SPIDER-MANDATE: The Lowe-down on "Secret Wars," Tie-Ins and Stacey Lee
It’s that time of year, where all of us that write about comics and pop culture try and make sense of the previous twelve months. The trouble is, I’m really not very good at that sort of thing, and I already kind of shot the works contributing to other people’s best-of-the-year, what-are-you-reading roundups (two here at CBR and a couple of others elsewhere on the net.) So what IS there left to say about 2012?
Like I said, I’m not good at this. I read a lot, I generally liked what I read, I enjoyed most of the comics I got this last year… but was there a trend? Something that kind of summed up what my last twelve months of comics had been about?
I didn’t quite have a handle on it until just a couple of days ago when I went into the comics shop on my weekly visit to pick up the books from my reserve box. There wasn’t a lot of new stuff on the rack what with the holidays, but I did see something that I decided I had to have.
Space: 1999 – Aftershock and Awe is a really nice hardcover from Archaia Publishing. It came out just a few days ago, and it’ll set you back $24.95 for a hundred and fifty-two pages. Perfectly reasonable for a graphic-novel hardcover, especially if your shop gives you a subscriber discount (and mine does, even on the impulse buys like this one.)
I assumed it was a reprint album– I didn’t really look at the credits, thinking it had to be collecting the old Charlton book with the Joe Staton and John Byrne stuff.
Except it’s not.
Oh, there’s a sort of reprint in the front, an adaptation of the show’s pilot episode drawn by Gray Morrow, but “remastered” with new material. This isn’t from Charlton, but rather the Power Records comic, but with new material added by artist Miki, and also a bit of the Charlton adaptation of the pilot folded into it as well.
It looks odd to someone who’s seem the original pieces but it works; you’d have to be a Human Geek Index (like, admittedly, myself) to spot the seams.
But what blows me away is that the bulk of this book is new.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. I have a certain fondness for Space: 1999– actually, I’m more forgiving of it now than when it originally aired. We have a few of the paperbacks kicking around here, and most of the show on DVD– I picked it up for us when I found out Julie had never seen it.
So I was surprised and pleased to see a new Space: 1999 book, for sure. But here’s the thing. I bought that other stuff on the cheap– the books were fifty cents and the DVDs were, I dunno, three bucks or so for each “set” and we have five sets here. All of the second season and the first set of four from the first season. Call the total investment, books and DVDs, around twenty dollars. That’s about enough to blow on a nostalgic whim.
Except twenty-plus dollars is also what I spent on the Archaia hardcover under discussion. In other words, I paid as much for this graphic novel as I did for all the other Space:1999 stuff here– including the actual show– combined. That’s the world we live in now, where a high-end hardcover of Space: 1999 comics is a good bet for a small-press publisher. They figured my nostalgic whim would strike again and they weren’t wrong.
For me, that kind of sums up my year in comics and pop culture. It’s all been about remixes and revivals.
And it’s not just me. It seems like everywhere I look in the comics shop, it’s all about reboots and reimaginings of the old stuff. Not the smirky, ironic kind, either; this is all done straight and with love. I have a running joke about how Dynamite Comics bases their entire publishing strategy on stuff I thought was awesome in the mid-70s, but if I am honest, they are far from alone. Nostalgia is the linchpin of most comics publishing strategy these days, it seems. Archaia’s just the latest.
On top of all that, we are having a renaissance in ACTUAL reprints. Never in the history of comic books has a wider variety of adventure and superhero stuff been available in collected editions.
For someone in my age bracket, hell, it’s Christmas every week. I’m almost getting to the point where I’m embarrassed about it. You know, like, “Dudes, it’s OKAY with me if you do some books for the younger folks too. Really. I’ve got plenty to read over here.” I remember worrying about this a few years ago, right here in print, that comic books were turning into this tiny self-referential key club for superhero geeks, where companies would just all be publishing fan fiction all the time.
Well, as far as the big publishers are concerned, that’s exactly what happened. That’s why when I walk into my comics shop it’s all about the latest rebooted version of whoever, side-by-side with a fifty-dollar hardcover archival reprint of something that ran for fourteen issues in 1973. There’s no point in crabbing about it. It’s where we are. We have joined the pulp fans in their world of reprints and re-invention, all done for a narrow specialty audience.
Look, I don’t except myself from this. Hell, a couple of weeks ago I was rhapsodizing right here how awesome it was to have a great new reboot of Tarzan from Dynamite along with an amazing archival Russ Manning Tarzan hardcover from Dark Horse. I’m all over Planet of the Apes and Steed and Mrs. Peel and the latest Conan book. I’m totally that guy. I admit it. And when I visit my comics retailer, I have plenty of company. So the natural conclusion is that comics are losing whatever freshness and originality they once had, doomed by trying to placate an increasingly jaded audience that shrivels ever smaller year after year, until it all disappears in a tail-swallowing spiral.
Except… that’s a skewed view. It’s what you would think if you only got your comics from a specialty shop.
But if you are out in the world, it would dawn on you that comics, the form, are in great shape. There’s webcomics and books and zines and all kinds of incredible work being done out there.
The same year I watched Marvel and DC tiptoe into the world of original hardcover graphic novels by doing origin revamps of their biggest hero franchises, I also saw all kinds of startlingly original and fun work exploding out of the indie small-press scene, the world of webcomics, and self-published Kickstarter projects. Honestly, if I wasn’t too set in my ways to give up visiting the comics shop, I’d have done all my comics consumption online… either by ordering deep-discounted book collections of one sort or another, or just reading the things on the web.
So we’re not actually doomed to drown in a constant cycle of reboots and rehashings of the same old stories. The cool new comics are out there. We just have to go look for them. It’s not that hard, especially since you can do the looking from right where you’re sitting reading this column.
I think, in 2013, I’m going to make it a point to try and change my normal orbit a little and check out more new stuff along with the old. If you’re like me, feeling vaguely annoyed with Marvel and DC most of the time for being on the same old hamster wheel… maybe you could use a change of orbit too. I love the Bronze Age of comics as much as anyone and more than most, and this last year has been a great time for guys like me– I loved getting to revisit beloved comics from my youth in so many different ways– but even I don’t think comics should live there. That embarrassed feeling is getting more pronounced.
After all, it helps to remember– that old stuff we love so much? Once upon a time, it was new stuff.
See you next week.
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