–The panelists of Mythic Fiction in Comics included Bill Willingham, Kurt Busiek, Chris Roberson, Matt Wagner, and Dark Horse editor Rachel Edidin and they all agreed that superhero comics were a dying genre. They also all thought that it would be beneficial for everyone to allow the characters to lapse into public domain.

Quoted by Matt Funk

CORRECTION: Actually it was Bill Willingham alone who voiced this opinion. So much for quoting Bleeding Cool.


  1. Rachel Edidin has pointed out on Twitter & Bleeding Cool that this is actually a misattribution. The corrected quote from BC is this:
    “–The panelists of Mythic Fiction in Comics included Bill Willingham, Kurt Busiek, Chris Roberson, Matt Wagner, and Dark Horse editor Rachel Edidin. Bill stated that he thought superhero comics were a dying genre but they all thought that it would be beneficial for everyone to allow the characters to lapse into public domain.”

  2. Dying? I’m not so sure. Moribund, definitely. But if you lop off the “comics” part of “superhero comics” it appears that the genre is finding new life, in a hit-or-miss fashion, in motion pictures.

  3. Superhero comics over all are dying when it comes to originality and vitality but will continue to be on corporate life support as long as movies can be made and remade and re-remade and as long as they can sell Batman and Spider-Man toothbrushes. Lapsing into public domain isn’t going to happen.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Big 2 went back to having super heroes be for kids on all fronts in an effort to start making money in the publishing side of the corporations.

  4. No, we didn’t. As David wrote above, Bleeding Cool has already corrected it on their site. If you could do likewise before it spreads even further, that would be swell. Thanks!

  5. I agree with others that you aren’t about to see the characters that make millions for DC & Marvel and their corporate masters suddenly going away. Also, their legal departments will fight tooth & nail to prevent anything from going into public domain if there is the slightest possiblity that a buck can be made.

    On the other hand, it would not surprise me to find the sales of the super-hero books dropping in coming years, with only the major characters (as they did at the end of the Golden Age) remaining in on-going titles.

  6. Superheroes aren’t dying… they’re just stuck in the past. Stop reintroducing the same old characters, and retelling the same stories, with retailored versions of the same costumes… and instead come up with new kinds of superpowered heroes that are relevant to the 21st century. That’s what DC and Marvel did in the Silver Age, dropping the pulp and going sci-fi instead. A new approach is overdue.

    Of course, if copyright laws hadn’t been screwed with since the 1970s, and terms were still 56 years for old material, many of these reintroduced and rebooted characters would be in the Public Domain, and you’d see the kinds of creative reuse of them that would make the halfhearted revamps of Disney and Warner look tepid and old-fashioned.

  7. Even if you keep the comment as is, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to assume there’s some ill-will behind it.

    I think believing superheroes benefiting from being in the public domain is mutually exclusive from agreeing superhero comics are a dying genre.

    But yeah, correctly quoting people is *always* a good practice.

  8. Jason A. Quest: I absolutely agree with you about them needing to move on from the past. But the problem is that there is so much “inbreeding” in the comics field that real change is not possible.

    By this, I mean fanboys grow up reading about the adventures of Barry Allen as the Flash and Hal Jordan as Green Lantern… and those characters and their secret identities are sorely outdated. Even if we update “Police Scientist” to some kind of CSI tech, we’re left with a dull married man running around. And Hal Jordan was a test pilot. Sorry, but that was a cool occupation in the 1960s, but not today. Kill Hal off and replacing him with an aspiring artist (who would actually have the imagination to make ring constructs more interesting that a tennis racket or a boxing glove) was INSPIRED.

    But, those fanboys grew up on Barry and Hal, so when they make it big and break into comics their first instincts are to dump Wally and Kyle and bring back Barry and Hal. And thus, we have another cycle of meaningless change that invalidated two great storylines (Crisis and Paralax, respectively).

    I don’t know what the next wave of superheroes will bring, but I suspect it’s something we haven’t even imagined yet. And when it comes, we’ll all be amazed and happily grab the issues (either physical or online).

