Crisis of Comics: Secret Convergence Wars: Oh, the Places We’ll Go

Crisis of Comics takes a weekly look at some of the recent publishing woes by the Big Two, offers up theories and concludes with suggestions about what might be missing.

Of course there is a larger discussion to be had, about the quality and repercussions of Secret wars and Convergence, but that is neither here nor there.

I would imagine that the writers of the tie-in books had a great deal of fun playing in ridiculous playgrounds even if just for 1-2 issues.

But why not let those writers continue to play, and let us, the comics readers, reap the benefits.

Imagine a team, one for each of the big two, who travel from pocket reality to pocket reality, both companies have had teams like this, eXiles as one example.

Look at all the fun we could be having slash look at all the cool stuff they teased us with and then forgot:

(It is Elseworlds, but not…)

  • 1602, with Angela or without
  • Supergirl: Matrix
  • Master of Kung-Fu
  • Plastic Man & The Freedom Fighters
  • Siege
  • Infinity Inc.
  • 1872
  • Swamp Thing
  • Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps
  • Hawkman

 

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Marvel’s Problems

If you have been keeping up with the kerfuffle:

last week, David Gabriel, Marvel’s senior vice president of sales and market, stated in an interview with ICv2.com that retailers have told Marvel, “people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.”

The bold emphasis is mine. He has backpedaled a bit, and you should read what he said, not just my bold which seeks to provoke. Gabriel is claiming this is what retailers have told them. Maybe this is true. Maybe not. Is this him saying it? No.

But, I think the implication is that Marvel doesn’t necessarily continue trying out new titles that they might qualify as “diversity.”

They don’t want to compare their sales drought to Mein Kampf.

I think this is a dick move, even if retailers did say this.

I am a Marvel guy, through and through, but I am trying to think of the Marvel titles and events I have enjoyed post-Secret Wars. I am trying to even think of the books I was looking forward to and disappointed in. I am enjoying Thor, but my patience is waning. The Bendis Iron-Man books are good, and ones I was legitimately, cautiously excited for. I wish International didn’t end. Champions is fun. Hellcat amuses me. I really liked Ant-Man and Mockingbird (both cancelled).

None of their events post-SW have been enjoyable at all. Pleasant Hill had potential, and I liked the Illuminati book (which had the only Pleasant Hill moment that was decent. Pleasant Hill instead was a waste. Poorly plotted and executed and with no repercussions.  Civil War II, I wanted to like, but what an awful hot-mess of a book that made me doubt my fealty.

Before I get into my theories, I want to quote a friend of mine, when I posited that Marvel said, without words, they felt their sales would be better with more books led by white males:

“Here is the thing. I would like that. I want my Cap to be a hero; I want my Spidey to be a down on his luck everyman. I want Thor to be Thor. I want Tony to be Iron Man. Those are the heroes I grew up on. That’s what I want from Marvel. They’re the legacy publisher. I want DC to be the passing of the mantle publisher. I love that there’s been 5 Robins in 30 years. I love that DC heroes retire and move on. But, I want my Avengers team to be the big 3 plus Wasp, Hawkeye, Vision, etc
“I want my X-Men to be the team they just announced for X-Men Gold.”
I quibbled with them a bit, because I don’t disagree that Cap should be a hero, and PParker Spidey became uninteresting when he became MCU Tony Stark. And really, 25yo Batman is retiring? I think not. But, I think there is room for non-white males as well. Luke Cage in a book where he isn’t reduced to saying “fiddle-faddle.” How about a the Asian team featured in Totally Awesome Hulk getting a book?

Mswc8cover

Prior to Secret Wars, Marvel had most (7 on average)  of the Top 10 comic sales every month, with their titles in the Top 10 selling 70,000 or more. Now, they have two titles in the top 10 (both Star Wars related, and with bipedal rabbits!), their highest selling superhero book coming in in the low teens and selling barely 60,000. Before folks jump down my virtual throat, I know that these sales figures do not indicate digital sales, etc. But, facts are facts, they are getting their asses kicked. It has nothing to do with diversity. Their editorial direction sucks. The stories suck. Why does Thunderbolts look like a bad 90’s Image ripoff?

Let me make my point clear:

THE STORIES ARE NOT VERY GOOD.

