“I wish there was a bigger audience for material outside the superhero-dominated mainstream.”
Variations of the above quote can be found in nearly every fan press interview with a Big Two creator between the late 1970s to the mid 1990s. Though such statements were frequently defensive in nature, sprung to counter a confrontational line of questioning from Gary Groth or one of his similarly high-minded acolytes, they still expressed a degree of sincere longing to break out of the capes-and-spandex ghetto.
Yet while there were a handful of successful mass-market works which weren’t beholden to superheroics, most attempts to step outside the boundary were as dismally forgettable as the banalities they were supposed to counterbalance. Blame the statistical realities of Sturgeon’s Law or editorial interference or the sad truth that writing Spider-Man for a decade only prepares you to more Spider-Man stories, but the vast majority of Big Two sci-fi and fantasy comics from the 70s and 80s were derivative drek riding the coattails of some passing fad or famously familiar property.
DC had the slimier end of the stick in this regard, as Marvel had secured lucrative licenses for both Conan and Star Wars, leaving its Distinguished Competition to make do with off-brand analogues of dubious merit…
…like Dragonsword, an epic(ally generic) fantasy serial which ran as a back-up feature in Warlord back in 1982.
Once upon a time in Fantasylandia, there was a Scruffy Swordsman Herowho was raised to slay a Sinister Dragon. He managed to do so with the unenthusiastic assistance of his Comedic Companion, a backsassing simian, and thus became the hero of the land.
Unfortunately, Scruffy Swordsman Hero’s sword became possessed by the Sinister Dragon’s soul, which complicated the Evil Emperor’s plans to magically remake Fantasylandia in his own twisted image. Scruffy Swordsman Hero was then tasked by a Wizened Wizard and Sexy Sorceress to bring down the Evil Emperor, which he did by merging with the Sinister Dragon’s soul and becoming a draconian Reluctant Demiurge.
The battle with the Evil Emperor, however, was merely the outgrowth of a family dispute between the monarch, his Sexy Sorceress sister and Wizened Wizard pop. Though the Wizened Wizard hoped that the Reluctant Demiurge would assume the newly vacated mantle of sovereignty, not even the Sexy Sorceress’s offers of sorcery and sex could induce him to take the job. Instead, the Reluctant Demiurge places his Comedic Companion on the throne before stating that “man is the real monster or something, I guess” and flying off to find his destiny…
…never realizing that his ordained purpose — to fill a couple dozen pages and thus take some pressure off Warlord‘s creative team — had already been achieved.
Dragonsword may not have been particularly awful or incompetent, but neither did it aspire to deliver anything compelling or original. It was a textbook example of comics as product, something to fill the blank pages between ads for model airplanes and Atari 2600 ports of popular arcade games.
It didn’t have to be high art, but it should have at least met the minimal criteria for entertainment. What readers got was yet another generic entry in a self-fulfilling prophecy about the viability of non-superhero material in the marketplace.