At the end of every year Carla Hoffman and Tom Bondurant exchange emails about the fortunes of the Big Two. Look for Part 2 on Wednesday!
Carla: Here we are, heading toward the year the Mayan calendar might not have thought would ever come: 2013. The future gets closer and closer! Technology advances! Politics change! And yet, comic books are still here. How cool is that? It’s been a heck of a year, full of ups and downs, movie premieres, new #1 issues and the never-ending race to produce better, faster comics.
I have to admit, Image has been doing a really great job keeping up with the Big Two, producing award-winning books in a variety of formats and getting involved in TV to draw new readers into a wide array of comic book genres. But we’re not here to talk about them! We’re here for the greatest shows in town, the Merry Marvel Marching Society and ... our Distinguished Competitors.
My first question is kind of a no-brainer: How’s the New 52 treating you these days? And, after a year, is it still the “New 52"?
Tom: Well, as a practical matter, it’s the “New 52" for as long as DC wants it to be. Actually, I think I have stopped seeing that little blurb on the covers. I happened to look at Aquaman #15 yesterday, kind of out of the corner of my eye, and was surprised it was there. Part of me thinks that it could confuse those hypothetical new readers, but then I thought that about “Earth One,” and that doesn’t seem to have hurt those books.
In terms of how it’s treating me ... again, by now I’m used to it. I don’t think it’s going to be Heroes Reborn, in the sense that it’ll be rolled back fairly soon. I still get about 60 percent of the 52, but I’m a little disappointed that there’s not more diversity. In general not much has changed for me -- I get what I like, and drop what I don’t.
Carla: But is there still hope that this might all be leading up to some great big event or multiverse or act of God and Editorial that might add in that diversity again? Or is this, as they say, is it? At least until there’s some radial changes over in management ...
Tom: Yeah, I guess I still have some thoughts in that direction. There are always escape hatches, including the big cosmic forces coming up in Trinity War. There are little things, too, like Superman’s red briefs. However, it all comes down to who’s in charge. A good bit of the New 52 seems to have worked right from the start -- from Batman, The Flash and Wonder Woman to Demon Knights, Animal Man and Justice League Dark -- but then you have high-profile books like Superman and Green Arrow that are still looking for a consistent creative team. And then you have things like Gail Simone’s “temporary firing.” Sometimes I think all DC needs is to make Mark Waid an offer he can’t refuse, but then I realize it’d have to be one heck of an offer.
Carla: Ha! Hand to God, when Marvel wasn’t doing well and I had my issues with Joe Quesada, I would think to myself the same thing: Maybe we’ll get Mark Waid in charge when Quesada is gone! I love it. Deep down inside, Waid’s a superhero.
2012 is for sure going to go down as the Year of Comics Film. The Dark Knight Rises ended a very mature trilogy, full of gravitas that gave Batman a new look and feel for the new millennium. It has to be said that Christopher Nolan, love ‘im or hate ‘im, has changed a lot of people’s minds on what a superhero movie can accomplish as far as Oscar-caliber performances and a more intellectual draw. Oh, and there’s the fact that Marvel’s The Avengers made more money than God and set the bar for nearly every superhero action film to come after it. HIGH FIVE!
Tom: I will gladly high-five you on The Avengers!
Tom: However, I wonder if Marvel/Disney/Paramount can live up to those expectations. (DKR didn’t quite match the level of moolah earned by its billion-dollar predecessor.)
Carla: OK, I’ll give you that. Honestly, expecting another Dark Knight (non-rising variety) was nearly impossible, considering how much “lightning in a bottle” that movie was, from acting to storytelling to genre-shaking. Over on this side of the fence? I think Avengers can certainly be duplicated because of how simple the things that made it successful were. It had a very Marvel feel in storytelling, so that what we enjoy on the screen seems at least related to what we’re seeing on screen. I mean, I could write a novel on all the wonderful things that made the Avengers successful, but at the heart, I think a storytelling style that actually hearkens back to the comics it was inspired by means a lot to its success. It’s why I liked the first and second X-Men and Spider-Man movies: they came from the same heartbeat as their comic counterparts. For some, that movie made comics real.
Tom: Well, specifically, I wonder how successful Marvel has been at creating a “Marvel Movie Universe” brand that will bring people reliably to the theater, almost regardless of subject.
Carla: The answer to that musing lies directly with the upcoming Ant-Man film. If that’s a success, Marvel can sell ice to Eskimos.
