It is common wisdom that Marvel Comics is nosediving in sales while DC is enjoying a current spike in sales. The most repeated and nauseating explanation is that Marvel is mired in off putting progressive politics and obsessed with removing and replacing classic heroes in the name of diversity (while a lot of heroes have been replaced recently, these changes are not likely to stick, they never do). Meanwhile, DC has learned its lesson and is retrenching in “classic” stories, which explains its recent spike in sales. I do not agree with this. There are numerous reasons why Marvel is declining. And numerous reasons why one should not expect DC to enjoy success for long.
I personally am displeased with the direction Marvel and DC have taken over the course of the past few years. Many of my reasons align very closely to those discussed by Comic Book Girl 19 (do check out her video “Controversy: I’m a part of the Marvel Comics Sales Slump.” Personally, I think her arguments are very cogent and well argued). (Another good article expounding a very good theory as to the problems plaguing Marvel comes from a Vox article titled “The Outrage Over Marvel’s Alleged Diversity Blaming, Explained” by Alex Abed-Santos) But I also have issues with Marvel and DC that are my own.
Personally, I think Marvel and DC’s problems lie with continuing fallout stemming from the comic book bubble bust twenty years ago. Neither Marvel, nor DC, have ever recovered. Ever since the market collapse, comics books have become a niche market struggling to survive. A dark age of comics, indeed.
Like CBG 19, I love the years and decades long narratives that comics provide. I agree with Faust of It’s Super Effective that comics are often best when there is a significant amount of soap opera mixed into a superhero science fantasy. CBG 19 is right when she points out that years worth of reading builds relationships with these characters. I like this long term relationship. And I miss it now that it is gone.
Again, like CBG 19 and numerous other fans, I bemoan the fact that so much narrative is devoted to annual or more frequent events that take valuable story telling time, especially when books get cancelled or relaunched every two years or less. There is no stability.
The constant reboots and relaunches are, honestly, money grabs rooted in neither Marvel or DC (or comic book retailers) learning their lesson from the burst comic book bubble of the 1990s. Yes, as CBG 19 points out, new number ones sale better than post number one issues. But does it really matter when issues two and three and beyond decline spectacularly? Even the best selling books?
Seriously, what is so wrong with just jumping in? I did with no problems. CBG 19 did. Thousands of comic book fans have.
And don’t get me started on the price. If I wanted to buy Marvel comics, I couldn’t afford many titles. I pity comic book journalists who have to buy every title. That has to be expensive.
Marvel has been singled out for a lot of abuse lately. But DC isn’t a ray of light. Many of the problems plaguing Marvel plague DC. Indeed, DC enjoyed Marvel’s unenviable position a few years ago.
DC Rebirth plays at being a return to “classic” stories. But I see it as just another reboot. Another cash grab. Some fans are buying in. And some aren’t.
I, honestly, don’t see a return to “classic” stories, whatever the hell that means.
But despite all the doom and gloom lately, there are rays of light. There are genuinely good books that have attracted a lot of fans, new and old.
In the end, the comic book industry have been dangling on the precipice for decades and they are still around. There is no reason to believe that either Marvel or DC will fall now even with all of their problems.
I’ve written before about my desire to write a superhero story. I’ve expressed a desire to write comics, and I’ve explored the possibility of writing a superhero epic in novel form. But I’ve never quite overcome the hurdle that prevents me from actively seeing this agonizing dream of mine to fruition.
I have the hero pretty clear in my mind. I have a rough idea of where I want the story to go. But still, something is holding me back. What is it?
It is the fear that there really isn’t anything new one can say about superheroes. Especially the type of superhero who populates the shared universes of Marvel and DC. Those two companies have been around for decades, each seeing thousands of superhero stories published. With that knowledge in mind, what can I say that hasn’t already been said?
The kind of superheroes I want to write about are built on pastiche. Comics are infamous for playing fast and loose with copyright. And both companies do seem very lax when it comes to enforcement.
But, to be honest, just because I could write an expy of Sider-Man doesn’t mean that I will (or even should).
Are there possible solutions? I think so.
On one level, the superhero story I want to write is a coming of age story. It is about a youth with superpowers who realizes that he can make a difference. But how is that idea any different than any number of superhero origins?
The one thing that annoys me the most about comic books (and opens the door to the accusation that comic book superheroes are reactionary) is the fact that the status quo for the muggles is maintained. Why is the Earth depicted in the Marvel Universe and the DC Universe the same as our Earth? Why hasn’t the super science generated by Mr. Fantastic, von Doom, Beast, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Mr. Terrific, etc. percolated to general, everyday usage?
