Pipeline2, Issue #158


As always, all bits taken from Rich Johnston's LYING IN THE GUTTERS column should be taken with a heavy duty grain of kosher salt. It's provided for entertainment and blah blah blah. Until it's right. When it's right, it's breaking news.

In any case, it provides plenty of fodder for conversation, making it one of the most talked about columns of the on-line comics world. It's nice to step away from the constant stream of reviews in this column every once in a while, so I'm here to discuss some of Rich's talking points from earlier this week. Please read along with his column when you read this. He gets hits. I get hits. CBR as a whole gets hits. Who doesn't walk away happy from that?

1. The Ultimatization of the Marvel Universe. I like to think that as I get older, I let go of some of the attachments I've formed with my past. I'm actually at the point right now where I'm ready to part with a large chunk of my comics collection. It's just stuff taking up space. The odds of me ever looking at some of this stuff again, let alone re-reading it, are miniscule. I can get my nostalgia kicks in new forms today, such as TRANSFORMERS and G.I. JOE comics. I can even pick up both of those books in a nicer format with reprint volumes.

Then there are the books I own two and three times over: monthly issues, trade paperback, hardcover.

I'm ready to part with the past.

I love the Ultimate Universe. I think it's a great approach to the characters and a brilliant idea for a line of comics. ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN is in the top tier of comics that I read right now, always right at the top of the reading pile when I get home from the comics shop on Wednesdays. ULTIMATE X-MEN has, likewise, done some very nice stuff and THE ULTIMATES is the best-looking book Marvel has.

But is it a good idea to turn the entire Marvel Universe over to the Ultimate format? Put aside all financial reasons for it, such as distribution and discounting and outside markets. Is this creatively a direction Marvel should take?

It's not without precedent, really. How different would this be from what DC did with CRISIS, and to a much lesser extent, ZERO HOUR? It allows all of their books to revise the old continuity, modernize it to appeal to today's audience of all ages, and start fresh. Would this be such a bad idea? The shared Marvel Universe is going on 40 years old now. Can that be sustained forever? Has time finally caught up to it? Has the raft of previous stories been so overloaded that it's threatening to sink itself, or choke its paddlers?

Or are all these things the worries of ninnies and uncreative writing types who don't have it in them to be creative with the rich heritage that they've got? Are the writers who feel that the X-Men continuity is too tangled to deal with just making up excuses? Can't the old trick of ignoring whatever you want to at the risk of ticking off a minor fraction of your audience, still work?

I'm caught in the middle right now. And I'm leaning against the concept of this Marvel Crisis, whether it happens or not. (I feel the need to emphasize this frequently -- it's only a rumor. I talk about it because it's interesting to discuss these "What If?" situations. Please don't bombard me with e-mails asking for more details. I know no more than the rest of you.)

If Ultimatization does happen, it won't at all affect my love for the stories I've read in the past ten years. They'll always be there. No big deal. I'd just get to start fresh with new, but familiar, characters. However, it seems like such an easy way out. It's a cheat. It's a way around the harder issues. And, yes, it will disrupt a certain amount of the connection that today's readers feel with the Marvel Universe. Let's face it -- we don't have a heck of a lot of new faces reading comics today. Those that do often feel an attachment to the characters they've grown up on or have become familiar with in recent years. If the comics fanbase was one that grew up on super-heroes and eventually transferred its interests to other genres, it wouldn't be a big deal. The new kids would get the new continuity, and everyone else would start picking up Vertigo and MAX and Fantagraphics titles.

That's not the way it works, however. For some, it's the dream. For some, it's a new religion. (Oddly enough, they're often the same people who so freely and openly like to decry religion, but that's a whole 'nother discussion…) I have no problem with adults enjoying superhero books. There's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with adults who collect only superhero comics. I think there is something wrong with the fact that the industry is so universally mono-faceted in that regard. In reality, though, that's where most of the readership lies, and doing something like Ultimatization is a very risky gamble. You don't want to tick off that large a portion of your fanbase. The comics industry isn't big enough for Marvel to buckle under that kind of controversy.

On the other hand, those same fans are a cornered crowd. Where else can they go for their Spider-man fix? Nowhere. Aside from reprints and back issue bins, they're dependent on Marvel. And they'll adapt if forced to. Of course they would grumble. What don't they grumble about? In the end, though, I don't think it would be enough to force them out of the market.

There's just enough nostalgia and appreciation for what's come before that I'm not so willing to throw the entire thing out the window and start over. I'm open to the idea, but I'd rather Marvel didn't do it.

Of course, they may not have to. Marvel writers are so gung ho about changing the status quo of every book these days that rebooting the universe is already happening very slowly. Half the Marvel heroes have taken off their masks in the past six months, it seems. The other half have been "rethought" in some major way or another. The characters are practically living in an Ultimate Marvel Universe already. So what's the point?

2. Bryan Hitch's explanation for his lateness on THE ULTIMATES #5 is just another example for me that I read way too many comic books. It barely even registered for me that the book was late. I read so many books each week that there's always enough to keep me busy and then some. Many titles I fall two or three months' behind on before catching up. When a book is a week or three late, I rarely notice. (Books like DARK KNIGHT 2 are easy to notice since they're so high profile.)

If you notice I haven't talked about a certain book in a long time, it's a very real possibility that this is the reason. It's also possible that I just don't have much to say about it. I've said as much as I can, and anything else would be repetitious.

In other news, I'm very happy to see that the final printed product of that issue had the correct coloring in it. It's much brighter and bolder than the First Look previews that comic shops got last week.

3. Marvel's upcoming EDEN's TRAIL title. Yes, it sounds like a CrossGen-inspired riff. That's fine. Whatever makes them happy. I'll just be reading it because it features the return of Marvelscope. Although it appeared late last year for a number of Marvel annuals, the format has been all but forgotten in recent months. To see an upcoming mini-series planned for in the format is exciting. I was afraid it had been forgotten. I didn't read the ICEMAN mini-series, but I remember liking what little of Steve Uy's art I saw. Keep your fingers crossed.

4. The madness of more 80s comic titles returning. Yes, 80s nostalgia has gone too far. Don't get me wrong; I'm a proud Child of the 1980s. I can sit here and hum the theme song to the Pac-Man cartoon without taking a split second to think about it. It seems to me now, though, that the publishers have lost the forest for the trees. They want to gobble up any 80s property that they can get their hands on. G.I. JOE and THE TRANSFORMERS were the Big Two. They're gone. We don't need ZELDA and THUNDERCATS and MICRONAUTS and BATTLE OF THE PLANETS (ugh). I mean, ZELDA?!? Yeesh

It's not like this isn't a pattern we haven't seen repeated endlessly across all media, but it does appear poised to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. I'm even starting to join the chorus of people yelling at creators to create something new.

5. More Kyle Baker books. I'm very happy. Folks, when THE COWBOY WALLY show reappears, put it on your Must Buy list. It's one of the funniest things I've ever read in comics. The potential sequel is also exciting. You can't claim Baker's just cashing in on the original's popularity. Although the original book is the stuff of rec.arts.comics.* legend and has enjoyed two or three different printings, it's never been a barn burner.

Belated thanks to the gang at Dewey's Comic City (in beautiful downtown Madison, NJ) for the assist on reading material for last Tuesday's column.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 400 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.

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