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Comics

Marvel’s Biggest Missed Opportunity

It’s kind of shocking how quickly the tables have turned on the big two in the comics industry.  Just a few years ago, while DC was languishing under the “New 52”, Marvel was having a creative boom.  Whether it was Matt Fraction and David Aja bringing a fresh take to Hawkeye, their first headlining Muslim hero, or amazing women taking on important roles in their universe (Carol as Captain Marvel, Jane Foster Thor, SQUIRREL GIRL), things seemed to be looking up for the House of Ideas.  It all came to a satisfying crescendo with 2015’s Secret Wars event, which should’ve allowed Marvel to set up their new universe exactly as they saw fit.  Somebody dead that you need alive?  Go for it.  It was a golden opportunity.

So what went wrong?  To me, it comes down to one thing, and that’s the constant stream of events.  Crossover events can be fun, no doubt, but when you are ALWAYS preparing for the next big thing (and there’s 2 or 3 of them every year), you’re not able to do any justice to the stories of the individual characters.  A rebooted universe, renumbered and starting over to boot, should be all about bringing new readers into the fold.  The guy reading Spider-Man for the past 10 years is in, you know?  The grognards might roll their eyes at yet another renumbering, but as long as the book is still there and Spidey is still himself, they’ll stick around.  A new number 1 issue should be a jumping-on point for the MCU fans, or kids, or whoever it is you want to start reading comics.  But with the constant event cycle churning, you never give that new reader a chance to get to know the character before their life and story are interrupted.

Post-Secret Wars, you rolled straight into Avengers: Standoff!, with Spider-Women and Apocalypse Wars disrupting some of the Spider-centric and X-Men books.  That all led into Civil War II, a sequel event nobody asked for, which included some character assassination of Captain Marvel to boot.  But you barely caught your breath before the Spider-books were disrupted by another event, a Clone Conspiracy revival.  The X-Men and Inhumans fought, a bunch of monsters were fought, and then you may have heard about that whole Secret Empire thing.  It’s exhausting just to read all of that.  Imagine you are a new comics fan, how do you reconcile all of that?  If fifteen to twenty books every month have some event banner on ’em, and put the character building on hold for some other story, why would you keep reading?

I stopped reading comics as a teen mostly because of the event cycle.  While Infinity Gauntlet was classic, I got annoyed at having things happening across multiple books that I couldn’t afford to buy (and that was when comic books were only $1-$1.50).  Your choice was either to not know what was going on, or to stop buying.  What brought me back to comics was my friends raving about the Matt Fraction/David Aja Hawkeye series, which did it’s own thing and built a deep, interesting story about Clint and Kate.  It was funny, it was experimental, and I fell back in love with comics.  I branched out from there, but always with an eye to comics that had a solid running story of their own (Tom King’s The Vision series for example).  The thing is, whenever I might start to get invested in a more mainline comic, it would get interrupted and I would throw up my hands and decide to trade-wait it, or at least see if the event as a whole that was pre-empting my normal programming was worth it.  Spoiler alert:  most of them haven’t been, so I’ve pretty much stopped buying Marvel comics.  There are still some gems here and there (Black Widow, Ms. Marvel although she’s well and truly embedded in the event cycle now, one or two others) but most I’m content to wait for Marvel Unlimited to go on sale again to catch up.

Marvel’s comic books are in fairly dire straits right now – a gimmick Spider-Man issue was number 1, but beyond that, the top 25 is dominated by DC.  Star Wars comics are helping Marvel from being totally embarrassed in the top 100.  When DC can put both double-shipped Batman comics ahead of every Marvel comic but the aforementioned gimmick Spider-Man, you need to make changes.  Some suggestions:

  1. Pare down the lineup.  Marvel released 94 different comics in March.  There were seven different Avengers or related books if you count Great Lakes Avengers (and I’m not counting the Avengers cartoon tie-in book).  Deadpool (or a Deadpool-adjacent character such as Deadpool the Duck) appears in at least 5 or 6 books.  Doctor Strange was in 3!  If you love a specific character, it’s ridiculous to try and follow them.  Trim it down.
  2. Let the stories develop.  I would put this to Marvel as a challenge – the next time the universe is rebooted (and you know they will), let all the comics go one full calendar year telling their own story.  Let the characters shine and develop a following before smashing them against a planet- or universe-destroying entity.
  3. Retain your talent.  Tom King.  Tim Seeley.  Sam Humphries.  James Tynion IV.  It seemed for a while in 2016 you couldn’t go a week without someone new signing an exclusive deal with DC, many of whom had been creating for both companies.  Tom King and Sam Humphries were huge losses in particular.  Marvel has their own stable of talent, but you can’t keep losing creators without it affecting quality.  The same 6 people can’t write all your books, especially if you are releasing 100 a month.
  4. Count the trades and digital sales.  I know they look at the sales, but they are still mostly concerned with monthly sales at your local shop.  Sorry, but not everyone goes to the local comic shop for individual floppy issues.  Especially since they aren’t particularly collectible in modern times.  I much prefer sturdier trade paperbacks, as I share a lot of my comics with my kids.  I also have quite a few in the digital format from various sources (Comixology/Amazon sales, Humble Bundles, etc.).
  5. Keep the diversity going.  Any media is improved by having other viewpoints, so efforts need to be re-doubled to engage with and retain writers and artists of color, women, and LGBTQ+ creators.