And, while I’m on this, shouldn’t Earth of both universes be a mix of utopia and apocalyptic wasteland? Of a near breakdown of the social order?
The possibilities offered in taking this approach, of exploring how the existence of superheroes and all that go with them will affect the world is certainly an interesting possibility. And a possibility I will seriously consider. Maybe I have finally jumped the hurdle?
What about writing for the Big Two? Who hasn’t dreamed of writing for Marvel and DC?
I would love to write Teen Titans, a Tim Drake book, Young Avengers, etc. But I am equally aware that writing those comics might not be all fun and games.
I will conclude “The Superhero Blues” with a further discussion of what a superhero epic might look like. But first, I’ll have a few mainstream comic book pitches.
Tomorrow, I take on the Teen Titans.
During my Young Avengers rant yesterday, an idea struck me. I don’t write comics. I really don’t know if I’d want to work for Marvel or DC if I ever got the chance (writing my favorite characters vs. editorial headaches). But I do want to write the type of kitchen sink fantasy that typifies superhero comics (or in this case superhero fiction or fantasy). So how does one write superhero fantasy (I prefer this term to superhero fiction) without having an expy parade?
The problem is that the most successful superheroes are all archetypes that have captured the popular imagination. When other writers, wishing to dip from the same creative well, create their own superheroes, it becomes easy to figure out that this new superhero is based on or inspired by that superhero from Marvel or DC. The first superhero is almost always an expy of Batman or Superman. Any patriotic or military related hero will be a “son” of Captain America. So on and so forth. There are so many iconic superheroes that one could legitimately ask if there is no way to escape having one’s own heroes be easily identified expies of more iconic heroes.
It does seem that way. If one pays any attention to superheroes non Marvel or DC, it can, perhaps, become a fun game of guess who which hero or villain is inspired by this Marvel or that DC hero or villain. Apollo and Midnighter? Superman and Batman. (I really need to rant about the fuck up job done to Stormwatch over the course of the New 52). The villain cast of The Boys? The Justice League, the X-Men, all of them.
The well is so explored and exploited it raises the question if anything new can be said. Can a creative new direction be taken? Where are all of the undiscovered stories never imagined?
Honestly, I think this makes for an interesting challenge.
But this raises the question, is it inherently problematic to use expies? It would be if DC stepped in for every Superman influenced character or Marvel for every Spider-Man influenced character. But they don’t. And it is not like writers of superheroes are the only ones using expies.
Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy uses two expies. Brakebills is Hogwarts reimagined to American educational contexts. And Filory is based on Narnia. Does borrowing from Rowling and Lewis strip away what originally comes from Grossman’s own creativity? No. Grossman’s work is his own, even if the influences are rather obvious.
And let us not discuss all of the Middle Earth expies running around. . .
So, what is so attractive about writing superheroes? They are modern myths. Their history melds with that of the twentieth and twenty first centuries. And that is key, I think. The thrill to get to play with the twentieth century is undeniable.
I’m excited. I can’t wait to get to the planning. But I must return to my original question. How do I avoid a parade of expies? Simple, by making my world of superheroes and supervillains my own. Whether it be a full history or more metafictional, I must make it my own.
And here I was all for abandoning comics. Fool! As if!
Andrew Garfield, star of the recent Amazing Spider-Man reboot, caused a furor a few weeks ago with his comments regarding the possibility of portraying a gay Peter Parker. The furor is interesting and, honestly, not unique when it comes to comic books. Arguments about LGBT themes and characters in comics are not rare. Nor are arguments about race, gender, and culture.
Comics are in a very precarious position right now. As a business, it needs new readers and fans in order to expand. But at the same time, publishers don’t want to alienate long time fans. (I think this only refers to Marvel, DC, and those smaller publishers that publish corporate owned properties.) A lot of new fans (and old fans) want an increase in the level of diversity in the various heroes and villains that Marvel and DC put out. More women, more people of color, more LGBT, etc. But there is also a strong contingent that argues against diversity, though they may couch those arguments to mask their true motivations. And what of the politics of those fans who don’t frequent comics websites? While the industry is moving in the right direction, there is a strong conservatism within the industry.
