Or just an attention-seeking plot line? Spiderman’s alter-ego has been wiped out in the 700th issue of ‘Spider Man’, knocked off at the hands of Dr Octopus. But experts say he’ll be back; DC Comics revived Superman less than a year after his “death” and the Flash eventually came back two decades after his demise. Captain America was killed off in 2007 — only to turn out to be lost in time, courtesy of a high-tech ray gun blast. And another version of Peter Parker – in Marvel’s alternate “Ultimate” universe line – was killed off last year and replaced as Spider-Man by a half Latino, half African American teenager. Minor characters are regularly announced as gay or get killed.
Comics are turning to increasingly desperate gambits in order to stave off plummeting sales. With the advent of big CGI movies detailing their exploits, who needs bits of coloured paper? Trouble is, that’s where the good writing is, so the comics companies are facing a dilemma – kill the goose and where do the eggs come from?
Going back into Marvel and DC recently, I was surprised to find that comics haven’t really moved on in decades.’Alternative Worlds’ replaced ‘Imaginary Stories’ to raise creative freedom, but the basic storylines are identical to the ones I read as a child, albeit with more social diversity. European comics and US comics remain planets apart from each other, and the UK still shows little interest in either. The days when children would not be seen without a comic in one hand are past. Nor do they work very well on the internet.
Instead we’re left with a handful of old titles fighting for supremacy in an ever-shrinking market. There are two approaches to the superhero field – you’re either an apologist, as the recent Batman films have been, virtually hiding away your man character from fear of ridicule, or you embrace the silliness and run with it, as Marvel do. What surprises me is the malleability and sturdiness of the superhero concept, which was already dated in the 1940s when Captain Marvel first hit cinema serials.
But perhaps that’s a good thing. Last night I returned to Barcelona from London and watched two small boys in an airport lounge playing at being Peter Pan and Captain Hook. Heroes and villains will always be with us.