East of Gotham: Finally, Improvement at Marvel and DC

Marvel and DC Comics are both companies finally working toward the future.  No, we’re not getting actual character progression, an improvement in the treatment of minority and female character and creators, or even the rise of sites like Comixology breaking the direct market.  What we do have, finally, and slowly, is the passing of the old guard.

Marvel has been in on this for awhile.  Their most recent successful period came from utilizing stars from television, Joss Whedon and Allan Heinberg most notable,  while simultaneously giving big indy talent a break and turning them into stars within the industry, again, most notably with Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar.  With Millar moving away from Marvel and into creative owned work, Marvel has spent much of the last decade trying to create new stars – getting huge success out of talents like Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction while sometimes striking out with guys who were otherwise major successes like Robert Kirkman and Brian K Vaughan.  Still, this model has finally allowed an almost entirely new creative group with Bendis really the last remaining stalwart of the old guard and even he working on new ideas like the fantastic new Ultimate Spider-Man and soon, taking over the X-Men’s flagship.  With his exit from the Avengers, Marvel is in the hands of recent success stories like not only the aforementioned already established Hickman and Fraction as well as Rick Remender who will pen the upcoming Uncanny Avengers, but far less tested independent comic stars like  Kieron Gillen and Cullen Bunn.

DC Comics has been slower to adopt new talent, riding not only Grant Morrison and Geoff John’s prolonged success, but also turning to numerous creators of the past from Rob Liefeld to Paul Levitz and Scott Lobdell.  Finally, however, new writers seem to be getting a major push at DC, thanks largely to the success of Scott Snyder who rode American Vampire to a hugely successful run on Batman and Detective Comics.  Higgins has already helped launch Kyle Higgins and now is doing the same for James T Tynion on the new Talon Series.  Snyder’s success also helped garner attention for under-heralded veteran and stellar writer Jeff Lemire, as Lemire’s Animal Man is very much a sister book to Snyder’s Swamp Thing.  Now, across from Snyder’s Batman, John Layman of the stellar Chew is taking over Detective Comics and there are further opportunities for new writers to rise with Grant Morrison and Rob Liefeld reporting that they’re leaving DC.  DC was already beginning to move away from giving every title to Dan Jurgens and Scott Lobdell with new titles solicited by Christy Marx, China Mieville, Matt Kindt and more.

All of this is stellar news for comic fans and fans of the medium.  Marvel and DC’s superhero lines sell.  They’re the properties that people know from childhood that get movies and have longterm emotional attachment from fans.  Getting new writers on these titles not only grants exposure to these writers, but allows fresh voices with new perspectives to take on venerable titles.  Zeb Wells, for example, was hardly a star before he wrote Spider-Man: Shed, the best Spider-Man story in recent memory, which had a huge bearing on The Amazing Spider-Man film.  This kind of exposure can’t only come from mainstream titles, but it does help breathe new life into long-term franchises. Snyder’s changes, likewise, to the mythology of the Bat-Family will prove far reaching and influential without having fallen back on previously overdone characters and themes.

Fans of independent comics, particularly those not enamored with capes dominating the medium, get a major benefit, as well.  More mainstream work for independent favorite means more eyeballs on their creator-owned work.  More big name creators doing creator owned work means that more people will learn to try new comics and these creators can experiment with new ideas and concepts within the medium.  Even when creators, like Liefeld, license out their creator owned endeavors, we as readers often get great new titles and ideas along the lines of James Fulton favorite Prophet by Brandon Graham and  Joe Keatinge’s Glory.

Further, this will help all the problems and concerns mentioned at the start of the paragraph. New writers will take characters in new directions.  Another member of the Wayne family surviving changes Batman.  Sure, with fully company owned characters we don’t get a ton of character progression for the big names, but some is surely better than none, and smaller titles and characters can be reinvented to great success a la Luke Cage under Brian Michael Bendis.  Such successes, even when not notable in sales of the comic, can lead to greater exposure, as Abnett and Lanning’s Guardians of the Galaxy will surely be a far bigger deal after their major motion picture.  Minority and female creators are becoming more and more common – take a look at that earlier list of new DC writers – and, while not there yet, as the current generation rises, this will be less and less of a taboo.  In addition, these creators are far less motivated by the norms of yesteryear and thus more likely to prominently feature minority or female characters in major, properly developed roles.  With Bendis’ own Ultimate Spider-Man showing unconventional (in both age and race within the medium) protagonists can sell, there’s little excuse for more such protagonists to emerge.

Finally, almost all of these creators have independent work – whether the big names or newly emerging talents – and almost all have benefited from the exposure of non-superhero work sold via the Internet.  The previous model that worked for decades was best known the the talent that’s on it’s way out.  The new talent already knows better, and thus, tomorrow is fast approaching for the benefit of comics as a whole.

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