Friday, August 19, 2011

Summer Comicbook Block Busters: Marvel vs. DC

Fear Itself (main miniseries) #2
Every year there seems to be at least one sprawling event that impacts the majority of comic books from a particular company. Those particular companies are Marvel and DC. This year DC has gone forward with the Flashpoint storyline. This sprawling series will lead into the renumbering and tweaking of all their characters that has grabbed national and international headlines. Marvel's epic summer odyssey is entitled Fear Itself. This epic has not garnered anywhere near the same attention as DC's storyline, mainly because the story does not have the same kind of dramatic impact on future Marvel comics.

Cover to Flashpoint (main minseries) #1
Fear Itself off shoot miniseries
The structure of the summer time epic stories is pretty routine for both Marvel and DC. You have one miniseries that is written and drawn by an A-list talent. The main series features the core of the summer time story. Shooting off from this are the miniseries. These are a line of shorter stories that compliment the main miniseries. These stories are often written and drawn by virtual unknowns. I believe that the companies use these, almost throw-away stories, as a device to test these creators. If they do well on these short stories then they might come back to work on more permanent and important comics. A third aspect is the tie-in stories that are featured in the regular, on-going series such as Batman in DC and Avengers in Marvel. This brings in the regular readers from the company's flagship titles. It forces those regular readers to also read the main miniseries because they are left with little clue as to what is occurring in the comic they purchase monthly. Once the event is over there is usually some sort of fallout which all too recently entails a renumbering of the most affected regular series. This is why over the past few years (much to my chagrin) the Avengers has been rebooted to issue number 1 multiple times following each Marvel summertime story, and why DC is rebooting all of its books to issue 1 following the Flashpoint series.

Avengers #15 ties into Fear Itself
These summertime epic story lines are fun to read but recently have become too cumbersome to follow and have results that mean very little to the world of the publisher's characters. They are cumbersome because there are so many tie-in issues and while the main miniseries does tell the majority of the story there are still key concepts included only in the tie-ins and offshoot miniseries. The story lines have weak results because you know that after a year or two down the road the results will be washed away as in the case of Marvel's Civil War story line that resulted in the death of Captain America. A few years later the good Captain re-emerged, lessening the results of the Civil War story line.

Flashpoint off shoot miniseries
My point is that DC and Marvel need to tighten up their epic summertime stories and to make the results more impressive and lasting. By tightening up I refer to having fewer off shoot story lines and tie-in issues. It is unfair to the regular reader to be forced into purchasing a new series just to understand the story that they have been devoted to for years. It is also tiresome to see nonsensical stories such as the over usage of certain characters like Wolverine. In the Fear Itself story Wolverine appears in multiple comics and yet each comic features him in a completely separate story that occurs at the same time. DC's Flashpoint series is even more frustrating than the Fear Itself book for at least a reader can jump right into Fear Itself without needing to be caught up on some other book. The story truly begins in Fear Itself. Elements of the story that are the result of previous story lines are explained within Fear Itself, unlike Flashpoint. I was completely lost in Flashpoint because, unbeknownst to myself this story line was building off a year or more worth of story from the Flash comic that was not explained in the Flashpoint main miniseries. The summer time major stories should not require previous reading but in the end encourage additional reading. I think Marvel understands this concept much more than DC does.

Flashpoint (main miniseries) #3
Death of Cpt. America
The second point is that the results need to be more worthwhile. This would increase the collectibility of the comics and make them more attractive to read. If readers knew that what would occur in those pages would include actions written in stone, then the readers would recognize that this is truly a must read; eg. Captain America actually dies and never comes back. These books would become more collectible because the events would be told once, and only once while also having important contributions to future publications; eg. the story of Captain America's death told only once and have far reaching implications on all subsequent comics.

List of Flashpoint comics for the month of May & June
As a side note, it is becoming increasingly frustrating to see a renumbering of comics follow each summer time event. This renumbering never lasts, as Marvel has reverted their flagship titles back to their original numbering a few times in the past 5 or so years; eg. Spider-Man and more recently the Incredible Hulk. DC argues that such renumbering makes their titles more attractive to new readers because they offer a jumping on point where you know it will feature the beginning of a new story, not to mention a perception of value as you are purchasing the first of a series and not issue 500-something of an ongoing storyline. What the publishers don't realize is that these are all perceptions that can be overly indulged. If you continue to publish comics that are rebooted to issue 1 every few years then people will know that the appearance of the #1 means little to nothing.

Renumbering of books is pandering to an outside audience and is neglectful of the core audience, like myself and other fanboys that regularly purchase these comics. Similarly, Kevin Smith (at the Calgary Red State premier) pointed out the pitfalls of not pleasing your core audience and worrying too much about the outside audience. The people that pay you for your services every month, according to Smith, are the ones to care for. The people that have never bought your product may never buy your product and it is not worth altering your product to appease those that were never interested in it, which is an action that can easily alienate the people that have supported you over the years. It is great if new people purchase your product, but it is not worthwhile loosing your core group to do so. I wonder how much of that core group has been lost versus new purchasers showing up because of comic book renumbering?

Below are 5 #1 issues of the Avengers that have been released over the past 10 years, and this is only a sampling of their #1 issues!

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