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Why did superheroes become “dark” in the 1980s?

    In the 1980s, American culture entered a time of confusion, despite the efforts of the government. Sexual, scientific, and political revolutions made the 1980s a social scramble, and became more frank about the issues from the preceding decades. Therefore, the 1980s called for a darker approach to the superhero industry. Decades beforehand, the comics of the 1960s and 70s introduced characters with humanly relatable issues, and underground comics skipped the metaphorical value of comics and used real people with satirical problems, emphasizing already ridiculous situations. The comics of the 1980s, however, called for a more psychological approach, with the emergence of authors/artists like Frank Miller, Alex Ross, and John Byrne.

    John Byrne used the '80s as a way to get "back to basics". He had a simple formula: recalling what made a series successful, and reworking these characteristics into a modern setting. Using the method, Byrne revived Marvel's Fantastic Four, and in 1986 was called by DC to revitalize Superman. Changes like Byrne's reflected the Reagan campaign, one of conservationism but enhanced with a tougher exterior.

    Another famous author-artist that transformed already established characters is Frank Miller. Working for Marvel Comics since the 1970s, he was called to renew Marvel's Daredevil, the blind crime-fighter. Miller's insight took the already brooding Matt Murdock further into a more extensive torture, battling between his inner superhero and outer alias. Murdock's girlfriend also became a drug addict, giving room to introduce Elektra, an old college girlfriend. This psychological battle brought a new dimension to comic writing, down to the artwork. Despite the questionable content, the Comic Book Code approved it, showing how liberalized other media had become.

Batman was another subject to Miller's comic revolution. In the form of a short series, Miller wrote Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, re-casting Bruce Wayne approximately twenty years into the future, into a dysfunctional, absurdly violent Gotham. The series, later termed as a "graphic novel" upon grouping them, gave Bruce a deep psychological premise on why Batman does not kill, and how his age has affected him. Gender roles are also put into play as both Commissioner Gordon and Robin are replaced with female characters. The series met huge success, and sparked a new interest in the Batman series, which would follow with Tim Burton's movie at the end of the 80's.

Independent comics would also make an impact in the 80s as well, only with a different edge. Comics like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a huge reflection on every fad in the 1980s, from ninjas to mutants to commercialism. What started as a parody became one of the most successful comic book franchises in history. British collaborations would emerge here as well. Collaborating with English artist Dave Gibbons, writer Alan Moore produced The Watchmen. The British-based superheroes were immediately different, none but one actually possessing superpowers. His characters emphasized the concept of the anti-hero.

In the 1980s, the comic book industry put a new spin on old and new characters alike. The anti-hero became a renewed concept, following characters like X-Men's Wolverine. The Comics Book Code became more liberal, and the comics immediately followed suit, with new artwork and deeper psychological storytelling. Superheroes became dark because society had its suspicions of a dark future, and "truth, justice, and the American way" became a skewed phrase.

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