Superheroes. Yeah, I said it.

I wanted to look at superheroes today. Again, it’s my blog, so indulge me for a bit here, okay? I’m hopefully going somewhere with this.

I’m a fan of superhero comics. Always have been, probably always will be. I’m not a fan of straight-up, generic superheroes, however. I like my superheroes with a twist. This was never more apparent to me than when I started reading the original run of The Authority by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch. That comic showed me you can write a smart, meaningful story and still wrap it up in the trappings of four-color superhero comics.

I make fun of superheroes in my work. A lot. Between Long Gone (the superheroes are deranged cannibalistic monsters) and Breakneck (the superheroes are a bunch of assholes that kill without question), a casual reader might assume I hate superheroes and superhero comics. But you couldn’t be farther from the truth, I assure you.

The death-knell for the superhero has been sounding for years, but it’s not going anywhere. Superheroes prop the comics market up, for better or for worse. What you need to do is get past the generic crap and dig around to find the good stuff. The stuff that’s disguised as superhero stories.

And sadly, most of the good stuff isn’t coming out of the Big Two any more. That’s not to say there aren’t high quality superhero books being published by Marvel and DC, just not books that interest me very much. There are the exceptions, of course. DC’s Scott-Snyder-penned Batman is excellent. Marvel’s Daredevil remains high quality (the Brian Bendis/Alex Maleev run is easily one of my favorite books of the past ten years) thanks to Mark Waid. But really, when I think of superhero comics, here and now in the year 2012, I think of Image.

And the interesting thing to me is that, when you think of Image Comics, it’s a place where creators can do whatever they want without editorial interference, etc. etc….and a large number of creators still opt for superheroes. Image does publish some amazing comics in a large variety of genres (The Walking Dead, anyone?), but there are definitely superhero (and superhero-influenced) books at the forefront.

Let’s look at some of the new Image books, like Hell Yeah! or Danger Club or Luther Strode. Or Butcher Baker: The Righteous Maker. All of these are superhero-influenced books that are the cream of the crop of creator-owned books in my mind right now. Joe Keatinge and Szymanowicz introduce superheroes in the pages of Hell Yeah as a force for changing the world. The heroes arrive and everything is different. Sports and film are rendered moot, as the world has superhumans – and they’re more entertaining than anything you’d seen on the screen or on the field.

Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones bring a different look at superheroes to the fore in Danger Club. The heroes are all gone, victims of a galactic battle that left all their sidekicks alone on Earth. I love the characters in this book. Kid Vigilante is my new favorite superhero.

Luther Strode is a bit of a different beast. I wouldn’t call Luther a superhero necessarily, although he has all the aspects of a hero: superpowers, a mask, some arch-enemies. Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore wrap up a psychological horror-ish story in the drapings of a superhero comic. It’s also one of the bloodiest books I’ve read since Kirkman and Walker’s Destroyer at Marvel MAX a few years ago.

Butcher Baker is a tough one to classify. Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston go the Dark Knight Returns-route with this one, where aging superhero Butcher Baker gets pulled out of his depraved retirement to kill off all his former enemies. And it gets weirder from there. I can’t even do the book justice in a few sentences; it needs to be seen to be believed.

But, yeah, superheroes. I love ‘em. Look at Breakneck. Breakneck is my love letter to superheroes. Even though I make fun of them and take the piss out of them. You’ve got all your classic superhero elements: the evil genius and his underlings. The heroic superteam with their base on the moon. The street-level vigilantes. The dynamic duo of a detective and his sidekick. The world’s most powerful and beloved super-man. But I take all of that and turn it on its head, and it seems to have struck a chord with readers.

I don’t know if I actually did what I wanted to with this post. I guess I want to show that superheroes aren’t just for kids. If you’re an adult reader of comics, you don’t have to read Sandman or Blankets or Safe Area Gorazde to be taken seriously, you know? I would guess 90% of all comics readers got into comics because of superheroes. Why shy away from that? Don’t be embarrassed to say you love superhero comics. I do. I have 10 new superhero comic ideas a day. Superheroes are why I write comics.

But if you’re going to do it, do it in a different way. With a different take. With your own spin.

Did any of that make sense?

Ah well. Do yourself a favor, go listen to Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective.

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