Why I Love Comics Returns!
Hey guys, Eric here. I am a man of many talents here on CR, but I let one of them fall by the wayside. I've decided to bring Why I Love Comics back full time, the column. But I think for now it's going to be bi-weekly. For this inaugural return column, I decided to write something different than what people have seen from me here on the site. So here we go, folks, an open letter to our industry with numbered points on what I think on everything that's been going on the last few years.
- Event Fatigue - I figured I'd tackle the biggest one first as I think it's pretty major. Both on and offline the last few years you hear people talking about just how annoyed they are when it comes to event books. I think the question becomes are we truly burnt out or is it just that people would like companies to focus on the content of the books they are currently publishing instead of having to worry about tying everything into a bigger picture?
Personally as both a reader and a writer, I think it's a combination of different things.
I'd much rather get my hands on something like Uncanny X-Force, which is completely self-enclosed and not tied into about 50 other things to really enjoy the story being told. With both the current books, you see a lot of negative reaction do to readers being completely underwhelmed at the material being offered.
Flashpoint is basically an Elseworlds where we know, even at the end, it's the start of a new DCU, but it still feels like it's going to have no effect at the end of the day. You go back and pick up the original Crisis and you still feel just how powerful of a story it was and what it meant for comics back then. I think I read it for the first time when I was 16-17 and even as a younger reader, I could tell that Wolfman and Perez were doing their best to tell a story that would matter and carry resonance on its own while setting up a whole new status quo. Sadly, the opposite is true of Flashpoint; it doesn't feel like it's setting up the new DCU at all, it just feels like a story that hasn't been executed to its best potential.
I mean, Johns has managed to hit on all cylinders on event books before with Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night, but this is nowhere near that. 52 even managed to be an incredibly strong story with a lot of plot points being juggled weekly. I mean, if you really wanted to be technical, I guess DC hasn't had a strong event book since Identity Crisis and that barely had any tie-ins.
Both companies seem to suffer from tie-in exhaustion. It feels like Siege, Secret Invasion, Final Crisis and Infinity Crisis all had about 20 extra books that you needed to follow in order to get the entire story.
Fear Itself seems to suffer the same fate that Final Crisis did, where its writer, while being interviewed managed to make it sound beyond amazing, and when push came to shove, it just reads nothing like what they described, which bums me completely out. It also suffers from another point I'll get to down lower in this column.
At the end of the day, I'd really like the big 2 to slowly back away from the event books and just focus on telling good stories, launch fun solo/team books and the occasional mini focusing on characters. You have the great books under guys like Remender and Fraction and Abnett/Lanning that get completely overshadowed by something that promises to "completely shake the foundation of the entire universe" and after a while the audience becomes too complacent and starts saying "who cares?"
- When did "dead means dead" stop meaning anything? - Probably around the same point that someone at Marvel basically admitted they'd kill off a character every quarter for sales purposes. It's things like that make the industry look bad in general. It shows that they are forcing and shoe horning these things into a story and flat out do not care whether it holds any meaning anymore.
Bucky Barnes died a pointless death, Ryan Choi did as well. It seems as if editorial went "So who can we kill that we don't need anymore?" and it shows completely. Heck, Ryan's death angered fans because everyone could tell it wasn't necessary. It would drive the story more to keep the hero alive and just show up later to help undermine the villain's plans in the end. Deathstroke doesn't need to be a hero killer at all in order to be a badass. It's absolutely bad writing 101. Bucky, while getting a final stand, still underwhelms just due to the fact that he hadn't been Captain America all that long. Steve had been getting comfortable in his new role still and readers were finally used to Bucky being Captain America. It not only felt forced and shoe horned into the story, but just comes off as a forced plot point to drive Steve into the place he needed to be for the rest of the story.
There was a point where death did mean something in comics. Like Wesley Dodds, Solomon Grundy in Robinson's Starman or many others. Death has become a joke and almost a revolving door for reincarnations and people being "reborn" which actually leads me to my next point.
- The Barry Allen conundrum - In my defense, I really needed an excuse to use conundrum; I absolutely love that word. Now when it comes to Barry, I absolutely don't hate the character. I do hate when a writer has to bring a character back that no one was clamoring for. Heck, for over 20 years now, Wally West was the Flash for a lot of us. I know plenty of people that flat out love the character and grew up on him. Barry's death in the original Crisis was almost as important for the DCU as what Uncle Ben's was to Spider-Man's mythology.
Barry was a character who, while his own character, helped drive a lot of other characters to become strong due to his death. Wally had to grow up and fill in the mantle because of his death and is some of the best character evolution of all time. It's actually kind of scary that, because Johns decided to bring back Barry, we haven't seen Wally at all. It's almost like a reverse characterization and Barry is responsible for replacing the guy he replaced. It's a really weird situation to look at.
