Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

In Defense of Fun

Back when the Justice League was fun.
Back when the Justice League was fun.

I’ve been reading comics for over 50 years, but in the last few years, my reading list has dwindled; the last DC series I bought was the Captain Carrot mini-series that tied in with Final Crisis. For the last few years, my comics list is Astro City, Usagi Yojimbo, Sergio Aragonés’ Funnies, Groo the Wanderer, and IDW’s Rocketeer Adventures. Occasionally I’ll add another title like Hawkeye (Fraction & Aja’s run was spectacular, and I’m really looking forward to Kelly Thompson’s Kate Bishop-centered version), Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Howard the Duck (though I wish they’d stop drawing him to look like that crappy movie; I want the real Howard, the Gene Colan version, dammit), and whatever catches my eye. What do all these comics have in common? They’re fun.

In recent years, there’s been a lot of press about comics starring girls and women; Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, the aforementioned Squirrel Girl, plus less superhero-oriented fare like Gotham Academy and Lumberjanes. While much has been made about the emphasis on diversity, I think one of the reasons why these books are popular is that they are fun. In some cases, they’re laugh-out-loud funny, while in others the fun is in the adventure and interplay between the characters.

For more than a while now, the dominant ethos in comics has been the “grim & gritty” mode; dark stories about morally-ambiguous heroes fighting equally morally-ambiguous villains in a world that always looks like 4:30 on a drizzly February afternoon in Seattle. Dan DiDio famously declared that “heroes can’t be happy,” and then killed off all the characters who violated that edict. Sorry, Ralph and Sue Dibny, but your Nick & Nora banter is unacceptable. It’s curtains for you.

Look, I get it. I was there. Back in the ’70s, when having a comic book in your possession at school was an open invitation for a wedgie or swirlie, we were pretty defensive. What hurt more than the physical assault was the ridicule, and it always started the same way. “You like COMICS?!!? Haw haw! ‘BIFF! BAM! POW! Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-BATMAN!” To the cool kids, comics equaled Adam West in his baby blue tights, lecturing Robin like a Scoutmaster, engaging in absurd battles with ridiculous villains who wanted to commit pointless crimes. To a teenage boy, ’60s Batman was the height of juvenile stupidity, mostly because they were embarrassed at having liked it when they were little. To those of us who were reading Marvel, digging on the insane psychedelia of Dr. Strange, the man-out-of-his-time drama of Captain America, and the outsider morality play that was the X-Men, hearing our philosophical comics derided as childishness burned deeply. We were enraged at the ignorance of the accusation, ashamed at having to acknowledge that guys leaping around in leotards did look a little goofy, and offended at the injustice of it all. So we dug in.

Some guys never let go of that attitude. You can see it in Zack Snyder’s films, that paralyzing fear that somebody is going to start singing “na-na-na-na” and invoke the dreaded “Holy [verb], Batman!” Their only hope is to make Batman so dark that nobody will ever remember the goofy version. Just to make doubly-sure, they need to also give Batman’s grim origin to every other hero. Barry Allen can’t be the Flash because of optimism or idealism, he needs to be wallowing in grief and self-flagellation over the death of his mother. Hell, even his bowtie needs a grim and gritty origin story.

But today, with the stranglehold of the Direct Market being increasingly broken by digital delivery and more alternatives appearing every day, things like Sensation Comics (some of the best Wonder Woman comics ever produced) are putting the lie to the rule that comics have to be deadly serious and relentlessly bleak in order to be legitimate. And it’s about damn time.

When I was a kid, I loved comics because it was the one place in my world where justice prevailed and people looked out for each other. But I also liked comics because they were fun. Humor comics like Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope, Stanley and His Monster, Sad Sack, and so many others, as well as semi-serious comics like Metal Men, Metamorpho, Plastic Man (and his later imitator, Elongated Man), all served to provide a few giggles for the princely sum of 12 cents. It was well worth it, and still appreciated today. I’m one of those freaks who wants his imaginary escapist worlds to be nicer than his real one. I prefer Steve Gerber’s elf with a gun to any of the constipated-looking mesomorphs punching each other at sundown today. But maybe that’s just me.

I thought I’d trot out a few of my favorite fun comics from the last few decades. Some are outright comedy books, mostly of the parody sort, but several are straight-ahead action with a comedic touch.

