WRAPPING UP 2012: COMICS
I’m a media sponge, taking in all popular culture around me. A lot of writers start getting published and say, “Oh I don’t read [insert their own medium in]” and it feels a bit false, a bit arrogant. People like Alan Moore get away with making blanket statements like, “DC have only plagiarised my stories since 1984 and there’s not been a single individual thought there which wasn’t about me” and now he’s starting to sound like a crazy person. I love Alan Moore, but he seems disconnected from not only what comics are doing these days, but the present at all, if you read League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century 2009. It was basically a shout out about how all 21st century and most 20th century fiction is all awful, while being the largest work of fanfic out there.
Anyway, I thought I’d look back at the year of popular culture that I’ve experienced, and as I’ve led in by waffling about comics, let’s carry on with them…
DC: NEW 52 AND DICKERY WITH CREATORS
2011 was a big year for DC Comics, they rebooted restarted relaunched their whole main line and it had only just started. I wrote a bunch of articles about it, still some of my highest-viewed on this site. The relaunch didn’t entirely restart continuity and that has only served as a negative in the long run. The restart was an attempt to freshen up their world and rein in editorial control over a confusing universe. Back when Infinite Crisis came out, there was a campaign to say that EVERYTHING was in continuity in some way. Potentially confusing, but still fun. All the 60’s mental Batman stories were hallucinations in a sensory deprivation tank. Things like that. There were odd fixes here and there.
The New 52 has taken the strange approach of suggesting that many things have kind of happened. There was A ‘Blackest Night’, but not THE ‘Blackest Night’. The same goes for Death in the Family, Killing Joke, everything like that. The ever-lucrative Batman was mostly in canon but over 7 in-book years instead of about 20. Green Lantern and Legion of Super-Heroes continued mostly untouched from their current storylines. Everything else got more grimdark. More homogenised. Characteristics like fat (Amanda Waller) and having a baller moustache (Deadshot) were removed. Batman titles now take up a full quarter of the New 52 output, shockingly.
I reached a point in September where I’d cut a few series and had some end. Then I was listing the DC New 52 series I still enjoyed and decided to cut my standing order down to just those.
I’ve gone from 19 titles to 11. I’m still buying Batman Incorporated, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Action Comics, Dial H, Demon Knights, Legion of Super-Heroes and Legion Lost (the latter two less for enjoyment but a stupid feeling of duty as I’ve bought Legion since I was 17). Green Lantern I’m not enjoying as much and trade-waiting instead. Somehow Justice League escaped the knife, but now I know that, it’s going. I don’t take glee in cancelling titles. Part of this has been budgetary (otherwise I’d still get Batwoman and Birds of Prey), and a lot has been for the grimdarkening of DC. It’s been a bit maim-heavy in the last decade, but the sense of ‘fun’ has been replaced with what people think teenagers think are ‘mature’. The continuity’s a mess which excludes both fanboys aware of every past issue and new people who get the feeling the company’s referring to dozens of things which they’ve not seen.
I didn’t bother with Before Watchmen. Despite mentioning Alan Moore’s increasingly odd and hopefully self-parodying venom, I feel Watchmen said enough and drumming out more isn’t necessary.
The last DC issue has been its relationship with creators. This has been a time of dick moves. They made me side with Rob Liefeld, albeit briefly, until he started acting like a douche on Twitter. The flavour of writers like Gail Simone and Geoff Johns has felt diluted, people have been finding the escape hatches or being booted through them. Gail Simone was the most recent casualty, and as my favourite DC creator, that’s a bad thing.
MARVEL: AVX & NOW! (TWICE A MONTH)
Marvel have mostly gone up in my estimation. For the longest time I bought the ‘core’ X titles and anything Bendis was on board with. That was the case from when I bought Infinite Crisis right up until this September.
The X-Men have gone through complicated times, blocking a lot of people from reading them but still popular enough to maintain somehow five or six ongoing titles. The Avengers took the Bendis reboot and the Marvel films to beat them in popularity. AvX sounded like a loud, obvious attempt to get some bank from fans. It mixed writers each issue and went on too long, but was still good fun. I’ve heard people say that it reads fragmented, given the writer changes and that’s true, but this is a big dumb setpiece-to-setpiece crossover that gets your attention.
Thanks to this series, Marvel have relaunched their own lines, but one at a time, to fit with current stories and be able to have a year of first issue celebrations. It makes the change more palatable, but can make the idea of a ‘relaunch’ feel a bit hollow, like it’s one in name only.
Marvel now! Has relaunched a handful of series and with so many cancellations under my belt, I was able to afford a few Marvel titles (despite their problem which I’ll get to soon). The Avengers provides the big budget spectacle the title needs given the popularity of the films. The first issue had the film lineup of the Avengers taken down by an enemy who is bringing life to Mars, this kind of introduction will be familiar to even new readers and put them in a good place to deal with the new cast. All-New X-Men had me worried, despite the creative team, despite being a nice new main X-title. It was one too many (and thankfully some others are ending at the moment), and too odd a plot. The old X-Men are taken from between panels in issue twenty of their first run and brought into the present, a time which to them is like an apocalyptic future scenario. It’s been entertaining and seems to deal with the issue of present-day Cyclops as villain with depth and not simply making him eeeevil. Iron Man is well-written by Kieron Gillen (who I haven’t told anyone in five minutes gave my brother and I a satsuma each at a convention), but drawn by the awful Greg Land. He ruins a good book, and I thought I was rid of him when he left Uncanny X-Men. Uncanny Avengers is picking up steam with daft ideas performed in a deadly serious manner (Red Skull abducting the brain of Professor X and using it for evil). Indestructible Hulk is Mark Waid’s fantastic treatment of the Hulk in the same way he made Daredevil the comic of 2011. Rather than brood over a problem that comics have dictated will always happen to him, Bruce Banner has decided to treat Hulk like a cancer or diabetes, to be treated, but not curable with present-day science. Bruce is jealous that all the other science heroes get to be science heroes and he doesn’t, so he’ll remedy that by inventing a life-changing thing a weak while SHIELD point Hulk at things they don’t like so he can smash. Existing titles like Daredevil, Hawkeye and Wolverine & The X-Men have all been consistently fun and help remind people that comics can be dramatic while being entertaining. Grimdark isn’t the only flavour.
