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By Bob Reyer

(Read this as a shudder!)

As regular visitors to Talking Comics know, I’ve been reading Marvel comics since Fantastic Four #5 in 1962, virtually their entire history under that corporate name. The stories told by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and those that followed in their footsteps provided me with examples of heroism, self-sacrifice and humanity that would help to shape me as a person, much as the mythology of ancient times did for the children of those eras. It is with much sadness then, that I’m digesting the information, spotty as it is to date, regarding the “Marvel Now!” initiative slated for later this year.

At the San Diego Comic-Con, during a brief TV interview with G4, Marvel big-wig Joe Quesada pointedly said “This is not a reboot!”, trying, I’m sure, to distance himself and his company from the continuity-killing miasma that is “DC’s New 52”; of course, this statement was followed by the usual talk of “new #1 issues” and “jumping-on points”, which belie the notion that this is a story-driven event, but is instead a marketing decision; another attempt at shoring up the weakening infra-structure of the continually shrinking comic reader fan-base.

Mr. Quesada’s slice of flummery and ballyhoo did nothing to alleviate the pervasive malaise that had overtaken me since reading of Marvel’s intentions to cease publication of many of their core titles, re-starting them with a “more cinematic feel”, which will certainly drive the huddled masses of “Avengers” movie ticket-buyers immediately and in toto into the comic stores. (Sorry for the sarcasm, but it is warranted.)

This unease affected my entire week’s reading. Books that I’ve always plunged right into, I found myself closing up after a cursory glance at the splash page, thinking “Why bother? I know where this is headed”. By Saturday, I managed to slog through my weekly haul, and even managed to stir up some passion for Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Avenging Spider-Man and Alan Davis’ Fantastic Four Annual, but it was a transient, muted feeling at best. Those of you who are devotees of our program know of my enduring affection for this medium and it’s iconic characters, so my dis-quiet may take you as aback as it has me; but let me implore you, Gentle Reader, to not allow my disillusionment to influence your opinions on books or genres that you love; remember that I’m a curmudgeon with a long memory, and I can only speak for myself, and my rapidly growing sense of déjà vu.

This is quite reminiscent of the Heroes Reborn debacle of 1996-7, when Marvel’s market share began to slip, and they contracted Jim Lee to “Image”-up the Marvel Universe after the “Onslaught event”.  Six months or so into this experiment, with sales figures up, but criticism of things such as “bendy, pose-able” Sue Storm and rhino-necked, pointy-chinned Captain America on the rise, Marvel announced (and “Hey, I’m paraphrasing, here!”) “It’s only for a year, people—relax. We’re going to have Peter David fix everything, don’t worry”—sort of sounds like the Mayor of Amity Island just before the shark attack, doesn’t it?

As hard as it may be to believe, I had stopped buying the core Marvel titles, having sampled each of the new creative teams, but finding nothing to hold my interest, I abstained from purchasing; though as full disclosure, the announcement of the re-re-boot drove me to purchase the 6-or-so issues of Fantastic Four I had missed, in order to not create a gap in a thirty-five year collection—what a waste, right? However, starting with Mr. David’s clever use of Franklin Richards in Heroes Return, and with some fine books coming in that series’ wake (Alan Davis on FF, Perez on Avengers), one could feel our concerns were being addressed, and it was easy to be hopeful for a long-term future as Marvel readers.

Well, to paraphrase old-time NFL coach George Allen, “The future is Marvel Now!”   I will endeavor to follow my own advice (see “How to reclaim a sense of wonderment: An elderly perspective” elsewhere on this site) and read these books with as open a mind as I can muster up, as there are talented creators, whose work I respect and admire toiling on these projects, but I have come to realize that not only am I not the target audience anymore, I’ve been identified as part of the problem.