Plop! coverPlop!
This was one of the first funny comics I ever got into, apart from MAD; it seemed to be rooted in the Kurtzman-era MAD, where Wally Wood eviscerated “Superduperman” and “Prince Violent.” Plop! was largely driven by MAD’s Maddest Artist, Sergio Aragones, with occasional riffs on DC’s superheroes, but more often dipping into the mystery and horror comics like House of Secrets. Berni Wrightson’s “The Gourmet” was the perfect blend of comedy and horror, inspired by the brilliant single-panel “Frog’s Legs” cartoon by Sam Gross.

inferior five coverInferior Five
Showcase was DC’s “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” book; it was where the Silver Age began, with the introduction of Barry Allen as the Flash, and later issues spanned the gamut from teen comedy (Leave it to Binky) to war (Sgt. Rock), with a few detours into absurdity. My favorite, of course, is the Inferior Five. On the one hand, the premise is so obvious as to be stupid; “see, there’s a clumsy guy and he’s called Awkwardman, and a dumb blonde called Dumb Bunny,,,” but that’s not where the genius is. The smart part of the comic is that the Inferior Five are the children of Earth’s Greatest Heroes, and they are expected to step up and carry on the legacy, but they know (or at least believe) that they haven’t got the goods. Torn between duty and reality, they choose to lean into their weaknesses, embrace their failings, and stumble through to heroism anyway. The trick, which even they don’t notice, is that each of them has the right stuff, but not where they were looking. Merryman (he dresses as a court jester because “if I’m going to make a fool of myself, I might as well look the part”) lacks the strength and skill of his parents, but he is a shrewd tactician and a natural leader, even though he’s constantly surprised to find the others following him. To a weird awkward kid reading the comics, the Inferior Five resonated, even if he couldn’t put his finger on why. In the sixth issue, the Five crash the offices of DC Comics to find out why their latest issue is late, in a story where the reader gets to see precisely  how much Mike Sekowsky hated Carmine Infantino.

angel and the ape coverAngel & the Ape
Another of the comedy-adventure books that emerged from Showcase, Angel & the Ape follows Angel O’Day, an incredibly capable private detective that most people assume is an airhead because she’s a gorgeous blonde. In a gambit somewhat similar to TV’s Remington Steele, Angel takes on a partner to add some muscle and a masculine presence. Her partner is Sam Simian, a comic book artist who also happens to be a gorilla, which nobody seems to notice, since he usually dresses like a hippie. A couple of misguided attempts to revive the comic have failed. The original ’60s version is the way to go.

not_brand_echh_vol_1_1_uk_variantNot Brand Ecch
This was Marvel’s attempt at self-parody, with Cracked artist Marie Severin and others being turned loose on characters like “Ironed Man” and “Scaredevil.” Most of the stories involved pop culture mash-ups, such as Dr. Strange as the star of a West Side Story parody, or the Marble Comics characters squaring off against parodic versions of other publishers’ characters. It’s just dumb fun.

E-Man coverE-Man
With E-Man, we start to move away from parody, though the First Comics revival in the ’80s featured a lot of that. The original Charlton run didn’t depend so much on the satirical aspects; it was just a goofy comic book. The basic setup is that E-Man is a blob of sentient energy from space who ends up on Earth and learns that he can assume any form he chooses, because energy and mass can be converted back and forth, hence the “E=MC²” emblazoned on his chest. Teaming up with a stripper/archaeology student named Nova Kane, our hero adopts the heroic identity of E-Man and the civilian identity of Alec Tronn and begins a life of adventure at the hands of writer Nicola Cuti and artist Joe Staton (who today draws the Dick Tracy comic strip).

Justice league coverJLA: the “BWAH-HA-HA” Era
For a while in the ’80s, writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis and artist Kevin Maquire turned the Justice League into high farce; they had leader J’Onn J’Onzz, the Martian Manhunter, develop an addiction to Oreos (they get him high because he’s martian); Guy Gardner took on an alternate personality when he got clonked on the head; Fire and Ice became the bad girl/good girl pair, while Blue Beetle and Booster Gold bumbled into one disastrous get rich quick scheme after another, which usually required the team’s help to bail them out. This was the perfect balance of great comic book action punctuated by laugh-out-loud character-based comedy.

Captain Carrot coverCaptain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew!
Even more absurd than the JLA, Captain Carrot followed in the tradition of Carl Barks’ Donald Duck, pairing action-adventure with heavily pun-based comedy. The series began development as a funny animal version of the JLA (Just a Lotta Animals) before becoming its own original thing. Roy Thomas and Scott Shaw! ran with the ridiculousness and got the reader to embrace it, though the rotten puns did get a little worn after a while.

Howard the Duck coverHoward the Duck
Sure, an existentialist duck; why not? Howard began as a one-off sight gag in one issue of Marvel’s Man-Thing, but you can’t keep a good duck down. The outlandish villains are amusing enough- a vampire cow; the Space Turnip; the Kidney Lady; Sudd, the Scrubbing Bubble that Walked Like a Man – but it was the Howard that engaged people; the surly curmudgeon who can’t help but care, showing that inside every cynic is a battered idealist. His quirky relationship with artist’s model Beverly Switzler provided ample opportunity for rants about the absurd things we “upright apes” do, channeling writer Steve Gerber’s own misanthropic frustration with his species. I wrote a lot more about Howard after his cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Untold Tales of Spider-Man coverUntold Tales of Spider-Man
At the height of the ’90s, when comics were at their grimmest and grittiest and the speculator market was being driven by gimmicks like hologram covers and near infinite variants, Marvel tried taking an alternate tack; they created a line of books aimed at younger readers, priced at 99 cents, about 2/3 the price of the regular comics. Most of these titles weren’t very good, but there was one gem in the mix: Kurt Busiek and Pat Oliffe telling stories of the young Peter Parker at the beginning of his career, each story dropping neatly between the events of the classic Ditko issues from the early ’60s. It was a breath of fresh air at the time.

