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Thread: Comics Are For People #9 (Heroes Die, Legends Live Forever)

  1. MattGrant Guest

    Comics Are For People #9 (Heroes Die, Legends Live Forever)

    Well, I have to apologize to those who missed me last week (which was, y'know, everyone looking for a new CAFP column). I took an un-announced, un-expected week off. My humble apologies. With WonderCon (the big show of the Bay Area) coming up, I've been super busy trying to get everything I need to get squared away for that... So the column had to take a back seat.

    This week, I'm going to side-step the planned second part to my last column, "Seb-Culture" because over the last week, something interesting has happened that I think relates to what we examine here...

    While part of the message of CAFP is to convey the idea to non-readers that comics are not limited to any set of genres, its hard to deny the fact that, by and large, comics (in the US) are dominated by the genre typically stereotyped with the word "comic book." That's right, superheroes. Pretty much anyone who actively reads comics, superhero or not, probably started with a superhero books from at least one of two companies. The folks we like to refer to as "The Big Two." Marvel and DC.

    Most of you are saying, at the this point, "You're preaching to the converted, shut up and tell me to give a comic to a friend already." Okay okay... well, what I'm getting at is the fact that in all likelyhood, the way things are going at the current moment, the big two are who we have to depend on to get new readers into comics. This is why a lot of our discussions tend to revolve around, how their business models may changes, different ideas for getting Big Two comics into kids hands affordably, and what not. Right?

    Okay then. Well, as probably many of you noticed (if you pay attention to comics news, as I'm sure you do), both Marvel and DC had some high profile, big media blitz, draw in non-reader, hype books come out in the same week. One was a rousing success, and one a failure. I found this to be particularly interesting because these were both potentially good shots at pulling in new readers... so let's see what happened:

    The Success: Obama On the Cover of Spider-Man

    America has elected its first true-blue fanboy President (disregarding Reagan's affinity for Star Wars, that is). It's been pretty clear as far back as the campaign trail that creators have been tuned into this, with Alex Ross' popular painting, and Obama appearing on the cover of Savage Dragon (going into, what? 3rd and 4th prints), an issue in which Dragon endorsed Mr. Obama. Politics aside, this campaign, and Obama in particular, has really resonated with comics.

    So, it was only natch that once elected, he appear as President on the cover of a comic book, right? Well, despite some bickering between Erik Larsen and Steve Wacker, Marvel seems to have jumped on this opportunity by putting out an issue of Spider-Man featuring Obama on the cover. Marvel did a pretty good media blitz on it too (I know, just listening to the radio, I heard more than once about this particular comic).

    I went to the comic shop last weekend, mostly intent on getting the other book in question, and let me tell you (and also bear in mind my LCS is a record store/comic shop) there were signs plastered everywhere with a picture of the comic and stating that the book was sold out and that they were taking orders. Once in a great while there might be a note, where the comic usually sits, if the comic sells unusually well, but more typically, if it sells out, its up to me to figure that out and get an extra copy ordered. So the fact that there were signs plastered everywhere, really says something. It says that people who come into the store and don't even know where to find Spider-Man, were coming in inquiring about the book. As it is, I hear the book has gone back to print several times.

    As far as I'm concerned, this was a pretty rousing media success for Marvel. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the book was, well, sold out, I never got a chance to review it and see if they truly capitalized on this golden opportunity, or the was a one off gimmick to sell a lot of one book (let's hear what you think). The bottom line is, though, this is an example of Marvel really using outside media/publicity well, in order to draw in sales from "the outside."

    The Failure: Batman Dies

    I hate to say it, but here, I really think, is a really good example of the ball being dropped.

    If anyone was going to pull in lots of new readers over this last year, it should have been DC. They had a billion dollar selling Batman movie. Wait. I said a billion dollar selling Batman movie. Listen, with numbers like that, I think saying that more than just Batman comic book fans went to see the move would be the understatement of the century. This is what you call a dream set up. All DC had to do was have some really appealing Batman comics, probably ones that feature other DC characters to get folks interested in that too wouldn't hurt. We could have pulled in a lot of folks that way.

    But what was DC running during this time? Batman RIP.

