Over ten years ago I reviewed Zot!, Scott McCloud’s superhero comic, which was then being reprinted. Frustratingly, Volume 4 never appeared. Finally it has, in a transmuted form: all the black & white issues have been reprinted in one volume by Harper.
Those missing stories, “the Earth stories”, are amazing. McCloud simply isn’t a good superhero writer; he obviously loves the genre, but he can’t take it seriously à la Kirby or transcend it à la Moore.
In the Earth stories he takes a sharp turn right out of the genre: Zot and his friends are trapped on Earth, away from Zot’s colorful homeworld and its supervillains, and the comic settles down into suburbia and ruminates on the horrors of high school… which turn out to be more involving than any of the superhero stories.
Each issue concentrates on one person, and the theme in every case is isolation and despair searching for community and a reason to continue. Even Zot– conceived as an avatar of optimism– has a hard time, finding out that his idea of superherodom doesn’t solve many problems on Earth.
I think what I like most about these issues is their quiet, honest moodiness. They deal with the problems of a teenager and they don’t really offer any solutions. If they did, they’d be a cheat: a teenager can’t stop cliquishness, bullying, homophobia, or parents divorcing. They offer mitigations instead: love, friendship, dreams, personal integrity. There’s no promise that these things will make you happy; only that they’ll make the journey easier.
Anyone who was unpopular in high school will probably relate to these stories. Which makes me wonder, what did the popular kids feel? What’s their comic? Maybe University2?