youth subcultures seem alien to an Asian (and African standpoint) in the sense of the latter being often stuck with school uniforms* until university arrives.

Where cliques arrive too. In the case with Peanuts, Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes, they’re generic enough to easily relate to them and forget that they’re American. Archie doesn’t elicit that same feeling whenever I think about it. (A European would’ve felt the same way with Disney.)

Comes to think of it, there’s a reason why superhero comics don’t resonate well either. Maybe not entirely or consistently so but there are ways superhero comics do defy romantic notions of America. DC Comics have cities so generic they could easily be anywhere outside of America.

Marvel’s got actual American cities but it’s so detached from romantic Americana that not even Captain America helps. There’s a reason why Canadians don’t consider Wolverine to be Canadian. He’s even caught dead dressing like a cowboy (an All-American symbol) and wasn’t even supposed to be Canadian.

Maybe not always exactly or consistently the case as Riverdale’s a fictious American town and Japan does seem to like superheroes a lot (but twisted beyond recognition when it came to its own take on Spider-Man and the like). I still get the impression that superhero comics don’t resonate much with Indian or European romantic notions of Americana well.

If because it gets too far removed from it that it doesn’t resonate well with them much to begin with save for some exceptions.

*For some reason, that’s why I relate to Jenny McCarthy well as she also got sent to a terrible religious school.

All American Archie

I figured out the real reason why Archie seems more popular in India than in America has more to do with the stories being sort of like a romantic take on America especially from the view of a developing country. Same reason why certain American brands are considered luxuries in neighbouring China. Even if the Archie stories aren’t always light-hearted, idyllic or idealised there’s still a romantic air to its version of Americana that superhero stories (still) don’t quite get.

It could be that either the settings are so generic cities like Central City could easily be Florence (at least for DC Comics) and others like Marvel which tend to occur in actual American cities but despite having an American sensibility they don’t have the same romantic air as Archie does for India.

(Logically Disney comics are popular in Europe enough to assume they’re the European interpretation and impression of Americana.)

It’s not that Gotham’s any less romantic than Riverdale at times but that Riverdale seems to conjure a romantic vision of Americana that’s hard to grasp even in Metropolis or Central City. That’s just my opinion but that might also unconsciously explain why Indians are drawn to it and for another matter, Europeans to Disney comics.

Betty Cooper, not really perfect but

It’s been a long time ever since I got first exposed to the Archie stories through animated cartoons but I often get the impression of Veronica being the more evidently flawed character and one who ironically resembles most women and girls more. In the sense of chasing fads, worldly (obsessed with fashion and money) and emotional. That’s if Cosmo Girl and Seventeen can tell you.

Betty, by contrast, seems like the ideal girl. Maybe not quite the ideal but more like what men wish women were more like save for her choice of pet. But that’s not really that big of a deal at times. Oddly enough she’s also the only character in American comics that comes closest to the girl next door stereotype. It’s very vague really.

But more in the sense of the illusion of accessibility and Betty seemed more accessible to Archie than Veronica is, even though Ronnie resembles most girls more. (You know superficial and capricious.) Comes to think of it, she’s the only true girl next door in American comics. The redheaded girl in Peanuts is generally too inaccessible to be one anyways.

Kitty Pryde’s too hot-tempered and violent and may ironically easily become the character Psylocke ended up as. Stephanie Brown’s too worldly and stubborn. So we’re left with Betty, the near perfect girl next door American comics could ever come up with. Not really exactly flawless but almost saintly compared to the other broads I mentioned.

Can’t be too human

I suspect when it comes to depicting superhero characters (or any ‘super’ character really), there’s a fine line between giving them flaws whilst making them idealised and making them actually fallible as to be infuriating and disappointing if because they’re the ones you trusted a lot. I know that feeling too and it still stings me to this day. But at other times it’s a Sophie’s choice between a disappointingly fallible character and a Mary Sue.

