30 Years ago comics at Marvel and DC were simple. Good guys vs. Bad guys. Black and white. And that’s what made them easy for anyone to follow. Readers saw what was on the cover and that was what they got for 75 cents.
Today, comics at Marvel and DC are almost impossible for Joe or Jane average to access by just looking at the cover. Without something like Wikipedia to prep them or family members with an extensive background knowledge of the charcters a casual reader or kid will wind up absolutely lost.
Plain and simple comics at Marvel and DC are just too complicated. In between the events, the gimmicks, the new costumes and even the new people in the new costumes the average person just can’t get into comics at the big two. Just as readers are getting to know the characters and their supporting casts….BOOM! everything is changed in an event, a gimmick a retcon, or a reboot.
And things aren’t just changed, they’re changed in the worst ways. Most of the changes at Marvel and DC today are done in long drawn out multi-issue crossover events that go on for a year to two years. Crossovers that take over a hundred issues to collect all the parts to. A nightmare for the casual new reader or even the veteran comic fan to digest.
30 years ago the paradigm for comics were pretty easy to follow. Each character had their adventures, their own supporting casts, and their own villains. And stories were 2-3 issue story arcs a reader could easily access.
Nowadays thanks to the crossovers, retcons and reboots Joe and Jane average can’t figure out what’s going on with their characters. And even kids can’t figure out what’s going on. Yeah, the storylines are supposed show characters growing and changing, but things change so much in the Marvel and DC Universe it’s even impossible for even toy companies to keep up these days with the insanity. By the time a Marvel Legends or DC Collectibles action figure is on store shelves, that look for the character is already passé in the publications at the Big Two.
One Sunday at Sunday dinner I tried to explain what happened in the Marvel universe to my family regarding recent events. And the reaction I got were rolled eyes and sighs.
That’s not the reaction a business wants when casuals want from word of mouth. Why? Word of Mouth is what sells books in the publishing business and how new readers find new books.
Seriously how does this sound: That’s not the Superman in the comics today. That’s the Silver Age Superman. The real Superman is the Post Crisis-Post Death of Superman Post Reign of the Supermen Post-Zero Hour-Post Identity Crisis-Post Identity Crisis-Post Infinite Crisis Post Final Crisis Post Flashpoint Post New 52 Post Convergence Superman.
Or telling a recent viewer of Avengers: Age of Ultron that the Iron Man they saw in the movie isn’t the Iron Man in the comics. The Iron Man in the comics is the Post Heroes Reborn Post Heroes Return Post New Avengers Post Axis Post Secret Wars Iron man.
Good Gravy I got a headache typing all that. But imagine what a new customer would feel like at the bookstore if someone had to explain all that to them. Or a kid at a toy store.
All they want is a Superman and an Iron Man to play with and comics to read. But thanks to all the overcomplication of their respective universes, that simple feat becomes an exercise in frustration. They just want to own the “real” version of Superman and Iron Man.
Explaining all the changes in these events at the big two is just too complicated for even a veteran comic fan like myself with 38 years in the game. Imagine the headaches a new reader or a person who is kind of interested in comics gets when they go on Google. And with all the reboots over the last 25 years it becomes even more complicated.
30 years ago when things were simpler, a reader could just pick up any issue of a character’s book and get started. And if they were really interested in the character they go to the back issues and get caught up on the adventures of a character. Every story was an entry point. But today with the numerous volumes and different series featuring different costumes it becomes a nightmare to follow the adventures of a character from first issue to last.
Comics at Marvel and DC are just too complicated for new readers to figure out. With multiple versions of characters and even multiple universes for thousands of different characters the average customer just winds up LOST trying to get into comics at the Big two.
In business people can easily identify a product by distinct visual cues. But when it comes to comics and superheroes at Marvel and DC it’s almost impossible to do that. Characters have gone through so many costume changes in the last five years alone most casual people can’t just point to a character and say it’s Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America Wonder Woman.
All those changes make things way too complicated for casual and new customers. And when customers find things too complicated they become frustrated and stop buying the product.
Which is why comic sales are at the lowest point in almost 25 years at the Big two and DC has lost 10 percent of its market share to the Indies.
Both Marvel and DC need to follow a rule us professional writers use when we tell stories in our novels: LESS IS MORE. The less detail you put into a story the more impact it’ll have on the reader. One of the big problems I find in these big mega crossover events is that they try to do too much of everything. Not every story has to be a to be an epic on the scale of Crisis of Infinite Earths or Watchmen to have an impact on a reader.
Sometimes a small simple story like the ones in the 2-3 issue arcs from the 1970s and 1980s can get a new reader hooked on comics. Marvel and DC need to focus on developing those kinds of stories with the simplified art from that era. They’re the kind of comics that show readers what’s great about their characters and what makes being a part of their respective universes distinct.