One year later

Back when I basically stopped reading superhero comics from Marvel and DC, they were characterized by senselessly shocking death and depression for previously amiable c-list characters, significant revision of a-list characters to serve implausible plots, intermittent lateness of big event comics that threw the schedule (and narrative) off-kilter, editors furiously backfilling on-line, and the handful of interesting, sort-of stand-alone titles living under the constant shadow of cancellation.

The less things change, the more things stay the same.

Why do I take the time to observe this? I’m not really sure. I feel like I’m running the risk of sounding like those people who insist that they don’t watch TV or eat refined sugar. (The TV prohibition isn’t always annoying, provided it’s qualified with “because if I started watching TV, I know I’d never turn it off.”) I don’t really want to suggest that frustrated Marvel and DC fans can find a promised land of good comics in manga or from independent publishers, because the pleasures aren’t necessarily transferable.

But darn it, I make so few healthy life choices that I feel the need to celebrate them when they do occur. (“Healthy” should obviously be considered a relative term under these circumstances.)

When I compare Marvel and DC with manga publishers, one of the big distinctions that strikes me is the lack of an evident corporate personality. Obviously those personalities exist, but they don’t impose themselves on the product.

Clearly I find Tokyopop irritating from a corporate perspective, and the whole Manga Revolution/Lifestyle/Line of Casual Wear thing is completely beyond me (probably because I’m old), but it doesn’t stop me from enjoying Tokyopop’s books. Because nothing DJ Milky says in an interview has any influence on whether Fruits Basket breaks my heart or Sgt. Frog makes me laugh or Kindaichi Case Files feeds my intermittent need for grisly homicide.

In the other direction, I’m always delighted to read what the folks at Go! Comi have to say, like Audry Taylor’s dispatches from Comiket. And it’s always nice to hear from David Wise and Jake Forbes, lovely fellows both. But even if they were all scabrous misanthropes, it wouldn’t make any difference, because Go! Comi’s books are routinely excellent.

I mean, look at that interview with Dan DiDio on 52 # whichever where Booster Gold gets slabbed. (Spoiler text now obscured.) The issue sounds kind of icky just in terms of story, but it sounds so much worse when DiDio explains the rationale behind it. But hey, it came out on time! (And so much for those rumors about the DC spandexverse becoming a more cheerful place after Infinite Crisis, huh?)

So what’s my point? I don’t really think I have one aside from general smugness. There probably isn’t anything DC or Marvel could do to win me back at this point, and there’s no reason they should try. Their business and editorial decisions seem to work for them, and there are plenty of other comics publishers out there whose product and priorities work for me. Maybe I just felt a little nostalgic spleen and had to vent it.

18 Responses to One year later

  1. Anonymous says:

    Spoiler warnings – not a fan?

  2. David Welsh says:

    Well, since it had already been covered at length at Newsarama, I thought it was safe territory, but I’ll add some.

  3. Charles W. says:

    I’ve found myself picking up fewer and fewer books from the Big Two. The One Year Later deal at DC actually made it easier to drop books that I felt weren’t enjoyable enough. At the end of the day, I’m thankful that there are plenty of alternatives, whether it’s Scott Pilgrim, Iron Wok Jan, or Scrooge McDuck, and I’ll try to keep an eye out for projects from DC and Marvel I’ll enjoy, like New Frontier.

  4. danbeck says:

    You are describing my sentiments exactly. After a very long hiatus, (I regularly read GI Joe from the very early days as a child) I started collecting/reading comics again around 1998 and it took me about 3 or 4 years to realize that I was spending a *lot* of money on comics that I really wasn’t all that excited about.

    Book after book was hawked by Wizard as being the next big thing to look for, but while the art was usually top notch, the stories themselves would be stale and boring. Books that were actually fun to read like “Deadpool” were being cancelled and books that actually had real writers behind them like “Rising Stars” would be late and get even later and later until they sort of just became uninteresting and disappeared into relative obscurity.

    Honestly, these problems weren’t really enough to keep me from buying American comics at first. The real clincher for me was the slow discovery of Manga. The very idea that a “comic” could be about something other than men in leotards and tights fighting crime and wasn’t titled Archie or Donald Duck was an amazing idea. At first, I was still wasting money buying the $3 manga issues from Dark Horse and other publishers, but the quick rise of Tokyopop’s $10 GN and the burgeoning community of scanlators helped put the final nail in coffin that contained my wasteful indulgence.