Spider-Girl coverSpider-Girl
Pat Oliffe’s next project after Untold Tales was this alternate-universe series in which Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson’s daughter May inherits her dad’s powers and follows in his footsteps. Occasional team-ups with the children of other Marvel characters further cement the “next generation” theme, while at the same time being a throwback to the early Spider-Man comics, balancing heroics with high school drama. Writer Tom DeFalco used the book as an excuse to continue the stories of a lot of second-banana characters he had previously introduced in the main Spider-Man book.

Leave it to Chance coverLeave it to Chance
One of the greatest comics of the ’90s, which sadly never found its audience. I recently wrote about Chance for her 20th anniversary over at GeekDad. Leave it to Chance illustrates the perils of being 20 years too soon; if she were created now, she’d be a huge hit, but back then, the people who would have loved her didn’t go into comic book shops.

Astro City coverAstro City
Hands down the best superhero comic series of the last 20 years, Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson perfectly balance the serious with the comical, giving us a living cartoon character, a life-size sentient Barbie doll, and a collection of heroes, villains, innocent bystanders, gods, aliens and monsters, in a grand tapestry of stories. If you’re not reading Astro City, you just hate fun.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, just a handful of my favorites. I’m sure you’re appalled that I overlooked some gem. That’s why we have a comment section.


  1. Jeff Nettleton

    “I prefer Steve Gerber’s elf with a gun to any of the constipated-looking mesomorphs punching each other at sundown today. But maybe that’s just me.”

    No, it’s not just you. This is what I have been crying at just about every turn, with comics since the 90s. They just aren’t fun anymore. Well, the mainstream, anyway. Across the 90s and into the 00s, my pull list went from an average of a dozen books a week, to a handful a month. They were things like Leave It To Chance, Astro City, Starman, Lethargic Lad, and the Giffen/De Matteis/Maguire reunions. I never got the mentality that superheroes had to be ultra-serious. It’s a guy in longjohns (or girl in a skimpy bathing suit) fighting some absurd nut in either an opera costume or a rejected mascot from a fifth-rate burger chain. Embrace that. I find it no coincidence that the readership of comics continued to shrink as comics became oh-so serious. It bled into the films, too. I was happy to see a serious Batman, in the Burton film. I was pretty tired of it just being a freakshow by Batman Returns. Schumacher put some fun in; but, in a rather ham-fisted manner. The Nolan Batman films leave me cold, as they are beyond grim. Man of Steel? Ugh! The Marvel movies have some sense of fun, though the plots are fairly forgettable. At least I don’t grit my teeth through them, like the Distinguished Competition. Yet, their tv shows have more fun. Go figure.

    To your list I say, “Yes,yes!” Great stuff. I would add Starman, which was both exciting and fun. It was serious; but kept a sense of humor about itself. That was one of the reasons I always liked Mike Grell’s work. He could write hardboiled stuff with the best of them; but, he wasn’t afraid to crack a joke here and there. Here’s a guy who had a pulp mercenary-adventurer and he does a whole story where children’s book leprechauns take over, drawn by Sergio Aragones, or has Ollie Queen meet Travis Morgan and get punched, because people keep mistaking them.

    I also grew up on fun comics, like Super Goof and the Junior Woodchucks, as well as Richie Rich and the Harvey gang. There used to be a place for all.

  2. How did I overlook Starman?!? Yes! Absolutely.

    I did have Mike Grell on my short list, particularly Jon Sable: Freelance, but really all of his work has that mix of seriousness and comedy. Mike is also a hell of a guy; I did a panel on Archery in Pop Culture with him at ECCC a couple of years ago.

    What I think Marvel has figured out with their movies is that you can be as silly and goofy as you want to with the heroes, as long as the villain poses a credible threat. Granted, most of the movie villains have been disposable and generic, the exceptions being Loki and the Red Skull, but it’s always a given that the disposable generic villain is really going to break things and hurt people, and the goofball heroes better suck it up and handle it. DC doesn’t get that, apart from Supergirl, the only hero in the business who seems to actually enjoy having super powers.

    Which brings us to the Marvel Family, which nobody has really known what to do with, though Jerry Ordway gave it a hell of a try. It’s simple, really: if you were a 12-year-old kid who one day discovered he could turn into a grown man who can pick up a building, fly, and is bulletproof, you’d smile all the time too. And no, they don’t trade places, I don’t care what some writer said, because what’s fun about that? “Congratulations, Billy, you’re the chosen one! You get to sit in limbo while some other guy takes your place on Earth and has adventures.” Yeah, that’s some wish-fulfillment right there.

