The Bottom Line...

Hey CV! As many of you have learned, I'm pretty new to comics. You've played a huge part in changing that (go you!), but I still have much to learn. And while I learn, I observe, and I try to gain a better understanding not just of the superficial -- what's happening within the books, who the popular and unpopular characters are, etc. -- but of what lies beneath the surface.

So here's what puzzles me: the way the "Big Two" comic publishers dissociate abstracts like Sales and Ratings from Fans and Readers. While most audience-driven industries naturally begin with a question like "what do our supporters/customers want?" and "what will make our fans happy?" Marvel & DC begin with "how can we make headlines?" and "what can we market a book with?"

Let's be clear. DC is a business. Marvel is a business. Those latter questions matter. But the assumption that they are mutually exclusive, or even possibly exclusive, from the former questions is the reason, I think, that DC's reboot has already failed in terms of growing their long-term readership, and why Marvel NOW stands primed to do precisely the same thing. Both focus on short-term bottom lines but employ methodologies which, quite frankly, are as likely (perhaps more likely) to terminate current business relationships as to generate new ones.

For every reader who says "The New 52 is the reason I read comics," there's one or more who says "The New 52 is the reason I no longer read DC." Sometimes it's not as drastic as the whole publishing house, but the sentiment remains: many long-time fans of certain characters or books have with heavy heart abandoned what they used to depend on because it's so infuriatingly disappointing. Add to these fall-off readers the temporary readers brought in by the reboot but not held onto, and DC ends up worse in the long run than they were in the beginning. And that's not because the reboot was an inherently bad idea; it's because the execution placed a premium on attracting non-readers and minimized the importance of romancing increasingly jaded but still optimistic older fans.

I recently wrote, rather incredulously, about one sales pitch I read regarding Avengers Arena, in which Marvel explicitly stated that people who weren't fans were the target they were aiming to attract with that book. In a move which will never cease to baffle me, the anti-fan became the group reached out to, while the extant fan was actually marginalized if not outright dismissed. By all accounts that move has been successful -- plenty of people who expected to hate or lack interest in the book have expressed being surprisingly satisfied.

Meanwhile, many fans wax furious. I can honestly say that if I never read another Marvel book again, it will be because of Avengers Arena. And I've seen plenty of other people share the sentiment, to varying extremes. Months ago someone said it was "everything wrong with comics." Less pointedly, but similar, are the folks who point to this book in a list of reasons why they are considering dropping mainstream comics altogether and going exclusively with indie titles.

By ignoring the "what would make our fans happy" question in pursuit of temporary financial success, Marvel is creating a product which elicits responses no company would ever want to elicit: active disdain and disenchantment. If your product has people pointing to it as a prime example of why they are ready to stop doing business with you, or why they can no longer be excited about doing business with you like they used to be, then that's a clear sign you're doing something wrong. Sure, there are some people in the opposite camp: AA is their favorite book, and a reason they've chosen not to drop Marvel. But as a company, your ideal product is one which attracts as many readers as possible; not everyone has to like it, but if it's actively alienating a noticeable portion of your perspective readership, it's inherently flawed.

With the soft reboot, Marvel avoided the wholesale tide of rejection which DC seems to have wrought (and continues to wring), but the ebb is still there. The company's AvX event can hardly be called successful; most readers' reactions are mixed at best, bordering on the negative, and you are hard-pressed to find anyone who truly loved it or its fallout. Many long-time fans will tell you that since that mess occurred their favorite characters have never been the same; and as NOW really comes into its own, plenty of poor characterizations are pointed to by people who have chosen to give a permanent pass on franchises by which they once defined their lives.

It's telling that the most fervent fan bases for both major houses are seen begging for retcon of the retcons. DC fans hold out hope that an upcoming Trinity event will erase the entire New 52 "continuity" and revert back to the stories that had decades of development behind them (and many of these fans would have been shocked by such a hope several years ago, when the then most recent catastrophic events had convinced them a reboot was the only chance of salvaging what they loved). Marvel fans look to the summer's Ultron interference and wonder if there's a chance that the whole AvX timeline (and most of NOW along with it) will disappear like a nightmare one wakes from with the utmost of relief.

Is this really good for business? Is this actually what the head honchos at these two houses were hoping would happen when they made the decisions they've been making? Or is it possible that in pursuit of profit, they've completely lost sight of the only thing which can ever actually sustain profit: their readers?

I'm pretty new to this whole thing. My observations can thus be read more as those of an outsider than anything else. And because of my limited perspective, perhaps those observations are missing important details. So I turn now to you, Comic Vine faithful. Do you think Marvel & DC are in a bad place or a good one? Do you see signs of progress or regress on the horizon -- and what specific trends can you point to which support such optimism or pessimism, as the case may be?

I'm genuinely curious. I get the sense I picked one of the worst possible times to try to become a mainstream comic book fan. I leave it to y'all to confirm or deny ^_^

10 Comments

Marvel's Killing (me)

I wanted to just post this as a comment on my "Jarring" blog, but I guess I was the last two comments there (that's two blogs I've had that happen with today, grrrr), so I'm going to just post a new blog here. It's technically a different topic anyway, but...yeah, here goes:

This subject (of the fixation on death and its roots) continues to be on my mind, especially with things like AXM bringing back young versions of old characters, Damian Wayne dying, and ongoing debates over whether a new reboot is already looming over the Marvel universe.

Lately I've had a variety of excuses to consider the Ultimate Marvel universe, a place which has become a little infamous, from what I gather, for actually killing its characters. Which leads me to why I'm writing this, because while my entire blog (The Jarring "Still Life" of Comics) was more an indictment of both major comic publishers, I've realized that it's far more an issue with Marvel than with DC.

Quite honestly, the spectre of death just isn't nearly as prominent in DC. Maybe it is for you? Sound off and let me know. Maybe I've missed things. I know Suicide Squad has a deadly (and may I add stupid) premise, but I've also heard that some people get resurrected anyway. Damian died but his maternal connections have most assuming he'll probably be back sooner rather than later. And you have the death of characters in a mostly self-contained series which is also ending. But I'd hardly call that a trend per se; for the most part, this universe is new, and the characters are not expected to die soon.

But with Marvel I legitimately am afraid to get into anything anymore. I started reading UXM and really want to root for Eva to become a big deal, but I cannot shake the fear that she will be killed off.

I read the first issue of Wolverine and the X-Men, and I wanted to get onboard -- but then I found out at least one character I was interested in has already been killed off.

I read recently about Marvel's announcement not to get too tied up in Wolverine or that school he's trying to run, because next year he's going to get killed off.

I bought The Runaways after years of being told it was great, and I'm afraid to finish, because Nico and Chase are in Avengers Arena, and one or both of them might be killed off.

I'm interested in picking up an Ultimate book (likely Spider-Man), but all I hear is that there's a major catastrophe on the horizon, and someone's probably going to be killed off.

Sensing a trend here?

Am I imagining this? Or is it safe to say that Marvel really does have a more brutal and cruel universe, and that people who are prone to actually getting emotionally invested in characters are a lot more likely to get burned with the "house of ideas" than its competitor?

28 Comments

"You won't want to miss this," they said.

First, I was going to add this to the end of Hopeless. Heartless. Careless?. But I'd already double-posted there (just yesterday, mind you -- so check the end of OP or the most recent comment if you care), and CV wouldn't let me triple-post.