    Other than their own mishandling of the industry they created and the near absolute lack of writing talent, Marvel and DC can thank Manga-Projects’ “I”s” translations and Tokyopop’s “Love Hina” releases for stealing me away.

  5. John Jakala says:

    Ever since I pruned superhero floppies from my comics diet, I’ve been leading a much healthier comics lifestyle. Yeah, it can be fun to bitch about bad comics from time to time, but I think I was feeling burned out by a long stretch of not enjoying a lot of what I was buying. Now, I generally enjoy the comics that I buy, and that’s mainly because (surprise!) I’m buying comics I expect to enjoy rather than buying comics because I don’t want to be left out of the big “event”; or because the comics were cheap at DCBS; or because I had a soft spot for that character when I was young; or any of the many other unhealthy reasons that used to motivate my comic purchasing.

    David, we should write the Fanboy Diet Guide: “How to cut your spandex consumption in half — guaranteed!!”

  6. JLG says:

    You also nailed it for me. I think what manga and indies have going for them is variety, which Marvel/DC, with their massive universes, don’t have. I can contently read Yotsuba and Battle Angel Alita knowing there won’t ever be some massive crossover where the cast of Yostuba is horribly killed off. I’m close to stopping reading superhero comics because of Infinite Crisis, which ruined Teen Titans for me, and had all that senselessly shocking death, depression, implausability (punching time and exploding Earths in the sky!), smug attitude, boring and stale and cliched stories and such. Booster Gold got off much better than Pantha. The only reason I’m hanging in is because I’m hoping for closure for Pantha and Red Star soon in Teen Titans, and that keeps getting delayed. 😛

    I think dan and John are right, I got suckered into those “unhealthy comic buying” habits. Manga and indies (maybe since I was reading them in the first place) have been providing that promised land for me, though. There’s much more variety. I can contently read Yostuba and Buddha and Battle Angel Alita, and be happy knowing there won’t ever be a crossover where the cast of Yostuba gets graphically kiled off.

  7. David Welsh says:

    Those are really interesting points. Looking back, I realize that I had actually hit the point where I would buy comics because I’d think, “Oh, lord, that’s going to suck.”

    And now I’ve got too many choices of things that I think are going to be great to have that kind of leeway.

    Though I admit that I think any superhero comic could be improved by a guest appearance from the cast of Sgt. Frog, provided they’re wearing afros and that there’s a no-kill policy.

    Oh, and did Phantom Lady really get stabbed between her breasts? I remember hearing that somewhere, but I can’t believe it’s true.

  8. JLG says:

    Unfortunately, that’s how it happened. Though I think Pantha having her head punched off by Superboy Prime, then showing it bounce across the concrete managed to beat that out. Way to go, DC. 😛

  9. ChunHyang72 says:

    Amen! Every now and then I find something at the margins of the Marvel or DC universe that interests me (i.e. “Daughters of the Dragon”), but there’s an awful lot of misogynist claptrap coming from those two presses. I, too, have found solace in manga, but I’ve also been exploring the indie press scene with purchases of “Mouse Guard,” “Robotika,” “Scott Pilgrim,” and “The Red Star.”

    And as anyone who works out regularly knows, spandex is a privilege, not a right.

  10. David Wise says:

    Jake’s not a scabrous misanthrope, but I can be kinda grumpy at times. And Audry — wow, watch out.

    Audry has just put a MASSIVE Comiket update on the blog, BTW — with some photos that are truly eye-popping.

    http://www.gocomi.com/blog/#1155958634

  11. David Welsh says:

    “And as anyone who works out regularly knows, spandex is a privilege, not a right.”

    Or to put it in more familiar terms, with great elasticity comes great responsibility?

  12. Adam Arnold says:

    I still read the majority of the main DC titles, but I only read Marvel’s Ultimate titles and Runaways. No matter what Marvel does, I’m not about to jump back on that train wreck. The reason I enjoy the Ultimate line is because it just has this manga feel to the storys. They aren’t compressed and read really well as complete stories (i.e. trades).

