Civil War Between a Rebirth of Hope and the Future of Superheroes

On Wednesday, the latest issue of "PREVIEWS," the catalog showing all the comic books published by Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc., providing images and information on books that will be released two to two and a half months in the future. Comic book store retailers use it to order books, and fans buy the book to help them make decisions on future purchases.

The May 2016 issue, for books coming out in July 2016, showed a large number of titles for Marvel and DC Comics, the big events for both publishers being "Civil War II" and "Rebirth," respectively.

In looking at DC Comics' "Rebirth" Month Two, I noticed forward development of stories for their various Batman and Superman titles, including the premiere of "New Super-Man" #1, written by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Victor Bogdanovic, which brings a Chinese Superman into the company's mythology.

"New Super-Man" is one of the only four titles I'm looking forward to in the publisher's upcoming lineup. The same goes for "Deathstroke," the mercenary series with a creative team led by writer Christopher Priest and illustrated by Carlo Pagulayan, Igor Vitorino and Felipe Watanabe, as well as the new "Cyborg" series by John Semper, Will Conrad and Paul Pelletier. Unfortunately, neither "Deathstroke" nor "Cyborg" will be available within the first two months of the "Rebirth" relaunch.

Sometimes, being a purchaser of works done by writers of color requires patience. It can take a while before any given comic book publisher will hire writers of color, most notably Black writers, to tackle their monthly books. In this case, I'll have to wait until at least month three of "Rebirth" to put my support behind Priest and Semper.

On the other side of the equation, Marvel Comics' "Civil War II" storyline, and other titles, allows me the opportunity to support Black writers in July. The second issue of the "Civil War II: Choosing Sides" miniseries will be co-written by Brandon Thomas. "Power Man and Iron Fist" #6 is written by ongoing series scribe David Walker, who is also writing the new series "Nighthawk" ongoing series which will release its third issue in July. There's also another issue of the recently launched "Black Panther" series by author Ta-Nehisi Coates, illustrator Brian Stelfreeze and color artist Laura Martin.

So that's four for Marvel and zero for DC.

On top of that, it's generally becoming more and more difficult to be a weekly purchaser of monthly superhero comics from the two major publishers. Every relaunch reduces the company's inertia, and our faith in their ability to captivate and surprise us. Every event is a time investment, a guessing game in how many books you need to buy to get the meaningful parts of the story. Every new issue of a comic book bursts out the gate with fury and promise, and you hope against hope that it will not whimper and collapse before reaching the finish line.

The superhero genre is mostly dominated by Marvel and DC Comics, but paradoxically enough both of them must engage in dizzying acts of marketing, theatrics and regurgitation to maintain a desirable level of the market share. How long can that be maintained? You'll know the answer when you hear about another event or initiative, an indicator that sales are diminishing near unacceptable levels and require a shot in the arm with radioactive materials.

There is another option, another source for new ideas. Everywhere else. Maybe superheroes are the future, but not in the way most people view them or see them in blockbuster films and television shows. Maybe the "superhero" is not-so-slowly becoming dated, because all we need are heroes, and this is a time in which more stories of heroes are being created and produced, by creators of color.

This is the time of "Monstress," the Image Comics series written by Marjorie Liu and illustrated by Sana Takeda.

These are the days of "The Pack," the Egyptian werewolf saga created, written and illustrated by Paul Louise-Julie, with his next saga, the science-fiction series "Yohance," on deck.

We're living with our eyes looking at the "Horizon," a new science-fiction series led by writer Brandon Thomas and artist Juan Gedeon, published by Skybound Entertainment.

Comics are going "Postal," in the monthly Top Cow Productions series created by Matt Hawkins, written by Bryan Edward Hill and illustrated by Isaac Goodhart and Betsy Gonia.

Publishers such as Rosarium Publishing are operating in the same crowdfunding space as "Tuskeegee Heirs" creators Greg Burnham and Marcus Williams, utilizing Indiegogo and Kickstarter to acquire the means to create non-typical stories. Stories with characters of color, produced by creators of color.

The list of diverse creators, diverse heroes, works of quality produced outside of the Marvel/DC box, is much longer and more wildly imaginative than most of the ideas in the box. Some of those people and books make it to the pages of "PREVIEWS." Others don't. It may require more effort to find them.

The next time you're let down by the Big 2 publishers, think about how much effort it's worth to get the kind of stories you want, the kind of heroes you want. Next time you go to the comic book store after being let down, once again, go on the hunt for something else. We know publishing companies owned by corporations can only go so far with their ideas, their execution, their capacity to push the envelope and go to the dangerous places. With everyone else, there are no limits.

Joseph Phillip Illidge is a public speaker on the subjects of race, comics and the corporate politics of diversity. In addition to his coverage by The New York Times, CNN Money, the BBC and Publishers Weekly, Joseph has been a speaker at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Digital Book World's forum, Digitize Your Career: Marketing and Editing 2.0, Skidmore College, The School of Visual Arts, Purdue University, on the panel "Diversity in Comics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexual Orientation in American Comic Books" and at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in New York City.

Joseph is the Head Writer for Verge Entertainment. Verge has developed an extensive library of intellectual properties for live-action and animated television and film, video games, graphic novels and web-based entertainment.

His graphic novel project, "The Ren," about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war, will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan.

Joseph's newest comic book project is the upcoming Scout Comics miniseries "Solarman," a revamp of a teenage superhero originally written by Stan Lee.

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