DC was sucking for a long time with reboot after reboot and finally had to tie everything to the Watchmen and do the hardest soft reboot ever to reinvigorate readership, it also meant scrapping much of what they had done and committed to for the past 5 years. But their sales sucked, so they did it.

Marvel has committed to Secret Empire, the event that has evil-Cap leading Hydra in some villainous ways. I will hate-read at least the first issue. And, when that is over, and nothing happens, Marvel is bringing us Generations, where the old heroes will fight alongside the legacy characters, or some bullshit like that. #toolittletoolate

I remember a time when I read the Avengers and I liked it. I remember a time when there were multiple books I was excited to read each month, and when the events had lasting effects. But, this was quite some time ago. I enjoyed Secret Wars, and it made so much more sense than the ham-fisted tripe that was Convergence, and I wanted crazy shit to come out of it. Instead, we got dull comics, weak events, and a focus on mediocrity.

Retailers should be complaining the mediocrity is killing Marvel sales. It isn’t diversity. All New X-Men was in the top 20, selling around 60,000, in February of this year it was in the low 70’s selling barely 30,000. Those are facts.

Mockingbird5-600x904-1-600x904I will not use this space to bash Marvel and their events any more, and I will not defend Gabriel’s comments. Marvel was/is making some good books that feature diversity, and humor, and were not just part of big sweeping events. Many of these books have been or will be cancelled. But, if their Big Name titles were performing the way they should be, perhaps these other titles would not be sacrificial lambs sent to the slaughter. If Marvel wanted to dedicate themselves to quality books, they should cancel books that are underperforming. A new title, like Mockingbird, cannot underperform, because there are no expectations. But, the Avengers? This title should sell.

Marvel is protecting their weakness and destroying innovation.

Whatever Happened 2: Electric Breakdancing Superheroics

This will likely be the last in our short series about comicbook characters that have been orphaned by the recent reboots in both the Marvel and DC Universes. Characters that were featured before the reboots, or even featured prominently during the Big Events (Secret Wars and Convergence).

Why is this the last? After this column, it won’t matter anymore. We will have broken the code. AoG Editor Mike and I have been donning the tinfoil caps researching this one. We broke the 52 Issue code of New 52, and we predicted some sort of Convergence type event.

Of course, like any Uri Geller wannabes, we are right sometimes and wrong other times. Battleworld did not end up being Nu-Earth for example. But, you gotta at least try: a defeated Clock King is still right at least twice a day.

Rebirth news has been trickling out, and Mike has every available resource dedicated to compiling this information. #wheresbluebeetle

pantyfiend_logoNot every product launch can be Qwikster or Pantyfiend.com.

Confused? These two products never got off the ground, or were kiboshed pre-launch, or immediately post-launch.

The year is 1986, what the DC Universe needs is a Hispanic, breakdancing superhero.

#relevant

Many look back fondly on the Justice League Detroit era. It sure wasn’t West Coast Avengers. (I don’t recall Del dropping any JL: Detroit lyrics).

dazzlerBut sometimes, ideas need to evolve and change.

Because, the roller-skating superhero isn’t always going to remain relevant.

Tangent: When was Guy Gardner’s haircut ever relevant?


 

Justice_League_of_America's_Vibe_Vol_1_1(Be sure to follow the links for full details!)

Vibe is DC Comics Newest Keystone Series, 2013

So, that didn’t necessarily work out too well.

Going back further, 2009.

Geoff Johns: (…)we want to turn Vibe into a pillar of the DC Universe, just like Green Lantern has become a pillar. Our goal is to elevate the Vibe Universe.

(UPDATE: see comments below, apparently the above was an April Fool’s joke: “VIBE REBIRTH article was a April Fool’s Day gag coordinated across several sites years before Vibe actually came back. The crazy thing is we were right about Geoff Johns involvement! Ha!”)

But, look at the name of that series: Vibe: Rebirth. What event slash non-event is coming up soon? Rebirth.

I figured it out.

The case for:

The power players at DC want to make Vibe relevant.

Rebirth!

Given the speculation that part of the post-Rebirth publishing will be tie-ins to the TV and Cinematic DCUniverses, well, FlashU has Vibe already. OK, it’s not Vibe, but unless they are going the Hank Henshaw as Martian Manhunter route, it has to be Vibe, right?