Would I like to see Peter Parker explore his sexuality? Hell yes, I think it would be interesting (and hot) for Spider-Man to be written as bisexual (rather than gay, which raises a whole ‘nother can o’ worms). Peter Parker is meant to represent the underdog, the poor kid who struggles to make good. So writing him as bisexual, or Latino, or African American, or all three would be very interesting. But how can it be done?
And that, I think is the question I want fans, particularly those in the pro diversity camp (myself included), to think about. In what media do you want this to happen in? Marvel 616? Ultimate Marvel (where this happened with Miguel Martinez)? Cartoons? Cinematic?
Let’s say I succeed Dan Slott as the next writer of Spider-Man (what ever title that may be). And, for argument’s sake, Joe Quesada and my immediate editor approve a story line that explores Spidey’s sexuality. What then? Would the cinematic Spidey be bisexual, too? Is that, perhaps, the end goal? A LGBT cinematic action hero?
Personally, when it comes to increasing diversity in comics, I’m strongly in favor of introducing new characters. Rather than writing or rewriting a character, create new characters.
But there is a problem. A (potentially) fatal problem.
It takes years for some characters to come to the heights of popularity that Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, etc. have. I want to see Northstar get elevated. And Wiccan and Hulkling. And Karolina Dean. I could go on. But those characters will take years (if ever) for them to attain those storied heights.
But it is not impossible. A great miniseries or ongoing staring Northstar might be the first push (or maybe just focusing more on him in whatever team book he appears in). Though, is that the endgame?
Because Batwoman has achieved that. She has her own ongoing series, often praised as the second best of the Batman family after Snyder’s Batman). But she has, yet, to attain the levels of popularity that Wonder Woman has.
Perhaps the way to go is not to wish Wonder Woman or Spider-Man as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, but rather to promote Batwoman and Northstar into similar positions.
Maybe they won’t get a movie on their own. But maybe with enough attention, they could have supporting roles in their respective franchises? (I’d love to see the Bat family expand in the movies, but the X-Men franchise is a mess- really needs a reboot).
The more I think about this, the more I wonder if the issue may not be comics after all but the adaptations spawned by those comics. Is this really about the comics or the movies?
Because, the more I think about it, a bisexual Spider-Man means that Northstar (or Wiccan and Hulkling) aren’t getting that attention. And they are the ones who need it.
Before I begin, I must admit the possibility that I am a DC fanboy. Therefore, it is possible that my criticism of Marvel Comics, and Young Avengers from Marvel Now! in particular, is rooted in my fanboy state. But I don’t think so. I am perfectly willing to criticize DC’s Teen Titans, too (especially given that while I love the concept, I hate the writing).
But this post is aimed at Young Avengers as written by Kieron Gillen. When I first read the initial issue in January, I reviewed it very positively. Perhaps, in hindsight, I was too generous. I have since then read the second issue (and am, so far, passing on the third).
The reason for my growing dissatisfaction with the series is partially rooted in genre but also, as will become clear, in narrative. I still love the art, it is the writing that is bugging me.
Let’s first begin by looking at the comparison of the British teen series Skins with Young Avengers. Why is this comparison even made? I think the clear answer lies in that terrific opening scene from issue one. Where Kate Bishop wakes up in bed with Noh-Varr. But, honestly, that is the only scene that is reminiscent of Skins (okay, maybe Loki in the dinner could count in a pinch). But that is it.
The majority of the first issue, and the whole of the second, is rather traditional superhero fare. With a heavy dose of idiot plot (as carried by pretty much every character).
What has really troubled me, on a second reading of the first issue, is the interaction between Billy and Teddy. Given the nature of the genre (superhero comics), Billy is at fault because he does not want to be a superhero any more. Guess what? Two of his friends died the last time he played hero (and though Doom and Iron Lad committed the murders of Stature and Vision, Billy’s idiocy started it all). Given the extent of Billy’s powers, would it not actually be better if he never cosplayed hero again?
The more I think about it, the less sympathetic I am to Teddy, to be honest. Yes, in the grand scheme of things Teddy has lot everything save his boyfriend. But how does that translate to cosplaying hero on the down low? And really, “I fell in love with a superhero,”? What the fuck! So, did Teddy fall in love with Billy Kaplan or with Asgardian/Wiccan? The person or the character? Personally, the narrative might have been more interesting if Billy broke up with Teddy for that comment.