I then resolved to mention it in the blog I considered inevitable based on the solicits and interviews pointing to the "shocking conclusion" of Issue #6, which came out today. But as it turns out, today's issue may actually have been a pretty exemplar one, the one real bone I have with it having already been brought up elsewhere (that Arcade manufacturing his own working Trigger Scent recipe is outright PIS which simply serves Hopeless' need to make Laura a killer or pariah and ignores the canonical difficulties of replicating or acquiring TS).

So here we are. I'm going to bring it up here. It's a simple point, and one I don't want getting lost in a sea of other ones. I want this front and center.

See, I'm frequently accused of overreacting about Avengers Arena. And despite the fact that I've said ad nauseum that I understand there is more to this book than "just killing," people who argue with me inevitably still say "this book isn't just about killing." But, I say, it's still about killing -- killing is still an intrinsic part. "But only two people have died," they say. Well, three, if they say it today. So they're dying slowly. Doesn't mean they're not dying.

This weekend I got lucky enough to click my way into about 200 free comics before Marvel's promotion destroyed servers. This allowed me a great opportunity to, among things, check out some books I was on the fence about, and some books I refused to put money towards but would like to see how they were being handled. Avengers Arena #1 was actually one such book. I have now read it. I've read the comments sections. My thoughts on the matter can be found in the aforementioned addendum to my last blog. I expected that to be the end of thinking of Arena, but then I got to the back of Avengers #1, and I found this:

Also making its debut this month is Avengers Arena #1! For those fans who complain that Marvel has too many young heroes in our stable, Arcade is out to do something about it -- by imprisoning sixteen of them on Murderworld Island and forcing them all to fight to the death! ... So if you're a fan of Hazmat, Darkhawk, the Runaways, Mettle, Cammi and Nico -- or if you can't stand the sight of 'em -- AVENGERS ARENA's got something you won't want to miss! [emphasis added]

Read that over again. Let it sink in. It's old news in many respects, but it's there, and it happened.

This, folks, is how Marvel marketed its own book.

I understand that people wanted me to formulate my opinions based on firsthand experience. But now that I've done so, I'm honestly confused. What, precisely, was I expected to find that would change my mind? Where is this cache of good will that I've been missing? Every qualm I have seems to be justified.

Solicits lie, the devil's advocate says.

Yeah, that's true, they do.

But this isn't that simple.

What we're looking at here is a company listing a group of characters and -- pay attention -- actively advertising a book with those characters to people who hate them and think they're superfluous. Guaranteeing that that audience won't want to miss what happens to the characters they hate.

Think about that.

Are you still going to sit there and tell me I've got this all wrong?

-----

(PS -- I really did write a considerable amount regarding my experience with AA No. 1 in that other thread. I'd definitely appreciate if people also took the time to read that and maybe address it as well)

17 Comments

Hopeless. Heartless. Careless?

[Note: while an argument could be made this belongs more in the Avengers Arena section, my argument deals in part with the entire Marvel Universe, hence Gen. Discussion]

When I first started out here on Comic Vine, furiously raging against Avengers Arena, I was careful about one thing in particular: judging Dennis Hopeless' skills as a writer. As many legitimate charges as I believed (and have not been given reason to disbelieve) I have against Hopeless, poor writing chops weren't among them. But as time has gone by, I am beginning to change my opinion on that as well. Because a growing list of concerns mounts before me, some of which have been explained away by theories, but others of which are glaring and, unless Hopeless is the greatest writer ever hired, seemingly impossible to reconcile with any amount of plot twisting.

So yes, without having actually read most of Hopeless' words, I'm going to critique his writing. Which I can do, because I'm not critiquing his lines, but what's found between them.

First, though, I want to point out a basic objection I have begun to form based on the numerous reviews I have been reading (seriously, I read every one I can find), and that is the fact that so often Arena is praised for introducing and explaining the characters, taking issue after issue for what mostly amounts to exposition.

Here's the problem. What other book are you reading, comprised of established characters with years of history, which takes its first half-dozen issues to catch you up on those characters and their abilities? Which X-Men book focuses on one X-Man per issue for months while progressing its actual plot at a snail's pace, so that just in case you don't know anything about, say, Magik or Psylocke, you'll have enough to go off of going forward that would not otherwise have been made obvious through brief exchanges and the character's own behavior as the story organically progressed?

The only reason you'd feel compelled to spend so much time explaining known characters' back stories is if you took as a basic assumption going into the book that the majority of the people who would read and follow it do not know the characters. In other words, you write under the assumption that people who like what you're writing are not current fans of the characters; that, in fact, the extant fans of these characters will be the minority of your readership. Were the reverse true, you would hardly need to tell them who these characters are.

And that's not just me, either. Just today I read a fan of the book, among a list of defenses, actually praise Hopeless for how "he's slowly telling you who these people are." Hopeless is slowly introducing the characters. As if no one knows or cares about them already. As if most of the people reading the book need to be told who they are because they don't know or care. As if the whole book is written under the assumption that its audience will not consist of actual extant fans of the characters. As if it didn't even try to respect or attract or cater to those people or assume they'd be part of the readership. As if it took for granted that fans of the characters being used in this book would be against it from the start, and the remainder of the readership would need catching up.

It's telling that I frequently see fans of Avengers Arena who can't tell which characters are brand new and which ones have been around for years. One might credit that to Hopeless' skill with making new characters seem rich, but I see it more as his failure to respectfully grapple with the actual depth that the older characters have been gifted with over the years, and which the readers he's not counting on to support his book learned to love those characters for.

The nifty benefit of assuming no one who knows better is watching? Not having to actually stick to the characters' histories. Now it's one thing to write a character a bit differently, sure. But when you're not relying on fans to call you out, you can do a great many things which you'd never get away with in a book targeted towards people who actually care. Things such as:

  • Splattering the blood and gore of a bloodless character across the first issue. (Mettle)
  • Making an angsty, troubled teen read as a heartless and hate-filled douchebag (Hazmat -- seriously, so many people just considered her a jerk)
  • Disabling one of the most powerful artifacts in the entire universe because its actual powers would be inconvenient to your story. (Staff of One)
  • Equipping multiple characters with outdated versions of their equipment and expecting neither your readers nor the characters themselves to notice or comment. (Nico/Chase - Staff of One & Fistigons)
  • Writing a complicated character in a way far more in keeping with the misconceptions of people who do not like her: feral & prone to violent outbursts (X-23)
  • Allowing a copy of your book to go to press with said character's signature two claws increased by one, even if it was only in one panel and even if you corrected it for digital versions. (X-23)
  • Handling a cosmic, somewhat sentient amulet as if it were a mere product off Stark Industries' product line. (Darkhawk Amulet)

My initial complaints about Hopeless and this book were based on the premise that a person who cared about these characters would not take so much pleasure in repeatedly informing interviewers that they were going to die. That was a major focal point of pretty much all of the PR early on -- "did I mention people die?" I cited earlier indications that Hopeless had ambivalence, if not outright disdain, towards fans concerned about what he was doing.

And now it seems, based on the actual writing, that he really doesn't know or care about these characters. He's said he hand-picked the kids, but he seems to have picked them not for their stories or selves but for the interesting ways their powers might factor into various conflicts in the book, as if the powers were the characters themselves. X-23's not just a violent and emotionless killing machine with healing factor and claws? Eh, close enough. Nico has used different staffs, and they're supposed to be kind of all-powerful? Eh, close enough. Mettle's body has no flesh or blood in it? Eh, close enough.

