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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Gettin' Grim n' Gritty!

(Originally posted at

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard or read a reference to comics’ “grim ‘n gritty” period during the nineties. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking down on it. I was there, spending my hard-earned bucks along with everyone else; largely on material I would only read now if I was being paid for it.

It was a time of the “anti-hero.” The guy performing superheroics in a leather duster. (I use the word “duster” simply because “trench coat” sounds like he’s up to something icky.) It was a time of soaring popularity for characters like The Punisher, Wolverine and Ghost Rider, all of whom preceded that period by a good twenty years, and still enjoy a following today. It was also the age of less-memorable forays into “dark,” such as Marvel’s Midnight Sons comics and D.C.’s Hitman.

To me, the g & g period was illustrated best by the change in Marvel’s Nomad. Once a clean-cut sidekick of Captain America with a superheroic-to-a-fault look, the House of (not always good) Ideas made him a Fabio figure with the afore-mentioned duster, shades and a shotgun. With a baby named Bucky. In a papoose. Surely, that’s taking the kid-sidekick phenomenon too far.

The thing about the reference to the period itself is that it seems to suggest that, at the time, it was something new.
Actually, Marvel had already been known for the anti-hero long before the nineties. In fact, they helped build the Marvel Age of Comics on the concept. Anyone ever hear of The Hulk? You can’t get more “anti”than a monster who goes around destroying public property, scaring women and children with his rampages and getting into fights with every superhero on the block. But, he also managed to fight alongside the good guys and dispatch villains, thus the “hero” distinction.

How about The Submariner? How many times did this guy declare war on and attack humanity? Not to mention his tussles with the Avengers and Fantastic Four. Yet, he also found himself toe-to-toe with the likes of Dr. Doom, the Warlord Krang, and other well-established villains. Yes, things had been grim and gritty long before the nineties, they just seemed to get a bit more so at that time. And guess what? They still are.

Lately, I’ve found myself nearly flinching at how dark the Marvel and D.C. universes have both become. With longtime villains committing even more violent and heinous acts, longtime heroes “going bad” and killing established characters, kid sidekicks growing up into murderous head cases with a blood lust for their former super father–figures, and creators treating such material with a more “adult” sensibility, I’d say things are as grim as ever in comics. Which may actually cause long-time readers to long for “the lighter side,” for lack of a better delineation. Comics that don’t depress. Well, along those lines, I have a few suggestions.

Johnny Raygun
Anything Franklin Richards
Marital Blitz
Ed's Terrestrials

Just some titles whose creators have remembered that comics are supposed to be fun. Here’s hoping more and more publishers begin to subscribe to that philosophy in the future.