I just edited this to add links…because what use is a big blocky mass of text if you can’t click away at it like a crazy person?
I love Sandman. For the record, I dropped ninety bones on volume three of the Absolute Sandman last weekend and read through it in a couple days with no sense of buyer’s remorse. And I am 99% positive I’ll shell out the cash for the fourth volume when it comes in.
Some people would find this pretty typical, and sometimes I even find myself shaking my head. Because I am a woman. There is certainly a divide between boys and girls in the world of comics and the line usually falls with traditional superheros on one side, and just about anything released under the Vertigo imprint on the other*. Until the mid eighties, when DC recruited Alan Moore and set off the “British Invasion“, comics were pretty exclusively a young boy’s club.
Looking back, it’s hilariously appropriate that the first new book printed under the Vertigo label was Death: The High Cost of Living, a limited run narrative that boasted an adorable immortal goth girl as a protagonist. The character of Death was such a fitting mascot for the new breed of comic book fan that was emerging. Suddenly, comics were dark, hip and edgy. There were entire issues of people just sitting around! Talking! About…life and stuff! People just like us! Regular folks who had never read a comic in their lives had boxes reserved at their local comic shop. My mother was one of them (thanks, mom!).
This new direction in comics didn’t have anything to do with women specifically. Vertigo was not created to give women a home in comics, it was simply the result of a shift in focus. It was a home for mature content and an umbrella for this new wave of comic writers and their increasingly diverse readership. The basic difference between these titles and any other that had a home at DC was that they weren’t being marketed exclusively to teenage boys. As the Vertigo imprint was not created for women, it wasn’t only women who found comics for the first time through titles like Sandman, Swamp Thing, and Hellblazer, but there was something about these titles–and their brooding, complex protagonists–that seriously appealed to the fairer sex. The sudden influx of women, and the newness of Vertigo created a convenient opportunity to pigeonhole female readers. Women loved brooding anti-heroes. Women enjoyed cerebral, melodramatic fantasy. Superhero comics could still be a boy’s club, because the girls stayed over there.
Even now, girls are not expected to enjoy “cape” comics. The boys have their classic heroes, and the girls get Fables, American Virgin and Y: The Last Man. And yet, for the past two decades, the lines between “lady-friendly” comics like the ones I just mentioned and “cape” comics like Superman, X-Men and Batman have grown increasingly fuzzy. DC and Marvel are now full to the gills with brooding, complex anti-heroes who have only grown more broody and complex as their stories are re-imagined and rebooted in the new millennium. It’s not that these titles are trying to get themselves a piece of the female demographic, it’s that their creators are acknowledging that a good portion of their readers are intelligent adults who enjoy intelligent, adult themes. Superhero comics aren’t just for little boys anymore.
I was reminded of all this when I picked up a couple Daredevil trades this weekend. Daredevil was my gateway drug to “cape” comics of all sorts. Granted, Daredevil doesn’t wear a cape…but you know what I mean. I was introduced to the character by an old roommate, who had invited me along on his weekly trip to the comic shop. This was in early 2001, after a years-long hiatus from comics of any sort. When we got there, he saw me thumbing through back issues of Sandman and after a bit of digging around, handed me Daredevil Vol. 2, issue 15. I looked down at it, and the cover looked admittedly mind-blowing. But I was still wary. A superhero comic? Really? Wasn’t that a little…juvenile?
With some prodding, I was convinced. I bought issues 15 and 16 and took them home to read. I finished them in about fifteen minutes, sitting on our front porch, and was left completely floored. This was not what I expected from a superhero title. It was so dark and broody. And the art was fantastic. This was the beginning of David Mack’s first run on the series, and I suspect he was the reason my roommate pushed the issues he did. He wanted me to give the story a chance and hoped the art would suck me in. He wasn’t wrong. As I finished, he came downstairs to see how I was doing.
“Holy crap,” I said. “this is awesome.”
“Isn’t it?” He sounded proud. I heard him drop something on the seat next to me and looked over to find a stack of Daredevil back issues. “So you can catch up,” he said.
And I did.
What’s my point? I guess my point is that this divide between “adult” and “cape” comics isn’t really as pronounced as some would have you think. If I were back in community college, I would call it a “false dichotomy”. (I’m not, and I didn’t.) But really…this apparent divide isn’t such a divide at all, because over the past two decades, a huge number of titles on the DC and Marvel labels have become just as complex, adult and angsty as the best Vertigo has to offer. Daredevil has a wreck of a love life and regular mental breaks. Wolverine tried to kill Cyclops in a jealous rage. Creator-owned comics like Ex Machina and Powers are turning the traditional super hero formula on its head. In short…it’s a very exciting time for us grown-ups, and I do not plan to miss out on any of it.
* One could also say that the “lady’s section” includes overtly female series’ like “Spiderman Loves Mary Jane”, but I am simply not going there today…comics explicitly marketed toward teen girls (with the exception of something like Runaways) are in another world entirely, at least in my mind. In fact, this particular series only warrants a mention because my 14 year old boy brain thinks the title is hilarious.