Armagideon Time

Inward and backward

June 15th, 2011

A welcome side effect of last month’s trip to Gettysburg was the distance it put between me and internet fandom’s roiling abbatoir of reason. The long weekend spent isolated from the snarky, pharmacist overentitled din did wonders for dispelling the foul mood which had been my default state for the past year.

As a result, medical I cut back severely on my engagement with fan culture upon returning home. Idiocy springs eternal, epidemic and there are better things to play Sisyphus over than the shitty state of comics (and videogame) journalism and the peanut gallery’s habitual tendency to overreact about, well, everything. It doesn’t matter if you’re a wide-eyed booster or a reflexive contrarian — you’re still letting the scene dictate your actions.

My self-imposed quarantine isn’t entirely foolproof, however. Bits of baffling nonsense still slip though on occasion, typically tracked in on the social media bootsoles of a more invested friend or acquaintence. That’s how I happened across this example of comics commentary at its most platonically banal, “16 Comic Books We’re Probably Glad DC Didn’t Revive.” (Why sixteen? Because that the was minimum AOL required before issuing a check.)

I don’t fault the authors for the eye-rolling tone or hyper-facile nature of the piece. The post-Gawker pro-blogging model is a voracious beast which forces its servants to satiate its hunger with an unending stream of content — no matter how tangential or slight it may be. (Honestly, though, they should have subcontracted this one to the undisputed master of the form.) The issue — besides the fact that it’s more forced than funny — lies in the choice of selections.

Apart from Cancelled Comics Cavalcade — an in-house affair done to satisfy legalities following the DC Implosion of the late 1970s — and Gunfire — a spunk stain on the bed made by both the industry and the fans — the books are all non-superhero material.

AHAHAHAHAHA! DC sure published a lot of silly books that didn’t involve grimacing ‘roid-heads in tights punching each other and they sold like hotcakes by today’s standards to relatively diverse audiences…for a while, at least.

Honestly, are any of those selections goofier than Silver Age covers in general? Or whatever golden-child-of-the-moment currently getting fawned over in CA’s sidebar will seem to comic readers in 2025? (True fact: Scott Pilgrim will be to Millennials what Woodstock was for Boomers, i.e. “Why their children think they’re insufferable assholes.”)

Look at the in-house subscription ads for DC and Marvel up through the early 1970s and you’ll notice that superhero titles tend to be in the minority. The subsequent ascendency of the superhero genre — and the decline, for various reasons, of other comics genres — would go on to make “comic books” and “superheroes” effectively synonymous. While some folks might take issue with that confusion between medium and genre, it still stands as the norm outside isolated pockets of fandom and literati-types.

Not that my expectations were ever above floor-level, but I did hold some hope that DC was going to branch out a little with the reboot offerings. Could a romance title or a funny animal comic or crime/journalism procedural make a mark in today’s marketplace? I don’t know, but they’d probably entice more hypothetical “new readers” than a J.D. Krul relaunch of Captain Atom (especially considering that I’m the planet’s sole Captain Atom fan, and I wouldn’t touch that comic with a ten-foot pole made of dead cats and severed arms).

Instead readers are getting a shitload of superhero books with some token nods to the war and western genres…which will apparently tie back in some fashion to the superhero books. The pool of new readers is expected to come from fans of the movies and cartoons, a bit of wishful thinking at odds with reality.

I’m not discounting the power of brand recognition, but the vast majority of the ticket-buying public doesn’t give two shits about Iron Man or Thor or Superman. They’re buying two hours of spectacle which just so happens to feature recognizable characters. Their interest begins and ends with the movie — and that goes for any blockbuster.

Who leaves a Fast and the Furious or Jason Statham flick thinking “Hey, I would love to read a novel or comic book based on this!” The folks who do, the ones who own Gears of War novelizations or “Spike Puppet” variant Buffy comics are a very small subset known as “diehard fans.”

In DC’s case, that equates to “the folks already buying your damn comics.”