I began by having a problem with what Hopeless was doing. Four issues in, I have plenty of problems with how he's doing it, too. Add this to the large plot holes which are ostensibly supposed to be covered in issue 7 (but who knows), and you have a less than sunny picture.

The thing is, while faulty tech can be explained by the old "all just a simulation" story, the characters' failing to notice honestly can't. That's the first major writing conundrum I have (beyond disregard for canon, which in my mind is the very definition of bad writing when you're working for a publisher). To have done it in the first place is sloppy -- but to be unable to cover for it is even worse. I've yet to hear a decent explanation of the characters' own obliviousness to their inconsistencies, which suggests that they are the product of ignorant writing rather than of clever authorial manipulation.

Nevertheless, folks continue coming back to the virtual reality theory, which begs the question: how?

Is it Arcade who has hooked these kids into some very complicated simulation? Okay then, let's look at The Rather Gaping Hole(s) That Will Need To Be Filled... which I raised awhile back. How did Arcade get these kids? We're told that may be explained. We're told the kidnappings happened on Christmas, when they'd have been in less secure environments (though one wonders what Darkhawk's story is, considering his amulet's abilities).

Lest anyone try to answer that question and think they've undone my whole argument, the more important follow-up is and then what? Why has no one noticed or done anything since then? Pym had kids stolen from his school. Wolverine's got an AWOL daughter. Abigail Brand literally had Cammi stolen from in front of her mid-conversation. And yet these characters exist elsewhere, in books beyond Arena's pages, in a universe whose continuity is contingent enough that a writer like Marjorie Liu can't touch them because they are officially off-limits in Murderworld. As far as Marvel is concerned, these kids are somewhere they don't want to be. And yet no one notices. Pym, Logan, Brand, not to mention the larger worlds of Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D., & S.W.O.R.D., wherever they appear in other books, do not seem to have noticed anything at all. Nevermind that they're also not shown caring within the book that had the kids taken from them.

Yeah, sure, seeming impossibilities between books happen all the time in comics. But it's one thing to question how Wolverine can be on X-Force while with the X-Men while with his own school. It's another thing to say Wolverine is definitively only in one place, has been taken by a specific villain from, say, right in front of Thor, and then neither Thor nor anyone else says anything about it again for weeks to any of the characters in any of the various books in which he appears. You just can't do that. It's beyond convenient. It's making an absolute impossibility happen "because I said so." It's saying "for the next week anyone can pick up Mjolnir, because it'd be more fun if stuff could just happen the way I say it happens and don't bother me about the details because that's not the point of the story i'm trying to tell" (which is basically what Hopeless has said when asked about why other people aren't noticing -- that he doesn't want to focus on it because that would make telling his story not work so well).

It's one thing to say "that's not my focus," but it's another thing to ignore the fissures in a major supporting pillar of your story. If we can't have reasonably explained to us how Arcade managed to capture kids and get them to a place where no one in the world -- no government, no mutant tech, no tracker, no anyone -- can find them, and if we aren't going to be shown said government, mutants, heroes, etc. flipping the heck out because of this insane turn of events and show of heretofore unknown power -- then why on earth should we accept anything else about this book? Why should we accept that deaths -- physical or psychological -- are happening to characters who never stood a chance in terms of canon or logic?

It's not just that Arcade's powers are too strong to be real. It's that even if what he is doing within Murderworld is an illusion, his kidnapping of the kids isn't. He still has that ability. He's still hidden them miraculously. And there's still no one in the Marvel Universe who seems to care or notice.

So some people, of course, say that Arcade, too, is part of the illusion (though of course Hopeless has already said that Arcade is Arcade). Granted, there's still no good substitute (Pym, for example, would never dream of putting kids through something like this), and even if there were you again have the question of why no one in the universe cares. Despite the fact that the events of Avengers Arena look to be real, permanent, and canon, they all exist within a vacuum which the rest of Marvel ignores. As if, should, say, X-23 die, Wolverine will never notice. And if he does notice eventually, what's the explanation for him not noticing earlier? Other than, of course, because Hopeless would consider that inconvenient to his plot.

Of course, beyond all that, there's the minor question of what's really gained by the virtual reality conceit. For the characters, sure, it makes sense for them to think everything's real. But the readers? What does tricking them really accomplish? It adds an element of theoretical danger (even as more people convince themselves that this can't be real), but is that really what's driving the book? If we presume that the character development is real even if the bodies at risk are not, then the things keeping people interested are still intact even if we know from page one that this is actually a game. Mettle's death can be construed as interesting as a motivator to Hazmat and as a warning to the other characters -- not simply because Mettle died. If we knew he wasn't really dead, that wouldn't take away the interesting part of it.

Meanwhile, you have people who are refusing to buy this book but, if we knew for sure that the kids weren't actually in danger, would happily pick it up, because this could be interesting to see play out. It could lead to great character development. And it could introduce new characters which could emerge quite popular enough to stick around in other titles.

But the only character development this book seems keen on making is the sort which is, again, close enough -- enough to give clueless readers an idea of who these kids are and why they should care about them. Just enough connection so that readers feel something when the kids they never used to care about end up dead. Readers' ignorance of characters is a foregone conclusion, and folks who meet that criteria feel justified in saying to people like me "hey, he's writing these characters well, you should stop complaining." He's writing them well enough. Enough to keep you interested. But not enough to actually do them or any deaths justice outside the context of his own needs. Again, this book is a vacuum. By ignoring the implications of Arcade's actions on the contingent universe, Hopeless ensures that nothing that happens within Arena CAN have any implications on the contingent universe. The deaths, rather than being personal, meaningful, and respectable (and rather than doing any sort of justice to the legacy of the character and the dedication of the readers), are instead lumped together in such a fashion that the only impact they are capable of having is a sum horror when the world realizes that Arcade is around and means business.

Maybe I put that confusingly? The point is the individual deaths are stripped of meaning by happening in a contained and quarantined (both literally, and literarily) environment, which will only infringe on the external world after it's too late to change things, so the impact will be of the amalgamated death toll rather than of any one character's loss. You're not going to see a funeral for each individual kid. You're going to get a mass grave.

I've said it so many times that I've gotten sick of hearing myself, but for a person like me, the quality of the dialogue or the intrigue of the plot mean absolutely nothing. They have no bearing on my feelings about the book. Because the best writing in the world doesn't justify these deaths in the scheme of it all. No clever little tale can justify dovetailing years of character development and growth into a handful of unmarked graves. A hero's death, if it must happen, should speak volumes either about the magnitude of the event in which she dies, or about the legacy of the character himself. Yet death in Arena is impersonal and trivial; no matter how well-told, it serves no one's purposes but Arcade's.

Take away the death, and I'm sold. I'll go pick up every issue. I'll revel in the dialogue and marvel at the art. But until then, I want it to be crystal clear: I'm not boycotting Avengers Arena because I think it's "just about killing." I'm boycotting it because, no matter what else it may be about, killing is an inextricable part. Add to that the fact that the killing is being done by someone who shouldn't be capable, and it's being done to characters he shouldn't have been able to capture, and all the while no one who should be noticing and reacting to these things is doing anything of the kind, and, yeah, I have bones to pick with this book. A whole skeleton's worth.

[EDIT: Addendum Tuesday, March 15, ~ 5:00 p.m.]

I didn't know quite where to share this (and given a new, ostensibly "shocking" issue tomorrow, I didn't want to do a whole new blog with the potential for another one less than 24 hours away), so it's gonna go here.

