Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Why SuperHeroes Stink

I want to take a break from Daily Life this week and talk about Comic Book life. While at the Baltimore Comicon, Jim, Comic Store Owner (CSO), and I had a long discussion about the state of comic industry. Jim was arguing that 95% of the modern superhero stories were dull and repetitious. In his opinion, superhero comic books had become stagnant. I argued that the more superhero books stagnated, the more people would just read indies.

CSO made an excellent, if not depressing point, “It's true that superheroes are using the same stories over and over but it doesn't matter. People aren't going to ever read indies in any great numbers because 95% of the fans read superheroes. And, superheroes are never going to change because the fans don’t change.” It was such a simple concept that is unfortunately very true.

While I understand that superheroes are the lifeblood of the hobby, I always hoped that people were actually reading other books besides superheroes. Part of why I do the Indies post is so that people will see all the great things out there besides superheroes. And, I always assumed that older readers, such as Jim and myself, read superheroes AND other books. Apparently I was wrong.

CSO gave an incredibly depressing story about Buyer Y. It turns out that Buyer Y is a busy professional who likes comics but doesn’t have time to pick them out. CSO pulls $50 worth of books every week and Buyer Y gets them. No questions asked. It doesn’t make any sense to me either but at least Buyer Y still reads. Recently, Buyer Y needed to trim a little because of time commitments. CSO suggested keeping some Vertigo books, Northlanders and Madame Xanadu, and dropping the unreadable Ultimates 3. Would you like to guess what Buyer Y dropped? That's right, the Vertigo books. Buyer Y didn’t have time to try “new books.” He’d been reading X-men and Superman for so many years that he can’t read anything else.

I quickly pointed out that one person doesn’t make a trend and it could just him. CSO, to prove his point, also gave an example about Buyer X. The other week, as Buyer X was reviewing his books, he asked CSO how he was going to like them.

CSO, never short on opinion, stated “It’s the same as last week. What do you expect?”
Buyer X, “Seriously, I’m not sure the books this week are any good. What’s your opinion?”
CSO, “OK.” Flipping through the stack, CSO continues, “Well, let’s see, X-men, fine, Captain America, fine, Ultimates 3, junk but you know that.” Buyer X nodded his head in agreement. CSO continued on “Red Hulk, junk. So you’re right, it’s not that good a week. If you want something good, put Ultimates 3 back because you know you won’t like it and go get the DMZ trade.”

In the end, Buyer X, didn’t change a thing. He bought Ultimates 3 even though he KNEW he wouldn’t like it.

That’s the problem with the hobby and that’s why nothing will change. People don’t try new things. I love Indies and I think my love of them has slowly been wearing Jim down because I noticed that he is getting more and more of them. But what about everyone else?

Have you read anything new this year? If you haven't, try something new and maybe, just maybe, we’ll get better superheroes.


  1. CSO (great name by-the-way) should have been putting Amazing Spider-Girl in Buyer Y's stack!!! Are you getting the digests for your children?

    Yes, I confess I love super-heroes and I don't have the $$ or time for much else. Besides, can you recommend even 10 indie titles that don't have bad language, sex and violence?

    Owly is so mainstream now can it still be considered an indie book? I definitely support that series. Y'know I think Spider-Girl could be more successful as an indie title. I wonder how the sales numbers compare?

  2. I love Lee's self-aggrandizing that he is winning me over to indies, but I was there before he knew indies existed. He has pushed some stuff I normally would not have read and some have been great and some not. Lee is also using me in this discussion that is not 100% accurate, but makes a valid point.

    People stay with what they are familiar with. I think Comic Book Store fans all grew up on super heroes and those people do not want to read anything else. That is why a new type of marketing needs to grow up to attract readers to graphic story telling, then let's see who can win that audience.

  3. I suppose I'm not the usual, then. Go figure.

    While I did start with superhero books in the late '70s and into the '80s, I also started picking up indies in the '80s. Malibu, Dark Horse, Eclipse. If it looked somewhat interesting, I'd check it out.

    On the other hand, once I started frequenting comics shops there was a lot more to look at and I was tired of the superheroes to some extent. When I first started with comics I was in a rural area and 10 years old, so I was limited to subscriptions, entirely Marvel back then. It may also have helped that I started college in fall '85. I was reading a lot of different things for school, so expanding my comics reading just fell right in with that.

    As to Lee's main point, I think the indie market would be better served by aiming for outlets other than comics shops. Sure, selling there is a good idea, but selling at book stores and other venues is likely to bring in a wider audience, which is really what's needed more than having the same limited bunch of comics shops customers spread out their limited dimes into indies.

  4. Maybe you guys have defined this before, but what exactly is an indie book?

    Anything that isn't Marvel or DC?

    Anything with a small print run?

    Is it the content or the publisher or both?

    Is an Image title considered an independent? Dark Horse, IDW? Maybe the rule is that they can't have their on section in Previews.

    Fist of Justice is an independent super-hero title. It seems like the desire to push people to independents is more to push them away from capes and tights (or rather open their eyes to other types of stories -- I know I just summarized the point of the post, I think). If "non-super-hero" was the indie definition, then Marvel's Classic's Illustrated would be "indie".

    Anyway, I'd like some clarification and I'm still waiting for my top 10 list. :)

  5. from the indie books i've been exposed to, i have enjoyed them. earlier this year i read some True Story Swear To God. The other week, i picked up Fluffy by Simone Lia and it broke my heart. I am giving both of these to my sisters for Christmas.
    but normally, i just follow certain writers. mainly Geoff Johns, Gail Simone, Ed Brubaker and Grant Morrison, but i pick up all of Bendis' stuff, too (i will never thank him enough for his Daredevil and Alias runs. On a similar note, SI is awful, but i love the Mighty Avengers/New Avengers tie-ins).

  6. I think a big reason superheroes are the predominant form is that many/most of today's comics readers grew up reading or watching superheroes, so they're our "comfort food" of entertainment, a way of reconnecting with the entertainment of our youth. Even when a book is bad, it reminds us of the past, gives us common thru-line in our lives (a big part of why I stuck with the the various Teen Titans books for way longer than I should have).

    But I don't think I'd quite word it as "more people [should] just read indies," or that "superheroes stink," because there are very good mainstream hero books (e.g. Manhunter, All-Star Superman) and very bad indy books (I reflexively ignore autobiographical indies at this point, even the supposed good ones). And then there's Matthew's point of what exactly is an indy these days. Does Vertigo count? How about Image or Dark Horse?

    For me, the issue is more a matter of the quality of superhero books. People won't let go and stop buying bad books, instead waiting in hopes that things will get better (yes, I'm talking to you, Jim :-). Buying a well-written, beautifully-drawn superhero book is a better thing than buying a crappy indy simply because it's an indy (which to me is the halmark of the "too-cool-for-school hipster").

    I can't count the number of times I've heard people (including myself) say, "this book isn't very good; I don't know why I keep getting it." The difference is, a bad indy usually doesn't last long, but a bad mainstream superhero book goes on far too long because people let it. They may talk in the store or blog about how bad it is (Titans, anyone?), but in the end they're not willing to stop purchasing their nostalgia fix. Until that happens, many superhero books will stink simply because we let them.