Just-Good-Enough Comics

So I have not reviewed things since the end of November. This is not because I haven’t got submissions- I’ve got plenty. None have jumped out at me as being worthy of review. I get a LOT of submissions (2-3 a week) but recently they’ve all been… good. I don’t mean “holy cow, these are AMAZING!” good- just… good. Like they checked the boxes on the “this is a halfway decent comic” list, but I don’t feel like discussing them would really provide any sort of special insight to my readers. If a comic was truly BAD, I could at least discuss why it’s bad or if it’s something really special I can show it to you all as a hallmark of a GREAT comic… but most have just been “good enough”. So, that’s why I am holding off on reviews at the moment. I think it’s important to speak when it’s important to do so- not just flap your gums.

 

Happy New Years guys!

Thoughts on Dave Elliott’s “Creator Owned Comic” Article

I don’t normally take time to “respond” to articles on other sites but Dave Elliott here is so on the nose with this I have to just a take a moment to talk about some stuff he brought up. I’ve been talking about this thing for years. In short, the comic industry is shooting itself in the foot by making a huge line of vastly interconnected comics with multi-issue storylines. In ye olden days comics use to be dirt cheap, self-contained (sometimes multiple stories in an issue), and as prevalent as magazines like “Time” or “Women’s World”. My favorite line from this article was, “When was the last time Time, People, Premiere, La Monde, Pravda, serialized content?”. This is so true. You don’t pick up a copy of superman in the waiting room because you haven’t read the three tie-in comics to the current storyline in Action Comics, Man of Steel, and Convergence.

I remember what got me to stop reading the new 52 Teen Titans series. I was less than 10 issues in and there was a multi-part tie in with Legion Lost, Superboy, and an annual issue. Mind you, I thought Superboy was a tool and I couldn’t care less about Legion Lost. I still think that actually; but I had to buy 4 comics to understand what amounted to some poorly written deus ex machina to toss these three titles together and one big fight scene. It didn’t get me interested in Superboy or Legion Lost- it turned me off to all three and an issue later I stopped reading.

 

Ok, so imagine this:
There are 6 or 7 comics that DC (or Marvel if that floats your boat) publishes. Each of these titles feature a heavy hitter (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc) or a team of heavy hitters (Justice League, Batman Inc., Green Lantern Corps, the Legion, etc). They give us the best of the best of their writing staff (someone give Grant Morrison more things to write btw). Make the stories self-contained and accessible to new reads. Got something game-changing, a limited run, or cross-comic? Print it like a graphic novel. Collected, awesome, and a lot higher price ($15-30?). I will buy that. People will buy that. I know we all have our favorite supporting character or obscure villain or antihero or whatever. Great- give them a limited run, make on of the 6 or 7 titles a “showcase” one, feature them heavily in one of the main titles, or even do a back up story.

 

Now, having partaken in a lot of creator owned comics, do I think they are the answer?
In short… no. Go read (or try to read) Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood series. The biggest issue and, at the same time, blessing creator owned comics brings is that there is no design by committee. A guy or gal sets out to tell a story and does it all without much interference from the guys in marketing or some overarching editor dictating continuity-wide plot. Sometimes, this means that some really bad ideas get published and other times it means that some really out-there and wonderful ideas come to life (note: TECHNICALLY Sandman wasn’t creator owned but basically Neil Gaiman got to do whatever he wanted).

 

There are some REAL gems on the indie scene and publishers like Image, Dark Horse, and Top Cow have proven that creator owned comics can be done to fantastic effect. However, there is a reason Marvel and DC are number 1 & 2. They test and test and test new concepts before adopting them. They are reliance on name recognition, market saturation, and nostalgia (I mean… you know who batman is right?). Any time you see an elseworlds comic, a “what if” series, an alternate universe, or whatever they come up with to give you a new take on the character- they are testing new grounds (I mean they basically made some version of the Dark Knight returns canon at this point). See, ironically comic companies doesn’t make all or even most of their money on comic sales. No, they make it on licensing. They make deals with movie studios, toy companies, video game developers, cartoon channels (etc). This isn’t a bad thing. I LOVE me some Bruce Timm animated series and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is fantastic. However- they use comics to test out what resonates with audiences. Did you like Miles Morales? You bet your butt that they are going to shove him into everything they possibly can. How about Spiderman 2099? Do you remember him? No one does so they kinda forgot about him. Batman Beyond, which started as a TV show, was so popular they made Terry McGinnis a part of the comic universe and are still publishing a title or two with him in it 13 years after the final episode of the TV series.

 

So, TL;DR:
-Self-contained comics would be awesome.
-I like the idea of smaller universes that we can read.
-Creator owned comics are not necessarily the answer.
-I stopped reading Teen Titans (New 52) because I had to buy too many other bad comics.

