From Comics Buyer’s Guide #1698:
“Looking back, I am content. Win or lose, I have told you the truth
as I see it. I have said what I meant and meant what I said. I have
not done as well as I should like to have done, but I have done my
best, frankly and forthrightly; no man can do more, and you are
entitled to no less.”
- Adlai Stevenson (1900–65)
This issue’s theme is “The Year in Comics” and it’s been a pretty
good year in some ways and a pretty lousy year in others. If I had
to pick the comics trend I find most encouraging, it’s high-profile
creators moving away from DC and Marvel “work-for-hire” jobs to do
their own characters and concepts. I grow ever more appreciative
of the opportunities offered by Image and like-minded publishers.
Ultimately, that’s the future of our art form and industry.
Of course, the flip side of that trend is the lousy year good folks
like Jerry Siegel’s heirs, Jack Kirby’s heirs, and Gary Friedrich
have had at the hands of predatory corporate lawyers. The conflict
is mirrored in our nation’s ongoing war between the most wealthy
and powerful and, well, the rest of us. We need to be a lot better
and smarter when it comes to our own interests.
My above comments should not be mistaken for some blanket statement
that all work-for-hire comics publishers do terrible things to all
creators all the time. Some creators consider themselves very well
treated by these companies and quite possibly are. But that is wee
small consolation to creators who aren’t treated well.
This is where I remind you that the Hero Initiative is a wonderful
organization that does great work in its mission to help creators
who have fallen on hard times. You can learn about them at:
This is also where I again bemoan that there’s no Comic Book Legal
Offense Fund to help creators when they struggle to get their fair
share from publishers. Sigh.
DC’s New 52 seems to be a success. I include the qualifier because
I don’t know if the promotional expenses of the launch were greater
than the profits thereof. However, removing the question of that
which I don’t and cannot know, the New 52 is a success.
I’m thrilled for the creators who have benefited from the success.
I’m less thrilled for myself because I don’t think most of the New
52 comics are very good. The individual voices of the writers are
quiet in most of them; that makes for an unentertaining sameness.
I recently read several issues of a major DC title and couldn’t
remember what happened in the previous issues. Despite the past
accomplishments of the writer and artist, their work on this title
has been utterly forgettable.
It would be fair to say I’m not the target audience for DC’s New 52
comics I could dispute that, pointing to the wide range of comics
and graphic novels I have praised in the decades I’ve been writing
this and like columns. If I can be declared a certain kind of DC
reader, it would be the kind who, while realizing characters might
have to change with the times, strongly believes that can be done
without violating the core concepts behind those characters.
Case in point: “Dial H For Hero” is arguably one of the best super-
hero concepts of all time...for kids. Yet DC keeps doing “adult”
versions of the concept. What should have become a mainstream hit
on, let’s say TV, is, instead, little more than an inconsequential
blip in the comics shops. Your mileage may vary; there’s obviously
a difference between DC’s mileage and mine.
In other matters DC:
DC’s Vertigo imprint faces an uncertain future. Hellblazer wraps
up with issue #300 as the DCU reclaims the last of the characters
Vertigo had made its own. The imprint has published some amazing
comics for a long time, expanding DC’s readership in a way Batman
never will. The imprint has its share of crude excesses in the
areas of language, sexual situations and violence, but, overall, I
would miss it if it weren’t there.
I continue to buy and enjoy many of DC’s reprint volumes. I love
that DC makes pretty good use of its vast library of characters and
comics. I’d rather see collections of things like Sam Glanzman’s
“U.S.S. Stevens” stories than trade paperbacks reprinting the New
52 title that was just cancelled, but I’m not complaining loudly on
that score. I can’t keep up with the reprints I do want to read,
so I’m not going to begrudge anyone a Savage Hawkman volume. Even
as I shake my head in befuddlement that a comics reader could want
such a thing.
Moving to the small screen, I really like Arrow, the CW’s new take
on Oliver Queen. I also enjoy the Green Lantern and Young Justice
cartoons, though they were pulled from the Cartoon Network schedule
without prior notice. The CN played fast and loose with Batman:
The Brave and the Bold, so this is a disturbing pattern. Maybe DC
should rethink its reliance on that network.
Movie-wise, DC scored a hit with the latest Batman movie, despite
the terrible assault on moviegoers that accompanied its premiere.
A Superman movie is on the horizon. As for other DC movies, they
seem to have been stalled by a reported struggle for power in Time-
Warner’s entertainment hierarchy. In other words, don’t hold your
breath waiting for that Justice League movie.
The other elephant in the comic-book room is Marvel Comics. Though
DC is now competing with and often beating Marvel in the singular
area of sales, the House of Lee and Kirby is still holding its own
with a profitable publishing program.
I think Marvel does better super-hero comics than DC. Those comics
aren’t necessarily to my tastes, though some are, but I think they
have stronger writing, art and ideas. On the flip side, there is
a disturbing brutality to many Marvel super-hero titles that makes
the Marvel Universe an unpleasant place on many occasions, usually
during and following the company’s unrelenting crossovers.
