Comics Need to Change… As Long as it’s a Book I Don’t Like

Recently news in the comic book world has been dominated by change. DC Comics is relaunching almost its entire lineup of super hero books while Marvel recently announced that they will be cancelling Uncanny X-Men. As with any change, there has been a lot of talk. Fans, creators and journalist just can’t help but to chime in with their own two cents. All of this has made two things very clear:

1.) The comic book industry needs to change in order to stay alive.

2.) Everyone wants the comic book industry to change, unless it involves a title or character that they like.

Lets address point one first. In a recent article, our own Jason Serafino made a great observation about today’s youth and comic book heroes. The fact of the matter is that comic books are the last place that kids go for their comic book heroes. Movies, toys, cartoons and video games about comic book characters seem to out perform actual comic books on a consistent basis. This is also the trend for teenagers and adults, though they make up a smaller portion of that market. To better illustrate this point, feel free to take a quick poll of your friends to see how many watched and enjoyed The Dark Knight. Now follow that up by asking them how many have ever bought any comic book title two months in a row. If my math is correct, 142% (give or take up to 142% error in my math) of your friends said they enjoyed The Dark Knight and then said comic books are for nerds.

Now point two is where it all gets tricky. While most comic books fans will admit that changes need to be made in order to make comic books a vibrant and popular media again, few can agree on what steps need to be taken. Do more publishers need to embrace digital distribution? Do we need fewer ongoing titles? Do we need to have fewer characters with multiple monthly titles? Should the industry focus less on traditional cape and cowl hero comics? Does the industry need to move away from the large publishers and embrace smaller independent presses?

Your guess is as good as mine. Many people that are more informed about the industry will argue for and against these ideas till the cows come home. The only thing that we can agree on is that the status quo has led to a stagnation of the media that so many of us love.

That being said, why do we fear change so much? When Marvel announced Uncanny X-Men would be cancelled, I instantly went into “what a terrible idea” mode. It’s book that I haven’t read in over a decade but used to read monthly when I was younger, yet I am one of the first people to line up to poo-poo the idea. DC Comics has only released a few basic details and some cover art for their upcoming relaunch, but that hasn’t stopped people from lining up around the block to complain. Even before we’ve read page one people are taking issue with the creative teams behind the titles, costume redesigns or changes to characters that have already been changed a hundred times over.

At this point, the biggest thing holding back the comic industry might just be the fans themselves. The public at large has shown many times they are willing to accept many of the core stories and characters from the comic book world, but at some point there is a divide that these more casual fans cannot cross. Be it the complex and sizable backstory attached to these characters or simply the method by which these stories are delivered, there is something quite real that causes this schism.

Yet at every turn, we the fans doubt the the moves of the creators that we claim to love so much. Each time a comic book movie comes out there are handfuls of people that see them simply so they can pick at the details and changes that were made. Unhappy that the movie is different than the comic, they then complain to their friends and the faceless masses online. We get upset when a new Lantern replaces an old or an old sidekick moves on. There are some among us that are perfectly happy watching Spider-Man battle Venom again and again and again…

But why don’t we want the story to be different? We have read these stories before, so wouldn’t it be more entertaining for us to see our favorite characters in different situations? As fans, we spend so much time getting to know these characters that we are angered by change, but isn’t change the exact thing that causes the conflicts that our heroes so greatly need? Isn’t half the fun of a character learning about them? How can learning something new about a character we love a bad thing? Something as simple as changing Superman’s haircut can cause a panic in the comic book world. How does changing a character’s clothing make them any less significant in our eyes? We change clothing on a daily basis, but every day we are fundamentally the same people. How are comic book characters any different? Does changing a hero’s backstory make them any less of a hero if they still act heroically?

In the end the big difference is that they’re fictional characters and they’re simply a product of whoever is the creative team at the time. Yes they are very dear to us and we dedicate large amounts of time and money to them, but that doesn’t make them real. Changes to our favorite characters and books come and go, but no matter what happens it never takes away the good times we had. Take it from me fellow comic book fans, as a Star Wars fan of many years I know the heart-ache that change can cause. I know first hand how something new can seem like it is ruining something old, but no matter how much I hate the prequels and the things that have come after them in the Star Wars, I will always love the movies I grew up watching. No one can take that joy from me and the same goes for our comic book characters. Age of Apocalypse will still be an epic event and Oracle will always be one of the greatest characters to have served in the DC Universe. Nothing that is written in the future will take that away from the people it matters to most. So look at these changes not as endings, but new beginnings… unless they suck. Then we’ll start a letter writing campaign to get Black Canary out of that awful costume.

One Comment

  1. RemyNo Gravatar
    Posted June 16, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink | Reply

    While a part of me is hesitant to accept DC’s decision to “wipe the slate clean” with some of the characters, and as much as I am completely torn between adoring Barbara Gordon as Oracle and knowing she is the best Batgirl ever, I can’t help but be excited. Especially by the digital comics, as I honestly don’t have the room to carry comics around. I read books fast enough that it’s almost a waste of money for me to buy them, with comics it’s practically ridiculous. Having them digitally will free space in my apartment and allow me to carry a large amount with me everywhere I go. I look forward to September with cautious optimism.

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