  9. In all seriousness I think the best thing that could happen to superhero comics would be for Marvel or DC or both to go bust. They’re both quite incapable of doing what would need to be done to revive the genre.

  10. Too much of an issue of making superhero comics realistic or relevant. Superhero comics are best when they are fun.

  11. I disagree with this august panel’s conclusion. We are not seeing the death of the superhero comic. We are seeing a long desert of creative dryness that is turning off long time fans and doing nothing to cultivate new fans. But it’s not the fault of the genre – it’s the fault of the editorial and publishing arms of the 2 major players in the superhero market. Get good creative teams on the books, stop trying to force universe-spanning mandates on every individual issue, explore new formats to bring prices down, and work diligently to expand into other sales venues with materials packaged specifically for the shoppers who frequent those venues to drive sales to new customers. The main poison in the superhero-well is the one-size-fits-all approach forced on the venerable, beloved characters owned by Marvel and DC.

  12. The young, desperate to show off their chops, with genuine love of the comics they grew up reading, full of insanely creative ideas on how to make even those stories so much better, will run directly into the waiting arms of the corporations that own them. There, they will be met by a stonewall of ‘You can’t do that around here”.
    With their great affection for the comics they grew up with, they will push and shove their creative impulses into whatever small cracks they can find in that wall.
    Its only after so many years of pounding against it, that this creative entity might pull away from their computer or drawing board long enough to notice that his/her ideas are now leaping off the movie screen at the local Cineplex or standing proudly amongst a burgeoning shelf of beautifully designed toys or displayed in a massive hardcover book collection, from which there is little or no compensation accorded them. The corporation that they work for may be benevolent or dictatorial, but their attitude is still the same: We own your ideas and can do with them what we like.
    With a little maturity, that creative person will scratch his head and realize that maybe he should just go with the flow, use the same old same old characters with a slightly different iteration of story and leave it at that. Any grand new idea you keep to yourself, cash your paycheck and get on with your life.
    Because I ask you, exactly why would you give away your ideas for little or no return? Aren’t the hours and hours you spend at your art worth something more than that. All it would take is a small show of respect on the corporation’s part for that creative impulse, that, after all, guarantees that it exists in the first place. That creative impulse is what pays for editorial, for its CEO, for its host of lawyers, etc.
    In this new age of digital streaming and e-books that is multiplying around us why should you?
    We (the creators) don’t need them. They need us. If the giant corporations fail to understand this, then they will slowly pass away as so many behemoths past their life cycle have before them.

  13. Some problems with the ways people approach superhero stories:

    They write and read stories just to express their love for the hero or heroine. Azzarello’s WONDER WOMAN #7, for example, worked perfectly well as a story, but people have been saying that Wonder Woman has been ruined because Azzarello wrote the Amazons as preying on men. Wonder Woman, the feminist icon, isn’t Wonder Woman, the lead character in _____, though. If a character in a story is regarded as more important than the story as a whole, the story cannot work.

    People write stories without really knowing what they’re doing. In AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #1, for example, Iron Man describes the Phoenix Force as a “destructive, parasitic force,” although it obviously isn’t parasitic. But if the Phoenix Force is written as a nigh-omnipotent being which chooses a person as a way of expressing its will, the basis for the storyline (and how many preceding ones?) disappears. If the writer doesn’t understand the concepts he’s using, the story cannot work.

    The paucity of standalone superhero stories vs. serials indicates that writers are less interested in producing superhero stories because they’re eager to say things than they are in generating income. When a writer has to strain mightily or ask for help to come up with material for the next issue, there are problems.


  14. If we just use the last decade as a measure, what has been the most popular (popularity as in money made, passion of the fans and public awareness) in written form?
    • Harry Potter
    • Twilight
    • The Hunger Games
    Three book series that have been avidly read and followed by hundred, thousands and millions of fans (most under 18 years old) well before they acquired more popularity and fans by getting adapted to the big screen.

    Superheroes? Sure, they may have some resonance out there, but mostly with fans 25 years and older. The comic book industry (most notably Marvel & DC) IMO have missed opportunity over opportunity to grab that next generation by sticking with the same genre they’ve been producing for over 50 years while either totally ignoring or just giving lip service to any other type go genre.

