A couple of weeks ago I wrote a (mock) break-up letter between myself and Marvel Comics. The article got far more attention than I imagined it would, but besides being fun to write it started a great conversation on social media. I appreciate everyone out there who read it, and subsequently let me pick their brains afterward.
If I may digress for a moment, Marvel still makes some great comics. One of the loudest objections I heard after writing “Dear Marvel, Goodbye” was that I didn’t mention anything about Marvel’s enjoyable titles. While this is true, the article wasn’t targeted at everything published by Marvel — it was intended to serve as a letter of condemnation focused on some of their business practices of late. Many people pointed out that Marvel is doing a great job with their newer books, especially their non-mainstream books. Titles like The Vision, Power Man and Iron Fist, and the new Ms. Marvel to name just a few, and they are right. Marvel still produces quality books, as does DC, who I will also be mentioning in this article.
The other comment that I heard over and over again was “So what? Marvel has been doing this kind of thing since the 90s.” I have to agree with this to an extent as well. Since the 90s Marvel and DC have all been unabashedly using gimmicks to get folks to part with their money. A key difference, however, is that they now have much deeper corporate pockets backing them, affording enough leeway to take the short-term hit of canceling some of their most popular heroes for what they believe will be long-term payoffs.
Another line of dialogue that I found interesting, one also expressed in many replies, was that readers would keep buying Marvel despite disliking the company’s business practices. I asked many of those commenters, “what would Marvel have to do to get you to stop reading their books,” and no one had an answer. Which leads me to wonder: are Marvel and DC too big to fail?
You see, Marvel, and DC are not just the publishers of comics, rather they are the keepers of iconic pop-culture commodities that transcend a lot of boundaries. Their characters mean a lot to countless people. These are characters we have grown up with, loved, collected, and followed for most of our lives. I am perplexed by the idea that many might resent what is happening currently in comics, yet so few are prepared to pull the plug.
This contradiction is evident in reactions to the cinematic universes as well. If you talk with a comic book fan about a comic-book movie they will likely have a list of things that they think could have been done better but, at the same time, they viciously defend it? I know why I do it — it’s simple — I love these characters. No matter how bad Hollywood twists the story around, these are still my superheroes. So, I ask you, are Marvel and DC too big to fail? Is it possible that the fan base for these comics and movies will pay them money regardless of the content driving these books and movies? I know I will always be drawn to them, for better or worse, regardless of how I feel about their business practices; I love my superheroes.
This could be a byproduct of today’s corporate-driven culture, where we have all grown accustomed to being under the thumb of big-name brands. It could also be the fanboy effect, that we are so hooked on these characters that we will follow Marvel or DC no matter what. I know when it comes to the movies I’m guilty of the latter. I grew up in the late 70s and early 80s, back when there were some pretty poor interpretations of my favorite heroes. Sure, we had some cartoons, but even those paled in comparison to the animated epics of today.
So when the movies started being made, real movies, with real budgets, and real special effects, I was hooked. I loved all of them, even the bad ones. Even today I still go and watch them within weeks of their release, and I know many are far from perfect. I know nearly all of them aggressively conform to fit the type of demographic they feel is the “target audience.” Many of these movies don’t even warrant a second screening, but I’m always there at the theater. This revelation places me at odds with myself. My inner child is screaming to buy tickets and watch the cinematic universe unfold, which for the most part I enjoy. My more rational side tells me that I should reconsider. I know that my dollar is my vote, my way of saying I either approve or disapprove of the treatment, yet keep finding myself throwing money at adaptations that I know will disappoint, like the last Fantastic Four movie.
I’d like to ask others the same question that I asked myself — when is enough, enough? Of course, this will vary by person, and if you think everything is fine the way it is, then good for you. I wish I saw it the same way. Again though, what would Marvel or DC have to do to make you drop them entirely? Where is your line in the sand?