Rick Veitch and the Problem with Superheroes

Superheroes have not been cool since—well, ever. Pretty much since their inception, they’ve been a playground for garishly colorful adolescent male-power fantasies. Not to dismiss that brand of good times, but if the 1980s hadn’t happened, these would probably remain the only kind of superhero comics being produced.

Yes, the Reagan decade managed to get at least one thing right, culturally speaking. Superheroes were becoming morally vague, the old days of just white hats vs. black hats were becoming a memory. On the other hand, some creators were extrapolating some superheroes to their overtly moral side, becoming outright fascists in how they dispensed justice. Nothing was sacred, and that in itself was a blessing.

As time marches on, the drastic changes the superhero genre underwent during this period are only becoming more and more recognized as important. After all, the likelihood of the average person on the street being at least passingly familiar with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns or Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen is probably greater now than when those books were released almost 25 years ago.

It is certainly heartening to know that the above works continue to resonate in our popular culture and that the steps towards relevance taken by these creators have not gone ignored. But these are only two works of many that make up the tapestry of the modern mythology of the superhero. Now, to say that the praises of American writer and artist Rick Veitch have gone unsung would be incorrect, but this week’s Iconographies seeks to look more closely at Veitch’s The One and Bratpack, as well as his run on DC’s Swamp Thing, in order to discern just how major a contribution Rick Veitch has made to the relevance of the superhero genre.

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