Lament of a Longtime Reader
Those that know me well know that I am a huge comic reader. I would not say collector, per se, but reader. Of the large quantity of comics I own, I can say with certainty that I have read every single individual story in my collection. (I say story only because, back in the heyday, I was buying multiple copies of some books.) My problem is that today I am confused as to what is coming out of the Big 2 publishers. In some cases they make sure to take the time to respect the fans of the past that got them where they are today, and in other cases there appears to be a big middle finger raised to the longtime reader in favor of the new.
The first comic I ever bought with my own money, which I worked for by mowing lawns and doing chores that were outside of what I was normally expected to do, was Justice League of America #232. This was a crossover with the JLA and JSA. Although I had watched many a super hero cartoon, I had never seen some of the heroes depicted here. Dr. Fate? Dr. Mid-Nite? Never heard of them. And that got me wondering who they were. The comic had me hooked. Now, there was a huge history here that I was not aware of at the time – I had no clue what Earth-1 and Earth-2 were, and I didn’t care. The story was intriguing to a new reader. It was full of heroes and good guys under the control of the baddy. For a young kid, that was pure storytelling gold. And from that point on I was on the hunt for more comics.
Through the 1990s, I bought a lot of other comics. Although I would occasionally gravitate to DC, I lost interest in the JLA when it became the Detroit team, and originally did not pick up the first run of the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire era (although now, in retrospect, I wished I had). Very few individual DC heroes held much appear for me, especially after the Crisis and subsequent storylines… Barry “Flash” Allen was dead, Hal Jordan went crazy… Not a fun time. No, during that decade I turned to my friends at Marvel.
The first Marvel Universe book I bought was Avengers #261 (at the same store at which I got the JLA book), and again I didn’t know all of the characters but I recognized a few and that got me into it. I had no clue who the Beyonder was, but there were a bunch of books on the rack that had this “Secret Wars II Crossover” identifier in the top-right. Now, although I didn’t pick up every issue of Avengers after this issue, I was intrigued and tried a number of Marvel books. The first series I got from the get-go was West Coast Avengers – I collected every issue and even convinced my dad to drive me to the comic stores downtown to find a couple of back issues to get me the complete first story (which was a crossover with Vision & the Scarlet Witch). Although WCA was my mainstay, the crossovers in the annuals with the main Avengers title kept bringing me back. So, starting with #300, I began collecting the main Avengers title on a regular basis… and I have yet to stop. Yes, every iteration of Avengers I have – from the self-titled issue, multiple iterations of New and even a Mighty – I have been an Avengers fan for some time.
But I look at the state of DC and Marvel now… and I don’t know who they are anymore.
Almost 2 years ago, DC made the decision to retcon their entire universe. Shortly after setting a huge stage with their Blackest Night and Brightest Day arcs, they decided to start over. Everything. Another series, Flashpoint, focused around the now-alive-again Barry Allen traveling through time and showing the impact of cause and effect, the butterfly effect if you will. One small change can have exceptionally dire consequences. And what happened was that the entire universe started anew.
Well, not the entire universe, but select pieces. The problem was that the readers did not know which pieces were retconned and which weren’t. Did Blackest Night still happen? It appears so, based on the fact that there are Black Lanterns within the pages of Green Lantern. But, how? Hawkman, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman are several such characters who were raised from the dead as Black Lanterns during that arc… Does this mean those elements of the arc never happened now? What about the other major events, such as the Crisis on Infinite Earths? Identity Crisis, which was a defining story for the DC universe and showed the true humanity of our heroes as well as their fears? What about Zero Hour? DC did a lot of epic events and even brought universes together… Are we now saying that none of that happened? No, that’s not what they have said – some of it did happen but some others didn’t. They’re cherrypicking pieces of the history and, sometimes, not even thinking about the impacts of what they picked. We may never see some heroes in this new universe (such as Jade, ex-girlfriend to Green Lantern Kyle Rayner), but have also changed things so much that I find it impossible to believe that Hal Jordan was ever friends with Oliver Queen, and yet their epic travels together and long-standing friendship was a strong point in showing that even though people can have different fundamental political views they can still be the best of friends.
