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Speculating the Future

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Josh Green

The past several years have been a crucial time period in the histories of DC and Marvel comics. Their books have become more creatively sound, inducing fond memories of these characters that were created so many years ago. Both comic book companies are doing remarkable jobs of competing for the largest market share in the industry. History will tell which company makes better critical and financial moves, but enough time has passed for me to speculate about their future. I believe there are several reasons why one company will have eventual superiority over the other. These factors include: understanding the core of their characters, knowledge of fans’ wants and needs, and having a stable line of comic books. The fact that DC has a significant advantage over Marvel in all of these aspects will eventually earn them dominance in the future of the industry.

DC has worked long and hard to maintain order with its troubled continuity. Executives at this company were given the hard task of trying to appease the fickle comic book community. They started by successfully restarting the Teen Titans and Outsiders franchises, while at the same time laying the seeds for the monumental Infinite Crisis company crossover. Green Lantern: Rebirth solved the long-standing problem about how to bring back fan favorite Green Lantern Hal Jordan. It was a hard sell, because Hal Jordan had gone “crazy” and became one of DC’s fiercest villains. The series became a resounding success and managed to unite a once divided fan-base. Identity Crisis managed to portray characters that have spanned over half a century in a new light. It caused enough ripples in the DC Universe to prepare for their biggest crisis of all, the sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths. Appropriately titled Infinite Crisis, the series hoped to reignite their entire line with the same success as Teen Titans, Outsiders, and Green Lantern: Rebirth.

This moment is a critical juncture for DC’s future. DC has just moved their books chronologically one year in the future after Infinite Crisis to give their readers a jumping on point to their universe. They are using the opportunity of this huge event to shift their line of books radically with numerous cancellations, title changes, and new directions. Superman and Batman comic books are a prime example of titles that have undergone significant changes. In recent years, their titles have not sold well despite being household names. “One Year Later” provides the opportunity for generating more fan interest to these lines of titles. A small title change and a cancellation have reduced the number of Superman books to two. A similar change was made for the Batman books so that they would only have two main titles as well. This change exists for the simple reason of giving each book an identity to make them matter. Since fans are given a smaller number of titles to pick from, the demand should be more prevalent than before.

Now that their line is set, these books will dictate the future of DC’s universe. Changes like these cannot happen too often because the abundance of alterations will offend readers. People want the story of their favorite characters to move forward, but at the same time readers do not want them to be unrecognizable. DC’s response to this wish is to make all their characters look and act as iconic as possible. By bringing back lost concepts such as Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Batman and Robin, and Kara Zor-el, fans can read new stories about the characters that they fell in love with when they were younger. Want Doomsday and Bane back as fan-favorite villains again? They have returned. Want confusing ideas like the matrix Supergirl taken out of continuity? That is gone. DC also used this opportunity to create new status quos for several series that have not changed much recently. Books such as Wonder Woman, The Flash, and JLA were cancelled toward the end of the crisis to pave way for a relaunch shortly thereafter. The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive will now presumably star a new hero in the title role, giving a recognizable hero fresh obstacles to achieve. The new Wonder Woman book will portray her humanity, which has not been a focus for several decades. Brad Meltzer, the award winning writer of Identity Crisis, will take familiar heroes of the Justice League of America to brand new ground never before seen.

DC’s attributes are Marvel’s flaws. Their line of books has been anything but stable in recent years. Even though Spider-Man is their most famous character, he has had no less than ten different monthly titles in the past decade. One would think that Marvel wants to lay a foundation of trust with their fans so that their favorite titles will last more than a couple years. With the impending Jeph Loeb/J. Scott Campbell Spider-Man title looming in the future, I would not be at all surprised if current series like Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man or Sensational Spider-man will get the axe.

Spider-Man titles are not the only books that have plagued Marvel with a little life span. Rather than taking an existing title in a new direction, Marvel is content by trashing that title in favor of a new project. Marvel seems to be only concerned with the short term ramifications that their books have on the industry rather than focusing on the future.

Spider-Man continues to be the defining example of Marvel’s ignorance to their fans' needs. His books have strayed so much from Stan Lee’s original concept that he is almost unrecognizable to the typical fan of the Spider-Man films. So when these enthusiasts want to try out their hero’s comic books, they will be shocked to find that the comics do not resemble its mainstream counterpart. The books features a Peter Parker that has a different job and supporting cast, lives in the Avengers Tower with his family, and has a brand new costume and powers. Most of Spider-Man’s classic entourage is now dead, which presents huge obstacles in making his books more recognizable. Marvel has recently announced that they will try to return the character of Spider-Man to his traditional “Stan Lee” status quo. Fixing Spider-Man’s titles can only be successful if they use the same care and finesse with his history that DC has shown with the Green Lantern franchise.

Marvel’s number one selling monthly comic of the past several years has been The New Avengers. Despite having an almost identical title to its predecessor The Avengers, these books share almost nothing in common. The Avengers featured a team of respected heroes in a world where most of their crime fighters were viewed with fear and contempt. The New Avengers recklessly abandoned that model in favor of a team featuring the more popular Spider-Man and Wolverine. Marvel altered the popular idea of The Avengers in favor of a book that more closely resembles DC’s Justice League of America. The execution of this book has been very well received, but there is a silent majority of fans that are angry at Marvel for drastically changing a prized franchise. Marvel is jeopardizing one of their most time-tested concepts in favor of a team which could quickly lose its luster.

DC’s Infinite Crisis has just ended, allowing them to reestablish their heroes for the next generation of fans with the book 52. Marvel is just starting their crucial Civil War storyline which they hope will cause enough significant changes to spark their line as well. It will be interesting observing each company’s creative moves in the coming years, but I truly believe that DC will be in a better position for success.

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