Last month in Jeremy Whitley and Gurihiru’s The Unstoppable Wasp, the original Wasp, Janet Van Dyne took out her step-daughter, Nadia, who is the current Wasp and their mutual friend out for a cathartic night watching wrestling, and Viv Vision – in the same issue – held her hand when she was low. Let’s take a moment and just acknowledge how rare acts of emotional support such as these truly are, but how much more helping they are than the generalized violence superhero comics do indulge in.
I love huggy Batman. I am a hugging Batman enthusiast. Nobody has given us a Batman who hugs with as much consistency as Frank Miller, and I think it is, secretly, why his take works. Other stuff catches our attention, but as a young naive fighter, as a cocky horny rich guy, a tired adult, a cynical old man, a violent reinvigorated old man, Miller’s Batman hugs. Hugs kids. Hugs friends. Lovers. Family.
At the same time that Miller was introducing the world to his version of the Bat, Dave Gibbons, John Higgins, and Alan Moore were doing Watchmen, which also highlighted the superheroic functionality of hugs, of sitting with someone, handing out blankets or cups of coffee in the wake of a disaster.
The hug and cup of coffee ethos and efforts in New Universe books, Squadron Supreme, and other mid-80s comics tested these waters, as well as The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, and while this was now over thirty years ago, to be honest, superhero comics have not significantly matured since. I think we do a lot of things better than they are done in Watchmen, and some better than they are in DKR or Squadron, but while that moment in time may have made it seem like superheroes acknowledging the power in a hug, in a comforting gesture was to be added to the cache of crime and suffering combatting tools, it did not happen.
The late 80s and early 90s were increasingly hug-less, colder times. Larry Hama might write a superhero with compassion, but by the mid-90s, Spider-Man was calling himself, “the spider,” in soliloquy, sulking in the rain determined to be homeless in his costume than deal with the fact his wife matters. Iron Man was a murderer. The first Spider-Man movie ends with the hero’s determination that he cannot have a romance because he cannot be a hero and be close to someone. I love this era’s Flash, but I don’t even recall him hugging his wife very often.
The Ultimates, the modernization of the Avengers that made a massive splash on release, was about as hug-less as you can go.
A few years back, David Finch’s very uneven, perhaps not fantastically thought out run on Batman ran the gamut from body horror to flirty romance, sometimes panels apart, but his Batman hugged. His Batman held kids when they were scared, sat with them when they were traumatized. That buoys me through whatever else might be choppy in the comics. Hell yeah, huggy Batman!
Warren Ellis, when doing superheroes, can almost inevitably be trusted to break out the hugs. His groundbreaking The Authority and its predecessor, Stormwatch used the hug as strong as the punch or the heat vision as a tool for fixing badness. These are still fight books. These were kick splode comics. But, sometimes the kicking does not solve every problem. Sometimes a hug helps a character and saves us.
The secret unifying factor, I believe, is that Ellis, Miller, Squadron Supreme’s Mark Gruenwald and Paul Ryan, Nightwing writer, Devin Grayson, these are people who think their way through the comics they make. Ellis may not be a comics fanatic, while Miller definitely is, but they both think out the angles and effects of the comics they make, to a degree that most comics talent do not. And, more, they think about the rereads. Emotional support becomes stronger, in these comics, on the rereads. Comics designed to be collected, either by readers issue by issue, or in a trade paperback or omnibus edition, need a more rounded experience and the hints of real resolution and potential followthrough. A more thorough level of superheroing than a high crisis and a few pages of bam! pow!
And, the simple gestures can radiate such strength because of their general rarity. If every superhero comic had a hug per issue, a held hand, a quiet sitting side by side or tucking into bed, we would need the opposite. Seinfeld’s “no hugs” resonated for the same reason that huggy Batman does. And, as far as I can tell as a fair weather sitcom watcher, it had about as much of a wave of influence, in that respect. If you turn on four hours of broadcast new sitcoms on some station, tonight, they are hugging it out, they are soft music and dead recorded voices going aawww! to warm your cockles.
The Unstoppable Wasp is out there being a forefront book, right now, and without looking, I don’t think we see it.