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Friday, Back When I Was Twelve

I see this criticism of DC and Marvel editorial so much lately that it’s become shorthand, a rote way of dismissing something.

“He just wants everything to revert back to what it was when he was twelve.”

Leaving the ‘revert back’ malapropism to the side for the moment (Yeah, I put it above the fold just to see who’d lunge at it, I couldn’t resist) let’s talk about the underlying idea. Just what is that criticism supposed to mean, exactly?

Everyone who uses it clearly means it as a sneer, something along the lines of, “We’ve moved on. Obviously, you haven’t. Dumbass.”

Which sounds very smug and superior…until you look at the actual superhero books getting all the critical praise from the same people. Look at the writer so beloved by the Comics Should Be Good crew he’s been dubbed The God of All Comics. What’s Grant Morrison been up to the last few years? JLA. X-Men. Batman. All-Star Superman.

Everyone who praised this used the expression 'back to basics' at one point. In his proposal, Morrison HIMSELF talked about getting back to basics, as well as consciously trying to do Claremone/Byrne X-Men.

All critical darlings, all big sellers, and all of them, on some level, meant to invoke fondly-remembered classic runs on those titles.

Another highly-successful loving homage. I'm a little surprised Morrison chose the 50's era of the book to plunder, but whatever.

You don’t have to take my word for it– the man says it himself in his interviews and proposals.

“But those are different,” fans will squawk. “Those are good.”

Okay. I think so too, as it happens. But the fact remains, they’re at least partly nostalgia-driven. I don’t think you get to sneer at nostalgia with one breath, and praise it to the skies with the next.

The plain truth of the matter is that both Marvel and DC are flailing around trying to find some way to get fans to look at their books. And a revival is always a better bet than something brand-new. We’ve reached the point where publishers call it a “new direction” when you get a revival of a revamp of a relaunch.

Not NEW. Not by any stretch of the imagination, but... not BAD.

(Yeah, Astonishing X-Men, I’m looking at you.)

This all sounds like snarky disapproval, I suppose. It’s not really. (I actually rather like what I’ve seen of Astonishing X-Men, especially the part where it doesn’t tie in to ten or twelve other X-books.) But then, I’m not looking for it to blow the top of my head off with its innovative groundbreaking approach, either. I pick up a book with “X-Men” on the cover, I want some superhero team adventure with a touch of science-fiction and some soap opera romance. If I get it with some snappy dialogue and a joke here or there, so much the better. I’m looking for some tough Wolverine, some brooding Cyclops, some regal Storm, and lately I’m digging some bitchy Emma Frost. A writer gives me that stuff, he’s doing his job. Why would I yell at him for that?

This will doubtless be heresy to some of you, but I’ll say it anyway. Superhero comics are supposed to be the literary equivalent of comfort food. That’s how they were originally designed. Simple, light, escapist reading. A colorful world of good guys and bad guys and swashbuckling excitement. The Marvel and DC characters are not really supposed to change.

To take the nearest example as I write this– me– when I was twelve, it was 1973. Batman and Superman looked like this.

My 1973, as it happens, is easily available on bookshelves. It amazes me that all these stories are back in print. This one's in the Batgirl Showcase.

The Justice League and the X-Men looked like this.

Also back in print, in CRISIS ON MULTIPLE EARTHS v4. Actually, as an X-book this worked pretty well.

Okay, the last one’s a cheat… there really wasn’t an X-men book in ’73 other than reprints, but the Beast’s book was close enough for jazz.

Still, just at a glance, to the modern reader whining about superheroes not changing, those 1973 covers look pretty damning. Dark Batman versus a murderous Joker? That’s certainly familiar territory. DC’s recently revived both the multiple-earths concept and the Freedom Fighters featured on the JLA cover, and for that matter both the Justice League and the Justice Society are among the better sellers of DC’s newest wave of relaunches. Furry Beast vs. Juggernaut? Again, that’s a familiar sight to X-fans… hell, both those guys even made it into the most recent X-movie.

Weirdly, it might very well be the 1973 Superman book that had the starkest differences to modern eyes– Barbara Gordon, not in a wheelchair, was a congresswoman who’d largely given up being Batgirl, and Clark Kent was a newscaster for WGBS-TV.

But those are all cosmetic things. The truth of the matter is that DC and Marvel comics don’t look anything like that any more. Not in terms of craft, or thematic considerations, or even, really, character. Even the printing and production are miles apart. In 1973 those were all books created to be disposable reading, aimed at an audience that turned over every four years. And yeah, the audience was generally assumed to be somewhere between eight and fourteen. Marvel’s huge innovation in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s was to go after an audience that was college-age– eighteen-year-olds or thereabouts– but still, basically, kids.

Today Marvel and DC want you. Adult collectors. (The kids’ books they put out are almost afterthoughts, and certainly their sales are dismal compared to the main-line superhero stuff, which by and large is not aimed at twelve-year-olds at all.) The books are anything but ephemeral– they are written and published with an eye towards eventual permanent residence in a book collection, and even if they don’t get republished in trade paperback, it’s still a given that the readers keep those comics and will remember what they read for future reference.

Which brings me to my main point. “Comics designed to evoke nostalgia” isn’t really a criticism. It’s simply a summary of where the superhero market is at the moment. That’s all there is because folks like you and me who’ve loved superhero comics since childhood and can’t bear to give them up are the only ones left buying the damn things. Any actual twelve-year-old interested in comics is much more likely to be reading Naruto.

So when someone sneers. He just wants things back the way they were when he was twelve, my response is usually, well, duh. That just means he knows his market. Hell, given the talent pool Marvel and DC recruit from, he is the market.

Here’s what I don’t understand. Why is it suddenly trendy to sneer about this?

Seriously. This regressive call-back stuff is what we ask for, it’s outselling everything else by a country mile. Whether it’s Geoff Johns rebuilding the Silver Age Green Lantern or Grant Morrison channeling his inner Weisinger on All-Star Superman, that’s simply where the superhero market is right now. When Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo were going to get booted off the retro-fun version of the Fantastic Four they were doing a couple of years ago, fans threw a fit. Marvel backed down and and even after Waid and Wieringo left, it’s been retro-adventure for the FF ever since.

Good lord, this is one of the greatest times to be an adult comics fan in the history of the industry. You literally can get almost any kind of comic you ask for. Every week Burgas and Danielle and occasionally MarkAndrew are here telling you about all sorts of cool obscure stuff that you probably haven’t checked out.

I keep meaning to get around to this myself.

If you’re one of the few who have, good on ya.

But most of you aren’t interested in new stuff, not according to the sales numbers I’m seeing. Even the new characters using an old name from DC or Marvel have a huge uphill battle in today’s market.

This really is worth checking out. I get these in trades, I admit.

Superhero readers want the same old stuff, only, y’know, different. As long as that’s where they are, that’s where Marvel and DC are going to be, too.