And of course, Vibe was featured in a Convergence series.

Acotilletta2--Luke_CageThe case against:

Vibe was approaching offensive stereotype upon his launch. He has not necessarily been written well enough to move past this, ala Luke Cage.

George Pérez: Oh, I sincerely say he’s the one character who turned me off the JLA. If nothing else, every character that was introduced was an ethnic stereotype. I couldn’t believe it. I said, “Come on now!” These characters required no thinking at all to write. And being Puerto Rican myself, I found the fact that they could use a Puerto Rican character quite obviously favorable since the one Puerto Rican characters in comic that existed, the White Tiger, is no longer a viable character. But having him be a break dancer! I mean, come on now. It’s like if there were only one black character in all of comics, are you going to make him…

The facts:

Sometimes hype is just that, hype. Sometimes the ending of a TV show can suck, because the buildup is too much, or just out-and-out falsehoods. (Lost? Mad Men?) Sometimes cheese is just cheese.

I know Mike will be thanking me if Vibe is part of Rebirth and Mike’s DC is brought back. And although I have a pretty decent track record of predicting some of this stuff, as of right now, there is no indication Vibe will be featured.

Whatever Happened To… The Hopeless Saga?

The latest offering in our short series about comicbook characters that have been orphaned by the recent reboots in both the Marvel and DC Universes. Characters that were featured before the reboots, or even featured prominently during the Big Events (Secret Wars and Convergence).

This week, I am going to look at Dennis Hopeless’ Avengers Arena and Avengers Undercover. But, before I do, some background on me. A couple weeks ago, I was discussing a certain award nominated film I saw in theaters, and I was complaining about it, how I thought the last ⅓ really fell apart. My coworker pointed out that I frequently criticize everything, and asked me if I could name 7 movies that I do not have an issue with. I gave her a list much longer than 7, but as I was coming up with my list, I did have to cross some out, because, as much as I liked a movie, I did have some issues with it.

Spring Breakers

Of course, I am free to criticize whatever I want, just as you are. The reason I bring this all up, is that I would like you to consider my opinion on Hopeless’ 2 title, mini-saga of YA superheroic  angst under the auspices that I really appreciate what he was trying to do and some of the decisions he made. I tend to appreciate when an artist tries something new, even if it is flawed, this is more daring than rehashing some of the same old ideas.

So, what then, is my take on what Hopeless was trying to do? Avengers Arena is Battle Royale, with Marvel Characters. Or is it Hunger Games? Wait, you might point out, how is that original? Because, in Big Two comicbooks, characters rarely die. Certainly, even more rare is a series flat out telling the reader that characters will die. And Avengers Arena delivered. 6 out of the 16 characters competing for their lives died. There were a couple false positives, characters shown to be dead, who were later revealed to not have died, or were returned from death. But at the conclusion of the series ⅜ of the characters were dead!

Putting on my critical hat, the main issue I had was that of the 16 characters fighting for survival, 6 were created just for the series (mind you, I love the idea of Braddock Academy), and 3 were hardly used (of late) minor characters, thus leaving 7 characters that had been relevant in the recent Marvel U. It is hard to get attached to a character when it is likely they will die. During the publication of the series, AoG Editor Mike and I would often discuss this series, and wonder if the whole thing was going to be a dream, or some other type of cop-out.

Kudos to Mr. Hopeless for not copping out.

But, I know that I would have been far more invested in the series had it used more recently used younger characters: They pulled several from Avengers Academy, a series I enjoyed; some of the Runaways were present, characters I had a connection to; no Young Avengers; no X-Academy students; not even any Young Allies. To play pundit, I would have offered up a formula of 10 recent characters, 3 characters who had not been used much (New Warriors was a roster full of these characters, and was a title relaunched during the run of Avengers Undercover), and 3 new characters. With the new characters, give us a reason to care about them. Give them personalities, let us love or loathe them. And, anyone who knows me, knows I love new characters, and to be fair, many of the new characters were sort of legacy characters. But none of them had the charm of Shamrock.

