Monday, 14 June 2010
Despite these shaky economic times and competition from other media, it's a great time to be into comics. A wide varirty of new material is being published, the best older comics and comic strips are being republished alongside collections of the most current fare and the mainstream are finally taking (still slightly condescending) notice of the medium. So why is the US powerhouse Marvel currently so crap?
Seriously, I was brought up with Marvel comics but I can't remember the last Marvel issue bought, much less collected. The characters I grew up with have been so mishandled that I can't identify with them anymore and there have been no successful major characters since the 1970s (actually, that's not quite true: last month there were SEVEN Deadpol titles solicited--who the hell likes Deadpool THAT much?!), so the former House of Ideas are constantly dipping into the same dwindling reserve of characters for inspiration. How many times has Moon Knight been launched and failed? A cool looking visual design does not get away from the fact that he's apretty dull character but a handful of creators seem to love him and want to give him a shot before inevitably failing to find an audience (DC's New Gods suffer a similar process).
Marvel now seem to launch titles and then unceremoniously drop titles from the solicitations with no Final Issue note: are Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy, Runaways and Spider-woman still going, for instance? Who cares what the hell happens in X-Men anymore? Numerous failed and short-lived relaunches have knocke dthe life out of the former best-selling franchise and you know they're scraping the bottom of the barrell when they make vampires a major threat (PLEASE tell me this isn't a ploy to feed off of Twilight's popularity!)
Seriously, take a look through Marvel Previews and it's an absolute mess, a rotating parade of random creators handling numerous interchangeable versions of the same thing. What makes The Ultimates different to The Ultimate Avengers? Which series is the main home of the Hulk? What the hell is Franken-Castle all about? When Quesada came onboard, it was a breathe of fresh air as he took the reins, pulled tight and started squeezing out interesting comics by allowing good creators the freedom to tackle neglected and higher profile characters alike.
The lack of continuity was at first liberating: free from tying every loose end up with events happening elsewhere, creators were able to tell their own stories. That freedom has now led to a mass of inconsistency (I don't care how Wolverine can appear in 12 titles a month as long as he's not palling around with a character he killed in another title six issues ago) and committee-led crossover events that may sell but hurt the creative integrity of te comics.
I think it's time for a new editor in chief or at least a plan to tighten up the sprawling mess that is the current Marvel line and return it to something resembling coherence (seriously, look at Marvel's solicitations against DC's and see how chaotic Marvel's seem, while DC's franchises interconnect far more successfully).
So how do you redeem Marvel? Like this:
1. Place more trust in the skills of the creative team. Know why Archie Goodwin was comics' most popular editor? Because he beleieved if you've hired a professional, they should be left alone to create. Outside of a few notable exceptions (Millar/Hitch, Bendis/Bagley's Ultimate Spidey, Whedon/Cassady's X-Men, BKV's Runaways,etc), when was the last time there was a classic run by creators on a Marvel comic? Which brings me to:
2. Hire decent creators and lock them into contracts for a certain amount of issues in a certain amount of time. These don't have to be exclusive deals, just that artist A should produce 6 issues across 6 months, for instance. Alot of Marvel's current art is pretty hideous, overly cartoony and distorted: a return to decent storytelling and artwork is needed, married to stories with vision that have something to say about the characters.
3. It may be idealistic, but chop back some of the franchise titles and allow room for other characters and concepts to appear. Get top creators on a new Marvel Premiere title that introduces fresh ideas to see what finds a readership.
4. The franchise titles need to be extensively overhauled. The constantly flailing X-titles need to be completely cancelled, mutants reintroduced on a limited scale as in the 60s and the characters slowly coming together to launch the new titles, each with a distinct purpose, cast and tone. Spidey is less desperate than the X-line but could do with longer runs by creative teams with less fascination with the next big threat and more time on Spidey himself.
5. Clarify all the variations of the characters by establishing which titles belong to which timeline, then brand them accordingly. You could have Marvel Universe, Ultimate Universe, Max, All Ages, Young Readers and licensed lines all distinctly labelled with no detriment to the contents or artistic freedom.
6. Please God, stop with the Liefeld variant "incentive" covers....