Friday, December 23, 2011

Tales from the Long Box: Year In Review

Every week Seth goes into his back issue bins, picks out a single issue, story arc, or creative run, pours through it and then writes about it. He calls it Tales from the Long Box. Though old and now either retconned out of existence or made irrelevant by the latest event, these books still share something in common... they're bagged, boarded, and a part of comics history.

Around this time last year I'd reached a sort of lull in my excitement for comics. Not just buying them every Wednesday but even reading them. The big superhero books (with a few exceptions) seemed to be in a state of either transition or had grown stale. No where was this more obvious than my pull list which by the end of December 2010 was around a meager 8 or 9 titles. Even my graphic novel/trade paperback purchasing had dwindled. All of this culminated when I sold off a large portion of my single issue collection and a bunch of my trades and hardcovers. Honestly, it was looking bleak for a while there.

So I stuck to the indie books. I discovered stuff like the Sixth Gun and Morning Glories. Books that were genre related, definitely; but a far cry from the status quo-loving Marvel and DC comics I'd been buying. No book makes my point about the lackadaisical nature permeating my favorite superhero books last year better than JLA by James Robinson. The very idea of a Justice League book written by Robinson should have thrilled me. However, after almost two years on the title by last spring I was not only over it, but ready to completely decry Robinson as a mere shell of his former self. After all his Starman run was one of my favorite series and his work on the early issues of the pre-Johns JSA series was brilliant. His JLA, meanwhile, was one hackneyed story after the next. One awful line of dialogue heaped atop the one before it. It wasn't a horrible book... instead it just sat there doing nothing and going no where. It was the perfect example of DC comics line as a whole in the early days of 2011.

Back in April I got the opportunity of attending my only major convention this year in C2E2 in Chicago. While it was fun I was struck by the lack of camaraderie and excitement amongst fans in attendance. Everyone was sporting this weird, faux cynical attitude about every announcement. "That might be okay, BUT..." was a phrase I heard bandied about constantly. Everyone was complaining about something. I don't know if it was just C2E2 opening my eyes to it but when I got home I noticed it was even more prevalent online than it had been in Chicago. Sure, the net is always full of complaining fans but year by year I come to find that comics fans just seem to want to whine more than any other faction of fandom. And in the early days of 2011 the big two weren't exactly going out of their way to stave off the whining. They were almost feeding it...

I think one of the only things that kept me buying comics were books like Hickman's FF, and Morrison's Batman Inc, as well as my discovery of indie titles like Johnny Hiro and Local. Around this time last year I grabbed a copy of the digest-sized New York Four at my local shop. Bill (my comic guy) gave it to me at something like 60% off and after taking it home and enjoying it thoroughly I thought maybe I was done with superhero comics. As a 30 year old dude maybe it was time for me to put down the capes and spandex books of my youth and move on to the black and white, character based, soul searing reality of the indie market. So I tried that and yes, books like New York Four (and later New York Five) and Local and Johnny Hiro, and Scooter Girl, and Li'l Depressed Boy, and You Have Killed Me did their part in revitalizing my interest in comics. But after a while I found myself wanting to return to the fantastical tales of good guys vs bad guys. Unfortunately, this was around Spring 2011, which, without a doubt saw the big two simply sitting and spinning their wheels harder than I can ever recall.

Even books that had been really strong months before were floundering. Action Comics' Black Ring story under the pen of Paul Cornell had been a blast, but by early 2011 it was embroiled in an ill-advised Doomsday crossover that reeked of "editorial-mandate". Even the Flash title under Geoff Johns by late Spring was so busy setting up Flashpoint that it had lost track of reintroducing (or in some cases simply introducing) Barry Allen to a generation of comic fans who just wanted Wally West back... minus the annoying children, of course. Over at Marvel things weren't much better. Fear Itself was a lumbering, dull, pointless exercise in blockbuster events. Matt Fraction seemed to be trying to channel Grant Morrison and failing miserably at it. This, sadly, only worsened over the course of the series as it starting at the very least entertaining and ended just terrible. Bendis' Avengers books weren't exactly garnering high praise from fans (though I personally found them enjoyable) and Fraction and Brubaker were running in place on their Iron Man and Captain America titles.

It wasn't that all the comics at the big two were bad early last year or even that there weren't events taking place that could cause excitement. Bendis killed off Peter Parker and introduced a new Spider-themed hero in the pages of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. Johns was writing a decent-enough Green Lantern mini event that was blissfully removed of any other colored lantern corps and Flashpoint was proving to be a fun, surprisingly character-centric event. Then there was the Spring time announcement that come August DC would be relaunching their universe. Not only that but DC would also be releasing their titles the same day digitally that they arrived on comic store shelves.

