Mar 22, 2014

Seven Things People Need to Stop Saying

Sometimes, comics fans tend to lose track of the bigger picture. We get a certain view of what comics should be like and then we complain when that doesn't meet our expectations and we complain when it does. This is borne out of a set of contradictions: comics fans keep saying they want change, and then we go insane when change happens.

Don't worry. I'm here to put it all into perspective!

Seven Things People Need to Stop Saying
by Duy

#1: This is all a gimmick to get us to buy things!

You hear it pretty much all the time when a big new development happens. "What? They're killing Peter Parker? Gimmick!" or "Dick Grayson is Batman now? Gimmick!" And sure, maybe it's true that some things start off because of some gimmickry, but that doesn't mean the story's not worth telling. And also, here's the thing: this has been happening for decades.

There are two big differences now from the way things have traditionally been. The first is that everything has a wider reach now. You can blame social media for that, but the fact is that people talking about things will help sell it. And I know for a good portion of you reading this, what I just typed is a terrible thing, because comics are art, dammit and shouldn't be influenced by anything other than quality, but you know that's not the way things work and that if things don't sell, it can't keep being made.

(While we're at it, can we also stop with "This crappy comic keeps selling while this comic I don't like has low sales"? If anything, the profits from the crappy comic is helping your non-selling comic stay in print. At least, that makes some sort of business sense.)

If it were today, this would be a gigantic development that would give way to a bunch of "How dare you do this to Peter!" letters.

And who's to say it didn't? Have you read letter pages from back then? They sound a whole freaking lot like a bunch of the complaints now. So in terms of that, the nature of the industry didn't change; the channels and the exposure did. It's still about cliffhangers and developments that look permanent and most likely aren't. Mike Carlin said in Panel Discussions that they couldn't kill Superman without a fully formed plan, right up to after they brought him back, that was approved by the higher-ups at Warner Brothers.  In contrast, Kevin Smith said when he was slated to write Amazing Spider-Man that the whole "Mary Jane was missing" thing was a way to keep Peter single without making him divorced or a widower. That kind of thing comes from the top. That's the nature of the business, and railing against that kind of thing is just a moot point. Warner Brothers and Disney aren't going to care about the railing rants of hardcore fans who are going to keep buying the product anyway; they're just going to keep doing what they think is best for business and getting new readers.

The other big difference right now is that stories are longer, so there's a longer illusion of permanence when things like Superior Spider-Man happen, leading us to...

#2. Back in my day, you could tell a story in (insert an arbitrary small number of issues/pages here)!

Okay, yeah, we're all guilty of this. Let's stop it right now. Back in the 40s, 20 pages was long for an adventure story, and it had to be an epic if it were that long. When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were revitalizing superhero comics in the 60s, they were getting letters about how Marvel didn't have as much story, and Stan would put in captions about how that was probably true, but the art and the energy made up for it. This scene by Steve Ditko was definitely decompressed by 1966 standards and is likely still decompressed by today's standards, and I wouldn't change a thing about it.

Could Ed Brubaker tell a story in a shorter number of pages? Sure, but Criminal wouldn't have the same kind of punch. Could Brian Bendis write more compressed scenes? Sure, and I wish he did. I also wish Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams had a bit more space for their Batman stuff, since a lot of the time it seemed they got to page 20 and went "Oh, crap, we've only got two pages left!" There isn't one answer, no one hard and fast rule for this kind of thing. Pacing is, like everything else, a matter of execution. If there were a formula to this, these guys would all be millionaires.

Here's another thing. If you've ever spoken to writers or artists or other creative types, you'll know that most of them set constraints first before they start anything. It's a part of the process. When Rachel Helie was still writing Double Helix for the Cube, the first thing she'd always ask for was a word count quota she should target. And yeah, that's normal. Constraints are there to be met, and that's part of the creative exercise. As time has gone by, those constraints have gotten bigger. And that's okay. That's not to say shorter stories can't be written. It's just to say that the average space is different now. And that's the nature of any industry — a continuous evolution.

#3. How dare it play off the movie!

Every time a movie comes out, the source comic plays off of it, and fans go apeshit. "Amazing Spider-Man #1 comes out the same month as the movie and has Electro, just like the movie? How con-veeeee-nient!" Let it go, guys.

Marvel and DC, more than other companies due to their massive multimedia presence, meet at the intersection of art and commerce, and in an ever-declining industry, it would be dumb, businesswise, to not capitalize off of the cross-platforms. Whether or not this actually works is a matter of debate, but the companies have the numbers and I doubt that they would continue with the practice if it weren't at least yielding some additional profit.

The thing about this that gets me, really, is that in the long run, it's irrelevant. A lot of people are buying the trades now, and shit, a lot of people are still buying the single issues just to have and not to read. So if anything, you should blame those guys, the type who'll actually buy this comic and have its price marked up so much in the back issue bins just because the cover has a resemblance to a scene in a movie.

But yeah, people are buying trades now. The whole "playing off the movie" thing is fleeting. I read Thor: Accursed last week in hardcover, and I didn't even remember, at all, that when it started, people were complaining that the only reason Jason Aaron was using Malekith was because he was the villain in The Dark World. It's irrelevant once the movie is over. If it can cause some increase in interest when it comes out in single issues, then why not go for it? If anything, they should place the product placement story early on, so that the trade comes out in mass market bookstores when the movie is out.

