In this debut article, Armadillo Mysteries writer Nick Piers plays What If? In a 2-part special, he looks at what would happen if DC or Marvel Comics gave him total control over their books. Nick’s about to shake up the whole industry. Hardcore fans will want to burn him at the stake.
Let’s be honest. Even though the comic book industry isn’t doing poorly, it’s not doing well, either. They’re largely inaccessible to a wider audience, catering mostly to a built-in, hardcore audience. DC Comics co-publisher Dan Didio even admitted that DC’s target audience is middle-aged men. Creators have said that books targeting other audiences were rejected, like an Amethyst book aimed at younger girls (a growing audience thanks to books like Lumberjanes).
For me, the problem with comics today isn’t “forced diversity” or poor storytelling or even the prices on monthly issues. It’s the industry’s sheer excessiveness. DC and Marvel publish far too many books of varying quality. They focus too much on event-driven, headline-grabbing, quick buck stories that are largely forgettable in the long run. There’s little fallout because The Big Two are already working on the next event. With all the tie-in issues for each event, it’s almost incomprehensible to follow everything.
These days, I barely buy DC or Marvel Comics. I’m tired of having to follow half a dozen other titles to understand what’s going on. I’m tired of needing to read Giant Unnecessary Event #1-6 to understand what’s going on in Spandex Clad Man #642. Since moving away from The Big Two, I’ve enjoyed mostly Image titles. I can go from Volume 1 to Volume 2 in a collected series without having to buy three other books to follow along.
I still buy the odd DC or Marvel book, but they’re generally self-contained, away from events – books like Omega Men, Hawkeye, Iron Fist, Squirrel Girl, Vision, Ms. Marvel (which was mostly self-contained at first and now…not so much). I honestly wish DC and Marvel would follow Image’s example: self-contained, creator team-driven titles that don’t require reading dozens of other comics.
If I ran either DC or Marvel, I’d impose the following 10 rules:
1) The Great Divide. Let’s start big right off the bat: SIGNIFICANTLY Reduce the number of books being published. As of this writing, DC published 70 monthly books, including outlier books like Scooby Doo or Batman ’66. Marvel publishes more than 100. That’s absolutely insane.
I’m stopping it at 25. Yes, twenty five books per month. That’s maximum, so it could be less than that some months. By reducing the number of books published per month, you’re not overwhelming customers or comic shop owners. Rather than an overabundance of books all vying unsuccessfully for attention, there’s a better chance of them all getting attention. Instead of publishing nearly 100 books that some people might buy, you get more books that will feel special. Plus, this reduces the chance of comic shop owners left with piles of books that eventually make it into dollar bins. Quality, not sheer quantity. Ah, but there’s also the accessibility problem for new audiences. I’ll get to that.
2) The End of Five Deadpool Titles. No one – solo character or team books – gets more than one book. No extra mini-series, either. Superman, Batman, Avengers, Spider-Man, X-Men; they all get ONE book. No more multiple Deadpool or Harley Quinn books or mini-series per month. Only the absolute best and biggest creative teams work on those books. Make those books that other creators will fight hard to get.
3) On a similar note: limit spin-off books to one. This includes books like Supergirl, Nightwing, Spider-Gwen, etc. This includes team books; if there’s an X-Men book and a Wolverine book? That’s it. No more Avengers and West Coast Avengers or New Avengers and US Avengers. No more Justice League and Justice League Europe. There is Justice League. There is The Avengers. That’s it.
4) No More Giant Crossover Events. Look, I get it. Events sell. But they only sell well because fans think they need to buy them in case something happens to their favorite character. They only sell well because they’re hyped to the point that, unless they cure cancer, they’ll be disappointing. In the long run, most events are meaningless, anyway. And I don’t know about you, but they give me a headache trying to follow the story.
Crossover events are for seeing your favorite characters team up and interact. Guess what? That’s what the big team books like Avengers and Justice League are for! The team books become the events.
This severely drops the number of books per month, especially during events, since it removes all the event-related mini-series.
Of course, the giant, company-wide crossover events might be meaningless because…
5) Looser Continuity. In the long-term, what books do you see on bookshelves more than anything else? Books like Watchmen, All-Star Superman, The Dark Knight Returns. What do they have in common? They’re not only self-contained, but they follow their own continuity. Sure, All-Star Superman or Dark Knight Returns uses the Superman or Batman mythoi, but they stand the test of time because they’re not beholden to what happened in the main continuities. Marvel’s Ultimate line sold well at first for similar reasons, but its universe became less accessible with multiple books and events.
Let’s be honest. Continuity is a joke. Some characters have been around for 70+ years. Most of their stories aren’t canon. Superman doesn’t age, but he went from fighting in WW2 to using a cell phone. Characters die and come back, sometimes with little fanfare because a later creative team wanted to use them. Stories that were once a big deal are quickly forgotten. So why be so strict about continuity?
Thus, a creator’s team-driven books get more leeway. They’re their own universe, like the Ultimate Universe or the DC Animated Universe. After all, these characters have been around for more than 70 years. They’re instantly recognizable, even if their design is slightly altered. In these books, you get a complete story from beginning to end without needing to read other books. We’re looking to make these books accessible to any reader whenever they pick them up for the first time. By now, there have been so many different versions of characters in different mediums. I think the public is more open to this idea.
A final thought on continuity. People say continuity is what makes superhero comics successful. I disagree. A good story and good art creates those high sales. Shaking up the continuity with things like “everything you know is a lie!” and “they’ll never be the same again!” is empty hyperbole. What sells in the long-term are great stories with great art.
And we’ll leave it off there because believe me, if you thought I’m destroying everything you know about DC or Marvel now? Just wait until you see what I have in mind for part 2.
Because I’m nixing the long numbering system.