It's also interesting to look at just how much Barry pushing Wally into becoming a stronger character is similar to another hero stepping into the limelight in recent years. I mean, without Ted Kord's death, Booster Gold wouldn't be the character we're seeing today and we don't see DC bringing him back (even though we all would love to see Ted back in the reboot). Heck, Jaime wouldn't exist if Ted didn't die.
I mean, the real problem with Barry being back is exactly what I mentioned, both Bart and Wally suffered for it, and while it looks like Bart will still be alive and well with the reboot, it looks as if Wally is no longer in the picture. It's an extremely odd situation to look at and something I'm not quite sure anyone at DC understands from a creative standpoint just what they did.
- When did editorial decide what was best for storytelling? - I mean, I may be flat out crazy, but isn't it the creative team's decision as a whole what will happen in the story and try to make it as organic as possible? We've seen a lot of examples of this the last few years. From McDuffie getting screwed over on the Justice League to Andreyko's Manhunter getting the "insert guest star here" treatment, it seems that editorial is stepping into more and more stories and not letting the writers cut loose and tell good stories anymore. There are obvious exceptions to the rule, but most intelligent readers can tell when this is happening and it's not healthy for the big 2 at all.
If you let a creative team cut loose, you get Starman, you get All-Star Superman, you get X-Statix and Runaways. It's just odd seeing this habit develop as a reader where you put down a comic going "why can't this writer just tell the story they want?"
- Why the heck are more people not reading Lanning and Abnett written material?! - This one is easy for me. Heck, it basically writes itself. Everything that these 2 touch instantly becomes gold. The cosmic Marvel universe under DnA has been the strongest that side of Marvel has been since Starlin. I mean, technically Keith Giffen started it, but DnA ran with it and have completely shown how important the smallest, most obscure characters can be under the right pen.
Who would have thought a book starring a giant tree and a talking raccoon would find such a big place in my heart? Or the fact that the guys are about to do a new book at DC that looks like a lot of fun, or the fact that they are now on New Mutants and have saved that book from dying. I really think they are a creative force that needs to be selling as well as the Fractions and Bendises out there.
- This one's about the new Ultimate Spidey and the overly racist fan reaction to him - I mean, I really hate to flat out come at the whole fanbase like this, but...what the hell, guys? I loved Ultimate Peter as much as the rest of you, but this is Ultimate Spider-Man we're talking about here. A book that Bendis has proven himself time and time again on. Plus, Sarah is a really strong artist, and while we haven't seen him in full fledged action yet or even a full book to himself yet, Miles seems like a sweet kid with his heart very much in the right place.
The overly racist reaction to him though? This fanbase really scares me sometimes; why is his race such a big deal? He's a brand new untested character and only a kid, where is all this anger coming from? I'd understand even a small bit if this was a Peter clone but this is a 12 year old kid who was inspired by the now dead teenage hero who hasn't been explored much yet. I'll be reading the series because I trust in the Ultimate Spider-Man brand.
- "Hello? Is this thing on?" - This one is directed more at the big two than anything else, and I would like to preface that I only speak for myself here. I've had the pleasure of hosting a podcast, writing a column and talking with plenty of creators for a while now. I actively seek these people out, but I for one cannot wrap my head around this. I am not complaining at all here, but seeing the big two only reach out to the "known" sites out there and not to everyone is something I can't really wrap my head around.
Free press is free press, gets people interested in your product and opens you up to new eyes out there. ComicRelated, ComicsAlliance, ComicbookInterviews and just so many sites are out there who love this industry and this business, but it seems they really fight to get the attention of the bigger creators, and just the bigger companies in general. I've seen amazing articles written by some great people out there and it seems they're never rewarded for it. Now don't get me wrong, that's not why any of us do these things, but at the same time, it wouldn't hurt for the big two to kind of go "hey, you want to give us press? Is there anything we can do to help you out there?"
- The industry isn't what it was when I was reading as a kid - You'd be surprised how much I hear this one and it is an extremely double edged sword. First, let me start out that once again this is directed at no one person in particular, it's just something that I've noticed a lot out there. For some, the comics they read as a kid were from the 70s, some earlier. I know a lot of people that have a fondness for material of the 80s. Everyone has their starting point.