    DC has been very off and on in terms of quality as of late and that is really disappointing. As much as I hate to say it…you do end up just buying some titles just to have that issue.

  13. David H. says:

    Yeah, that’s the best attitude ever. Don’t like some books, just don’t get anything. All-Star Superman is one of the best books out there, but Booster Gold is dead, so now I’m not going to read it. Any great book from Wildstorm or Vertigo? To hell with that, because I don’t like 52.

    Why not do that with everything?

    Snakes on a Plane sucked, so now I’ll never watch a movie owned by Warner Brothers.

    I didn’t like “Richochet,” so now I’m never going to read anything published by Simon & Shuster ever again.

    And, I’m not a fan of Mariah Carey, so I’ll never buy an album from Sony/BMG.

    Wow, that’d be the most retarded reason not to do something, wouldn’t it?

    Yet, that is what I routinely read. Posted over and over and over again. That Blue Beetle comic book out there isn’t as good as the Rom comic someone read as a kid, so now they don’t get anything from the big two.

    Of course, if quality books would sell in the top ten, then DC & Marvel would produce more books like it. It’s not their fault, it’s yours. But, please keep throwing those tantrums because you don’t like 52 or Civil War. That’ll accomplish nothing.

  14. David Welsh says:

    But I’m enjoying just about every comic I read now. That’s not really “accomplishing nothing,” is it? At least from a selfish standpoint.

  15. Lyle says:

    Of course, if quality books would sell in the top ten, then DC & Marvel would produce more books like it. It’s not their fault, it’s yours.

    Except that we’ve had years of the publishers not supporting quality books, giving them the nurturing needed to make them into long-term hits and plenty of readers are burnt out on playing this game. There are always a small number of people who are seeking the next Young Heroes in Love or the next Manhunter and enthusiastically supporting them, but after taking that disappointing dance a few too many times, they join the majority who don’t pay any attention to titles that look like cancellation bait. There’s two partners in this dance and the major publishers have spent years dumping quality titles on the market, giving them minimal marketing support and giving up when its not an instant hit. There’s more short-term gains in promoting their top-sellers, even though it nibbles away at the types who read Chase.

    So why should I give a critically praised periodical a chance, knowing that it’s going to end abruptly without telling a full story when I can pick up an OGN from Oni or a manga digest that’s far more likely to get to a satisfying conclusion? I’ll just wait and see if they put out a complete bookshelf edition, if they don’t that wouldn’t have gone well anyway. It’s not like I’m lacking for good reading nowadays.

    Why not do that with everything?

    Snakes on a Plane sucked, so now I’ll never watch a movie owned by Warner Brothers.

    I didn’t like “Richochet,” so now I’m never going to read anything published by Simon & Shuster ever again.

    And, I’m not a fan of Mariah Carey, so I’ll never buy an album from Sony/BMG.

    Wow, that’d be the most retarded reason not to do something, wouldn’t it?

    With DC and Marvel there’s some fairly consistent patterns and you know what you’re getting. If you’re fine with that, go for it, but that’s nothing like writing off a company’s output based off of a single work as you suggest.

    It’s more like not liking Bananarama and Kylie Minogue CDs in the 80’s and deciding not to buy CDs by Stock Aitken Waterman artists, anymore… the problems are behind the scenes.

  16. David H. says:

    Lyle,

    Sandman, Starman, Fables, 100 Bullets, Y the Last Man, etc. have been able to complete whatever story they were trying to tell. All-Star Superman is for 12 issues. You are right that sometimes a book doesn’t get a chance to complete it’s story and that can be frustrating, but stuff does last. And as frustrating as it was, it doesn’t stop me from loving the Shadow or Question series from DC.

    David,

    If you refuse to try or refuse to like anything DC or Marvel does, then you are in fact doing nothing. They keep producing crap, because quality stuff doesn’t out-sell it. All-Star Superman isn’t the sales horse All-Star Batman is, despite it being vastly superior. But, that doesn’t stop me from enjoying All-Star Superman or Paul Dini’s Detective Comics (which doesn’t sell anywhere near what Wolverine Origins sells).

