Grim and Gritty in the '80's

With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice two weeks away, I started thinking back. When Batman '66 - the live action ABC series with Adam West and Burt Ward - was cancelled there was a whole reaction. Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams were making their mark on comics. Not only were they working on Uncanny X-Men, they were the landmark on Green Lantern/Green Arrow. Batman was returning to his Golden Age Gothic roots with stories like "The Secret of the Waiting Graves", the introduction of Man-Bat, sending Dick Grayson off to college and moving from "stately Wayne Manor" to the Wayne Enterprises penthouse.

A lot of fingers tend to point to The Dark Knight Returns as the lightning bolt where comics became dark; grim and gritty. It was more like the latest wave. In 1969, in reaction to the campy television series, Batman was returned to his Gothic roots. So, he was already a dark and brooding force in the Golden Age. From The Dark Knight Returns on through the '89 Batman film forward, the character has wrestled with darkness and light. Dark films and kid friendly cartoons.

Here are some thoughts on comics and characters from the '80's that are not The Dark Knight Returns - or Watchmen - that show comics have been trying to be "grown up" rather than kiddie stuff.

As always, leave your suggestions in the comments below.

List items

  • One of the things that came out of Marvel's "Secret Wars" which seemed - note, I used the word "seemed" - to be an answer to Crisis on Infinite Earths, was Spider-Man's black costume. Instead of just leaving it as a cool black costume, the suit was given a life of it's own and became Venom. This was the beginning of a trend, I believe. Venom, Carnage, Bane, Doomsday, Lobo - all cut from the same cloth. Unstoppable forces of nature. Thinking about it even further, they all seem to have their roots in characters like The Joker and the Green Goblin and The Jackal, who have been around for years

  • A post-Crisis, late '80's revival. The Quality Comics characters were brought into the DC fold. While Blue Beetle was given a light-hearted approach, almost like Spider-Man; Captain Atom a straight-forward super-hero approach like Firestorm, the Will Peyton Starman, and Superman; Dennis O'Neil gave Vic Sage an unhinged Gothic approach that we're seeing even in the animated version of the character. The Question seemed to take on his more Rorschach nature.

  • Okay, so the concept is supposed to be a parody. But in execution, TMNT is a response to Daredevil and Elektra. The Turtles have kind of become like Batman in that they have a dark and brooding nature, and yet there is a cartoon side that tries to be kid friendly. Like the films and the cartoons and the whole Archie comics series. I read the "City at War" storyline from issue 50 through 62.

  • Originally a light-hearted character in gold and black; Daredevil morphed into a crimson costume. This was a suggestion from the previous list. Frank Miller's Daredevil started around '79 - '80 and pre-dated Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. Batman and Daredevil were parodied not only by The Turtles, but flat-out lampooned by Ben Edlund's The Tick. One of the greatest asides in The Tick was a dark version of Yogi's Ark. Remember that cartoon? In just a few pages, Edlund re-imagined it. It was a gut-wrenching and tragic.

  • Marv Wolfman and George Perez. They took on teen issues in the '80's they way the X-Men took on social issues starting in the '60's and just kept on running with it. Cult religions with Brother Blood. Prejudice and discrimination issues. Family issues with Trigon, Deathstroke and Blackfire. They picked up the baton from O'Neil and Adams with Speedy and Nancy Reagan's Drug Awareness Program. Probably the reason we're not seeing Wally West and Donna Troy is because they were given a full beginning, middle and end. It's hard to fight a "never-ending battle" when you reach a perfect conclusion to your story. That's the difference between Dick Grayson and both Wally and Donna.