    And there’s where all the grimdark comics lose me: What’s fun about that?

    1. craig

      “DC doesn’t get that, apart from Supergirl, the only hero in the business who seems to actually enjoy having super powers.”

      This is why I adored Mark Waid’s run on FLASH. He resolved the vast majority of Wally Wests’ psychological issues Bill Messner-Loebs had been playing with, allowing him to grow into a hero who accepted who he was, knew he had THE best powers in the world, and had fun with them.

      It’s no mistake that IMPULSE came from this book. Or that he fitted in so effortlessly into YOUNG JUSTICE – it was built around him, and Superboy who was also having fun playing with the best Kirby concepts in his own book, and allowed the Tim Drake Robin to lighten up.

    2. Jeff Nettleton

      Billy Batson and the Power of Shazam got it, to a point; though not quite to an Otto Binder point. Alan Moore definitely got it in Tom Strong and Top Ten. Both of those books were exciting, chilling, and hilarious. I really wish that Moore had retained ownership of both of those, not just LOEG, and had kept them going. Those were some seriously fun comics. Tomorrow Stories, too, though it was never as fully satisfying as Tom Strong (or Top Ten). Top Ten and Smax were also great for all of Xander Cannon and Gene Ha’s easter eggs (probably also had Moore’s input). I loved things like characters at a hospital and seeing a Doctor Who, Dr Fate and Dr Strange in the background, or cars from Wacky Races on highways.

    3. Le Messor

      “Yeah, that’s some wish-fulfillment right there.”

      This may be the first time I’ve ever heard somebody use the term ‘wish-fulfillment’ and not treat it like a psychological leper.

      I have never heard anyone give a reason why.

      1. frasersherman

        I think “wish fulfillment” for many people has the same overtones as Mary Sue—somebody’s indulging their personal fantasy, it can’t possibly be good. Which I agree is unreasonable.

        1. Le Messor

          Oh, is that the reason?

          … though maybe not the only one? I usually hear it talked about, in denegrating tones, as ‘wish-fulfillment for adolescent boys’.
          Though the way I usually hear adolescent / teenage boys talked is… well, I’m just gonna say ‘not very nice’, so maybe that’s another side of it?

          1. frasersherman

            Yes, it’s the whole “wish fulfillment for teenage boys” meme that I was thinking of.
            I really enjoyed Kurt Busiek’s observation in the intro to the first Astro City TPB that if comics can offer wish-fulfillment for teens that just shows how powerfully they can connect–so there’s no reason they can’t be used to offer satisfying fantasies to anyone.

  3. Simon

    I am appalled, appalled I tell you, that you overlooked some old gems, and intend to defend them vigorously! Such as William Messner-Loebs’s FLASH, IMPULSE, JLE, and DR. FATE (featuring a gender-flipped Fate decades before the fad)!

    Now of course, if we don’t limit ourselves to Disney-Warner or superheroes:

    * Bill Loebs’s JOURNEY and EPICURUS THE SAGE.



    (Not to mention strips, from LITTLE NEMO to KRAZY KAT to PEANUTS to FAR SIDE to JULIUS KNIPL… Or darker fun from Warren Ellis to Garth Ennis, Eddie Campbell to Rick Veitch to Dan Clowes, or from Roman Dirge to Ivan Brunetti to Douglas Paszkiewicz…)

    — But shouldn’t a defense of fun be more concerned with today?

    * The sexy rom-coms of SUNSTONE and SEX CRIMINALS.
    * The weird fun of NECESSARY MONSTERS, and maybe COPRA?
    * Derf’s TRASHED. Ray Fawkes’s all-ages series POSSESSIONS.
    * The nonsensical fun of Olivier Schrauwen (ARSÈNE SCHRAUWEN, MOWGLI’S MIRROR).
    * IF YOU STEAL. GET JIRO. The horror comedy of RACHEL RISING?
    * The poetic fun of MULTIPLE WARHEADS…



    P.S.: Who said the DM can’t provide fun any more? http://www.theouthousers.com/index.php/news/136444-breaking-diamond-booth-finally-arrives-at-new-york-comic-con-ready-for-business.html

    1. You’re right, I should have spent more time on current stuff. Truthfully, I barely hit the comic shop more than once every couple of months these days, and I’ve mostly been buying just the short list I mentioned at the top.

      Between budget issues, time constraints and both Marvel and DC spending a couple of decades trying to drive me out of comics entirely, I just haven’t been looking for new stuff much.

      I dropped most of my DC list during FINAL CRISIS because I just couldn’t give a squat anymore, and the rest when Nu52, which might as well have been called “Dammit Jim, Stop Reading Our Comics!” came along to break all the toys. I hear Rebirth is an attempt at fixing that, but I haven’t had a reason to check.