And, like Seinfeld says, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” Hey, I like a good retro-style Superman story myself. I’m totally okay with pastiches of the Silver and Bronze Age. How could I not be? That’s evoking the stuff about comics I fell in love with in the first place.

But I’m baffled by this sudden sneering about how if only DC and Marvel could move on from this old-fashioned kind of story, and how we’re all so OVER that now.

Let me just address those snarky folks right now: who are you kidding? You’re nowhere near being over the X-Men, or Batman, or any of the rest of the usual suspects. Own it.

Talk about whether the pastiche is done well or done badly, but let’s stop acting like we’re shocked– SHOCKED, I say!– that Marvel and DC are continuing to publish revamps and revivals and retro-homages when we have repeatedly demonstrated that’s all we want.

If the complaint is, “But that’s all I ever see out there!” well, all that means is that you’re not looking. The new comics are out there. If you want something new, it’s available to you. Certainly if you are reading this– that means you have internet access and probably can order direct from the publisher if you’ve a mind to. You shouldn’t need to see Batman in it to give it a chance.

On the other hand, if Batman still looks and acts the way he did when I was twelve, that’s okay with me. I figure that just means the creator’s doing the job I and the other Bat-readers are asking of him. Crabbing because it’s not different strikes me as a criticism about on the level of those folks who don’t like Westerns because of all the damn horses and cowboys in them.

See you next week.

59 Comments

I think I like Grant Morrison’s nostalgic work because the work itself doesn’t come right out and say it’s nostalgic. If you don’t know anything about that era it’ll still work for you. You can’t say that about a lot of other people going to the 40-year-old market.

And here’s another thing: I “sneer” at those throwback comics because I wasn’t around for what they’re throwing back to. I’m 17 years old, I don’t know what the Hulk had for Breakfast during Watergate and I don’t care. You guys had the benefit of having new ground to be looked back at in retrospect. All I have is a bunch of retrospect to look at in retrospect.

I think, at the end of the day, the complaint is “They’re taking it from how it was when *I* was twelve to when someone *else* was twelve!” That’s certainly how I feel (or in my case 18, since I didn’t read any DC books until then) with Barry, Hal and the original Legion threatening to push Wally, Kyle and the more modern Legions out of reach to me. Why was I more than happy to accept the pushing aside of Ray Palmer for Ryan Choi but not the other way ’round? Donno. but that’s why I’m annoyed with the current trend.

All I have is a bunch of retrospect to look at in retrospect.

With all respect, that’s simply not true. There are dozens upon dozens of fresh, new comics out there. Some of them even with superheroes. They’re just not coming from Marvel or DC, most of the time.

I meant from the superhero market, mostly. All my indie stuff I keep in trades because I think they read better that way. I’m picking up Blue Beetle now, but from what I hear that’s going to be canceled soon. I have the entire run of the latest “Marvel Comics Presents” because it was taken off the board like THAT. Every time I try something new it seems like it vanishes.

I’ve been leaning more away from the big two, though. It seems like there aren’t many mythologies being made from Marvel or DC that aren’t being built off of older mythologies. Which I can get behind, sometimes. But sometimes I’ll have a pick of “Superman Fights His Most Obscure Foe EVER!” or “The X-Men Battle A Leifeldian Horror Show You Have To See To Believe!” and I’m just like “One copy of ‘Dropsie Avenue’, please”.

I think the problem goes back to continuity. Whether or not comic fans should care about continuity they certainly do. And for continuity to exist there has to be change, because if they’re hasn’t been any change in a hundred comic books then they may as well have not existed from a continuity point of view. However, if Grant Morrison has shown as anything, comic fans also have a great sense of ownership over the character that they love and are therefore resistant to any change.

Ultimately though I think if you give them time comic fans, except perhaps the most diehard, will accept mostly any change, so long as it makes the stories more interesting. And those changes that make the story worse, the changes people don’t like, no-one complains when they get reverted. But when they’re has been a change, and the fans have gone through that trauma and come to accept and then love the change, if you change it then they’re better be a bloody good reason.

And that’s why, I believe, that fans hate when creators “revert back to what it was when he was twelve.” Its not that they hate nostalgia, it that they hate change FOR NO REASON. If the fans can find no reason why a change happened, either literary or commercially, they will assume it is merely some grudge that the author has held for decades. Whether or not it is true, and I assume that it is false most of the time, I don’t think you can blame the fans for thinking it.

It is often said that comic fans hate change. I don’t think that is true. I think the reason that they all buy major event comics and argue ad infinitum over the fine points of continuity is that they love change. Of course you may respond that this is all fake change and I would agree but I don’t think it matters. I would get into that further but I don’t have the time.

To sum up, what I’m trying to say is when the fans complain “He just wants everything to revert back to what it was when he was twelve,” what they are trying to say is “He changes things that for no reason,” basically “He makes the story worse.” Is that not something worth complaining about?

It’s not that I *disagree* with this article… it’s more that I don’t want it to be true. Because I myself am not motivated by nostalgia. Sure, I liked superhero comics when I was a kid. They’re better now. I want to see what else can be done with them. Go ahead, change the characters, innovate, show me something I haven’t seen before, make me think. Honestly, I won’t mind if they aren’t like they used to be, as long as they’re good and interesting.

Which is a pretty lonely attitude to have when you’re a Legion fan, as I’m finding out.

Oh well. I still think Rick Nelson said it best when he said, “if memories were all I sang, I’d rather drive a truck.”

I have no problem with comics that evoke older ones. What gets me rolling my eyes is when the status quo is literally reset for simple things. Did the Falcon’s newer costume really need to burn up just so he could be put back in his older one? This is the Falcon costume we’re talking about – not exactly a classic image for the ages – and the new one did a decent enough job of evoking the older one while being its own look. Silly little stuff whose only purpose seems to be to change things back to the way they were years and years ago.

When I started reading comics, well, kinda-seriously started reading, the New Mutants were just starting out, Jean Grey was dead and Scott hadn’t yet married Madelyne Pryor, Team America and US.1 were totally blowing my mind (WHY is there not a US.1 Collection yet???), Crisis on Infinite Earths was taking its toll on DC, the JLA decided to move to Detroit, and the Avengers had just picked up Starfox as a member.

Yeah, I know that’s a pretty nebulous period, with overlapping eras, but that’s MY earliest “save point” so to speak. I miss the way things used to be, but I’m in it for a good story, nothing more and nothing less. I don’t object to change, I’m just … wary. I object to senseless killings and cast changes in direction, because usually, I liked the old direction more. If the new direction works as a story, and I enjoy it, then cool, I’ll keep enjoying it until the -next- big change, at which point the cycle repeats.

