My Comic Book Manifesto

5 Problems with the Comic Industry

I've been a lifetime fan of comic books, and while I do believe comic books are one of the most under appreciated art forms, they are not without their problems. The reason comic books do not have a higher place in society are largely because of errors of their own accord. These are just a few of the problems that keep comic books from reaching their full potential.

The Multiverse

Dc Multiverse

I'm just not a fan, I guess I'm a one universe kind of guy. The multiverse to me is the ultimate example of covering bad writing with more bad writing. The overuse of the mulitverse is a big problem with DC Comics in particular. Just thinking about Crisis on Infinite Earths, Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis, Crisis Crisis, Crisis of the Stars, Crisis in the Crisis: The Final Infinitude, all make me want to tear my eyes out. The problem with DC is that they give their writers almost free reign over their titles (Marvel writers are kept on very short leash), the results are some great comics and many continuity errors. After a while so many continuity errors start to pile up that the DC universe becomes unmanageable, and time for a little spring cleaning, which brings us to the multiverse. Instead of correcting problems with good story telling, they choose a convenient magic wand approach. Basically, every comic book is part of some multiple DC universe, and after a nice convoluted miniseries, all these universes get parred down into one universe. Poof, story fixed. But, of course, a couple of years later they always have to wave the magic wand again.

Variant Covers

Variant Covers

Specialty variant covers and gimmicks represent a time in comic books when the corporate machine was at its peak, it's the decadence of Rome combined with 80's consumerism. The 70's and 80's brought countless comic book tie-in's: comic books that created toys and toys that created comic books. However, merchandising was one thing, but the idea of the variant cover was to create a market value for comics. This is when comic books stopped being for kids, or even 30-year-old fanboys, or readers in general, but for an investor. Oh no, these comic books weren't meant to be read, they were an investment for the future. Rare comics have values, not simply just because of limited editions and hologram covers, but because a story resonated with readers that coincided with that particular comics availability. Just making it rare doesn't matter, it has to be worth reading, too.

Comics Codes

Comics Codes

The Comics Code Authority (CCA) was very nearly the kiss of death for comic books. The CCA was created because Fredric Wertham thought Batman and his ol' chum were getting a little too chummy. This very restrictive comics code banned excessive violence as well as "lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations." Also, the code stated good had to always triumph over evil, and that "policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions,” could not be presented, “in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority." So, other things like surprises or suspense were definitely bad. Also, comics could not use the words "horror" or "terror" in their titles, and usage of the word "crime" could only be used a limited number of times. The top selling books at the time, of course, being horror and crime comics. What saved comic books? Super heroes, super heroes flew to the rescue because while overly chummy, they did fit the rest of the comic code. The problem is super heroes have a limited appeal. Comic books could be for everyone. Japan for instance has comic books for every kind of person: comics for kids, for boys, for girls, tentacle porn comics for pervs, old people comics for grandma. There's no shame in reading comics because they have universal appeal because they have subject matters that extend beyond one dimension. The Comics Code Authority set comic books back 60 years, and Batman and Robin are no less gay than ever before.

The Return of Bucky Barnes and Jason Todd

Death in the Family

Comic books are a soap opera for boys, I get that. Sometimes people survive outlandish deaths. Comas happen. Evil twins happen. I'm fine with it all. Two deaths had permanence though, they had weight and meaning behind them, and it was an unwritten rule to keep them dead. It's something known as the Bucky Clause: No one stays dead except Bucky, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben. Yet in the past 5 years each has been strutting around town in some form or the other. Why did their deaths deserve such a high place? Well, they created actual anguish for their respective heroes (Captain America and Batman), actual emotional depth was achieved. If anyone ever disrespected comics, a fan could point to these moments and say that there's actually something there. The worst part about Jason Todd is no one even liked him to begin with! Fans voted for his death, and he actually became a more important figure in his death than he ever was in life. These characters returning from the dead are almost like telling Batman that his parents are alive and well in Boca Raton. I'm Batman. No, you're just a dude with parents who love you. If Bucky can't Rest in Peace, what does it all mean? What's the point of it all when anything can just be painted over?

Alan Moore

Alan Moore

In my opinion, Alan Moore is the greatest comic book writer that ever lived. So, how can the greatest comic book writer be one of the worst things to ever happen to comic books? The essential problem is there is only one Alan Moore. Marvel and DC both have around 100 titles apiece with hundreds more on top of that from the smaller companies. There are some very good writers and artists out there, but not enough. Although, not every title needs to be written by Moore, and, in fact, they shouldn't be. The real problem is a general misunderstanding of Alan Moore's work.

