Are we back?
Could this be real life?
Is something bubbling behind the scenes that could mean an update to this dusty old blog?
Maybe. I think so. And definitely YES.
Are we back?
Could this be real life?
Is something bubbling behind the scenes that could mean an update to this dusty old blog?
Maybe. I think so. And definitely YES.
Welcome to 2009. John and I are hoping for wonderful times here at the ol’ Meanwhile HQ. We’re excited by the endless possibilities. And one of those possibilities has already manifested itself, risen from the ashes of past greatness.
See, we used to be big fans of the crew from Blog@Newsarama. That is, until they ditched all those folks and replaced them with a bunch of…well, I won’t say what I really think of the “bloggers” that now reside over on Blog@. I’m sure if you do a bit of the Googling, you’ll find more than enough epithets used to describe them.
Anyway, I’m happy to announce that the former Blog@ team (along with a few wonderful additions…including my pal Larry Young) has a new home over on Comic Book Resources at Robot 6. Stop over and say hello to JK Parkin, Kevin Melrose, Tim O’Shea, Chris Mautner and all the other cool comics commentators. You’ll be glad you did!
And tell them “Meanwhile…Comics!” sent you. We could use the site traffic.
Ah, do you smell the chestnuts roasting on the open fire? Is Jack Frost nipping at your nose? Do you hear yuletide carols being sung by a choir? Are folks near you dressed up like eskimos?
If you answered yes to those questions, then it must be Christmastime in your land! Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, there’s no denying that the holiday has a tremendous importance in much of the world, especially in America. It’s become the one day of the year where most of the country shuts down, so if you’re not out there celebrating Christmas, you’re probably pretty bored on December 25th. It’s also hard to avoid the decorations, the songs, and the Christmas episodes which air in so many television series. Comics, never an industry to pass up a trend, has also published Christmas stories, dating all the way back to Christmases in the Golden Age of Comics.
Yes, there’s Superman, trying to help Santa by shoving him down the chimney. It seems that, if Superman is successful, he’s likely to destroy this poor family’s chimney. Perhaps Santa’s bringing them a new Hydro-Thermal heating unit, so they don’t need that chimney anymore. I’m also thinking that Santa may end up with some broken bones. But, the point is, that Christmas has been showing up in comics since the medium was invented. Look, even that current comics curmudgeon Batman had the Christmas spirit back then!
Some readers may be confused by this cover, and the odd drawing of Batman’s face. What he’s doing is smiling. I know. I’ve never seen it before either. Apparently he’s amused by making the old man and the little kid lug around all those toys, while he gets to mosey along, completely unencumbered. And people said Superman was a dick.
Throughout the Golden Age and some of the Silver Age of comics, it wasn’t unusual to find at least one Christmas story in the titles of your favorite heroes during the holiday season. After all, many of these books had more than one story an issue, and continuity wasn’t very well maintained. However, when Marvel started tracking continuity in their comics during the 1960s, it became more difficult to do Christmas stories on a regular basis. After all, a year’s worth of comic stories might only take 2-3 weeks for the hero featured within them, if that long. If Marvel started printing Christmas stories every December, it would seem like their heroes were celebrating Christmas every month! DC soon encountered the same problem when they began to track continuity more closely. However, both companies realized that there was an audience for holiday stories, and if they couldn’t tell them in the regular books (which they would still do, just not that often), they’d publish special books just for that purpose. That is indeed what they did, and both have published Holiday Specials with some regularity ever since.
So, over the years, both companies have published a wide array of Christmas stories. Many of them have been quite good, and some have come from some unusual sources. In 1980, before he became the well known writer and artist that he is today, Frank Miller wrote and drew a Batman Christmas story for that year’s DC Christmas special. It’s a very short tale (as most of the Christmas tales were) and was entitled “Wanted: Santa Claus-Dead or Alive!” Sadly, while not a bad story, this one’s not nearly as exciting as the name suggested it might be. It mostly focuses on a department store Santa who has a checkered past and wants to go straight, but gets pulled into a heist on Christmas Eve. The story has a happy ending (as most Christmas tales do) and even includes the tease of a Christmas miracle. It’s nice to read it, just to see a time when Batman was portrayed as somewhat grim, but not a total psycho. It’s almost impossible to reconcile this portrayal of Batman with Miller’s later work on the character though.
Miller was obviously a fan of drawing people in Santa outfits, since he went back to that well in Daredevil, during his “Born Again” storyline. In that story, Turk, a minor punk that Miller had created for his run on the book, steals a Santa suit, hoping to get some money from strangers who would think he was collecting for charity. When an insane Matt Murdock sees this, he confronts Turk, only to be knifed by the punk and almost killed. Ah, now that’s the Frank Miller we all know and love!
The list of holiday stories is long and varied. Have any of them stayed in your memory?
Short answer? No. Not a single one. I mean, I have vague memories of Christmas-themed things, but I can’t place any of them or give specific details. I do know that this book is mixed in among my myriad longboxes:
It was an oversized issue that had a bunch of very short stories in it, some reprints of older material, lists of holiday stories from Marvel’s early days and even a page of Christmas carols rewritten with X-men-based lyrics. Exciting, no? There was a tale about Punisher redistributing drug money to the needy. Thor fighting some trolls while his dad lied about being Santa. And Captain Ultra (WTF?) fighting off Plantman in order to save everyone’s Christmas trees. LAME.
And I can’t believe that John didn’t mention the GLX-Mas Special that came out a few years ago and featured the Great Lakes Avengers a presented by Dan Slott. I know John is a big fan of the GLA. Sadly, there wasn’t anything aobut this comic that really stood out as “memorable” or even “good.” Wait, I take that back. MODOK makes an appearance. That’s always memorable (but not always good).
I know there are some others that I’m forgetting. Comics have a way of trying to drill home those “true meaning of the holiday” messages as often as they can. I’m sure there’s a Spider-Man story about helping out a little kid in a hospital or something about the Justice League helping an orphanage fight the evil utility man who keeps turning off their heat. And I know for a fact that there have been about four dozen modern comic interpretations of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Bah Humbug, J. Jonah Jameson!
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the Tick’s Big Yule Log Special. It’s a glorious flip book. One side features a story where Tick and Arthur are hired to play mall Santas and get caught up in an evil elf’s revenge plot. The other side of the book shows us how Arthur tries to teach the Tick the true meaning of Hanukkah. Brings a tear to my eye every time.
Of course, my favorite bit of holiday comics lore has no tie to the season or really any particular day for that matter. It’s something that has been around for decades and still shines as one of the greatest catchphrases in modern pop culture: Luke Cage’s “Sweet Christmas!” exclamation.
Sweet Christmas, indeed.
When we’re not trying to save a forgotten character or rehabilitate one that seems to have fallen off-track, we (or at least I) always seem to end up taking the industry to task for one reason or another. I guess blogs wouldn’t exist if people didn’t have anything to complain about! As the clock winds down on 2008, it’s easy to look back and point fingers. At the same time, this joyous and comforting season provides the perfect opportunity to look ahead and resolve to make changes. While I promise to try to be funnier without being so caustic (except when it comes to Bendis), I figure some of our favorite Marvel and DC heroes and villains are also hoping to make some positive changes in their lives too.
With that in mind, here are our thoughts on what some of those New Year’s resolutions may look like:
Spider-Man: I resolve to find true love. I really think it’s time that I settle down, find a wife, and get into a solid domestic relationship. That’s the one thing in my life that seems to be missing. Seriously. Like, it was there and then it wasn’t. Weird, huh?
Kang: I resolve to go back in time and convince myself to never go back in time. It’s just too confusing. Of course, if I do that, would I cease to exist? Would I get caught in some sort of weird Moebius Strip where I kept meeting myself seconds after I just left myself? And wouldn’t it be cool if I just scrapped this whole idea and created a massive army of different time-stamped versions of myself…all one second apart? Man, that would really screw some stuff up. Totally rad.
Hulk: I resolve to be a better father. Kids learn from example. I can’t be leaping all over creation smashing stuff and speaking in broken English. What kind of precedent does that set for my little Skaar? Less mindless violence and more dedication to the arts, that’s my goal. Maybe I’ll even take up yoga.
Aquaman: I resolve to…hello? Is anyone listening to me? HELLO?!? Stupid fish aren’t even paying attention anymore.
Punisher: I resolve to only kill people who deserve it. And by “deserve it,” I mean “does something that falls within my broad and ever-changing definition of evil…from kiddie porn to jaywalking, on any given day.” Honestly, that guy driving that Miata the other day? He was just asking to be blown up into tiny pieces with a bazooka and about a half-dozen other high-explosive armaments. Should whack his family too. What kind of person drives a Miata?
Luke Cage: I resolve to never join a group called the Dark Avengers. Kinda sends the wrong message, ya know? Sweet Christmas!
Kang: I resolve to go back in time and convince myself to never go back in time. It’s just too confusing. Of course, if I do that, would I cease to exist? Would I get caught in some sort of weird Moebius Strip where I kept meeting myself seconds after I just left myself? And wouldn’t it be cool if I just scrapped this whole idea and created a massive army of different time-stamped versions of myself…all one second apart? Man, that would really screw some stuff up. Totally rad.
Iron Man: I resolve to start drinking again. Can you blame me?
Blue Beetle: I resolve to stay relevant regardless of losing my solo series and becoming a quasi-legacy to a character who was never all that fabulous to begin with. But hey, as long as I keep making appearances on a keen new Batman cartoon, everyone will love me! I mean, look at the headliners I’m appearing with…Plastic Man, Red Tornado, uh…Aquaman? Damn it. I’m screwed.
Madrox: I resolve to stop sending doubles in to deal with the crying baby. It’s not fair to them and it doesn’t really teach me anything. Although, on the bright side, at least I’m not the one who has to put up with all the screaming and crying. Considering half the kid’s genes are from Siryn, that’s probably a safe thing.
All-Star Batman: I resolve to stop talking like a goddamn retard.
Kang: I resolve to go back in time and convince myself to never go back in time. It’s just too…ah, crap.
Dr. Strange: I resolve to be the central character in a Bendis crossover this year, meaning I also resolve to act horribly out of character as long as that advances the plot, no matter how nonsensical that may be.
Cyclops: Now that my current honey, Emma Frost, looks to be going evil again, I resolve to find another skank to bring home to my bedroom. I wonder what Selene, the Black Queen, is up to. Jean would be so proud.
Wolverine: I resolve to only appear in fifteen books a month. Wouldn’t want to become overexposed.
