I'm wary of drawing analogies between music and comics, but the recent discussion of the overall craptitude of Brad Meltzer's Justice League (and countless other terrible comics) has led me in this direction. So: what annoying musical trend/genre do contemporary superhero comics most resemble? Some suggestions:
-Nu Metal: I think there's a case to be made that all superheroes as a genre are more like heavy metal than any other musical genre. Both are frankly ridiculous, especially to outsiders. Even mature, not-stupid fans struggle to apologize for some of the dumber tropes in each genre. Ever tried to explain Spider-Man's origin to a regular person? Ever tried to explain Iron Maiden's mascot Eddie to a regular person? Both activities will make you feel dumber than you probably are. And yet even non-fans will recognize something primal and compelling in a Black Sabbath riff or a Jack Kirby splash page.
Given this, the Nu Metal comparison is obvious. Nu Metal lyrics definitely tend towards whiny self-focus (what some might call "emo" tendencies). This brings to mind Crying Superman and the pervading sense of gloom which clings to modern superhero comics. (Seriously, is this something that appeals exclusively to whatever weirdos comprise the majority of Marvel/DC fans these days? The general public voiced its opinion on Crying Superman through its apathy towards Superman Returns, so this isn't a larger cultural phenomenon.) Furthermore, Nu Metal privileges aggression over hooks; similarly, superhero comic writers increasingly rely on shocks and surprises rather than, well, all the things which one associates with writing as a craft. And then there's the misogyny thing.
This analogy falls apart, however, when we consider the role of influence. For all its faults, Nu Metal bands broadened the appeal of heavy metal by bringing in influences from other, disparate genres. Nu Metal is not wed to the past; it is (was?) an inherently forward-looking sub-genre. Contemporary superhero comics, conversely, are aggressively antiquarian (some asshole might even call them culturally necrophiliac). Fans of Nu Metal rewarded bands which took risks, pushing them further from the traditional definition of "heavy metal." Marvel/DC fans, obsessed with continuity, consider any break with the past as prima facie evidence of a comic sucking. Clearly, then, these similarities between Nu Metal and contemporary superhero comics are superficial; at their respective cores are contradictory views on the relationship between roots and fruits.
-Dixieland Jazz: Well, there's certainly a greater indebtedness to the past with Dixieland Revival, which was (to some extent) a counter-revolutionary assault on Free Jazz. This is a central pillar of many contemporary Marvel/DC comics: the past is better than the present. Thus, it is preferable to strip mine the old rather than to create new characters or concepts. There's no doubt that the comics industry is more Wilbur Cash than C. Vann Woodward--continuity always trumps change.
This mindset, however, is not prevalent for the entire superhero comics industry. Many prominent writers look to something other than the past for inspiration. Furthermore, at its most annoying, Dixieland Revival attempts to reconnect with a prelapsarian past, universally understood to be the 1920s (when "jazz culture"--speakeasies, flappers, unironically-worn straw boaters, etc.--was at its peak). In comics, there is no consensus on what represents the golden age, despite there being an era universally referred to as the Golden Age. I would venture to say that the 1960s are the most popular decade, but many comics writers and artist have shown great affection for other eras in their work (with the possible exception of the 90s, which are probably another five years away from being rehabilitated, Robert Kirkman notwithstanding). And so, the cacophony of comics nostalgia stands in stark contrast to the blandly mellifluous sounds of Dixieland Revival.
-Garage/Psychedelic Revival of the 80s: An entire generation of mildly talented Los Angelians heard the original Nuggets and proceeded to churn out scores of inoffensive albums intended to recapture the spirit of the original punk movement (yes, I'm one of those people who consider 60s garage to be basically punk rock). Unfortunately, these bands were insufferably self-conscious. The bands which they sought to emulate were legitimate folk/outsider artists; they (or their mothers) gave themselves names like Dr. Spec's Optical Illusion, the Barking Spyders, and the Botumless Pit. They were mostly guileless teenagers, honestly trying (and failing) to replicate the sound of the Rolling Stones or the Kinks. It's this irony which makes 60s garage so compelling: they're interesting because they failed. Would anybody care about the Mystics' cover of "Hang on Sloopy" if it had sounded more like the original? Hell, they couldn't even get the name right; they called their version "Snoopy."
The revivalists sought to mimic this ineptitude, and in doing so they sucked all the charm right out. The only one of these bands which deserves to stand alongside its influences is the Lyres.* The Lyres were heavily influenced by old garage songs; half their setlist was covers. But instead of slavishly recreating these songs, they sought to improve upon them; that they often succeeded is a testament to their awesomeness, I think. In that sense, the Lyres remind me of Grant Morrison. Morrison is heavily indebted to the past, the Silver Age in particular, but he seeks to take his writing beyond that of Lee, Fox, Broome, et. al. When he succeeds, as he did with Seven Soldiers #1, he succeeds spectacularly. As for other writers' attempts to recreate the past--well, we're all familiar with Meltzer's nostalgic run on Justice League by now.
But, alas, this one doesn't fit either. Garage revival is a fundamentally fun style of music. Today's superhero comics...well, you know.
*Who, before anyone corrects me, were from Boston. I believe they were initially on the same label as Mission of Burma, actually.
-Anyone else want to try this? I'm thinking there's probably a school of hip hop which might make for an interesting comparison. And I know nothing about contemporary rock music (I'm into Badfinger right now), so that's a whole vista of opportunity or something.