Onto the Villain: Arcade

Arcade is a classic Marvel villain. He has been a Fantastic Foe, an X-Foe, a Spidey-Foe, and even had the gall to pit himself against Doctor Doom!

If you don’t know Arcade, you are probably saying, wow, he must be really powerful.

NOPE!

He is a genius with a penchant for creating death traps.

In my game designer alter-ego, he is a character who, in most superhero rpgs, is a foe easily beaten by the lowliest of heroes. To say he is an inspiration is not entirely true, but villains like him certainly are. Yes, he sometimes has tech gadgets to aid him, but at the end of the day, he is a themed villain, and that is pretty awesome.

Additionally, he had an iconic look: white suit, colorful bowtie, bad font selection.

When it was revealed that Arcade was the foe behind Avengers Arena, I started believing it wasn’t all a dream or some such nonsense. Arcade played for keeps. Unfortunately, his attire and styling changed in unfortunate ways.

And then Avengers Arena ended. I know there were petitions going around the interwebs asking it to be cancelled. Some research indicates it was only meant to be 18 issues, whether that is party-line rhetoric or the truth is inconsequential to me.

This led us to the second chapter in what I am calling the Hopeless Saga: Avengers Undercover.

“The characters who survived Murderworld came out the other side much different than they went in. Those psychological scars from the “Arena” weigh heavily on all of the kids. They don’t fit so well into their old lives. They no longer feel like they belong and they’re all looking for a way to get back what they’ve lost. All of this leads them down the path of Avengers Undercover.”

And, what an interesting premise it was, these fragile young heroes now had to deal with life after Murder World, all the while plotting and scheming and trying to figure out what their next steps will be.

There were some really cool ideas here, and I loved seeing all the villains in Bagalia and at The Hole (hidden supercriminal bar). The choices these characters make are interesting and compelling and a very logical outgrowth from their time in the Arena.

And it was cancelled. Hopeless had planned for 15 or more issues and had to wrap up his story after 10 issues.

But, the story ended.

That was two years ago.

Hellstrom, who was written as a very dark grey member of the Masters of Evil has now popped up in Dr. Strange, his look much worse than Arcade’s in Arena. And Nico is a member of A-Force.

Where is everyone else?

Or, bringing the whole discussion back to the basis for this article, is there any fallout? Is this an idea that should be explored again. Whatever the current iteration Marvel is called now has many young heroes: Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, Nova, Nightmask, Starbrand, Moon Girl, Miles Morales, and they are headlining some books of their own and starring in others, their youth being a not insignificant part of their story lines. But what about all the young adult emotional angst of Cammi, Death Locket, and Hazmat?

The case for:

Marvel’s current slate of titles covers many corners of the universe, with youth oriented books, and some books having a more global feel.

The two titles covered 28 issues over a span of more than two years. There have been significant, important runs of comics that were significantly shorter.

Revisiting this idea would cement the fact that when Arcade is involved, people die.

The case against:

Neither title sold particularly well.

Marvel has plenty of other young heroes.

The facts:

Nico is a member of A-Force, so, it is possible some of this history is still present, and could be revisited.

X-23 is the new Wolverine, and even has her own title.

Arcade is (in theory) still out there, so perhaps he is working on his next great plan. Although there is no official sequel to Lord of the Flies; Hunger Games, and Battle Royale both did have follow-up works.

There very well could be something to be said for letting this dark corner of the Marvel U lay dormant for awhile, and then revisiting it.

Whatever Happened To… The Strangest Team-Up Ever?!?

The latest offering in our short series about comicbook characters that have been orphaned by the recent reboots in both the Marvel and DC Universes. Characters that were featured before the reboots, or even featured prominently during the Big Events (Secret Wars and Convergence).

After tackling 2 DC characters, we take a look at one of the most intriguing team-ups in recent years: Dr. Strange and The Punisher!
imageBefore we delve too deeply into this odd pairing, some short clarification of the rules for this exercise: the character(s) needs to not be featured in the post-event universe; a character’s status prior to the events is not the be-all and end-all. The former I bring up, because during our pitch meetings for this series, Winter Soldier was on the whiteboard as a potential headscratcher of an omission, but, then Marvel announced Thunderbolts featuring none other than America’s favorite sidekick turned mind-wiped assassin, turned man on the wall, and AoG Editor Mike had a nerdgasm. The relevance of the latter point will be discussed below.