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9 Responses to “Inward and backward”

  1. Frank

    Correction: you’re the only other Captain Atom fan, but I share your “enthusiasm.”

  2. Kris

    Hey I also really dug the Cary Bates, Pat Broderick version of Captain Atom. But I was a pretty big fan of most of what DC published in that “sweet spot” of ’85 to ’90 or so. Given much of what has come since, a better term for that period might be ” the fluke”. …… I really miss the guiding hand of Dick Giordano.

    But anyway, yeah. No thanks to a new version. I learned my lesson with that crappy wildstorm C.A. mini series from a few years back.

  3. Matthew Jeske

    That Wildstorm Captain Atom series WAS terrible. just really boring.
    Comics inward-looking focus means all the non superhero genre stuff was war or westerns or superhero-ish horror. Not because these connect with what is successful as popular entertainment in other mediums, but because DC has a history of publishing these in the past. Why is there no crime procedural with a coroner/Pathologist/CSI ? just wondering…

  4. Jim Kosmicki

    I’d like to know what part Douglas Wolk really played in this article – i had more respect for him than that.

    Maybe I’m the freak, but most of those listed books would be much better than several of the actually announced books – especially if they just reprinted the originals (talk about a cost savings). You can make as much fun as you want of Bob Hope’s comic book based on the cover gag, but it ran for over 100 issues at a time when some of todays sales (24,000 copies or so) would be the printer error throwaway copies of what they sold. Add in licensing costs and the sales expectations, and a book like Bob Hope would have to sell well over 100K to stay alive. In fact, looking it up in the Standard Catalog, as late as 1966, close to when it did get cancelled, the circulation figures were about 194K per issue.

    more to my point, I’ve read copies of most of those books, and they’re very enjoyable for the most part. Picking on Strange Sports Stories twice really rankles me. I’ve never been a sports fan, but I bought every issue of Strange Sports that I ever saw on the newsstand – good Julie Schwartz sci-fi fun.

    But then again, I look at most of what’s sold today to the comics market and could do just as snarky of a dismissal of their books and trends.

  5. steve

    I’ve never seen “Date with Debbi” in real life, but your month of Debbi panels convinced me that I would subscribe in a heartbeat if they brought it back.

  6. Batzarro: The World's WOrst Detective!

    In a way, what’s going on is that most of this genres, or their modern facsimiles, have been done fairly successfully in other media(albeit not a lot of them as over the top as a lawyer that that deals with anthropomorphic animals, which I’m sure has it’s own audience). Superheros are really the better known genre(?) that is native to comics. So off course, people who never knew a time when Archie outsold the latest DC Crisis Crossover are gonna go “Haha! Lady Cop!” Heck I’m guilty. Sometimes I look at what the Manga market is doing, making books about chefs, and models and things like that, with varying levels of “Kawai”, and I’m like…”yeah that’s great. Where the punching at?”

    However, I think the problem is that DC doesn’t know HOW to make other stuff Anymore. They actually shut down the imprints that did non super hero stuff, and now that’s getting folded into the superhero books. Expanding diversity of genres? Not in the cards, it seems.

  7. Matthew Jeske

    I would argue funny animals is another genre that is native to comics.

  8. adam

    Did you see super-hip got a running support role in the recent Giffen Doom Patrol series until it was cancelled? Fun stuff. Ambush Bug joined the team and moved into Danny the Street, who had become Danny the Bungalow.

  9. Erik

    The funny thing is, the comics = superheroes thing is an exclusively American phenomenon. Not just in Japan with its manga, but here in Europe superhero comics are in a distinct minority. What exists is also only translations of the most popular American comics – here in Sweden the only superheroes published in our own tongue is collections of Spider-Man and X-Men, comic fan buy English material and specialty shops.

    I am not really saying that this is a superior state, just that it can’t be something inherent in the medium that makes it impossible to publish funny animals or detective stories or romance as comics, or makes it harder than publishing superhero comics. It must be inherent in the publishing model, the distribution model or the buying demographic.

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