If you haven’t read Tim Marchman’s review of book-about-comic-creators Leaping Tall Buildings from the Wall Street Journal yet, you really should:
If no cultural barrier prevents a public that clearly loves its superheroes from picking up a new “Avengers” comic, why don’t more people do so? The main reasons are obvious: It is for sale not in a real bookstore but in a specialty shop, and it is clumsily drawn, poorly written and incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in years of arcane mythology.
In a much hyped series from Marvel Comics this summer, for example, the Avengers fight the X-Men for inscrutable reasons having to do with a mysterious planet-devouring cosmic force, a plot that makes no sense to anyone not familiar with ancient Marvel epics like “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” The story is told in two titles, one called “Avengers vs. X-Men,” with a big “AvX” logo on the front, and the other called “AvX,” with a big “Avengers vs. X-Men” logo on the front, presumably so you can keep them straight.
The people who produce superhero comics have given up on the mass audience, and it in turn has given up on them. Meanwhile, the ablest creators have abandoned mainline superhero comics to mediocrity.
Oh, that’s not all:
The first issues of “Before Watchmen” will be published next month. Among the writers working on it is former He-Man scripter J. Michael Straczynski, who once penned a comic in which Spider-Man sold his marriage to the devil. (This is the rough equivalent of having Z-movie director Uwe Boll film a studio-funded prequel to Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.”) DC is promoting the project with a “Watchmen” toaster, which will allow you to burn the image of Ayn Rand-inspired vigilante Rorschach into your sourdough.
For an industry that feeds on its own past to go 20 years without fresh characters or concepts is death. The most telling sections in “Leaping Tall Buildings” are thus those written about industry powers like Brian Michael Bendis, Joe Quesada, Grant Morrison and Dan DiDio. These are the men most responsible for the failure of the big publishers to take advantage of the public’s obvious fascination with men in capes.
Really? Really? Bendis and Morrison are two of the four men most responsible for industry’s inability to work outside of its Direct Market cocoon? I’ll give you – grudgingly – Didio and Quesada because they’re senior executives at their publishers, but BENDIS AND MORRISON? Here’s the thing: I can understand not liking either man’s work, or thinking that they prop up systems that regurgitate old ideas and familiar characters at the cost of something new. But “most responsible the failure of the big publishers to take advantage of the public’s obvious fascination with men in capes”? That’s just a lazy, nonsensical criticism that ignores how the industry works and vastly inflates either man’s importance or power at their respective companies, making what was a smart, snarky piece in a serious mainstream publication about the decline of superhero comics sound more like a message board post by someone who really doesn’t like New Avengers and thinks that Morrison has really ruined Batman, man.
Of course, maybe I’m wrong, and superhero comics were still going gangbusters in 1999, before Bendis started at Marvel.
Either way, go read the WSJ piece. It’s not perfect, but it’s interesting to see this counter-narrative to Marvel and DC’s “everything is great and comics are breaking new ground, look we have a gay X-Men and a black Spider-Man and, oh, Batman!” PR appear in such a high-profile organ…