My generation of readers embraced the inter-connected and long-running Marvel continuity, and fell into abiding by a sliding time-scale (The FF were created 10 years before whenever you were reading the book) to dismiss anachronistic inconsistencies created by the long publication history. We did demand, however, consistency in characterization; that the process of growth be organic, stemming from the previously established continuity, and not from some corporate “edginess mandate”. We long-time Marvelites, who supported this once-“little company that could” throughout the years, have become a pecking albatross around the company’s neck, nit-picking minor details and critiquing the larger issues in print or on-line. On that basis, Marvel is better off without the static created by us, the “nattering nabobs of negativism” (thank you, Spiro Agnew!), and the “Now!” move should begin clearing the decks for the next generation of fans.

The problem is, as always, one of attracting new customers at the bottom of the sales pyramid. If this ploy does, by some happenstance, create an influx of new readers, particularly pre-teens, then this trade-off of old-for-new was well worth it, and I’ll take my exit and retreat to my archives, where my heroines and heroes still exist in the forms that I came to cherish, and that I can still whole-heartedly embrace without the merest hint of apology or self-consciousness, and I’ll leave the field to you whipper-snappers.

At present, I’m finding it difficult to work up any enthusiasm for another round of over-hyped “cross-overs” that will take an inordinate amount of time to complete, fill an entire box in my library alongside all the other “events” that never get looked at, and which feature characters that display few of the traits that made them iconic in the first place. I guess we can attribute this “progress” to the business aspect of publishing comics, more so than the nature of the story-telling demands of this new “age”.

[Should we call this the “Cubic Zirconium Age”, as it resembles something of great value, but doesn’t contain the same substance— little Audrey wants to know!]

As we speak (or rather, I type), my emotions are running a bit raw, and due to my life-long attachment to many of these characters, it’s probably going to be harder to walk away than I can imagine, particularly since that even after all these years, a smartly-written, well-drawn comic can elicit a deep emotional response from me quite unlike any other medium. The converse is also true; an abysmal book can get my blood boiling as quickly as anything…and speaking of which, have you seen that horrendous cover for Catwoman #0 !

I’ve complained (O.K., ranted) a bit here, but this in no way negates my appreciation of Marvel’s colossal achievements, both past and present, in this industry, or that I will ever feel anything but joy in pulling out my older books, making myself an egg cream, and curling up in my favorite chair for a good afternoon’s reading, but moving forward, I’m experiencing the anxieties of a scorned lover, and Marvel is going to have to work very hard to regain my trust and affection. This means you, Jonathan Hickman & Matt Fraction!!

PS) If my sour mood doesn’t improve, and if I can’t recapture my passion for purchasing mainstream comics (DC having mostly lost me with “The New 52”), perhaps it’s time to “thin the herd”?  Anyone up for a yard sale?  rrr

 

13 Responses

  1. AvatarofLoki

    Hey, I only called you ‘Surly’ in your passionate diatribes, not ‘Curmudgeonly’! World of difference there. 😛

    It seems as though this is the watershed moment for you and many long-time fans. Between the rise of independent, a steady stride towards digital, the DC New 52, and the Marvel NOW initiative; it could certainly feel as if the icons of yesteryear were taking the final bow in their current iterations.

    I can only speak for myself, and I know the numbers are paltry in the grand scheme of things, but the New 52 brought myself and my 8-year old son into the fold. So perhaps Marvel can succeed in bringing another parent and their child to the table as well to enjoy the medium with you keepers of the flame.

    While I appreciate your stoicism in ‘stepping down’ should this be the so-called passing of the torch, can I politely refuse to be the newly-arrived ant to your decades long picnic? I’ll be the first to admit my newbish idealism in the hobby and its fans, but I do believe a ground can be found for both groups to have a place to rest their imaginative head. But can that be accomplished with keeping the ‘essence’ of a character? The characterization itself in a modern tale? Or would it require these companies to maintain the same course they have followed for some time?

    I know I am not the only one who wishes they knew.