So, one of the free issues I snagged from that Marvel FIRST giveaway was AA #1, because I'm okay with sending the message "I'm interested, but I'm not going to pay for this." Honestly I'm not sure how they plan to use the information on what people download -- whether they'll try to adapt it into further business plans, or whether the hope was simply to get people hooked on runs which they will then pay to follow. That's besides the point.

The point is, I finally actually read an issue and (far more importantly) the letters section at the end (I now wish I could find scans of just the letters sections, honestly).

And...well honestly, I just don't see the virtual reality argument. I see why people want it. I even sort of got that vibe from the suspended animation/life bar thing (though the latter has been claimed by Hopeless to literally have just been an aesthetic decision, not part of the plot).

Now, my latest point still stands; it's all well and good for Hopeless to have Arcade say "You're completely cut off. Nobody is coming to get you. Trust me, they wouldn't know where to look." But I want an explanation, because there are some incredibly sophisticated tracking technologies and mutations which cannot, in the interest of good writing, actually be ignored. His whole "self-contained. self-contained. self-contained." bit -- because "this concept only works if there's no way out" -- is only as good as he can defend how they ended up in a self-contained trap. So long as that remains unexplained, it will continue to infuriate me.

But to the letters.

Rosemann's introduction to the letters begins with "So that was pretty intense, huh? I mean, just when Hazmat and Mettle have a taste of a happy life it's all ripped away." And suddenly, any optimism I may have had is just gone. Absolutely gone. It's funny because for some reason there are people who, months later, still have optimism -- but I'd have lost it from day one with that intro. It's a blatant admission of precisely why fans would be upset. This book came just one month after the conclusion of Academy. Many readers of Academy were sold this issue thinking of it as a spiritual successor -- retailers even treated it as if it were the same book, and just pulled the first issue for all their Academy subscribers. And immediately these fans saw the optimistic trajectory of the book they'd been following crash and burn in a bloody smear. The editor's comment on that? "Wow. So intense!"

Of course, Hopeless really has nothing to offer to help. Two pages from Mettle's gory end, in response to a letter in which the writer says "Don't you dare to do something to Mettle and Hazmat," Hopeless' answer is "So, um...sorry about Mettle. He died a hero's death and will be missed by all of his fans, me among them."

As I've said earlier, the thing I find truly scary about this book is the fact that Hopeless may actually believe he's justified in what he is doing. To him, the sacrificial nature of Mettle's death was fittingly respectful. It was, to Hopeless, satisfactory. And yet few of the "other" (as he counts himself among them) Mettle fans I've seen have agreed with that assessment. Most are like me: they see it as fridging, shock value to establish high stakes, maybe to motivate Hazmat (but again, that's textbook fridging). So either Hopeless is callous and doesn't care at all about characters, or he's genuinely convinced that what he did to Mettle was okay. And that's what makes the prospect of other characters being at his disposal all the more terrifying. Writing him off as a heartless tool is a lot easier than seeing him as a well-meaning but horrifically misguided storyteller. But these letters, and particularly that one, have me thinking it's more of the latter.

Anyhow, the only other real note I have is that Hopeless' comment that "This is a character-driven story" really only holds water if the characters don't die. No amount of development is worth a thing if it simply dovetails in a death. People who have contradicted my interpretations in the past, should take note of what I said, and what Hopeless said. What I said, having not read the letters:

But the only character development this book seems keen on making is the sort which is, again, close enough -- enough to give clueless readers an idea of who these kids are and why they should care about them. Just enough connection so that readers feel something when the kids they never used to care about end up dead.

And now, what Hopeless wrote before Issue 1 even hit presses:

...A lot of people question why AA is an ongoing series and not a mini. Here's why: For this book to succeed, we have to earn the concept. We have to make you love the characters even if you never read a page of their previous series. We need you to care how it all turns out and to feel each and every death. In order to get there, we need space...

So...who wants to tell me I'm wrong again?

97 Comments

The Jarring "Still Life" of Comic Books

There's no denying that the American comic industry has a fixation on death right now. Perhaps it's a phase, or perhaps it's merely a sign of trajectory, but either way, death's the thing of the moment. The better part of the past two months has been spent watching the Joker threaten Batman's "family" with death, and if Marvel's killing of Peter Parker and Avengers Arena haven't convinced you of their fixation, perhaps the promotions for the upcoming Age of Ultron have.

It's intriguing to watch community reactions to events such as these. There seem to be two voices at odds with one another. One laments killing as a tasteless and unnecessary travesty against fans. The other laments the absence of death as a mockery of real risk and an undermining factor in the potential power of the medium. It's hard to tell who is angrier: those who are sick of deaths not lasting, or those who are sick of deaths, period.

The problem is, death makes no sense in comics, at least as far as DC and Marvel are concerned. It comes across as arbitrary or gimmicky because nothing else in comics follows a realistic or inevitable path. Characters are ageless and immortal, and the only way for them to die is for a writer to actively decide to kill them. Batman has existed since the 1930s. Bruce Wayne should be dead by now, not because he's been involved in a ton of horribly dangerous situations, but because he should be a senior citizen with no bones left and probably a great deal of other medical problems to boot. But Bruce hasn't really aged much in the almost 80 years over which he has "lived."

The failure to age characters is of course nothing new. But I wonder if we've considered the implications. Why are we clamoring for our characters to die from supervillains or events -- in the name of "realism" -- but we otherwise want them to just be perpetually young and fit? It seems to me that if arthritis or cancer aren't real threats to our heroes, nothing else has a right to be either.

This compulsion to kill for change's sake manifests with nasty variations. One of the most common is a kind of inexplicable bloodlust, which demands the deaths of characters perceived as "unnecessary" or "getting in the way." It's remarkable how quickly a character is thrown under the bus because his or her superpowers resemble those of another character, as if there were some logic to a mutation only manifesting one time ever, or as if two characters with the same mutation must necessarily be redundant. I wonder whether the same people view identical twins in real life with disdain, and say to themselves, "gee, we only need one of them, why doesn't someone just off the other one?"

There is a sort of epidemic of failure to understand nuances in characters or even appreciate them as entities beyond their appearance or abilities. Fans of the characters, like friends of the less popular twin, are told that the character they like is irrelevant because, say, someone else has elemental powers or metal claws. Genetics are the key to whether a character holds interest; if you share genetic makeup with anyone else, then you don't deserve to live.

Death, of course, isn't the only casualty of agelessness. Because we expect to see our characters on the front lines from decade to decade, they're not allowed to truly develop towards any trajectory. The most glaring issue is relationships: even ones with thirty, forty, fifty years of progress seem not to have gone anywhere. Relationships which have a semblance of stability are seen as threats to the characters' development; husbands and wives are perceived as anathema to intrigue. Two conflicting voices drive the vehicle of comic book evolution, one saying "we must always have change, to avoid stagnation" and another which says "we cannot go down the same road for too long, for that, too, leads to stagnation." The effect is a car stuck pulling u-turns and crisscrossing a map, so fixated on the idea that the journey outshines destination that the very idea of having a destination, let alone valuing one, seems to have been thrown out the window like so much litter, hundreds of miles back.

In a crude way, it makes sense: if you're perpetually twenty-five, you feel as if you could live forever. Because, of course, you can. The realistic compulsion to maybe start taking it easier, to settle down, to retire the spandex and propagate a future generation of heroes… None of that exists if characters don't age. In fact, if a character does marry and have children, those children stand a chance of eventually being the same age as the hero. This awkwardness could be avoided by simply having your heroes age; instead, it's "solved" by killing off young heroes before the question achieves proper prominence in the comic-reading consciousness.