      My Marvel list went away during one of their big events in the ’90s or early 2000s, with the only exceptions being Gail Simone’s Deadpool, Agent X and Gus Beezer, the manga-flavored Power Pack, the original run of Young Avengers, and of course Fraction & Aja’s masterful Hawkeye.

      I will second your recommendation of Jeffrey Brown’s Star Wars stuff, it’s perfect. I also love Katie Cook’s art, though I’ve mostly only seen it as prints and stuff at conventions.

      I also enjoyed Tess Fowler’s brief run on Rat Queens.

    2. Jeff Nettleton

      If we are going to talk bande desinee, we can’t forget Valerian & Laureline. Fun permeates the series, even as it gets serious messages across. I would also add Spirou & Fantasio, Billy & Buddy, Freddy Lombard, and Gaston Lagaffe. from the Spanish side, Mort y Filemon; and, from Italy, Sturmtruppen and Alan Ford.

      Modesty Blaise maintained a sense of fun, even through daring adventures.

  4. Hal

    I *LOVED* this column! Truth Accepted! Great work, Mr MacQuarrie, some of these things have been said before but they can never be repeated enough. You never know one day the nudniks might actually LISTEN!
    The Giffen/Dematteis/Maguire/Hughes Justice League? The *real* Howard the Duck? A mention for Steve Gerber’s Defenders? The Inferior Five? Leave It To Chance (one of the best titles ever, by the way!)? Astro City?!?! Wonderful! All different, all unified by a joie de vivre and an understanding that real sophistication isn’t found in some spavined unvariegated spurious “seriousness” (What’choo talkin’ about, Willis?! Hey, *I* know what I mean!) but in of true humanity, warmth, humor, adventurous storytelling, characterization, and even absurdity. Something distinctly at odds with the portrayal of, say, Batman as a humorless, fascistic, deadly dull ubermensch that has held sway for well over twenty years. FEH.
    A few more titles worth mentioning: Keith Giffen’s hilariously stupid yet pointed Ambush Bug; Peter Porker, The Soectacular Spider-Ham – Marvel Tales in the 1980s not only gave me the chance to read some exciting earlier Spider-Man adventures – including his team-up with Howard the Duck, a story also notable for Mary Jane metamorphosing into Red Sonja! – but also introduced me to the pun-filled of Mr Porker, highly entertaining; Peter David runs on X-Factor and The Incredible Hulk, fine storytelling, serious themes, puns, and stylish/silly comedy, marvelous…
    Ah, Dan Dild- oops! – Didio… What a (expletive deleted) warped and adolescent view of what comic books (not just superhero comic books) should be he holds. *sigh* Silly person.
    I still *like* the 1960s’ Batman tv series (especially the first season)! I have never really understood the inability of some people not to be able to appreciate and enjoy lots of different kinds of things, *certainly* not as an adult but then not everyone is as enlightened as us, eh?! Bwahahaha!

  5. Edo Bosnar

    Wonderful post – I totally agree with everything you said, and your suggestions are right up my alley (the ones I’ve read anyway). I feel compelled to utterly and emphatically second the recommendation for E-man. He’s such a great character, and that original 10-issue Charlton run is a classic (I like them so much that a few years I went to the trouble and expense to get all the individual issues and then have them bound).
    Some of my own suggestions have been covered in Simon’s exhaustive list, but since he mentioned Alan Moore’s more light-hearted fare, I’d just add Top 10, which is smart, occasionally funny, occasionally dark, but always fun all the way through.
    Also, Simon mentioned Rabbi’s Cat, but I have to say anything, and I mean anything, by Joann Sfar is fantastic and fun. Other examples of his work that I can warmly recommend include Vampire Loves, The Professor’s Daughter and the Little Vampire stories (which are children’s books, but are truly fun for all ages).
    Some more recent material put out by Marvel that was really fun – because it seemed to be really skewering all of the grim and overly serious stuff going on around it – was Nextwave.
    Something I’d definitely add to the fun category and which therefore tended to buck the grim-n-grittiness of the 1990s were the various Elseworlds books – I absolutely love those, and they’re mostly quite fun.

  6. M.S. Wilson

    I’ve never been a fan of the post-modern “weird for the sake of weird” kinda humour that a lot of people like … maybe I’m just too stupid to get it 😉 But I agree that comics are better when they have a mixture of serious and light-hearted.

    I liked Captain Carrot as a kid (and Spider-Ham, for that matter). It took me a while to warm up to the “bwa-ha-ha” Justice League, but I ended up liking them too. I loved Untold Tales of Spidey and, as you said, it’s hard not to love Astro City, though I haven’t been reading the new series.

    I also thought Larry Hama’s G.I. Joe stuff did a good job of mixing some humour in with the war/drama stuff. And a sentimental favourite is the Rocket Raccoon mini-series by Mantlo/Mignola; looking back, it’s a bit goofy, but I liked it a lot at the time.

