About Watchmen and DKR ushering in the grim-and-gritty era of superhero comics

I think that holding up The Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns as responsible for the grim&gritty era of superhero comics is really becoming tiresome and it doesn’t make all that much sense. First of all, they weren’t all that grittier more somber or more violent than other comics of the time. They stand firmly in a continuum of comics aimed at pushing the boundaries of the superhero story. A continuum that Moore and Miller already helped to shape in the early 80s.

Instead, they were a couple of superbly executed comics with superior technical production. What followed in their steps was Year One, Born Again, Suicide Squad, the Hawkworld miniseries, The Longbow Hunters, the Adam Strange 90s miniseries, Batman Cult, Legends of the Dark Knight, the Vertigo line, Marshal Law, Animal Man some J. M. Dematteis Spider-Man comics (Kraven’s Last Hunt, The Child Within). Not the most joyous of comics, but for the most part good comics, comics that got what DKR and The Watchmen did and still not what most people associate with the grim and gritty era.

The grim and gritty era, the Lee/Liefeld X-Men comics, the scowled faces and militarization of heroes, the killing of Superman and maiming of Batman, the early Image Comics, the many varianted covers, the comics as collectibles era, those were tapping full on into the zeitgeist. And they were silly as hell. They stink of Robocop, Aliens, Predator and Terminator clones, of VHS ninja movies, of 90s fashion, advertising and of everything R-rated they could strip for pieces in order to claim that comics aren’t just for kids anymore. The same thing happened with video games in the 90s with stuff like Mortal Kombat, Doom, Carmageddon and many of the FMV titles. In a way it happened with music with, nu metal and increasingly weirder genres of metal.

The 90s comics weren’t a product of people misunderstanding The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen. They were a product of the 90s.


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