A few years back, I coined the term "post-superhero" to represent a sea change in American superhero comics underway at the time, mostly at the hands of British writers. It was the first real shift in paradigm since Stan Lee introduced the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man – then commonly labeled "anti-heroes" – forty years ago.And, without going down the same road as Steven, it dovetailed with my going to Wondercon this last weekend (just going on friday, and not even getting the chance to sit at my spot in artist's alley, which is just sad, but real life intruded upon my con plans. Not the first time....) and wondering just what the role of the hero is these days. I was struck, also, to see the marketing, logistical and organizational nightmare that is your 21st Century Con through the eyes of my 8 year old daughter.
These were superhero comics stripped of many familiar trappings, from costumes and unexamined kneejerk morality to subplots, though few stripped out everything at once. They often focused more on mood and character than action. (It's likely no coincidence that many who produced "post-superhero" comics cut their teeth on Britain's 2000 AD and short-form strips like "Judge Dredd.") Some (Warren Ellis on THE AUTHORITY; Joe Casey on WILDCATS 3.0) operated out of boredom with the superhero concept, some (Alan Moore on the ABC books, Grant Morrison on JLA and NEW X-MEN) were genuinely fond of superheroes but wanted to restore a sense of wonder to the genre and make it speak better to modern audiences.
Now, this is no neophyte to the world of fantasy and fiction. She is on the 5th Harry Potter book, regularly reads Wonder Woman, Justice League, New Frontier, Loony Tunes and the Simpsons comics, and has seen 5 of the 10 Doctor Whos and can answer questions about the Cybermen and Daleks quite well. Navigating the aisles of the convention, in search of some new action figures and the rest... well, that's a different story.
I was watching to see what she gravitated to as well: Struzman posters, McQuarrie production art for the original three Star Wars movies, Nightmare Before Christmas peppermints, DC and Doctor Who action figures to compliment the ones that she already has. What she had a perverse reaction to: the "Hot Zombie Chicks" booth. Zombie chicks in bikinis on T-shirts made her wrinkle up her nose as say, "That stuff is weird, I don't like it."
She straddles the two worlds: those of us who were raised reading the old guard comics of straight edge morality, and those who came along in the post-Dark Knight world of grim and gritty superheroes. She comes in reading things like Cooke's New Frontier, which present moral heroes that face a grittier world than Julie Schwartz ever dreamed of. She still sees heroes that make the right choices, but faces a more complex world to make those choices in. For her, Wonder Woman is a heroic figure fighting for the greater good against evils, but they are evils that are harder to understand (many times because of the cross-over and tie-ins, the current storyline for instance), and so Diana's heroic stance is lessened since the choices that she has to make are a little less comprehensible. My daughter has little need to delve into the psycho-sexual context of Wonder Woman; what she needs is a consistant character with stories that you can follow from issue to issue.
There will be time enough for grim and gritty, although I'm sure that what will follow instead will be things like Twilight, or Buffy-style material. And, getting back to Grant's comments on the post-superhero material, whatever it is will be more intense, since the better authors have spent a great deal more time throwing away many of strictures that kept our fiction relatively safe along the way. After all, until Moore, Gaiman and Morrison came along, we thought that we knew where the walls were in the DC Universe, and we knew that we were safe behind the fourth one. But Swamp Thing taught us that everything we knew was wrong, Animal Man taught us that there was human longing and lonliness behind the goggles and behind the typewriter, and the Sandman taught us that there were a lot of soft edges to our world in every place and time.
Conversely, as well, Moore taught us the interspecies love and sex was possible, Morrison taught us that believing in the Kingdom of Keys as real was a good thing, and Gaiman gave us a death we could live with meeting. In a way.
The better creators have restored a sense of wonder in their series, and it really doesn't matter where. My daughter and I thrill every time the doors of the Tardis open on a new time or new world, we enjoy when Diana conquers a new challenge that isn't part of a damn crossover, and we laugh everytime that we get a Scooby Doo that manages to subvert the standard formula cleverly. That sense of wonder can be revisionist superheros, fantasy or cartoony, it really doesn't matter. The world building in Harry Potter has captivated her, as has the Justice League, as has Star Wars. Post post-superhero to me means finally having deconstructed many of the convention that we can move on to telling more stories, without the sacred cows, whatever they may be. What do you all think?