Entry for January 21, 2009: Comics musings

As I continue catching up on reading comic books and graphic novels, thanks in part to our exercise cycle, I find myself still enjoying traditional superhero titles, despite several controversies. Distributor shenanigans, the trend toward big events, the revolving door of death, and challenges facing independent publishers are hotly debated online and at comic stores.

-Distributor shenanigans: According to Chris F., manager of one of the comic shops I regularly patronize, Marvel mishandled its publicity stunt in which new President Barack Obama was depicted in a Spider-Man book. One might think that the popularity of recent movies such as Iron Man and Dark Knight (and upcoming ones such as Watchmen) has helped comic sales and retailers, but Diamond's near-monopoly and the "big two" publishers' inability to make their best-known titles accessible to newer readers have hurt the print side of the industry, not unlike journalism.

-Crossovers are still king: Marvel Comics' "Secret Invasion" storyline, in which shapeshifting aliens known as Skrulls infiltrated Earth's ranks of metahumans, has led into its conspiratorial "Dark Reign" and interstellar "War of Kings" stories across several series. In "Dark Reign," the Avengers are still disunited after the death of Steve Rogers/Captain America and Tony Stark/Iron Man's failed efforts to register all vigilantes, and Norman Osborn (also Spider-Man villain Green Goblin) has become the U.S. government's point man in hunting unregistered costumed characters. Villains posing as heroes and heroes in hiding have led to some interesting challenges.

Over on the DC Comics side, the cosmic "Final Crisis" is drawing to a close, with the most noteworthy development being the apparent death of Bruce Wayne/Batman, one of my favorite superheroes. I tend to like the iconic characters of the DC Universe more than their Marvel counterparts, but the writing has been more erratic lately, with the notable exceptions of Green Lantern and Superman.

-Death and rebirth: Still, I am curious as to how the "Battle for the Cowl" will go, even as Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, Barry Allen/the Flash, Clark Kent/Superman, and Oliver Queen/Green Arrow have cheated death (not to mention Thor, Peter Parker's Aunt May, and assorted X-Men).

A related topic is the aforementioned lack of accessibility. As a longtime fan, I understand the challenge of balancing continuity with the desire for creator freedom and character development. While I don't agree with calls for censorship, I see no reason why Superman or Spider-Man has to be weighed down with so much angst or history that he ceases to be inspiring to newer readers.

Frank Miller, who renewed interest in Batman with Dark Knight Returns and Year One and who has since slung mud at the icon in All-Star Batman and Robin, has helped popularize comics in recent movies such as 300 and his take on Will Eisner's classic The Spirit. However, the violence and sexism of much of his writing means that many young readers and viewers may never get the chance to discover why these superheroes are iconic in the first place. Animated series like Batman and the Brave and Bold are now their entry point rather than hardcopy comics.

-Indy pubs: Despite Diamond's new policies, which will likely hurt independent publishers, some of the best writing and artwork in the industry today is in indy titles. I've been enjoying licensed properties such as Zorro and original ones such as Umbrella Academy. As long as creativity and the mix of good art and writing can continue, I'll be a happy fan.