Look at this cover from Marvel’s Generic Comic Book one-shot from 1984. There’s something disquieting about its brutal honesty, isn’t there? It reads as follows:
GENERIC COMIC BOOK
TYPE: SUPER-HERO ACTION-ADVENTURE
THIS COMIC CONTAINS:
One neurotic Super-Hero type with a variety of personal problems; one bad-guy bent on world domination through arcane means; assorted villainous hench-people; the hero’s nefarious employer, pathetic family, and well-endowed girlfriend; a plot containing a conflict, a subplot, a resolution, a plot twist, and as many fights as it takes to fill up the rest of the pages.
And in the bottom corner: MARVEL NO FRILLS.
As the old headline on The Onion says: I’ve never been so accurately insulted in all my life.
Generic Comic Book is a precursor to the bizarre logic that drives films like Disaster Movie and Meet The Spartans. These movies have evolved beyond the need for anything but the most cursory jokes. Instead, they offer up an endless procession of moments of recognition – opportunities to say hey, that’s that scene from that other movie!
This comic, however, does away with jokes all together. I’m not kidding. It’s the story of an everyday man who develops superpowers, decides to fight crime, and finds that his life just becomes more complicated. Maybe the origin story is a little less dramatic than most – he’s given powers by a lifetime of exposure to the radiation of crappy glow-in-the-dark collectables – but this would probably fit right in to Marvel’s current brand of ‘realistic’ superhero comics. There’s a swishy gay stereotype in there, too, but this kind of comic relief was depressingly commonplace in the 80s.
The moment I saw this cover (when Comic Book Legends Revealed ran a story revealing the issue’s anonymous writer) it reminded me of the issue of Grant Morrison’s Animal Man where poor Buddy looks out of the page and sees you, the reader, watching him, and you want to throw down the issue in horror.
I found myself a cheap copy online, and it’s now sitting uncomfortably with my other monthly comics: the good and the bad, the memorable and the hopelessly generic. It’s mocking the way that their brightly-coloured covers often disguise bare bones underneath.
Maybe the unsettling joke is that Generic Comic Book provides exactly what its title promises.