I do wish they’d let Cyborg stay gold. I thought it was cool that after all those years, he finally had a human-seeming body, and it was a major step back when he was frozen in the silver configuration once again. There, that’s my gripe. :>

Zach Adams said:
I think, at the end of the day, the complaint is “They’re taking it from how it was when *I* was twelve to when someone *else* was twelve!”

Bingo.

Michael said:

I do wish they’d let Cyborg stay gold. I thought it was cool that after all those years, he finally had a human-seeming body, and it was a major step back when he was frozen in the silver configuration once again. There, that’s my gripe. :>

Never cared for the gold cybernetic parts myself. Looked urine-colored to me. The silver is a much better contrast with his dark skin tone.

Of course, Cyborg was silver when I was 12, so perhaps I’m biased. :)

Fair enough.

Fuck the majority of DC and Marvel’s output though, I’ll be looking for the next Casanova or Y the Last Man.

Damn, this article hits so many points that I have long believed, it’s almost scary. But the point that stands ourt the most to me is that superhero comics are supposed to be the equivilant of comfort food. I could not agree with that more. There’s been so many super-hero runs in the past 5 to 10 years that have been praised for how “realistic” they are, which I found terrible. And the main reason I hated it always was that I’m reading a comic about a guy with super-powers who dresses up in tights to fight crime. I’m not looking for realsim. I’m looking for guys with super powers punching each other. That’s not to say I think every comic should be people punching each other, or even that all super hero comics should be that. But I think most of the Big 2’s super hero stuff should be “comfort food” type stories. If I want a serious take on the genre, there’s Astro City, or to go in the opposite direction, The Boys. Or probably several others I’m not reading. I don’t need issue after issue of the Bruce Jones Hulk where the Hulk never even shows up. If those are the type of stories you want to tell, come up with your own characters and tell those stories.

This post is a rambling mess. My point is, this article might as well have been pulled directly from my brain. Good job.

to take it to somewhat obliquely different direction: so when is a revamp merely fanfic?

This article is a fair description of the market as it stands now, but I have to say that I’m of an age where its central thesis has no emotional reality for me, personally.

When I was twelve, the X-Men were written by Scott Lobdell (who is a bad writer even when you’re twelve), and Spider-Man was Ben Reilly. Why in god’s name would I ever read a brand-name superhero book for nostalgia? My Batman and Superman are the ones from the cartoons, and the comic book guys are amusing footnotes to that. Hell, my Spider-Man and X-Men are the ones from the cartoons, and those shows weren’t even very good!

I’d go so far as to suggest that the entire generation of readers who came in from the 90’s and stayed (not many of us, I admit) probably just has no grasp of why a particular character’s status quo _in a comic book_ should be interesting moreso than whatever the story quality at the time is like. The closest thing to nostalgia you can get to for a 90’s audience is Captain America being Bucky with a cyborg arm now. That didn’t happen in the 90’s? But it so feels like it could’ve. It just would have been a whole lot stupider.

Great article Brian, which touches on so many pertinent subjects. I have to admit, I nearly bit on the “revert back.” Thank god you didn’t mention an “old adage,” or I’d be ranting right now.

Really what I’d love to see you address in a future column is one topic you just touched on today. With so few of today’s ten to twelve year olds reading comics, will the industry have any audience after the current generation. How do you interest kids so that “x” % of them will actually be reading comics in ten years time.

Do you try and catch them through comics aimed at younger readers? (I still love X-men: First Class myself despite Mr Kirkman’s criticisms of the Marvel Adventures titles) Do you aim at the internet market and try and do for comics what itunes et al have attempted to do for music. If so, it’ll have to be better than Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited. Heck, do you pick whatever the current highest selling toy in the world is, and throw out a licensed comic based on it that leads people into your comic book universe as children(Thanks Mr Furman!). Or do you hope that non-comic based media, like cartoons and movies, will interest a certain percentage of people enough that even if they don’t have a local comic shop, they might give these “X-men people,” a go by buying some comics about them on ebay!

Or maybe, initial contact isn’t designed to attract twelve year olds anymore. Maybe with the general populace perceiving comics as slightly more grown-up than they once did, the new “First Contact Target Age,” is 18 or 25.

Personally, I’m worried in the longer term for the comic book heroes I grew up with. And, I feel that the big two in particular aren’t doing enough to attract new readers. Particularly in terms of keeping up with technology. I don’t want Batman and Spidey and DD and all my childhood heroes to become just what you were talking about; nostalgia.

There’s an old saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the most grease”..

Quoting Mr. Hatcher..”Which brings me to my main point. “Comics designed to evoke nostalgia” isn’t really a criticism. It’s simply a summary of where the superhero market is at the moment. That’s all there is because folks like you and me who’ve loved superhero comics since childhood and can’t bear to give them up are the only ones left buying the damn things. Any actual twelve-year-old interested in comics is much more likely to be reading Naruto.”

THAT is the MAJORITY and TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC audience that DC and Marvel aim for in closing the sale. Not enough kids out there to influence sales. That doesn’t mean there aren’t 17 year olds who don’t read comics.

There’s still kids out there that are drawn to comic books, but not enough of them.

And they’re the vocal majority within a minority when it comes to the gripes and complaints about the industry returning to it’s roots. However, the praise Grant Morrison receives is where the rubber meets the road,

I just think there’s perspective needed here. When you look at the whole picture, you can make sense out off Morrison’s success while at the same time understanding where the complaints are coming from, and how it all fits in with respect to sales.

As long as these books enjoy a healthy life among the adult majority who buy them, the trend will continue in spite of the gripes

Whoops, did I say Brian.*Shame* Chris *Shame*
Sorry Greg!

Frankly, I’m disappointed in your assessment Greg. First of all, I never thought you of all people would dumb down and criticize an argument this way:

Everyone who uses it clearly means it as a sneer, something along the lines of, “We’ve moved on. Obviously, you haven’t. Dumbass.”

I’m one of those people who has made the ‘going-back-to-comics-they-enjoyed-in-1968′ criticism, and I’ve never meant it like that. And I don’t appreciate you putting words in my mouth like that. It’s beneath you.

Secondly, what I think many people (including myself) are saying with that critique is nothing about the type of comics that are being done (which I think are vastly different now from then), but the type of *world building* being done.

Actually it’s not even the ‘type of world building’ being done, it’s the illusion of world building that is maintained. For example, the Flash since 1986 progressed from the idea that Barry Allen died and that Wally West took up his mantle became the Flash, got married had kids. There’s a sense of forward momentum with the character and the universe he lives in. So when someone says “Aha, Barry’s not dead, let’s make him the Flash” it feels like this illusion of forward momentum, of a continuing storyline is broken. And to fans like myself there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for it and so we pin it on fannish desires– and the creators invite that because they talk about how cool the Barry Allen Flash was.