Thor: Verily, I doth resolveth to speaketh in English most plain, so as not to confuseth those who doth find themselves arrayed around me.
Hercules: Verily, I doth resolveth….hey Odinson! Getith thine own resolution. Fine. I doth resolve to ne’er move from the fine publication in which I currently reside. It is mine now Hulk, you poor excuse for a hero! You shall ne’er move me from it!
She-Hulk: I doth resolve…sorry. It’s contagious. I resolve to get my own title again. I wonder who can relaunch me this time? Maybe I’ll give Byrne a call….it’s not like he’s doing anything important right now.
Sub-Mariner: I resolve to enter rehab this year. I mean, have you seen me lately? I look worse than Tony Stark did after a three month bender!
Dr. Light (female): I resolve to turn back the clock on my personality and act like I did in 1986 again. It may not make sense to anyone else, but there’s a reason I’m ignoring the last 20 years of my life and acting in this manner. Honest.
Obsidian: I resolve to go back to the JSA and fade into the woodwork again, since the only title to explore my character is now, <sigh>, cancelled.
Scarlet Witch: I resolve to return to comics to say what I should have said in 2005: “No more Bendis.”
The last few days have been fun, as Jason and I peered into our crystal balls to look at what 2009 might hold. However, it’s possible that those thoughts may have seemed a tad cynical to some; I’ll go so far as to say that some may have called them snarky. It may seem to some readers that Jason and I look on the comics industry with disdain, and nothing could be farther from the truth. Well, ok, many things could be farther from the truth, but we’re not totally jaded. Along those lines, I wanted to look at some of the highlights of the previous year.
This is not a best of list. I simply don’t read the breadth of comics that I would need to read to compile a list like that. No, this is a list of what happened in 2008 that gives me hope for the future. I’ll also touch on those things that make me think that 2009 may not be such a bad year for comics after all.
A new Scott Pilgrim book announced for 2009. Jason and I have touted Scott Pilgrim quite a few times, but there’s a reason that this gives me hope. It has long been established that the only financially successful model for comics to follow is to publish monthly pamphlets (or floppies or whatever you want to call the comics that we all know so well) and then to collect those previously published floppies into trade paperbacks some months after their initial printing. There have been some original graphic novels, but generally those are only created by big name creators, those who already have a built in following.
Scott Pilgrim refuses to follow this model. Like the titular hero of the book, this creation comes to us in small graphic novels, each completely original. The writer/artist, Bryan Lee O’Malley, is not a well known creator with a built in following. Yet he’s publishing Scott Pilgrim in a way which I feel shows that there are other options beyond what Marvel and DC believe comics can be published. He’s not the only one who’s exploring alternate ways of publishing comics, but he’s one of the most successful and he gives me hope for the medium.
Jeff Smith’s career. Jeff Smith is the writer and artist who created the absolutely charming and exciting Bone comic, which he self-published. That comic ended in 2004, at which time Smith began working on the equally amazing and endearing Shazam: Monster Society of Evil, a four issue limited series which made the best use of DC’s Captain Marvel that I’d read in decades. Once that miniseries was over, Smith went back to creator owned work, publishing RASL, a series about a dimension-jumping art thief. So why does his career fill me with such hope?
I believe that corporate comics have a place, and can be quite enjoyable, but I also believe that they can drain the creative fire from a creator. I’ve seen creators who I greatly admire go to work for DC and Marvel, only to find the originality, humanity and that special unique voice they had disappear within that culture (<cough> Winick <cough>). Jeff Smith proved that you can do those corporate comics and not lose your voice. He’s also shown that he can succeed in multiple genres, as RASL has proven to be just as intriguing as Bone, albeit not as dependent on adorable animals and stars. I’d love to see more creators take those lessons to heart.
Captain America. She-Hulk. X-Factor. Manhunter. I’m not a big fan of where the Marvel or DC Universes are going these days. I find that both companies seem to favor brainless, unending crossovers, where perhaps a few good ideas lay buried, instead of simply publishing good books. That being said, the titles I mention above are all excellent comics, and they prove that even when you’re writing a comic set in a universe that has taken a turn for the worse, you can still write an entertaining story. Sadly, two of these four comics have been cancelled, but I have no doubt that they will be replaced by other entertaining books that shall dance on the periphery of the major superhero universes, reminding us that some people truly can make lemonade from even the tartest of lemons. They give me hope that, even if I don’t like the direction of Marvel and DC, they will always publish some comics I enjoy without reservation.
Ed Brubaker and Grant Morrison: These men have written some of the most mainstream comics on the stands today, and can be considered some of the movers and shakers of their respective universes. Not all of their comics are ones that I love, but more often than not, they have written books that continue to push at the edges of the comic’s medium, taking old, overused cliches of the business and making them work. Along the way, they’ve managed to create some comics which truly show that superheroes can be fun to read, they can be interesting, and they can be used to explore some important themes. I look forward to seeing what these gentlemen create in 2009.
DC Starts its Final Crisis: I’m not a big fan of this Final Crisis. That said, I love the word Final, and while I’m probably being naive, I’m hoping that it truly is final. I’m hoping that, in 2009, we’ll see DC move away from these huge events, and just start telling stories again. Stories that begin in a hero’s book and end (yes, they must end to be a story; Marvel and DC both need to recognize that) in that same book. Stories that don’t require a massive knowledge of the DCU, and stories that, simply put, are good. That’s my hope for 2009, and I have it because DC tells me that this is the last of their crises. Fingers crossed.
James Robinson returns to comics. Of course, he may have left again, if rumors are true, but his return gave me hope. I believe that Robinson is at his best when he’s writing books where he doesn’t have to worry about massive editorial interference, or worrying about umpty-bazillion crossovers, but just the fact that he’s writing comics again means we could possibly see the brilliance he displayed in Starman and The Golden Age. One of my favorite comics writers ever has returned, and that makes me happy.
There’s some of the things that give me hope for 2009. Jason, anything to add?
Yes, in fact, I do have a few things to add. Some build off of what you’ve already stated and others reflect my own twisted favorites in the comic industry.
First off, I heartily agree with your Scott Pilgrim recognition. I also like how you couched your point in the position that a new book was “announced” in 2008. While O’Malley has been rather methodical in putting out a volume a year, 2008 went by without any Scott Pilgrim. #4 came out towards the end of 2007 and #5 comes out early next year. I’m just glad to know we don’t have to wait much longer!
Your praise of a few good series interests me. I’ve been saying for a year or more that I wanted to start reading the She-Hulk trades. I guess it’ll be easier to catch up now that the series has been cancelled! I gave up on X-Factor a few issues ago. With the tie-ins to both Messiah Complex and Secret Invasion, it felt like the book lost its entertaining focus. The stories turned more towards plot devices than character interaction. And the artwork became quite horrible, in my opinion. Sad, really. I liked the early run that built off the Madrox miniseries from a couple years back. I’m on the second of Brubaker’s Captain America trades and it’s…interesting so far. Not sure I like it yet as much as his Daredevil run. All in all, Brubaker has probably impressed me the most this past year…from the mentioned titles to Criminal to Immortal Iron Fist…and, in the theme of this post, I’m looking forward to his Incognito book with Sean Phillips in 2009.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Brubaker’s partner in crime on Iron Fist (and Uncanny X-Men), Matt Fraction. You know how much I’ve enjoyed his writing the past few years. While his Marvel work has lost some of the attitude and sparkle of his more independent stuff, I still think Matt is one of the top up-and-comers in comics today. The first arc of his Invincible Iron Man felt like something I wanted to write, which is probably the best praise I can offer in my own conceited world. Curious to see what he has up his sleeve for 2009.
Andy Diggle on Thunderbolts has me curious. Loved his run on Losers, and the Green Arrow: Year One book was a solid take on the character. I’m also looking forward to Dan Slott’s run on Mighty Avengers. Partially because he’s not Bendis and partially because Slott is a huge Avengers fan, but mostly because he writes fun books with the right mix of action, comedy and crucial moments. I first became a fan of his work with the Arkham Asylum: Living Hell miniseries he did at DC in 2003. The early issues of his Avengers: Initiative drew my interest for a while, but I ended up cutting it from my pull list when it got too mired in “big event” plotting. Another book I liked was Paul Cornell’s Captain Britain and MI:13 series. Unfortunately, I only got the first four issues and then couldn’t track down the rest. I guess I’m looking forward to the trades in 2009!
I’ll echo your approval of James Robinson’s return. I picked up the first hardcover collection of Starman this summer and loved it. His Golden Age is one of my all-time favorite stories too. It’s true that he seems to work best when not being saddled by continuity and editorial interference. That said, volume two of Starman comes out in a few short months! DC has also started releasing larger hardcover collections of Y: The Last Man and just announced the same treatment for Fables. I give two thumbs up to those decisions. I want to get my wife interested in both titles (I already got her hooked on Preacher and Blue Monday) and these hardcovers seem like the best way to do it. On that note, Chynna Clugston started a new Blue Monday miniseries in 2008 and I look forward to grabbing that trade next year.
A lot of the other stuff I’m interested in may show up in my stocking from Santa next week. My wish list includes things like: Chip Kidd’s Bat-Manga book, the Skyscrapers of the Midwest collection from Josh Cotter, the first trade of Warren Ellis’ Freakangels, Mesmo Delivery by Rafael Grampa, a few of the Golden Age ACG archives (Green Lama, Magicman, Nemesis) put out by Dark Horse, the Scud collection from Image, Omega the Unknown by Jonathan Lethem & Farel Dalrymple and Blake Bell’s book about Steve Ditko. Most, if not all, of these books were released in 2008. Kudos to the comic industry for that output!
See? Not everything I read has superheroes in it!
