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Musings by an Elder Statesman of Geekery, including such topics as, but not limited to: Comic Books, Captain Action, Toys of the 1960's and 1970's, Vintage Action Figures, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Fantasy and Sci-Fi TV, Horror Films, Universal Monsters, Classic Movies, Film Noir, B-Movies, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Public Libraries, RPGs, Superheroes, Saturday Morning Cartoons, Dr. Who, and the History of Southern Illinois.

Friday, March 1, 2013

DC, Marvel...Stop Before You Kill Again!

My open letter to DC Comics re: the 2/27/2013 death of the newest Robin, Damian Wayne.

"Dear DC, in your current era of generally unimaginative, uninspiring, repetitive and unpleasant comic books, 'Killing a Character' is all you seem to know how to do. And you don't even do that very well. But since you seem focused on following this path so often that the Styx route needs a toll booth to help prop up sales, please do all of your once-loyal readers a favor and indulge yourselves; kill everyone. Go ahead, get it out of your system, we'll wait. Kill every single character in the most horrible and inappropriate way possible. Then fire yourselves. Clear the queue so that Time-Warner can begin from square one with new characters and, hopefully, they can also find some editors and writing talent worthy of the profession. And while you're at it, allow any rights regarding established characters to revert to their creators or their families. At this point, only doing these things could create the shock and awe you so crave. But killing a character, AGAIN? Meh, not so much."

Perhaps rightly, it is said that the writers are not to blame so much as the current crop of frustrated-writers-masquerading-as-editors. This may, indeed, be the case. If the new (original) owners of the characters wish to hire some of the former writing talents and let them, you know, actually -write- stories, then no harm and no foul. But short of a scenario as ground-breaking as the highly unlikely one outlined above, I don't see myself ever being a 'regular reader' of the Big Two comics companies ever again.

Hopefully, this won't come off as Bitter Old Guy Unhappy That His Generation's Versions of the Classic Characters Are Being Updated. Because I have not been that bitter old guy, not through untold Secret Wars and an infinite number of Crises. I fully understand and even laud DC for ending the simultaneous courting of new readers and Baby Boomers by 'reimagining' classic story lines of the past with a modern twist. It was kinda fun but not always workable, and likely...for the most part...pleased neither of the target audience. Superman Red & Superman Blue as energy constructs/variations of the Man of Steel, and with roots waaaaay back into a Silver Age Imaginary Story. Cute. And DC, especially, went to that well more than a few times in an effort to please older and newer readers simultaneously. Nifty. But that ship has sailed, and the crowd gathered to bid it farewell at the docks was minimal.

Comics and their characters must grow; change, change, transmogrify! Gone, gone the forms of yore, rise the fifty-two new, create your own and original Lore!

Buuuuuuut, apparently and for the most part...most, not all...this new approach has not seen a sweeping and grand new Age of Story Telling. The reasons why are many and varied and accompanied it seems by much finger-pointing and blame-casting. But as a mere spectator to the Comic Book Gladiator Games of 2013 ('Read & Circuses?'), it looks as though the industry both at the House of Ideas and at their Distinguished Competition threw off the old and much-scribbled top sheet of the Tablet of Continuity so that they could, unimpeded by the past and with a clear vision for a future of exciting untold and original stories, use a fresh, clean, unmarred top sheet to catch all the magic. Gutsy move, and I applaud them for being both brave and bold in taking it.

But then, the spell faltered. Perhaps it was missing a small-yet-vital component. Maybe it ran straight into the Cliffs of Insanity after taking a bounce off a Rock of Eternity-sized writer's block. Again, as mostly a spectator and casual reader, I find the New Turks (editors, writers, artists) have simply not managed to tell exciting, untold and original stories that can compare in charm, skill and execution to the Old Masters they wished to acknowledge and yet surpass. Or at least replace.

The corporate atmosphere can not have helped in the effort. The Big Companies treat their talent badly for the most part. Yet, this is not a new development, so just how much this plays on the court of the ongoing comic book Battle for Survival is unknown. One corporate philosophy does seem to be a game changer in my limited estimation, however. I never thought I'd see a day when a limited series was developed and started only to be cancelled in Issue 5 of an 8 issue run because it just wasn't profitable enough (despite having already paid for the writing and art at least through Issue 7).

Let us expand the list of WHAT SEEMS WRONG AT THIS JUNCTURE IN COMICS HISTORY. Not everything following will be true of all titles, creative teams, etc. Some may be (probably will be) dead wrong, or piddling and of no consequence in the Big Picture. But taken altogether, they may pinpoint a few areas that are proving problematic in the profitability of the art form as it stands today.

