Many of us have long been lamenting the current state of superhero comics--some of us because we're old curmudgeons, some of us because we're dissatisfied with the directions that Marvel and DC are going towards, some of us for other reasons.

It's easy to complain, but how would you fix things? What changes would you make to improve the content and quality of the comics that are so beloved to us all (I'm making the assumption that anyone who's bothered to create an account here loves comics).?

Let's leave this out of the equation:

* Make em cheaper!

Sure, we'd all love for our hobby to be cheaper,but unless and until we can come up with concrete numbers to back up the ideas we have, it's flogging a dead horse.

Here's some of the ideas I would have:

* Stabilize the characters. Enough fake-rebooting every 5 years, Enough fake-rebooting period. Decide who and what the mainstream characters are and keep them that way. Characters that aren't working may simply be confined to limbo until someone has a new approach for them.

At the same time...

* Don't be afraid to have multiple versions of your characters. Is there any reason we can't have different versions of Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the Avengers out there? Comics fans are smart enough to figure out when they're seeing a tweaked or different version of a character. Why not have stories featuring the Siegel/Shuster version of Superman up against the current one? I think there are fans for both. A Batman who's a Bat-god vs. a Batman who's the world's greatest detective and rarely fights costumed villains? I'd buy the latter in a heartbeat, and I think many others would as well.

* Stop chasing the mythical "casual fan". there are no casual comic book fans. There are tons of people who like Batman or Superman or Spider-Man or Thor or Iron Man or whomever, but the vast majority of these people have likely picked up and read fewer than 10 comics about those characters They love the TV and Movie versions of these characters, sure, but it doesn't translate into increased purchasers of comic books.

There are new fans interested in buying comic books, but from everything I'm hearing, most of them are extremely frustrated over the constant shifts and changes. Theey--much like us--want to read about the characters they love, and while they don't mind minor changes they don't enjoy the constant upheaval. These are not casual fans, but much like us, they've invested in the character and care about them, and they want good stories.

* Limit events Yes, this sounds curmudgeonly, but hear me out. Right now, we have event after event after event after event after event happening, and it's getting to the point that events are no longer events--they're the status quo. It's extremely difficult to maintain that level of excitement, or to get people to care about the umpteenth threat that's going to destroy the universe/Earth.  Right now, these events plain don't count. Why should anyone care about Galactuswhen Thanos, the Kree, the Skrulls and the Shi'ar all have their own plans to invade Earth/take over the universe? Even well crafted events like Planet Hulk lose their meaning quickly as the status quo is returned.

I'm not saying eliminate events entirely because it's obvious that many people enjoy them, but it makes sense to limit them to, say, once every couple of years. By doing so, Marvel and DC could build much more excitement about them,and likely eventually sell more comics, or at least trades.

* Remember there are villains, and some of them are quire good/fun It seems over the last ten years or so that both Marvel and DC have come tot he joint decision that people are much more interested in seeing the heroes fight each other than they are in seeing them take on villains, to the point of taking heroes and having them act villainnous (Tony Stark) or turning them into out and out villains (Terry Sloane). Meanwhile, some of the better villains in both Marvel and DC's universes have been turned into jobbers.

A good villain can make for a much better story, even if said villain may not e the most fearsome out there. Written intelligently, the likes of the Vulture or the Grizzly or the Pied Piper or Captain Cold can be turned into interesting, fascinating characters. Heck, someone even managed to make Boomerang interesting.

There are many excellent stories that can be told with these characters as antagonists. It's a shame more aren't these days..

* More diversity Actually, I have to admit that both Marvel and DC are doing better along these lines, as more women and persons of color are being injected into superhero comics, frequently with success. However, I'm not so sure that either company always has a good grasp  on what makes these characters tick, or why their fans enjoy them.  From what I've seen, younger fans especially want characters they can relate to but that also sort of belong to them in the same way that Peter Parker or Wolverine belong to older fans. Unfortunately, Marvel and particularly DC seem unaware of how to capitalize on these characters' popularity or put them into situations that reflect changing times and attitudes. They don't want to see popular female character A swooning over a man, they want to see her kicking butt and taking names, and if she does have personal life problems to resolve them in an intelligent manner.