Living through the 20+ years since Crisis, there was a sense in reading DC books that things evolved and changed. Total illusion and frankly as you state, Greg, lots of examples where they harked back to the past. And DC has a nasty habit of rebooting itself whenever convenient. But Marvel always had that illusion of a growing, evolving changing universe without reboots. And with Spider-Man they reversed twenty years of seeming forward momentum to go back to a status quo in Spider-Man that hasn’t been around since the mid-1970s. Again, I agree, total illusion. But I can see why it sticks in people’s craws. And when you have Breevort, Quesada and everyone following the Marvel talking points saying “we want Peter to be a loveable loser like he was in the days of Stan Lee” it’s easy again to see an agenda beyond making good comics but to suit their own sense of how a fictional universe should run– one closer to the ones they grew up with.

I know your criticism has a lot more nuance in it and I appreciate it. But so does mine. I’d appreciate some respect for that.

For me, it isn’t that “I’ve moved on” but that it seems like I’m being jerked around. They shoved these “bold new directions” down our throats and put us through Jordan as Parallax and the Specter and infinite Legion reboots trying to convince us that they were the greatest things ever. Now they come along and basically say, “all of you who put up with this stuff were suckers. Thanks for the money” and are trying to convince us that now this is the greatest thing ever. I just feel like they made these changes and they should stick with them.

Maybe it is cynicism but I can’t help but think that in 15-20 years some other writer will come along and say “Wait Jordan really is still Paralax or the Specter” and “No that multiverse stuff was just part of an elaborate plot and there’s really only one universe!”

It seems that every time the big two make a change to a estabilished character, readers want them back to their roots.

Eletric Superman, i. e. is considered a stupid idea. Even mullets Superman. The small change, readers don´t like it.

The new Firestorm; i´ve seen a lot people saying “that´s not my Firestorm” – that´s not THEIR CHILDHOOD Firestorm.

So, is it DC´s and Marvel´s fault?

I think that Morrison´s example is different. He gets cheesy concepts from the Silver Age and try to make them look cool today.

Is different from “let´s change Angel back into Archangel” just because he looked cooler.

I know your criticism has a lot more nuance in it and I appreciate it. But so does mine. I’d appreciate some respect for that.

Criticism with nuance really isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the people who’ve blindly adopted it as a meme. If you’ve got nuance– hell, even if you’ve got examples with reasons– you’re off the hook. I’m talking about the fan base that gives “nostalgia” books a blanket dismissal when, honestly, as far as DC and Marvel are concerned they’re ALL nostalgia books at this point.

Now they come along and basically say, “all of you who put up with this stuff were suckers. Thanks for the money” and are trying to convince us that now this is the greatest thing ever.

Here’s the trouble with that– it WORKS. It works EVERY TIME. The part no one has addressed about this, ever, is that these books outsell everything else. The change/event books sell HUGE amounts. Fans screamed bloody murder about One More Day and Brand New Day, to take Graeme’s example, but the bottom line is the Spider-books got a huge bump out of it. I’m sure they do appreciate your money. I’m also sure that’s ALL THEY CARE ABOUT.

The connection readers never seem to make is the basic one of supply and demand. This stuff sells? You’ll see a lot more of it. Especially in the times we are in now, you can bet publishers and retailers will be playing it more safe, not less. Expect a lot more nostalgia-driven revamps and reboots and so on.

I’d like to put it a different way (and these comments refer directly to the superhero comics of Marvel and DC, not to other presses): for me, there’s about three seperate factors converging at one point in time as a 33 year old who has kept up with comics since he was 13.

1) As a reader, I found myself initially much more drawn to the characters than the plots. My collection started with mid-80’s X-Men [buying a ton of back issues] and Spiderman and expanded from there (across mainly the Marvel line of books). When it became obvious in the early 90’s that Marvel started caring less about writing characters in any meaningful sense and more about the next big “Round Robin/Maximum Carnage/Executioner’s Song/etc.” event, I made a move towards DC and Waid’s “Flash” and Giffen’s “JLE/JLI”…collecting a lot of back issues along the way and again expanding once the mid-90’s character overhauls began because that was far more interesting to me, to see a new character growing into a new role, than the plots (though also dropping JLE/JLA due to the horrible direction it went in post-Griffen save the Destiny’s Hand storyline).

2) Unfortunately, I also got sick with a lot of what I was seeing after a time from both companies because for whatever innovation there could be, it became more and more obvious by 2000 that the status quo needed maintaining because market forces drive the industry. Characters could change, but only so much because of film, tv, action figure licenses, and the fear that too much change would lead to a backlash and loss of readers (i.e., Kyle vs. Hal…sorry, I’ve read stories with Hal from way back when and owned most of the rebooted GL run pre and post Emerald Twilight…the character needed a facelift, badly). So the issue then became how can you tell a story that keeps the characters fresh and interesting through growth without delving down into repetiveness with plot? You can’t. I’ve seen Superman go through long hair, short hair, killed by Doomsday, come back in Red and Blue versions, be driven nearly insane by the Joker, and survive Lex Luthor’s presidency among other things, and how much does he change his values or ways of operation? Almost nil. Same with Batman (worn down in Knightfall, back broken, new Batman comes along that has to be put down, sees his sidekick die, sees his sidekick come back to life years later, gets a new sidekick in-between, gets kicked out of the league for designing ways to kill them, gets his mindwiped by his friends, watches several lovers get killed because of him and is sent to jail after being framed for one of the murders, watches Gotham survive an Earthquake and plague [twice], and now is ‘outed’ in a bizarre Morrison storyline). My bet is regardless of if they kill Bruce, mentally kill Bruce, let Bruce take time off and hand it over to Nightwing or Robin (done once before in Prodigal), or whatever, Bruce will again resume the mantle and everything will be just fine by the time of the next Batman film. It’s just the way it is (which, oddly, is also why the Wally West Flash is one of my favorite characters ever; he defied this pattern and it worked…DC and Marvel could learn from that).

3) Left with no way to really make lasting change in a character because of the reasons above, unless the company is willing to kill the character and replace them, risking criticism and fans in the process (it seems to be hit and miss; fans accepted Wally West and so far seem to be accepting Nomad as Cap, but Kyle as GL, Jean-Paul as Batman, and Connor as GA seemed to work not as well), all that is left is plot.