The Rubber Band Effect

So today I’d like to take a moment to talk about one of the big things that got me to stop reading comics from the “big 2” (Marvel & DC) and focus more on Indie Comics. It’s called the “rubber band effect” and it just kills me.

Ok so there is this concept I’ve dubbed “the rubber band effect” and it is best illustrated by asking “Who is Batman?”. The answer is, “Bruce Wayne”. Now I hear some of my more seasoned readers shouting, “What about that fantastic run by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely where Dick Grayson was Batman or when, in the 90s, Azrael was Batman?” and that my friends is the point. No matter what happens there is too much of a brand built up around Bruce Wayne being Batman that they will never replace him. Now let’s extend this to the infamous “Death of Superman” even from the 90s. Superman is likewise too big of a brand to die.

They do these changes for sheer shock value but they never are permanent- they always “rubber band” back into place. You can stretch and mold a character into whatever shape you want- but it will eventually snap back to a recognizable form. I will admit that over a long period of time changes can slowly become permanent but it’s a progressive evolution over decades (like Batman getting “darker”) and not really the fault of any one writer.

Now, I understand why they do this. If a new reader (or even an established one) picks up a comic about the Flash- they expect it to be about the Flash. If it’s about a gun-wielding depowered Barry Allen that might fly for a few issues or maybe even a event, but eventually they want to see him zip around in red tights again. These characters have a place in our mind because they are so iconic and to change that means we can’t identify with them. You also have dozens of writers working with these characters in one medium or another of the course of a decade (in the case of Batman it’s the movies, TV shows, various comic lines, cross-over events, etc). A little change gets lost in the “noise” of these writers writing a character for various demographics and telling different stories.

So why does this bother me if it is inevitable? On some level I really wish comic events and changes “meant” something. Like after I read that Damian Wayne died on February 27, 2013 I turned to my fiancée and said, “I give him 2 years”. Sure enough, in June 2014 the story arch “Robin Rises” started and he was back on his feet by December 2014. Knowing this, as a long time reader, it just takes the “umph” out of any sort of major change. They hype it up and blow it up but eventually it all snaps back into place.

Now there are exceptions but they take a lot of time and effort to pull off and no editorial mandate is going to force it to occur. It’s a matter of popular opinion. In 1986 Frank Miller wrote the seminal work “The Dark Knight Returns” and showed Batman in a very dark and gritty light. Along with the success of Alan Moore’s Watchmen in that same year we ushered in the “Dark Age” of comic books where anti-heroes and a more mature focus became the norm. Without public opinion and the strength of the writing in those books we wouldn’t have had the adoption of elements from the mainstream (or… Rob Liefeld). As a result of this we see a more homogenized version of Miller’s Batman (because he is 10 shades of bat-shit crazy in Miller’s hands) in the mainstream nowadays.

So effectively what sticks and what doesn’t is a popularity contest. Comic companies, believe it or not, do not make most of their money on comic sales. They use comics as their testing grounds for what should be adapted into the “long term” canon of a character’s mythos. For example, 1988s Batman: The Killing Joke (also by Alan Moore… in case you had any question of his impact on comics as a genre) was so popular that Barbara Gordon’s paralysis and subsequent role as the hacker and information broker “Oracle” was made canon. I mean Jason Todd (one of the Robins) was literally killed off due to a voting contest.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel however. Now I’ve brought up some fantastic limited series comics in this little rant of mine and that is where the “meat” is. Stories that exist outside normal continuity can have characters die for good, can have them undergo drastic transformations (for better or worse) over the course of the pages. If you want to see where the future of a character is going to be- look at the popular limited series.

Here are some to check out:

  • The Sandman (my all-time favorite)
  • Watchmen
  • Old Man Logan
  • Batman: The Killing Joke
  • Ex Machina: First 100 Days
  • Astonishing X-Men (Joss Whedon’s stuff)
  • Runaways (SOME rubber-banding)
  • The Dark Knight Returns
  • Kingdom Come
  • Hellboy
  • Batman: Year One
  • DC One Million
  • All-Star Superman
  • Legends of the Dark Knight
  • Spiderman 2099

Where I Have Been For the Last Four Months?

Clock_King_1

So let’s go over the big question I’ve got a few times, “Hey Scott, where were you for the last four months or so?”.The short answer is “busy”. The long answer is “very busy”. I recently left my day job to pursue my MBA full time, rather than part time. I’ve also been spending time finishing up writing duties on two separate independent comic series “Good Samaritans” and “Vis”. That’s right- now you guys can make fun of my comics like I do to yours (revenge is sweet isn’t it?). I’ve had the pleasure of working with some absolutely fantastic artists and editors during this process and it has been very illuminating.

 

That being said you can now check out my first comic, Good Samaritans #1 for FREE on DriveThruRPG and keep up with my work on Facebook at Scott Gladstein Presents.