As long as the story is sound, what's the harm?

#4. How dare it renumber!

People hate it when titles get renumbered, but again, like playing off the movie, it doesn't matter in the long run. If #1 issues can get new readers, then why not go for it? There's speculation that Lady Sif's run in Journey Into Mystery, by Kathryn Immonen and Valerio Schiti, would have been longer than it was if it had rebooted and been rebranded as Marvel Now title. I'd rather get new readers than pander to the anal-retentive comics-bin organizing of existing fans. How your comics are organized is not the problem of the company's, and I really don't see the value of keeping an existing numbering system if it's holding back exposure and maybe blocking off new readers.

In fact, forget keeping a numbering system or renumbering; I say just relaunch everything with every story arc and just give it a subtitle.

#5. Marvel should reboot!

This is the kind of complaint that you hear from hardcore fans who can no longer see the forest for the trees. DC rebooted and provided clear jumping on points, so of course Marvel should reboot, because, when you've been around for fifty years, there will be contradictions and you'll need to do some fixes. Iron Man's war was originally Vietnam, and now it's not. Reed Richards used to fight in World War II. Spider-Man used to be married and now never was. But... it's an untenable suggestion. It doesn't work.

The main reason it doesn't work is that even when you reboot, you will eventually get back to that point. You may be easy to jump on now, but developments will happen, contradictions will arise, you'll need to fix things again, and if you're DC, you just end up rebooting again and you have the same kinds of problems you had before. Even the Ultimate Universe, launched just this century so that new readers would have a whole new universe with a fresh start to follow, eventually became this history-heavy universe that was no longer so much fresher a jumping-on point as the regular Marvel Universe was.

Reboots lead to reboots, and it greatly discounts reader's abilities to jump into the middle of a story. How many times did you jump into the middle of a movie and followed it just fine? How many TV shows did you get into way after the first episode? I started watching Buffy at Season 4 and when I started reading comics, I knew what Earth-2 was and sometimes Spider-Man wore red and blue and sometimes he wore black. The term in medias res exists because you can actually start at the middle of a story when writing it. And as long as writers and creators make each story accessible, it doesn't need to start from the beginning every time.

Now you may be saying, "But you just spent a kajillion words talking about how it's important to get new readers, and reboots get new readers!" Yeah, they do. For a while. But unlike renumbering or playing off a movie, it doesn't just pass once it's done and may in fact just lead to more reboots in the future, as it has with DC. It would have to be really worth it to do, and yield sustainable and substantial long-term benefits. And like I said, after a couple of years, it's no longer "fresh" anyway.

#6. What is this diversity!

It's one of the universal complaints when a minority character gets introduced. Kevin Keller, the new Ms. Marvel — whatever it is, if it's a minority, people get up in arms, some even saying that these characters are just there to meet some sort of political correctness quota.

Diversity requires conscious effort. Sorry, it just does. It would be easy to create all-white, all-male, all-straight characters all the time, but that's not the way the world works and people should see themselves represented. So if you're really complaining about this kind of thing because you're a cynic, just realize you're complaining about diversity. That's what you're complaining about. You are complaining that people of other skin colors, orientations, religions, and other such categorizations are getting represented. If you really are complaining about that kind of thing, if that offends you so much, then I hope you can find happiness somewhere far, far away from me.

When Ultimate Spider-Man killed off Peter Parker a while back to replace him with Miles Morales, I spoke to one African-American kid who told me that Miles Morales was the first hero he found himself able to relate to. And that's cool. I'm glad that happened. And I'm glad Richard Pace overheard this at his local comics shop.

Finally, if you're complaining about diversity, just know two things: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were two of the biggest proponents of diversity of their era, introducing black characters like the Black Panther and Joe Robertson and Wyatt Wingfoot, and that when the following characters came out, a bunch of bigots probably complained and spoke about affirmative action and everything.

Shit, let's just look at a letter Charles Schulz got shortly after he introduced Franklin in Peanuts.

In today's "Peanuts" comic strip Negro and white children are portrayed together in school.
School integration is a sensitive subject here, particularly at this time when our city and county schools are under court order for massive compulsory race mixing.
We would appreciate it if future "Peanuts" strips did not have this type of content.
Thank you.

Now imagine just how stupid they look in hindsight.

Really, really stupid.

#7. Lebron James can defend every position on the floor! This has never been done before!

First of all, Lebron can defend every position on the floor because the league is significantly smaller now than it was in previous decades. The height difference between the league's premiere center and its two premiere small forwards isn't huge. Next of all, Lebron couldn't defend Roy Hibbert (too tall), Tony Parker (too good), and Tim Duncan (too good and too tall), so the whole "defends every position" thing is suspect. He could defend non-all-star power forwards and centers who are actually power forwards playing the center position.

Next of all, stop it. Scottie Pippen still existed.


へそ曲がり said...

Very well written, Duy.

brian said...

Pip? He was no Cedric Ceballos!

Post a Comment

All comments on The Comics Cube need approval (mostly because of spam) and no anonymous comments are allowed. Please leave your name if you wish to leave a comment. Thanks!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.