Tom: I thought Guardians of the Galaxy was up next. That to me will be the real test. (Although I can’t wait to see Whedon’s take on the winsome Wasp!)
Carla: As someone who had to watch Jan’s grotesque deaths in the same month, I’m ... wary. But Whedon’s a good man to have on your side for your super-powered heroines. And you’re right, Guardians is due out in 2014, but that’s just money. If you put an alien tree prince and a gun-toting raccoon hero in space, that’s a guaranteed hit!
OK, seriously, a space adventure is a lot easier to sell to the public than a guy who shrinks small. Trust me, Ant-Man is the Marvel movie to watch.
Tom: Also, I have to think this puts the comics themselves in even more of a corner, almost as afterthoughts to the movies instead of equally valid stories.
Carla: See? That’s where I disagree. Getting a Batman comic for someone who liked The Dark Knight Rises was hard. Who’s Bane? What’s his deal? I can give them Knightfall, but let’s face it: That book is super ‘90s. People who wanted to start at the beginning and got that book didn’t have a high return rate. However, I can give someone a variety of Avengers books by Bendis and, thematically, it will have the same vibe. No one’s really asking me for books about the Chitauri and if they wanted a book on Thanos (thanks, credits teaser!), then The Infinity Gauntlet carries a lot of the action-focused, big spectacle that the movie prepared audiences for. I think movies can still be a great way to lure people into the comic shops, it just has to fit.
Tom: And I noticed you didn’t mention Amazing Spider-Man among the superhero movies. I saw it, and it was OK-to-decent, but it seemed a bit superfluous.
Carla: I had my Spider-Man movies. Nothing against Mr. Garfield or the lovely Emma Stone, I’m just not their target audience. I’ll get around to seeing it when I can find a pack of young people to blend in with.
How’s your digital comics collection coming? I’ve noticed an odd thing this year in the fact that I have one. Looking over my comiXology and Marvel accounts, I’m surprised by how many I have. Ask me a year ago and I was still dragging my feet on the whole Digital Revolution, but I’ll be damned if Mark Waid didn’t sell me on the whole thing at last year’s WonderCon and the introduction of the Infinity Comic. Next thing you know, they were giving away free digital copies with every $3.99 and up comic and here we are. Has DC enticed you to buy a tablet yet?
Tom: The answer to the last is no. I stare at a computer for at least nine hours a day as it is, and I’m not ready to make that move just yet. However, I appreciate the convenience of comiXology, and I have been reading Bandette and Edison Rex on my iPod. Basically, if it’s a situation where I MUST READ something and can’t get to a comics shop (i.e., Amazing Spider-Man #698, read digitally on the way out the door for Thanksgiving), I’ll do it. As for the Superboy chapter of H’El On Earth, which I forgot to get before the LCS sold out, I’ll depend on the shop to get me a copy. In short, I’ll probably be wedded to print for a while, but I’m not shunning good comics just because they’re not on paper.
Carla: Heaven forbid I give up on paper! That’s my bread and butter we’re talking about! My long boxes are stacked with care and ... OK, they’re not organized, but they are mine and I would never part with them. On the other hand, I have digital comics. I have more than two. I have ... a lot. Mostly thanks to free codes, but I have more digital comics that I ever thought I would own. I went from a begrudging acceptance to buying a tablet so I could have digital comics. Mark Waid is an incredible pitchman.
I think what changed was that that digital comics could be more than what print comics could be. Just as print can be more than digital (portable, sharable, rise in value, be accessed without power), digital can change the way we interact with comics. I’m not sure if you caught the little Infinity Comics at the end of the Avengers vs. X-Men arc, but they are amazing to read and use. Just as I can love a blockbuster movie and comics at the same time, I can love a digital copy for what it brings to the table and still enjoy all my long boxes. However, the Marvel AR still needs some work. It’s fun, but man, getting that little code to scan sometimes is a pain!
Tom: A while back Brian Hibbs seemed to say that the lowest-selling Marvel and DC books -- the ones that hovered around or below 30,000 copies -- were pretty close to being losing propositions for both publishers and retailers. At one point he says, “if I can barely sell 5 copies of a book, why should I order a sixth?” With that in mind, what are the Big Two books you wish sold more?