    Whether or not you enjoyed this, its safe to say that this was not the kind of story a new reader, jazzed about Dark Knight, would immediately take to. RIP confused even some dedicated Batman readers, not to mention the folks who would picking this up wondering who the heck Damien is, or what Bat-Mite or the Batman of ArrKeeLaaan (or whatever) is all about.

    Even if no Batman movie had come out at the same time this ran, because of the selling point of the storyline, Batman possibly dying at the end, the storyline would have been sure to draw in some extra readers, just to see what it was all about. Unfortunately, at best, the comic was written specifically for comic book readers only.

    So then the hype was, Batman dies at the end. Well, I'm told this was hyped. I saw stuff in the normal comic book news channels, but outside of that I heard nothing. If you happened to miss the book, Batman falls out of helicopter into water and his body is never recovered. This was pretty much touted as his dead for about 5 minutes or so (real world time) before it was revealed that, okay, he wasn't dead, but he will die in Final Crisis #6.

    So now we're onto the supposed hype (once again, outside of normal comics news channels, I heard nothing) of "Batman is really dying this time."

    Let's pause for a minute and remember that the Death of Batman, particularly with the amplified interest in the character thanks to Dark Knight, could pretty much be a sure fire huge thing. The planets have aligned, and now is the time to capitalize on that perfect moment to seize tons of potential new readers... right?

    So after killing the shock by having a fake out death, where to they put the real death? Randomly in the middle of the second to last issue of a continuity heavy event mini-series. Let's not even go into the complications that Final Crisis itself has met, just try and picture in your mind, someone who has never read a comic book before, picking up Final Crisis #6 as their first comic. What would they think?

    Compare this to Superman #75, twenty two splash pages of Superman duking it out with Doomsday, who is a new character, but is pretty clearly defined as a 100% bad motor scooter, defeating him, and ultimately suffering the ultimate consequence. Epic, no? If I just started reading comics, I'd be impressed (though the format admittedly was atypical).

    Now look at Batman's death in Final Crisis #6. Three pages nestled in a comic that you pretty much need an encyclopedic knowledge of the DCU to appreciate. Batman pops literally out of no where and shoots Darksied (I admit, Darksied is cool, but layfolk don't know this, and he's certainly not from Batman's rogues gallery) saying something along the lines of "I got you!" Meanwhile Darksied shoots back with some beams from his eyes instantly killing him. Fight over. Couple pages later Superman shows up with Batman's corpse for a photo-op.

    I'm not bashing the book outright here, keep that in mind. Overall, I think the books are decent enough on their own, but as a huge opportunity to pull in potential new readers (even just from a business perspective), I think that some really poor choices were made with the overall handling of this thing. Ultimately, what should have been a huge occurrence, was watered down by the false first death. The media exposure that should have been capitalized on to draw folks into the books was missed. Finally, even if folks had been drawn in, I don't think they would have been hung onto because the actual even was lackluster and part of something a passive reader would never hope to understand/care about.

    Final Thoughts

    Hopefully, there's a lesson to be learned here. I don't know DC will ever have another film with the success of Dark Knight, in fact, most films will not have that kind of success, period. So, I think a pretty big opportunity was missed here, for DC.

    Good for Marvel for jumping on the Obama idea. Sure, it may not have initially been 100% their idea. In fact, I'm pretty certain (despite what either side may say) that they looked at the success of the Savage Dragon book and said, "Hey, we've got Spider-Man, we could sell even more!" So, good for them for doing it. Hopefully, some good comes of it.

    I hope I didn't come off as a downer on DC or bashing the Batman thing. This was truly from a CAFP perspective only. As most of you probably are aware, when it comes to the Big Two, I am most certainly a DC guy.

    ***By the way, I wrote much of this before having an opportunity to read Seb's great column, Seb-Standard, this week, which focuses the Obama Spider-Man issue - a good read, and I think our columns compliment each other nicely... without me even planning it! Go check it out!

    Next Week

    More than likely, I will be continuing the "Seb-Culture" column with part 2 of that.

    In the mean time, find a clear concise and GOOD comic book, and give it to a friend or a stranger!



    Matt Grant is a graphic designer and self-publishing comics and webcomics creator. His comic MastorisM can be read at and updates Tuesdays and Thursdays. A long time comics fanatic and advocate for the medium, Matt eats, sleeps, and breathes comics. Yes, that mean's he poops them too.

