Debates over the meaning and enduring impact of the grim and gritty style remain unsettled. On the one hand, grim and gritty is inextricable from some of the major texts in the emergent comics canon. Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One (1986), Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series (1989–1996), Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Batman: Arkham Asylum (1989), and Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke (1988) might be included on any list of prototypical examples of the style. These texts were instrumental in making the late 1980s a redefining modernist moment for comics, and the conditions of their production as well as their commercial and critical successes helped bring about greater artistic freedom and recognition for comic book creators. On the other hand, however, many of the period’s self-consciously “mature” tales are in fact insipid and mindlessly violent, lamely dressed up with a pseudo-intellectual veneer: consider, for example, Mike Grell’s 1987 Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters.

    . . .

    Both camp and grim and gritty, moreover, serve to displace such disdain by discovering new ways to invest cultural capital into a genre associated with crudeness and puerility. The ’60s Batman, after all, arrived amid the pop art movement that placed comic books front and center of its reassessments of commercial culture. For the Batman program to function as pop, it required familiarity with the superhero comic as a commercial cultural form, alongside an assumption of the intellectual and aesthetic poverty of that form. Campy Batman does not upend cultural hierarchies but rather reinforces them. The grim and gritty turn, meanwhile, performed the same function in a different cultural moment, re-presenting superhero narratives in an idiom shaped by a different set of cultural tastes. In the simplest terms, both approaches made superheroes palatable to non-comics readers attuned to (and anxious about) cultural hierarchies.

Even if comics aren't your thing, this essay is well worth a read. It's pretty insightful.

posted by user-inactivated: 1055 days ago