It’s been over a month on Catchy Title Goes Here (again, does anyone have a recommendation for a new title, or do all you regulars like my attempt at clever irony?) and I’ve written quite a bit about my love of superhero comics. I think it’s a wonderful genre with a lot of room for delighting in imagination, and exploring themes of justice and righteousness, and seeing people in capes (capes should really make a fashion comeback; I’d wear one).
Of course, superheroes are only the most prominent genre in the sequential art medium (that’s what intellectuals like to call comics because it sounds smarter). Before the panic that Fredric Wertham caused with his book Seduction of the Innocent, comics were actually a thriving medium that published in all kinds of genres including horror, western, sci-fi, crime, funny animals, and weird fiction. Superheroes were only one part of the industry, and actually a pretty innocuous part because they were targeted mainly towards children.
I think it’s the “targeted at children” part of superheroes that allowed them to survive the early ’50s when comics almost died out as a medium before the Comics Code was instituted as a way for the comics industry to censor itself instead of submitting to government interference. The code originally had heavy restrictions on what could be depicted in a comics magazine that wanted to display the seal of approval, with an emphasis on stories that upheld respect for authority figures like police officers and judges and maintained black-and-white standards of morality where wrongdoing was always punished and good always won in the end. Superheroes easily fit this mold, so they thrived, and the introduction of the second Flash in DC’s Showcase #4 in 1956 marked the beginning of the Silver Age of Comics, when superheroes became the dominant genre in the industry. Superheroes are still the bread and butter at the big two publishers’ primary imprints today.
But I’m not talking about superheroes today!
If we’re going to talk about non-superhero comics, then it’s hard to continue the conversation without getting into the Sandman series, which was written by Neil Gaiman from 1989 to 1996. It started out as a horror fantasy title that revolved around Dream of the Endless, a group of seven anthropomorphized universal constants. Dream, or Morpheus as he’s more commonly known, remains a central figure throughout the series, but multiple arcs focus on other characters whose lives are profoundly disturbed by their interaction with him.
Though Sandman is nominally part of the larger DC universe, its events typically don’t have any bearing on what happens with the mainstream characters; after the first arc superheroes aren’t mentioned again except in the most superficial ways. The plot of the entire series revolves around Dream realizing how his indifference to mortals in the past has led to some very serious problems for certain people, and his subsequent attempts to correct his mistakes. It’s a fantastically complex series that explores the human condition through a collected, interconnected mythology touching on aspects of human culture that go back for millenia. If you’re looking to read a comic series that’s truly written with adult readers in mind (and not in the simple sense of it has sex and graphic violence) then Sandman is a good place to start.
What would you guys recommend for non-superhero comic reading?