Forget vampires. They are so last year. Comic book heroes are now all the rage – prompting Hollywood studios and smaller, independent producers alike to reboot a genre that many thought was all spandexed out.
The astonishing success of Avengers Assemble and The Dark Knight Rises – along with the equally impressive, if less commercial Dredd – has made 2012 the year that superheroes smashed box office records.
Comic favourites have become bankable, silver screen hits and over the next few years you can expect a raft of Marvel and DC characters to dominate the box office.
Someone who is enjoying the resurgence of costumed crusaders more than most is Phil Bowers.
The 30-year-old is a self-confessed comics fanatic who began, like many of us, reading the Beano and the Dandy before discovering the world of superheroes in the late Eighties.
Phil, a freelance journalist from Clayton, said: “It all started for me with Batman – or rather, the Dark Knight Returns. Then I got into things like The Punisher and began to collect older comics and graphic novels from earlier in the decade.
“I was fascinated with the idea that people would go out and try to stop bad things happening while so many others just stood by and watched. That was what hooked me in to the stories.
“It is fair to say that in the Seventies comic book heroes were pretty cheesy. I mean, just think of the films.
“You had Christopher Reeve wearing his underpants on the outside of his trousers as superman and villains that were pretty standard ‘take-over-the-world’ type cardboard cut-outs.
“That all changed in the Eighties. Lots of modern comic book movies have the main characters as either tormented souls or brooding heroes, but people shouldn’t think that this is a new phenomenon.
“The 1980s was the time when the need to reflect society in comics originated in a decade where you found cheap commercialism, political scandal and modern technology slowly taking a hold.
DC and Marvel comics took those themes and ran with them.”
Phil reckons that two legendary comic book authors owe their fame to the work they did in this decade – citing Alan Moore and Frank Miller as creating several classics that are still revered to this day.
He said: “Think about a story where an aged vigilante who retired many years ago then takes up his weapons again to dispense justice – only to find he can’t keep up with the new breed of criminal. This is Miller’s Batman tale “The Dark Knight Returns.” In this series Batman – or Bruce Wayne – is now an old man who is sickened by the violence on the streets and the mask-wearing thugs who terrorise old and young alike, so he sets out to clean things up.
“He’s beaten, bruised and bloodied by the new generation of gangs, and things get worse when his return prompts The Joker to resume his attempts to murder Batman.
“Speaking of The Joker: What about a tale of a man struggling with three jobs to pay for a home and a pregnant wife, who is forced to turn to crime to make ends meet? This is Moore’s “A Killing Joke”, which tells of the origin of The Joker, and shows how far even the most ordinary people can be pushed to doing heinous things given one day of real pain.”
Phil, who is a regular writer for the fans’ website worldofsuperheroes.com, says his favourite comic character is The Punisher – otherwise known as unhinged vigilante Frank Castle.
But he also points to Watchmen as one of his favourites and one of the most influential comic books of the 1980s – one of the then niche series he bought from upstairs in the Fantasy World store in Hanley.
He said: “First published in 1987, writer Moore laced Watchmen with plenty of criticism of politicians and distrust of the establishment.
“Some of the more well-known comic characters had purple patches in the Eighties too – as renowned writer Chris Claremont’s X-Men series “Days of Future Past” shows. The next X-Men movie will be based on this storyline.
“The storyline drew close parallels with racist and homophobic issues being tackled in the real world and, among those who read comics, prompted much debate about how comics could be used to address complex social problems.”
Phil added: “The 1980s were when comics found their feet for a modern audience. They’re when some of the industry’s most iconic characters gained a new edge and starred in their most innovative tales. If you’ve never read a comic before – that decade is a great place to start.”
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