But if you’ve been reading for a while, there really are no new plots. They may seem new to younger comic fans who don’t have the reading depth some of us who have been around a while have, or handled in a slightly different way with different characters, but at the end of the day, most things are derivitive from a standard set of plot devices or plotlines done before. On the low level, that means that in a contained book the hero is largely left standing at the end of an arc. On the other side, this also leads to the pushing of mega-events consistently to draw up sales, yet even these are re-treads of already done storys. Jean Grey hasn’t died before and Scott Summers hasn’t found someone else? We haven’t seen a Kree/Skrull War before? The Hulk hasn’t gone on a rampage before and the rest of the heroes need to bring him down? Waittaminute…when the JLA lobotomized villains and pissed off Batman, wasn’t that the same thing as when the Squadron Supreme lobotomized villains and pissed off Nighthawk? How many Crisis’s can there be that reset everything in the DCU? (Actually, about one every ten years since the first one…Zero Hour being the mid-90’s crisis). And hey, it’s not like there hasn’t been several Captain America’s, including one that became The Captain and another that became a Nazi. And Peter and MJ will probably be back together once the sales slow down again (though Wally West and Linda Park did the same thing in Flash when Neron brought the dead rogue’s back). I suppose the best contrast is a friend who has read comics for as long as I have, and he’s able to tell his girlfriend (who has no experience reading comics) what will happen on “Heroes” before it happens…not because of spoilers, but simply because it’s the same thing that’s been seen before and has become predictable.

And here’s my point of conflict: As a reader, I love these characters and don’t want to read a new hero or a different Indie comics brand. I want my Spiderman, my Avengers, my Flash, my GL or Batman. Yet, at the same time, as someone who is in his 30’s working on an English graduate degree and a part-time creative writer on the side, the stories for me are out of steam. I can see potential for a lot of wonderful directions for these characters that don’t rely on the constant, momentary plot devices (even working on something I hope to submit in a book proposal when there’s time) while still maintaining a good deal of fisticuffs and action. But it most likely can’t happen as long as sales are the concern.

And while guys like Ellis, Morrison, Waid, Johns, Bendis, Brubaker and so on can tell great stories [this post is NOT an indictment on anyone’s writing ability or ability to tell a story], but the problem is that they’re the same stories, the same cycle of plot (anymore proof? That there’s such a thing as a ‘John Seavey Storytelling Engine’ out to be proof enough of where I’m coming from). These writers may do interesting things from time to time with the plot in question, but at the end of the day, it’s still the same plotline with little character growth at the end of the day.

So I’m left with one outcome: I care enough about the characters to keep up through boards and reading the occasional trade paperback when it hits Barnes and Noble at the cafe, but not enough to buy the same thing anymore on a regular basis.

For all extents and purposes, it’s not that I wish comics were like they were when I was 12, but rather that I’ve outgrown the stories that comics give us on a regular basis.

While I think Morrison’s work hits those “nostalgic notes” I don’t think his JLA or New X-men can be accused of reverting to how they were when he was twelve. While JLA featured the “Magnificent Seven,” it featured Electro Super, Kyle Rayner, Angry Aquaman, and Wally West, which certainly changes the dynamic of the team from the good ‘ole days. Also when he increased the ranks he added more new characters, not characters we’ve already seen in the Justice League. I think you’re over-simplifying his JLA if you think it’s the same as say a single Spidey. Which I know you’ve never explicitly mentioned, but honestly that’s the only “revert back” I could think of that people have sneered at.

Nostalgia itself isn’t bad, it depends on why you’re bring it back. In Morrison’s case, he has something new to say/show about the old dynamic, in other cases it’s just for the sake of writing the same stories you read as a kid. So I do think you can sneer at nostalgia with one breath, and praise it to the skies with the next.

” This will doubtless be heresy to some of you, but I’ll say it anyway. Superhero comics are supposed to be the literary equivalent of comfort food. That’s how they were originally designed. Simple, light, escapist reading. A colorful world of good guys and bad guys and swashbuckling excitement. The Marvel and DC characters are not really supposed to change.

With all due respect, what a medium or even genre is created as should not dictate what it should always be. That’s like saying video games should only be about Italian plumbers who jump over barrels thrown by giant gorillas.

The fact that superhero comics exist in a bizarre niche where they cater exclusively to the nostalgia of perceived man-children is a problem, but that doesn’t mean superhero comics ( even franchise ones ) have to be exclusively for children. Ideally, there would be more diversity, so that the Dark Knight Returns-type approach would not be the majority, but still could exist.

Here’s another point to consider: some people were twelve and reading shittier comics than other people when they were twelve. And some folks seem to have read nothing since they were twelve, let alone read things that didn’t feature the Teen Titans or something.

Drawing upon the past isn’t automatically retrogressive. But there are some writers who are just rewriting the stories they loved again and again, but “darker.”

I’ve been reading comics since the 70’s and I don’t particularly care if we go back to the original conventions or not. What I HATE is that the focus on superhero stories -definitely at DC, and more and more every day at Marvel- has shifted from the heroes to the villains. They kill, often in horrible, graphic ways, up to and including cannibalism; the heroes are shown as ineffectual (sure, they stop the villains- AFTER they have killed somebody- and/or tortured for some reason, OR they kill themselves, or they just plain KILL the hero (or his loved ones) off. In other words, they are selling SUPER HERO comic books with the shock value tactics of horror movies, something I never thought I’d live to see- probably because, as Greg points out, the audience is now believed to be just College Age guys who ONLY want that kind of stuff- something very debatable. I don’t care which version of The Hulk we are in now or who composes the Justice League these days- but I want my heroes to be HEROIC. It’s like, to use Greg’s example, complaining that Westerns have Cowboys in them. That’s why I buy them. Otherwise, why not cancel the main books and just put out Vertigo titles? Ah, because they don’t want to lose their *family-friendly*, recognizable icons. That’s hypocrisy, no matter how you look at it. And I’m not buying it. Literally.

The change/event books sell HUGE amounts.

Not in any sort of historical context, they don’t. Marvel and DC have made a conscious business decision to appeal to fanatics, who may be dissatisfied by the current product at times but who will return to it like vultures whenever they get the chance. But let’s be honest: even the biggest “event” book doesn’t touch standard everyday X-Men or Spider-Man sales of ten years ago.

I don’t think nostalgia should mean that everyone in Marvel and DC should remain the same forever.

However, I do think that with the most popular franchises it’s important to, once in a while, go back to the feel of what is considered the best age for that character. The reason that Spider-Man is popular is because Lee and Ditko did it well, and if you take the basics of the formula out of that all you have is a book that’s cashing in on Spider-Man’s reputation. Same thing with the X-Men and Chris Claremont.

So when a writer tries to do something new with a popular franchise, it’s important not to lose sight of why this franchise is the one that he wanted to use. It wouldn’t fly in any other medium. Imagine if the fifth season of Lost was a slapstick comedy, or Scrubs became a documentary of the medical profession. While these would certainly be doing something new, and it may actually be good, it begs the question of why they didn’t just make a new show, and continued doing the popular shows the way that they’ve gone before.

The fact that superhero comics exist in a bizarre niche where they cater exclusively to the nostalgia of perceived man-children is a problem, but that doesn’t mean superhero comics ( even franchise ones ) have to be exclusively for children. Ideally, there would be more diversity, so that the Dark Knight Returns-type approach would not be the majority, but still could exist.