On a final note, I’d also like to expand on your note that Final Crisis was introduced in 2008. Unfortunately, it wasn’t finished in 2008. I’m going to go on the record right now and announce that I just don’t care for event comics. Sure, I buy them every freakin’ time they put them out, but I think that’s more a collector’s reflex than any sort of focused interest. I’m almost always disappointed by the results. And DC’s overall universe has taken a gigantic hit in stability, from my point of view, as a result of all this constant “OH NO!” foreshadowing and angsty, heavy-handed plotting. There is not a single title on DC’s current slate, aside form some Vertigo titles, that interests me in the least. Two years ago, I was reading almost everything they put out. If that’s not a glaring problem, I don’t know what is. Sadly, Marvel is starting to deliver the same results for me. The only titles I consistently read anymore are the peripheral books that don’t seem to be as rooted in the general nonsense going on. I’d like to see a moratorium on Events (with a capital “E”). At the least, corral them into a family of titles instead of the entire breadth of your output. The dreaded Spider-Man: Clone Saga was an odious piece of garbage, but it was segregated enough to keep its stench off the rest of the world. Same goes for most X-Men soap opera plots that I have less and less interest in as I get older. Is it too much to ask that we just get an excellent run of Justice League stories or Avengers stories or Batman stories or (god forbid) Wolverine stories without all the restless claptrap constantly revolving around them? And don’t tell me that the “market has changed” and the “customers’ expectations have evolved.” That’s complete and utter bull. These changes and evolutions are self-made. Writers write “for the trades” because they’re lazy or because the publishers are greedy. It has nothing to do with the readers. I’m pretty sure I never signed a petition asking for gloomy, redundant, violent comics without a glimmer of hope or excitement. I don’t remember picketing outside DC’s offices with a sign that said “More Rape Please!” I’m not saying Spider-Man shouldn’t be punching bad guys in the face. On the contrary, I think he should do more of it…with less of the “sky is falling” consequences, sideways glances, overwhelming politics and downward-spiral finality of it all. Lighten the f*** up.
I know that rant isn’t really a “highlight” of 2008. But perhaps 2009 could be the year we get back to good, fun comics? I’d like to be able to praise that accomplishment at this time next year.
Jason, Jason, take your tablets. Go to your happy place for a few minutes. We’ll wait.
Of course, I can’t disagree with your rant at all. Your points are all valid, I agree with them, and I would also love to see 2009 be a return to more fun comics. Not every comic has to be Giffen/DeMatteis’ Justice League, but not every comic has to be a blood drenched gritty buzzkiller either. Good grief. Alan Moore (not one of Jason’s favorites, but I like his work) seems to be able to do serious stories that don’t seem to drown in pathos and unnecessary violence. Perhaps it’s because, for every From Hell he’s written, he’s also produced a more lighthearted book, like Tomorrow Stories or Tom Strong.
Still, I believe we may have gotten off point a tad. I will echo your words about Dan Slott, a writer who does an excellent job of writing good stories, yet recognizing that they can be fun. His Great Lakes Avengers limited series is still one of my favorites. And for those, like you, who were turned off by Larry Stroman’s art on X-Factor, he has left the book, so you may want to give it another try.
We’ve both shared some of what we thought was important in 2008, as well as what gives us hope in 2009. There’s good stuff out now to read, and more on the way, but the percentage of good reads compared to what’s being published isn’t nearly as high as it should be.
Here at “Meanwhile…Comics!”, we’ve spent the past year talking about what we would do differently with the characters and titles found in the Marvel and DC universes. It’s been fun to play editor-after-the-fact. However, if we want to be true editors of a comic book world, we need to learn to plan ahead as well. So, John and I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a peek into the future and see what 2009 may hold for our favorite Marvel and DC characters. I’ll kick off the festivities and then John can comment on my thoughts and add some of his own (you guys know the drill). In 2009, I predict…
1. MODOK will make a comeback. Granted, this freak has been the butt of many jokes in the past year or two, but he used to be leader (many times over) of AIM and one of Captain America’s most visually interesting foes. The way Ed Brubaker is scrolling through the early Cap bad guys…Red Skull, Doctor Faustus, Arnim Zola…he’s bound to get to MODOK sooner than later. And then, we can expect dramatic comebacks from the likes of The Stranger, Solarr, Monster Ape, Yellow Claw, The Tumbler and The Alchemoid. Classics all.
2. DC will go through yet another crisis. And the Internet will weep. And no one will understand what’s going on. And the whole thing will center around an epic battle between Bat-Mite and Streaky the Super Cat. The plot will get leaked to someone’s blog and then Dan DiDio will spend four months rejiggering the whole thing so that Bat-Mite ends up either torn in half or stuffed in a refrigerator (or, in his case, a little Coleman cooler). Tears will fall. Heroes will rise up. No one will notice.
3. Wasp will come back from the dead. And so will Steve Rogers and Bruce Wayne and Martian Manhunter and Orion and everyone else who went down this year. Are you shocked yet? I’m even going to go out on a limb and say that Mockingbird will die again, just so Bendis can mess with Hawkeye a little bit more. Jerk.
4. Some second tier characters will get their own titles. And then get them cancelled. I’m looking at you, Dakota North! Oh, what’s that? You already had a title that no one bothered to read? Never mind then. Now I’m looking at you, Nth Man! What? Really?? Oh. Well, maybe She-Hulk will get her own title again. Fingers crossed.
5. Frank Miller and Rob Liefeld will collaborate. In the crossover, Batman and Shatterstar will carry really big guns, swear a lot, and constantly look like they’re in pain (either through their expressions or the fact that they have teeny, tiny ankles and ginormously huge upper body structure). Oh, and the whole thing will be presented in vivid black & white…because, you know, that never gets old.
That’s five things off the top of my head. I predict that John will inspire more sarcasm in me. What do you predict?
Well, it’s certainly hard to argue with the prediction that the dead in comics will rise again. I’d also go ahead and add Shadowcat to your list, as I’m sure she’ll return from her Joss Whedon-penned demise in short order (at least I’d hope so, as she’s one of the few truly interesting members of the X-Men). It’s also certainly hard to argue with DC having another Crisis. I know this one is called Final Crisis, but who really believes that?
Here are some other predictions:
1. Brian Michael Bendis will suffer fatigue from writing 75% of the titles Marvel produces and his scripts will show it: Oh, I’m sorry, that happened in 2006. I’m supposed to be looking to the future. I do, however, feel that he will continue to be one of the guiding lights behind the Marvel Universe, that his writing will continue to avoid hitting the heights it did back when he wrote only a few fringe books, and that I will continue to avoid purchasing most Marvel titles for this very reason.
2. Mark Millar will unveil his latest brainstorm: Ultimate Midnighter and Ultimate Apollo!: In an attempt to breathe life back into the Ultimate Universe, Mark Millar will introduce Ultimate Midnighter and Apollo into that world. Once there, they will become members of the Ultimates, leading that team to new heights of debauchery and pathetic attempts to incite readers with cheap sensationalistic antics. Ultimate Captain America will prove to be a giant homophobe and will fight with them both, eventually ending when Apollo sodomizes him at which point Cap will see the error of his ways and shack up with Ultimate Colossus.
3. Spider-Girl will be relaunched and then re-cancelled. Twice. Which is a pretty safe bet any year.
4. Dan Didio will make internet fandom arise against him in anger when he decides that the DC Universe needs to kill off Captain Marvel. “He’s really just another Superman, right? I’ve never seen the point of him. He’s redundant.”
5. Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction will launch a new title, “Raging Razorback”, will will become a huge critical darling. “We can make any previously unimportant D list hero relevant and exciting,” Brubaker will say in an interview on Newsarama. The book will indeed, launch to much critical and commercial success, which will last for eight months, when both creators will then leave the book to work on a relaunch of El Aguila. Some poor relative unknown will be tapped to replace them, and Razorback’s title will quickly fade from view. However, I declare 2010 to be the year of El Aguila!
Oh, snap! Those are some good ones. The Bendis point is so true it’s ridiculous. Everyone seems to hint that Bendis will be Quesada’s replacement as Editor-in-Chief eventually. What a horrible day that will be in the Marvel U. Everyone…will…yeah, but…well, you know…we can…we can all start, y’know, start…talking like…um…like, y’know, this? Or…yeah. Yes.
I’m not sure DiDio will get to Captain Marvel in 2009 though. He still has to do long division on the rest of the former Robins, a couple Green Arrows, three Flashes, at least two Atoms and a generous handful of Green Lanterns. Captain Marvel might get pushed to 2010.
I absolutely LOVE the Brubaker/Fraction reference. So true. And, so help me, I’d happily buy every issue of Raging Razorback. Y’know…until the scrub creative team takes over.
That reminds me of a few more things I can predict for 2009…
1. Someone will finally sell an Aquaman pitch. And that lucky devil will be Grant Morrison. The book will be described as “Lovecraft with sex pirates,” the art will be provided by Frank Quitely, and the first issue will come out 22 months after the book is announced. Critics will rejoice. Fans will scurry for their dictionaries. And, somehow, Morrison will win a Nobel Prize for literature. He’ll accept the award in a shiny suit and then disappear from the stage in a puff of smoke.
2. The TV-to-comics writer trend will continue. 2009 will see the debut of three titles that take place in a hospital, four that deal with scientist cops, one that features a law firm and one that has some sort of weird sci-fi vibe but just gets more convoluted and confusing as it progresses. Pretty soon, readers will give up on it all and start turning to the serialized versions of Survivor and The Amazing Race. The Comic Writers Strike of 2009 will come to a head with Deal or No Deal: The Comic Book (which will immediately be optioned by Sony for a three-picture deal).
3. All the superhero tropes will make an appearance. Someone will be resurrected. Someone will lose their memory. A plot will turn out to be a vividly bad dream. Another plot will turn out to have taken place in a different dimension. Time travel will solve someone’s problems. A bad guy will have his “lifeforce’ transferred to another body a split second before his current body is destroyed. Certain characters will die in one title, only to pop up in another as if nothing ever happened and nothing is explained. One hero will secretly wear the costume of another hero. There will be an evil twin…with a goatee and, preferably, an eyepatch. An older sister will turn out to be someone’s mother instead. Someone will cheat on someone else with their brother…and get pregnant! Wow…those last few went into soap opera territory, didn’t they?
4. Wolverine will get three more titles. And, right before his movie debuts, he’ll show up in crossovers with Hulk, Punisher, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Iron Man, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, Thunderbolts, Captain Britain, Anita Blake, Dark Tower and even the Marvel Illustrated version of The Man in the Iron Mask.
5. DC will slip to #3 in sales. This will happen when Dark Horse signs a licensing deal for a Harry Potter vs. Twilight series. Geeks worldwide will suddenly realize that Dark Horse publishes books featuring Hellboy, Star Wars, Buffy, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Serenity and pretty much every other popular genre-based character and Eliza Dushku role outside the superhero realm. The mainstream media will try to make a story out of the fact that comics exist that aren’t based around male power fantasies. A few people will take note, but aging fanboys will rally against the minimally perked popular interest, decrying these new books as “dumb” and the people who read them as “idiots.” The world will realize what socially repressed assholes the core comic readership is comprised of, the potential excitement will die away and superhero comics will continue to shrink in both quality and reach. Everyone will be happy. Hooray!