    I can only say this; Everything changes. I can only hope that the winds of this current time of tumultuous change is incapable of snuffing out the flame that has kept you vested all these years. Of course, you could always take up base-jumping if this doesn’t work out. 😉

    • Bob Reyer

      Loki, I actually think that I prefer “curmudgeonly”, but they are both apt, so no worries!
      I think it’s grand that the New 52 brought your young son to our hobby, that’s what it was intended to do; but with so many of today’s mainstream books written with a substantially older audience in mind, or that are skewed so young as to be of little interest to a child with greater reading skills, it’s no wonder that DC’s own marketing figures on new readers show it to be under 5%.
      I defer to comics legend John Byrne’s oft-stated opinion on how all Marvel comics in his era were “all-ages friendly”: “You created a book that could be enjoyed as a complete story by an 8-year old, but that he or she could revisit as a 15-year old, and then as a 25-year old adult, and take something new from it each time”.
      Comics characters did have at their center an “essence”; a set of heroic core beliefs, attitudes and motives that are as timeless as Greek mythology, and perhaps of greater use in passing those values to a new generation. What use is served by depicting Wonder Woman as a berserker harpy, or Catwoman as a wanton harlot, when those icons have been embraced by youngsters for decades?
      Far too many of today’s stories strike me as self-aggrandizing fan-fiction gussied up for maximum sales impact. Stan Lee always said: “The last story you should write as a pro, should be the first story you’d write as a fan”.
      Please Loki, fight the good fight, and request, nay demand, that the companies publish a product that speaks to the best in everyone—girls & boys, men & women, and readers of all ages.
      Thanks for reading and commenting, and my best wishes to you and your son. Excelsior! rrr

      • AvatarofLoki

        Thanks for taking the time to reply Bob. I would use both descriptors in jest, as I completely understand the passion you have in a hobby that has accompanied through life all these years. 🙂

        (Mind you, all of the below come from a new reader perspective, so I may be well off-base; and I do not even feign to claim I know anything about anything.)

        I know the numbers of new consumers are lower than one would hope for in a complete product revamp, but is it not a positive indicator that the medium is able to still grab new consumers period? The world today is vastly different from even a decade ago. And looking back through the internet archives of just a few years ago, there were many who believed that capturing new readers (especially the youth) was impossible in and of itself against the high-tech competition of the modern era.

        While I will not argue at all that the stories are skewed to the older reader (we buy 20 books a month, my 8 year old is ‘allowed’ to read 11, and we read another 3 together so I can answer questions/censor as needs be), price alone would mandate that it would need to. My son can afford 1-1.5 comic books a week with his paltry pre-teen allowance. And thats if he wants to use *all* of it. The product has been priced outside of the original market it was created for. So at that pricepoint, you need to engage the parents as well to be vested on a monthly basis. Otherwise it will be a random comic for a birthday/xmas without any real desire to go to the store weekly. That is of course a topic for another day, but I can certainly see how that would weigh heavily on creative decisions and directions.

        While a ‘young adult’ lense has inarguably been placed over these characters, I still believe the original essence of the characters exist in their current forms. I have practically zero knowledge of these characters prior to this last year except for the collective impression that the world at large has gained. And I can tell you we see Wonder Woman as a defender of the defenseless, Green Lantern as a beacon of self-belief, and Flash as a reminder of humility/kindness (purposefully using characters that we had little exposure to rather than Batman/Superman as I believe they are known to readers and non-readers alike…obviously). I may be far off on the essence of these characters pre-New 52; but it would seem these would be obvious mythological tenets to push utilizing these characters/archtypes. A mother to the world, a self-made gogetter skirting the line of hubris, and a polite everyman clinging to community in a world that has ‘outgrown’ it.

        This is the core characters that “we” (speaking only for the munchkin and I) see as new readers when boiled down to their core. And if that matches the core essence of the characters prior, then our divide would run shallower than the core concepts themselves. And if that is the case, I believe a middle ground can be found. (Of course if I am wrong, then obviously there are core issues that would be very difficult to rectify).

        I am fresh to the fight and ready to do my part, but I personally do not know the answers to the questions I posted earlier…and I believe those answers would be different for everyone even if I did. That makes a blanket solution very difficult to knock out of my noggin, let alone anyone elses. I would just hate to see something that you have enjoyed for decades reach a point where you cannot bear to share and guide us ‘NEW Believers’ through another era of modern mythology.

