Are comic book fans today dumber than they were in the 1970s?

I read comic books. There, I said it. In fact, I read a lot of comic books. And by a lot, I mean a LOT. And while comparing the comics of today with those of 30+ years ago, I noticed something quite startling.

There has been a tendency in recent years for companies to put out two kinds of books. The first is the adult line – aimed directly at the 30-40 year-old comic collector. These books look like movie storyboards, the scripts read like movie scripts (maybe because many of the writers want to earn big money as screenwriters). The costumes are informed by the movies. Gone are the days of yellow spandex, replaced by a moody leather one-piece. In short, it;s like watching one of the recent movie versions of the characters.

Then there is the second kind: the kiddie books. Drawn like cartoons, they are full of the same one-liners. They also have more and more of a kiddie-manga (chibli) feel. For a cartoon example, compare the current series of “Teen Titans Go!” with the earlier (and far superior) series of “Teen Titans”.

This is leading somewhere, I promise.

Recently, the difference hit home when reading an old Marvel comic. Astonishing Tales, from the 1970s. The comic featured the first appearance of a cyborg named Deathlok. Now, Marvel no longer have letters pages in the main. Perhaps the 30-40 year-olds are too jaded or cool to write anymore. But here is the editorial that ran in December 1974:

“People: our eyes are red-shot and popped; our tongues dangle perilously close to the floor; and out minds are stun-boggled and basking in the afterglow of jet-fed satisfaction.

“You see, we’ve just read the mail on Deathlok’s première appearance and ()resorting to a rather prosaic and euphemistic metaphor) we’re pleased as punch. Your response has been overwhelming and then some. Indeed, the volume of mail commenting on our schizophrenic cyborg is well-night unprecedented in the hallowed annals  or Marvel feedback. That 98% of your reactions should be vociferously favourable only gilds the already icing-laden lily-cake. Adjectives ravaged the entire hyperbolic gamut of superlatives, and perceptive criticism earmarked each and ever letter,. So consider yourselves herewith granted a hearty and profound thanks.”

Now, can you imagine a  comic running the same adjective-heavy editorial today?

Perhaps language has changed. Become more streamlined. Simpler. Take, for instance, those Victorian journalists and speech-makers who used fifty words when one would have done. But I can’t help but think that the oversimplification of periodicals these days is due not to any desire to communicate in a more efficient way, but the idea that one must appeal to the “lowest common denominator”.

Deathlok - a most literate cyborg!

Deathlok – a most literate cyborg!

The same thinking underlines our TV shows, our movies, even our novels. “Dumb it down” is the cry. Simplify. More jokes. Shorter scenes. More commercials!

So were the kids of the 1970s really so much smarter than their iPod-toting, Miley Cyrus-listening counterparts? And if they were, what a sad state of affairs that would be!

I don’t believe that is the case. Nor do I believe that language has changed so much. I do believe that the conglomerates who own comics and TV stations are concerned with selling product to as many people as possible.

I realize this is just one voice in the wilderness. But just for once, wouldn’t it be nice to open up a newspaper, a comic book, or (heaven forbid) even a novel, and have someone speak to us in such an eloquent fashion as editor Roy Thomas did in December 1974?




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