Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Crisis of Infinite Reboots

First Appearance of Wolverine

Incredible Hulk #180--October, 1974

With DC's decision to renumber fifty-two of its titles back to #1 (now that DC has a lock on the number "52" thanks to Infinite Crisis, I suppose there's no hope for retiring that number), I'm feeling like I got out of comic book collecting just in time. It's almost naive of me to say this, but the comic book industry has become such a--business. Companies used to try to bring you to the racks with stories. Artwork. Those amazing covers. Characters. "King-Sized Specials!" Now? I'm being jolted with "events" so frequently that I feel like I'm being tasered every few months, bro.

To say nothing of being jolted by the cover price of a comic book today. There are no words. Sticker shock can be another form of tasering.

If comic books are in crisis mode today--which would seem to be the case--I think it's mostly because they unfortunately strove so hard to outgrow their simplicity. Part of the fun of picking up a comic book used to be that they were good, inexpensive entertainment that struck a balance between kids and adults. For the most part, they weren't "dumbed down" for kids--and for adults, they still had so much kid appeal within their pages that older men and women could enjoy them as an uncomplicated distraction. Those days formally ended for Marvel when the second X-Men series was launched in 1991, to co-exist with the Uncanny X-Men title. Not only was there an extreme shake-up in team members--but it spearheaded and embraced a blood-and-guts motif in the title that would carry over to other books. Just take a look at a cover just five issues into the new series:

It's not too difficult to get a sense of Marvel's new direction here, is it.

Then came the spin-off titles, and not only for the X-books. (Spider-Man got this ball rolling in the late '70s.) Marvel's thinking seemed to be, "Hey! Let's see what popular characters are selling well, and produce more titles along the same line!" Shelves at retail outlets became saturated with books featuring the same characters or themes. Great for business. Not so great for those of us just wanting to enjoy a good read. Prior characterizations and histories were shoved aside, no longer relied on nor needed. And the enjoyment of having one book that featured a character you liked and wanted to follow was diluted. Is it any wonder that Marvel no longer publishes annuals like they used to? Who needs them? The whole point was to give you a little something extra--a "special" edition featuring that character. Today, you've got "extra" and then some.

I doubt that anyone thought that Wolverine, as introduced above, would be shoved down our throats in the way he's been over the years. He got quite a build-up on that last page of the Hulk issue: "A voice that is more like a snarl!" "He's a living, raging powerhouse..." "The Wolverine Strikes But Once! But in his case, once is plenty!" Though in the following issue, in battle with the Hulk, Wolverine mostly hopped around and was a slashing annoyance to the Hulk. And though his claws connected, no blood was shown spilled, and certainly no impaling was seen. Not much of a powerhouse--just really a new character, an added mix to the Hulk/Wendigo battle. But, y'know, we readers weren't looking down the road here--we were just reading a good story, with a brand-new character's first-time appearance. That was pretty fun. And, these days, a lost art.

Jump to recent times, where 52 "new" titles were introduced on the shelves. Think about that. You're strolling into a comic book store, maybe wanting to get hooked on a good character with a solid history--or maybe see what's up with an old favorite. Well, I hope you didn't have to be anywhere, because you've got at least 52 changed titles to browse from one company alone. And just wait until you reach the Marvel section, where the "4" in Fantastic Four has been shuffled more than a few times. And by the way, I hope you're ready to shell out some serious cash.

Comic books today mean business. More's the pity.


Madman said...

Yes, I have pretty much dropped out of buying comics. The reasons are:

1) The companies don't allow their characters to grow. I mean, they weren't that into growth at any time, but now it's reboot and retcon after reboot and retcon. It's really hard to care for a character when just about everything about that character can -- and usually will -- change on the whim of the execs and managers. Rather than allowing the characters to be human and to grown and change, the characters are mere properties. They've lost me.

2) The sheer cost of comics. They are up around $4 each now, which is way too expensive for what is an exercise in faith. Moreover, the odds are very good that they issue is not self-contained but part of an arc or a multi-issue story. So, it's quite a bit more than just plunking down $4.

Yes, I've given up a long long habit, and I'm not the worst for it.

Comicsfan said...

"...but now it's reboot and retcon after reboot and retcon."

Madman, your thoughts on the subject are well-written and hit the nail on the head.