Obviously this announcement set the fan sites, news sites and blogs ablaze. People started petitions, complained vocally about the loss of continuity that would come with a line-wide overhaul, and outright called for the heads of Dan Didio and Jim Lee. Others talked about the possibilities of a relaunch. New readers, obviously, could be gained from such a thing. The digital side of the announcement was what I felt (and still feel) really mattered in the whole thing. The comics industry has been struggling for quite some time to figure out digital comics. Much like the music industry, if they wait around too long they risk an industry collapse, and complete alienation of readers. Not to mention a massive loss of sales due to piracy. Someone had to make the first move as far as releasing comics day-and-date; it just so happened it was DC. Marvel, naturally followed suit soon after and since then it's been a fairly quick follow through from most of the smaller sized publishers. Just last week IDW jumped on the digital same-day train.

What did this mean for me? Well, initially it meant very little. I had never liked the idea of reading comics digitally and my previous experiences doing so on my laptop and iPhone hadn't felt natural to me. I wanted to hold those books in my hand. Then Apple released the iPad. Upon the announcement of the iPad I wrote a blog update about how it was the death knell of print media and how I believed within ten years brick-and-mortar comic shops would be a thing of the past. Ten years now seems a little too soon but I do still believe that you can kiss your comic shop goodbye. I'm not sure on the time frame but some day in the not so distant future most avenues of print media retail will be obsolete. Particularly on-site retailers. Sure, I could imagine a world in which there remain a few, lone comic shops that stay aloft by sales to collectors but that's about it. It's just the way things are going. Not to sound like a grumpy old man whining about those young whippersnappers but people these days tend to take convenience over nearly everything else including the experience that comes with shopping for a comic or discovering a little-known series at your local shop.

But like I said, my original, somewhat hateful attitude toward digital comics changed rather drastically after buying my iPad. I started small with some old copies of Fraction's X-Men and some old issues of comics I already owned but didn't want to go searching for in what remained of my long box collection. Very recently though I discovered Atomic Robo. I'm not sure if it's up to the creators or to Red Five, who publishes the book, but whoever is responsible for the way Atomic Robo is sold digitally is a genius. One of the main reasons I won't seriously consider switching to day-and-date digital comics (aside from the fact that I love going to my shop on Wednesday and looking through all the new releases) is the price. Most comics are released at the same price point digitally as they are as a "floppie". This seems absurd simply based on the fact that I'm paying the same price to have a product that will never actually touch my hands as I would to physically own that comic. Thankfully, Robo is listed on Comixology at a mere .99 cents and issue or, even better, a collection of each arc for any where from 2.99 to 4.99. I've already bought two collections, and will definitely be buying the rest. This is a series that, without the digital distribution, I probably would never have tried out.

Not only do I appreciate the ease and convenience and in one case, the price point, of digital but I'm a sucker for Comixology's Guided View Technology too. I adore double tapping that page, zooming into the single panel view, and getting a close up look at the art of books like Stumptown or Who is Jake Ellis. It adds a whole new dynamic to reading my comics. None of this should indicate that I've chosen one form of comics consumption over another, however. I still love owning a single issue of a comic or a trade or hardcover collection. I'd even go so far as to say since I've started dabbling in reading comics on my iPad the amount of physical comics has gone up.

That has as much to do with the DC relaunch as anything though...

We've written ad nauseam about the New 52 on Ancillary Characters. We think that, for the most part, they got it right. What I haven't mentioned here is that I credit the relaunch with revitalizing my interest in DC Comics and, really, just comics in general. I guess anyone not involved in the weekly buying and reading of comic books would find it hard to understand but some times you just need a good kick in the butt to get motivated. Completely overhauling the line and tinkering with character designs, and origins is something that I'd have balked at just a couple years ago but, for me, DC was growing stale. Like I said early on in this post, the DCU was a supremely boring place this time last year. The relaunch served not just to garner my interest in titles I'd never have tried before like Swamp Thing or Supergirl but it got me excited about the industry as a whole. I'm back to reading the comics news sites, and writing about comics on a frequent basis. My fandom for creators is revitalized, as is my interest in new stuff. Thanks to digital comics I can try new stuff easier than ever.

I'm buying more Marvel, Image, IDW, Oni, Top Shelf, Dark Horse, and small publisher titles than I have in eight years, so, yeah, on a personal level I'd say the New 52 was a resounding success. Based on sales figures I'd say it's been a success on a larger scale as well. Unfortunately, fans still found things to complain about. Controversies were created, passed about from site to site and argued about amongst all of us. The news sites, buoyed by an increased number of site traffic due to ranting diatribes about these supposed controversies only helped to fuel the fire more to keep that traffic coming in. I chose to ignore most of it. Why let a bunch of negativity rain on my parade?

I'm heading into 2012 with a completely different outlook as far as comics is concerned than I had going from 2010 into 2011. I'm excited about what's coming. Excited to see what changed within the industry. I'm even hopeful that comics fans will pull their head out of their collective butt and quit being so darn negative. This is an industry on the brink of either revitalized interest or possibly collapse. It needs support far more than whining and griping about everything on blogs and message boards. Maybe 2012 will see one less supposed "gender-biased" controversy. If that's the case I'll consider it a resounding success.

1 comment:

  1. Hear, hear! In early 2011 I wasn't even buying weekly anymore... But now I'm back on full swing, and happy to be so. As a matter of fact I'd say my fandom has evoke stranger than ever. I love it.