Saturday, April 30, 2011
Friday, April 29, 2011
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
These two events from the Big Two promised to change everything, and in many respects they did. Both events were huge crossovers involving nearly every character in their respective universes. Both events changed the status quo and killed off major characters. In Marvel, Peter Parker sided with the Super Hero Registration Act and revealed his identity as Spider-Man to the world, Goliath died at the hands of a psychotic Thor clone, Captain America was assassinated, and Tony Stark assumed control of the new SHIELD regulated superhero business. In DC, a new Crisis rebooted the multiverse and rebooted continuity, Superboy died, and at the end of it all Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were missing in action.
These big events proved successful and it has become clear that these line wide crossovers are the crux of the Big Two's marketing strategies. Since Civil War and Infinite Crisis, there has been a procession of new but similar events. Marvel's World War Hulk followed Civil War, and DC's 52 followed Infinite Crisis. World War Hulk was designed as a blockbuster style event with an exiled Hulk returning to Earth and pissed off at the people who sent him off planet, who just happen to be all the other superheroes. 52 was a weekly series written by five of the industries top talents (a highly unprecedented and interesting format), and it depicted what happened during the one year after Infinite Crisis in real time while the rest of DC's series skipped a year in One Year Later.
Then, in 2008, both sides ramped up the intensity of their events to a new level. Marvel released Secret Invasion, written by Brian Michael Bendis, and DC released Final Crisis, written by Grant Morrison. If Civil War and Infinite Crisis were the most dramatic and universe changing events either universe had ever seen, then Secret Invasion and Final Crisis were both an exponential increase in drama and stakes.
Secret Invasion was the pod person take over of the Marvel Universe. A shapeshifting alien race inflitrated the superhero community in an attempt to take over Earth, and it is even implied that these sleeper aliens engineered the Civil War to divide the heroes. Final Crisis was the Crisis to end everything, the destruction of the DC Universe from top to bottom, the death of Batman, and a rebirth of the DCU. Both of these crossovers were in direct competition with each other and sometimes seemed to be strange mirror reflections, like the Big Two are shadow twins revolving around each other and acting in parallel ways. One side is red, one side is blue.
Secret Invasion and Final Crisis were incredibly dire and status quo altering, and the Big Two only pushed these tensions further in their next competing events in 2009. Marvel came out with Dark Reign, and DC with Blackest Night, two series with titles that betray a tonal similarity from the get go. Then there was Siege from Marvel in 2010, and Brightest Day from DC, which is still running as of this writing. Now, the Big Two are advertising for their next big events, Fear Itself and Flashpoint, and it is fair to assume that even more crossovers will follow these. Perhaps Secret Crisis, Final War, Darkest Hour, or some similarly ominous names will sit on the stands in 2012.
These events are oddly similar to events in the 90's that led to the temporary downfall of the comic book industry. Not only do crossover comics like House of M and Flashpoint seem like reiterations of Age of Apocalypse, but characters are being killed off and ressurrected in the same spirit as the Death of Superman in 92. Green Lantern and the Flash were reborn, Superboy died and came back, Bucky (once thought to be one of the few permanent casaulties) resurfaced as Winter Soldier, even Jason Todd returned from the grave. Batman died, Captain America died, and both were ressurected in strikingly similar storylines that involved fighting their way through time to the present. The Human Torch recently died in January, and the marketing strategy of this death was eerily similar to the Death of Superman.
The Human Torch died in Fantastic Four 587, published in January 2011, and it was sold in a plastic bag stylized almost exactly the same way as the cover of Death of Superman. Johnny Storm's final moments topped January sale charts with 115 thousand copies sold, not as impressive as The Death of Superman sales, but still a significant spike compared to every other issue on the stands. The next closest was DC's Brightest Day 17 at 72 thousand copies sold, and the last comic to even approach FF 587's numbers was Batman The Return in November 2010 at 99 thousand copies. It is clear from the jump in sales that superhero deaths get people to buy more comic books, and it is for this reason that Marvel is going to be killing a lot more characters.
David Gabriel, Senior Vice President of Sales at Marvel Comics, recently announced that because of the massive success of FF 587, Marvel is going to kill a character every quarter. This came across as some sort of ridiculous hostage threat, but although it was framed in a humorous way, this actually seems to be Marvel's new strategy.
The next character on the chopping block is Ultimate Spider-Man, who is set to meet his maker in June in The Death of Spider-Man. David Gabriel said that this event with be the most media exposed event in Marvel's history, which indicates that Marvel is attempting to recapture the success of the Death of Captain America and the Death of the Human Torch. Both of these deaths garnered attention in the media and brought new readers into comic book stores.
Brian Michael Bendis had this to say about writing the demise of Ultimate Spiderman, "It's one of those things where you see the D word and you think you've seen it all. I'm online. I hear it and I get it. I know it. So I can say, 'Sit back and enjoy this one because you have not seen this story before.' I know that because I work with a lot of people who have been in comics much longer than I have and most of them can't believe we're doing this." Even the comic book writers themselves seem conscious of the fact that comic book deaths have been done an absurd amount of times, yet they are persistent in writing more of them because these spandex snuff stories consistenly move more issues.
Not to be outdone, DC just put out the first issue of Reign of Doomsday. This event crosses over into five separate titles and will culminate in another showdown between 90's superstar Doomsday and Superman in Action Comics 900.
It seems that the Big Two are locked in an escalating war that is showing no signs of slowing down. It only seems to become more extreme with every wave, more intense with each successive event. The strangest thing about all of this is that it seems familiar to me, as if I have seen all of this happen before. Anyone who has read comics a decade or two knows that the storylines come in waves and cycles, that characters may die but they will return, that the tones and atmospheres of comic book universes will fluctuate, but that is merely the illusion of change.
The Big Two have been pushing this illusion of change harder than ever in the past decade, and all signs point to the continued raising of stakes in the comic book cold war. This series of articles will be my attempt to compare and contrast the two superpowers of the comic book industry, to reveal their similarities, but also to understand the ways in which they play off of each other.
Tensions are at an all time high. One side is red, one is blue. Whose side are you on?