To prove that everything old is new again, DC Comics recently announced that they were bringing back letters pages to their books. Letters pages were removed several years ago in lieu of a more standard "DC Nation" page, which ended up being exactly what it was destined to become - a full-page in-house ad for other crap the company wanted you to buy. It followed a pretty predictable formula: at first Dan DiDio wrote the DC Nation page and it was fairly informative; after a while DiDio still wrote it but would mention things like "well, I'm running really late with this, so...who likes Plastic Man?!"; later, Didio passed the torch onto other editors and assistants; even later you'd see full pages of art with "HAPPY THANKSGIVING!" (and similar messages) plastered on them; finally, it settled down to its current form, the Jay Sherman-esque "buy my book!" ads.
The prevailing sentiment from DC a few years ago was that message boards effectively took the place of letters pages, and nostalgia aside they probably did, though comics do run on quite a bit of nostalgia, to be fair. I imagine that the DC Nation page might stick around even though letters pages are returning, as most DC books are cutting the page count of their books from 22 to 20 in an effort to save costs and keep cover prices at (or roll them back to) $2.99.
In any case, letters pages seem intrinsically tied to comics in many ways, as they have a long publication history together. For example, last week I mentioned that I had bought a copy of Justice League of America #8 from Greensburg's Pop Culture Connection. Within its pages is a 50-year-old letter column that was probably as stupid-fun as any could be today.
The first letter in this column is from none other than Roy Thomas, who later went on to become a mainstay creator himself, writing titles like Fantastic Four and Conan (he just took over as the main writer for Dark Horse's Conan: Road of Kings series, as it turns out, after lengthy runs on several of Marvel's series). This isn't a great surprise, as Thomas is known to have letters published in quite a few series before he began working for comics in a professional capacity, but it still is funny. He mentions what had to be the first issue of his well-known and long-lived fanzine, Alter Ego.
Writers of most of the other letters do what fans do best - they complain. Oh, do they complain! Most of them complain about the overuse of certain characters like Superman and Batman. It's funny to read how much disdain some fans had for different characters, especially when fans today spend so much time making the same kinds of arguments.
One fan (Ronald Lehr of Cleveland) wrote to yell about the misuse of Superman, saying "I'd rather see him dropped off the JLA than be abused as he is. He is the most neglected member. Never (just about) is he in the action." The best part about Ron's letter is that he calls DC on using Kryptonite on every possible occasion: "The mineral must be on sale at a local candy-store", he muses, "the way you guys scatter it into the hands of every crook that comes along." The sarcasm! The vitriol! It's nice to know that some things withstand the test of time.
There are other interesting entries; one person writes his letter directly to the Flash (and asks the editors to deliver it to him); one counts - panel by panel - the appearances of each Justice League member (except for Snapper Carr and Green Arrow, for some reason) in each of the first six issues of the book!
My favorite letter of all, though, comes from Mrs. John L. Wright from Terre Haute, Indiana, who wrote to prove that smart people read comics, too. After listing a string of her and her husband's accomplishments (including IQ numbers), she praises the "clean harmlessness of comic books."
The reply from the editor really knocked me over. I can't tell if it's supposed to be tongue-in-cheek. I dearly hope it is, because after noting that this woman's husband had an IQ four points higher than hers, the editor replies: "We're curious about what effect your husband's higher I.Q. has on your married life. Does it mean that you allow him to make all the decisions in your household?"
My goodness. As I said, these letters are 50 years old, so we're talking about a time when gender roles were a bit different than they are now. Even so, what a flippant response! Here's a woman praising the value of your comics (when everyone else is writing in to say how much they hate Batman), and your big response is "does your husband tell you what to do all the time?" You're a bunch of jerks sometimes, DC.