Welcome to SBC’s The Panel, a chance for you to put your burning questions – comics-related or otherwise – to a group of comics professionals.

The Panel lives or dies by your contributions; please email them to panel@silverbulletcomicbooks.com and we’ll add them to the list…

This week’s question comes from Adam Smith and is as follows:-

“Are Superhero comics becoming too dark? Too Adult? If a kid picked up the latest issue of Superman or Batman what would they think about this adult world their heroes are in? Would they find it cool?”


I find the stuff that’s been happening in Identity Crisis and The Omac Project all rather depressing. Elongated Man, Sue Dibny, Blue Beetle and Maxwell Lord have been long-established as light-hearted, fun characters and seeing them suddenly thrust into these brutal, bleak storylines just doesn’t work very well. The revelation that Maxwell Lord is an Ernst Blofeld-style character, up to his knees in death, destruction and Machiavellian schemes didn’t shock me, it made me laugh. It’s as ridiculous and incongruous as discovering that Captain Carrot is an al-Qaida terrorist or that Mary Marvel is a crack whore.

That said, I don’t see the likes of Identity Crisis, Avengers Disassembled and other ‘Dark Spandex’ (copyright Mr W. Ellis esq) books as being a big departure really – this kind of stuff has been with us for years, hasn’t it? Growing up as a comics reader in the ’70s and ’80s I remember gritty superhero titles like The Elementals (by Bill Willingham) and pretty bleak takes on characters such as Green Arrow (Longbow Hunters), the X-Men (Days Of Future Past), the Legion Of Superheroes (the Great Darkness Saga) and The Flash (Barry Allen’s wife was killed by Professor Zoom). As for Batman and Superman – the former has been taking a walk down Grim & Gritty Street ever since The Dark Knight Returns, while the Big Blue Boyscout was once murdered in cold blood by Doomsday – how could things possibly get any darker than that?

I think the biggest failing of the modern day take on these kind of stories is the lack of humour in them. It’s all sturm und drang, so horribly straight faced. Melodrama can work very well if done properly – Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV show illustrated that time and again – but there needs to be light and shade, a place for laughter amidst the madness. Warren Ellis’s The Authority was probably the quintessential ‘Dark Spandex’ book and yet there was humour by the bucketload in his and Mark Millar’s runs on the title. What I wouldn’t give for a couple of decent gags in the House Of M!
People do laugh in the face of disaster all the time. Anyone in London during the recent terrorist attacks will have witnessed not only confusion and concern but also a great deal of black humour. I’d been in the magazine office where I freelance barely ten minutes before someone said, ‘Bloody hell the French have really taken this Olympic snub bad, haven’t they?’ Yes, the remark was a bit tasteless but bloody funny nonetheless.

I suspect young teenagers picking up these supposedly gritty superhero comics might actually find them a bit tame. After all, compared to Grand Theft Auto: Kill All Hookers that’s exactly what they are.

Andy Winter is the writer of the Devilchild graphic novel series (http://www.devil-child.co.uk) His next project – a horror and humour anthology titled SHRIEK! – will make its debut at November’s Comics Expo in Brighton.

Sean O’Reilly:

Superheroes have become darker and edgier. I believe a lot of it has to do with the times we are living in and younger viewers becoming more media savvy. Having said that, the average comic book buyer isn¹t a kid, and many of the kid¹s titles released have had troubles getting a solid footing in today¹s industry. Over all though I really do believe that there is a solid mixture and something for everyone.

Sean Patrick O’Reilly is Editor-in-Chief of Arcana Studios, and the writer of their book, Kade.

James E. Lyle (a.k.a. Doodle) :

BECOMING too dark? Are you kidding me? They’ve been too dark for too long! I’ve done my dark period, back in the 80s. Could we please get back to comics that are fun? The name COMICS should tell us a thing or two.

I think the second part of this question is very telling. “IF a kid picked up an issue of Superman or Batman” IF being the operative word here. Everyone’s been griping about kids not picking up comics anymore, and I think this is the reason. Too dark. Too “Adult”. (I could go on and on about this, but is there a single book out there that’s labelled “Adult” that appeals to a mentality that’s in excess of 15 years old? Just wondering).

Anyway, that’s my two cents worth. I think that this hits right at the heart of the matter. “Too Dark” has been long ago passed, we’re deep in the zone of total darkness now days.

James E. Lyle is a cartoonist and illustrator, including co-creating titles Escape to the Stars, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and DoorMan, plus work on Fright Night, Cynicalman Sells Out, and the accurately-spelt Wiindows. More recently Lyle worked on Turok, the “missing” Paul Gulacy T.h.u.n.d.e.r. Agents, and DRASTIK #1.

