Are gimmicks really necessary for comics? No industry is immune to it, and some even live and die by the use of it. Call me sentimental, which I am, but there was a time when we didn’t have these money-grabbing marketing ploys running rampart in the industry. Some see it as a sign of comic books growing into the powerhouse market that it is today, a natural side effect of hitting the mainstream — and, to a certain degree, they’re right.
No comic book company completely avoids the use of gimmicks, but some are much more guilty than others. Of course the two biggest culprits are Marvel and DC comics. I feel compelled to point out, and you can be assured it is no coincidence, this torrential onslaught of mass-media marketing started soon after both publishers were bought by large corporations.
There is a tipping point most successful companies encounter, especially at this degree of success, when the driving factor behind any business decision becomes profits. Of course the pursuit of getting paid is central to any business endeavor, but this is a creative medium, and the desire to create should be nearly as strong as the desire to make money.
OK, all of you fanboys can calm down. First off, I’m one of you. I’m a diehard superhero fan of the characters at Marvel and DC, and have been for over thirty years. There are books that come out regularly from both that I read, and enjoy. My observations are also not a slam against the creators. Illustrators, writers, colorists, inkers, letters, the whole lot of them, are not the people actively causing this dilemma. The responsibility rests on the shoulders of the editors and mostly the businessmen who sit in those gilded offices at the top of tall buildings, never cracking the pages of a comic book.
There are two upcoming events that kicked off my current, and often revisited, rant. From Marvel we have the upcoming “Death of X”, and DC’s “Rebirth.” Of course, Marvel has released no info on this subject, so it could be nothing more than another upcoming event. When your mega event is concocted to try to drive sales instead of the culmination of a great idea, it’s a gimmick. I hope I’m wrong, but it seems like this might be the latest installment of Marvel being forced to minimize their mutants because Disney doesn’t own the movie rights to them at the moment. I hope I’m wrong, but with a title like “Death of X” it’s the first thing that pops to mind.
Now “Rebirth,” from DC comics, despite what you hear from the talking heads, is just the next step in a long line of gimmicks from DC comics. Every year or two it seems that the best idea they can come up with is to smash the old continuity, and try to get a shockwave of sales off of what the new interpretation is. This irritates and confuses loyal fans, especial when we see the revival of classics like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.
As a challenge, I’d like you to think of an event in modern comics that has had the type of influence like the ones we saw in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s. The original “Dark Knight Returns”, “The Killing Joke”, “Watchmen”, “Sandman”, “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, “Secret War”, “Contest of Champions”, “Death of Captain Marvel”, to name just a few. Of the modern equivalents, the only one that stands out to me is “House of M” from Marvel.
The sad truth is that the really great books are not made by the big two anymore. Don’t get me wrong, there is a ton of good comics that come out from them — titles that are unique and entertaining, like The Vision from Marvel or We are Robin from DC. Unfortunately, they don’t pull in the numbers that are necessary for a series to continue at the big two.
Alas, whenever I get upset by this familiar pattern at the big two, I just look at the independents, and see what the industry should be like. There are still great companies out there, making a ton of great books, and doing it without the oily fingers of a greedy corporation forcing their hands. Companies like Dark Horse, Image, Boom Studios, Dynamite Entertainment, and two of my favorite newcomers, Dark Circle Comics, and Aftershock. Some of these companies, like Dark Circle Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, and Image even provide us with a steady dose of really good superhero stories.
In the end, I’ll still buy the books from the big two worth picking up, and enjoy them for the limited time they stick around. But the best bang for your buck comes from the smaller publishers. I encourage you to explore all that they have to offer, if you’re not doing so already.