        I ramble a lot, so my apologies for typing forever and a day, but I do wish you the best and hope you power through this current timeframe to chat about these issues (both meta and storywise!) for years to come!

      • Bob Reyer

        Loki,
        (First off, I embrace and embody both surly and curmudgeon…at my age, I’ve earned enough battle ribbons for both!)
        My intention for penning the original essay was not to alter anyone’s opinion, or to appear so vainglorious as to give the impression that “comics” were mine to “share”; I am but a humble caretaker of their history, and an apostle for all that the medium has done, and can continue to do, well. My hope was that by shedding some light on these complex issues, that at least in this pocket of the comics world, attention would be paid to the damage that has been, and that continues to be done to this industry in it’s head-long rush to attract and keep an audience of 25 to 35-year old men.

        Although I shouldn’t assume, I would say that based on your son’s age, I’m saddened that the on-set of your collecting coincides with what is in some ways the worst 20-odd years in this medium’s long history, with ascendant all the excesses in story and art that caused this industry to shed hundreds of thousands of readers from it’s pre-1990’s peak.

        Many veteran creators, while acknowledging the increased pay-days connected to the “speculator boom”, will bemoan the loss of news-stand distribution, which kept comics as a mass-market product, and that every day put them in the hands of new readers, the children; and that for the most part, did not require the self-censorship that you so rightly exercise, due to the increased level of so-called “adult elements” slathered on to previously “all-age” characters.

        Although a shred of what I consider to be the “on-model” core still exists within these characters, what remains plays a poor second fiddle to the story and marketing demands of this new, “darker” age.

        While William Moulton Marston’s and H.G. Peters’ “Wonder Woman” was a “defender of the defenseless”; seeing Diana sail across recent covers trailing a sword dripping blood or brandishing twin machine pistols, let alone issue #7’s depiction of the Amazons “enjoying”, and then slaughtering a ship-load of sailors, none of those images brings the phrase “mother to the world” to mind.

        If DC’s aim was to create a female “Punisher” or “Conan”, do so by creating a new character, not by soiling the original creator’s intent, or what had been more lovingly built on that foundation by writers and artists such as George Perez and John Byrne.

        I do not mean for this to come off as a personal attack, but as a plea for a wider perspective, and consideration that a different sort of story-telling, a style that sold many more books, in many more genres, to many more types of people, was just as “adult” and “cutting edge”. Why can’t heroism without undue bloodshed and sexuality be “Modern”?

        Bob
        ps)Don’t fret, everyone (or perhaps you should?)…you won’t be rid of me (or Audrey) anytime soon. rrr

      • AvatarofLoki

        No worries Bob,

        I was not trying to paint you as the gatekeeper to this world, or as an attacker to us wee new folk; rather *I* was the one being greedy and self-serving in my response as I did not want to see you crushed and driven off while we heard the lamentations of your women (now that you have Conan in my head).

        I think you have a valid point in your statements by far, and by no means am I trying to diminish that point. My personal battlefront that I have chosen to hold the standard for is positivity (but not apologist) when discussing these stories, issues, and everything. Thus far, the web has provided a lot of variations on “X SUX”, so to lose a grounded voice of reason and intelligent debate to make room for more of that was unacceptable to me. Hence my plea for you to stick with it and soldier on. You’ve made it through 20-odd years of dark times, so surely it’s gotta turn sometime soon! (Gamblers logic!)

        I will be honest, we have been straight DC practically because of the New 52 engaging us and getting us in on the ground floor (mostly). We picked up a few .1 books as we were told they were good jumping on points (which in personal opinion is not quite the case for the most part), but found no entrypoint/traction on any of them. So we were holding out until Marvel responded, and hopefully opened a door for us to jump in. This NOW initiative seems to be our sign. So I am a bit biased in my opinion, as this is what I have waited for the last 11 months to get my foot in the Marvel door with the little one.

        Will there be changes? Of course. Will they all be good? More than likely not. They will want to do a shotgun spread of stories/styles to diversify their market. I can completely understand why they would want to do that. If you told me I would be anxiously awaiting a comic book titled Animal Man a year ago today, I would have more than likely laughed. You have to take the risk to see what works sometimes.