People love to complain about new characters. They consider them at best uninteresting, at worst redundant. And even with the best of writers, the redundancy can be seen as a legitimate concern when all the original heroes are still just as vital and prominent as they've ever been. Very few characters are given a chance to rise to prominence. It's an absurd situation, really, as it precludes any history. What would American politics look like if people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were still alive, youthful, and active in politics? Would there be any progress? Would people even care?

Comics provide us with an unnatural situation in which the voices and faces of generations past still intrude on today's issues. These indisputable legends command attention wherever they arrive, and the result is that no one new has a chance at the spotlight. There's an element of horror to it, the immortals crushing generation after generation of hopeful heroes. Why does this happen? Why do people want it to happen? I honestly don't know.

Coincidence has given us torch handoffs in the past. Multiple characters have worn the cowl and been called Batman, and their tenures can, in an abstract way, be considered; but Bruce Wayne's run vastly outlasts anyone else's. Isn't that unfortunate? Wouldn't it be more interesting if we could look back over seventy-five years and compare a variety of Batmen (and women?) with their own distinct styles and personalities? Wouldn't it be better if we could look at the "original" X-Men through proper historical lenses, as if looking at a history book at forefathers, and compare them to the current generation, rather than simply differentiate between current X-Men which were created recently and current X-Men which were also originals?

I understand favoritism and enjoying characters, but the unreal nature of the system seems to me to do a lot more harm than good. It necessitates massive, deadly events to effect a visible change on a universe which real history has never depended upon because it changes organically. And even the most brutal "changes" are mocked for their temporariness; certain characters' returns are deemed inevitable. So we say we wish deaths were permanent, but what we really mean is we wish deaths were realistic -- occurring with or without external stimulus, and properly bringing closure to one character's arc to make way for the zenith of a new one's.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm crazy for suggesting it'd be okay if favorite characters got old and died (like favorite people). Maybe I'm crazy for proposing a world in which Batman changes names, if not as frequently as presidents, then at least as frequently as supreme court justices. Maybe I'm crazy for thinking that character death is inane and trite if murder-by-author is the only cause of death that's actually accepted in the entire artistic medium.

I'd like to think I have a point. But then again, wouldn't we all…

Thanks for reading.

35 Comments

Starfire: Retrospective

Yesterday I posted a blog about Starfire's costume changes which I expected to follow the trend of most other things I've written: a couple dozen views, a handful of comments (primarily from followers) one or two dissidents, and overall obscurity. Instead it garnered over 300 views and (including my own occasional feedback) over 50 comments. So I decided, once the dust had begun to settle, to analyze what had been said, and these were my results.

The point of my blog was to say that 1. I found Starfire's traditional portrayal distasteful and 2. I was disappointed and perplexed by the decision to revert back to her revealing outfit particularly in light of her having had a reasonably cool, combat and support-sensible, and modest one. Of 24 respondents, 9 (37.5 %) agreed with me; 13 (~54.2 %) disagreed with or dismissed me; 2 (~8.3 %) did not indicate a specific position.

Three of the respondents who disagreed with me specifically questioned why I was making a big deal out of it now, a matter I addressed in the original post and continued to address in the comments. That is not to undermine their argument, but simply to suggest that their own response indicated a failure to have read, or at least to have been diligent in reading, the thing with which they were disagreeing.

Likewise, three respondents excused the change of outfit on the basis of it being a space suit and thus given up upon leaving space. Once more, I did address this in my original post, having considered it as an explanation. Starfire maintained her outfit longer than her compatriots; moreover, there was nothing inherent to the suit to render it impractical or hindering for keeping. We can explain her not wearing the suit earlier because she did not have it, but as far as I can tell there's no reasonable explanation for why she would part with it -- that is to say, nothing about the suit made it uniquely suitable for off-earth combat, which means if she chose not to wear it she would have had to do so consciously.

We thus have a question of the pros and cons of the suit itself. One person on either side of the argument (so, two) raised the point that Starfire's abilities depend on absorption of sunlight, and that a more revealing outfit is thus a practical combat decision. This notion was contested by comparing Starfire to other aliens (notably Superman) who derive their power from the sun while wearing more clothing. The inability to find a definite canonical defense, in my mind, allows us to toss out the argument. Moreover, even if the space suit fails to allow adequate sunlight for Kori's abilities, that does not inherently prove the need to wear so little; a modest compromise would still be superior to the current outfit.

As for keeping the suit, six people were in favor of the design itself, including one person who did not have a problem with the new one and one neutral respondent; one person found it too bland. Two people who preferred the armor did so less because they cared about modesty and more because they thought the new design was bad (and would have been fine with the old one). From a practical standpoint, three respondents (all in agreement with OP) called the new outfit impractical, with one specifying Kori's lack of latent invulnerability.

Looking for other explanations of Starfire's immodesty, three noted alien culture (including one who agreed with OP). My challenge that a year and a half of time spent on earth living with humans should have been sufficient for her to adapt to our concept of modesty, even if for no other reason than Roy's sake (as she cares for him), remains unanswered. Interestingly, one respondent, who admitted to taking issue to "anyone who complains about her costume at all" rather than concern himself with my specific points, suggested that asking her to cover her body was itself a sexist position.

Sexism, naturally, came up elsewhere, though that was the only case in which the charge was leveraged against me. Two respondents agreeing with OP specifically called out the misogynist roots of the design, while four noted that it was tacky or needlessly exploitative. Two opposers simply denied the suggestion that her outfit was sexist.

Six (25% of) respondents pointed out that Starfire's outfit has always been excessively revealing; none of these respondents objected to that reality. One respondent suggested that the historicity of Starfire's outfit was the reason he did not consider that outfit sexist. The overwhelming position of opponents to my argument, then, maintained that sexual objectification of Starfire is intrinsic to her character; the strength of that position wavering from outright support of its continuation to general ambivalence tending towards not seeing objectification as an issue worth addressing.

Let me repeat that last bit of information, for clarity: Of those who agreed with me, the majority (7 of 9) explicitly complained about Starfire's objectification as being a problem they would like to see addressed (either via the space suit, or a new but more modest outfit). Of those who disagreed with me, almost half (6 of 13) explicitly acknowledged Starfire's objectification and then either supported it or dismissed it as a non-issue.

One neutral respondent acknowledged the fanservice angle and suggested that the question of whether a given character's sexualization is a worthwhile issue depends on whether it is done poorly. We have evidence here that Starfire's portrayal is both divisive and prohibitive, with several respondents noting that her portrayal has actually kept them from reading the book in which she is featured. I therefore posit that she has been handled poorly, and that the issue of sexualization specifically as it pertains to Starfire is therefore worthy of discussion.

One other thing I would like to discuss is a statement made by 1/3 of respondents, including at least one representative from the neutral, agree, and disagree camps (but unsurprisingly most commonly in the latter), and that is the idea that writing is more important than art, even to the point of supplanting it.

Indeed, a common theme in this thread was the idea that no matter what a character wears or how he or she is drawn, the writing is what carries the book. While I think there is some validity to the point, I think it is rather shortsighted. One respondent illustrated this potential absurdity by sarcastically agreeing with detractors, imagining a black character donning racist garb out of ostensible freedom of expression.