Bart Thompson:

I’m probably not the best person to ask this question to. Personally I’ve always liked Batman because he was dark… grim, gritty, scary. He gets the job done and looks cool doing it. Though I give Superman a lot of flack for being the happy alternative to Bats, I think he should be a lot lighter in comparison. It gives balance… Yin and Yang. I think DC does a decent job of making multiple Batman and Superman titles to appeal to everyone. In a way they have more dark titles for each and in some they have the more all ages versions.

Yes, I do think kids gravitate to darker comics (and games and movies and TV shows… I also think a lot of adults are the same way- Myself included). Why do you think Spawn shot up to the top of the charts so fast? McFarlane recognized a type that was needed and it was something he was always interested in, and he filled it. On the same note, why do you think Grand Theft Auto is one of the most popular games ever made?

But it all depends on the person what kinds of fantasy and breaks from reality they like. Some people like graphic violence, gore, and nudity while others like unicorns, fairies, capes, spandex, and simpler stories with more clean cut good always triumphs over evil. Some people like both (Yes, please… may I have some of both?). Some stories work better one way than the other. In the end seek out books that you like and support them with your wallet. You don’t have to bad mouth the ones you don’t like- what may not be your cup of tea could be the best thing ever to someone else.

Bart Thompson is the founder of Approbation Comics, creator of Vampires Unlimited, the Metamutoids, ChiSai, and Chaos Campus: Sorority Girls vs. Zombies while the publisher of Myriad from Approbation and writer/creator of Blood, Shells, & Roses coming soon from Arcana Studios!

Vince Moore:

I don’t think superheroes are becoming too dark. If anything, the superhero may be going back to its roots. Have you ever read Golden Age Superman or Batman comics? Not the nice things you’d expect kids to read. Both characters were on the excessive violence side of the spectrum. So the current trend may just be a return to those values, with today’s better graphics added for good measure.

I think kids would be fascinated, if just a little put out by seeing superheroes operate in an adult world. Or as adult as it can be wearing a costume/uniform. Kids are fascinated by adulthood and the things adults do and say that kids can’t or don’t. At least I was that way as a kid. And kids would find this stuff cool only if their parents didn’t. Which is as it should be. How many things did you like as a kid that your parents dug as well? Not many would be my guess.

Vince Moore is the editor for DarkStorm Studios, a comics company started by Kevin Grevioux of Underworld fame.

Gary Spencer Millidge:

Well, I dunno. You’d have to ask the kid in question.

But there aren’t enough kids’ comics being published today, superhero or otherwise. Marvel seem to have addressed this with their Marvel Age line, but to me they don’t seem to be particularly aimed towards children, or particularly good. DC’s animated line seems pretty interesting, though I admit to not having read any recently.

There’s nothing wrong with dark gritty superheroes as a part of a comics reading curve, but unfortunately too many of them are aimed at 40 and 50 year old nostalgia-obsessed fanboys who refuse to grow up; not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, it’s just that the industry seems to be dominated with material aimed at that readership.

Dark superhero stories should find a place somewhere in-between Scooby Doo, Archie, Batman Adventures… and Hellblazer, Strangers In Paradise, Black Hole.

Diversity. It’s all about diversity.

Gary has been self-publishing his award-winning Strangehaven comic book series for ten years and his third trade paperback collection Strangehaven: Conspiracies will be published later this summer http://www.millidge.com

Alan Grant:

Superhero comics have been too dark and adult for kids for several years now. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the companies were also releasing comics aimed specifically at younger readers.

Speaking as someone who reads comics to his grandkids, you only have to read a few kid-oriented comics (Batman Adventures, JLA cartoon series) to realise that many editors and writers don’t actually have a clue what a story is. I regularly find myself having to explain who the characters are, what their motivation is and why they’re fighting each other.

Comics are a dying medium precisely because the publishers have abandoned children and focussed instead on the adult market. I strongly suspect that this is because they don’t know any better. And, speaking as one who has made many proposals to major publishers in an attempt to recapture the children’s market, I’ve been rebuffed so many times, with so many stupid excuses, that I’ve now given up.

Alan Grant, writer of Dredd, Batman, and the slightly mad Doomlord, can be seen currently with Arthur Ranson on Judge Anderson in the Judge Dredd Megazine, and the superb Com.X trade collection of The Last American.

Donna Barr:

Dark is FOR kiddies. So superheroes are finally catching up

Donna Barr has books and original art at www.stinz.com, webcomics at www.moderntales.com, www.girlamatic.com, and has POD at www.booksurge.com Nothing she won’t try, at least once…including writing a column for SBC at this link!