Have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy reading comics? Just wanted to reinforce that.
I would so read that Aquaman book.
I can’t wait to read more Wolverine titles. With his three monthlies, plus his appearances in multiple X-Men titles and Avengers affairs, I simply don’t feel that we’re seeing enough of him. With a major motion picture coming out next year, I don’t understand why Marvel doesn’t capitalize on this underused character. Perhaps the launch of Spectacular Wolverine, Wolverine: The Best There Is At What He Does and Superfluous Wolverine, will help to fill the gap and will help draw non-comics readers into comics shops after the movie is a hit. Oh wait. No, that won’t work, since all of those books will be cynical, angry books, mired in years of confusing continuity that would take ten years to understand. My bad.
My crystal ball is clouding over, but I do have a few more predictions for next year:
1. Usagi Yojimbo will continue to be an amazing comic, with spectacular writing, good art, and it will appear on a regular monthly schedule. It’s creator, writer and artist, Stan Sakai, with perform this feat, amazing in and of itself, while still finding time to do another few odd projects, such as lettering a Groo miniseries for Dark Horse. Comic book scientists will still be unable to distill and bottle this amazing man, and other comics creators will still be unable to duplicate his feats.
2. The third issue of Kevin Smith’s Batman book will not ship. Look for it in 2011. It will still suck.
3. Peter David will launch a new series starring Hawkeye, a popular character who has had his own series in the past, but never seems to be able to keep one long term. The series will be smartly written. It will have humor, but will also handle serious subjects. It will be popular with critics and get good reviews. It will have strong art, with clean storytelling and a sense of fun. It will be cancelled within the first two years.
4. Judd Winick will start writing another three titles in the DCU. Characters in those titles will note that instances of rape, general violence and needless slaughter increase by 150%.
5. The comics industry will continue to hemorrage readers, while the leaders in the industry refuse to consider alternate business strategies that would keep the artform alive in the longterm. Oh, how I wish I had a punchline for this one.
And, I’m spent.
Hey! Don’t throw Hawkeye under the bus like that! X-Factor hasn’t been cancelled (again) yet, has it? It’s funny that we assign certain traits to certain writers. If the characters were actually living and breathing members of a contained universe, do you think they’d be having water cooler conversations about who’s handling their writing duties?
Fade in on Hulk, Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel talking in the break room of a nondescript office building. Iron Man approaches with a casual saunter.
IRON MAN: What’s up, homeslices?
HULK: Have you seen Spidey?
IRON MAN: Nah. Kid’s a square. Too angsty for me.
MOON KNIGHT: Pfft. Not anymore. Bendis got a hold of him for some event comic. Poor Petey is talking like a fry cook with a head injury. Takes ten minutes to say hello.
MS. MARVEL: That’s so sad. Did you hear that Peter David is taking over my book?
IRON MAN: Well, it was nice knowing you!
HULK: You’re lucky. I’ve got two titles right now. One with Slott and one with Claremont. I wake up in the morning and I don’t know if I’m supposed to be bashing stuff and throwing out clever quips or if I’m just supposed to be standing around delivering panel-cramping monologues about my feelings and every relationship I’ve ever had.
The group nods their heads in agreement. Just then, Green Arrow walks into the room. He’s looking around confusedly.
GREEN ARROW: Anyone seen Batman?
HULK: Last I saw him, Kevin Smith had called him into his office. But that was six months ago.
MOON KNIGHT: Anyone know what Smith’s doing with that whole Daredevil/Bullseye thing? I swear he’s got bodies buried under the floorboards.
Hercules storms into the room. He whips his coffee mug across the room and imbeds it in the wall.
HERCULES: Goddamn, Millar! Even I don’t have enough muscles to keep up with these redundant fight scenes!
GREEN ARROW: Hey, just be glad you’re not part of the Legion! I hear Winick took over that book and now they only have four members left. Freakin’ bloodbath. Families. Friends. Pets. Raped and dismembered. I hear they only found chunks of some of the Substitute Heroes. I don’t know what refrigerators look like in the 31st century, but they must hold a lot.
Ms. Marvel starts crying. Moon Knight moves over to comfort her.
IRON MAN: I miss the good ol’ days. Stan Lee couldn’t write for crap, but at least we all got home in one piece.
HULK: And almost everyone’s name rhymed too. Big help.
HERCULES: Yeah. So…what do you guys think about Grant Morrison?
IRON MAN: I hear he turned Wonder Woman into a dude. And an astronaut. S/he can see into the future now.
MOON KNIGHT: Hmph. Lucky break. Sales ought to go through the roof on that one.
Sigh…I’d take one meticulous, thoughtful Stan Sakai over a hundred Judd Winicks any day.
While Jason and I may have been slow in posting the past few weeks due to other commitments, the comics world has continued to move forward. One of the big recent announcements made by the Big Two was DC’s decision to cancel their mid-tier Bat-Books, including Robin, Nightwing and Birds of Prey. This may have come as a surprise to some readers, but it’s not an unusual move. None of those books had a buzz about them and sales had been mediocre for some time.
This tactic, of culling the weak from a herd of related books, is not unusual. Marvel, when it introduced its “Brand New Day” storyline into Amazing Spider-Man, used that as an opportunity to cancel all of its other monthly Spidey titles, although they then began publishing Amazing Spider-Man every week, so that may have been a wash. Throughout the past decade, Marvel has also taken the hatchet to its bloated X-Men family of titles on a few occasions, although such cancellations never seem to trim the line for long, with new books and relaunched versions of older books soon appearing.
In fact, that’s one of the questions that one must ask when confronted with news of this sort: does it matter, in any conceivable way? It’s possible we won’t see Birds of Prey again, but does anyone truly believe that there won’t be another Robin series popping up down the line? All it would require would be a hot artist or writer being brought on board and that title could easily be relaunched, with a new number one issue, and if we’re really lucky, variant covers (perhaps with special metals used on them)! Cancellations like these, while frustrating to those fans who follow those series on a monthly basis, are normally just speedbumps in the road for these established characters, who will either guest star regularly in their parent title, or will be back soon enough in their own title. Cancellations are only a concern when you’re a relatively new, untested property, like say, Blue Beetle.
Yes, DC has also announced the cancellation of their Blue Beetle title, and sadly, the titular hero has no other place to call his home. Cancelling a title such as Blue Beetle or the critically acclaimed Manhunter (or, on the Marvel side, the oft-cancelled Spider-Girl) often means that the characters who have lost their book will disappear, rarely, if ever, to be seen again. If the writer of that title is writing other titles for the company, they may be able to move some characters over into their non-cancelled titles, but that’s not always the case (and for a character like Spider-Girl, who’s in a different continuity, it’s not really even possible). Many people have attacked and lambasted DC over its decision to cancel Blue Beetle, as the character had just appeared on their new cartoon show The Brave and the Bold, and the cancellation was seen as a poor marketing move, which it might well have been, had DC ever marketed its comics towards the viewers of the show in question.
In any case, the comics blogosphere has been all abuzz the past few weeks as numerous armchair quarterbacks discuss these cancellations, and what sort of an effect they will have on the industry as a whole. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to inject my opinion into a topic that other’s have milked dry, I am going to jump into this fray, as is the lovely and talented Jason. I think we bring a unique perspective to this debate, in that we are not armchair quarterbacks of any sort; I, for one, sit in an office chair, with no armchairs in sight.
So, let me outline what we’ll be discussing, and then I’ll turn this over to Jason, who’s been hoping to rant for many days now. We’ve mentioned the different types of cancellations: mid-tier books that will likely be back soon; mid-tier books which are absorbed into the parent books in their line; and the third stringers who may disappear altogether with no other title to call home. The question is: are these sorts of cancellations wise business decisions? Do they help or hurt the comics industry as a whole? Are they a shortsighted decision or one that looks to the future? To begin the discussion, I turn this over to Jason, but I’ll be back with my own thoughts on the subject soon enough.
To begin, I would like to point out that my chair does have arms, but it is also on wheels…so I think that technically rules out any sort of “armchairing” on my part. You’re right to relate that I have been waiting to rant about this topic for a while now. I kept starting and stopping my own version of this post because I had just too many thoughts and opinions to blurt out. I didn’t want to tax anyone’s reading comprehension abilities as I vacillated wildly from topic to topic. I’m sure this response will meander into the realms of economic concerns, buying habits, related cultural industries, the counterintuition of the industry and a bunch of other things. However, first I’m going to try to address John’s questions straight on.
John asks if “these sorts of cancellations are wise business decisions” to which I respond: ANY sort of cancellation is usually a wise business decision. And, quite honestly, I wish the Big Two would do more pruning of their overgrown product lines. It’s all about curb appeal…and right now, neither Marvel or DC has much of that when it comes to attracting new readership. The mentality of the last decade or two, to be filed under “Lessons NOT Learned From the Mid-90s,” is this: if readers love Mr. Super in one book, they’re sure to love him in eight books! If they are willing to fork over $3 for one comic featuring Mega-Dude, imagine how much we can squeeze from them if we have Mega-Dude appear in a dozen titles this month! On its face, that sounds like a great supply-and-demand model, right? Unfortunately, comics are a different sort of beast. Maybe I read the monthly Mighty Mr. Super title because I like the writer or the artist, whereas Awesome Mr. Super, Mr. Super Adventures, and Mr. Super Hangs Around Outside Elementary Schools employ creators who don’t twirl my baton. Or, and this seems to be the one the big boys can’t seem to understand, maybe I only have $3 this month! Maybe, I buy a bunch of other books (including, ironically, some from the same publisher) and don’t want to make that commitment or be faced with that choice. Or let’s say I do make that commitment, but now I have to drop one of their other titles in order to read more about Mr. Super.
Extrapolating that kind of effect can be difficult, but I’ll try to explain it in small numbers. DC launches Blue Beetle to some critical success. It begins to build an audience. DC faithful like it enough to add it to their regular buy lists. However, then DC decides to launch an event comic that is destined to “change the DC Universe FOREVER.” Well, being a DC fan, you feel like you need to see this. You stretch your budget a bit to include this overpriced piece of garbage, but that’s pushing it. You like Blue Beetle and don’t want to give up on it yet…I mean, they’re going to introduce this new character, build a world around him and let him enjoy some adventures on his own before trying to force decades of unrelated continuity into the title, right? AHAHAHAHA. Don’t hold your breath. But, for argument’s sake, let’s just assume that everything is going swimmingly over in Beetle-burg. Now, DC decides that Batman is going to die. Oh no! Not one of the major comic icons of my lifetime! I need to follow that story desperately! Um…bye-bye Blue Beetle or big event comic or DC in general just for forcing me to choose. In fact, maybe I’ll just give up completely on comics. Granted, that may be pushing this example to the extreme, but it’s possible. The goodwill that was going to be built by Blue Beetle or Secret Six or Birds of Prey or The All-New Atom or Shadowpact or anything else, is now dribbled away by DC trying to do too much at once.