I don’t mean to pick on you, Nitz– but this is kind of the false premise I was trying to get at. I probably could have done it better, but, full disclosure, I’m not at my best this week. Still kind of coming back from the dental stuff and flu-ridden to boot. So the usual fine-tuning of the column didn’t happen and I find myself clarifying things down here more than I would normally.

Here’s the point I probably could have made better. You want adult comics? You want adult superhero comics? They’re out there. You don’t need to bend Marvel’s or DC’s characters into impossible shapes to get them, you just need to let go of the need to stick with that particular brand name. If you’re going to go with the Marvel/DC group regardless, you should already know up front by now that everything Blackjack talked about is in play. (If I’d been on my game I would have included that reader arc he’s talking about, and how the end of it always leads to simply growing out of the things. I owe him, that’s the last third of the column I should have done this week. I blame the meds.)

Anyway, he summed it up. The Marvel and DC gang are brand-names licensed up the wazoo, any ‘growth and change’ is going to be limited to stuff that doesn’t affect the brand. It’s commercial art.

Now, again, I’m not saying that brand-name familiarity is bad. You know, I like James Bond movies and when I go see one I’m reasonably sure what I’m going to get. Comfort food has its place in the scheme of things. The point is that the discussion is limited to done WELL or done BADLY. What I see constantly, though, are fans railing against this obvious fact that the brand-name stuff not only won’t change but really by its commercial nature it can’t change. They want to move on, take the next step, but they want Batman and Spider-Man to somehow come along and take it WITH them. That’s never going to happen. That seems so obvious to me that I don’t understand why it’s a recurring complaint. And it really baffles me when the actual creators that work on the books don’t get it either.

It’s not that I think the DC/Marvel superheroes are exclusively for children. It’s that I don’t think they’re capable of being all things to all people and I wish people would stop trying to force them into that, especially when there are perfectly good alternatives out there dying from lack of sales. It’s the fan insistence that if they are going to grow up, then it follows that Superman must grow up too, that has led to the ‘bizarre niche market’ you are talking about. That’s what’s left. I don’t see it changing as long as fans keep A) aging and B) refusing to try anything new. We can’t do anything about A, which leaves B.

I’m easy with the returns of all these beloved-from-youth-to-most-of-the-fanbase characters (not me, though, too young). GL: Rebirth was a lot of fun and I can’t imagine why Flash: Rebirth wouldn’t be at least as entertaining.

My problem is that when these characters (Hal Jordan, Barry Allen, Oliver Queen, old Legion, etc) have been back in circulation for years (around 2015ish), editorial’s going to do away with all of them in a giant crossover and replace them all with younger, hipper replacements, a la Zero Hour. Then 10 years after that, those characters will be replaced by Hal, Barry, and the rest all over again. When do we stop and keep new characters that work (Breach, Manhunter, etc.) and make them mainstays? Will characters like Wally West ever die and return?

Vincent Paul Bartilucci

October 5, 2008 at 12:32 pm

Great, great column!

I’ve been using the “Just because Superman grew up…” line for years now and have gotten nothing but static in return. No, Superman doesn’t need to grow up. Neither does Spider-man, or Batman, or any of the other denizens of the Marvel and DC Universes. If you’ve outgrown them, so be it. Move on.

Off-topic, read Casanova 14 (or 1-14 if you haven’t started on the series yet) at the earliest opportunity. The most recent issue was thrilling and heartbreaking, and contained a twist that completely reframed the previous story arc.

” Here’s the point I probably could have made better. You want adult comics? You want adult superhero comics? They’re out there. You don’t need to bend Marvel’s or DC’s characters into impossible shapes to get them, you just need to let go of the need to stick with that particular brand name. If you’re going to go with the Marvel/DC group regardless, you should already know up front by now that everything Blackjack talked about is in play. (If I’d been on my game I would have included that reader arc he’s talking about, and how the end of it always leads to simply growing out of the things. I owe him, that’s the last third of the column I should have done this week. I blame the meds.) ”

On the other hand, if you want kids’ superhero comics, they’re out there as well. Marvel Adventures, Spider-Girl, Johnny DC, the animated tie-in comics… they all exist for the family-friendly demographic. And they’ve never been known as excellent sellers.

I think that this is a problem that needs a constructive approach; instead of dwelling on why the mainline superhero books have descended into oft-immature ultra-violence, why not figure out how these kid comics can reach a greater section of young readers?

From Blackjack:

” And here’s my point of conflict: As a reader, I love these characters and don’t want to read a new hero or a different Indie comics brand. I want my Spiderman, my Avengers, my Flash, my GL or Batman. Yet, at the same time, as someone who is in his 30’s working on an English graduate degree and a part-time creative writer on the side, the stories for me are out of steam. I can see potential for a lot of wonderful directions for these characters that don’t rely on the constant, momentary plot devices (even working on something I hope to submit in a book proposal when there’s time) while still maintaining a good deal of fisticuffs and action. But it most likely can’t happen as long as sales are the concern. ”

Even if you don’t want to read a new hero or an ” Indie comics brand “, why don’t you try doing so? Sorry, but the franchise heroes you grew up with are, to be blunt, never going to go back to being the way you best remember them. Even if they do move away from the direction of petulant cynicism, the Big Two will still make their comics in the way that they’ll sell best, and that’s not going to be the way they were in 1988.

An example of how this doesn’t work; older fans’ receptions of superhero animated series. These cartoon adaptations have a content maturity level more in line with the original books, but they’re adapting the original books for a different audience. Some fans B&M about this incessantly; how the Teen Titans was too anime, how X-Men Evolution was too 90210, how the current Wolverine and the X-Men cartoon is too Wolverine-centric, etc. But they aren’t the intended audience, so their complaints mean little.

Instead of trying to recapture what you once enjoyed, I’d recommend something new; my default advice to fans who miss old-school superhero comics is to read and likely enjoy creator-owned super-books like Invincible and Dynamo 5, as opposed to expecting the Big Two to cater to them.

I find it interesting that a lot of people seem to believe that indy books like Invincible and Dynamo 5 are good recommendations to readers disenchanted with current Big Two output, even though the books are fundamentally unlikely to please such a fan. Invincible and Dynamo 5 are both deconstructive genre pastiche stories that forthrightly rely on reader pre-knowledge of superhero tropes in the course of telling they’re story. If you’re in the mood to read a “new” classic-style Spider-Man or Superman tale, Invincible is only going to remind you that there aren’t any, just people inspired by the ones you’ve read already.

