Glenn Hauman: Today’s Gateway Drugs
One of the things they’ve been doing during this World Series – and every one, really – is comparing them to series contenders of years past. This year, the references to the ’85 Royals and the ’86 Mets have come fast and furious, and while it’s great to talk about Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry, and Dwight Gooden again, it’s not like anybody under the age of 30 saw them play in their prime. More to the point, no one is becoming a baseball fan today from watching those guys from back then.
Sadly, to me, I think it’s the same with superheroes.
Nobody is becoming a fan of superheroes today if their first exposures are comics from 30+ years ago. I’m not talking about the characters and concepts, I’m speaking only of the works themselves. There are a lot of young kids who fell in love with Supergirl this week, but if I handed them stories by Otto Binder and Jim Mooney as the first things they read, I’d turn them off to comics forever. I’d hand them a copy of Squirrel Girl or Ms. Marvel or Paper Girls or A-Force or Batgirl or even Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’s Archie.
This is not a knock on the old comics; they’re great after the initial infection has happened. Nor is this a knock on creators who have careers that span decades. And I’m certainly not denigrating fans who are getting on in years – aren’t we all? But there really has to be a feeling of currency, of contemporary creation, and attitudes have changed over the years. There’s no reason new readers today should be caught up by what got us as 10 year olds, whether that was in 1963, 1985, or 2000 AD.
Luckily, we also have one other gateway for people to get into superhero comics, and it’s our old frenemy television. From the days of The Adventures Of Superman in the 50s, more people got into comics from superhero TV over the years than any other medium. The Green Hornet, Super Friends, Shazam/Isis, Spider-Man (with or without his amazing friends), Plastic Man, Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Electra Woman, and the more recent Swamp Thing, Batman and X-Men animated series, Lois & Clark, Smallville, Human Target, and Heroes. Yes, much as comic fans are loath to admit it, even the Batman series in ’66 brought in new readers.
And with the current explosion of TV shows based on comics (what is it now, twelve?) that are targeting whole swaths of audiences across demographic lines (to say nothing of the movies and webcomics) we might finally be able to say that we are getting new comics readers from anywhere and everywhere. Across all ages, races, and genders.
Yes, they aren’t sparking to the same things you latched onto when you started. Maybe an ex-boyfriend gave them Sandman, or they heard something about this Ra’s Al Ghul fellow. That’s cool. You get to show the world of comics to today’s 10,000. And that keeps you young.
But remember: with great power comes great responsibility.