    It’s not the fault of Marvel that they produce shit like Wolverine Origins and it’s not the fault of DC Comics that they produce shit like All-Star Batman and Robin. It’s the fault of people that buy it and it’s also the fault of people that just stop buying anything either company produces. If Loveless or Fables were the top selling books, it wouldn’t be too long before Marvel produced books like it.

    And forgive me, but when I see hundreds (if not thousands) of posts from people upset about how the big two don’t produce good comic books and they haven’t even bothered to give any of those books a chance (Especially if some of these titles have lasted longer then fifty issues), then what’s the point?

    I’ll never understand this loyalty/disdain comic book fans have for a company. Who cares?

    Seriously, should I refuse to watch Lost on ABC beacuse they also have Extreme Makeover or the View? I don’t like the way CBS dilutes CSI, even though I wasn’t that interested in CSI to begin with. So now I will never watch another show on one of the big networks. You know what, I didn’t really care for Invasion so I’ll never watch anything that has to do with Sci/Fi again. Yeah, I know Battlestar Galactica is getting great reviews, but I’ll never even try it because I didn’t like Threshold.

    Can you imagine a TV viewer saying that?

    Outside of a comic book fan (and a College Student that takes music way too seriously), what rational person actually thinks this way?

  17. David Welsh says:

    david h, I don’t really think the Marvel/DC – ABC/CBS analogy holds up very well. Both ABC and CBS produce a wide variety of product for different audiences. Marvel and DC are more like specialty cable outlets, say ESPN or The Food Network, that focus on essentially one kind of programming. If I’m not interested in sports or cooking, neither is going to hold much appeal to me.

    Also, the characters from Lost don’t mysteriously appear on Desperate Housewives, and neither requires that I know anything about the other to enjoy them. They’re generalist programmers, and there isn’t any evident interference from the network that broadcasts them. Publishers that more resemble a television network would be houses like Oni, Viz, or Tokyopop, who create stand-alone entertainments in a variety of genres for a variety of audiences.

    With Marvel and DC, there’s clearly a corporate philosophy that guides a lot of their artistic choices. This is especially true in their superhero comics, whether it’s a line-wide crossover event or what have you. Virtually every title has corporate fingerprints on it, and if the book doesn’t, well, in my experience, that book probably isn’t long for the publishing world.

    It’s all about return on investment. After many years of reading superhero comics from both Marvel and DC, I realized that the return (being entertained) on my investment (money spent for big stacks of comics every week) was very low. With that realization, I decided that I could either continue to sift through the publishers’ offerings for books that reliably provided entertainment, or I could look to other publishers who had a different philosophy.

    And I found many publishers who made it very easy for me to be entertained by offering a wide variety of products, many of which are driven by a creator’s vision rather than a corporate philosophy, and all of which essentially stand alone as entertainments. (DC’s manga arm, CMX, is actually gaining a lot of ground as a reliable entertainment provider, for example.)

    It’s ultimately about getting the most for the money I spent on the hobby. Experience taught me that there were providers with a better track record for me, so I’m favoring them instead. It’s as simple as that.

  18. Ed Cunard says:

    David H,

    If you refuse to try or refuse to like anything DC or Marvel does, then you are in fact doing nothing. They keep producing crap, because quality stuff doesn’t out-sell it.

    Well, no. In that case, David is doing nothing for Marvel and DC, and nothing for fans of Marvel and DC comics. For himself? He’s doing plenty–he’s cut things from his budget he’s not enjoying, he’s increased the ratio of enjoyment he gets from the books he does buy, and he’s doing it without the fan-entitlement cries of people screaming “my childhood is being raped,” or whatever the current neologism happens to be.

    Really, the consumer has no rights or responsibilities beyond buying what s/he likes. David’s not responsible for doing something for Marvel, DC, or their respective fans.

    I’m buying one DC product (All Star Superman and one Marvel product (Young Avengers). That’s enough for me–my personal investment in the comics produced by those companies goes no further than that. I’m under no obligation to support other titles regardless of their quality any more than you’re obligated to purchase Love & Rockets, Scott Pilgrim or Or Else just because I like them, nor are you obligated to support Fantagraphics, Oni, or Drawn & Quarterly for publishing them.

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