It also seems, honestly, to do a disservice to the kinds of stories Dynamo 5 and Invincible are telling to position them in this way, as all-purpose superhero alternatives. I do not believe they were ever intended as such. They’re fine work on their own terms, of course, but both are basically stories more about pushing the genre’s boundaries more than they are about light entertainment. if you hand Invincible to someone upset with, say, Geoff Johns, what you’re doing is handing an extremely violent book about a young hero to someone who is probably tired of extremely violent books about young heroes. Yes, Invincible exists on a far higher plane of art and writing quality than the usual Johns joint, but this makes no difference at all to someone who already knows there are specific kinds of things they don’t want to read about.

If you want to read about Spider-Man, really specifically Spider-Man (or insert your other corporate IP hero name here), then you care about what his publisher is doing with him. You either like one of his ongoing books or you don’t. That someone else out there is writing a deconstructive pastiche about his own character who is comparable to Spider-Man is just not relevant to satisfying that desire. You may find the book interesting as an outgrowth of your enjoyment of Spider-Man, but reading the Adventures of Indy-Man is never going to satisfy that basic desire for a good adventure starring Spider-Man told in classic mode.

Yes, it would be wonderful if everyone in the world who was unhappy with corporate comics decided they would just love indy comics instead, but people aren’t wired that way when it comes to a desire for particular types of entertainment. Most indy comics aren’t even written in disposable mode and indy superheroes tend not to be written as light entertainment. It’s apples and oranges, and the fundamental difference remains even if the apples and oranges are both wearing capes.

Lynxara – Or, honestly, I think a lot of comics (or movie, or literary) audience feels uncomfortable with art that isn’t defined by corporate branding. We’re trained, all Pavlovian, to define ourSELVES by our corporate allegiances, and many people don’t know how to respond to anything that isn’t a symbol of corporate allegiance.

MarkAndrew:

That’s a fair view of how the situation shakes down, especially among superhero die-hards. I would only disagree in that I think most people – especially people outside the die-hard fan community – don’t really think about it in those terms, or at all. Most people I’ve known don’t really bother to consider why they like something, they just prefer to conserve effort and time by only pursuing entertainment with a guaranteed “payoff.” Any allegiance to a brand is probably the result of someone “learning” to associate the brand with a product that efficiently gratifies desires.

I think people know just fine how to respond to different types of branding (and really, Invincible and Dynamo 5 themselves are just different brands). What I think happens is that since the Big Two superheroes are more heavily marketed than competing Indy superheroes, most people will consider them a more “efficient” entertainment option. Easier to find, possibly cheaper, more copies in circulation. If you bring piracy into play, it’s actually much easier to DL Big Two output than Indy output, too.

Basically I think for a lot of people who generally like superheroes, the additional effort required to obtain Invincible or Dynamo 5 (ordering online, at a shop, whatever) actually takes them beyond the time and effort they’re willing to invest in wanting to read a superhero comic. At that point obtaining a superhero story in an alternate medium, like a DVD or video game (probably Marvel or DC branded) probably seems like a more efficient alternate, and a safer bet.

When do we stop and keep new characters that work (Breach, Manhunter, etc.) and make them mainstays?

Because they don’t work in terms of the only thing that matters, sales. Breach lasted all of 11 issues, and Manhunter does not exist because it is a top seller but because DC thinks it has the potential to be a top seller — a potential that it still has not lived up to. According to the Beat charts, Manhunter sells just about as many copies now as it did when it was originally “put on hold” … in other words, not really enough.

Again, Breach, Manhunter, Blue Beetle, Firestorm, etc. may be Internet critical darlings, but the most important thing is that they do not sell. Why would a company like DC, the job of which is to make money, continue to put out a series that doesn’t make any? Because the 10-15,000 people who actually buy the book like it? That’s just not enough to justify the production costs.

You have an argument with Kyle Rayner and Wally West, two characters who obviously did “work” because they lasted for about 10+ and 20+ years (respectfully). It would be foolish for DC to totally ax these characters, like they did to Hal Jordan in 93-94. Still, GL was not a top selling title in 93-94, and Barry apparently didn’t set the charts on fire back in 85-86 either. So a change was warranted at the time to get the book selling again. But DC isn’t axing characters like they used to. Kyle still co-stars in the GL books, and, if Johns’ interviews are to be believed (and why wouldn’t they?), Wally isn’t going anywhere either. Basically, these characters succeeded for a while, and as a reward they get to stick around. Anyone who doesn’t think that the return of Hal Jordan was a good idea obviously hasn’t looked at the sales numbers that GL sells since his return. DC would be stupid not to try to recapture the same success with Barry Allen.

But Breach, Manhunter, Blue Beetle, Firestorm, etc.? Well, you need some extra characters to throw on teams like the Titans, JLA, JSA, Birds of Prey, etc. Maybe some of the fans of those characters will start reading the team books — because while they may be good concepts on paper, if they don’t make money, they don’t “work.”

I couldn’t “lunge” at your “revert BACK” redundancy because I worked 28 hours in 2 days and had no time for fandom and the Internet; sorry. But let’s note that one commenter said Nomad is now Cap; no, sadly, Nomad is pushing up daisies now.

Condolences, RJ, I had a week like that too. I hope you know that we’re just kidding around with you.

In all honesty, I’m probably just as bad. My filthy secret is that sometimes I use the edit function to fix typos in the comments section. At least the really screamingly obvious ones.

i hate to ask, but how does New X-Men fall into the category that the other three are in? It seems to me that New X-Men went against everything that was X-Men for forty years, and did the exact oposite.

i hate to ask, but how does New X-Men fall into the category that the other three are in?

According to Morrison himself in his series proposal, it was to be an attempt to return the strip to the glory days of Claremont/Byrne by trying to capture the essence of what that run was about.

I don’t see Morrison’s X-men as so much a throwback to Claremont/Byrne as Lee/Kirby. The concept of superhero school (probably slightly Harry Potter inspired) had been lost over the years.

Claremont’s stuff was more angsty soap opera, which Morrison just isn’t good at.

Sure, if the best criticism you can come up with for a book is ““S/he just wants everything to revert back to what it was when s/he was twelve” then you’re doing a terrible piece of criticism.

Totally agreed.

“According to Morrison himself in his series proposal, it was to be an attempt to return the strip to the glory days of Claremont/Byrne by trying to capture the essence of what that run was about.”

It really stretches your argument if you’re gonna include that, though. Morrison introduced a radical new status quo and boatloads of new characters. Even if he was inspired by the old Claremont/Byrne stuff his run doesn’t READ like those comics.

Compare that to his successor, Joss Whedon, who dragged Colossus back from the grave just so he could hook up with Kitty Pryde again. I don’t really mind myself, but I think it’s that sort of thing that people get irate about.

Crabbing because it’s not different strikes me as a criticism about on the level of those folks who don’t like Westerns because of all the damn horses and cowboys in them.

– Sums it up perfectly. Great article, couldn’t agree more.

Wow!

Great piece Greg! Great sequel Blackjack!