Look, as quickly as things went south for Marvel, they can turn it around.  They’ve got a built in audience thanks to the MCU that would love to engage with them, and they only need the content to be there.  This time next year, the roles could be reverse – or we could have a new golden age where Marvel and DC are both high quality at the same time.  Imagine that!Marvel versus DC

Categories
Books Review

Book Review – Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Red Sister is the start of the latest series by Mark Lawrence, who I was previously aware of but hadn’t yet read.  When I saw this was book one of a series and available on Netgalley, I went for it.  What I found was a bloody story of revenge, bathed in the mysticism of a dying world.

Nona, our heroine, is set to be hanged for murder when a Sister from the Convent of Sweet Mercy takes her away to join their order.  There, she learns that she and many of the other nuns have aspects from one or more of the “old bloods”, powers that come from the four races of the world.  Her hunska blood, for example, basically puts her mind in hyperdrive so she moves and reacts faster.  Think bullet-time, but only for short bursts.  A person with all four bloods is highly sought after – there’s a prophecy, though the Sisters have a cynical view of them, as most prophecies are political distractions.

I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.

Nona

Despite the desperation of the world, your typical school trappings are there.  There are strange teachers, including the poison master who delights in poisoning new students.  There are bonds of friendship, rivalries, and fights.  Through all of this is a family seeking revenge against Nona (that’s why she was headed for the noose), and the political machinations of a dying empire.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit by the end, and if there was one complaint, it’s that there are so many murder-nuns in it that it can be difficult to keep track of them all, save for Nona herself, who is basically X-23 in a weird failing future fantasy world.  Definitely worth a read if any of this sounds like it’s up your alley.  Red Sister is out now via the usual suspects, including Amazon.

Categories
TV

Legend of Korra, Five Years Later

Five years ago, The Legend of Korra first aired on Nickelodeon in the US, as a sequel series to the much-beloved Avatar: The Last Airbender.  While not the critical smash that A:TLA was, for me Korra stands up well as an amazing piece of storytelling, with gorgeous visuals to boot.

In case you’re not familiar with either series, the world of Avatar takes cues from ancient Indian, Asian and various indigenous cultures around the world.  The twist is, some people are born with the ability to ‘bend’ earth, fire, air or water, and there is always one Avatar that can learn to bend all four.  When the Avatar dies, their spirit is reincarnated to the next nation in a cycle (in the same order of elements above).  As you might guess, A:TLA follow an airbender Avatar (Aang), and The Legend of Korra follows his immediate successor, Korra who is a waterbender.

Right away, the new series made sure to show us how different Korra herself would be from Aang.  Aang had started out as a reluctant hero – he had run away from the Avatar responsibility, she dove in head-first.  Aang had been contemplative and looked to solve problems peacefully first.  Korra would often punch first and ask questions later.  In fact, it’s one of Korra’s central issues she has to overcome, as that sort of personality is diametrically opposed to airbending principles.  Throughout the first season (Book One: Air), Korra struggles to connect with her spiritual self, butting heads with Aang’s son Tenzin as he tries to teach her to airbend.  It’s very parental, and it’s something most tweens and teens can relate to.  In fact, if there’s one thing that seemed to bother some fans that grew up with Aang, it’s that the new show definitely skewed older with the issues that were tackled.

One of my favorite things Legend of Korra did was realistically advance the world from the previous show.  On Avatar: The Last Airbender, we saw the beginnings of industrialization.  There were rudimentary mechanized vehicles and ships, and it would’ve been easy for the show to just stick with that, but they went full industrial revolution in Republic City.  The problems facing the world also matured.  Book One’s villain, Amon, made you take a hard look at how you treat the ‘others’ in your life, especially when you have more power than they do.  Book Three and Four swung the pendulum between chaos and order, showing how bad things can be at both ends of the spectrum.

I am the solution – Amon

Another aspect I love about Legend of Korra is how the relationships grow over time.  Sure, it starts out with typical teen angsty love triangles, but it ends with a some amazing friendships and even a same-sex couple that goes about as far as Nickelodeon would let them.  And that develops over years, by overturning the media tendency to have women be rivals for the affections of whatever men happen to be around.  Korra and Asami have every reason to dislike each other, but end up close friends, and finally more.

Legend of Korra does what any sequel or continuation should do – it deepens the lore, pays homage to the past but isn’t beholden to it, and only serves to improve the Avatar legend.  If you never gave Korra a shot, you owe it to yourself to try it now.  The first three books (seasons) are available on Amazon Prime for free though you do need to buy Book Four (which is totally worth it).