That’s an example of what can cause a new book to be cancelled, but what about a mid-tier book? Well, it’s a similar track. Companies forget that there is a limited audience out there and that that audience has a limited budget too. You can’t have the mentality that “everyone in the world wants to read every book I make” and hope to have great success in this business. I haven’t gone back and crunched years of data on the topic, but I can make a few educated guesses about those second-level titles. Let’s say The Supergroup sells 100,000 copies a month. The company decides this is a good time to take advantage of increased readership and introduce The Fabulous Supergroup as a companion title. For the sake of simplicity, readership on the first issue of Fabulous is also 100,000. Wow! Another hit on their hands! Of course, over the release of a few issues, the numbers adjust themselves to account for readers making a decision between the two titles or deciding the creators aren’t their favorites or the stories aren’t interesting or whatever. After issue #4 hits the stands, Fabulous is now attracting only 70,000 readers and the original title is down to about 90,000. In order to regain some flagging interest, the company decides to launch a solo title for their most popular character, Mega-Dude. Mega-Dude’s premiere issue flies off the racks at a pace of 120,000. Awesome! But now it’s decision time again. Do readers feel that Mega-Dude is better on his own (meaning an uptick in the solo series, but less interest in the team book)? The original series drops to 75,000…Fabulous now sits at 50,000 (and is on the bubble for cancellation now) and the solo series settles in around 80,000. Do they feel that three titles with Mega-Dude are way too many and decide to drop one or two of them? Do they get completely fed up with Mega-Dude’s overexposure and drop all the titles? Do they decide to stick with all three but now have to drop the Mr. Super title because of a limited budget? Or does a rival company take advantage of the diluted market and launch some new fan favorite title that attracts 150,000 purchases and shoots to number one on the sales chart?
Someone is going to lose.
And that’s just the economic semantics of the deal. Having the same character appear in a bunch of different books every month is a horrible way to keep characterization and tell fluid stories. Why can’t there be just one X-Men comic? You have great stories to tell? Perfect! Tell them in one book. Maybe increase the page count or put it out bi-weekly or something. Is there really any need to dilute the characters and their gravitas just to kill a few more trees and put more stress on your readers’ wallets? At the very least, combine the titles…if two books cost $6, you should be able to double the page count and produce a single title for $5. If every publisher would follow this model, readers could get more bang for their buck and the market would turn to one more similar to Japan’s booming market…with thicker monthly books that contain multiple stories. Less titles to fret over, but more stories in each book.
I’ll skip John’s second question and go right to the “shortsighted decision” inquiry. Yes, I believe all of these cancellations are shortsighted. It has nothing to do with the titles themselves, but with the overall mentality of the comic industry. Everything they do is shortsighted. Switching creative lineups. Launching assorted miniseries. Killing off established characters. You name it, it’s a blindfolded dartboard mission. Even the things they think they have planned out ahead of time end up being retrofitted at the last second. Look at all the stories about DC’s big event books for the past two years…Dan DiDio has lorded over the titles, making adjustments, removing key plot points, changing characters and generally mucking about in the creators’ realm all in the name of “executive editing.” And how has that worked out for them so far? I’ll tell you: confusing, self-referencing, continuity-laden stories featuring third and fourth-tier characters that the average literate person doesn’t recognize and could care less about. You’d think they’d learn after one debacle, but instead they keep trying to adjust for each event, making them go further and further off track until the Final Final Final Crisis will be a one-shot featuring Bwana Beast playing a game of battleship against the head of Toyman. And someone is bound to say, “Wasn’t that one dude on the Super Friends cartoon?”
Now for John’s last question: “Do cancellations help or hurt the industry as a whole?” Well, personally, I think there’s some good and some bad. There have been titles that have bled readers without outside influence, proving they probably didn’t deserve the attention they were granted. There have been titles launched that had great buzz before they hit the stands and then just fell flat, whether from overblown expectations or suck-o creative output. And then there are books that really could have been something, but were given no promotion, overpopulated with ill-conceived crossovers, or hastily tossed on the chopping block to save the 14th useless and watered-down Cool-Man title. As a whole, I wish the industry would think a little before they launch the titles, take better care of them once they’ve launched and look across their entire line before they start cutting off noses to spite their faces, so to speak.
I have a lot more to say on the topic, but I’ll give it back to John to digest my rant and reply appropriately.
Well, before I delve into what you wrote too extensively, I have to completely agree with you that these choices are short-sighted, and that all the choices the Big Two make fall into that category. Sadly, I feel that’s a problem with much of the world today; we tend to live in a very short-sighted society, which can’t look more than a few weeks or months into the future. The comics industry is obviously not as strong as it could be, as it has been in the past, and indeed, as strong as it is in other countries. While there are numerous reasons for this, I believe that, to change this and to really turn the industry around, the leaders of this industry are going to have to look to the future and make some difficult choices. They need to completely change the way they do business, because the current business model? Not working out so well.
I agree with much of what Jason says, although I feel that you don’t hit a wall of diminishing returns in a financial realm only, when you publish multiple titles featuring the same character; you hit that same wall in a creative realm as well. Put simply, Batman may be one of the most interesting characters in creative fiction, but he’s not interesting enough to feature predominantly in six books a month. If you insist on publishing six books a month featuring this character, you are going to start running out of ideas, and you’re going to either recycle old ideas (changing little) or you’re going to get some really bad stories.
Understand that I am quite cognizant that bad stories can happen in the books of characters that only have one title. My point would be that, in the case of a character like Batman or Superman or Spider-Man, you should easily be able to get the top creators in the business to chronicle their adventures. If you restrict their adventures to one main title, you can have the top creators in the business telling their stories, and you don’t have to worry about trying to find others to pad the pages of the many ancillary titles that feature them. You would have creators who would be building on many years worth of stories, yes, but those years would only be filled with twelve or twenty four issues worth of stories, not sixty or seventy two issues, as we have now.
I also see how budgets are limited, and multiple series featuring a favorite character can really hurt a buyer’s wallet. I’m sure that, if this was suggested to the Powers That Be that run DC and Marvel (and I’m sure it has) they would counter that, if they drop two Superman titles a month, the consumer who was purchasing them wouldn’t then start picking up Manhunter and Blue Beetle; they’d simply save the money, or use it on another form of entertainment. Unfortunately, the Powers That Be could be right, and consumers might react that way. Still, I believe that it’s a chance that must be taken. I believe that, if given more choices, not only might current readers try something different, but that new readers might be brought into comics, since there would now be a better chance that the Big Two were publishing something that might interest them. This wouldn’t be a quick process, as there are decades of preconceptions built into our culture, but going back to making far sighted decisions, those preconceptions will never be broken down if steps aren’t taken to do so.
Okay, intermission is over. The rant may continue.
Right. I’ve gotten my breath back and I’m ready to sound off again! I like the point you raised at the end. I think there’s a general fear within the industry that they’re competing against video games and movies and all the other related disposable entertainment. However, you can’t ever succeed if all you do is operate on a fear-based model. Don’t take chances! Don’t do something that may alter the sales patterns of the last four years! Don’t make any changes to characters or continuity that can’t be explained and changed back at a moment’s notice! Don’t try to attract new readers in a new way! Don’t put any effort into cross-promotion outside your sheltered little industry!
Look, how simple could this be? Instead of putting the onus on the retailer to sell your product, why don’t you do something that could help out everyone? Pundits like to draw conclusions about comic books from comic-based movies. The new Batman flick did gangbusters, that must mean the comics are selling millions too, right? Um…no. The person who watches a movie isn’t necessarily the same person who has spent a decade following the adventures of his favorite hero. Sadly, while most comic book readers will flock to comic-based movies, most comic-based movie watchers don’t flock to comic shops. They go home and watch TV or go see another movie or go out in the sunshine and engage in sports or social events. It’s not a two-way street by any means of the imagination. Readers need to be cultivated and, in a way, bred into existence. I can’t think of one person I know these days who just decided one morning to be a comic book reader. And the industry does little to help. I always believed there was potential to cross-promote a movie into a visit to the comic shop. That is, until I actually owned a comic book store. When someone wanders in looking for a recommendation, sometimes you’re at a loss. Sure, if they just saw From Hell or V For Vendetta, you can recommend the source material verbatim. However, X-Men: The Last Stand came out while I had my store. Someone who knows nothing about the X-Men, aside from what they’ve seen in the theater, comes in looking for an X-Men comic book. How do you explain to them that there are about a dozen titles to choose from? Or that you could recommend another dozen or so collections and trades, all with different characters, plots and creative teams? Which do you think they’d like? Which ones do you personally think are fabulous, but could lose the person you’re showing it to? And if you make one bad recommendation, you risk losing that customer forever (not that there’s a guarantee that they would come back anyway).
Maybe I was just a bad salesman…I’ve heard from both sides of that argument already. I know that not all superhero movies can pull a revered plotline straight from the pages and slap it up on screen. Concessions need to be made in terms of pacing and costumes and special-effects abilities and even for the translation to viewers who aren’t familiar with comics in general. But imagine how much easier things would be at the retail level if there were only one Batman title on the shelves. Someone walks in, says they just saw the film and now they want a Batman comic and BOOM, instant sale. You don’t need to spend an hour explaining the story or the crossover or the extraneous characters popping in and out of every other panel. Just, here’s the monthly Batman title. I would also like to believe, and maybe I’m just an eternal optimist, that one title would mean better stories. You have a built-in filter. Let the top creators pitch their stories and pick the ones you think are tops. Don’t just settle for whatever because you have 150 pages to fill in a month and you think consumers are mindless sheep. KISS…Keep It Simple Stupid!