And as for Marvel… Well, they haven’t rebooted everything from their history but, really, they may as well. Well, OK, they did… it’s called the movies, even if it wasn’t directly from Marvel Studios. When the X-Men movie came out, we suddenly saw scenes in Xavier’s school look like the underground bunker from the movie. Cerebro had, until then, been a helmet that Xavier donned in his study, and now it’s this huge spherical room. Now, this movie was probably the first big screen success for Marvel so, of course, they wanted to capitalize on it. And I would expect the movies to not have the full history of the characters down pat as it’s hard to put 30 years of comics into a 2 hour movie and still tell a good story. I can work with that. But when the comics themselves now become extensions of the movie universe for no good reason other than to make more money? That’s actually something that really upsets me.
I like the whole Avengers lead-ins and the main movie, probably because I am an Avengers fan. It was not the same as the original story, and that was good. I appreciated that. The spirit was there – fighting a truly evil character, and they even kept Loki as the villain. But then it went too far. Stark Tower from the movie now started showing up in the comics. Umm, what? OK, let’s move past that for a moment…
Marvel cannot even get their own concepts straight. The new Captain America series has Cap wearing his classic outfit. New Avengers has Cap wearing his classic outfit. But the main Avengers title does not – he is in the movie version. Hawkeye has also transitioned to the movie version. And, not only that, we now have the movie Nick Fury in the comics as the son of classic Nick Fury, alongside a man he trusts implicitly who has been renamed to be Agent Coulson. So, is Marvel using their movies to set the stage for the comic series? They are, so as to make certain characters visible, but it does not help the fact that the movie characters do not have the history of the comic versions. I can truly understand the need to portray heroes in a more ethnic manner, but come on… Black Panther, Luke Cage, Falcon… all heroes of color who were Avengers. Monica Rambeau took on the mantle of Captain Marvel and was an Avenger. Nick Fury has been the same since he first appeared in his Howling Commandos seriesback in the 1960s. Was there any real reason to change him? Only to appeal to the moviegoers who know Samuel L. Jackson as Fury. And for that reason alone I have concern to truly believe in Marvel anymore.
I am really losing faith in both Marvel and DC. Apart from a few titles here and there – Hawkeye, Indestructible Hulk and All-New X-Men within the main Marvel universe and the Green Lantern family, Batgirl, Demon Knights and Firestorm in the main DC universe – I am almost ready to leave both publishers behind. I didn’t list Avengers in there at all – and this is a man who has over 400 continuous issues over several titles (sometimes running in parallel) to his name. I have every Uncanny X-Men since Rogue first joined, and the entire run of the X-Men/X-Men Legacy series that ran alongside with it. And neither of them are on my list (although All-New is).
I truly feel that both of these publishers have focused on not telling exciting, energetic stories for all and have instead decided to focus on the new reader. Gone are the days when you would see a “* Last seen in Captain America #184! – Swashbucklin’ Steve” style comment box. No, it has to be something easily accessible for new readers. Never mind the fact that there are countless collections of those old stories available so new readers can still be brought up to speed. Never mind the fact that without us longtime readers who were mainstays and helped you through a tough time in the comics industry our history that we spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars on – each! – are being pushed aside for the new reader who may only know the characters because of Hollywood. Hell, the stories are such that me, as an 8-year old kid, probably wouldn’t enjoy the books at all! Gone are the long-standing plots à la Claremont on Uncanny X-Men or Byrne on Fantastic Four… No, very few of the writers today can do that without upsetting the publishers who seem to want trade collections as the end-all-be-all. I don’t see many standalone stories to stand down from the action – anyone remember Uncanny X-Men #153, with Kitty’s bedtime story to Illyanna as a nice breaking point? How many of those types of stories do we have still?
Sorry, Marvel and DC, but you really are starting to lose many longtime readers. The Ultimate Universe for Marvel was great, as it allowed new readers to come on board fresh but still let longtime readers love the main universe. But with all the slaps to us longtime readers of late… I am more tempted to go to Image, IDW, Dark Horse, and Valiant to get my comics fixes. Star Wars by Brian Wood at Dark Horse truly respects where the franchise has come from. I am new to the Valiant universe but the 2 books I have read from them – X-O Manowar and Harbinger – are also relaunches such as what DC did but not for the sake of doing it to do something different. Books like Saga don’t have a history, but they are forging it now. And if I’m going to have to start fresh, I’d rather do it with something like that instead of being upset by the actions to appease solely new readers. You need to respect the past, or if you want to do something new truly do something new; take a look at what Top Cow did with their Artifacts/Witchblade/Darkness universal reboot – that’s an example of it done right. Give the longtime reader AND a new reader a jumping on point for something fresh, not the same-old, same-old time and time again. If you can do something to excite both of these types of readers, you’ll be doing something right.