So here I am, ready to announce my pick for 2010’s Worst Comics Publisher.
But first, the runner-up!
Runner-Up: DC Comics
Oh, DC. You had an excellent year coming and completely blew it to Hell.
The biweekly, six-issue miniseries Batman: The Return Of Bruce Wayne, heralding the time-travel adventures of Batman as he struggled back from the past (more on that in another column) was poised to be a huge hit. It had a superstar writer in Grant Morrison, the return of a character everybody and their weird uncles loves, and a rotating team of fantastic artists. How could you possibly blow that?
Oh yeah – it was plagued with delays so badly that a series that should have been out and done in three months instead took seven. Even for that talent and character, people lost interest. The delays threw it out of sync with companion books like Batman and Robin, and the release of the completely inconsequential Bruce Wayne: The Road Home one-shots before the final issue of ROBR just confused whoever was still paying attention. And then, just to make it worse, you released the Time Masters: Vanishing Point miniseries, about the adventures of Rip Hunter, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, and Superman as they searched the timestream for Batman. . .and it too was plagued with delays, which is death for a title that already starred characters no one really cared about.
That would be enough to make a bad year, but oh wait, there is more.
J. Michael Straczynski‘s run on Superman got people talking. . .for all the wrong reasons. It was arrogant, preachy, and heavy-handed to the point that the interludes, necessitated by health issues and Straczynski’s writing the much-better-received Superman: Earth One graphic novel, were liked much better. While we’re talking about JMS, his changes to Wonder Woman’s costume went over like roadkill for dinner. Don Kramer’s art couldn’t even save it. Here’s hoping the next writer either changes it back or gives us a damn good reason for the change.
Other DC blunders? Delays on The Flash (how does the Fastest Man Alive star in the Slowest Book On The Stands?), James Robinson turning the JLA into Teen Titans: The Grown-Up Years, replacing the all-ages Batman team-up series Batman: The Brave and the Bold with an all-new all-ages Batman team-up series called Batman: The Brave and the Bold (read that line again if you wish; I promise it won’t make any more sense the second time), letting Mark Guggenheim write JSA, and the Jonah Hex movie (which is nearly completely identical to Will Smith’s Wild Wild West movie. Seriously. The villains even plot to kill the same President, which makes me wonder what Garfield was up to that so many screenwriters want him dead). The final nail in the coffin was their 100-page specials, which are just reprints of older comics. Good for background info on some characters, but useless otherwise and, at $8 each, aren’t selling. Just stop with the damn specials already, DC.
On the plus side, though, Paul Cornell is doing an excellent run on Action Comics right now. And Grant Morrison’s Batman work has blown me away.
But, the saving grace for DC?
They listened to the fans.
When faced with rising costs, Marvel and DC both started hiking up prices from $2.99 to $3.99 per issue. As long it was just a few series and miniseries, it wasn’t so bad. But in the midst of a recession, fans took notice and starting dropping books. When the unusually-large price increase started expanding to more regular series and virtually all miniseries in July, fans showed their displeasure by not buying comics. In fact, industry-wide, there was a stunning 17% across-the-board sales drop in the month of August. DC responded quickly, and favourably, by issuing a statement that they would drop prices back down to $2.99 in the new year, though, due to rising costs of their own, this would also mean dropping 2 pages per issue. Hell, at least they listened and responded in a way that showed they understood the situation. (Marvel issued a similar “me too” statement 30 minutes later, but more on that in a minute.)
Despite all the errors and missteps, that single show of understanding kept DC from being the worst publisher of 2010. No, that honour went to. . .
2010’s Worst Publisher of the Year: Marvel Comics
Oh, it was Marvel’s year, all right. . .Marvel’s year to suck.
Let’s start with over-saturation. To help build the hype of an upcoming Deadpool movie, Marvel had Deadpool starring in four separate ongoing series this year (five, if you count Deadpool MAX) and at least 2 miniseries a month, plus guest appearances galore. He appeared more than Spider-Man and Bruce Wayne, although he still came up short for the title of Most Overused Character (that title still belongs to Wolverine). The once-beloved Merc With A Mouth became the Merc With Too Damn Many Books, and even the most hardcore fans were not willing to spend $20 a month on one non-bat-inspired character. Sales plummeted, Deadpool lost popularity, and Ryan Reynolds, who was slated to star in the movie, instead signed a contract with DC to do more Green Lantern movies. As of this writing, 2 of these books have been cancelled, which would have been great news approximately 20,000 dead trees ago, but now it’s too little, too late.
Speaking of cancellations, there were plenty of those, too. . .just on the wrong titles. The well-liked series Atlas was cancelled for low sales after only five issues; the same for Thor: The Mighty Avenger. Both books might have stood a chance had it not been for a sudden glut of comics titles on the shelf – a glut largely put there by. . .wait for it. . .Marvel Comics.
One can accept that when a company does a crossover, there are going to be extraneous tie-ins and such. Marvel took this waaaaaaaaay too far in 2010. It would have been acceptable if there had been a company-wide crossover, but, in addition to that crossover (Siege, which was terrible), there were also line-specific crossovers, like X-Men: Second Coming (which was actually good), X-Men: Curse of the Mutants (vampires are overdone, kids, let it go already), Shadowland (about Daredevil becoming master of the Hand ninja clan and taking over NYC; also, it sucked), and all of the 4 new Avengers-themed books, released to replace the previous 4 Avengers books that ended with Siege. Each crossover had its own spin-offs and miniseries, very very few of which were readable and very few of which had any effect on the crossover story or the characters in them. In addition to all that, of course, Marvel was also releasing the “Women of Marvel” one-shots, a new Strange Tales miniseries (which was worth reading), a slew of miniseries starring minor or new characters, and other useless pablum.
In short, in a time of belt-tightening and stretched dollars, Marvel Comics threw books at you like they’d forgotten that comics are a luxury item.
And Marvel appeared to recognize this mistake when they announced, 30 minutes after DC’s price-drop announcement, that they too would be dropping prices for 2011.
But, see, what they meant to say, and clarified in a later press release, was that they wouldn’t be putting out any new ongoing titles for $3.99. They wouldn’t be dropping prices so much as they would be keeping them stable. Same difference, right? Well, not really, but okay. . .fair enough. . .oh, except that miniseries and specials are exempt from that rule, so those will be priced at $3.99. And there will be a metric shitload more of them. Hell, right now, Captain America, who’s barely interesting enough for one book, has two miniseries going. Thor, whose second ongoing was cancelled, has at least three going. Spider-Man just ended one and I think has more on the way, in addition to the miniseries starring his nemesis Norman Osborn. Basically, Marvel’s made it clear that there will be fewer ongoing series and more specials and miniseries coming your way in 2011 – an end-run around looking like they give a fuck about the stressed wallets of the fans.
Marvel, too, was plagued with delays this year; the final issue of Siege came out after series and specials that chronicled events that happened in that final issue. Of course, said events were nearly immediately forgotten about, but whatever. It’s not like Siege was worth remembering.
On top of all that, Iron Man and Reed Richards still have not been arrested and tried for the negligent homicide of Black Goliath. This still pisses me off.
Oh, and Siege.
And Shadowland, which made me quit reading Daredevil.
Plus, The Sentry: Fallen Sun.
And the X-Men fighting vampires at the same time as the Ultimate Avengers.
And Marc Guggenheim writing, well, anything.
So there you have it, folks: Marvel Comics, the Worst Comics Publisher of 2010. Take a bow, Marvel!
VS – 1.9.10