I’m old enough to remember the DC Implosion of 1978. Twenty titles were cancelled and a handful of other planned books were nixed due to low sales attributed to a couple winter blizzards (which points to an obvious flaw in your business plan). Granted, none of the titles were anything to write home about…with the exception, in my little world, of Mister Miracle and Secret Society of Super-Villains. However, DC was also on the verge of eliminating their flagship title and namesake of the company, Detective Comics. Only a last minute merger with the better-selling Batman Family kept Detective in print. It goes to show that a bloated line can be dangerous for even your most historic titles. Maybe Detective should’ve been sent packing? Nostalgia can only sell so many books, the rest need to be sold on story and characters…unless you count that brief span in the 90s and early 00s where sales were artist-based, which always baffled me.
Of course, once you start talking about cancelling titles, the fanboys start to freak out about cuts across the board and people losing jobs and companies going out of business. I recently read a post on the new version of Blog@Newsarama (which is horribly amateurish and, at times, just plain awful, compared to what they had before), in which the author tries to make a connection between a film studio cutting back on its staff and the time of the successful comic-based movie coming to pass. This point is crowbarred in right after he points out that The Dark Knight just made a billion dollars and that comic-based movies are more successful than ever. If comic-based movies are so successful, why then, in any sense of the definition of logical, would film companies stop making them? Just because they lay off part of their office staff in order to reduce overhead, doesn’t mean they’re suddenly going to wipe their upcoming slate and devote all their resources to making documentaries about churches and playing chess. They’re not going to suddenly stop producing the one film genre that is bringing in demonstrable cash. And, even if they did, there’s absolutely no correlation between a reduction in comic-based movies and the sudden and complete collapse of the comic book industry. Popular comics have been produced since the 1930s or earlier, and the first successful comic book movie was…Superman back in the late 70s. With a glowing track record like that, I’m pretty sure the industry will survive.
I’d also like to point out that comics more or less thrived during the Great Depression and, even though the popularity of superhero comics waned in the post-World War II world, other genres…crime, horror and romance…rose to outpace their flagging sales. Granted, comics back then were MUCH less expensive and usually appealed to a broader swath of the population, but the need for entertainment and an escape from reality are never stronger than in poor economic times. I don’t see this as a doom-and-gloom scenario. Rather, I see today’s market as a chance to correct problems, exploit opportunities and generally right a ship that has been lazily listing for the past decade, like a rowboat with only one oar…circling and circling until the rower can’t do it anymore and the boat just drifts off into the horizon. Build up a new readership! Limit your best characters to two titles AT MOST! Create some new, compelling characters that can stand the test of time (Marvel’s last wildly successful characters, Wolverine & Punisher, were both created 30 years ago)! Come up with stories that create a foundation for new worlds instead of just referring to things that happened 25 years ago in a book nobody remembers! Go forward! Stop looking back!
Whew. That’s enough for me right now. I’m going to slap my tag team partner’s hand and just slump down in the corner until I’m needed again.
Way to go Champ. You got ’em on the ropes. Now just take a swig of this water and take a minute to catch your breath.
It has become the sport du jour in the comics blogosphere to explain to all who will listen what the best way is to fix the current economic slump which has affected the comics field since the mid 90s. I don’t think either one of us claims to be experts, but honestly, it doesn’t take a genius to know that the current business model being used by Marvel and DC simply will not be effective in the long run. They may be able to squeeze out a few more dollars from loyal customers over the next decade, but after that? Unless they change the way they do business, I simply can’t imagine there will be much of a comics industry after that point in time.
The sad thing about this is that there are a LOT of truly good books being produced right now. Regrettably, not many of them are being produced by Marvel and DC for their flagship titles, but the well written and compelling stories, with strong artwork that serves the story well, are out there. Comics can be great, and we see evidence of that right now, but we need to communicate this information to the general public. It’s become quite common to have a newspaper, magazine or mainstream internet site do a story about how comics aren’t just for kids anymore, but that’s not true promotion, or at the very least, it shouldn’t be the beginning, middle and end of promotion. Events such as Free Comic Book Day is a grand idea, except that it begins and ends in the comic shop, a place that most people who aren’t comics fans already don’t visit. We need the comic shops to go out amongst the population and sell their wares, luring the unwary back to their place of business after distributing free samples of their wares.
I’ve come to the point where I simply don’t read the amount of mainstream superheroes that I used to, which I find rather depressing. I love superheroes. I understand that they can be considered gaudily dressed symbols of a stunted adolescence, or brightly colored avatars of a power fantasy, but I don’t care. They’re neat, and when done well, they can be as deep and meaningful as any other type of story. When done well, they can also just be a heck of a lot of fun, and there’s no shame in that either. Unfortunately, so many of them aren’t done well anymore, and while I still read scads of comics (and keep up with developments occurring in both DC and Marvel), more and more what I’m reading comes from DC’s Vertigo line, from Dark Horse, from IDW, from Oni or Fantagraphics or from various and sundry other independent publishers. I enjoy their books, and I enjoy the opportunity to explore their worlds, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really miss reading the adventures of my favorite superheroes, particularly the Avengers, Fantastic Four, JLA and Titans, all of which I’ve found all but unreadable lately.
Perhaps the best way to end this thought would be through the following story. I have been trying to trade my single issue comics in for trade paperbacks for years now, as I find the trades easier to read and easier to loan to people. I also regularly go through my trades and single issues, purging those where I have duplicates of the story in another format, or those where I realize that the story isn’t very good, or doesn’t appeal to me. I never sell my old trades or single issues, but instead I try to give them to people, and many of my friends who don’t regularly read comics, but know of them, are the recipients of many of these. Nine times out of ten, the trades that they love, and the ones that they remark on, are the older ones, from the 70s and 80s. Usually I’m told that these stories were easier to follow, that they made more sense, and that they weren’t as violent or profane, which some of them find offputting (particularly those with children). If my friends and their families are indicative of the general, non-comics reading public, might we not want to consider the ramifications of their opinion?
Well, we’ve wandered all over the field on this one. Are we ready to draw some conclusions and move on?
Wait a second, you’re giving away comics? Why wasn’t I told about this? What’s going on?!?!
I kid. John actually gave me an entire longbox full of comics once. He’s quite the generous sort and always eager to spread the comic gospel to the uninitiated. I guess my past ownership of a store and our continued blathering about comics on this here internet page qualify as missionary work too. We’re like Mormons, but without all that nonsense about finding gold plates buried in the woods (and the polygamy too). I’ve been to Utah. It’s nothing special. Go Team Comics!
I have no conclusions to draw about what we’ve said. I feel like, at times, we’ve argued both ends against the middle…with the middle being rational thought and the ends being “everything is fine” and “everything is falling apart.” The industry needs to change somehow. Everyone knows it. This “circle the wagons” mentality just further insulates an already shrinking fan base while doing nothing to attract new readership. The ones inside the fortified castle are either dying off or trying desperately to break out by pounding their heads on the walls. The ones outside our little fantasyland have no idea what’s going on and just go about their business with a faint recollection that Superman is Clark Kent…or something.
At the same time, the industry isn’t going anywhere. I don’t want to say comics are bulletproof when it comes to the economy, because we all know how the industry is so very capable of shooting itself in the foot on a regular basis, but being on the low end of the entertainment radar can sometimes be a boon. Ignorance is bliss, right?
We could make a list of things the industry should at least TRY to do, but no one would listen anyway. And we’ll just keep reading whatever they put out, in one format or another. Who’s worse…the executives and editors or the readers themselves? During the recent presidential campaign, Barack Obama often used a quote by Albert Einstein to explain the need for change and I think it’s appropriate here too: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”
Maybe it’s all our fault.
Jason and I, when we discussed reviewing comics, mentioned that it was important to us that we critique the work, not the people who created the work. I may not enjoy a comic that Rob Liefeld pencilled, but I don’t know him as a man, so who am I to attack him personally? However, if one looks at the title for this entry, it may seem that I’m here to lob personal attacks on Dan DiDio, who is the Senior Vice President and Executive Editor of the DC Universe. I don’t want to make personal attacks against DiDio, who may be a nice guy, but the decisions he often makes certainly lead me to wonder if he does not, in fact, use drugs. I certainly can’t come up with another reason for many of the things he has done.
DiDio has earned the wrath of DC Universe fans for some time now, and many people point to him as the reason that DC comics are no longer considered (by some) to be of the high quality we enjoyed in the past. I normally resist looking at easy solutions or placing the blame for anything all on the shoulder’s of one person, but it must be said that, as the Executive Editor and overseer of DC’s entire output, he must acknowledge some of the blame for the perceived dip in the DC line.
Jason and I spend more time talking about Marvel than DC, and part of that is because Jason is more of a Marvel fan. I started out as a Marvel fan, but fell into DC Comics in the late 80s-early 90s and discovered that they published some amazing stories. By the late 90s, I was reading many more DC books than I was Marvel books. Sadly, my love affair with DC began to end shortly after DiDio joined the company in 2002 (as DC Universe Vice President-Editorial). It was less than two years after DiDio became a staff member at DC that Identity Crisis was published, which I have long viewed as the point where the DC Universe became darker than I enjoyed. Rape, murder and unheroic activities seemed to invade the stories of these beloved icons with increasing regularity, and while an occasional story that hits a dark point is fine, when they seem to be the norm across the entire line of comics, I begin to back off. I have been backing off more and more over the ensuing years, even dropping titles I once loved like JSA and JLA. The frustration that I feel towards the current direction of the DCU is another reason that we don’t discuss DC that much.
DiDio has continued to steer the DC line into darker and choppier waters, all the while often uttering comments which draw down much fan ire. I personally had a friend who was ready to drive to New York and stuff DiDio in a refrigerator when he said that he didn’t see the point to Nightwing and wanted to kill him off. He has supposedly been responsible for the deaths of numerous DC Universe characters, and whether their deaths were his decision or not, he certainly had to sign off on them.
However, news today tops all of these stories, as it seems that DiDio has been fighting with two of his hottest writers. Apparently, DiDio and James Robinson, acclaimed writer of Starman and The Golden Age who just recently returned to comics to write some Superman stories, had an argument with DiDio, and quit the books, and apparently the entire DCU. Even more spectacular, DiDio apparently argued with Grant Morrison about the ending to Final Crisis, demanding rewrites, leading Morrison to say he’ll not work with DC again in the future either.
Obviously, there is likely more to both of these stories than we know, and will probably ever know, but the question before us now is how DiDio could let this happen? Is it good business to allow these writers to slip away from DC? I have some points to make, and can even offer some arguments in DiDio’s favor, but I’m curious to hear what Jason has to say first.
