As 2015 draws to a close, we can take a look at what the big two publishers of comics had to offer, and we can sum it up in two words: mega event. Both companies came out with lineups full of nontraditional titles, as well as new comics aimed at drawing in larger, more diverse audiences. I applaud them for that, but 2015 was dominated by two mega events. Like in the first article of this 3 part series, I will not be zeroing in on particular titles or giving you my top picks. If that’s what you want just Google top comics of 2015 and choose one from the hundreds of search results. Instead, I’ll be looking more at the state of affairs of both companies.
While it seemed that both Marvel and DC were giving us two versions of the same mega event in early press releases, it became clear early on that wasn’t the case. DC’s mega event, Convergence, was meant to be a way for them to reintroduce the multi-verse back into the mainstream. This was something that I was actually OK with, especially when you heard all the reasons coming from DC about the new creative freedom it would give their creators. OK, so we got the multi-verse back, great, but the real reason they were doing it was so creators could write, and DC could publish, anything they wanted without having to worry about a pesky thing like continuity. Frankly, I’m just sick and tired of this type of reshuffling. It has happened so many times I can’t keep any of it straight. Sure, if I wanted to make a flow chart and connect all the dots, I could figure it out, but who wants to do that? So to go on top of the confusing reboot, we get a confusing reshuffling of the universe. Not to mention the whole Convergence was, well… anti-climatic.
One thing that readers have to understand is that a solid continuity is really there for them, and not the publisher, especially in the modern era of comics. There was a time when editors guarded the continuity because it made everything linear, and easier for the readers to follow. Jumping in and out of different titles was streamlined, and you had a real grasp of what was going on in the shared world in which the characters lived. If you were reading what characters in book A was doing, and their actions affected the shared world, then the editors made sure that those changes were represented in book B properly. Well, in the modern comic industry, at least the ones at Marvel, and DC, they are more interested in gimmicks to squeeze extra bucks out of you than just giving you a great story.
That being the case, continuity suddenly becomes secondary, since the publisher knows you will buy more books if it’s a special event, or sell more issues because it’s a number one (further confusing things with the wild and rampant canceling only to relaunch a series with a new numbering). To DC’s credit, they haven’t abused this nearly as much as Marvel has in the past few years.
Recently I have heard some dark rumors that DC is planning on doing another reboot once their main titles reach issue 50. Now, this is complete conjecture, and nothing official has been released on this topic, but if it’s true that means DC would have rebooted its entire lineup twice since 2011, and then soft rebooted it (Convergence), making three reboots in 5 years, ouch! Anyway you want to look at it, I think it’s time they started looking for a new editor-in-chief.
In the end I give DC a grade of C for their efforts. The only reason it’s that high of a grade is because of the creators. The creators at DC really do bust their butts trying to bring you good stories, and there are still many good comics coming out from DC. The publisher’s big-business approach toward marketing and rebranding is what kills it in the end. They should focus on just telling great stories, and let the changes grow and manifest more organically.
At the time of my writing this article, Marvel’s big event, Secret Wars, is still going on. The second coming of Secret Wars, while not resembling the original at all, is a pretty good series so far. And though I do have some problems with Marvel’s oversight from their Mouse overlord — for more on that, check out the first article in this series, Comic Books at the Movies, 2015 in Review — I have few problems with how they have been handling their comics. Well, I should say, besides their renumberings and other gimmicks, I haven’t had many problems. Marvel is doing it right, and growing their changes organically from within. DC should take note of how Marvel is doing it, because it is the way it should be done.
Marvel started changing their characters before Disney bought them, but afterwards it’s been kicked it into overdrive. After all, why not? They can now absorb any lost revenue that might have been a result of said changes, but lost revenues doesn’t even seem to be a problem. Marvel hasn’t just changed characters, they have changed them naturally through the stories. Captain America is a great example of this. They took the super solider serum away from Steve, aging him as a result, so he couldn’t keep being Cap. Enter Sam Wilson, The Falcon, who gives up that identity to become the new Captain America, one who Marvel feels has wider appeal.
Marvel, like DC, is also introducing new characters who are expanding their roster while at the same time making it more diverse. The new Ms. Marvel is a great example of that. This is something that I have been very happy with from both publishers, even when they get it wrong, because they are at least stepping out of the box.
But wait, let’s get back to that big major event of theirs, Secret Wars. From all appearances, they are bringing their own multi-verse into being, by destroying one we really didn’t know even existed, to explode into a new universe populated with all kinds of new and interesting heroes and villains. Marvel found a way to change their universe and do it in a way that was already rooted in their continuity. So I applaud them for this achievement. Even if I think these events are an overrated tool in the industry, this is the exact way that you change your universe: in a way that makes sense, that satisfies readers old and new. The verdict is still out, but I have a feeling nobody will be left unimpressed once this is all over. If you want to boil it down to the brass tacks, it’s a good story that’s written well and has amazing art.
So to Marvel I give a B+ for their efforts in 2015. Sure, they are still slaves to a corporate giant that restricts the characters that can be used based on whether or not they currently own the movie rights to them, but they have been doing a far better job of moving the company through these changes compared to their number-one competitor.
To sum it all up, I’ve been happy with the efforts of the two biggest comic book publishers as they strive to bring us more diversity and change in the industry. When it comes to execution, however, it’s a tale of two worlds; DC fell short while Marvel has done an excellent job.
In our next, and final, installment in my review of 2015, we’ll check out the independent publishers and what’s coming out from the fastest-growing scene in comic books.