Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Old Is New Again But Not Really

Sometimes I feel a little sympathy for mainstream comic writers. How do you keep characters that are 50-60 years old fresh and new? It’s the toughest part of the job these days. Do you revamp like the Ultimate line or Infinite Crisis? Do you give your hero a new costume or bring someone back from the dead? Or do you reveal your hero’s secret identity for the entire world to see? All of these things could work but the real problem is that these things have all been done before!

The Ultimate line is essentially John Byrne’s Chapter One series from the 90’s. DC’s recent Infinite Crisis is a sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths… their last attempt to clean up insane continuity tangles. Spider-Man’s classic costume was recently changed to some ugly Iron thing and now it’s going back to the black costume.

Spidey’s identity was also revealed, as was Daredevil’s not long ago. DD’s is now a matter of speculation again as Iron Fist posed as DD while Matt Murdock was in prison. Again, not the first time DD or Spidey used each other (or someone else) in their respective costumes to confuse anyone thought to have a clue to their identity. With all the “back-from-the-dead” going on in comics there are three that are “untouchable”; Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy and Bucky.

But recently Bucky had made a comeback as a longhaired assassin and Gwen Stacy almost came back but instead apparently had a fling with the Green Goblin that spawned two super-powered kids. (Don’t ask.) Uncle Ben, so far, has been the only untouched dead character. But I’m betting his days are numbered.

So what do you do when everything has been done before? Why rehash something that was already done only to change it back during the next “event”? Is it sales? Is it an attempt to put your stamp on the character for the next volume of the Marvel Encyclopedia? Why aren’t there new storylines? And better yet, why aren’t there new heroes? Sure Spider-Man, Superman and Batman are going to be around forever but the fact that Wolverine is the “newest” superhero is a bit pitiful, no? Are we stuck on these characters, are we so unable to branch out or think of a story in their universe that doesn’t involve these guys? Are upcoming movies shaping characters and costumes? Comics shaped these movies but now it’s the other way around for some reason.

Maybe it’s the fan’s fault. My favorite Marvel comic is, by far, Runaways. It’s fresh, fun, action packed and full of characters that are original on their own. The book doesn’t hinge on a Spider-Man appearance or on what happens in an X-Book. It’s a unique take on the superhero genre set in a world 60 years old and crawling with thousands of preexisting characters. The thing is Runaways doesn’t sell all that well while books with the Big Characters continue to sell even if the story isn’t all that good.

I guess it’s because pulling a Spider Book off the shelves is kinda like going to your parent’s house after you’ve moved out. It’s familiar and you know your way around. If you buy a book you’re not familiar with it’s like visiting your girlfriends parents house for the first time. You can go sit on the couch and look around but it’s not home. (At least not yet.)

So what does this all mean? Damned if I know. This has turned into the “Lazy Rambling” of all “Lazy Ramblings” But really; I think that it’s time for a new hero. And a female version of Wolverine with 2 claws instead of 3 isn’t a new hero. I’m talking about a brand-new shiny hero that is completely original. One that captures the fanboy’s interest and makes them realize that you can buy a comic that doesn’t have Wolverine in it and still buy the comic with Wolverine in it.

All right, whoever stuck with that ramble deserves a No-Prize.

Stay tuned and go click on Randall at Pixelstrips… I want in on that Top Five in the worst way. I’m that vain.



Jared said...

I think you are wrong on some of your basic assumptions. You ask how to keep a character "fresh and new" and then go on to say that it is the old familiar characters that sell. Your favorite, Runaways, is fresh and new but that doesn't seem to matter.
Even the examples you give in the first three paragraphs for "fresh and new" are really just marketing gimmicks designed to attract attention. Fresh and new isn't very important in selling a comic.
Good stories sell comics but marketing sells them even better. As crass and annoying as marketing can be it works. When a person sees two brands of toothpaste, one of which has spent a million dollars on marketing telling people it is good and can be trusted and the other an unknown brand, nine out of ten people will buy the one they know. Marketing works. Everyone knows Spider-Man and nobody knows Runaways. Spidey will sell better regardless or quality.
The reason there Wolverine is the last "new" popular super hero? What creator wants to give away the next Wolverine to Marvel or DC for pennies on the dollar? I think that is why few new heroes have been created for the big two. Do you want to be the next Siegel and Schuster or the next Eastman and Laird? Save the good stuff for yourself even if it never really comes to fruition. It beats being ripped off. I think that is in the back of, if not the front of, the minds of most comic creators.
I often read about writers being excited to "play in some one else's sandbox" when they are talking about working for Marvel or DC. They recognize that these heroes are somebody else's toys. Anything they make in that sandbox is not theirs. And you always treat some one else's toys differently.
And it is Marvel and DC's marketing muscle and ability to sustain a comic for decades (Wolvey was created in the early 70's but not well known outside of comics until the 90's) that creates a super hero with lasting appeal. Even Eastman and Laird needed the marketing muscle of Hasbro (I think they made the toys) for the Turtles to blow up into a pop culture phenomenon.
Creators not willing to create new characters for big companies that rip them off + creators on their own not having the resources or infrastructure to sustain their own characters on a large scale = no new super heroes with mass appeal.

RandyG said...

I totally agree, Jared, I guess it’s just a matter of me simplifying things to just the comic as entity of all its own. No corporate mumbo jumbo like marketing, etc. I’m anti-corporation almost to a fault… and what you’re talking about reminds me of a question I heard somewhere: “Is art funded and controlled by a corporation really art?” Depends on your definition of art, I suppose.

I touched on the fan’s influence on new superheroes and the only thing I can think of is that it is the fans fault. Kirkman’s Invincible is a really fun and well-done superhero book. I’d rather read that than Action Comics but naturally the Superman book sells more. But it’s not like Invincible isn’t available to fans. It’s on the shelf at any good comic shop and chain bookstore and any fan that hits a comic news site or message board will likely hear good things about it. Are we really at a place where we won’t buy or trust anything with a massive corporate marketing and ad scheme behind it?

It bums me out to no end, man.

Thanks for the great reply, Jared.