By Dean Haspiel
The ancient Greeks had their angry gods of wit, strength, speed, lightning bolts and betrayal, and the Norse had their bastion of immortals wielding swords, shields, hammers, lightning and lies, too. Moralistic mythologies that were, arguably, superhero stories for all ages. It wasn’t until 1938 that America gave birth to its first sustainable superhero when DC Comics published Superman, arguably a god (albeit an alien immigrant), who “could leap tall buildings in a single bound.” In 1941, a super soldier named Captain America punched Adolph Hitler in the chin and the success of comics like The Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, Wonder Woman, Batman, Captain Marvel, and so many more, opened the floodgates to new superhero lore and comic books held sway. That is, until recently.
Before movies got good enough to pick up the gauntlet that 4-color print threw down on the racks of newspaper stands and suspended disbelief that a man could fly or that a team of empowered humans and mutants could assemble to save the world, the comic book industry had to build the library that our current tech-savvy storytelling mediums could poach from. Producing decades of monthly comics during a time where the unlimited budget of a blank page pushed the boundaries of what the mysteries of science and circumstance could do to our families and friends, and the moral questions those experiments asked, achieved a creative Babylon that, to this day, is unmatched in any other medium.
There is a narrative and budgeting concern in film making called “killing your darlings,” which means eliminating the dialogue and/or scenes that don’t necessarily support the thesis of a story. In other words, some of the experimental stuff that comes out of left field and gob smacks you upside your head. In comic books, we tend to indulge our darlings and explore them beyond their original intent. Sometimes a story escapes our grasp, unlocks our subconscious, and takes us to places we didn’t see coming. For me, that’s one of the few remaining things that still highly recommends comic books.
My favorite decade of superhero creation came from the masterminds that launched Marvel Comics in 1961 when the “House of Ideas” gave birth to a legacy of characters that made a cosmic impression upon our cultural zeitgeist. The 1960s was a defining era in our nation where equal rights and the rumblings of creators rights were debated and fought for while music and literature shed psychedelic light on our minds and in our fashion and some of our comics went underground and got personal and adult. And then mainstream comics got serious and, eventually, dark. Very dark. Alas, independent cartoonists responded to our industry struggles and our American mythology with their creator-owned inventions. In 1990, Michael Allred hopscotched the angst and kept the spirit of 1960s comics alive when he created Madman and Snap City where, eventually, a team of spore-infected street beatniks called The Atomics would lead to It Girl!
Within the pages of Michael Allred’s It Girl!; Jamie Rich, Mike Norton, Chynna Clugston Flora, Allen Passalaqua, and Crank!, pick up where Allred left off by carrying the superhero torch that was lit in 1938 but with a 2012 twist. “Dark Streets, Snap City” deals with multi-player video gaming, social networking, identity theft, cyberspace, alternate realities and, of course, good old fashioned sibling rivalry, resurrection, revenge and redemption. The story stuff that superheroes have respectfully borrowed from science fiction, crime, mystery, romance and horror, while challenging the tropes of misunderstood monsters and sexy freaks. It Girl! keeps comics easy and fun but lets the reader take a neo-retro break from our current digital diatribes where thoughts and conversation are reduced to ticker-tape headlines and, instead, allows us to reflect our world, express our imagination, and bend our minds with the power of comic books.
–Dean Haspiel, creator of Billy Dogma
Note: my introduction was originally published in Michael Allred’s It Girl & the Atomics Round 1: Dark Streets, Snap City (Image Comics)