Yes, I’m a comic-book nerd. This week marks the second anniversary of the company-wide “New 52” reboot of DC Comics, which swept out the stables, so to speak, and began the old characters anew with an edgy, revised history, melding some of their Vertigo and WildStorm narratives to the one depicted in the main “Earth-1” timeline. Justice League, the “flagship” title of this reboot, assembled an all-star team of superheroes – including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg and Green Lantern – to thwart an alien invasion. So detailed was this origin story’s “narrative arc” that it required six monthly issues to relate the events of a single, apocalyptic night.
Fifty-one other monthly books immediately debuted; as time went on, some low-selling books were canceled to make room for new ones, totaling 52 titles per “wave”. Marvel Comics, coming off the humongous success of their super-team movie, The Avengers, have employed a similar mechanism, to restart their own line of books, starring Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye and the Hulk, as well as the X-Men. DC hopes to duplicate that film’s cinematic success, commencing its own blockbusters with this summer’s Man of Steel.
Sequential art, as a dramatic-storytelling tool, dates as far as twenty-five thousand years back in time, to those early cave paintings of “Dappled horses” in Peche Merle, France. Comic-book art, the widespread modern expression of same, isn’t nearly so long in the tooth; the “superhero era” dates back to 1938’s first issue of Action Comics. I suspect the original creators didn’t foresee their titanic creations still selling into the twenty-first century, let alone making hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office! One ironic problem of keeping these caped crime-fighters relevant to audiences is their very longevity as successful franchises, but that’s why you only see one story a month; comic book time is very different from the real kind – Marvel, for example, uses what appears to be a “sliding scale” to stretch their tales over years.
The cool thing about this reboot stuff is the chance to collect some of these books from the very first issue on. An editorial decision to engage in “world-building” (sometimes in a literal sense, given the science-fiction books in these franchises) can help tie in events from one book into those of others, lending them added realism. The drag is that certain books get cancelled just as they’re getting good, while other books, while being less involving to read, persist because of their success in the marketplace, because this is still a business. As a kid, I just liked it when my heroes would mop the floor with the baddies; I still enjoy them, but I also study how these books are written and edited, how “arcs” unfold over many months – all for professional reasons, of course! It’s light reading, but it’s heavy pop-cultural stuff, and of late, it’s a cash cow for these companies.
To be continued… in next month’s issue!
- Keeping up with the New 52 (nerdgeist.com)
- First Edition “The Avengers” Comic Book Destroyed for Art (tutupata.wordpress.com)
- Stripped: Grant Morrison – Dope, Chips, and Skewed Moralities (comicsbeat.com)
- Depression and Grief: when comic book series end (geekexaminer.com)