“This is why the outside world laughs at us. This is ****”
So swears Border City Comics owner Tim Girad. Girard feels that these ‘events’ do only harm to the ever-shrinking comic book industry. The mainstream media does not do front page stories about Chris Ware, or Jeff Lemire or the 2012 Valiant Relaunch; they exclusively focus on media stunts aimed at the wallets of nostalgic 30-somethings.
So, mainstream folks walk into a comics shop to ‘give comics a chance’ because they’re friends have told them that ‘comics are good now’. But instead of picking up a comic recommended by dealers or critics, they seek out the latest media-stunt junk like The Death Of _______ or President Obama Meets _______.
They read these stories and feel rightly ripped off. The Death of Superman, Hal Jordan Goes Crazy, Bane Breaks Batman’s Back, The Death of Johnny Storm et al. The quality may vary, but none tell a good enough story to keep readers coming back. Each one of these events leave the comics industry in a worse state than before. We do need new readers but this is not the way to do it. It would do more good to call attention those rare moments when good writers take on iconic characters. Sadly, they can’t even manage this.
DC recently published a free ‘preview’ edition of the confusing ‘Batman: Earth One’ comic that left me scratching my head. Never mind that there is already a perfect way to introduce new readers to the modern Batman backstory (Batman: Year One), the title ‘Earth One’ only makes sense to long-time DC fans, and the tweaks in continuity will only confuse readers looking to expand on the status quo established in the Christopher Nolan Batman films. To drive home how incompetent the promo is, they actually include a sample of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s smash hit ‘Court of Owls’ story from the rebooted Batman #1, but do not advertise it on the cover!
DC also published an ‘Arrow’ comic to tie in with the new hit series from CW. A decent story set in the continuity of the TV show opens the comics, then we are treated to a sample of the recent ‘Green Arrow #0’. This follows the same forumla as the above mentioned Batman story, but the problem is reversed; in this case the opening story makes sense because it ties directly in with a mainstream media property. The back-up story is an example of one of the many (many, many) failed reboots that came out of DC’s ‘New 52’ reboot.
Written by the ever-unreliable Judd Winick (famous for bringing back Jason Todd, a move that did nothing but nullify a 20 year old story and further cheapen ‘comic book death’) and featuring some sloppy pencils by Freddie Williams II and flat inking from Rob Hunter, this is a text book example of how NOT to lure in new comic book readers.
A confusing story that features an Oliver Queen unrecognizable to any comics reader of the past 70 years, it ends with the appearance of a grotesque Image-style supervillain named ‘Iron Eagle’ (another 80s action film reference; see Rob Liefeld’s Deadpool and Diehard) that looks much like the generic ‘modern’ villain archetype that Alan Moore parodied in an issue of Supreme…15 years ago. Why not include a classic Neal Adams story, or at the very least a modern story penned by Brad Meltzer or Kevin Smith? At least these stories would make readers come back for more.
What can we do about this? Readers and comic shop owners can work together: when mainstream friends ask about these ‘stunt’ comics, simply steer them away. Use their interest in popular superheroes to our advantage: when someone asks for a ‘Death of Superman’ comic, hand them Alan Moore’s For The Man Who Has Everything; Nolan fans hungry for the stories that inspired that Dark Knight trilogy can be diverted away from ‘KnightQuest’ and sent directly to Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One or Gotham Central by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka.
What about Spider-Man fans? You might have to dig a little deeper to find some really great stories that adults can enjoy, but you do the work for them recommend old issues by Peter David, J.M. DeMatteis or the early stories by J. Michael Straczynski.
We must be the gate keepers. Don’t let the hype machines and Marvel and DC decide what the reputation of comics will be. We can do that. As long time comics readers, we have the power. And with Great Power Comes…well, if you’ve read Amazing Spider-Man #700, you know the rest!
Mike-EL is a Co-Producer and Founder of the Comic Book Syndicate TV series. He is an independent filmmaker, professional videographer and holds a PhD in Superhero Fun.