Jesse Leon McCann:

Superhero titles have been dark for long while now. That’s why the publishers have been putting out books for different age groups. I think a kid would be bored with an adult-oriented book. Rather than the many adult Batman titles, a kid would be more happy with Batman Strikes, or Teen Titans Go, or the Marvel Age books. If a kid is more mature, he might find the adult-themed titles more cool, it’s purely subjective. One thing is for sure, kids will vote for what they like or dislike with their parents’ wallets!

Jesse Leon McCann is a New York Times Best-selling Author. He’s currently editing the fourth Simpsons TV Episode Guide for Bongo Comics/Harper Perennial, and writing stories for DC Comics’ Looney Tunes and Cartoon Cartoons.

Vito Delsante:

I think the problem with the idea of “kids comics” is where we are at fault.

Marvel starts a line of kid friendly/teen friendly books and they all tank.

But Runaways, succeeds. DC has the Johnny DC logo on cartoon-y books, but they tank. But Space Ghost done seriously does well. The major companies have it wrong. Kids don’t want to be talked down to. As a kid, if you handed me Captain Carrot, I’d throw it back to you. In one of my first conversations with Adam Fortier, the publisher of Speakeasy Comics, we discussed the idea of kid friendly comics and we came to an impasse. I said that a kid shouldn’t have to see violence if that’s his/her every day life.

Adam disagreed and said that is the reason to do a kids book with violence…because they won’t relate otherwise. And after seeing The Grimoire, I understand what he means. There is a place for darkness in a kids comic. There is a place for a certain type of violence in there.

Were the Indiana Jones movies kid movies? No, but they were accessible for children. Were there some scary things in there? Yep. Cobras, Nazis, poison, guys pulling hearts out of chests…but I can’t find one parent who won’t watch those three movies with their kids. And that trilogy isn’t NEARLY as dark as some of the stuff that Hollywood puts out today.

I think the answer is we have to stop talking down to children and teens and start listening to them. If we want them to read our stuff, we can’t patronize them.

Vito Delsante’s creator owned mini-series, “The Mercury Chronicles”, with artist Jim Muniz, is now in development with Image Comics and will hit stands late this year. “Batman Adventures Vol 2: Shadows and Masks” (DC Comics) is out now! His work can also be seen in Reflux Comics #3 and in X-Men Unlimited #5

The views and opinions expressed on the panel are solely those of the panellist who has written them. They do not reflect the views or opinions of silver bullet comic books or myself. Freedom of speech is great isn’t it – James

Are Superheroes too dark? TOO DARK?

Yes they probably are, more definitely are in fact. I think it is just a case of “catering” for the market. Readers want to see their spandex clan heroes tackle real world issues and situations. I am pretty sure the bad guys would kill and rape and maim characters if some of them existed in the real world.

Do I want to read it… yes and no. I prefer my Superman stories free of any baggage like that, but then again if it’s a well told story with interesting characters and points to make… YES PLEASE I’ll take it with a pinch of dark.

I do think some comics should be excessible to all ages, I think the problem is that the mass public still have preconceptions about comics and what they are.

Comics are for Kids and geeks… all superheroes… etc

Should we try to change that perception or play to it? Maybe that a question for next time…

Remember Send in Your Questions for The Panel

Next week we will hopefully we be starting a new little sub feature here on The Panel where we ask a member of the panellists to take the spotlight for 5 special questions directed at them.

To give you an idea of what to expect… here is five questions with ME!!

Who are you?

My Name is James Redington; I work as a Video Technician in Loughton, Essex (North London) at East 15 Acting School. I make films with the students and edit them. I have a BA (Hons) Degree in Media Production with Film/Video Production. I also run my own little Small Press Company called Portent Comics (http://www.portentcomics.com) which is run a place where creators can work together and publish their work under the same banner.

What has been the comic ‘highlight’ of the year for you so far?

I am still waiting for it, but I must admit I did enjoy The Bristol Comic Expo in May. I also started to read Powers for the first time and really enjoyed it. The first TPB is excellent and I have just finished the second one from Image.

Favourite things about comics?

I can be a geek and nobody cares because we are all the same. Superman. The UK’s Independent Industry. Working with artists with Portent and seeing your writing come to life on the page.

Most Looking forward to in comics in the nex year?

Superman Returns, if anyone can get me tickets for the UK premiere email me… oh and the Comic Expo in Brighton (http://comicexpo.biz) and launching Elite (I hope) and Violation fro Portent Comics.

Interesting fact about your self?

I used to wear my homemade Batman costume to School underneath my Uniform, i thought I was well cool… don’t tell anyone.

Right, there we go. That’s all for this week folks, make sure you tune in next week for more, and let us know what you think by discussing this week’s panel at the SBC’s forums at the link below!

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