  7. My fun list includes
    • Yotsuba
    • Cross Game
    • Far Arden
    • Last Man
    • UQ Holder
    • Stand Still Stay Silent
    • Bad Machinery
    • Hopeless Savages
    • Hilda And The Whatever It Is This Time
    • Mighty Jack
    • Bandette
    • Their Story
    • Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer
    • Princess Jellyfish
    • Apocalyptigirl
    • Miss Don’t Touch Me

    Good comics. Nothing to heavy going on. You don’t need a graduate degree to understand their texts and subtexts. (Unless you’re into that.)

    1. Hal

      Except for Alpha Flight! An incredibly depressing mess whose lowest point (of many) was probably having a previously quite sane person with a disability go – literally – mad with desire before being absorbed into a squishy maniac monster and lobotomized… FUN! (I meant to comment on this as soon as I saw it last week but decided otherwise and Le Messor pithily had much the same thought I see!)

  8. Robert Cooper

    Hooray for fun! I don’t need every comic I read to be Bwa-ha-ha laugh out loud funny, but a comic featuring a team-up between Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes shouldn’t leave me feeling like taking a nice hot bath with a razor blade, dammit.

  9. Pol Rua

    And what the hell happened to stories that just existed for their own sake?
    I kinda miss stories where the heroes would just solve a crime or stop a disaster… do something good, beat up a bad guy and just go home.
    Several years ago now, Paul Dini wrote a run of ‘Detective Comics’, and the story opened with a story where a series of baffling crimes had begun to strike Gotham City. The police were baffled, and Batman began to investigate. He figured out what was going on, and worked out that a new theme villain was behind it. Eventually, he discerned who the villain was and where they were based. He headed there, had an exciting fight scene, rescued the hostage and everyone went home, except for the baddie, who went to Arkham.

    I read stories like that for decades. They were fun. They didn’t necessarily have to be rainbows and bunnies, but they were ‘what it said on the tin’. Crime fighting superheroes fighting crime, doing super stuff and being heroic, having exciting adventures and thrilling escapes!
    Back then, you’d have occasional off-beat stories or big deal events, and they were exciting, because they were DIFFERENT.

    Unfortunately, so many publishers these days don’t understand the idea of diminishing returns (which is odd, because 90% of mainstream comics seem to be slathered with it like it was barbeque sauce) and that, if you have events happening constantly, they stop being ‘events’ and start being ‘every other tuesday’ (‘Salisbury Steak Day on Infinite Earths’, if you will), and that if you want earth-shaking, status quo-rattling events to be important, you have to GIVE US a status quo in the First Place!

    1. Jeff Nettleton

      Heck yeah! Where are the Alan Brennerts and Archie Goodwins, who could craft a memorable story in 8 pages or a neat little mystery? I seriously miss The Maze Agency, especially when Mike Barr was working with Adam Hughes. It was such a wonderful book, with Barr’s neat little play-fair mysteries and sharp character interaction and Hughes’ delightfully lighthearted linework on the characters. You want comics on tv or movies, that thing is pretty much the storyboard and script for excellence in either medium.

      Simon mentioned Epicurus the Sage; can you imagine DC greenlighting a project about a couple of Greek philosophers and a young Alexander of Macedon, trampling over the myth of Persephone? Not without a heck of a lot more slaughter.

      I’d also throw out some fun adventure comics, which abounded in the 80s: Crossfire, Aztec Ace, Masked Man, Twilight Avenger, Miracle Squad, Crash Ryan, Lost Planet, Xenozoic Tales (aka Cadillacs and Dinosaurs), Nexus and Badger (often dark and laught out loud hysterical at the same time). Plus, later stuff, like Tim Truman’s Guns of the Dragon, Dean Motter’s Terminal City and Electropolis, Love & Rockets and, of course, Bone.

  10. Simon

    I am appalled, appalled I tell you, that I overlooked such gems as the bizarro fun of Steve Aylett! (THE CATERER, JOHNNY VIABLE) And for a fistful of more…

    * Ursula Vernon’s DIGGER made for a fat and fun graphic novel, and got a Hugo award.
    * STRANGERS IN PARADISE VOL. 1 is cartoony fun, totally unlike the rest of the series.
    * STRAY BULLETS VOL. 2: SOMEWHERE OUT WEST is dangerous fun, yet hilarious.
    * Some TRANSMET was outraged but outrageous fun (and not just that special with Santa Spider).
    * JACK OF FABLES are light but fun adventures.
    * More currently, THE LIFE AFTER/EXODUS are fun though maybe weak satirical adventures.

    Superhero-wise, maybe Alan & al.’s 1963, the first half of ZOT, the silly satire of SUPERFCKERS [bad word?], or STREET ANGEL? But what about the more idiosyncratic PISTOLWHIP, or the weirder THE MAXX and Morrison’s DOOM PATROL?


    But I can’t believe nobody’s mentioned FUN HOME! …What?

  11. Simon

    [That part blocked the previous comment, so I’m editing and retrying.]

