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Unleaded gas: the greatest super-hero of all

TPM's post today, which pivots off of Eric Holder's mostly symbolic announcement regarding drug sentencing reform (symbolic because the Federal government isn't doing the majority of drug prosecutions), reminded me of a topic related to my (surprise!) post below about Marvel comics. Whenever we're faced with these year-long uber plotlines in comics, one of us will say, only half-jokingly, "How come super-villains don't just rob banks anymore?". And the answer is in this chart:

And yes, yes: how come Batman doesn't dance anymore?

That's the murder rate, but you'll find it's the same for most kinds of violent and semi-violent (e.g. burglary) crime. Josh Marshall kind of brushes past it, but the one theory that really holds up in terms of why this is happening is the removal of lead from gasoline and paint. But regardless of why, the fact is that crime-fighting super-heroes seem a lot less necessary than they used to. Certainly since the height of the Frank Miller 80s. But rising and then high crime rates track pretty well to the explosion of Silver Age super-heroes. And since the 90s it's become less and less of a thing, and it's really plummeting, even in the face of some pretty bad economic downturns. So what's a crime-fighting genre to do?

Well the X-books specifically have gotten a lot of mileage from civil rights, but (while i certainly don't want to declare victory!) we've had some improvements on that front and we're at a point where it's a lot harder to imagine a future of minority-hunting killer robots. And with Civil War and Dark Reign, Marvel wrung a lot out of the post-911 world, which i think was a good move thematically even if it wasn't executed well. And the Avengers movie (and also the Iron Man movies, even more directly) got a lot out of 911/terrorism itself. But with all these things we're moving away from the core raison d'etre (to type a phrase i would never use in real life) for super-heroes. So there's a lot less of Spider-Man mostly fighting criminals and then getting pulled into Secret Wars on occasion. It's got to be mostly Secret Wars and villains with world-threatening schemes or at least personal vendetta schemes. And that leads to event fatigue and just this sense that Marvel has strayed from that classic comics feel. And there may be nothing that Marvel can do about it, except lurch from event to event hoping to glom on to the latest zeitgeist.

By fnord12 | August 12, 2013, 3:10 PM | Comics & Liberal Outrage