        What you can hope for though, is that they have learned from the mistakes DC made, and are able to zone in that scope a little closer to the bullseye that comprises the core of these characters.

        Tangential to our discussion, Wonder Woman still strikes me as a mother to the world. Puppies, rainbows, and love…until you threaten one of hers. The only thing that would have made it more relateable to me, is if she wielded a wooden stirring spoon. 😛

        But for that title specifically, it really has gone back to the roots of the tale itself (pre-character creation). One cannot state that the Greek myths themselves have not been pushed to children for centuries…and yet they are bloodier/adult themed/and darker than any tale being told from DC/Marvel right now.

        I just feel this is the conversation that should be had. What are our commonalities, what are our differences. It is obvious we will never mesh 100% (as the world would be bland if we all did!), but I know there is an overlap there where we can all reside happily. But we will not get there without solid voices from both sides of the table…and you sir, are a solid voice that I do not want to lose in these upcoming conversations. 🙂

  2. Giant Woman

    I can’t help but agree with you on this one Bob, it all seems a little gimmicky to me. Why not try and capitalise on the non-comic-reading fans of the films by giving away comic books with purchases of the blur-ray and DVD, or offer free access to the digital archives for a limited amount of time? Scrapping entire titles seems foolish to me, “reboot” or “re-imagining” or whatsoever the whatsoever they wish to call it it is going to alienate current us readers.

    Chin up though sir, it could be worse. DC could try to copy that atrocious Catwoman cover.

    Also, “flummery and ballyhoo” is my new favourite expression, I hope you don’t mind if I borrow it?!

    • Bob Reyer

      Welcome to my little corner of “Talking Comics”, Ms. Giant Woman, and thank you for commenting!
      I believe that the “event” heavy nature of things, the “gimmicky” aspect you write of, has driven many older readers away, and has, for the most part, served as a barrier against new readers joining our community of fans.
      I love your ideas for reaching out to the millions of non-readers, who nonetheless are fans of Marvel, but through other media–great job!!
      (Can we get this smart lady an executive position at Marvel or DC?)
      As much as anything, the “Big Two” need to increase the overall size of the marketplace, not just find new ways to divvy it up!
      Sadly, Ms. Giant Woman, in an industry that doesn’t do enough to attract female readers, that quite frankly, for my money, repels them with repugnant images such as that “Catwoman” cover, I fear worse is yet to come.
      I am holding out hope though, because I dearly love this medium, and I have faith that the cycle will come around to more heroic story-telling sometime before I’m too old to care. With all that, they’ll probably have to drag me away from this hobby kicking and screaming!
      Yours with flummery and ballyhoo,
      (..and of course you can borrow that!)
      Bob

      • Giant Woman

        Bob,

        Thanks for the compliment, if anyone from DC or Marvel – or in fact any other comics company – is reading and would like to give me a job, just let me know!

        I can’t help but feel that the view the publishers have of the current audience may not necessarily be the view the audience have of themselves – as this weeks twitter-based controversy over female geeks has shown, it isn’t all teenage boys with acne these days!

        The audiences (that I personally have seen) going to the big three superhero cinema releases this year have been wide-ranging, and appealing to them with the original source material may well be an avenue that would bring in more readers than simply thrashing out another “event” or “reboot” or whatever Quesada wants to call it. I personally picked up the two issue Amazing Spider-Man movie tie-in, but how many of the people sitting in the cinema with me knew it existed? More of a focus on drawing in new readers through these avenues seems like an obvious solution to me, rather than changing existing titles or characters for the “benefit” of potential new readers at the potential expense of the old.

        I may not have been reading comics for as long as you Bob, but I certainly know what I like, and whilst I too am holding on to the hope that this isn’t simply another gimmick, the indie titles that I pick up are certainly going to make up the bulk of my purchases for the foreseeable future.