Carla: At my store, I have to admit that Marvel’s selling quite well. I can see a few titles that might not make it into the double digit range (I’m worried about you, X-Men Legacy!), but they are few and far between for my humble little shop. The new Spider-Man title might be in danger, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
DC, on the other hand, oy. I wish Worlds’ Finest sold better, because it’s a fun book that leans back toward the old DCU in new clothes. I wish Batwing sold better so I didn’t feel so guilty when I didn’t pick up a copy. I think Green Arrow could be better just in general. It’s hard to say. How about you? Any red flags on Marvel or DC titles that I’m not seeing?
Tom: Firestorm, probably; and maybe Dial H, Demon Knights or I, Vampire. I’m surprised the DC Universe Presents anthology is doing as well as it is (which isn’t great, but still). Of course, I don’t want to jinx any of these books by saying I think they’re in trouble. ...
Carla: Exactly. No one wants to speak ill of the infirm, right?
Tom: How’s Marvel NOW! -- which, I have to say, I always hear in those hushed Jedi-mind-trick tones, as in “You will take me to Marvel Now...” -- treating you?
Carla: Marvel NOW! has been very, very good to me. We’ve had to allay a lot of fears, we’ve had to explain the difference between a reboot and a renumbering (we called it a “refresh”!). It’s had some trepidation, but this soon into the lineup (remember now, we have until around February until all the books are on the shelves), I’d say it’s a success. Poor Captain America by Rick Remender has had some big shoes to fill, and boy, howdy, I cannot stand Greg Land’s art on Iron Man, but these are all fixable issues. Any quibbles I have, time and adjustment can fix. No one’s running in to gobble up all the new #1s like when the New 52 hit the shelves, but current fans have remained and people seem happy.
Well, and then there’s Superior Spider-Man.
Tom: That reminds me -- a few of the new books seem to have their own built-in expiration dates. Fantastic Four can keep going after they get back from their trip, but FF will need a bit more justification. Likewise, you’d expect the ‘60s X-Men to return to their own time at some point; and of course Amazing Spider-Man will be back eventually. What’s the over/under on Marvel NOW! looking like Marvel-That-Was?
Carla: Ah, that’s the beauty. They already look like the Marvel THEN! It’s brilliant! Nothing between now (NOW!) and before has changed outside of storylines. And we both know storylines aren’t forever. Steve Rogers is still Steve Rogers, Ed Brubaker is just taking a well-deserved rest from the title he made into a hit. Writers and artists have changed, but not the characters, their ages or their essential motivations. Tony Stark just wants to branch out a bit. The X-Men are desperate and have new house guests. Cable’s alive. These are all things that might have happened under the old guard and at any point, a new writer or artists could pick up the ball and make it NOW-er. This might be hard to take, but I get to have my “reboot” and all my old friends.
Yeah. I think we did one better.
Tom: See, again, I think DC is screwed either way. Either its history is too impenetrable or it reboots too often. That’s why I think the New 52 is here for the long haul -- otherwise, the backlash from the rollback would be swift and brutal.
Carla: Would it, though? Public consciousness knows who Superman is (each in their own way). I think fans might groan, but if they went with them on this ride, why drop it now when they’d return to a state they’re more familiar with. Crisis on Infinite Earths. The Multiverse. Flashback issues. There’s got to be a way for new fans and old fans to feel comfortable and refreshed at the same time. Heck, look at the Ultimate universe over here! They went through a major war, Captain America is president, mutants live on reservations, Peter Parker died (for realsies), that universe is drastically different than the ol’ 616. And when people want change and try something new with the characters they love, it’s there to reach for. However, if you want to read ... gosh, I always use Peter Parker as the example for this and recent events have really ruined that one for me. Hrm. Well, if you want to read about mutants evolving through ages of storytelling that readers are familiar with, there, we have that too. I’m just saying.
Tom: The problem with the New 52 is that the main line now feels kinda Ultimate, you know? I think the frustration is that there’s no real alternative. You can always treat problematic continuity like the crazy uncle who lives out in the boonies -- occasionally you visit, even if you spend a lot of time rolling your eyes. Take the Doc Ock/Aunt May elements of this last ASM story. Surely not every Doc Ock story mentions their history, but it’s still there when a writer needs it. If you ignore arcs like Electro-Supes or that time the Russians rebuilt Cyborg, that’s one thing -- but if you run actively away from it, that might come back to haunt you. And I say that as someone who’s suggested rolling back the status quo to somewhere around 1978.
Eventually, it comes down to a fight over details, which can very easily miss the point. On some level, the relaunches of the mid-1980s were successful because they felt authentic. That’s really what the New 52 needs -- not to aim for some degree of “new” or “old.”