Monday, August 8, 2011

Innovation Must Be A Dirty Word

Why is it that innovation seems to be making a book yet another number one issue?
Marvel’s Big Guns promotion was yet another #1 issue of Moon Knight, Daredevil and The Punisher. Moon Knight’s first appearance was in 1975 – 36 years ago. Punisher is from 1974, so he is only one year older then Moon Knight at 37. Daredevil is from 1964 making him the old man of the group at 47 years old. After hundreds and thousands of stories about these characters Marvel pulled out all the stops and decided to re-launch each one of these heroes - AGAIN. Now from a pure professional story telling bit each book managed to find a new twist and take on the character or at least do a twist that is so old most people have forgotten about it. Moon Knight is so crazy he now talks to Spider-Man, Wolverine and Captain America. He even pretends to be them. That’s really crazy. Daredevil is actually going around happy and there is sunlight in his book, which has not been seen since before Frank Miller did Daredevil. The Punisher is the mysterious guy in the background taking out the bad guys. His obsessive mission is not the focus of the story. All three books are well done and if you like Bendis, all three books are enjoyable, but where is the real innovation. 

The illusion of change is not change, which is why all of these characters are so damn stale. DC is doing it on a massive scale with the new 52 first issues coming out in September. Heck they had the chance to really be daring and instead we are getting Oliver Queen as Green Arrow, Carter Hall as Hawkman, Barbara Gordon as Batgirl and the beat goes on. Oh they are mixing it up with some convoluted continuity changes so half the heroes are younger. Just on solicitations alone I’m confused as it sounds like Ollie is just getting started as a hero, but Speedy is already a bad guy running around with Red Hood. My head hurts trying to figure out that convoluted crap. I’m sure many of the books will be well done with some of the creators lined up it is a guarantee, but this Hail Mary missed the target already because it was way too tame. 

Innovation would be taking these characters to places they have never been before. Hell DC had it right with Connor Hawke being the new Green Arrow but chickened out and went back to Ollie as Green Arrow. When Marvel started characters aged and things happened. When DC believed in the legacy idea they aged some of their heroes and started the next generation of people as Flash, GL and Green Arrow. Heck the recent ending of Bruce Wayne as Batman was a welcome circumstance for me.
Comics have no reason to be locked into anything. The sales suck so bad that we have been circling the drain for years. The direct market insures that we have an insular little club with diminished sales. Retailers can’t gamble because they own every book they order. Marvel over publishes to squeeze out any real challenges to their dominance and look at some of the independent books as their minor leagues. 

The Ultimate Universe took a step in the right direction with Miles Morales. Now the fact that he is just 13, from what I read, is my biggest issue, but a half black / half Hispanic Spider-Man is all of sudden more interesting. Plus by doing it this way the history of Peter Parker remains “real” we just get to move forward. Our anticipation of how a character will react is something we no longer can rely on. These are the type of chances you have to make in order to keep the books fresh. When sales slow down after the hype from the change has worn off it has more to do with the writing then the character. Snyder’s Dick Grayson Batman was great, his Batman will probably be great, but now it is Bruce Wayne and I’m bored going in.
I was reading the latest issue of Wolverine as he goes to fight the Red Right Hand or whatever. They are sending bad guy after bad guy to fight him. For three issues he faces a bad guy, gets cut up, beats bad guy and heals and moves on. The book is called Wolverine, what is the danger to him, they had issues where his healing factor allowed him to come back from nothing but bones or less, what crap. If you want innovation, what about what happens when you chop off Wolverine’s ear, how come the ear doesn’t turn into another Wolverine? Where is the danger, where is the compelling narrative. 

Have Bruce get old, Superman loses an eye, Iron Man dies, Blue Beetle kills a villain, Punisher gets killed and someone new picks up the mission, something, anything to get the feeling back that anything can happen. It is why Walking Dead usually works, who the hell knows what happens next. Breaking Bad (AMC) is cool because I don’t know where we are going.
Most of what passes for innovation is sloppy time jumps that kill the narrative flow of a story (Nick Spencer) or drawn out lengthy mega stories that are suppose to wow with cool ideas, but never get to the point (Jonathan Hickman) or just tired lame ass stories I have seen a thousand times before (JT Krul) or writing to get to next event (Geoff Johns) or the other super obtuse stories that are written for the writer and one other person who gets it (Alan Moore). 

If you build it they will come. If you deliver good stories it may take awhile but you can build an audience. I have loaned out Locke and Key, Criminal, Echo, Izombie, Killer, American Vampire, Detective and other books and gotten people interested in comics, but you need to move the narrative forward and it doesn’t hurt to have an ending (see Harry Potter).

Finally let’s talk digital comics – how boring to publish the same thing as the book for the same price for about a month. The real book I get to read and collect or in my case send onto someone else. The digital book I get to read and worry what happens when I need a new iPad and where does my collection go then. Make the digital books different. When I read a book on Kindle I can look up a word right from the Kindle, when I read a digital comic I get the same book as the published edition with what? If nothing else, for regular books at least have links to character bios online, heck why not show the script with every book or show the art as uncolored and colored. For collected and high end editions have an audio track with the creators talking about the book as you page through it. This stuff only scratches the surface, but make people want to buy the product because it is different and exciting and something new. Not just the some old stale comics they outgrew 20 years ago. Captivate the youth who will want to make this a habit forever. 

Innovation is not a four letter word and it is not the number 1. Bottom line; tell good stories, but keep us coming book for more. When that story ends have some others for us to read, but let them end it is more exciting. 

Comics suck because they lack innovation or real chance taking with their characters.

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