I guess it’s going to be hard trying to come up with flaws for characters because you want them to be likable but at the same time they can’t be Mary Sues either. A balance’s possible. But not when some situations demand a Sophie’s choice that it’s ultimately going to piss off readers either way. It’s not so much that liking superheroes is bad but it’s either a fallible of accepting fallibility or at least hoping for real improvement because you feel disappointed.

The latter at least allows character development but I think that’s best pulled off in The Secret Garden and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures and Yu Yu Hakusho to some extent where I think a delinquent turning into an upstanding hero’s more interesting than say a glorified fan surrogate (I’m looking at you Tim). But that’s something not too many superhero writers actually do with reader surrogates.

If because it not only makes them too human but also take on a mind of their own so it’s a Sophie’s Choice 22. It’s going to be a tough act to do anyways.

No change, just good stories

That’s understandable but I get the feeling change’s necessary. Not because I want a character to come out of the closet but because there are other ways to either avert the process of turning into a Mary Sue or to undo it however by opting for the logical, if damning possibility/conclusion. Something like Kitty Pryde being everything that Psylocke ironically turned into as the latter wasn’t supposed to be a ninja (whereas the former’s trained as such, however also forcibly).

That’s even done in Age of Apocalypse but since that’s temporary and apocryphal, I suspect when you think hard about it the logical possibility’s scarier than one wishes for. Kitty Pryde as a bloodthirsty assassin’s scary even if it makes the most sense and the least Mary Sue she’s been. (It’s also the most logical character development she ever got, however it got undone.) The same can be said of let’s say turning Black Canary into Tim’s grandaunt which necessitates a personality change for both.

But in the sense of the former becoming very over-protective and sometimes harsh on him whilst he becomes more feckless and reckless. (That’s goes to show you how different she is from Dana and not to mention potentially more important.) Both of them have the surname Drake, which whilst not always the case for some, having her be his relative in action would require phasing both Lady Shiva and Dana out for her.

(And Dinah being the biggest shrew Tim’s ever dealt with.)

Or heck, Barry Allen being of Italian descent if because he does wallow in Italian and/or Catholic cliches like tardiness and turning to forensic science out of regret over not saving somebody. Even the people working on his adventures (from what I recall, Greg Berlanti and Carmine Infantino) are of Italian descent.

Frank Miller, for all his flaws, had the good sense to do something about Daredevil. Barry would easily be the DC answer to him, just look at him. He could at the very least be of partial Italian descent though that would involve giving more depth to the late Nora in the sense who she was and where she came from. Actually that gives Barry much more depth than he ever had.

The only problem’s that he doesn’t look Italian to some never mind that characters like Nitro Wilson, Jake La Furia and Patty Pravo exist (naturally blond Italians exist). It’s that possible.

The Male Muse and The Female Photographer

It’s something that I’ve been thinking about, including a character that’s based on the Punisher (if because though sexualising the Punisher did happen before, just not very often as to not go way too far with the character) to be honest. Though making this into a relationship between a male model and a female photographer kind of excuses and contextualises this as well as effectively reversing and deconstructing what male artists have been doing all along.

Had this been a comic book, it could be provocative in the sense of effectively deconstructing this where the male model’s often under the female photographer’s lens (even if he does this to himself before). It’s like how cape comics are often blasted for sexualising women a lot, especially in certain contexts that don’t make sense at all though they’re recently undoing this (however awkwardly so as they still make mistakes).

I guess not making it a superhero story, even with a character based on one, does distance it. Considering that there are people who do sexualise the Punisher in fanfiction by paring him with somebody else–Karen Page, for fear of taking them way too far it’s best to base characters after those two and put them in an entirely different environment. Which I suspect is what some fans arguably do.

It’s an interesting thought experiment much needed in comics especially when it comes to effectively deconstructing what male cartoonists have been doing all along. It’s one thing to have a fangirl, it’s another if she photographs him a lot which’s emasculatingly damning given that’s what male artists have been doing for years.