When I explain to people that I am the co-creator and Editor-in-Chief of a comic book website, there are a myriad of reactions. The people whose eyes don’t immediately glaze over are further confused by my explanation of our unique take on the format: namely, our focus away from superhero comics. I’ve already explained that we don’t dislike superheroes, just that we aren’t covering them–and good thing we bothered to articulate this, because it’s almost always the first question I am asked when it comes up.
At New York Comic Con, I was talking to someone about the site, and it came to the part where I have to assure them, “Yes, I spend lots of money on superhero comics. I enjoy them a great deal.” But it never got to that; when I explained what we were about, she turned her head for a second, looked back at me, and said, “How do you define ‘superhero’?”
I never felt as stupid as I did in that instant. I had no idea. I mean, the obvious answer would be a name that ended in “man” or someone who wears a cape and cowl, or has some sort of fantastic ability or power that propels him or her over the average human. But, there was no real easy answer. I had to tell her that I’d get back to it, which was an easy way to make sure she didn’t suffer one of my non-cohesive ramblings. Her question stuck with me, though: What is a superhero?
Lets get cliche: Wiktionary defines a superhero as “Any kind of fantasy/science fiction crime-fighting character, often with supernatural powers or equipment, in popular children’s and fantasy literature.” Not a terrible definition by any means, but a little limited for our scope: Any crime fighter? Arguably, the journalists in DMZ or Transmetropolitan fight crime in science-fiction settings, but I don’t think you could classify them as superheroes. RASL has a character with science-fiction equipment, and he fights crime (he also commits crime, but that’s beside the point). It works the other way, too: we’ve covered Sailor Moon, but in what way isn’t she (and her related cohorts) superheroes? Despite the fact that she fits the bill, it doesn’t appear immediately obvious. This is a question I want to tackle, but I can’t seem to figure it out quite just yet. I’m not even going to touch the implication that superheroes can only appear in children’s literature. We’ll save that for another time.
The qualities of superheroes seems to be ethereal; we all know what one is when we see it, but we may not be able to easily define it. This is particularly confusing for us, where we may really want to shed light on some amazing comics without summoning the wrath of an Internet scorned. We’ll probably never cover a Superman book, or a Batman book. But what if we want to cover something like Powers, which is a police procedural that just so happens to take place in a superpowered world?
We aren’t going to be able to draw a distinct line between superhero comic books and non superhero comics. To that end, we’re launching a new column, to appear every Friday: “The Grey Area”. It’s going to be a way to cover our grey area. It’s a spot for books that could be considered superheroes, but still close enough to the Spandexless oeuvre that we feel comfortable covering it. Expect a lot of discussion about the nature of superheroes and spandexless comics in that column, and in more weekly editorials as well.
Until then, may it always be a bird or a plane.