Leaping Tall Buildings tells how the comics medium lost ground
You might thus assume that superhero comics, the original properties on which these franchises are built, are in flush times. They aren't. The upper limit on sales of a superhero comic book these days is about 230,000; just two or three series routinely break into six digits. Twenty years ago, during the comic industry's brief Dutch-tulip phase, hot issues of "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" sold millions. [...]There's one little shortcoming there: trade paperback collections by contrast can be found in various bookstores; it's the pamphlets, fast becoming outmoded, that can't. But they certainly got the rest right: bad writing, artwork, and destroyed continuity are just some of the biggest problems today's industry is steeped deep in.
If no cultural barrier prevents a public that clearly loves its superheroes from picking up a new "Avengers" comic, why don't more people do so? The main reasons are obvious: It is for sale not in a real bookstore but in a specialty shop, and it is clumsily drawn, poorly written and incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in years of arcane mythology.
In a much hyped series from Marvel Comics this summer, for example, the Avengers fight the X-Men for inscrutable reasons having to do with a mysterious planet-devouring cosmic force, a plot that makes no sense to anyone not familiar with ancient Marvel epics like "The Dark Phoenix Saga." The story is told in two titles, one called "Avengers vs. X-Men," with a big "AvX" logo on the front, and the other called "AvX," with a big "Avengers vs. X-Men" logo on the front, presumably so you can keep them straight.What, Marv Wolfman didn't revitalize DC when he penned the New Teen Titans with George Perez during that time? That's one part I'll have to take issue with, since there were a couple of other writers at the time who did do their part in recharging DC's output at the time, with Wolfman being but one of the most notable due to his famous work on the Titans franchise. It wasn't just one person alone who did it.
The people who produce superhero comics have given up on the mass audience, and it in turn has given up on them. Meanwhile, the ablest creators have abandoned mainline superhero comics to mediocrity. "Leaping Tall Buildings," a collection of brief and beautifully illustrated profiles of comic-book artists, intends to celebrate the form—and does—but along the way reveals the forces that have caused its most iconic titles to rot. [...]
A lack of options kept artists and writers at the wheel, and the crude, pulp-derived fantasies born from the Depression were distilled into a pop mythology that bore something like the relation to the fine arts that rock music did to classical forms. Jack Kirby, the Marvel artist who in the 1960s did more than anyone else to establish the visual grammar and vocabulary of superhero comics and to create the Avengers, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, spent much of his later life caught up in a series of shockingly petty lawsuits with Marvel, a company built almost entirely on his work.
The dynamic, if anything, got worse with time. Alan Moore, the influential British writer who more or less revitalized DC Comics in the 1980s, claims that the company deprived him of his rights to the genre-defining classic, "Watchmen," that he created with illustrator Dave Gibbons.
The first issues of "Before Watchmen" will be published next month. Among the writers working on it is former He-Man scripter J. Michael Straczynski, who once penned a comic in which Spider-Man sold his marriage to the devil. (This is the rough equivalent of having Z-movie director Uwe Boll film a studio-funded prequel to Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver.")It's nice to see they're willing to allude to the hack job JMS is more or less guilty of on Spider-Man, which he did on his way out of the book. If he'd wanted to, he could've kept out of it, but he didn't, and thus, he'll just have to shoulder some of the blame for that horrendous dud.
I think the following sums up today's mess the best:
For an industry that feeds on its own past to go 20 years without fresh characters or concepts is death. The most telling sections in "Leaping Tall Buildings" are thus those written about industry powers like Brian Michael Bendis, Joe Quesada, Grant Morrison and Dan DiDio. These are the men most responsible for the failure of the big publishers to take advantage of the public's obvious fascination with men in capes.I don't know if Leaping Tall Buildings mentions Geoff Johns, but if it doesn't, it should, since he too has held a high position (and still does) not unlike Bendis, and deserves all the pannings he's getting for his own part in harming superhero comics. But this is surely the boldest and most important thing that's been told in the WSJ article itself, since the 4 names mentioned are definitely responsible for much of the disaster that's come down the pike over the past decade plus. Especially the senior editors.
Leaping Tall Buildings sounds like a very good book that could tell more than past history books I've read have ever done, if the authors are willing to bravely acknowledge how an uncaring, irresponsible generation took over the majors, destroyed characterization, continuity and morale, discouraged a lot of fans inside and out, relied heavily on cheap publicity stunts, and chased away many potential contributors who've now had to take their ideas and work them into independent graphic novel stories. It's no way to run a business, and as I've said before, if ever DC and Marvel's book publishing could go separately from the rest of the companies into the hands of more responsible people who're willing to work to restore what's been lost, only then could there be a ray of hope that they'll be worth reading again.