by Beau Smith
It’s like this—a cheeseburger without the cheese. It’s like air conditioning without an electrical cord. It’s like me, Beau Smith, without hair on my chest….
Something important is missing.
That’s the way I feel about a lot, not all, but a lot of mainstream superhero comic books today. I read a stack of them the other day and came away with a feeling that there was something very important missing from the comic books that I had just read. The structure to the story was not there. The foundation for the characters had cracks in them. Thing just weren’t complete.
To this day, I still feel that some of the best mainstream superhero comic books were written at Marvel Comics from 1961 through 1969. I don’t feel this way because this was the decade that I discovered and began reading comics. No, I say this because of the compelling storytelling that was unleashed and finely crafted during this time period on a consistent monthly basis. It was hard work, but it was work that men like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Don Heck, and Steve Ditko were willing to do month in and month out. It was a job to them, yes, but there was also a terrific pride that they felt in making these stories and these characters the very best they could be.
When you read these stories from the 1960s Marvel Comics, you’ll see characters addressing other characters by name. That makes it easy for the new reader as well as the casual reader to know the characters and who the dialogue is directed at. It gives motion and meaning to the words they speak. It goes beyond typical movie one-liners that so many writers toss out with reckless abandon. It’s not how clever you can make a character sound, it should be how clever you can make the entire storyline.
In a well written story you’ll see purpose in the flow of the panels; your eyes will be drawn from one connecting panel to the next. With smart, well placed character dialogue, a past issue will be recapped without stealing you away from the action being produced at the present time. Through the words of a bad guy, you will see the hero being constructed. The same goes in reverse with discovering the motives and character of the bad guy through the hero’s eyes. In just a few words, he will be able to sum up and present the bad guy to the reader so they know—This IS The Bad Guy and why. This is so very important in a comic book story.
Only a handful of writers are doing this today. The ones that can do it so very, very well. You can see they were trained and raised on great influences and smart editors that cared to know how a superior story must be constructed. The good writers don’t look for the short cuts, they know that readers are paying an average of $4.00 per book and they don’t want to short change them when it comes to a story.
Stan Lee had a masterful way of giving you a complete story, even in a three issue story arc. Characters were set up without distracting from the storyline and their appearances made sense to the story. Panel grids were also used to the max. It wasn’t unusual to see nine grid panels on a page from time to time and you didn’t get cheated out of backgrounds or story impact. The story moved at a pace that had you clutching the sides of your chair as you went on this adventuresome ride through four color print. You always got your cover investment back and with interest!
I would love to see more true story and character substance shoved back into mainstream superhero stories. I would love to see characters regain their human sense of humor, that has become a lost art with a lot of (Not All) writers.
Writers need to step up to the plate and deliver again. We’re comic book readers, not mind readers. Set up your stories and your characters, give us our money’s worth. We demand it and have the right to do so.
As readers, I ask you to pay more attention to the superhero books you’re buying right now. Please make sure you’re getting your money’s worth and that you are truly being entertained. Don’t be afraid to tell those that produce comic books what you want and expect out of your favorite characters.
The Flying Fist Ranch