Anyway, these are some fo my ideas. Feel free to rip them apart and shred them, but please also share yours as well.

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1. I think the you could effect some big changes to content by overhauling the business end of things. Give creators a bigger piece of the pie, at least partial ownership of characters and concepts they create, and an improved royalty system.  Nobody worth their salt wants to give all of their best ideas away to a company that doesn't like to share.

2. Copy what Valiant is doing. They are beating both Marvel and DC at their own game in terms of quality.

I don't have anything against the old heroes vs villains style of storytelling but I'm also not too interested in it anymore. I much prefer the conflict that arises out of pitting different people with different agendas against each other.  That type of conflict just seems more real to me and I can buy into characters that think that way much more easily.

The thing that immediately comes to mind for me is:

Deconsolidate. Superhero comics began with characters being invented out of whole cloth, and then meeting each other by coincidence. Superman ran into his share of crooked or shortsighted generals -- but these days, when a character like that is called for, it's Sam Lane, Lois's dad. Luthor is not only involved in Bizarro's origin, but also Metallo's as well... and he's the first person Brainiac contacted on Earth. He's also responsible for the Parasite, right? By intertwining so many characters' stories with each other, it makes Superman's world much smaller than it should be. And the same thing happens with Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash (everyone is connected to the Speed Force), Green Lantern (when's the last time they fought someone unconnected to a power ring of some sort), and more. 

I've been thinking about this, too, especially when I noticed that the last title I buy from Marvel that features a headline character is Daredevil (and some don't think of him as A-list), and I don't get any from DC. I used to get them all at one time or another -- Avengers, Captain America, Fantastic Four, Thor, the Spider-Man titles, Iron Man, Uncanny X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, the Superman titles, the Batman titles, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Justice League, The New Titans, etc. I also noticed that when I come here lately, I hardly talk about comics, just TV and movies.

What I am buying is stuff like Batgirl, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk (before it got canceled), Harley Quinn, Starfire, the latest Groo maxi series, All-Star Western (before it ended), Astro City, and the new version of Archie that's not drawn in the long-standing house style.

What do those books have in common? Most of them (Batgirl, Ms. Marvel, Starfire, She-Hulk, Harley Quinn) feature female protagonists. Four of those five, and in a sense all five, feature a lead character making her way in the world. I appreciate that more now than ever. I like the coming-of-age aspects of Batgirl, Starfire and Ms. Marvel; it feels fresh to me, and not something I've read a thousand thousand times over. So I would improve that aspect.

I've always liked Mark Waid on Captain America, Fantastic Four and now the, if you will, live-action version of Archie. Waid has a way of taking characters that have been around longer than forever and still finding new stories to tell that haven't been done to death. For example, how many years has Daredevil been in a rut of grim 'n' gritty stories featuring ninjas and Elektra and the Kingpin? Waid stepped back from all of that for the most part. Granted, he couldn't completely stay away from it at the end of his run, but before he got there, he brought back a spirit of fun to the book. There were moments where you saw Matt Murdock actually enjoy the fact that he can do cool stuff other people can't do, like glide through the city from rooftop to rooftop.

Likewise, Kurt Busiek on Astro City doesn't forget that there is something wondrous and wonderful about being the people (and, um, beings) who can fly through the air and travel to other worlds and alien dimensions and such. 

That's an improvement I'd want to see; not slasher-movie stuff where The Joker has his face flensed off

Other than that, the one I most agree with on the list above is limit events. By now, my immediate reaction to every one of them -- Flashpoint, A vs. X, Infinite Final Identity Crisis at Zero Hour, etc. -- is "Wake me when it's over."

Don't kill someone off and bring them back.