Marvel seems to go from big story to big story. Our world and the
universe and existence as we know it are always at stake. Almost
every title is enslaved to these ponderous events, which cripples
character growth in those titles. As with DC, I don’t recognize
some of my favorite Marvel characters.
One example would be the “Fear Itself” event wherein we witnessed
the slaughter of tens of thousands of people. Ancient hammers of
evil and immense power were the driving force of the event and, as
soon as it was over, Marvel published a tedious 12-issue series in
which the heroes and villains fought to gain those hammers. At the
end of this series, the instigator of this villainy got away scot
free. If you’re going to do big stories, then you need to deliver
satisfying endings to them.
Another example would be the “Avengers Vs. X-Men” event, which, I
confess I haven’t finished at this writing. I mention it because,
after I was about six issues into the event, I’d finish reading
each new issue amazed it wasn’t over yet. This 60-year-old reader
was plaintively whining, “Are we there yet?”
There were some wonderful super-hero comics from Marvel. If I had
to name my favorites, it would be Christos Gage’s Avengers Academy
and Mark Waid’s Daredevil. Sadly, the former has ended in the wake
of Avengers Vs. X-Men. On the plus side, Waid will be writing the
new Hulk title as Marvel “relaunches” its super-hero line by moving
around creators and releasing dozens of so-called “first” issues.
I pity those future collectors who will be dealing with this crazy
I recently read several issues of Jason Aaron’s Incredible Hulk in
which Bruce Banner and the Hulk were two physically separate beings
at war with each other. Neither was an admirable character in any
way. Yet, when the Hulk “destroyed” Banner, the comic became this
wild unpredictable ride wherein the Hulk would change back into his
mad scientist alter ego to carry out his master plan. Whenever the
Hulk would reemerge, the monster would find himself in a stranger
situation than the previous one. The craziness was often brutal,
but it was also inventive and interesting and...unlike many Marvel
storylines...it had a satisfying resolution. It wasn’t precisely
my cup of comics, but it entertained me. This is why I continue to
think Marvel does better super-hero comics than DC.
As with DC, I enjoy many of Marvel’s reprint collections. I find
the Marvel comics of the 1940s fascinating, even though I wince at
the less-than-refined art and writing. The 1950s material is far
better than I realized. The 1960s reprints are classic and well
deserving of their renown. As for the 1970s reprints, coming from
the era when I was on staff at Marvel, my appreciation for them has
grown with the rereading.
The Marvel writers of the 1970s were as diverse and intriguing as
any group of comics writers before or since. The weren’t all gems,
but the writers spoke in their own voices and the overall quality
of the line was very high. When I factor in how hectic the period
was for all of us, I’m in awe of how good the Marvel comic books of
the 1970s were.
Bowing my head in confession, I’m also reading and quite enjoying
the Punisher MAX series in trade paperback. It’s brutal and just
plain demented, but, somehow, it works for me. In a proper world,
the Punisher would never again share a comic with any of the other
Marvel characters. His mere presence diminishes the logic of their
Universe, their presence diminishes the logic of his.
Unfortunately, Marvel won’t be keeping many of the company’s trade
and hardback collections in print. It’s a shortsighted austerity
measure that will decrease the availability of these volumes and,
in doing so, give an advantage to DC in this arena.
In Marvel matters outside publishing comics...
The Avengers is the greatest super-hero movie of all time. None of
the DC super-hero movies come close. It follows a bunch of good
and sometimes great Marvel movies - let’s not talk about the second
Ghost Rider disaster - and, as witnessed by The Amazing Spider-Man,
a fine film in its own right, there will be many more good and even
great Marvel movies to come. I don’t see many movies in theaters,
but I will always see the Marvel movies there.
The success of The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man means we’ll
see many more Marvel movies than we see DC movies. We’ll also see
some Marvel TV shows. DC’s had the edge in successful live-action
TV shows with Smallville and Arrow, but I expect that will change
over the next few years.
Cartoon-wise, Ultimate Spider-Man seems to be a hit for Marvel and
The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes not so much. I’m not a big
fan of the former and am definitely not its target audience, but I
do find myself getting some giggles in the watching of it.
I liked the Avengers cartoons better and was impressed at how well
the writers translated and compressed complex stories into twenty-
something minutes of air time. I still wince at the substitution
of Hydra for the Nazis, but I had a great time watching this series
and I’ll miss it.
Here we are, nearly two thousand words into my review of the past
year in comics and I’m still writing about the Big Two. Which is
why I refer to them as the elephants in the room. They continue to
dominate the comics market. However...
The comics market is much more than the Big Two. So let’s say we
reconvene this forum in our next exciting issue.
Happy Holidays and New Year, my friends.
Look for the second part of this year in review column in a day or
three. In the meantime, I’ll be back on the morrow with a “Tony’s
Back Pages” featurette.
© 2013 Tony Isabella