If you’ve been keeping up with what’s happening in the world of comic books right now, you’ll know that there are two large scale events occurring across both major comic book publishers: DC and Marvel. These events — DC’s “Convergence” and Marvel’s “Secret Wars” — are set to reshape their respective universes. The question is: for better or worse?
DC rebranded/relaunched themselves in September 2011 under the “New 52” moniker. In essence, DC cancelled all existing titles, including Action Comics and Detective Comics, which had retained their original numbering since the 1930s with all new first issues. Here we are June 2015, less than four years later, and DC is ending the New 52 brand (but maintaining the New 52 continuity) in favor of starting 24 new series beginning at issue one.
Marvel relaunched themselves with Marvel NOW! in October 2012 with several new #1 issues. It was recently announced that Marvel will once again be rebranding themselves at the conclusion of Secret Wars with an “all-new, all-different” Marvel Universe line of comics, which will include #1 issues for about 60 titles. This less than only three years after their last rebranding.
More of my knowledge lies in Marvel comics, so I’ll use them as an example.
It’s no secret that the comic book industry — or the publishing industry for that matter — is struggling. How do you keep readers interested in a comic book series/universe that has become convoluted and ongoing for 75 years? Simple, start over from #1.
If you look at the past 10 years or so of Marvel, you’ll see that they’ve been struggling to generate interest in their books unless it’s something controversial and out of character, such as Peter Parker making a deal with the devil to save Aunt May in exchange for the history of his marriage with Mary Jane (what?) in One More Day. If you’re wondering why the soul of Spider-Man is less valuable than the history of his marriage then I’m right there with you. But I’ll tell you why this happened. It developed out of the need to retcon Spider-Man’s identity after he revealed himself to the world in Marvel: Civil War.
Indeed, if you look at a lot of major events in Marvel, the majority of them have all been ways to try and fix SNAFUs the comic book giant had created for itself. Civil War left Tony Stark in a major position of power and in order to undo that, Marvel released Secret Invasion, which then made Norman Osborn and Marvel’s villains major players in the continuity, which once again needed another event to restore order.
In fact, if you look at Marvel’s cross-over events since 2010, you’ll see there have been a whopping 28 events in only 5 years, whereas 2000-2010 only had a still substantial 18 (source). Go back further and you’ll see the 90s had roughly 20, the 80s had 11, and the 70s had 6. Does anybody else see what’s wrong here? Because apparently Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso doesn’t.
It’s pretty clear Marvel is screwing the pooch on their side. They’re looking to consolidate what’s left (and popular) from their franchises and other universes using Secret Wars as a means to do it, which I admit is clever. But here’s the catch. You lose what made those characters from those universes so special. Now we’ll be seeing a Marvel Universe where both Spider-Gwen and Miles Morales have to compete with Peter Parker. What made Spider-Gwen and Miles Morales unique was that they were heroes in their own right, in their own worlds. Now they get Parker’s sloppy seconds, because if Superior Spider-Man proved anything, it’s that there is only one Spider-Man and that’s Peter Parker. This town ain’t big enough for the three of them.
Then there’s the issue of diversifying comics. Simply gender/race swapping heroes does not equal diversity. It’s like affirmative action gone bad. Comic book publishers are criticized for not having a diverse roster, which is understandable, so now they just swap out a popular hero for a minority whether or not it really makes any logical sense. Look, Thor is a woman now, see? Diversity! Hey, Bobby Drake is gay! We’re doing good right? Wrong.
Why not create superheroes who happen to be a minority rather than making them a token minority and forcing them into roles and backgrounds meant for someone else? Black Panther is a minority and a badass superhero created in the 1960s, yet he hasn’t had his own solo series since something like 2012?
And why are these heroes still idealized? I’ve struggled my whole life with my weight, as do millions of other people, why is the only fat guy in the Marvel Universe a villain called The Blob? Wolverine is one of the only popular heroes I can think of who wasn’t idealized: he was a short, hairy little man — except now that Hugh Jackman is synonymous with Wolverine, the comic character has slowly taken on more of Jackman’s traits — tall and good looking. If you want to diversify comics then make Bruce Wayne 5’10” instead of 6’2″ and stop drawing him so damn good looking with muscles like a bodybuilder. Same thing with female characters. Stop making them look like models with unrealistically proportioned anatomy. What difference does it make if a character is black, white, gay, straight, male, female when they’re still portrayed with the physical features of a model or movie star?
I think it’s pretty damn obvious that these cross-over events are reshaping the landscape and doing so much damage that there’s the necessity to reboot. I mean, 28 events in 5 years? Marvel and DC are like Frankenstein’s monster at this point, just stitched together abominations that can’t even stand of their own two feet for more than a decade.
How do you expect readers to keep up with what’s going on when you have so many events that are constantly throwing things for a loop? It doesn’t matter if you start over at issue #1 if you plan on having multiple cross-over events in a single year. By the time year two roles around Spider-Man will be retconned as his own grandpa!
The term “wipe the slate clean” has been thrown around a lot when it comes to these rebrandings. But is the slate really wiped clean? Because it’s not. It’s like erasing an old chalk board with a bad eraser, it just smears and makes things more messy, but you keep trying to write something new on it anyways.
Here’s an idea Marvel and DC — how about you really wipe the slate clean. How about if you’re wanting to rejuvenate your ailing books and expand your audience, you actually do a full reboot? You know, start from Batman or Superman’s origins and work your way up? Create fully planned and cohesive story arcs that make logical sense. Hell, they don’t even have to be original, just tell the same stories over again with updated artwork and dialogue or a different take/spin on them à la the Hollywood films. There’s already a proven example of this that works, it’s called Ultimate Marvel.
Your readers can see you’re making this shit up as you go along. Why do you think Game of Thrones is so popular? Because it was planned out. Why do you think Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is so popular? Because it’s planned out. Do you see what I’m saying here?
You have fierce competition from outside sources and other forms of media. There seems to be no forethought or clear direction where you’re taking your companies. Things like female Thor, Spider-Gwen, and soft-rebooting your universe — may make you a quick buck now — but you’re doing irreparable damage to your brand.
There’s a reason why your companies were able to survive for so long despite being on the brink of death many times. You had a brand and characters that people loved, with stories that captivated audiences. They were so iconic in fact, that despite your books not selling, Hollywood bought the rights to the property and has made billions. But once that well dries up, what next? What happens when the comic book movie bubble bursts, which it inevitably will — in fact, we may already be seeing the decline with Spider-Man on its third reboot and Avengers: Age of Ultron not doing as well as the first film — then what? Will there still be a Marvel or DC comics 20 years from now when moviegoers are tired of superheroes? Because seriously, things are looking like a bad soap opera, even more so in the past 5 years than they ever have. Maybe the editors are just caught up too deep in what they’re doing that they can’t take a step back and see the forest from the trees.
But from where I’m standing now, it’s looking rather bleak. Change is a good thing, but it can’t come about it broad, ham-fisted strokes. To quote Fry from Futurama, “but that’s not why people watch TV. Clever things make people feel stupid, and unexpected things make them feel scared.”
So start getting your act together guys and prepare for what lies ahead. Focus on what made you what you are today: good, interesting, and original stories featuring larger than life characters that people look up to.