One could make the argument that the current path that DC Comics is traveling down was not mapped out by Dan DiDio, but it’s one that he feels helpless to diverge from. Of course, one would be totally stupid to think that. The stuff with character deaths is questionable, since we all know that superheroes come and go with no sense of boundaries when it comes to life and death. Horrible things happen to these characters in an attempt to show that they are strong and can overcome all obstacles. A quick perusal of the Women in Refrigerators page shows you all you need to know about how people are treated in superhero comics.
Not being as avid a DC fan as some, I could also begin a convincing debate about the need to inject a spark into the universe. The stories of the past few decades, for the most part, have been boring and forgettable. The characters are flat and have no true sense of themselves, no depth, no meaning. I guess that’s why I feel that Identity Crisis wasn’t a completely off-base idea. That’s not to say the actual plot and follow-through were done with any sort of class or purpose. Providing a rallying point for the hero community was important. Making that rallying point the rape and subsequent murder of a hero’s wife was disturbing, to say the least.
You know how certain parts of the world are always a bit behind the times? It takes longer for popular culture to hit the shores or technology doesn’t advance as quickly in some corners? Well, in my eyes, DC is like the Eastern Europe to Marvel’s USA and Japan. Everything is either a cheap knock-off, produced to score some immediate rewards, or it’s the real thing…only about a dozen years after the “real thing” has lost its impact.
What I mean to say is, DC seems to be stuck in the gritty back alleys of the late 80s and early 90s. Everything is done for shock value. Everything is dark and unrepentant. Everything is selfish. It’s all built on vigilante justice and an eye-for-an-eye mentality.
DiDio isn’t responsible for that first woman stuffed in a refrigerator, but he is guilty of perpetuating that ideal. “Hey, that was a stunner, huh? Let’s do it again and again and again until our readers become first completely desensitized by the violence and then just flat out tired of it!” Anger for the sake of anger is boring. Seething just to hear yourself seethe is sad. And unproductive.
Dan DiDio didn’t break the pattern, therefore, it continues unabated. Fresh ideas are offered, only to dwindle off before realizing their full potential (see, for example, 52, Countdown, World War III, One Year Later, Infinite Crisis, Trinity and Final Crisis…to name a few). The biggest misstep had to be the whole One Year Later debacle. I owned my comic book store during that slash-and-burn period. We were told that all these crazy things were going to develop. We’ll all be shocked by stuff! A new Aquaman! A new Blue Beetle! A new Freedom Fighters! A new Atom! Oooh! You know what I remember from that period? Ollie Queen became Mayor of Star City. That’s it. And even that was uneventful.
Sure, there were Previews listings with parts of covers obscured and mixing and matching of some teams, but in the end nothing changed. In fact, they never even really explained the OYL thing…it just ceased to be (like Bart Allen). And that wasn’t all. The timing of the event was so ridiculous. I don’t recall if it was supposed to coincide with 52 or happen afterwards or whatever, but reading 52 just confused things further. And don’t get me started on all the dangling plotlines that 52 offered up and then never resolved (just how the hell did Hawkgirl get back down to normal size? When did Firestorm and Cyborg get disconnected from each other? And where is Alan Scott’s other eye?). I was actually enjoying a lot of DC titles right before all of this happened. In fact, I had soured on Marvel’s youth movement and was gravitating almost solely towards DC. Nowadays, aside from Vertigo, I read one DC title (Secret Six) and it’s currently on Death Row with little chance of reprieve. The DC universe means nothing to me anymore.
But enough about me. Let’s talk about all the near-public fallouts between DC management and their creators. We all know that Alan Moore has already stated that he won’t work with DC again. Not too long ago, Chuck Dixon was unceremoniously dropped from his writing duties. And now both Robinson and Morrison have had disruptive conversations with Mr. DiDio. You’re right in concluding that we can’t make complete judgments on these events without more information, but we can certainly speculate!
Is there a “Big Picture” that DiDio has in mind? I know he can’t reveal it without spoiling the plots of many titles and the development of many characters, but the general flailing about that seems to be dominating DC’s stable does not instill confidence. Morrison seems to have had a large hand in recreating and directing things for the past two or three years now. His influence is felt in nearly every title. But were all of his ideas home runs? Not by a longshot. And we can discuss that further later on in the week.
Same goes for Robinson. Here’s a favorite creator who put together a great run of comics, playing in a nearly forgotten corner of DC’s world with near autonomy. That autonomy helped him guide his characters and create a coherent vision. But that same autonomy may have colored his view of how things are done in the larger sandbox of licensed characters whose histories are written out on the sides of lunchboxes and within the confines of Saturday morning cartoons.
Who’s at fault? I certainly don’t know for sure. I’m not friends with Mr. Morrison. I’ve never shared a conversation with Mr. Robinson. I can attest to neither their characters nor their temperaments. To the same extent, I do not know Mr. DiDio. However, past practice would demonstrate that the decisions made by the editorial department have not always inspired, let alone made sense.
Wow. That suddenly sounded very academic of me. I apologize. Now I feel like I need to let loose with a stream of obscenities and snarky, back-handed insults. Blah.
Did anything I just say make any sense to anyone?
I think what you said made a lot of sense, and you’re absolutely right when you say that the dust-ups with Morrison and Robinson may have been a case of finicky creative types and not DiDio’s fault. Of course, if he’s had problems with three creators (counting Dixon) in the recent past (all three of whom have successfully worked with other editors on long term projects) it does begin to look a little worse for DiDio.
Perhaps DiDio felt that losing these creators was worth it. Chuck Dixon has always been a solid writer, but never a fan favorite, so perhaps DiDio thought Dixon wouldn’t be missed. I believe that Morrison had said he was going to leave comics, either for good or for a nice long rest, after Final Crisis, so perhaps DiDio figured he had nothing to lose by going toe to toe with him. And Robinson did leave comics for years after he wrapped Starman; perhaps DiDio thought that Robinson would leave again. But even if DiDio believed all of the arguments I’ve laid out here, it still seems poor business sense to drive off top talent in this way. Dixon may not have made Wizard’s Top Ten Writer Lists (and he very well may have at some point), but he always was on time, and his books sold in the middle tier of titles at the very least. Morrison may have decided not to leave comics, or to only take a short break, and Robinson may have been back for the long haul. And even if none of those statements are true, breaks with creative talent like these seem to be a bad idea, since you also are sending a message to all of your other talent; a message that you’re not open to new or different ideas, and that you don’t play well with others.
In the end, my concern is that DC seems to be spiraling into a black hole of continuity. Most of their titles have become so bogged down in continuity that a reader has to be a long time fan to be able to understand them. It seems like they’re now writing only to the same, hardcore audience that has been buying their titles for the past twenty years. Perhaps this isn’t a bad strategy. After all, that hardcore audience is the vast majority of the people buying their product. But I can’t help but think that no one new will be drawn into the DC Universe by the stories currently gracing the pages of their comics line. I can’t help thinking that DiDio seems to be forcing his creative vision onto the pages of the DCU, and that his vision is somewhat lacking, and very short term.
Short term? We wish! This “overhaul” has dragged on for nearly four years now, slogging through special series after special series, with entire worlds reborn and left undeveloped. When will it all end (or at least start making sense)?
Cutting ties (or having them cut) with Morrison and Robinson definitely sends a message to the other creators and it’s not a very pretty one. DiDio is basically saying “my way or the highway.” and if he won’t kowtow to even the fans’ favorite writers, then what does that mean for the day-to-day, in the trenches people?
It’s not like Morrison needs DC. I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to sit at home in his immaculate suits with his feet up on his pagan ritual dais and collect his royalty checks. There are very few writers these days who are able to not only write a good superhero yarn, but are also able to look ahead, deconstruct the genre and offer insights into how new technology, new social mores and new political developments will affect stories. Morrison has that kind of acid-tripped outlook. Even if you don’t understand all of his work, you can’t deny that it’s filled with obscure notions, intelligent details and far-reaching revelations. To disconnect that free-flowing font of creativity from DC is foolish at best, and flat out depressing at worst.
Robinson is someone who has proven he can make miracles out of tidbits. His characters are strong. His stories are rooted in pragmatic solutions. And his dialogue has a natural tone that’s pretty rare in today’s stammering, overwrought world of superheroes (I’m looking at you, Bendis). Again, removing someone from the process who is able to put the pieces together calmly and effectively is the same as trying to perform brain surgery blindfolded with live chickens tied to your hands. Why would you even try? And who are you trying to fool?
You’re right to think that DC is cutting off its nose to spite its aging fanboy base’s face. The biggest reason for my ambivalence towards DC is the density of its continuity. They offer nothing for someone who just wants to be entertained. Reading a DC title is the same experience as subscribing to the Wall Street Journal if you don’t care about government policy or investment profiles. It’s a taxing and humiliating process that either makes you feel incompetent or annoyed. Not much incentive to keep doing it, huh?
Booting the very people who offer new ideas to experiment with or a new direction to explore is isolationist, and we all know how well isolated countries thrive. That is to say, not at all. DC, in its current state, is a dying breed…an exhausted, lumbering elephant just looking for a place to collapse and be picked apart by vultures and poachers.
Jeez, that was a bit over the top, huh?
Look, I sincerely hope that DiDio does have a vision. The only problem is that he doesn’t seem to be willing to share it with anyone. And there’s no way in the world, with numerous titles and ever-changing characters under his supervision, that he can effectively control it all by himself. If no one else buys into what he’s doing, then he’s a lame duck. I hope I’m wrong, but it doesn’t look good. The rumors have swirled before and, in this industry, rumors have a strange way of coming true.
So I took my boys trick-or-treating last night and was pretty amazed at the bizarre range of “treats” they ended up hauling in…things like a bag of Doritos, a tube of Go-Gurt and a pack of those Nip-Chee crackers you get out of vending machines. I thought it would be funny to imagine what the superheroes would hand out if they were part of the neighborhood. I’ll throw out my thoughts and then see if John has anything to add…
Superman: Obviously, he’d be handing out Clark bars (and absolutely no one would see the connection).
Silver Surfer: For a shiny dude who has traveled the entire galaxy, could there be a better treat than a Milky Way bar?
Mister Fantastic: I’m guessing he left a bowl outside the Baxter Building filled with gummi bears, bubble gum and salt water taffy.
Captain America: There’s no way Mr. Straight-Laced would be handing out candy. No, his immaculately decorated house would be the one mercilessly TP’ed after he offered up apples and toothbrushes…or worse, savings bonds.