Of course, Billy being Billy, he then proceeds to perform an idiotic action. That is compounded by Loki and America Chavez performing idiotic actions. Yeah, they’re teenagers, but seriously. Couldn’t Loki have just told Ms. America that he was trying to prevent Wiccan from bringing a transdimensional parasite to their reality? And what the hell with the Not-Ms. Altman acting like Stepford Mom? Wouldn’t the plot be better served with her being less immediately antagonistic? I know I haven’t read issue three (with four and five still to drop). But again, I am bitterly let down by this initial arc.
Is it possible that I want a stronger sense of rebellion or independence in my young superhero team comics? As I said in the introduction, I love the concept of the Teen Titans in the New 52, but I don’t like the writing. And from what I’ve heard about the upcoming The Movement from Gail Simone, I suspect that I do prefer a more rebellious/ independent take. (I am, actually, looking forward to The Movement).
Has part of my problem with Young Avengers always been my annoyance at the characters cosplaying as heroes rather than struggling to do the right thing, whatever that is, with powers they don’t quite understand? Is it, perhaps, the fact that, despite the promise of these kids standing alone, they are very much still looking up to/ dependent on their role models? Perhaps.
Regardless of whether or not my issue with Young Avengers is rooted in any sense of fanboydom for the opposition, disappointment with the narrative, or general dislike for the kind of superheroics espoused, I am leaning towards dropping this series (if I haven’t already). I just don’t feel where this series is going. Perhaps if there is more Skins and less Heinberg, the series would be more enjoyable.
About a week ago, The Taylor Network (one of the blogs I follow here on WordPress) had a post looking at the comparative sells of graphic novels/ collected editions from various publishers. When I read the post, I was struck by the fact that the percentages were reversed from other comics sells charts. Why do DC and Marvel dominate comics sells while Image dominates the graphic novel/ collected edition market?
First, I don’t know if all comics sells includes graphic novels/ collected editions or just sales of single issues. If it is all together, I wonder how the numbers would then be changed if graphic novels/ collected editions are taken out. And, let us remember the volume of individual series that Marvel and DC put out. So with that bit of uncertainty out of the way, let’s get on with exploring the reasons for the reversal.
The obvious answer to the question is that the vast majority of comics fans consume the Big Two’s various comics properties. And they tend to buy single issues. Remember, collected individual issues in trade is a relatively new phenomenon. Most comics readers, rather new or old, still prefer picking up their favorite series as individual issues, if they are able.
So, what about Image?
Well, I suspect it is far easier to pick up collected editions of various series than trying to track them down at various comics shops.Example: for a while, I was interested in picking up Danger Club. Now, there are three comics shops in Waco. One is a specialty order shop (you have to request that they carry a series). The local Hastings carried the series, but not in very large numbers. And, the local dedicated comics shop hadn’t even heard of the series! So, picking up that particular series would have been a pain. Hell, is it just a miniseries?
But, the collected editions would not be so difficult. Dedicated comics shops, book stores of all kinds, and online retailers all would carry them.
And of course, there is a small matter of The Walking Dead which likely pumps up the numbers for Image.
What about myself, how do I come down on the single issue/ collected edition divide?
Well, I sort of prefer single issues. But I recognize that it might not be feasible to pick up every issue of every title one wants. That has certainly happened to me on numerous occasions. Hell, I’m lucky that I’ve managed to score every issue of Earth 2. I know for a fact that I’ll likely have to collect several series I’m into in trades, and it does annoy me.
I love the serial nature of comics. I like waiting on bated breath for the continuation of the story. And that promotes, at least for me, frequent rereading. Reading those series as trades don’t really provide the same effects.
It is interesting that Marvel and DC rely on single issues while Image is (reasonably) more tied into the trades market. But, I wonder if “waiting for the trade” really makes as much sense as it seems. I mean, how would Image know to continue a series if the single issue sales are anemic? Wait for the trades to make the final decision?
I know I’ve been away from the blog for a few days. I had a few issues come up. One, I didn’t have anything I wanted to post about. And two, I developed an annoying obsession over the past few weeks that I’m hoping is on its way out. Compound that with the fact that I’m developing an urge to write a slice of life/ mimetic comic. Damn it!
Yesterday on IGN’s weekly comic book reviews, DC got significantly lower review scores than Marvel’s comics. The comment boards erupted with accusations of bias and favoritism. Seriously? I remember a few months back during the early days of AvX when DC routinely trounced Marvel in review scores. Was there bias then? And, by the way, what the hell do review scores have to do with whether or not one company’s product is better than another’s? Come on now. Reviews, ideally, aid potential readers in finding new books to read or avoid.