Watchmen changed the comic book industry, and the problem is every writer, artist, and editor read Watchmen and wanted to emulate it... poorly. Most went the course that said, comics are serious and comics are real. Cutting out a lot of the wonder and magic present in the Golden Age of comics. Comic books have been taking themselves way too seriously. Another, unfortunate side effect: trench coats. Since, Watchmen and Rorschach a legion of trench coat wearing heroes have hit the scene: Gambit, Jubilee, Grifter, Hellboy, Punisher, The Crow, Columbo, almost everyone in Sin City, even Thor rocked a coat. There's a whole Trenchcoat Brigade. This means some high up editors in comics read Watchmen and all they were able to take away was: More Trench Coats!

The point of Watchmen was never to say this is what comic books have to be, simply this is what comic books could be. It was just one direction it could go. Just like Citizen Kane is the most influential movie of all time, it doesn't mean every movie needs to be a thinly veiled parody of William Randolph Hearst and his lover's privates (Rosebud... get it!).

Great comics should influence us, but to greater heights, not the status quo.

  • Bryan
    Comment from: Bryan
    07/08/10 @ 09:23:41 am

    Definitely agree on the Alan Moore point. Honestly, it’s spilled into movies, too. IMHO, it’s what made the Watchmen movie not *nearly* as good as it could have been. Thanks to movies like the newest Superman, Batman Begins, and several others, even moviegoers are now completely used to the idea that their heroes are, at their heart, ego-maniacal sociopaths–if we’re lucky. The shock that we all felt reading The Watchmen for the first time has long since worn off, and since then, it’s pretty much been just a continuous beating of a very dead horse…

  • Margaret
    Comment from: Margaret
    07/08/10 @ 03:29:25 pm

    I tend to think of Superhero rags as the cotton candy of my pull list - when they’re something other than kinda meh, I get excited. I suppose I have generally low expectations for them which keeps me from getting pissed off.

    That said, I agree with this entire post. The only one I tend to just accept as *never* going away is the multiverse(s).

  • PinkSith
    Comment from: PinkSith
    07/08/10 @ 05:15:55 pm

    Well written. I agree, I’m not really a fan of DC comics because of the multiverse thing. Oh and the comic book as a collectors item was part of the greed of the 90’s that I wish would go away. A Comic or book for that matter should be read and appreciated, not put in a plastic sleeve never to be touched. That’s just sad and a waste of talent, energy and paper.

  • Shennandoah Diaz
    Comment from: Shennandoah Diaz
    07/08/10 @ 05:42:54 pm

    Great article–very well written. The multiverse thing has always aggravated me. If you build a world correctly from the ground up and create complicated characters, then multiverses are unnecessary.

    Just like any medium, comic books need to be created to be enjoyed. As a writer I don’t write hoping my book will end up in a glass case somewhere. I write because its compulsive and I want to share these crazy ideas with the world in the hopes that they may, even in some small way, change the way people view the world. That’s what I Iook for in comics. I don’t care what the long term “value” is monetarily. I want to know is this comic going to take me somewhere new? Is it going to challenge the way I think? And no, I’m not looking for “clean” content or more trench coats.

    By the way, I find it funny that 1) I own every single one of those variant covers (I had a subscription at the time) and 2) someone else made a monster squad reference –"Wolf man’s got gnards”

  • marybeth
    Comment from: marybeth
    07/13/10 @ 10:24:16 am

    One of the things I’ve been bothered about in modern entertainment is the re-hashing of things and lack of new, original content. I always hated the multi-verse thing and thought, “why don’t these writers come up with their OWN characters?” It is the same problem I am bothered by fan fiction writers. They waste their talent defining their work by it’s inspiration rather than using the inspiration to branch into their own ideas. A lot of brilliant minds putting themselves into other minds’ boxes (hah! That sounded dirty. Because it IS)

  • Bryan
    Comment from: Bryan
    09/20/10 @ 08:05:34 am

    That said, another person to blame for the lack of success would be Tim Burton. Batman ‘89 basically brought back the superhero movie–and made it dark.

  • subWOW
    Comment from: subWOW
    10/07/10 @ 02:38:06 pm

    Thank you for calling out the whole multi-verse phenom and even put it as #1. I am not a connoisseur as you are, my relationship with comic books is more by osmosis, however, I do find the multi-verse a cheap mechanism, a poorly-devised deus ex machina (one can argue they are ALL poorly-devised). It’s like in soap operas where they keep on creating twins, triplets or even quadruplets.

  • Doc M
    Comment from: Doc M
    10/07/10 @ 02:53:49 pm

    1: The multiverse was largely gone for 25+ years. It’s only recently back & has cause no story problems.
    Calling a story a “Crisis” isn’t about retconning. It’s about just telling a massive story. Just like the X-Men and Avengers have every year.

    2. The comics code is gone. Has been for some time. The reason superman and Batman can’t grow has less to do with the “CCA” and more to do with the parent companies being publicly traded.

    3. You can’t argue that Alan Moore did it right and that comics have lost the magic and the wonder right after hating on the concept of the multiverse and how superheroes haven’t really grown.

    There has to be more ways to look at it than, Alan Moore did it right and everything else is a pale imitation of Alan Moore.