    Matt would love nothing more than to hear from fans, retailers, creators, and publishers that have anything relevant to contribute to his column. He believes that, only by working together, we can bring the comics medium to a wider deserving audience. Please feel free to email him at, private message him here, or harass him on the street! Matt does not claim to be an industry expert in any way shape or form, but rather an opinionated pundit on the sidelines.
    Attached Thumbnails FinalCrisis6.jpg  
    Last edited by MattGrant; Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 09:15 AM.

  2. StevenForbes Guest

    Nice work, Matt.

    And you're absolutely correct: DC dropped the ball on this.

    Comparing the two deaths is also apropos. The Death of Superman had meaning and weight. Sure, Doomsday came out of nowhere, but he ran through everyone and everything that stood in his way. He was set up to be shown he was a bad motor-scooter. The Batman death couldn't have lived up to that.

    Batman had another thing going against it, too. Don't forget, readers have gone down the path of a Wayne-less Batman before. Don't forget Knightfall, when Bane broke the back of the Bat. Essentially, DC is retreading common ground with all of this, which is why readers have a sense of ennui. Literally, it's already been done. We had Azreal as the Bat for what, six months?, before Bruce was on his quest to regain his cowl.

    So, yes, there was a great opportunity missed by DC with this. If it was an epic story, it would have been much better. Instead, they let Grant be Grant, and got a muddled "event" for their trouble.

    Morrison is a genius, no doubt, but he's hit or miss. I still contend that The Filth is either pure garbage, or it's too smart for me to fathom. I quite honestly don't know.

    I'd say that Marvel has been firing on all cylinders as of late. I'm talking the past few years. They've done a better job in revitalizing themselves than DC has. You may not have liked the stories, but you have to admit that for their universe, the landscape has dramatically changed. DC? Not so much.

    If prices were better, I wouldn't hesitate to start someone on just about any Marvel book right now. DC? Maybe the Green Lantern. That speaks volumes to me.

    DC needs to get on the stick in order to truly be Marvel's Distinguished Competition.

    Again, nice column.

  3. Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Post Thanks / Like

    Great minds think alike, Matt!

    I'm gonna post a link to my column on Obama in Comics here, and then post a link to your column there.
    We're having a team-up!
    Seb-Standard: Presidential Comics

    And, Yes. DC did drop the ball on the death of Batman.

    I'm gonna disagree with Forby a bit though, and say that while I agree with the sentiment of what he's saying, I DON'T think Marvel is really "firing on all cylinders of late."
    Yes, they've changed the the lanscape of the MU, but is it change for the better? Or change for the sake of change? Or, more realistically, change for the almighty $$$.
    House of M had little long term effects, most of which have been undone anyway. Civil War, World War Hulk, and Secret Invasion, all started up strong, but ended feeling rushed, incomplete, and weak. Marvel has some great individaul titles, but most of the events of late come too fast, one into another, and really, do very little other than to add more Avengers titles without giving any one group the adhesive or decisive feel of TRULEY being the avengers.
    Dark Reign, like the other events before it, is a great concept and is starting out fairly heavy, (even if yesterday's Mighty Avengers issue was 95% WTF moments) but at this point, my expectations for it's resolution are pretty low.

    And very few heroes in the MU right now actually seem heroic.

    Brubaker's Captain America is awesome. Avengers Initiative is the best Avengers title out there. Nova is a great book. X-factor is the thinking reader's mutant book.

    But on the whole, has the landscape of the MU been changed. Yes, much in the same fashion that once bountiful and fertile farming landscape is changed after a volcano. It's changed, but it's dark, burnt out, and desolate, with very little chance for regrowth.

    Am I saying the DCU is a paradise? Hell's no. The difference between the DCU clusterf*** and the MU clusterf***, is that a lot of the DCU just needs new direction. Many of the titles are like wayward sheep, that escaped from their pen. Someone just needs to round them up and get them headed in right direction again. The MU has direction. It's just a ONE-WAY street, though. And it follows that direction no matter what obstacles, dangers, and explosions get in it's way. It follows that direction right off a cliff, and smiles as uit crashes into the rocks below. It seems more like someone slaughtered the sheep, replaced a few with goats and pigs, and can't understand what happened to their wool industry.

    Or, maybe, I just like using obscure analogies and mixed metaphors.
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5

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