Throughout August, HM is on sabbatical.
Extract from Jonathan McCalmont’s essay “Sub-Cultural Darwinism: Some Thoughts on the Rise and Fall of Fandoms” (July 2012).
A young fandom is a fandom content to experience stories for the first time and a fandom content to experience stories for the first time is also a fandom that does not require particularly sophisticated takes on traditional forms and narratives. It is only when people start to get a little bit older and a little bit more jaded that the old stories begin to seem boring. Thus, a popular culture attuned to the needs of older fans can also be culturally vibrant; this is what we mean when we talk about forms and cultures reaching a certain level of maturity.
The aesthetic difficulties associated with aging sub-cultures only become evident once this first wave of maturity and ‘cleverness’ begins to lose its appeal. As audiences and creators become more sophisticated and the need to appeal to younger, less sophisticated audiences becomes less pressing, many forms of popular culture begin to turn away from the world and in on themselves. An excellent example of this kind of cultural decadence is Grant Morrison’s widely celebrated All-Star Superman.
Morrison’s take on Superman is gleefully iconoclastic in so far as it flamboyantly rejects the dominant paradigm of presenting super heroes as psychologically flawed and conflicted individuals. This fashion for tortured superheroics originates in the 1980s when works such as Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns attempted to resolve the tension inherent in the fact that adults were reading about super heroes despite knowing full well that costumed vigilantism is a disastrously bad idea. Miller and Moore attempted to resolve this conflict by acknowledging both the morally problematic nature of costumed vigilantism and the fact that you would have to be fucking insane to think that putting on a rubber pervert suit would ever solve anything. What makes both Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns ‘clever’ and postmodern is the fact that they acknowledge, exaggerate and satirise the problems of their own form.
The problem with this particular piece of cleverness is that it proved so popular and influential that it effectively replaced the approach to super hero comics that it claimed to be deconstructing. Thus, American comics moved from being simple-minded and quasi-fascistic moral fantasies in which the good guys always win to being simple-minded and quasi-fascistic moral fantasies in which the good guys are always miserable psychopaths standing in the rain. Bored with the preposterous and hypocritical angst of the post-Watchmen era, Morrison set out to create a comic that celebrated the enjoyably uplifting weirdness of pre-Watchmen super hero comics. The problem with All-Star Superman is that in order to fully appreciate it you have to be familiar with both the traditional Superman comics that Morrison is celebrating and the increasing staleness of the dark and postmodern turn in American comics initiated by the likes of Moore and Miller. If you are aware of the source materials and share Morrison’s boredom with grimdark psychopaths in cloaks then All-Star Superman will seem both provocative and long overdue. However, if you are only a casual comics fan or young enough to be new to the form then All-Star Superman is likely to come across as little more than an impenetrable mess of disconnected plotlines and meaningless images.