Wednesday, September 08, 2010

It was mere moments ago, (over on Twitter), that Editor Extraordinaire Tom Brevoort threw the digital doors open to the peasants and asked a question. THE question! A question so bold I feel the need to voice some disbelief at it's sincerity, at least in terms of the ire it means to invite.
In his double-post, Mr. Brevoort enquires, "What could Marvel be doing better? Where are we dropping the ball?" Elaborating, "Along those same lines, I feel a real ebb in the overall enthusiasm of the readers, not just Marvel's. So what's got you down on comics?"

Being the good Twit I am, I jumped to a response. One that was sincere, but vaguely phrased and tinged with the expectation of being ignored. Never the less, it's a timely question for me, as I find myself the most exhausted by the prospect of blogging about comics here on The Comic Book Fight Club, where business has been stagnant for a year.

The last couple of years have seen me join weekly readers for the most consistent period ever in my twenty-plus years of reading. I stick mostly to the classics, but have been veering wider week to week in my selections. Back issues represented in this blog's archives reveal a Marvel tendency, but there can be no denying that DC has dominated by readership over the last few years, to a point where I actually feel some contempt toward Marvel titles. Not a competitive or loyalist's ire, so much as a consumer's disatisfaction and a critic's disappointment.

In conjunction with a slide in creative direction, I've felt Marvel have willingly indulged in an antagonist's role, biting and sniping at a competition who've done so much similar, so much better.

I mentioned "banners" in my Twitter response to Mr. Brevoort, but wouldn't honestly blame the big picture storyarcs, or branding that's been a fond part of corporate comics for the last twenty years, for their jaded association. DC have stretched the limits of a comic book event/crossover further than ever before with their Blackest Night efforts, but their unprecedented extention was supported with a lot of genuine investment in ideas and story. For the past five years, I've seen Marvel seemingly follow DC trends, as if their basic cofiguration was license to bring back much of what was reviled from the nineties collectible boom and crossover fever. Shallow mirror images, with the same structural tendrils of one-shots and mini-series, without the soul or heart of their "Distinguished Competition".

"Where are we dropping the ball?," Mr. Brevoort asked.

An example jumps straight to mind: X-Men: Curse of the Mutants - Blade #1.

In the past, on this very blog, I've written about my fascination and frustration with the treatment of Blade in lieu of his cinematic successes. Never would I have expected that the character would provide such a succinct example of the types of things that have left me jaded about the Marvel Comics method.

This one-shot -- relating to the X-Men's latest vampire tryst in Curse of the Mutants -- was quite well illustrated, and probably written with good intentions that included some fun and interesting unexplored ideas, but surely must have looked like longform fluff, even at a script, or pitch stage.

It provides context for what I'm sure will be Blade's entry into the main story, but does so with a plot that could've been expressed in a four-page back-up feature, or even a paragraph of dialogue in whatever team-up will eventuate in the main book. It was a soulless one-shot that made little to no use of it's title character, elaborated very little on larger plot-points, and had no significant hook unto itself. It was exactly the kind of shallow one-shot that DC have done very well to avoid, in my experiences with their most recent event-branded comics.

I don't think anyone can rightly blame the format, or Marvel's willingness to print this book.
Mistakes are inevitable and it's this pulp manufcature of comic books that, for the most part, represents it's greatest attributes. I want Marvel to continue to experiment with unlikely ideas, and produce storylines that make use of their shared universe of characters. I just wish it was done with a more artful consideration for the characters, the storyarcs, and the consumer.

I enjoy the wide variety of influences that can direct a corporate comic book, but find myself, based on assumptions, wishing that the acting influences had more to do with concept and investment in building genuine intellectual properties. In the mid-nineties Marvel ran adverts boasting the quality of their characters. Sometimes, especially in the last five years, it's felt like Marvel is more whim to dividing it's time between drinking buddies, registered trademarks, and $3.99 fluff pieces. It feels like they ushered in a character-driven era that reimpowered the writer at the beginning of the decade, only to fail to sustain that savvy investment with the boost in sales and cross-media attention that followed.

Cases may vary, and Marvel have certainly done some things very right!
Amazing Spider-man became a must-read book with it's reinvention around #611, up until The Grim Hunt, proving that investment in classic characters and strong conceptual stories is a great way to go! New Avengers has had aspects of that energy, hanging characters on similarly well conceived arcs with the kind of colourful indulgence fitting of this era of modern comics. To be fair, even many of the recent Dark Reign issues proved Marvel is capable of making good on "banner" ideas, even if it's Siege conclusion was thoroughly underwhelming!

Articulating the good and bad isn't always easy, and in itself is a personalized endeavour, but if Tom Brevoort is asking these questions with a genuine desire to seek answers, I'm happy to try to contribute! Twenty-plus years of faithful readership has given me a wonderful passion for the world of serialized fiction. I think comic books have the greatest potential of all entertainment mediums, with so many unique attributes and talents. Introspection is just one of them!

I'm sure Tom Brevoort wouldn't say no to your replies, but if you're reading this and have thoughts of your own, I'd be interested to hear them to! Comments are free.