I have been reading comic books for about 4 years now, beginning with Marvel Masterworks X-Men Vol 1 on my trip to the Philippines. It was there that I was introduced to the world of comic books and the humor involved.
I began to realise that the humor in the 1960s was very different to that of present day. I grew up watching Get Smart, I Dream of Jeanie and Bewitched and so I was aware of the humor my parents were used to, and as a result I enjoyed that type of humor. However, comic book humor was rather different to the type I had seen on television. There wasn't any swearing, there were no crass remarks and there was certainly no sex.
Following my brief relationship with the recoloured X-Men, I bought Essential Avengers Vol. 2 which became one of my most prized possessions. The ensuing years resulted in my purchasing all 9 volumes and also collecting the X-Men Essential line also. I am collecting the (now) discontinued TPB Marvel Masterworks Avengers / X-Men. Not to mention, all original West Coast Avengers issues.
I think the largest draw card to the older comics was not always the great story telling that is missing from modern comics but rather the interaction between characters involved - Especially the humor present.
An Innocent Era
There didn't have to be a sexual joke or a series of characters ($#!@&) to get a laugh back in the old days. Cap didn't have to tell Shellhead to watch his "language" - he could also kiss his mother without a worry. But what I loved most about the original comics was the interactions between characters. Yes it was corny at times, and I can assure you I sometimes cringed and laughed while reading, but it was just so original that you couldn't help but laugh. Here are some of my favourites:
Glamor-Pants and Co.
How else do you describe Cap? Besides Winghead of course. Hawkeye would regularly call Cap these two names in the early days of his membership on the Avengers. Despite Cap not liking them in the beginning, he came to miss it once Hawkeye moved on.
Hawkeye's humor didn't stop there though. He often came up with nicknames for his counterparts, such as Shellhead (Iron Man), Goldilocks (Thor), Witchie (Scarlet Witch), Vizh (The Vision) and Highpockets (Giant Man).
Hawkeye wasn't all jokes, sometimes he and the team had some serious moments:
It wasn't solely the name calling that drew a lot of the laughs. It was also just the offhand remarks that were made mid sentence, but also the ludicrous suggestions:
Ha! Spiderman joining the Fantastic Four! We laugh because it is such an out-there comment! Can you imagine Spiderman fighting alongside The Thing and Johnny Storm? The Thing would be driven to insanity.
It Wasn't All Marvelous
Marvel weren't the only ones who had the jokers in their pages. (See what I did there?) Just some examples of the humor that DC Comics printed:
Above is not what happens when The Flash uses his powers over Christmas dinner; rather, it is the effect of a "bad-guy's" radiation gun. Can you imagine something like this being printed today? I don't think so.
I am not saying that comics these days aren't funny; rather that the origin of their humor is contained in something completely different. Having read the originals for many years now, I struggle to get into the modern stories. Maybe it's a personal problem. Maybe we have been desensitized to classical humor. How many times have you heard a young child stating that a Charlie Chaplin film is boring?
These originals are funny because they don't have to take themselves seriously. The books weren't written for an age range of 8 to 30. It was a book that children bought for a couple cents and read before breakfast and bed. Stan Lee himself, probably (now) one of the most recognized celebrities in the world to fans and non fans alike, stated in an interview back in 2005 that he was embarrassed to tell his friends that he worked in comics. Now this video was released recently in lieu of all the Star Wars hype, in which Mark Hamill wanting to be a bad guy. But for our purposes, skip to about 7:42 to hear Lee's take on Marvel Comics.
The book 'genre' itself tells us of its origin. Comic Book. When defining the word comic, it's definition is: causing or meant to cause laughter. Comics originated in Sunday papers and were short, 3 or 4 panel long humorous story pieces - a.k.a. comic strips.
The content that is humorous should stay where it is. It just wouldn't fit in today's books. How could it? Besides some of the name calling, I don't think you could have Bendis drawing Thor sitting on a curb, sulking, with kids.
To continue using Hawkeye as an exampleÃ¢ÂÂand yes, if you hadn't gathered, he is my favourite characterÃ¢ÂÂwriters still use him for humor. I found his 2012 series hilarious:
But can you imagine that in 1960s Avengers? Men had only just started go topless at the beach. This is laugh-worthy. It really is. But there is just a difference to the way you would laugh. This would bring a smirk to your face, whereas I have a good feeling you would feel more jolly after ready some classic stories.
How Does It Translate?
I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but often after seeing an installation, I will say, "Didn't take itself seriously enough." Now that is my Dark Knight Trilogy side saying that. For when I sit and meditate on the movie (yes that happens; sort of) I come to the realisation that although the source materials for the movies come more from the modern day influences, the style and 'layout' of the humor in the cinema iterations have their origin in the classic comics. The DC Universe hasn't transitioned the same way though. They play more to the realistic and darker side of comic books. I am not exactly a fan of that style of comic book, however they can still be enjoyable at times. But the difference is, Marvel seems to embrace these origins, where as DC hides it, not wanting Batman to crack a smile - leaving the Joker needing to force one upon them.
With comic books being around for about a century, it is always important to look back at where they came from and how they came to be what they are today. Now that would be a great origin story.