Thursday, September 30, 2010

Let Superman Be Superman: Five Ways to Fix Mainstream Comics

I don't know if it's just that I've been reading comic books for far too long, or that I simply need a nice cup of tea and an episode of Doctor Who to relax, but a number of things about the current state of mainstream comics are becoming considerably annoying and irritating.  At a time when the comics industry needs to step its game up more than ever, it feels like there are glaring problems that the publishers seem to be unable or even unwilling to address.  Some of these are fairly obvious, I know, so if for no other reason than my own cartharsis, here are some thoughts on what needs to change...

1.  Let Superman be Superman -- In a desperate attempt to make classic superhero characters fresh and interesting once again, too many creators are falling back on storylines where the hero or heroine is taken off the playing field and replaced by another character or they merely go elsewhere for some particular reason that keeps them from their standard modus operandi.  After spending a year on a temporary replacement for Krypton, Superman goes for a walkabout across the United States; Batman is "killed" but actually sent back in time by Darkseid and is replaced by Nightwing; Wonder Woman suddenly wakes up with a completely different life and a disappointing costume from the 1990s; Captain America is "killed" but is actually sent back in time because of the Red Skull, is replaced by the Winter Soldier, comes back but doesn't reclaim the mantle (yet); Daredevil is expected to either be "killed" or disappear somehow for a while and will be replaced the Black Panther...and so on and so on.  Sure, things need to be shaken up from time to time, but are creators that unable to be creative and tell fresh stories in the traditional format?  One of the reasons that Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman was so successful is simply because Morrison let Superman be Superman in a back-to-basics approach.  It seems a bit sad to realize this, but the traditional approach has now become the fresh alternative.

2.  Stop making mainstream comics look like independents -- More and more, I'm seeing mainstream comics adopting abstract styles originally reserved for DC's Vertigo line or little-known independent comics.  Now, I realize art is subjective and that different artists appeal to different readers, but it feels a bit wrong for a gateway title like Amazing Spider-Man to use artists with loose, chaotic styles like Eric Canete and Chris Bachalo.  I have no problem whatsoever if you want to use them on a Spider-Man story, but that story should be presented in a separate limited or ongoing series.  Amazing Spider-Man, however, is supposed to be the core title that tries to appeal to all Spider-Man fans and brings in new ones, not just the fans that want something that looks cool regardless of basic anatomy.

3.  Keep the cost of the core titles down as low as possible -- Some of the longest-running titles in mainstream comics are Action Comics, Superman, Detective Comics, Batman, Wonder Woman, Justice League of America, Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers, Captain America, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, Thor and Uncanny X-Men, and yet, many of these are now $3.99 per issue while other titles continue to sell at $2.99 per issue.  In this current economy, it doesn't help your customer base if you gouge the prices of your most essential books.  From a business standpoint, sure, it make sense to charge more for the titles that fans feel encouraged to buy the most because it increases your bottom line.  But what happens to those readers who drop titles that start charging $3.99?  Presumably, they move on to other books or they instead follow the book by reading a trade paperback inside a Barnes & Noble (often without paying for it) or even worse, they just give up following the character(s) altogether.  Digital comics will help, of course, as long as the price looks attractive to potential purchasers, but Marvel charges $1.99 per digital comic, which is only a buck cheaper than most of DC's comics printed on actual paper. 

4.  Stop glutting the marketplace -- The Solicitations for December 2010 show nineteen Batman-related titles and seventeen X-Men related titles, about half of which are completely pointless and cost $3.99 per issue.  I realize that DC and Marvel are merely hedging their respective business plans on hardcore Batman and X-Men fans buying everything that appeals to them, but these excessive titles take up comic store shelf space that could be used for something -- wait for it -- different.  I don't expect DC or Marvel to be willing to give that precious shelf space up to a competitor, but they should at least give us a taste of other concepts and characters from within their own house.  If each of the Big Two dropped at least six superfluous titles and replaced them with something else, that's twelve new types of books on the stands every month right there.

5.  Treat your fans and your fellow creators as you want to be treated -- Thanks to blogs, comics news sites with forums and various social network platforms, I'm seeing too many so-called professional creators getting into arguments with their so-called fans and more often than not, with other creators.  Some of these arguments are unavoidable, especially when one particularly disturbed fan or creator calls someone out, but it feels like almost everyone is ready to pounce on every stupid little thing that gets posted.  Back in the day, most fans interacted with creators at conventions or through snail-mail correspondence.  Not nearly as effective as posting comments on a message board, perhaps, but the price of technology is apparently being able to argue with someone more efficiently and directly.  Fans have the occasionally well-deserved reputation of failing in the social graces, so it's particularly unsettling to see creators stooping to their level with the only difference between them being paychecks and published products.  I know they're creative artsy-fartsy types with passion and strong opinions, but when they criticize the behavior of rude fans, it often comes off as incredibly hypocritical.  You can be better...all of you.

So this is some of what I'm feeling at the moment.  How about you?


  1. I totally agree with the price issues you mentioned. I can't afford the comics I love to read. So I have to wait until they come out in trade paperback form. I don't read them at B&N though, I just reserve them from the public library. I think it ties in pretty closely to the over-proliferation of titles around certain characters / groups. There is no way I can keep up with all the X-series, so it makes it easier to go "Eh, forget 'em all then." I don't want to read half a story (since they always seem to tie together) and I can't afford all the titles, so then I stopped getting comics.

    Now I just gotta scrape together enough money to pay my current library fines.

  2. I feel you, Annika. I realized a long time ago that there is no way that I can afford to get all these extra titles, so I generally stick to the core titles that I've bought for years. If some crossover event ties in to the other titles, chances are they'll be collected in a trade paperback and I'll just wait and read them then as if they were deleted scenes or something.