One of the problems, as M. Leary noted, is that a lot of superhero's aren't great literature. That said, I think the best of the best characters, mostly Superman and Batman, are iconic in a King Arthur or Sherlock Holmes way.
I'd say there are a few comics here and there that have made me take notice. For example, I had a real blast with BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN, which might not be entirely substantial but is a downright terrific bit of pulpy whodunit with top-notch visuals and an absence of the irritating chest-beating self-importance that characterizes many of the "serious" Batman stories. And from the same writer/artist team, SUPERMAN: FOR ALL SEASONS, which, for my money, is the best thing to ever feature Superman as a character. They're fun, entertaining reads, but they also touched a real nerve here and there.
Also, interesting to check out Alan Moore's treatment of the TWILIGHT OF THE SUPERHEROES from 1986 which is floating around the interwebs, in which he talks about how the open-endedness of the superhero comic prevents the characters from achieving true legendary status, and how his proposed - never completed - comic and Frank Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, attempt to amend this.
Interesting that you note this, since Christopher Nolan recently said that BATMAN 3 affords him the opportunity to conclude his Batman story in a way you can't do with the comics. That struck me as a very surprising comment (and even more surprising that nobody's been buzzing about its significance), because the implication is that his Batman film will end
(And on a side note: there is no comic more overrated than Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.)
That's why Ryan H. is right when he says that BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (and MASK OF THE PHANTASM film) are among the best works ever made about Batman. They got the right handle on the character (and MOTP is perhaps MORE adult than THE DARK KNIGHT if we consider maturity confronting the difficulties of relationship and balancing our mission against our desires, rather than just undergraduate existentialism). I might go so far to say that Paul Dini understands Batman better than anyone else (comic book writers included).
Yes. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES was a near-perfect blend of style, pulp adventure, and creativity. It's a blast to watch. BATMAN: THE MASK OF THE PHANTASM, in many ways, is the series at its most adult (they were allowed to dabble in violence and allow that violence to have actual consequences; it's actually a fairly dark little movie). Heck, you'll probably do better watching BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES than you will actually reading the source material.
Edited by Ryan H., 11 May 2010 - 06:45 AM.