Reviews are a tool. Not the final arbiter of what is a “good” or “bad” comic (0r other art). That’s the opinion of the reviewer. And it may be a good or bad opinion. And that is left up to the reader to decide. Whether a work of art is good or not is a matter of taste. Never take one reviewer’s word on a piece of art. Either use several, or preferably, judge for oneself.
Just because I love Earth 2 and hate the new Catwoman series does not mean that other readers must love one and hate the other, too. That is just asinine. And I grow tired of reviewers (and commenters) who assume that they and they alone are the single arbiter of what is good or bad in what ever the hell it is they review.
When I write a review, I am perfectly aware that there are elements I’m missing. Take comic book and manga reviews for example. I have the annoying habit of giving the art short shrift in my reviews. I speed through talking about the art and focus more on the writing. Paying more attention to the art is something I’m going to have to pay far more attention to in the future. And I’m sure other reviewers have their own problems, hangups, biases, etc., too.
At the end of the day, it is just silly to use IGN’s review scores to give more “better” points to Marvel or DC. I get that the fandom will utilize any data to “prove” that one product is better than the other. All IGN’s reviews prove is that, for the week of August 1, 2012, Marvel had the better comics in the opinions of that singular group of reviewers. Next week, the positions may very well be reversed.
One day, I should work my self into a rant on the general subject of “who is better?” It really does tick me off.
My comic book buying is spotty and inconsistent at best. I cannot always go to Bankstons (the local comic book shop) or Hastings. Nor can I buy all the books I would like. So, I buy only those books I want to buy when I can buy them. Which makes for a very interesting run much of the time. So, how was my last run?
Pretty good, I must say. I finally picked up Dial H #3 and Wonder Woman #11. And I finally picked up my first Marvel comic in years with Captain Marvel #1.
As far as Dial H #3 is concerned, I want to do another joint review with Earth 2. So expect a quadruple review when I get Earth 2 #4 and Dial H #4 this Friday (I hope).
But, let’s take a look at Wonder Woman #11. I will admit that I haven’t been following Azzarello and Chiang’s run on the series. And seriously? I’m kicking myself for it.
Writing a good Wonder Woman series has been troublesome for years now. In the past decade, how many different takes on Wonder Woman have there been? Personally, Azzarello’s take on Wonder Woman is what I’ve been craving. I love it that Wonder Woman is firmly entrenched within her mythological context. I agree with Sara Lima of Comic Vine when she calls Wonder Woman the Greek mythological version of Fables.
This new take works far better than anything I’ve read in Wonder Woman from the past decade, at least.
Moving on to Captain Marvel #1, this book is freaking awesome. Kelly Sue Deconnick does an amazing job with this first issue. As someone who is unfamiliar with Ms. Marvel, I feel that I did not need to know all of her back story. The essentials are given in a way that seamlessly fits into the story. And the characterization, amazing.
Dexter Soy’s art work is amazing. I rather like the “painted” style of coloring that some Marvel series have been utilizing for a few years now. And the art work here is very good.
So, if you haven’t picked up Earth 2, Dial H, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel, why not? Don’t kick yourself later!
Looking forward, I am certain to continue collecting Earth 2 and Dial H. Other DC titles I’ll probably pick up first issues or random jumping on points. I would like to pick up Wonder Woman, Batman, and Justice League Dark, though.
As for drops? Well, I hate to do this, but I’m going to have to walk away from a few titles for now. Stormwatch during Milligan’s run has been very lackluster. So until the direction changes or a new team is placed on the book, I’m done with the title.
The same is true for Teen Titans. I haven’t really kept up with Titans, but what I’ve read and heard does not give me much hope. So, again, I’m done till a new creative team comes on board.
In a previous post, I mentioned that Marvel had nothing that interested me. Well, I was wrong. Captain Marvel looks to be a keeper. And I’m planning on checking out Gambit when it hits later this month.
Looking out to the future, I’m excited by Uncanny Avengers, All New X-Men, and whatever new Young Avengers/Kid Loki/ Teen Heroes book has been teased (as long as it isn’t written by Allan Heinberg).
I realize now that I’ve given Marvel a short shrift over the past few months. I’m positively kicking myself for not having gone after Remender’s Uncanny X-Force and especially Gillen’s Journey into Mystery. But, there are always the collected editions. . .
Anyway, that is it for this post. The months to come look to be very interesting in the world of comics.