  15. Genres need to be reinvigorated every generation or so.

    Usually, that is done by swiping from other genres, stories, and settings; and/or by creating subgenres which appeal to readers.

    Look at mystery/crime fiction:
    historical (Emilia Peabody)
    cats (The Cat Who Could…)
    recipes (A Catered…)
    partners (He’s a [blank], she’s a [blank], they’re detectives!)
    crosswords (by Nero Blanc)
    comics (Jack and Maggie Starr)
    animation (Who Censored Roger Rabbit?)

    Superheroes as a genre can continue to be vibrant, IF one works outside the established universes which are creative straitjackets.

    If you plan to tell an ongoing story, publish just one to three titles, and try to keep them separate from each other. (Astro City, Invincible)

    If you have something interesting to say about a corporate character, then create an analog. (Supreme, Lance Pertwillaby)

    If you want your stories to be accessible, try to make each issue complete.

    Try and keep the same creative team on the series.

    Come to think of it… these seem to be good rules for corporate comics as well. The runs I remember as “best” from Marvel were self-contained. John Byrne’s Fantastic Four, Peter David’s Incredible Hulk, Chris Claremont’s Excalibur, Walter Simonson’s Thor (and Fantastic Four), Hickman’s Fantastic Four, Dan Slott’s She-Hulk, Paul Tobin’s Spider-Man…

    At DC, they tend to be the Vertigo series, such as Sandman, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, plus the more quirky series like Ambush Bug, ‘Mazing Man…

    Is it any surprise that the really interesting and bestselling superhero titles at DC are the mini-series and original graphic novels?

    That’s what I would do if I were EiC at DC: give a creator six issues to do whatever version of a character they want. If that series sells, then let them continue (if they wish). If it doesn’t sell, at least the creators did what they wanted, and it will probably be championed by someone else, sometime in the future. (Notice how many of the 52 worlds were based on Elseworlds stories?) Let it die/hibernate, and try something else.

    Welcome To Tranquility is an example. Great writer, easy concept to sell (a retirement community for superheroes!), and little crossover with the greater Wildstorm Universe.

    Taskmaster: Unthinkable is another example which takes place inside the Marvel Universe, but is mostly self-contained and filled with amazing ideas and goofy goodness.

    I guess Sturgeon’s Revelation applies to superhero comics…so keep digging, there’s got to be a pony in there somewhere!

  16. “Byrne’s Fantastic Four, Peter David’s Incredible Hulk, Chris Claremont’s Excalibur, Walter Simonson’s Thor ”

    Good days…

  17. The main problem is that Marvel and DC don’t want new stuff because under the new contracts they’d have to share. They’d rather continually recycle old stuff that they own outright. Which will work fine for another 10-20 years until all the fans from the 60’s-70’s are dead. And then they’re totally screwed.

  18. Whoever said the quote definitely has is on- point in regards to DC & Marvel. They should be proud of it. Its complete stagnation with golden age & silver age characters. No one identifies with them except Don Draper or the Harvard varsity team. Even if you paste a minority character here or there its doesn’t seem genuine.

    I’ve been away from comics for about 25 yrs and spent a little time catching up to see what happened with the big 2. Maybe 3 if Image is next. These characters started off great and were terrific in their time but have been reconstituted and reimagined to the point where they are costumed mush now at the hands of bad writers who don’t know where to go…especially after they kill them off and bring them back to life with unsuccessful incarnations at every dead end….Maybe Batman and Spiderman were so solidly built that they can pass through the generations. But its maybe 5 characters or so that can stay interesting that way. They are even wrecking Spider-man from what I see. (Spider-man part of the Avengers?). For me, I left off maybe at the Dark Knight Returns graphic novel but read mostly through the late 70’s to the late 80’s so I’m not an expert by any means.

    I was interested a bit in Justice League since the art looked interesting and tried to read it, the conclusion with Darkseid. It felt like I just read an amped up version of the Super Friends and felt embarassed. It even ended like a Super Friends episode. The only thing I saw kind of cool looking was what’s going on with Daredevil and the evolution of John Romita Jr. -who went from being an average artist in the 80’s to this blockbuster specialist in the new century. That was my biggest surprise. He’s mastered the medium but what he uses his improved talent for is questionable. AvsX looks like that videogame mentality has overtaken mainstream comics. The medium might as well be called Battle Royale with panels.