    — Jim:

    If needed, you could catch up with some fun series via Greg’s “Comics You Should Own archive” [removed the link]. And for GNs, Seth’s GoodOkBad is a library of reviews with something for everyone. (Even if he’s totally wrong about ONE SOUL, heh.) Marvel-wise, you may like the first years of Bendis’s ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP, or his ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN retelling?

    — Edo:

    Oh yeah, THE PROFESSOR’S DAUGHTER is such a fun GN (and may count as a rom-com).

    — Jeff:

    Indeed! Though I think VALERIAN & LAURELINE (or BLAKE & MORTIMER, YOKO TSUNO, THORGAL) are more for everyone, while most of SPIROU et al. is an “all-ages” more aimed at teens or kids (not unlike most of LUCKY LUKE or THE SMURFS).

    1. Jeff Nettleton

      I’m turning 50 and have been reading the Cinebook reprintings if Spirou, which is mostly Tome and Janry, and I love it. It’s got some sophisticated humor going on there, with plenty of slapstick for the kids. Billy and Buddy is kids material; but, they are really cute stories, akin to the best newspaper comic strips. Melusine is another great all ages one, from Cinebook. These would be things I would recommend to school librarians.

      1. Simon

        Ah, well, I’m only familiar with the SPIROU of classic co-creator Franquin (aka “the real Spirou”), and the one from his handpicked successor Fournier. I’ve not read the decades of Tome & Janry that followed, they probably turned it into something quite different.

        1. Jeff Nettleton

          I’ve read a couple of Franquin’s. Cinebook has translated just a couple, though I think more are in the works. I’d love to see Yves Charland’s stories; loved his Freddy Lombard.

          A couple of others to recommend: Mordillo and Quinto’s Mafalda. Mordillo does silent comics, with all kinds of great gags, while Quinto is very akin to Charles Schulz. mafalda is a bright girl who thinks about the world and gets into mischief with her friends. They were created in Argentina and have been translated across the world, including some recent era English translations, for the US market.

          1. Simon

            Yes, hope for more Franquin! SPIROU’s creation is a bit convoluted because it was a group of creative friends having fun. As I gather it:

            * Spirou started as another magazine’s mascot, a bellhop drawn on specs by Rob-Vel. (Not unlike Cerebus, originally a silly aardvark made for some logo.) That cartoony strip was then sold and repurposed.
            * Comics started with Jijé, who just did some one-pagers and short stories, but remade Spirou as an adventurer, created Fantasio, and shaped the duo’s dynamic.
            * Jijé unceremoniously gave it (halfway through an 8-pager!) to Franquin, who finalized the duo and created almost everything else through 20 volumes and 20+ years, with some notable help from his friends. (Rosy proposed the Count of Champignac and his inventions. Greg created Zorglub and wrote many stories. Delporte probably suggested a lot.)
            * Franquin picked Fournier, who carried on the former’s discreet antiwar and ecological concerns in a more overt though zany fashion, but also modernized the duo. (And added characters, especially a second girl, a Japanese stage magician, and new villains.) The creator-to-creator lineage stops there.

            And my point is: from the summaries I’ve seen, most of what came later essentially plays with the very large toybox created by Franquin, or derivations thereof. I wish you to read him!

            Quino’s MAFALDA is indeed a great series of mostly one-pagers, though don’t you think the current climate is likely to dismiss her as a “SJW”? But there was no padding and Quino stopped after one decade, just like Bill Watterson later.

            Mordillo’s cartooning is a lot of fun (not unlike Sergio Aragonés), but all I’ve ever seen from him was more or less for kids. (Indeed, a lot of his gag-filled splashes have been used for jigsaw puzzles or bedroom posters.)

  12. Simon

    So: my comments were auto-zapped (sans “Awaiting moderation”) when I posted them with a single link (one to the Comics You Should Own archive), even within a short comment using a naked link (sans HTML codes).

    I was wondering, are links now banned sans mod queue?

    1. Watson

      We’re still tinkering with a lot of the anti-spam and anti-hacker settings. It should only block posts with more than 4 links. I’ll poke around some more and see what’s doing it, but I still haven’t found which security plugin hates card games.

      1. Simon

        Watson, thanks. I was wondering: when filters deem a comment too suspect for the mod queue, would it be possible to send us to a captcha challenge instead of zapping the comment? (“This comment looks like automated spam. Before it can be accepted, please confirm that you are a human poster.”) Or are captchas losing the good fight?

  13. frasersherman

    Inferior Five, the book that mocked legacy heroes before the name was coined. When I read the first issue and the penniless mad scientist ponders “How can Luthor turn out so many gadgets like they were toys?” I laughed hysterically when I realized he had a point. And I actually get more of the jokes now that I’m an adult.
    I will strongly disagree on Phil Foglio’s Angel and the Ape though. That was absolutely delightful (just the fact he remembered DC’s dumbest series character the Green Glob would have made it for me).
    Great post. Though I have always thought the flaws in Gerber’s Defenders canceled out its virtues.

