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Riding Coat-tails

Written by Keb Ellis on Friday, January 19 2007 and posted in Features
 Note: Major spoilers if you’ve been living under a rock for the past six months!  It’s been one hell of a year for commercial comics.  Actually, it’s been a hell of a ride for the last three years or so.  In 2004 we saw the landmark Avengers: Disassembled begin a saga that would run [...]

Note: Major spoilers if you’ve been living under a rock for the past six months! 

Spiderman unmaskedIt’s been one hell of a year for commercial comics.  Actually, it’s been a hell of a ride for the last three years or so.  In 2004 we saw the landmark Avengers: Disassembled begin a saga that would run amok Marvel’s publishing house and turn heads in a more controversial matter than Dennis Rodman in drag.  This event just happened to almost coincide with DC’s powerhouse “Identity Crisis” which not only changed the way we look at DC characters, but also the way we look at DC comics.

Until Identity Crisis I read maybe three DC comics, all of which came from Vertigo.  I was a big Batman fan as far as the animated series goes, and then I didn’t really care for anything from DC that didn’t involve cartoons.  I may have been able to say the same for Marvel, but the fact is that I was a complete Marvel zombie at that time.

When Disassembled hit the stands I was on board.  I was somewhat reluctant to try Identity Crisis, but I forked over the dough for both and enjoyed riding both the speculation waves with fellow fanboys and the suspense cliffhangers of each issue.  When She-Hulk ripped the Vision in half, I wanted to yell “fuck” in an unruly manner of excitement.  When Jack Drake and Captain Boomerang killed each other while their sons could do nothing to stop the events that would leave them crushed, I wanted to shed tears.  I didn’t so I can still keep my man card.  Anyways, both companies seemed to be on top of their game with the controversy.  They brought new readers into comics, and they kept the old ones happy.

Comics were launching in a new direction that deemed them ready to take on larger markets, and both companies began going outside of the comic reader market in an attempt to pull in more people weren’t necessarily familiar with the medium.  The following summer saw the release of Infinite Crisis from DC and House of M from Marvel.  Both series set out to significantly change the status quo of their respective publishers and the universes that contained all the characters and settings and elements that made their comics so great.

The main objectives of the major summer event were controversy and to take it in large doses (think Dennis Rodman in a dress, Godzilla-size!) and these comics banked on it greatly.  I don’t know if it’s the scheduling or the fans but each series seemed to bring the controversy to the point where it may have been a bit overdone.

When Wonder Woman snapped Maxwell Lord’s neck, fans went crazy.  This was stuff that wasn’t happening in DC comics and suddenly necks are snapping and wives are being raped and villains are getting magical lobotomies.  Something happened at DC, like the staff stopped going to church and began watching R-rated movies.  Big changes and the fans ate it up!

It seemed like Marvel couldn’t bring what DC brought, and all their efforts at controversy were just like Dennis Rodman standing next to Godzilla (both in dresses).  Even in with the current event, Civil War, Marvel can’t seem to top DC in the controversy department.  52 seems to be topping the sales charts for the month and also keeps being hyped all over the internet.  However, Marvel seems to be marketing a lot better.
A recent appearance by Joe Quesada on The Colbert Report solidifies Marvel’s desire to reach a market that hasn’t been reached by comics.  An older 30-something watching Colbert might be intrigued and walk into a comic shop looking for Civil War.  After asking an employee about it, seven other people in said shop will jump up and tell this new customer to check out 52 (and then I come in and say “fuck all that, read Y!”).  I’m not sure how a newcomer would react to this controversy.  Also, a newcomer probably wouldn’t understand one extremely important point.

In the 1970s, 80s, and even the 90s, Marvel comics became the top publishing house by topping DC in the sales and popularity department.  Titles like Uncanny X-Men and Amazing Spiderman were a staple in children’s literary diets all over the world.  In fact, my first comic was Spiderman #9, feature Wolverine and Wendigo (and Todd McFarlane…yup).  I don’t think I’d ever bought a Superman or Batman comic until I was 20 years old.  As kids my brother and I knew Superman and Batman from movies, but we knew Spiderman and Wolverine from comics.  That’s how much of an impact they had in those days.

And what controversy they spawned.  There was Marvel’s Secret War which spawned Spiderman’s symbiotic alien costume that spawned Venom.  There was the ever-going saga of the X-Men for years.  While the Death of Superman seemed to pass by, I don’t remember hearing anything about DC comics.  I could be wrong, though.  I’m sure a lot of good stuff happened (like Watchmen and Crisis on Infinite Earths).

My point is that Marvel has dominated the industry so they shouldn’t have to one-up DC with their writing.  They still dominate the market, so people who say Marvel’s not bringing it and just riding the coat-tails of DC aren’t thinking right.

Right now, comics are written to stimulate the TV generation, who’s gone through trends like crazy.  Pretty soon we’re going to get a new trend in comics and I don’t know what it’ll be like.  The controversy runs strong, so Wonder Woman killing, and then Spiderman taking his mask off, and so on, it just makes for some entertaining comic reading.


Posted originally: 2007-01-19 11:50:58

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