Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailer Steve Bennett of Mary Alice Wilson's Dark Star Comics in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This week, Bennett gives us his manifesto for superhero comics.


Before we go further I need you to go to the Diamond Website, access the DC page and read the preview of their upcoming series The Boys by Garth Ennis and Patrick Robertson.  Ennis has promised 'this book will out-Preacher Preacher' -- and he isn't lying; it's an unbelievably brutal, visceral story of regular humans (well, sociopathic 'hardmen' anyway) fighting a never ending battle against mankind's greatest threat; super-heroes.


Likewise the newest incarnation of the Wildstorm/DC super group Stormwatch concerns regular humans protecting themselves against those complete bastards...super-heroes.  I don't want to even think about the ways they'll up the ante when they revive The Authority again.


Suddenly it's 1992 all over again, and I for one don't want to go through all that over again (for one thing, where would I put the Pogs?).  But it's not too late; we still can still swerve to avoid the head-on collision if we act quickly.


In the past I've used the fig leaf that I was primarily concerned with how contemporary super-hero comics make it difficult for Marvel and DC to attract new readers.  But now I'll openly admit that it's been about me; I openly hate the direction super-hero comics are going and, maybe it's just another case of a guy getting older who's enraged at a world daring to change without his express written permission -- but I really don't think so.


As some of you noticed I took last week off to give this subject some serious thought and think I've come up with a single word that describes the current status quo -- contempt.


Contempt for Life

Geoff Johns especially seems to love establishing that the villain of the month is a bad-ass by having them casually working it into the conversation just how many people they've  Meanwhile Green Lantern doesn't seem to hear this, continuing to playfully spar with them as if they've just knocked over a Coast City bank instead of commit mass murder.  If editors and writers really, really want their villains to be stone killers, they should see how Brian Michael Bendis does things over in Ultimate Spider-Man.  He's made his versions of Venom, The Green Goblin and Dr. Octopus so unbelievably vicious (and made sure there are permanent consequences to their crimes) readers don't want to see them fight Spider-man again.


Contempt for the Characters

Writers like Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis have never been shy about their open contempt for super-heroes and yet have managed to collect hefty paychecks from American publishers who rely on revenue from super-heroes to publish war comics from them.


Contempt for the Consumer

It seems like the comic companies have always felt a low level of contempt for the people who love them most--the fans.  Back in the bad old days of the 60s we were repeatedly told that editors couldn't cater to our tastes because we represented only a tiny fraction of the total readership.  But now when those proportions have been totally reversed we keep hearing how the publishers can't give readers what they want, instead focusing on what new indignities and atrocities can be heaped upon our favorites.


So, what I'm suggesting is nothing less than a new paradigm, wherein:


Heroes Have to Step Up

While I don't want to see the return of 'heroes' like Venom, today's super-heroes definitely need to update their methods and attitudes to face today's menaces.  In the latest issue of Detective Comics after he and Robin have again handily defeated the Scarecrow, Batman makes a matter of fact remark to the effect they'll be fighting him again soon enough.  Maybe it he's really all that interested in saving lives it's time for Batman to be a little more concerned with keeping homicidal maniacs behind bars.


Creators, Challenge Yourselves

Marvel and DC have what basically amounts to a captive audience, yet they remain deathly afraid their sales will continue to go down which is why, year after year, they go through the motions of using the same gimmicks and stunts.  Maybe it's time they try something else; I'd like to suggest for one whole calendar year, Marvel and DC not publish a single super-hero/super-villain slugfest and instead force their writers to come up with something new.  If no ideas immediately spring to mind, I'd suggest they'd find plenty of real world situations that cry out for a bit of larger than life justice in newspapers, magazines and on the Internet.


And, finally...


If You Don't Like Superheroes, Don't Write Them

Currently writers seem to have the same love/hate relationship with superheroes we in society have with our celebrities; we may hate them for their excesses and indulgences but we can't stop talking about them, looking at them, etc.  If you have kids you're probably already aware there's a trend in kid's cartoons (Kim Possible, The Kids Next Door, etc.) where ordinary kids (successfully) fight super-villains.  I don't know, maybe it has something to do with the fact villains are easier to believe in than  heroes, but maybe it's time to bring back characters like The Challengers of the Unknown (now those were guys who knew how to keep bad guys locked up; they had their own prison) and the Blackhawks.


And as to what we can do about it...well, there's no law saying we have to order comics like A Man Called Kev.