Iron Man: I’m guessing there’s a hefty collection of those airline-sized bottles of liquor clogging up a closet somewhere on the Stark compound.
Hawkman: Cans of Red Bull. It gives you wings!
Thor: Skittles, in memory of the gateway to his homeland, the Rainbow Bridge.
The Joker: Aside from the obvious, like gumdrops laced with poison or brownies filled with razor blades, I think he might go for something subtle…like Snickers. Get it? Snickers?? ‘Cause he laughs a lot?
The Blob: Empty Chunky bar wrappers…because, well, y’know…
Martian Manhunter: He’d give out Oreos, until the legal department caught up with him, when he’d switch to Chocos.
Human Torch: He’d be too busy running around with the Thing playing tricks on everyone, but I’m sure he’d leave a bowl of Hot Tamales next to Reed’s candy.
The Thing: His bowl next to the Torch’s would have pieces of rock candy.
Dr. Doom: I bet trick or treating is a lot of fun in Latveria. “Who dares TP Doom’s castle? Is that you Richards? Curse you and your automatic egg thrower! I swear on the soul of my dead mother, Doom shall lay flaming poop on the front stoop of the Baxter Building!” In any case, I imagine his gives out gummi Reed Richards, filled with a strawberry jelly, so his subjects can actually have the pleasure of ripping the accursed Richards apart and feasting on his entrails.
The Wasp: I think she gives out fashion tips. “Dear, I don’t care if you are dressing up as a ghost, that plain white sheet is booooring. Wait right there and I’ll be back with something to spruce it up!”
Dr. Pym: He gives out miniature candy bars.
Mr. Miracle: Rubik’s cubes and Chinese finger traps.
The Spectre: He gives out unholy vengeance to all those who dare to play tricks. “I saw you TPing that house! I shall now transport you to a dimension where you are made of toilet paper and the John Goodman Impersonation Society has just finished eating at a Mexican buffet!”
Got any more?
Aww…wouldn’t Wasp hand out Bit O’Honeys? And Mars bars for J’onn J’onnz (he’d keep all the Chocos for himself)?
Green Goblin: He’d have a satchel full of those little pumpkin-shaped candies, the only problem being that he’d be throwing them at everyone and cackling madly. Oh…and they might explode.
Wolverine: Candy cigarettes (if the Marvel editors will allow it).
Skrull Kill Krew: Cow Tails.
Mr. Mind: Anything but gummi worms.
So, Jason and I have been discussing bringing horror into your superhero comics, and how it can be done successfully. We thought we’d take some time to examine some heroes and teams in the multiverse of comics that we think lend themselves particularly well to the horror genre. I’m going to just mention five that I think would work well, although to be honest, I think just about any character that is not simply used for comedic effect can work in a horror comic. I’m not sure I’d write the Ambush Bug Halloween Special, although that could be very amusing. Still, it’s not hitting quite the effect that we were hoping for.
I’m not going to be focusing on characters like Ghost Rider and Deadman since it’s pretty obvious that they work well in horror comics. I’m also not going to be suggesting an entire series based around horror for these characters: I’m not suggesting a new Spider-Man book called Spidey Horror Stories or anything. I’m just going to spotlight some characters who could have a really good one or two issue story in their titles that is more in the horror genre and less in the superhero genre. Here we go!
Fantastic Four: At first it might not seem that this group, the brightly colored leaders of Marvel’s superhero universe, could work well in horror. Johnny and Ben are too goofy, and they’re a more happy-go-lucky team, you might believe. However, I think they’d be perfect. Right off the bat is the fact that they’re explorers, which means they find themselves in situations where horror could be found. In fact, I have a scenario already in mind.
Our Fantastic Foursome are flying through the Negative Zone, moving a small group of refugees whose homeworld was destroyed by Annihilus, when they encounter a derelict spaceship. Reed wants to investigate, and so they dock with the ship, and they begin to explore. As Reed tries to determine what happened on the ship and where the crew went, the team splits up to search for clues. Along the way they begin to discover that whatever happened was mighty unpleasant, and that the cause of the crew’s disappearance may still be lurking aboard!
The Fantastic Four have those dark blue/black uniforms, so they can be drawn in a darker art style and still look faithful to original design. The Thing, of course, works perfectly in a horror setting, since he’s a monster. The Thing and the Torch might be lighthearted at first, but they would get serious when the danger became apparent, and that helps sell the horror; if something can scare or at least unnerve these two, then it shows the audience that it must be pretty bad. If you make the threat something supernatural that helps too, since the FF tend to deal in hard science, and the supernatural will immediately throw them out of their element. The refugees give us characters who can be killed or disappear, since we obviously won’t kill the FF. The trick is not to make the danger about whether the FF will be killed, since everyone knows that won’t happen, but whether or not they can protect this group of refugees. Keep the refugees in danger and have the danger stalking them, and you’ve got actual tension. After all, the FF are the ones who decided to stop at this ship; they are truly responsible for these civilians, and are going to do whatever they can to protect them.
I think there are a lot of creative teams that could do something like this justice, but I would choose Dan Jurgens and Kevin Nowlan. They worked together on a Superman/Aliens story that had the sort of atmosphere I’m envisioning.
Martian Manhunter: He’s dead, which makes him perfect for a horror comic! I kid. Assuming he wasn’t dead, I think J’onn J’onzz would do well in a horror story. Honestly, were I to use him in a comic, I’d use him more like the Phantom Stranger. Because of Jonn’s shapeshifting powers, he can be anyone and anything. He used to want to explore the world around him and learn more about humanity. I can envision an actual series with him traveling the world, taking on different identities and spending time with people. In many cases, he’d be more of a guest star in his own series, as we’d truly be reading the stories of other people, with J’onn more on the periphery. Not all of these stories would have to have a horror bent, but some certainly could.
For example, perhaps J’onn meets a group of people in an inn, where he stops to wait out some bad weather on his travels right around Halloween. He spends some time in the common areas meeting the guests and giving the reader a chance to learn about the other characters. Everyone retires to their rooms, but strange things are happening. J’onn assumes the suspicious activities are part of some Halloween prank, but then people start turning up missing or dead. What’s happening to them? J’onn’s a powerful hero, but his power does him no good when he doesn’t know who the bad guy is or from where the threat originates. I think JM DeMatteis would write something like this quite well, and Tom Ostrander has the sort of moody art which would be perfect!
There’s two, and I went longer than I thought. Do you think they have potential, and do you have any of your own to add?
That’s so weird. I was making a mental list in my head and the Fantastic Four was one group that I had definitely decided could never be made into a horror book. And yet, your idea is strangely compelling. Although, to be honest, it reminds me more of a Challengers of the Unknown plot with some convenient superpowers thrown in for good measure.
For me, the obvious titles/teams/characters that could be turned in a horror direction are some of the ones we’ve already mentioned and revamped: The Defenders fighting off the supernatural in a largely covert manner, a la X-Files or Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Doctor Strange in pretty much any situation; and, of course, Batman when he’s fighting one of his more psychological (or just plain psycho) foes like Scarecrow or Mad Hatter. I enjoy the twisted paths those stories could go down.
However, if I wanted to pitch a completely new direction for an established character, I would pick:
Vision and Scarlet Witch: I know, it’s kind of a cop-out choosing a character with the word “witch” in her name, but bear with me. I see this as more of an urban horror story. Vision plays the role of the vengeful ghost and Wanda is the troubled street urchin trying to convert the masses to her way of thinking. She has that Old World bent to her, but the metropolitan citizens ignore her and look down upon her. Vision visits the successful city businessmen who have shunned their morals in favor of greed and expansion. He’s a creepy robot, the perfect representation of technology run amok, and he can float through their freakin’ walls! The Vision has gone rogue and is taking out his vengeance on the leaders of this new economy. It’s up to Scarlet Witch to find a way to soothe the savage beast, as it were. I’d like to see this written by Warren Ellis, someone who knows a thing or two about current tech but also has a foothold in the paganistic side of things too. And the artwork needs to be done by someone who has a realistic and detailed style…maybe John Cassaday? Or Tim Sale?
Hulk: Given the Jekyll and Hyde background of the character, this is probably a bit of a cheat. At the same time, the Hulk has always been more about the anger and rage of being a monster than of the dark guilt and isolation of being a man with a troubling, uncontrollable secret. Bruce Banner has removed himself to a secluded village somewhere in South America, in the windy valleys of the Andes. He’s set himself up as the town doctor, attending to the elderly residents and the children of the village. But not is all as it seems. In fact, he learns that a lot of the injuries he’s trying to heal have been caused by some mysterious beast that haunts the fields at night. A strong-willed policewoman from the neighboring city has been tasked to track this villain down. Unfortunately for them both, she and Bruce fall in love and he joins the cause to help her hunt…him. This book would have to be written from a first person point of view, like some of Edgar Allen Poe’s greatest works, but with a modern nuance and awareness. I’d put Brian K. Vaughan up to the task. And the art style would need to be dark and muted, with the monster emerging from the shadows to claim its victims. I think Ryan Sook could pull this off well.
I think any of these stories, mine or John’s, would work well in an anthology book, similar to the recent X-Men and Avengers Fairy Tales series. Thoughts?
I really like your idea of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch in horror stories, and your creative team is fine. However, if I may suggest an alternate penciller, I’d like to throw out the name of Michael Bair. He’s primarily known as an inker, and does a tremendous job in that capacity. However, he has done some pencilling, and he did a short Vision story for an anthology (probably an Avengers Annual) where the Vision goes into a burning building to rescue a child. His artwork was extremely moody and creepy (the child is afraid to go with the Vision because the Vision scares him, and a reader could certainly understand why!) and I think he might be an interesting choice.
Fantastic Four vs the Challengers of the Unknown: honestly, aren’t they the same thing, except with superpowers and a family situation? They’re both explorers, and you’re right, you could do the story with the Challengers, and it would be excellent. In fact, perhaps that could be a good pitch for the next Challengers revival; something more horror related.
I do agree that any of these ideas could work if they were fleshed out. You mention the Fairy Tales series Marvel published; why not a horror series? Start producing it in the beginning of the year, and then release it weekly in October. You could do two or three a year, four issues each, and if they come out once a week it could really draw in an audience, particularly at the spookiest time of the year. You could release collected editions of them the following year 2-3 weeks before Halloween, while also releasing a new batch of weekly horror for that year. It could be a nice marketing plan, and by the second year, you’d have single issues of horror for the comics shop crowd, and collected horror trades for the bookstore market!