    1. I would have liked Foglio’s version but for two major problems:

      1. I really hate the obsessive continuity-wanking that demands everything be connected to everything else; there is no need for Sam to be related to Grodd, and absolutely no need to tie Angel into Dumb Bunny’s family in order to “explain” things that don’t need to be explained and are better and funnier if they’re not.

      2. The whole “hey, sis, do you mind if I bang your gorilla friend?” Ew. ick. Creepy and gross and it spoiled the whole book for me. There are super-people everywhere you look, there’s no need for Dumb Bunny to even consider going inter-species. It felt slimy and voyeuristic to me, and it ruined the whole series for me. Your mileage may vary.

    2. Jeff Nettleton

      I would say the problem in Gerber’s Defenders was that he sometimes let things go beyond the natural course of things, like the Headmen story. Other than that, i loved his work there. The Guardians of the Galaxy revival (their first appearance, well, since their first appearance) was filled with some great satire, including that of game shows and politics (a favorite of Gerber). I loved his version of the Hulk and far preferred it to “Puny humans leave Hulk alone!”, in his regular series, of the period. The crossover with Howard the Duck, in the Howard Treasury Edition, was brilliant.

      1. Edo Bosnar

        Yeah, I had no problem with Gerber’s Defenders – I found the flaws there pretty minor.
        I would say that criticism can more realistically be applied to Howard the Duck. The basic idea is great (i.e., a funny animal character in a more ‘realistic’ world populated by spandex-clad super-beings and crimefighters), and there are many funny (albeit in some cases dated) moments of satire, but upon re-reading some of those stories I found the flaws really diminished my initial enjoyment of them. And to be quite frank, I found that notorious all-text (with illustrations) filler issue – as interesting as it may be as a concept – really rather pretentious and self-indulgent.

        1. Le Messor

          I didn’t love the original run of Howard The Duck, either. I… liked it okay, but didn’t love it. (I only read it a few months ago, btw.) I got tired of the politics – and always the same politics, which also bled over into She-Hulk, and I kept thinking ‘If Howard is so firmly based on Gerber, I’m glad I never met Gerber’. :/

          1. frasersherman

            Howard I liked, mostly for the absurdist humor–and of course back then political satire wasn’t found in comics much (though I read the Essential and I still liked it).

      2. frasersherman

        The crossover was excellent. But I started buying Defenders because I liked Valkyrie and it was obvious to me that Gerber didn’t like her much (sidelining her with the hitting-women-is-kryptonite shtick). And he didn’t seem comfortable with Dr. Strange at times, jerking his powers up and down according to what the plot called for. Little things like that undercut fun things like the Bozo cult. And the Elf didn’t work for me.

  14. bert

    Loved the article, Jim.

    but not “Stig’s Inferno” ?

    It’s Ty Templeton’s 1st work, and is flat out hysterical, despite the idea behind it (a loose retelling of Dante’s Divine Comedy).

    heh. . Stig is on my mind, since I just listed him as my #4 favorite “horror” character in the Long Halloween discussions over on CCF 🙂

  15. Le Messor

    Love the article. I could’ve written most of it (in the sense that I totally agree with the sentiments).

    I do think that if comics were all fun, all the time, we’d long for something dark and serious – but I also think that I, personally, would prefer that to the reverse.

    I’ve never read Astro City, because until now I’ve never got the impression that it’d be a fun comic the way you describe it.

    1. Astro City is one of the most enjoyable comics ever. All of the super characters are pretty much archetypes, but most have a twist, and the bulk of the stories focus on secondary or tertiary characters who were only background in regular comics. It’s basically the “Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” of superhero books. Here are a few plot lines to ruminate on:

      Issue #1: What does Superman dream about?
      #2: Suppose you were a reporter, and you stumbled into a cult’s attempt to unleash supernatural evil on the world, and are the only witness to the superheroes banding together to defeat it; how would you write the story if the editor is demanding that you confirm every detail?
      #3: Suppose you’re a small-time criminal underling, and you discover Batman’s secret identity? What do you do with this information that won’t get you killed?
      #4: How does a girl from the dark and creepy vampire-infested section of town navigate the bright streets of downtown?
      #5: Suppose an alien scout has been sent to assess the Earth’s ability to repel an invasion, but he’s stuck on deciding whether humans deserve to be left alone? What if he decides to follow one guy and base his decision on what he concludes about that guy? And what if that guy is an arrogant jerk of a superhero?
      #6: Suppose the Justice League set Superman and Wonder Woman up on a blind date?

      1. How about a story of a kid who comes to the big city to break into superheroing as a sidekick?

        What if Franklin Richards ran away from home to see what it’s like to live as a normal kid?

        Suppose a mad scientist accidentally brought a cartoon character to life?

        What happens when a former supervillain wants to go straight?

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