The last time that the newspapers said that Captain America or Batman or whomever had died, I only thought: What fools ...

Okay, maybe once in a generation you get to re-think.  But no sooner.

Randy Jackson said:
Stabilize the characters. Enough fake-rebooting every 5 years, Enough fake-rebooting period. Decide who and what the mainstream characters are and keep them that way

I think the problem here is they are only “preaching to the choir,” so to speak. The comic shop readership is the comic shop readership. They eat up the reboots, the new number ones, the variant covers and the events. The spurts in sales give the companies the false impression that they are on the right track. When the sales inevitably drop, they reboot again or have another event.

I am reminded of the studio expectation in 2009 that the Watchmen movie would be a blockbuster because of the enthusiastic reception it received at the San Diego con. This reception from a small sub-set of the movie audience led the studio to believe they had a blockbuster on their hands. The March release date and the poor marketing didn’t bring in the viewers they expected. If you keep throwing things against the comic shop wall how can you expect to bring in new readers, never mind keeping the existing ones?

The executives at the comics companies need to stop trying for short-term “cool” and really sit down and THINK about it. Stabilizing the characters is important but reaching out to readers outside comic shops is imperative. There ARE readers, not just video gamers. There are huge audiences for Young Adult novels out there and kids of all ages read Harry Potter. If there are negative perceptions out there about comics and specifically superheroes they need to find out what they are and fight against them. Since the regular staff if presumably “up to their &$# in alligators” they will probably need to hire people to work full-time on public relations. Now that comics cost more the stores that sell magazines would probably be more receptive. Will the powers that be want to spend the money to change things? Maybe, maybe not.

Don't be afraid to have multiple versions of your characters. Is there any reason we can't have different versions of Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the Avengers out there? Comics fans are smart enough to figure out when they're seeing a tweaked or different version of a character

Marvel is apparently trying this with the Spider-Characters. Hopefully this will stick. (Not an intentional pun)

More diversity Actually, I have to admit that both Marvel and DC are doing better along these lines, as more women and persons of color are being injected into superhero comics, frequently with success. However, I'm not so sure that either company always has a good grasp on what makes these characters tick, or why their fans enjoy them't want to see popular female character A swooning over a man, they want to see her kicking butt and taking names, and if she does have personal life problems to resolve them in an intelligent manner.

They have been trying for diversity. Back in the 70s they had a line-up of white writers working on Luke Cage that from all appearances hadn’t met an African-American outside of the “blaxploitation” movies. But, you know, at least they were trying to make it work. He had a long run, a lot of guest appearances and is still around today.

When you dump Hal Jordan, Henry Pym, Ray Palmer and Ted Kord it doesn’t matter what the ethnicity of their replacement is. Fans of the originals aren’t happy they were dumped (stabilization?). The companies have to be willing to introduce brand new characters like they used to do and keep them in print. If a new character doesn’t instantly become a smash hit they have to be willing to stick with him or her. This fits in with the money angle in my first comment. Luke Cage wasn’t a smash hit but Marvel stuck with him for a long time.

Rob Staeger said:

Deconsolidate. Superhero comics began with characters being invented out of whole cloth, and then meeting each other by coincidence. Superman ran into his share of crooked or shortsighted generals -- but these days, when a character like that is called for, it's Sam Lane, Lois's dad. Luthor is not only involved in Bizarro's origin, but also Metallo's as well... and he's the first person Brainiac contacted on Earth. He's also responsible for the Parasite, right? By intertwining so many characters' stories with each other, it makes Superman's world much smaller than it should be. And the same thing happens with Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash (everyone is connected to the Speed Force), Green Lantern (when's the last time they fought someone unconnected to a power ring of some sort), and more.