The message, in my mind, ought to be clear: if your writing says your character matters because she's interesting, but your art says your character matters because she's hot, and people are noticing the art over the writing, then your prevailing message is that the character's body is more important than her personality. The fact that some readers found her portrayal as a barrier to reading merely underscores that point; the message of Starfire's outfit is more prominent among readers than the message of her history, thoughts, or actions.

Comics are a hybrid medium. They are writing combined with art, and when the two are out of sync with one another the result should never be considered good. Starfire is a prime example of the two being out of sync, because people who usually complain about an artist's talent keeping them from getting into a book have been driven to the opposite extreme of saying bad art won't keep them from a good story. It's simply not true, and I'd guess that every person who said it has at some point passed on or stopped reading a series because of the art style alone.

It's true that even the best art cannot save a bad story, but to take that all the way to a dismissal of what the art may be saying is an insult to the speaker as much as it is to every artist who has ever devoted a lifetime to speaking through the language of visual art. Art does matter, and it reveals to us how the creators think about their characters and, thereby, how they want us to think about their characters. No matter how many words Lobdell (or now Tynion) uses to tell us that Princess Koriand'r is a strong and self-respecting woman, if the art simply screams "she's sexy," we will never truly take those words seriously.

I fully recognize that a strong and independent woman can be sexy and wear revealing clothing. I am arguing that that is not the message conveyed by Starfire's outfit. In fact, NO ONE seems to be arguing that. Despite the fact that the majority of respondents did not agree with me about this being a step in the wrong direction, none of those detractors actually suggested that the reason for her wearing practically nothing was to demonstrate her independence.

That does not surprise me. Because that argument is simply not there. You can't find it in the art. The art isn't saying that. The art is saying "here's fanservice." And maybe, somewhere below the surface, the story is saying "here are some backdoor excuses for when "fanservice" isn't enough to convince people of the art."

What scares me, a whole lot, is that I can make a statement like that, and rather than people saying "you know what, that's a good point, maybe we should want a little more depth in the way a character like this is portrayed, something more befitting the story of power and confidence and getting-to-know-human-customs that the writing is conveying about her, which this art is blatantly ignoring," what they will instead say is "yeah, and?"

Because a lot of the people who disagreed with me actually flat-out acknowledged that Starfire is a fanservice character. Some of them would be okay if she were only that, and didn't even have depth in her writing. And the rest, though I hope they read what I just said and change their mind, may continue to not care about the art so long as the writing's okay.

I find it quite disconcerting that we want to defend characters being drawn this way. It bothers me that people are okay with settling, settling for stagnation over becoming a more embracing and accepting medium, settling for flagrant sexism so long as it's still possible to see something past it. It worries me that this is either dismissed or, when acknowledged, treated as meaningless, as if fair treatment and portrayal of all human beings were not only not a worthwhile goal, but actually a joke that only tightwads find amusing. It demonstrates that the industry, more particularly its fanbase, is blind to the reality of the world outside its niche walls, and is blind to the fact that if it does not start taking equality seriously it is absolutely going to be left behind in the brutal war of entertainment media.

As I said before, "What I have trouble accepting is…[the belief] that because good stories can be told with slutty outfits on objectified female characters, that somehow means that slutty outfits on objectified female characters are fine. It's like telling a mechanic that shoddy brakes are okay because the car still drives well: yeah, that may be true, but that doesn't mean fixing the brakes is pointless, and ignoring them for long may result in a preventable collision."

I apologize if I come across as crazed or some sort of activist. I actually posted that blog more as a response to a handful of people than as any kind of attempt to start a debate. But seeing how it unfolded, and really considering the implications of what was said to me, honestly bothered me, and I'm coming through on the other side realizing that maybe this actually is a big deal, if for no other reason than people think it isn't.

Thank you for reading.

If your responses suggest that you have, in fact, read this and considered it, I will happily continue the discussion below ^_^

31 Comments

No, but really, why?

So I've been kind of saying the same thing in a few different places now, and I figured I'd just throw together a quick blog for future reference, because this actually does irk me quite a bit. After all the good will I've been throwing towards Red Hood and the Outlaws and in particular its ability to make Starfire a lot more respectable than it looked like she would be in that infamous beach panel, I find myself almost openly mocked by the series' regression. Consider below:

The image on the left is from RHatO Issue #8, which is the last issue before the Starfire-centric arc (barring the Night of the Owls tie-in). It features the first New 52 outfit for Kori, a wonder of alien design insomuch as chest support is concerned. This outfit has been routinely criticized for being unnecessarily sexual and demeaning to the character, and is used as the argument for both believing that Starfire is just fanservice and refusing to read the book in which she's featured.

Happily, Lobdell took the Outlaws to space, threw Kori into the position of leadership she was born for, and gave her the awesome suit which is featured in the second image This outfit featured in issues #10-#14, and the image is actually a screenshot of 14's cover. It's worth noting that Starfire sports this look after leaving her ship and crew behind. It's a sexy, form-fitting suit, but it's also practical armor and affords her a respectability that was much needed and much appreciated.

Which is why it completely baffles me that in the next issue (#15), Kori is inexplicably back in her skimpy purple slut suit. She begins the issue in a bikini -- which, I guess, is because she's back on the beach -- but when she and Roy rush off to Gotham, she dons the original outfit. There's no explanation given, no practical reason why she would revert to an older, less useful attire, but there you have it: back to the old costume.

As far as I can tell, the respectable outfit is simply gone, disposed of by the artist for no apparent reason (beyond fanservice). With a new creative team coming following the conclusion of Death of the Family and Lobdell's departure, I may have hoped for that respectability to have been brought back, but based on the covers (and now I'm talking about the last image there) it seems that hope was misplaced. Admittedly, upon consideration, this new look affords a little bit more coverage than her original outfit (I erroneously suggested otherwise in a prior post). But comparatively, it is still vastly more revealing than the suit.

Frankly, this saddens me. After all the flack DC got for its portrayal of Kori in the beginning of this run, I thought the Blackfire arc did her a lot of good and actually recognized that Kori could be an awesome, likeable, sexy character without showing off her entire body. Now she's back to flaunting everything, and I can't help but see it as a major regression for the book, DC, and comics in general. Are we in this much of a rut that even progress made since the reboot needs to be retconned to make way for more T&A?

Anyway, yeah...this probably didn't really say a whole lot but I just wanted to look at the images side-by-side, revisit the issues to make sure the disappearance of her suit hadn't been explained, and, well...rant, I guess. Thanks for reading.

73 Comments

State of American Comics: An Opinion

So, this began as a mere response to 's thread, which posed a fairly simple question. However, I do nothing simply (especially when someone says they're asking for research purposes), and I got to the point where I decided this was WAY too long to be a comment on a thread. Ergo, here we are. Go grab some chimichangas and a lot of water...this may take a while ^_^

What do you think is the current state of the Graphic Novel industry, and how do you think it could be improved?

I just recently got into comics, a little over six weeks ago. As such, I know nothing of how the industry once was, only how it is now.

My collection consists almost entirely of two things: digital comics and physical trade paperbacks. The latter doesn't say a whole lot about current industry state, but it's relevant in that it's how I've done the majority of my "catching up" since getting into comics, and explains how despite the fact that I'm so new I'm very knowledgeable about a few older characters and runs. The former is very important, because if it weren't for digital comics I would not be talking to you right now, because I would never have gotten into reading at all. The nearest comic shop to me is over half an hour away, and is closed all but sixteen hours a week. When I went in, in an attempt to get some advice and maybe pick out some new books to follow, I got almost nowhere. The manager was very standoffish and said he didn't even carry independent books unless they were specifically requested. I tried another shop a week or so later, about 45 minutes from my house, and despite having spent a good half-hour there browsing shelves and doing my best to look like I needed help, none of the employees so much as acknowledged my existence.