So yes, Marvel are great. But wait, there’s a problem even with them. Double-Shipping. We live in a poor time, and comics are getting increasingly expensive. $3.99 for a comic when magazines cost far less is cheeky, especially when the page count is being cut down to 20 pages from 22. I know it’s a tough economy for the companies as well as the audience, but they’re pricing me out of the race. The practice of double-shipping is when those 20 pages of story (at $2.99 or $3.99) are released not once a month, totalling 12 times a year, but twice a month half the time, making 18 issues. Some, like Avengers and All-new X-Men are permanently double-shipping. That’s a lot of money, and as much as new content is good, they’re pricing me out of the game. I’ll have to wait for the collections of some titles, and simply cancel others for money’s sake. I hate that.
OUTSIDE OF THE BIG TWO
I cancelled Knights of the Dinner Table, finally. The ‘Magazine’ is now the size of the collected editions, simply for all the gaming fluff. I’ve decided to only pick up the collections now that they’re going for a more decompressed route and longer storylines.
Word Balloon and War Rocket Ajax are lethal to listen to as far as hearing about fantastic new comics. Thanks to them I discovered Skull Kickers, Morning Glories and Revival, which are all great series. Star Trek/Doctor Who has been an interesting idea paced too slowly. The best part was a flashback to the original Trek and the Third Doctor. The Walking Dead and Invincible are both series I wait for collected editions of, as that’s a far more appealing package.
Exclusively on tablet/phone formats, Monkeybrain comics have released some fun titles, my favourite being Edison Rex, where a villain has taken down the biggest hero, discovered that he needs to replace him, and the world can’t get over the career-change.
I can’t afford anywhere near as many comics as I used to. DC feels that going dark is the only flavour, and seems to have been treating its creators like chew-toys. Writing with other people’s ideas is fine, but the constant change in directions, rearranging of what’s allowed and interference seems to have been too much for most of the writers & artists. Marvel are working their creators hard and pushing out too much pricy content. Both publishers are swiftly cancelling anything which isn’t performing perfectly (Marvel have pre-emptively cancelled one or two titles in the last couple of years on preorders alone), and then putting out a million things for their heavy hitters.
For the first time since 1993, it’s reached the point where I simply can’t buy every ‘core’ X-title if they still have so very many (up until Marvel Now! it was Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine & The X-Men, Astonishing X-Men, X-Men Legacy and X-Men, each shipping potentially 18 times a year).
The saddest thing is that also for the first time since 1993, I don’t really want to work for The Big Two. I know they don’t want me either, as I’m not an established writer, but it’s been a goal for a long time and the way Marvel & DC have acted with old and new creators has tarnished the dream.
Marvel have been doing some fantastic titles, bringing the core concept out, making the titles FUN again, but not at the cost of previous stories.
The good part of having $3.99 comics from Marvel is that they provide a free digital copy with each issue. As I lend out most of my comics, having them still readable on the iPad is a glory. I’ve been enjoying the layout, detail and transitions from panel-to-panel. The AVX Infinite issues given away with the main series in addition to the now-standard digital copies, were the most beautiful things to read. Inspired by them, I’ve scripted a comic with no pages, simply panels to go from moment to moment. Like most of my projects, I should really get an artist for it.
I’ve already written about Cyclops and his treatment in AVX this year. He has continued to be a protagonist, but now, unthinkably, he and Wolverine have switched hero and anti-hero roles. I still side with Cyclops, but the writing of Bendis’ All-New X-Men don’t have either side truly good or evil. I love it for that. Hawkeye, Hulk, Iron Man and Daredevil are all characters I wouldn’t normally read, but the creators behind them are so strong that they’ve made the heroes interesting and fun. Again, there’s that word. If comics are fun, I’ll go after them.
WHERE I SEE MYSELF IN 2013
I want to be enthusiastic. I really do. That’s why I’ve switched to the ‘fun’ titles.
DC are shifting teams in many of the titles I love, so I’ll give them a go with their new creative teams to see if they’ve either kept the tone I enjoy. With Marvel, the X-Titles are so in flux that I don’t know if my original plan to cancel a bunch of titles will still be valid. Sadly, as long as the companies believe their audience have bottomless pockets, I feel they’ll bring back every title which existed before Marvel Now! AND have the new ones, too.
I’ll enjoy Marvel and DC’s comics as long as they let me, and may have to flit from series to series. Marvel are looking at unleashing their digital subscription initiative which allows a monthly fee to get access to all the comics, even if it’s just for a time. I’ll probably ditch all but the X-Titles, subscribe and then wait for trade if that’s the case, and to be honest, that concept sounds kind of awesome.
Much like with books, I’ve been lured into digital technology, and am loving it. If the physical format is going to be so expensive, then this, along with well-made collected editions, is how they can win people back.