In these uncertain economic times, will your favorite mid-market book continue to exist? Both Marvel and DC have announced a slew of cancellations in the last month or so that will substantially pare down the superhero lines at both companies. Manhunter‘s cancellation seemed to start the avalanche, with Nightwing, Birds of Prey, Robin, Legion of Super-Heroes and Blue Beetle coming shortly thereafter from DC and Marvel announcing the ends of The Amazing Spider-Girl, She-Hulk and The New Exiles.
Peter David, who wrote She-Hulk (and who is no stranger to either success or cancellation, having written all manner of books for all sizes of publishers in the last twenty-ish years), took the news pretty well but did say, “Frankly, I wish Marvel had given the book another six months to see if we got any bounce from Secret Invasion. I can’t tell you the number of fans who said they hadn’t been reading the book but loved what they saw in Secret Invasion and were going to continue with the series. Unfortunately the retailers simply whacked their numbers back to pre-Secret Invasion levels without allowing for the possibility. If the fans who liked the book had pre-ordered the next issues, we’d still be going. Instead they simply assumed that the book would be there the following month. Well…they assumed wrong. Besides, She-Hulk‘s been cancelled three times already. She’s a female lead in a market that’s toxic to female leads. I knew going in that the odds were slim and just decided I’d write the best damned stories I could because that’s really all I could do.”
On David’s blog I also found, late-breaking to me but apparently all over the Internet for a while, comes the story that Eli Stone, a show created by Marvel-exclusive comics writer Marc Guggenheim, has been yanked from the mid-season schedule by ABC and may or may not ever make it back on the air. The show had really started to find a cohesion and direction in the second season that—well, it wasn’t “missing,” exactly in the first season so much as it was derailed by expectations. The constant will-they, won’t-they of Eli’s relationship with his ex-fiancee had kind of taken over a lot of the character beats and once there was finally an acceptable status quo on which to rest for a while, viewers were able to back-burner that concern for a while and start looking at other aspects of the show. Guggenheim, a frequent poster at Comic Bloc, hasn’t said much about it yet…but then, the show isn’t officially canceled, only “off the schedule.” Most who follow this kind of thing know it’s a false distinction, but both it and Dirty Sexy Money could plausibly be saved, whereas Pushing Daisies is apparently…well, pushing up daisies.
With books like Immortal Iron Fist rumored to be on the bubble, and most superhero teams (including the
Titans, the JSA and various iterations of the Avengers) having two or more monthly titles, it’s hard to imagine we won’t see another spate of cancellations soon. Really, do we need that many Avengers titles? And can anyone think of the benefit of Judd Winick (mis)handling the Titans any more than he already has? I can see a late-’90s style paredown to Justice League of America, Justice Society of America, Teen Titans, maybe two Avengers titles and substantially fewer books featuring second-tier characters who already appear in the team titles.
If that were to happen, it wouldn’t be much of a loss, except to the hardest of those characters’ hardcore fans (and Brian Michael Bendis, who writes about 19 Avengers books a month)…and the cancellations of the Bat-titles, officially related to the conclusion of Batman: R.I.P., are probably temporary and even if not, those characters probably fall into the “they already appear in a better-selling book” category. As an aside, I can’t help but wonder what the hell was the sense in firing the first, most recognizable and arguably best writer that DC’s ever had on the Robin ongoing because Chuck Dixon was ostensibly “not playing ball” with R.I.P., if ten minutes later they were just going to ax the book anyway. Seems like, for continuity and marketing and a variety of other reasons, having the guy who ends that title be the same guy who started it is a nice symmetry.
What’s really unsettling is to see books like She-Hulk, Blue Beetle and Manhunter go out the window. And not only because, in a predominantly white-male market, these titles featured women and minorities as staples of rich and well-written casts. There are all kinds of debates about the relative merits of more diverse comics universes, but it seems that when a genuinely interesting and believable character or set of characters is created that breaks the mold, it can’t hurt to keep them around. Early fanboy gripes about tokenism when they saw a young, Hispanic Blue Beetle were widely quelched by the quality of the book and the seamless way they brought the Mexican community into the book.