I always felt that the reason Wally worked out as the Flash, was that he didn’t “get up to speed” (pardon the pun!) immediately… the first couple of years of his run involved him coming to terms with the fact that although he was now The Flash, he wasn’t Barry, and more importantly, WAS NEVER GOING TO BE Barry…
Ditto for Kyle, but to a lesser extent, as Wally had kind of set the precedent…

I have grown to accept over the years that all the Big Two really care about is sales. I wish it weren’t the case, but when you have a Mega-Corporation, you have to answer to the shareholders BEFORE the customers…

So yes… I have learned to look elsewhere! And boy-o-boy it can be so rewarding when you find a real gem!

Thanks for a great post!

It really stretches your argument if you’re gonna include that, though. Morrison introduced a radical new status quo and boatloads of new characters. Even if he was inspired by the old Claremont/Byrne stuff his run doesn’t READ like those comics.

Granted, it reads new. But all that means is that he did it WELL. Look at what he did in terms of storylines.

–evil sibling of Professior Xavier
–telepathic war of minds
–the Shi’Ar
–finding new mutants
–Weapon X
–Magneto takes over New York
–the Phoenix

Those are all straight from the X-Men’s greatest hits. Remember, the argument isn’t that nostalgia’s BAD. It’s that nostalgia permeates everything Marvel and DC are doing any more and most of the time it’s what we want, so acting like that’s a criticism is saying nothing at all.

Morrison did it well enough to make it look new. Whedon was writing fan fiction. That’s the difference.

“Granted, it reads new. But all that means is that he did it WELL. Look at what he did in terms of storylines. ”

Absolutely. I’d still say he added significant twists to the X-Men concept.

“Morrison did it well enough to make it look new. Whedon was writing fan fiction. That’s the difference.”

So you agree that “fan fiction” is a legitimate criticism? ‘Cause I think that’s where a lot of this is about.

Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison might play around with a lot of old concepts, but they still move things forward and most importantly tell compelling, emotionally meaningful stories. That’s all I read anything for.

[…] the fine distinctions made by superhero fans between nostalgic comics that work and ones that don’t can make for some fascinating reading. It’s an easy topic to explore, because the two recent (well, last decade) X-Men revamps by Grant […]

So you agree that “fan fiction” is a legitimate criticism? ‘Cause I think that’s where a lot of this is about.

Fair question. Honestly, I don’t think that’s a legit criticism, at least not by itself. So I kind of undercut myself there. I should have said “BAD fan fiction.” I committed the very same shorthand-critique mistake that I wrote the column about in the first place.

See, here’s my thing. My gut feeling, as far as Marvel and DC superheroes are concerned, is that criticisms like “continuity porn,” “fan-wank,” “nostalgia-driven,” “fanservice,” and “fanfic” are telling us exactly nothing because that’s true of the entire mainstream superhero line, because the market has demonstrated that’s what adult comics readers care about. Currently that’s required of every superhero book they are putting out and to some extent it’s ALWAYS been true, as soon as the audience stopped turning over. When comics readers came and stayed, that started the rock rolling down the hill, and now here we are.

Honestly I think you can make a case that’s true to some extent with any kind of shared-universe format for telling stories. Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who, James Bond. DC and Marvel superheroes. There’s always the prohibition against damaging or changing the format beyond repair for the next guy to work on it. If you’re working on, for example, Spider-Man, and you’re not Stan Lee or Steve Ditko then it’s pastiche– classed-up fan fiction, basically– by DEFINITION. That comes with built-in limitations that are in dead opposition to the requirements of “adult” storytelling — growth, change, character arcs that complete.

So really all that’s left is: are you doing the pastiche well, or are you doing it badly? Morrison did it well. Whedon did it… not as well. Etc. But they were engaged in the same basic effort. That’s what I’m saying.

Yeah, I’ve written myself here on the blog, “fan fiction is a limited critique,” as is “S/he just wants everything to revert back to what it was when s/he was twelve”.

If you’re gonna critique something, critique it on the quality of the work, whether it is good or not.

Heck, that’s the main point of this blog! :)

[…] another way of describing this. Which continues Hatcher (or OG Greg, as I call him, because for a middle aged comics nerd who […]

As with any public criticism, there’s more to it than just the platitude (excluding critiques done for pay).

There’s a difference between reversion for the sake of telling a certain story or type of story, and reversion for the sake of aesthetic comfort. The latter is much less admirable or forgivable.

Also, it seems like you’re operating on the base assumption that people who criticize a certain comic are A) buying that comic, despite complaining about it, and B) totally unaware of their alternate options. It’s totally possible, and realistic for most of us who make that type of criticism, to assume that the critic is reading books they like that aren’t like the ones they’re deriding, enjoying them, and making their negative opinion of the books in question known for the sake of joining the discussion.

Now, you’re right of course that there must be a certain amount of people who buy a book, only to complain about it. We’ve seen this proven by confessions and sales numbers. But in my experience, those usually aren’t the same people using the “reversion” criticism.

Also, it seems like you’re operating on the base assumption that people who criticize a certain comic are A) buying that comic, despite complaining about it, and B) totally unaware of their alternate options..

I suppose I am. But how else do the complainers get hold of it to complain about it? Most of those folks appear to have READ the books in question. Which means for the most part they sought it out– borrowed it or bought it. And the sales numbers tend to support this. I think it’s a reasonable assumption.

Look at the numbers we get HERE. Look at the comment counts on things like whether or not Peter Parker and Betty Brant DID IT, as opposed to all the other things we talk about on the blog. I don’t have traffic stats but I suspect those would bear me out too. The mainstream audience bitches and moans about superheroes not being what they want, about them never being adult enough, but they can’t bear to let them go. And as I’ve said many times, even if fans hate the stuff they’re buying, DC and Marvel still get to keep the money.

Most people I know who use the reversion criticism often use it specifically with regard to books they aren’t reading or do not want to read, often as an excuse for why they shouldn’t be expected to read it or why it’s not really worth anyone’s time. In light of that, I think Apodaca might have a very solid point here. I don’t think there’s any evidence that the guys complaining online and the guys buying current product are necessarily the same guys. There is overlap happening, certainly, but…

With online acquaintances I’ve noticed that a lot of people also seem to form opinions on books based on what they overhear about it, or what friends say about it, without ever really wanting to read it. Even people who don’t read comics can end up with opinions this way. (In fact, most of the vocal OMD/BND haters I know have never read issues of either story, they just know “what happened in it” from other people… and those impressions aren’t always terribly accurate.) I’ve also got quite a few acquaintances who follow current superhero stuff purely through piracy, because they want to know what’s going on to complain about it, but don’t care to spend any money on books they expect to hate.

[…] of humanity in his adopted home. Killing them off at this point just seems to be symptomatic of the “When I was twelve” phenomenon, as it superficially reflects an earlier version of continuity without the underlying […]

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