The point of that is: I appreciate that comic shops have created a very tight-knit, familial feel over the years with their devoted friends, but as an outsider I feel very unwelcome in most physical shops. This isn't a hard and fast rule, of course; I had the chance to pop into Midtown Comics in NYC recently and the people there were helpful, if a little amused at my naivete. But that's a nationally-known shop, with a huge reputation. The fact remains that the small shops, which I would otherwise be trying to help stay open, aren't exactly proving worthy of the extra effort and time.

And so I read digital comics. It's great to be able to read comics as soon as they come out, without having to leave your bed, let alone your house. For a person like me, who is concerned with just reading stories, the absence of a collectable or rare physical artifact is hardly worrying. What is worrying is that I'm paying the same amount as I would have for the physical, collectable version. I already have enough trouble believing that 20 pages is worth $4. The idea that 20 .jpegs are also worth $4 is laughable, especially since they're not even .pdfs or something I can keep on a hard drive, but are in-app objects which could disappear instantly if A. Comixology goes out of business or B. there's a dispute and my account gets deleted (i've seen the latter situation with people's Amazon book libraries, so it's not an unreasonable possibility). The music industry in particular seems to have gotten this right: generally it is cheaper to buy digital music, and (more importantly) you get the file on your own computer, and can back it up or replicate it or whatever you need to do to ensure that, just like those CDs and cassettes and vinyls you may have stacked up, you will still have the music you buy today accessible to you in the future. Due to the way digital comics are currently being done, there is no such security, yet the price provides no compensation for that (or for the lack of physical object). That really can't be a long-term solution, in my opinion.

And as the current model is unsustainable, I'd say the current state of the industry is in flux. It's trying to figure out how digital works into its distribution and revenue models, and being met with mitigated success. If they don't nail this transition, they will have a lot of difficulty staying relevant. The gaming industry is in a similar situation and its transition has been anything but smooth. As always, it's a balance between copyright protection and giving your paying customers something of equal or better quality than what people who steal are getting, and the fact that a pirate who downloads an entire run of a comic line has a preserved and easily-accessed copy of something you need an internet connection to download and a special app to open, well... like I said, that's not sustainable.

Content/quality-wise, I think it's a bit of a mixed bag. I have found DC's New 52 to be extremely accessible, and have tried out a half-dozen books and stuck full-time with three of them, with a few others I am thinking of following in trades or eventually (when the money's there) catching up to and following up-to-date as well. Marvel's decision to go with a soft reboot, leaving continuity intact, has proven more confusing than anything else, and has done nothing to tackle the problem of there being far too many titles with far too many characters for a new reader to absorb any easier than he or she could have absorbed prior to the reboot. There are a handful of standouts but overall the whole program, while perhaps more satisfying for older readers, has not really won me over as a new reader. And that fidelity to older fans is an important problem with New 52. I've come to love quite a few characters and have been saddened to discover the versions I've come to love are often mere husks or gross distortions of those characters prior to the reboot. Entire relationships and characters, not to mention decades' worth of development, seem to have been completely cast aside, and that's got to be destroying some readers' ability to enjoy these books.

That destruction of continuity plays into the deaths you've mentioned, their lack of permanence to the point where actual death has become a joke. I came about that concept firsthand when, shortly after getting into comics, I discovered that one of the Marvel NOW books was set to kill off -- ostensibly for real this time -- the few characters I had come to love through reading those older TPBs. So I have found myself in an odd predicament: furious at the company for creating a series for the purpose of killing off characters as part of its image reboot, and hoping that these deaths are meaningless as all other comic deaths so that the characters I love are not killed for financial reasons (because I'm sorry, but there's no narrative argument to made for those deaths). I think the fact that a book like Avengers Arena exists is itself indicative of at least Marvel's current situation, though what that indication is depends on which side of the divide you're on. Supporters of the book say it's high time American comics started treating death like it matters -- a sentiment you've suggested. Yet there are plenty of folks like me who think that if the only trick Marvel has up its sleeve to make comics relevant to new readers is that shock of death, then they've already failed as a creative endeavor.

I think you hit on a very important point earlier when you noted the lack of pleasure reading in general in the US. There's a thread on the Off-Topic board here which actually just asks whether people read books or not, and a lot of folks actually don't. Even I, holding a B.A. in English, rarely read these days, but I have found plenty of time for other entertainment (and am actually pursuing higher education in the video game medium, so that tells you something right there). For the comics industry -- as with any industry -- to survive, it needs to attract new readers. One way in which it is trying to do this is by branching into other popular media as a hook; we see a more aggressive push for Hollywood comic adaptations in the past five years than any real time before, and that trend is only expanding. Is it translating to higher sales? Who knows. It might be. It might not. I doubt it's converting non-fans into lifelong readers, at least not many. I think to an extent Avengers Arena is also part of this grab for new readers, its marketing and tone a clear reference to The Hunger Games franchise which has seen incredible popularity in books and films over the past year. While it's a pastiche of plenty of other stories, I think the tie to that particular franchise is the most important, and the one most relied on to pull in people who weren't already Marvel fans (or fans of the characters in the book, at the very least). However, while all of these things may contribute to brief spikes in interest, I think the overall trend will continue to be a decline so long as visual, and particularly video media remain the dominant form of entertainment media. Meanwhile, the stigma of comics being for children continues to pervade (I've had to explain that yes, I'm serious, I am just getting into comics at 23 years old to more than a few people), probably worse than it does with video games because at least that industry is clear in its marketing about making things explicitly for adults.

At any rate, this has been much longer than probably anyone will ever want to read, but to summarize how I think it might improve:

1. Accept that comics are not going to be the dominant form of entertainment media, and rather than using gimmicks for expanding the market find a way of making the existing market as high quality as possible. If done correctly, the overall product may be more attractive and attract some new readers by default. But if your product continues to suffer in quality, your current customers will lose interest and will be less likely to try to convert friends or relatives over to being part of the readership.

2. Make digital comics much cheaper (or make subscriptions more accessible/worthwhile), and compensate for the lack of physical product. This may entail moving past the aversion to piracy and actually selling files that your customers get to keep and not worry about vanishing when your service changes, is attacked, or dies.

3. Ramp up the incentive for physical comic purchases, beyond rare variants. This may include playing up the art angle (as has previously been mentioned). Tying back in to point one, the only comics that are really worth having physically are the ones which have transcendent and memorable stories which you value for their own sake, not as objects to be saved or sold. The better the comics are, the more people will feel compelled to have a long-lasting version to cherish, reread, and pass down.

4. Respect your readers. Independent creatives already have a good sense of this, as do many artists and writers working in the industry. But from a corporate standpoint it seems the actual wishes and desires of readers are often completely disregarded, as is evidenced by the great many choices and large-scale "events" which tarnish the better part of the last decade of comics publishing. One would presume, looking at the backlash against events like AvX, that the head honchos of these companies, particularly Marvel, are completely out of touch with their customers, and unless financial interests truly are at odds with the happiness of readers, that disconnect can only last so long before it causes the company to collapse under its own pretension.