I’ve noticed this trend for some time. The Marvel equivalent is/was Norman Osborn having his finger in everything. It gets boring. It’s a lot easier to suspend disbelief about super-powers than it is to believe a small group of people have time to be involved in literally everything. As for Green Lantern, I never liked the power ring vs power ring battles. His enemies with different abilities were always more interesting. Also, I hate when he is just blasting away like the ring was a ray gun. Constructs! I used to enjoy Kyle Rayner* when, as a professional artist, he came up with elaborate, detailed and artistic ring constructs.

*It wasn’t Kyle’s fault that DC made Hal a mass murderer.

Don Mankowski said:

Don't kill someone off and bring them back.
The last time that the newspapers said that Captain America or Batman or whomever had died, I only thought: What fools ...

Even the news media isn't fooled anymore. After they were burned by Superman's and Captain America's "deaths" they don't seem to have reacted to the deaths since then.

You know what Marvel's been doing since The Crossing? Don't do that.

I've seen lots of twenty or thirty dollar books on Amazon that have two to five dollar digital copies, and many DVDs are made on demand only. Will only the most popular comics get paper printings in the future? Being horribly non-tech savvy I'm afraid I could easily push the wrong button and delete everything I downloaded.

I forget the series, but there was one comic awhile back where someone apologized because they had missed the last two times someone close to them had been dead. You know something has become horribly overused when people start making jokes about it.

I'm all for alternate versions of heroes, but I think it would probably be best to keep them separate. Having two Supermen, two Wonder Women, etc., is how we lost Earth-2, Earth-Shazam and the rest. Perhaps a note on covers stating something like "This comic takes place on Earth-2" would help avoid confusion. (Not so much from readers who tend to get the alternate universe idea so much as from editors that might decide the Multiverse is getting cluttered and confusing again and start yet another Crisis.)

Casual fans might have existed back when comics cost ten cents, or when the newsstand market was strong. Casual fans aren't going to search out comic book stores and plunk down three or four bucks for one comic book. And new people looking for Superman are going to be looking for the guy in the tights, not a guy in a t-shirt that looks like a Superman fanboy instead of the real thing. New people looking for Batman are going to expect the guy in the movies or TV shows, not the rabbit eared robot.

Writers seem to hate coincidences now. I've read writers talking about wanting to look into Iron Man's part in Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk. What part? Tony had something to do with Igor now? There was a story about Reed Richards making the shielding on his ship so that cosmic rays would get through, hoping it would give him and his best friend, his fiancé, and her little brother, super powers (instead of, you know, maybe possibly killing them or causing brain damage, which is what cosmic rays would do to people in our universe.) The spider didn't just accidentally get mutated before biting Peter Parker, it was deliberately made that way by Norman Osborn. What exactly does the Green Goblin creating Spider-Man add to the franchise? How long before we find out he sent the burglar to shoot Uncle Ben and then talked JJ into writing all those articles saying he was a menace to get Spider-Man to stop wasting time going on TV and use his powers so that Osborn would observe how they worked before trying to give himself powers?

Did anybody ask for Blue Lanterns or Red Lanterns or White Lanterns or Burnt Sienna Lanterns? Most of them are crazy so they can only be used as villains. There's a lot of wacky humor potential in an Orange Lantern going around acting like Daffy Duck: "It's mine, you understand! Mine mine mine! There's only enough for me!" Instead there's basically one OL and he's so greedy he has to possess anyone that gets the orange energy.

They keep making old characters minorities because new characters just don't catch on. In the 70s there was Wolverine and maybe Storm. What about the 80s? Or 90s? Starfire and Raven might be well known today, but that's mostly because of the cartoon, not their comic book appearances. Starfire isn't really even the same character. At least I don't recall her ever acting stupid or goofy except on TV. Except for a few later oddballs like Squirrel Girl (who isn't taken at all seriously by Marvel) most characters with their own titles are from the 1940s or 1960s. Much easier to turn Jane Foster in Thor or Falcon into Captain America than come up with interesting new concepts and give them time to develop a following. But have anybody wear Iron Man's armor or call themselves Spider-Man and you have instant recognition of a "new" character. I've read writers pushing the idea "anybody could be in the costume!" Having different people take turns being Iron Man or Thor or whoever isn't going to grow a business, and you get current fans complaining that's not the character they've spent years and a lot of money following. Getting new readers should not be at the risk of losing older readers. Chances are the new people won't stay and you suddenly find your readership has shrunk instead of grown.