While I’ve never been a huge fan of either She-Hulk or Blue Beetle (either as characters or as titles) myself, each has had some stellar issues and each is the type of book that draws in a different kind of fan. Keeping these books in print would have been good for the long-term health of the publishers and the comics industries. And while Manhunter has suffered under the weight of an overlong story and some questionable editorial decisions since its relaunch in June, the thirty-six issues of that series that have been released so far are still cumulatively one of the top three or four superhero comics published during its time.
John Rogers, former co-writer of Blue Beetle, said at his blog upon the news of its cancellation: “Wow. It’s almost as if basing your entire business model around a series of must-buy big event crossovers in a market with limited purchasing resources hurts your midlist.” He went on to concede that while it may have been a drag, the cancellation wasn’t unexpected. He also bashed the monthly format a bit, claiming that his final issues on the title had to be substantially shortened to meet page counts. Lots of writers have, for a number of reasons, questioned the need to stick to the traditional monthly, floppy format for comics (especially those with a small, dedicated following, but that have a hard time maintaining numbers for a monthly book), but Rogers went a step farther, saying that he’s already working with some ideas to work on digital distribution in the coming year.
While Marvel and DC are both trying to figure out a digital strategy that works (and, as pointed out in the comments section of another of my articles, Image has some good ideas in that direction as well), Peter David, another creator who expressed little surprise over his book’s demise, said “To me, leaving mainstream print comics to plow the fields of internet comics is somewhat akin to struggling actors who leave movies and TV to hit the Broadway stage. And they come to Broadway, and they get great reviews, and maybe even a Tony, and return to LA a year or two later and discover that they’ve dropped off everyone’s radar and were presumed to have simply left show business.”
David, of course, has taken a creator-owned book (Dark Angel) from DC Comics to IDW after the former canceled the title, and so he acknowledged that there is sometimes life after death. Comics is a rarified field, and strange things happen. “Then again, it can work for you. Bruce Jones dropped out of comics consciousness for a decade. When he left, he was just Bruce Jones, the guy who was writing Ka-Zar, and who cared? He returned to a new generation who never heard of him and he was a hot writer all over again. Go figure.”
Reactions on the part of creators have been interesting as well. Marc Andreyko, writer of Manhunter, had started lobbying fans and friends on his Facebook and MySpace pages to buy more Manhunter in the days and weeks leading up to DC’s announcement. Even after news of the cancellation broke, Andreyko continues encouraging fans to write letters, buy comics and trades and generally act as though they have a chance (for a third time in two years) to save their beloved title. David explained that his fanbase didn’t work quite the same way: “As for She-Hulk, some fans have observed–and I agree–that the fanbase is too fractured to support the character with any consistency. Whenever Spider-Girl is threatened, the fans unite because they know exactly what they want from her. With She-Hulk, some want her savage, some sensational, some humorous and some serious. There are some diehards who will stick with her no matter what, but many won’t touch her with a ten meter cattleprod if they’re not getting ‘their’ version.”
While David himself has never had a problem inserting a little humor into his books–see his terrific run on DC’s Young Justice, for instance–he said that he had to divorce himself a little from the comical side of the Jade Giantess, after picking up the title where funnybook maestro Dan Slott (The Thing) left off. “I felt it would have been fatal to continue the humorous approach because my style of humor is so different from Dan’s. Plus she’d been through so much between Civil War and World War Hulk that somehow it didn’t seem appropriate,” David explained. “So I went in a more serious direction to have her rediscover her heroic roots and eventually restore an element of humor to the book. I thought the fans would stick around for the journey. They didn’t. After an issue or two of no jokes, they bailed. Apparently they had no confidence that She-Hulk would eventually rediscover the humor and joy of life. I guess I miscalculated their patience.”