5. "Embrace change" in a way that makes sense. There are a lot of absurdities about mainstream American comics, and a lot of inequalities, which frankly make the whole industry, to an outsider, look very backwards. From the blatant absence of women in the creative space to the gross overexaggeration and sexualization of most characters, but especially females, the whole thing gives off a rather chauvinistic aura. There are very few colored, disabled, or LGBTQ characters in comics; the ones who are in comics are either unimportant or completely blown out of proportion, which is hardly balance. Part of this issue stems from the fact that all the characters ever made have lived forever, so it becomes difficult to introduce new characters (from any of those other categories) without making a big deal about it and having to figure out an excuse for why, say, a deaf Native American lesbian is in a book instead of Wolverine (I totally made that up, by the way; there is almost definitely not an actual deaf Native American lesbian superhero...yet). It's important to note that I'm a straight-edge, almost hardcore conservative, and even I feel uncomfortable for how straight, white, and oversexed comics are.

There are probably lots of things I wanted to say but forgot to, but this has already been preposterous, so I'll stop talking now.

4 Comments

A Few Thoughts on Avengers Arena, Inspired by the Liu Podcast

I'd like to preface this by saying I don't have tunnel vision, and that I got a lot of good stuff out of the podcast (Even commented as such on the Podcast page). These were ancillary points onto which I've, unsurprisingly, latched, regarding Avengers Arena and its implications.

Given Liu's previous work on X-23 and Laura's current role in Hopeless' series, the subject of the book, and fan responses to it, came up. Liu and Tony agreed that it's best to just let the book play out and not to judge it prematurely. I appreciate why they and others say that; it's true, we don't know what the ultimate plan for the book or these characters is. But it seems to me that Hopeless has created a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario here. Fans of the characters will be upset if they die -- no matter how they die, and now matter how good the story gets. Fans of the book will be upset if they don't die, because the high stakes are the only thing keeping them interested.

Obviously there are a few exceptions on either side, but in general I think what I just said Is true. As a character fan, I'm judging the book because I believe Marvel cares more about the opinions of the people paying them for it than about the people who are not. Sure, I can't be positive the deaths are real, but I have plenty of reason to believe they will be. All the marketing, all the interviews, suggest this book means business. If it turns out to be one massive redirect, fine; as they say, "fool me once, shame on me." I'd rather be fooled into protesting than fooled into submission. So while I understand why they're saying to withhold judgment, I ultimately feel compelled to do otherwise.

Not much later in the podcast, when discussing Superior Spider-Man, a concept was brought up which I've seen said several times by various people, and prior to this by Arena's editor Bill Rosemann: that if people are having an emotional response to something, it must be doing something right. In an interview with CBR, Rosemann said "Art is supposed to push buttons and inspire an emotional response. If we're not striving to create true art each month, then why are we doing this?" He, and others, consider outrage like mine a badge of honor.

I honestly just don't understand how people come to such conclusions. They're indefensible. As this is an online forum, I'll go for the easiest example at hand: trolls. Trolls say things which get a rise out of people. They intentionally piss people off. They elicit an emotional response. And there are some people -- maybe even a lot of people -- who find trolling hilarious, and enjoy watching other people get trolled. You see them pull out the popcorn .gifs and say things like "this is going to be good." With Arena, the same people say "I'm just enjoying seeing these fanboys squirm."

The official stance on trolling, however, isn't that it's great, doing something right, or that it's an art worthy of praise. The official stance is prohibition, and the official punishment is, if the behavior isn't ended, banishment. We recognize that making people sad or angry isn't indicative of anything going right at all, even if others are deriving a very different, even pleasurable experience from it. It may well be that some great things produce negative emotions in people, but the emotions themselves are hardly a proof of good.

So I don't really understand why that line is tossed around so much (particularly as regards Arena) because it's simply not true.

A bit later on in the podcast the two discussed death in comics (obviously a rather relevant topic when it comes to Arena), and Liu, perhaps unknowingly, directly undermined the legitimacy of the entire book. She said she only really accepts death when it serves a greater purpose in the story -- and that it's cheap (Tony called it a stunt) when it's done just to galvanize another character or shape their behavior.

I think we can all agree that the latter is an exact description of what happened to Mettle in Issue #1. On a grander scheme, that's also true of any death in this book, because the only effect it can have is on the other participants in the book. I've said it before but I think Liu's comments really ground my point: beyond the isolated confines of Hopeless' book, these deaths have no impact on the rest of the Marvel universe at all. The only external effect they could hope to have is to piss off and galvanize S.H.I.E.L.D. or Wolverine or the like -- which still falls under the category of cheap death.

Liu talks a bit about what she'd love to have done with X-23 had her run continue -- pairing her up with Black Widow, among things. Whether you loved Liu's handling of Laura or not, I think it's rather infuriating that Marvel has writers actively interested in developing the character, and fans who really want to see that happen, and they are still considering killing that character off.

Liu's "rooting for her" to live, but let's face it: if it really is down to Hazmat and X-23, there's not a single person who believes that Hazmat wins that fight. From a storytelling perspective, it's once again a damned either way scenario: if Laura lives, it's too obvious; if Laura dies, it's cheap. About the only way around it is to say that Laura's victory is so obvious that making her lose would be too obvious, but at that point we're more convoluted than even I care to get.

Which, actually, makes it seem more likely that neither of the two dies, because then you'd be messing with both expectations. But I guess that's all besides the point: that Laura is in a death arena when there are creatives working at Marvel who want to be writing her. The idea that they are forced to sit around hoping for her survival like the rest of us, and that they may not get the opportunity to write her because Marvel decides to kill her off (even if only for a couple years) is just, well, as I said: infuriating.

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Question Exchange?

Hey, followers and lurkers. Eleven of you were crazy enough to sign up to see this. The rest are reading merely from morbid curiosity. That's cool, that's cool.

Anyhow, what say y'all to a bit of a "getting to know one another" deal? I've linked to my personal blog, and my image and avatar are both, well, actually me, so at the very least you know I'm a guy, and that I write way too much. You also know I hate Avengers Arena, I guess, and that I really, really like X-23. I don't know what else you may or may have picked up on without going so far as to read my "About Me," and even then, probably not a lot.

Point is, is there anything you'd like to know about me?

No? Cool.

Yes? Not so fast there, kiddos. This isn't going to be an "ask me" thread. I'll answer, sure, but here's the kicker: whatever question you ask, you must also answer about yourself. Because the real reason for this is that I want to get to know you better, but I'm just veiling that in narcissism. Don't tell anyone.

Or you could just tell me about yourself, if you're into that sort of thing.

Anyhow, I'll start, and hopefully you'll follow along so I don't look like an idiot (pretty please?):

What's your actual name? Adam Keith Bogert.

What's your name here all about? It's...it's my first two initials and my last name. A. K. Bogert. Nothing spectacular, but it works.

Do you exist elsewhere on the Internet? I've been known to tweet, tumble, read, and play, among things. I have a Facebook but I don't add people unless we actually know each other. That doesn't mean "IRL," per se, but it does mean we've had a few really meaningful conversations and I don't hate you.

What are you most excited about right now? I'll be starting graduate studies at The Ohio State University in August...where I'll be paid to study video games.

What are you least excited about right now? Having to wait six months until August. Also, Avengers Arena.

What's are you most afraid of? No one will respond to this. Just kidding. But when asked in Kingdom Hearts, I answered "Being indecisive," and that pretty much holds true all these years later.

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