        On the subject of Catwoman and how to appeal to female readers, I could rant on for hours about the representation of women in comics, women as comic readers etc, but suffice to say that I laughed, A LOT, at that cover, despite the potentially damaging consequences it could have for the image of comics as a whole. The “cape and cowl” titles have got a long way to go before they actively appeal to me en masse, but Captain Marvel has taken a great leap forward in its portrayal of a strong female character who isn’t all T&A. Take note DC – the bar has been raised!

        Please don’t give up hope, there will always be great comics out there for you, as Ranganathan taught “every book his reader, every reader his book” – we’ll find you something to read, even if it isn’t from Marvel Now!

      • Bob Reyer

        Thank you for that amazing and thoughtful response, Ms. G-W. (I hope you don’t mind the in-formality, I’m trying to avoid typos while using this meshuggah “commenting” system!)

        Moving forward, I’ll continue to buy KSD’s wonderful “Captain Marvel” and Peter David’s “X-Factor”, and though I’ll sample the new titles, the prospect of buying 6 or 7 inter-connected “Avengers” titles per month has put me off a bit, what with the spectre of another “event” (“Aftermath”) looming on the horizon. Thanks to people such as yourself, and my colleagues Stephanie, Steve and Bobby, I’m certain that I can get the help I need to find something to assuage my comics “hunger”.

        Once again, Ms. G-W,
        Thanks for checking in,
        Bob
        ps) Little Audrey says “Hi!”, also. rrr

  3. Giant Woman

    Aargh, apologies for my typos, for some reason I can’t see my response until it has posted, hence epic level mistakes, and it won’t let me correct or delete them…

    • AvatarofLoki

      I feel your pain. My Homer-esque epic contains no less than 4,372 iterations of ‘I can only’. The price I pay for typing up these things at work where I can’t proofread.

  4. speederice

    Hey Bob, fantastic article! The others who have commented before me have basically made all the points I wanted to make. I too am a “newbie” reader, brought in by the New 52, but what really keeps me buying comics each week and trying different books are you guys on the podcast, and the surrounding community. You guys are the kids at the cool lunch table, and I want to be part of those conversations, so I keep buying (and loving) different books. I don’t know if there is a way for the publishers to capture that sense of “Comics as cool” especially riding the wave of public support from these superhero films, but I think maintaining (or in the case of some shops – improving) the friendly culture and community surrounding the books would help bring people in as well. As you’ve pointed out before, the marketing of the comic industry is very backwards. It’s downright comical to read advertisements for Dark Knight Rises plastered throughout my latest issue of Batman, when really it should be the other way around.

    I fear my comment is completely off base now and venturing into the rambling category, so I just want to echo everyone’s thoughts in saying don’t give up hope, and I hope that you find a place in the post-Marvel Now era. Also, I am using “nattering nabobs of negativism” at my next social gathering!

    • Bob Reyer

      “Speed”,

      Thanks so much for being a listener/reader, and for taking the time to comment; it’s very much appreciated by me, in particular, as you know that I don’t, and won’t “tweet”. (Heck, I’m nearly at 140 characters here, and I’ve barely said “Hello”!)

      You’re getting from our show exactly what we are hoping to deliver. I am privileged to share the microphones with Stephanie, Steve and Bobby, and I believe that our differing tastes and perspectives bring something unique to our discussions. Again, thanks for the kind words!

      Mentioning the film/comics tie-in reminds me of when I saw the Adam West “Batman” in the theatre in 1966, and the manager gave every kid in the audience a copy of that month’s “Detective Comics”. As both you and Ms. Giant Woman have pointed out, the synergy between the media is under-utilized to an appalling degree!

      In store, I think it’s important to engage the other customers, and the owners (if feasible) in productive conversations regarding this product we all love. To raise the profile on other genres, discuss indie books, older story-lines and young adult tiles with the same fervor as “Can the Hulk beat Superman in a fair fight?” (I say no, but…)

      Thanks again, Speed
      Bob
      ps) By the way, feel free to use “nattering nabobs…”; after all, I pinched it, too.
      (I’m starting to become the “William Safire” of “Talking Comics”, which is, I suppose, an upgrade from “Andy Rooney”. rrr

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