Now the problem, especially at DC, is that some people decided that their favorite material should be the status quo again, no matter the cost (see the Barry Allen conundrum above) - that means years of character evolution and storytelling go out the window for what they want to see and write again with those characters. Sometimes it works extremely well (Kevin Smith's Green Arrow run, Johns' Green Lantern material, Robinson's making The Shade into an actual interesting character, Brubaker returning Bucky from death and Morrison's use of Magneto in New X-Men to name a few), but at the same time I know that it hits current readers the wrong way. It's like Ryan Choi doesn't matter because Ray Palmer has been brought back. (Though as of writing this column, Jim Lee has said Ryan will be the Atom of the JLA book)
But at the same time, I also have to wonder, why not try an Image book? Or really any independent comic. I've written about plenty here in this very column. If a book doesn't read like something you enjoy, why keep reading it. I know good friends who dropped the big name books in general and don't read anything anymore, which saddens me a lot. I absolutely love comics in general myself, been reading since I learned how to read. I also am under the belief that at the end of the day there is a comic out there for everyone. From Hack/Slash to the new Ghostbusters book, as an industry I swear we cover such an insane amount of material that you'd be hard pressed not to find something to read.
- "Where are all the women" - Okay, this one I've personally been keeping my trap shut on for some time. I was afraid to get myself in trouble but "Batgirl's" constant recurrence and press coverage from SDCC really got to me. Heck, I saw a column devoted at least partially to it here. (Didio's reaction to her while it could have been handled better, was understandable with how many times he'd been asked questions similar to it the whole weekend. Repetition gets people to their breaking point a lot faster than you'd think) Basically, I want to know what this fan is talking about.
Now I know at the start of the relaunch, we only have 3 women working on books, but that in no way means that there aren't any other female creators working at DC on something down the line before the end of the first year. I know Nicola Scott is on a project right off the top of my head. Gail Simone tweeted as such.
On the opposite side of things, and especially the last year you've had Kelly Sue DeConnick and Kathryn Immonen really rise up at Marvel, and Marjorie Liu as well. So I really don't get where the whole "there aren't any female creators" argument is coming from. Pretty sure I saw Becky Cloonan's name on a Doom miniseries coming out in November and Jill Thompson has some work in Dark Horse Presents the next few months. I guess my point is: There are plenty of female creators out there, especially in webcomics!
- Digital dooooom - This is my last one for this column and probably the funniest one to me as a fan. I've grown up with technology my whole life. I'm the kind of reader who likes something physical in his hands while reading, but I still like the digital medium. (It would be rather ironic if I didn't, having New Comic Day and all.) I grew up watching computers advance and phones becoming smaller and smaller, while books still very much survived.
Anyways, to really get to the heart of things, I find the whole "digital comics will kill the industry" argument kind of absurd. Maybe it's due to the fact that some of my favorite musical artists and writers have fully embraced the digital market. (Looking at you MC Frontalot and Wil Wheaton) But to declare that digital will kill the industry is just borderline insane. As I mentioned, musical artists evolved with the changing technology. iTunes, BandCamp and many other sites and applications help get music into people's ears faster. And I know plenty of music/bookstores that have survived embracing iPads, Nooks and the like.
Now to get more on point, when you search the word comics in iTunes, the first things I see are surprising. I see Hellboy, I see Atomic Robo and I see Pocket Gods (an app that they have adapted into a very fun comic book series by friends of the site, Ape Entertainment). The Pocket God digital comic has sold around 100,000 copies as opposed to print, which has sold around 7,000. I know I myself am looking into digitizing New Comic Day to see how it lends itself to a smart device.
I don't see digital killing the market, what I do see is a way to entice the 14 year old kid playing Angry Birds to download the first issue of the new Blue Beetle series or Green Lantern Corps or Ultimate Spider-Man to see if they dig it. It's a way to branch out to the digital age and show people that comics are still very much alive. It's just a completely new way to approach the industry while seeing print return to the racks at big chain stores like Barnes & Noble.
My closing thoughts: I absolutely love this industry and the people in it. I've met some of the greatest friends a guy could have because of it. I've learned how to become a better writer and learned so much from the people I talk to. At the end of the day, I write this because I want to see our industry survive. I really want to see the constant negativity start to die down and people to get positive about things again. I mean, in just about 8-9 months from now, the Avengers will be on the big screen, which I find surreal and exciting at the same time. In just a little over a week, DC starts the biggest experiment they've ever done since they originally did the first Crisis. It's an extremely exciting time to be a comic reader and something I look forward to being a part of!
Next time, we finally look at one of the biggest comic book epics of the last 20 years!
Eric Ratcliffe/Reviewer, Podcaster and Columnist
Eric is a writer/pop culture journalist/interviewer who is currently working on pitching a project named the Hunter chronicles. When not reading his weekly stack, Eric can be found watching dvd's, playing on his 360 (gamertag: Zack Hunter) or just surfing online trying to find a scoop or two. Eric is a prolific writer, podcaster and convention reporter here at Comic Related. Eric shops at TJ's Collectibles. Visit them on the web at www.tjcollect.com!
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