Alan Scott would walk through walls and make people see things that weren't there (like in All-Star#3 where he hypnotizes a crook into thinking the ring is growing gigantic and about to crush him to death if he doesn't talk.) Hal Jordan has used his ring to turn into a giant. When's the last time a GL used any of those powers?

There was a saying "There's dead, and then there's Bucky dead." So of course they decided bringing him back would be a much bigger deal than killing off somebody and bringing them back in a year or so. About the only hero now whose return would be a big deal would be Mar-Vell. I'm sure they're considering that. Carol Danvers' new popularity might be the only thing to keep him from returning.

Ron M. said:

Casual fans might have existed back when comics cost ten cents, or when the newsstand market was strong. Casual fans aren't going to search out comic book stores and plunk down three or four bucks for one comic book.

There are huge areas where no comic book stores exist. An impulse purchase has to be possible while someone is in a store for another reason.

The spider didn't just accidentally get mutated before biting Peter Parker, it was deliberately made that way by Norman Osborn. What exactly does the Green Goblin creating Spider-Man add to the franchise? How long before we find out he sent the burglar to shoot Uncle Ben and then talked JJ into writing all those articles saying he was a menace to get Spider-Man to stop wasting time going on TV and use his powers so that Osborn would observe how they worked before trying to give himself powers?

In the movie Spider-Man 3, they had the Sandman be the trigger man in Uncle Ben's death, and the spider-bite was in various ways tied to Oscorp.

There's a lot of wacky humor potential in an Orange Lantern going around acting like Daffy Duck: "It's mine, you understand! Mine mine mine! There's only enough for me!" Instead there's basically one OL and he's so greedy he has to possess anyone that gets the orange energy.

Why did they think it was clever to call him Agent Orange? Cancers and birth defects are funny?

There was a saying "There's dead, and then there's Bucky dead."

Now it's "Uncle Ben dead." Hopefully that sticks.

For years Archie has had the Kmart and Walmart comics sales to themselves. Marvel put out three or four six dollar graphic novels at Walmart last year but apparently they didn't sale enough to interest them since no new Marvels have turned up there this year. Archie failed at Ralphs, possibly because they put their digests in the magazine section, while the other stores put them at the check out counters where people might look at them while waiting in line.

The 1989 Batman movie had Joker the guy that killed Batman's parents.

The Fantastic Four movies always have Dr. Doom's origin connected to theirs.

Ron M. said:

For years Archie has had the Kmart and Walmart comics sales to themselves. Marvel put out three or four six dollar graphic novels at Walmart last year but apparently they didn't sale enough to interest them since no new Marvels have turned up there this year. Archie failed at Ralphs, possibly because they put their digests in the magazine section, while the other stores put them at the check out counters where people might look at them while waiting in line.

In all of the Walmarts I've visited, the books and magazines are in isolated corners, not in walkways. Unless a person purposely enters the books-and-magazines ghetto alcove they won't be seen. Actual teens and children might see them if they were in walkways. The market checkout counters always have a glut of tabloids which presumably sell. Unless they stop selling (putting the paparazzi out of business) space won't open up for a variety of magazines, including comics digests.

The 1989 Batman movie had Joker the guy that killed Batman's parents.

My wife, uninitiated at the time, took this to mean that Batman had killed his parents' killer, case closed. He can stop being Batman.



Richard Willis said:


The companies have to be willing to introduce brand new characters like they used to do and keep them in print. If a new character doesn’t instantly become a smash hit they have to be willing to stick with him or her.

I agree, but here's why we probably won't see much of that according to:

Gerry Conway

and

Neal Adams

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