Let Us Cut Down All the Trees for Lumber and Burn the Seeds - Yah, this has been a problem for a while now. The Big Two want to fleece the maximum number of $$$'s from those who have the most $$$'s. They are just as happy to take it in exchange for cool figures, statues, t-shirts, posters and brik-a-brak based on their character images as for anything written or drawn...like, y'know....books. Books that all the non-book stuff is based on. Continuing to ignore young potential readership because it is 'not as profitable', because 'kid books don't sell' (which REALLY means in corporate-speak, 'they don't sell enough to make us happy'), is unwise, unhealthy, unimaginative and unconscionable. It's a business bottom line upon which is written the word 'DOOM' for DC & Marvel both. And it has nothing to do with the ruler of Latveria. How to fix? Invest in kid's material 100% more than you currently are. 200%. 300%.  Ignite their imaginations. Write stories that are clever, engaging, fun, creative. AND make the written materials (not just cartoons on TV) readily available in outlets and places kids frequent. Take a financial hit if you have to. The investment will enrich the comics art form of the future. And it will repay you in future financial footing, too, Big Two. But it -will- require more of that bravery and boldness mentioned above since it violates the company policy of Instant Return on Investment. And on a related note...

Freeze Cover Prices - This notion is so eloquently expressed by Slade Grayson in his online feature 'What's Wrong  With Comic Books?' (found in its complete form here http://www.examiner.com/article/what-s-wrong-with-comic-books) that I will excerpt it for this posting.  "The United States Postal Service reports record losses and blames email and competitive package delivery services as the reason why their consumer base dwindles every year. So how do they combat the shrinking customer numbers? They raise the price of postage over and over again and talk of stopping service on Saturdays. And how will the customers react? The same way they have been: Sending less cards and letters through the mail and seeking cheaper shipping services elsewhere. And of course the USPS will simply raise the price of postage yet again.
It's the same principle with comic books. The market shrinks so the companies raise their prices, which causes more readers to drop some of their regular titles or stop reading comic books altogether. In which case the companies will raise the prices again in order to cover their bottom lines. And on and on…the serpent swallowing its tail again.
A suggestion: Put a freeze on cover prices or convert the comics to a paperless format (i.e. digital) so readers can still enjoy their favorite series without the possibility of having to go into bankruptcy."

And online downloadable comics have become a reality.  So there is -some- progress on this point at least. 

Concentrate on the Charm, Lose Some of the Ugly - This is probably a true Older Reader View. It may have nothing to do with Current Reality. Prove to me that the success of past comics enterprises had a lease on Reality or anything more than Wish Fulfillment, and I'll remove this one. Until then, it stands. But in that casual reader way I've mentioned, I have recently picked up some DC and Marvel fare deemed worthy of collecting into TPBs and even hardcovers at the local library. There was no spark there for me, but then I -am- one of those Older Readers, not given to spontaneous sparking as perhaps I once was. So, after reading these tomes I decided to see what others, regardless of age, had to say about the collections and the Big Events condensed and included in the volumes. I wanted to know how the general readership reacted to them. The word that was repeated over, and over, and over was 'Ugly'. It was an ugly story, characters were acting out of character and in ugly fashion, the ugly response of the heroes was no better than the problem posed by the villains. Readers (new, young, old, casual, intense) shared a common care about the characters involved and how they were portrayed. Based on their comments, they cared lots more than the people editing or creating these books did.

Creative control in comics believes at the moment that the harsh economic times and world we live in must be reflected in their pages. I get that. I agree. But so did comics in WWII. In the Great Depression. In the Viet Nam era. The difference seems to be that in those past instances, comics reacted and reflected the world stage by being HOPEFUL. Better. Challenging. Full of ideas and discussion. And they avoided Being Ugly to reflect and comment on the Ugliness of the Times. Hell, sometimes they even offered solutions. Takes wisdom to do that. Takes wisdom and talent...writing, editing, rendering...to do it -and- make it entertaining. The Old School did it. How about you, New School? Not saying every issue must be sweet and sugary, either. In the later Silver Age and early Bronze Age of books, relevant issues were tackled right alongside the more heroic stuff. In DC's case...you have 52 worlds. In the Mighty Marvel 'Verse, you have untold Future Worlds and Dimensions. If the continuity between these visions is problematic for you, set the happenings of one in a place where it fits. Have Zombie World. Have Death World. Put the major characters of that reality -in- that reality and kill 'em all. Let the readers sort 'em out. Hey, here's an idea...based on some of that unpleasantness, contrast it and play with what's happening in the Prime versions of your worlds. While Batman kills Superman on Death World for the 15th time, have their actions in Prime reality contrast to the opposite end of the spectrum, similar happenings but very different outcomes, in a creative manner. Theoretical physicists say there may be an unlimited number of realities, each changed by the decisions the 'us' of those other dimensions make. That in some reality, somewhere, we can all be Batman. Play with that! Never since the premise of Farmer's 'Riverworld' books has there been such an opportunity to flex your creative muscles! But do not do yourselves, your readers and your art a disservice and inflict Ugly everywhere. There is simply no reason for it.

COMING IN PART 2....  More steps to reclaim comic book greatness!  How printed books should take a page from movies based on them!  And I answer the age-old response, 'Oh, yeah?  If you're so smart, what kinda comic book series pitch would YOU field?'  PLUS:  Laying down The L.A.W.!!!

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