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Are Superhero Comics Near Exhaustion?
posted October 18, 2007

imageAlthough you can create a straight line connecting two dots it may not be fair to extend them horizon to horizon until you get several that lie along the same plane. However, I wanted to draw folks' attention to two places considering the state of the superhero comic right now: Sean Kleefeld's mini-essay on a blogger dropping his superhero comics for a year, and this thread at Mark Millar's on-line home where a lot of devoted fans are taking a look and thinking, "I'm not buying as many of these comics as I used to."

When I read articles like this, it always puts me in the mind of one of several theories about where superhero comics are heading, namely that these kinds of stories, based on characters that are almost all 30 to 60-plus years old, may be suffering less from a lack of super hot and exciting titles and takes at this very moment, but more from a long term bleed and exhaustion of stories regarding these characters that makes energizing them anew more difficult as the years go on.

Without as many kids or adults entering into the market to replace any readers that might bleed off -- or eventually die -- superhero comics have to sustain their audiences for a much longer time. At some point in all the relaunches and re-calibrations and re-packagings it seems logical that you really do start to run out of fresh, original stories to tell. This would also likely be the case for similarly archetypal, popular characters like Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan if they had less of a canon supplemented by a bunch of satellite works, and instead had as their core identity a giant, ongoing and relentless canon of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of stories. Even Charles Schulz, whose 50-year core artistic effort lies at the heart of an even more widely cast popular experience with multiple entry points, shifted perspectives and emphases within Peanuts and had the luxury of only incremental narrative progression on a day to day, year-to-year basis.

In addition, it seems like many of these companies' characters aren't exactly world-beating icons. Do they really demand and merit such close attention and numerous opportunities to connect with an audience? I don't know, it's just a thought, and something on which to keep an eye. I know that I don't feel any great need to read another Hulk story in my lifetime, and I suspect there's an element of that that might creep into the reading habits of other, more passionate readers.