The Hand of the Comic Artist

Some of Chute’s finest insights involve superheroes, and I was particularly taken with her observation that “a significant feature of the very notion of comics for grown-ups is a rejection of the idealization of men in tights (and women in leotards).” Both that claim and her interest in comics primarily as an auteurist enterprise are in contrast to the mainstream preoccupations of Reed Tucker’s “Slugfest: Inside the Epic 50-Year Battle Between Marvel and DC.” As his subtitle indicates, his book largely concerns the two historically dominant companies in American comics, which he characterizes as “the Coke and Pepsi of spandex.” A former features writer at The New York Post, Tucker embraces this dominance and effectively treats comics as a synonym for superhero comics, its most famous genre.

For the most part, Tucker tracks the company histories of DC and Marvel, how each came into existence, how they were different and how they were the same. DC was stuffier; Marvel looser, ostensibly hipper and finally more in tune with the young adult audience than DC. A lot of this history has been covered elsewhere, as the book’s bibliography indicates. As a writer, Tucker tends to get swept up in details and there’s a lot about rotating company personnel and when various superheroes hit covers solo and in groups (The Avengers #1, September 1963, Iron Man, Thor, etc.), only to be retired, transformed into villains, taken off the shelf and then exhumed for a newly launched series.

Photo

Lynda Barry, page from “One Hundred Demons.”

Credit
Lynda Barry/Drawn & Quarterly

Tucker occasionally turns a nice phrase, as when he helps explain Marvel’s impact on the comic-book world, writing that by comparison, at the stodgy old DC, “Robert’s Rules of Order was their greatest supervillain.” Having defined the superhero field decades earlier, DC was…

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