The Strange-Punisher team-up is not one with a long storied history, having actually only come to prominence during 2014’s Original Sin event. But, oh, how sweet it was. Some research into this duo uncovered that the seeds for this idea have been in the collective hive-mind of Marvel editorial for some time.

The case for:

–     Dr. Strange is a revered Marvel character, who has had multiples iterations of a solo series, as well as having been a member of some teams and non-teams, significant and not-so-significant (Secret Defenders). As iconic as he is, finding a publication niche for him and sustaining sales seems to have been an issue on-and-off. Punisher of course was one of the original breakout anti-heroes of comics, having had numerous solo series, going into space, killing everyone in the Marvel U. and so on. Their team-up brought two very dissimilar characters together in fun and surprising ways, allowing both to shine, while at the same time putting them outside their comfort zone.

–     Although they were not featured prominently in any Secret Wars books, obviously I was not the only one tickled and intrigued by this new relationship, as they were brought together again in the first issue of the Battleworld anthology.

–     Punisher is an icon, not just Frank Castle, but the Punisher brand. Although he did not headline any Secret Wars tie-ins, he, or rather, the Punisher brand, was a presence in many: Castle makes an appearance in Issue 1 of the main series.

There is a Sheriff Punisher in King James’ England, a Punisher saved Wolverine in Old Town, the Egyptia Punisher who served at the Shield discovered an Ultron that should not have been, two Punishers faced off in Ultimate End, Punishers were an arm of law enforcement in Civil War and Old Man Logan. And if you have read the main series, you know that Doctor Strange was a prominent character.

–     The pairing of these two has been an idea since March of 1991: What If: Wolverine was Lord of the Vampires?

–     Punisher was a big brand for Marvel, and will be featured in season 2 of the Daredevil Netflix series.


The case against:

–     Dr. Strange has his own solo series.

–     Dr. Strange has his own (miscast) solo movie coming in the MCU.

 

12625818_10207562220527335_1156398410_n

–     Frank Castle, the Punisher, is dead (see rules of the article, above: a character’s status prior to the events is not the be-all and end-all).

 


 

The fact remains that Punisher was a huge draw, and Strange could use the bump in sales!

The Winter Soldier “man on the wall” series was ambitious, the idea was solid, but with Bucky running the Thunderbolts now, I think it is safe to assume that this current iteration of the Marvel U. is ignoring that idea. But, the idea of Strange and Punisher tripping the realms astral, seems like an idea with so much potential in terms of art, storytelling, and developing and maturing both characters. Currently, Dr. Strange has his own title, and is “awesome facial hair bro” with Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man, and Punisher is still dead, as far as we know. But maybe Strange will run across him in his mystical travels? I would bet Castle will be back, but I wish it was teamed up with Strange. Strange needs his approach to problem solving dealing with all the mystical threats he is encountering and would mellow him out, while reigning him in. The new Marvel Universe is full of interesting choices (LBH, the new Spider-Man is just like Iron Man, and the stories feel like Iron Man stories), but I would implore Marvel to give Punisher and Dr. Strange a chance.

 

Whatever Happened To… The World’s Weirdest Hero

This is the first in a short series about comicbook characters that have been orphaned by the recent reboots in both the Marvel and DC Universes. Characters that were featured before the reboots, or even featured prominently during the Big Events (Secret Wars and Convergence).

This week we take look at that most pliable, polymorphic, anti-pedantic crusader for good, Plastic Man!

Jack Cole’s creation, who has been the focus of study by prestigious Pulitzer winning author and artist Art Spiegelman has not yet made an appearance in the DCYou. Is it a crying shame? Who cares about Plas anyway?

The case for:

–       He is one of the first superheroes still around, introduced three years after Superman, and arriving on the scene before Wonder Woman and Aquaman and well before Martian Manhunter.

–       Had his own cartoon.

–       Is a favorite of Alex Ross, Ethan Van Sciver, Grant Morrison, and Frank Miller.

–       Was profiled in The New Yorker.

–       His solo series by Kyle Baker won 5 Eisner Awards and 1 Harvey Award.

