Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #144 by Drew Barth
Is it already the spooky season again? Is this also the second year in which this article has come out during the plague? Yes to both, but at least the former is a fun kind of scary instead of the existential terror of time’s continual march. And you know what else is more fun than creeping dread? Spooky comics. More specifically, spooky anthologies. Many of the best comics and creators began their lives in anthologies—some of those original ones were so spooky they had to create a code to tone them down since some people in the 50s were cowards. Anyway. Spooky anthologies are in comics’ DNA and having a new one in Are You Afraid of Darkseid? is a delight during this time of the year.
Centered around the Teen Titans telling campfire stories, Are You Afraid of Darkseid? is a collection of short pieces from the creepiest parts of the DC Universe. Encompassing everything from urban legends and folklore to cryptids and monsters to some more creeping horrors in the form of stairs and buildings, the Titans try to scare each other as much as they can to become closer as a team. And, honestly, the creepiness of these stories works incredibly well throughout. There is a piece on The Phantom Stranger and their role in the universe that feels like it was taken from some of the original 60s anthologies; another on Batman and the Mad Hatter that’s reminiscent of the “killer in the backseat” urban legend; and a story with Aquaman and Aqualad defending Ogopogo from the other creatures in Okanagen Lake.
While Are You Afraid of Darkseid? is a quality anthology, it does also ask why anthologies like this aren’t more common from many of the larger publishers. Although DC has been consistent in their seasonal anthologies and works like Batman: Black and White and Wonder Woman: Black and Gold, some of these series have been more recent developments and seasonal anthologies are just that—seasonal. We’re also seeing a proliferation of anthologies on Kickstarter that follow singular themes, but those are typically single issue works as well. Is there a space for longer-running anthologies in the same vein as Tales From the Crypt or House of Mystery in comics today? There are absolutely a wealth of creators out there looking to put their work into the world, but are seasonal anthologies and occasional Kickstarter work the only areas for them to publish their work to a broader audience?
I’ve talked about it multiple times in the past, but anthologies are the lifeblood of comics—these are where new talent can come and demonstrate the work they’re capable of. But how many publishers want to take on that risk anymore? Even these spookier anthologies are novelties for the season, but they point to a problem that there is a shrinking place for newer creators with larger publishers. And if comics can’t adapt to what readers want from these anthologies, there’s not much of a future for them.
Get excited. Get spooky.