    (p.s. the Comics Beat is great btw, wish we had this back then)

  19. Reasons why super-hero comics are not dying -something immortal can never ‘die’:

    We need to reinvent concepts of ‘continuity’ in this genre, as well as the concept associated with ’super-hero comics’.

    The concept ‘American comic books’ is synonymous with ‘the super hero genre’. Therefore what is dying (and this should) are the elements that make up what’ American’ comics books are.

    First of all if super-hero comics are really ‘dying’ then NuMarvel would not had been as kick-ass a time as it was -especially considering these super-hero comics helped pull Marvel out of bankruptcy. As a result, no one said the next step was to promote ‘events’ and black/white alternative covers (-for good/bad this was the end of ‘NuMarvel’) -butt the point, which is not just the format (-keep your crummy ‘tiny notepad-like’ advertisement filled OVER-PRICED leaflet if you must), but the STORIES can also include drama between love triangles,… or the psychosis that one can struggle with in why one would choose to keep going back to a relationship that keeps putting one in danger risking and damaging their life -why one would keep going back to that as opposed to using their ‘power’ to overcome their own ‘issues’/’bad place’…??? Include ‘one-shot’ issue stories that explain relationships of people who are trying to get on with their lives after ‘M day’… And stories about the significance in the concept of ‘making a choice’… Over all, the characters involved in all of the examples I provide can also be the same ’super-hero character-based assets’ used in their ‘action-events’ involving mystery, adventure, and exploration, like the other genre stories (about romance, relationships, struggles and dealing with success) -along with the characters motiviations/relevance and consequently expand the Marvel/Disney marketability and brandings. Bendis’ “Alias” and his initial Daredevil stories are in this sphere of stories I am trying to encourage here.

    The ‘American’ comic book format also needs to be upgraded/improved – the ‘Infinite’ issue of AvX is a new experiment in this. Which leads me to another reason why I think ‘American’ comics are dying but not ’super hero’ comics: the accessibility that wireless computing allows for also becomes a distribution force that now creates a demographic w/out precendent in the history of sequential story telling medium… maybe not the depth of, but maybe even comparable to the size of that ancient kingdom Graham Hancock is searching for in that documentary.

  20. Most significantly -The link I posted above involves Graham Hancock describing history that is interpreted from sequential stories based on ’super-hero’ like beings and icons. These epics are not simply ‘action-events’, as they revolve around dramas, tragedies, comedies, and these ‘beings’ are stories about the origins of cosmology and stories of moral consequences and searches for retribution and immortality… All of which are interpretations of the universe through the lens of humanity.
    These are some interesting related points that I agree with regarding how ‘American’ comics can be different as ’super hero’ sequential stories become a well accepted global niche:
    1. The last question posted at:

    2. The comic book code as well as sexuality in comics (clause: all of this info is fine and I love comics, as I also think this article additionally shows how comics actually portray a very rare, limited and narrow way of depicting relationships for all types of genders/sexualities):

    3. Also, the brain is an ‘emulating machine’ regardless of what people have concepts of, if they are inundated w/enough advertisements, people are easily reduced from ‘American’ to becoming ‘consumers’… That being said people can’t help but to love super-hero comics as they spend their paycheck on it:

    Super-hero’s rock. The ‘American comic book’ / the super-hero stories, formats, and demographics are warped and perverted by myopic sales margin goals, cold war propaganda and the Comic Book Authority Code, by the narrow / stunted / restrained portrayal and use of sexuality, and by the regurgitated predictable plots. Which is another point I will also throw out here:

    4. It would be nice if we steer away from seeing each other as consumers, and more as ‘humans’/Americans. The work we produce will consequently provide a quality to ’super-heros’ most people / news / entertainment are not conditioned these days to deeply recognize and have gratitude for a little more humanity; a ‘bit’ less consumer fad culture.