speeding bullets

Speaking the Unspeakable: DC Comics and Marvel Comics are Dying a Slow Death.

I think @DCComics & @Marvel Comics are dying a slow death. The thing killing them is initially what made them rich in the first place: Work for hire. Creative independents who own their properties will be the force which will put them in the ground.

Before this flame-war begins know I don’t make this pronouncement lightly. I say this with a heavy heart. I LOVE COMICS. They helped me save my son and may have saved my life once or twice as well.

But rather than tell you I am going to let you think about it for a moment and see if you can see what I see: DC recently rebooted its Universe, AGAIN. Why? Because they wrote themselves into a corner hamstrung by their continuity issues.

This isn’t a new thing. Comic companies engage a writing conceit called a “sliding timeline” which allows them to restart their universe, sliding the characters forward and allowing them to age slowly if at all. I don’t have a problem with this.

If the writers make decisions which destroy good characters, a reboot allows them to be reset and put back in the field again. Most fans accept this is part of doing business as the Big Two need to get new readers every ten to fifteen years. But older fans are considered obsolete in this quest for new readership.

Here’s where things become problematic. Each reboot seems to be happening faster. Writers are taking greater risks with characters and thus their adventures come with greater risk (to keep fans happy) and thus wreck their Universes sooner.

Worse, since DC and Marvel refuse to pay creatives to create NEW intellectual properties, refuse to give writers a stake in the game, most refuse to make new characters forcing DC and Marvel to recombine characters they already own the rights to.

For example: In the new DC Future State, we are looking at the new Nightwing whose dark and brooding and wearing the mask of Deathstroke. It isn’t surprising to me. In fact, it’s disappointing. But I can’t blame the writers. Without new ideas, new creations, stories stagnate. Properties stagnate. They choke to death on multiple versions of the characters through different reboots looking similar but not exactly the same, doing the same things and sometimes ending up in the same place reboot after reboot.

Conner Kent is one of the poster children for this failure to innovate. Conner came into existence when the Crisis On Infinite Earths (COIE) erased the existence of the Silver Age Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes continuity. He was a fusion of DNA from Superman and Lex Luthor. I hated it. At first. Then I embraced it.

What did the writers do with it in the end? Fuck all. Not a damn thing to make him interesting. No new villains. No ideas which made him creatively unique. Lots of low-quality costumes and piss poor stories. Yes, he has fans. But he never caught FIRE. Then came Superboy-Prime, the greatest failure to grace DC Comics since the reboot which allowed him to exist in the first place.

This failure to create new characters, meaningful developments, significant story ideas is a problem in DC and Marvel’s creations. I am picking on DC but Marvel readers can find the same thing in the Marvel Universe with their most recent and useful creation being Earth-1610.

The Ultimate Marvel experiment was a failure but it yielded a few alternative perspectives on characters in the Marvel Universe and Miles Morales is a fine addition to the line. There have been more new successful creations in Marvel than DC as well as better reinventions.

What makes me call both companies moribund and doomed is the fact that Manga and Anime have taken the exact same superhero toolkits and creating vibrant superheroic Universes because they are willing to take risks, that DC and Marvel can’t or won’t. My Hero Academia RULES!

Ultimately, this means independents such as @ValiantComics, @boomstudios, @lionforge and @image to name just a few of the most well known who are willing to take risks, create new properties, pay creatives incentives to make new characters, will allow them to pass the Big Two.

DC and Marvel are stuck rewriting the same stories that are anywhere from fifty to eighty years old. Yes, they hit gold from time to time and when they hire the right writers who know the IPs they create masterworks. The Green Lantern’s War of Light is one such story series.

Meanwhile, independents are doing new things, risky things like Image’s Chew which was one of the most fun things I have read in decades. Saga, another fine piece of work has garnered critical success.

Is this a reversible trend? Can the Big Two shake off this sluggish stagnation which dogs their heels reboot after reboot? It will require them to think differently. To hire differently. To consider changing how they look at their readers.

But they don’t think they need to.

I think both companies are closing in on their final reboots. Without a significant shift in their story telling ethos, they will not survive this decade. There are too many different ways for people to spend their time.

The ‘Attention Economy’ is ruthless.

The ‘Attention Economy’ is the idea that people have lots of different things to draw people’s time, focus and money. Without a radical change in how they present their materials, not just destroying the Universe once a year, but by creating meaningful stories, they are doomed.

People are seeking stories which make connection. Stories which bring readers into the lives of their heroes. It is not about who is destroying the Universe this year. It needs to be about finding the souls of their creations and giving us a chance to FEEL those heroes.

It’s not about the largest cross-over or the most comics in this years mega-event. Page counts don’t hide the ennui in the readers or the writers.

‘Far Sector’ by N.K. Jemisin works because YOU CARE about her characters. The brilliant art by Jamal Campbell compels you to read.

I haven’t even begun to address the new talent hitting the field in their own comic companies, recognizing the Big Two as places where they CANNOT change anything. Instead they establish new deals almost daily now.

Disney+ To Launch African Comic Book Series Iwájú From Kugali

Disney Animation tweeted this image to announce their partnership with African entertainment company Kugali.

To be fair, @BrandonEaston and the recent Superman and Mister Miracle take great risks and bring new life into these characters by making their stories relevant and modern. It is only through this, will the Big Two have any future at all.

The #BigTwo won’t die with a bang, they will fade away replaced by more relatable heroes, loved around the world by creative new talent being compensated for their creativity.

This has been Thaddeus Howze, in his guise as The Answer-Man, Speaking the Unspeakable.



Thaddeus Howze
Thaddeus Howze

Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.