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Lost Generation: James Tynion IV, Batman, and the future of comics

Comic Books

Lost Generation: James Tynion IV, Batman, and the future of comics

Part one of a new series exploring comics’ next growth phase amid the pop culture universe.

James Tynion IV is a writer always concerned about what’s next for comics. In February, the Batman scribe put out a blog on his Substack. In it he commented on the comics industry of the 2000s. He says that the comics of this generation lead “to a cacophonous field of work, an echo-chamber of nostalgia and anti-nostalgia.”

Superhero comics, especially, can get bogged down in the minutiae of continuity and references and building up years long story arcs. It’s something that I personally love about superhero comics, the ongoing stories of some of pop culture’s biggest characters. But, as Tynion points out, “that kind of thinking is what led to American comics losing an entire generation of readers to manga and video games.”

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Reading that sentence hit me. Hard. It’s a succinct summation of my life as a comics reader and describes my friends to a T. We’re in our mid-to-late 20s, raised on video games and anime. We can hardly remember a time before big-budget superhero films. But, in my friend group, I’m the “comics guy.” Sure, we’ll all go see the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe opening night, but our interests diverge from there. I’m the one reading the solicitations for upcoming, I’ve got a pull list set up at my local comics shop. Hell, I’m writing this article!

Tynion’s words have had me thinking about this “lost generation” for a few months now. Thinking about what it is about their hobbies that first grabbed their attention, and what it is about comics that may have pushed them away. In this series I’ll be speaking with friends and colleagues here at AIPT to get to the heart of the issue, and hopefully find out what it would take to get that lost generation back.

In the same blog, Tynion details his own method of getting the lost generation back into comics. Through the introduction of a new character, Miracle Molly. “She’s on the cover of Batman #108 […] and the issue that I think will make you all fall as madly in love with her,” Tynion writes. Upon first glance, Molly is a young woman in modern neon-colored streetwear and body augmentations right out of Cyberpunk 2077. She’s someone who could exist today, save for the cybernetic eye, of course.

James Tynion IV

Courtesy of DC.

Molly isn’t the only new character Tynion has brought to Gotham. Last year, he introduced readers to Punchline, the Joker’s new partner, Ghost-Maker, a rival for Batman, and Clownhunter, a teenager radicalized by the events of the Joker War. Tynion says of comics creators, “We need to be in the business of creating exciting superheroes and villains that fans want to draw in their notebooks, and dress up as, and daydream about… Characters like that flesh out a universe and keep them feeling young, and exciting.”

“Young, and exciting.” Some 80 years after Detective Comics #27, Batman is certainly still exciting to readers, but young he is not. It’s a kind of meta-joke that fans would make to one another, “Bruce Wayne would be 120 years old!” or, “Batman has been fighting crime for 80 years, and Gotham is still the same as ever.”

It’s those meta-jokes that are at the center of Tynion’s current Batman run. He’s not introducing new characters for the sake of having a new character. They’re not just young and exciting for an aesthetic purpose — they’re young and exciting in their ideology.

These are characters born out of a Gotham where Batman, Joker, and others have a profound effect on the way they view and oftentimes reject the world around them. Gotham is changing and reacting to Batman’s presence, as opposed to Batman reacting to some villain’s new scheme. I think it’s a worldview that many young people, myself included, really identify with. Batman, and the systems surrounding him don’t work. Gotham is still the same as ever. Simply, it’s an opposition to the status quo and the people who say things have “always been that way.”

Batman

Courtesy of DC.

Later in the blog, Tynion writes, “there is no such thing as ‘always.’” This statement doesn’t come from the section about introducing a cool new character in Batman, but in Tynion’s own musings on the comics industry and how creators can embrace or reject what came before. He dives deep into this theory of “generations” in various forms of media. It’s a fascinating read, and I highly encourage taking that dive for yourself.

I’ll allow Tynion’s own words to sum up the concept.

“Let’s talk George Lucas and Star Wars for a second. The First Generation of Star Wars are its predecessors – the old space adventure serials that Lucas grew up with. Think Buck Rogers. The original trilogy, especially the first Star Wars film and everything it established is the Second Generation – An elevated version of the pulp source material for a Mass Market Audience. The Expanded Universe, the Special Editions and the Prequel Trilogy were the Third Generation of Star Wars content – made for the more niche audience that already loved the Second Generation material. The Disney era, with the Sequel Trilogy and now The Mandalorian are the Fourth Generation of Star Wars content… And you can already hear the cacophony growing in the SW fandom that will grow up to create the Fifth Generation of SW content in another decade or so.”

It’s clear that Tynion’s approach to writing Batman draws heavily from his Generations Theory. He’s taking the history of Batman and Gotham and using it to move the world forward with the aforementioned new characters. They are born out of that shared history we’ve all known and loved for so long. It’s a brilliant way to honor what came before while simultaneously adding on a new piece for future generations to fall in love with.

“Future generations” is the key phrase here. Now more than ever, people have a seemingly infinite amount of options to pick from when deciding how to spend their time. Browsing Netflix alone feels like a bottomless well of content to get lost in. And with free-to-play games like Fortnite, you could find yourself playing one game endlessly, as long as the developers keep the updates coming.

With all of these enticing alternatives, It feels less and less likely that people will use their time, and money, to get into comics. Introducing new characters into the Gotham legacy is certainly a step forward in getting new readers. But what other lessons can be learned from games, from streaming, from other hobbies and adopted by comics creators and fans alike?

We’ll be taking a look at all of that and more in part two of this series.

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