–       Cool enough to be namedropped by Alan Moore in The League of Extraordinary Gentleman: Black Dossier.

–       Frequent animated Brave and the Bold team-ups.

–       Is very, very powerful, this according to Batman.

The case against:

–       When DC editorial forgot they owned the rights to Plastic Man, Elongated Man was created, filling much of the same niche. And even with all the reboots, they still haven’t gotten rid of Dibny! A case could even be made Dibny is more significant to DC history, his inclusion pivotal to several major storylines.

–       Prior to Convergence, was not a significant part of the DCNew, although he had some appearances.

The facts remain though, that Plastic Man headlined a Convergence series.

And now, he is gone, like so much of DC comics interesting history. It is, of course, possible that he has yet to make an appearance, but I am not particularly hopeful. Personally, I most enjoyed his time in the JLA after Morrison’s introduction, and would love to see him used in a similar capacity: seemingly a goofball, but behind his doofy demeanor lies an incredibly deductive detective; a powerset and level of power matched by few (when Martian Manhunter went bad, Plas was the only one who could stop him!); visually fun to look at.

The insistence on tying him to the Freedom Fighters and often other C-List (in terms of name recognition and story-line significance) Gold and Silver Age heroes means that more often than not, he is doomed to obscurity.

 

All’s Fair in Love & Comics: Going to the Chapel

Can superheroes have a successful marriage and still be superheroes?

This is one of the most frequently used storylines within the superhero genre. At their core, cape comics are essentially soap operas “for boys,” with the relationships the hero has and makes often getting significantly more focus and page-time than any other aspect of the comic (especially fights). Marriage often doesn’t end well in comics, but it’s usually something both characters involved sincerely want to do.

But about halfway through the tenure of the New 52, right after Kate Kane proposed to her girlfriend, DC put a kibosh on marriage. The New 52 had already revamped almost all the preexisting DC character to make them younger, darker, and often not even heroes yet, as well as erasing some of the most prevalent and long lasting relationships in comics. With this new editorial decree, the only substantial relationship that remind in the DCU, pre Convergence, were Superman and Wonder Woman and Aquaman and Mera.

Now that Convergence is out, DC’s made almost a complete about-face-turn in how it handles marriage and relationships:

In Convergence, when the dome goes up, all the capes lose their superpowers. While a few heroes remain heroing in their own ways, almost every character ends up coupling off. Not just Lois and Clark or Diana and Steve, but Blue Beetle and Fire, Babs and Dick, Dick (of a different universe) and Starfire, Harley and some police officer, Steph and Cass or Cass and Tim, Peej and her nosy reporter friend Andrew Vinson…

What this actually implies is not clear. Perhaps, losing the adoration of millions leaves a void that each character strives to fill. Maybe it’s a commentary on how love is irrelevant until you are no longer invulnerable. Maybe it’s derivative or a dull premise and weak storytelling.

In some instances, the relationships the characters are in are plausible, and the canon of the era had already paired the characters off. Others seem completely out of left field, with the characters rarely interacting solo with one another or downright disliking one another.

While Marvel’s Secret Wars has yet to start, and who knows how that will effect character relationships, the company tends to try at presenting marriage as something feasible, even for superheroes. For every failed Jean Grey and Scott Summers (and Scott and Madelyn Prior and Scott and Emma Frost), there’s a Sue Storm and Reed Richards. For every MJ and Peter Parker, there’s a Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.

There are new relationships and marriages, too, like Northstar and his boyfriend, Kyle, wedding in what was the first gay marriage shown in superhero comics, or the engagement of Kitty Pryde and Star-Lord (which promises to be a significant plot point in their Secret Wars series). What’s really interesting about that relationship is that the engagement came AFTER Kitty Pryde became a cosmic-level hero.

It’s not that one company handles relationships or marriage better than the other; it’s the fact that DC’s staunchly maintained “no commitment” rule was dropped and replaced by nearly every hero and bit character becoming involved in a romantic relationship, whereas Marvel seems to embrace the idea that, even if relationships are ultimately unsuccessful, they are still one of the most important aspects of superhero comics. Relationships are the most efficient and compelling way that a character can be made grounded and realistic: it’s not the powers that make someone a hero, it’s their love for humanity.