Yesterday I ran into a friend from high school as I was leaving the supermarket. He told me that he is moving to a smaller place and so he’s trying to sell off his comics collection, which runs into the thousands and thousands. He’s going to keep some of them because he loves them, and for posterity, and for hopefully great value in the future. But he hasn’t been able to offload most of them – which I said probably has something to do with the economy, because even if the Dow is over 18,000 and the unemployment rate is under 5.5%, most everyone is keeping their Washingtons and their Lincolns and their Benjamins in their wallet or under the bed. He also told me that once DC’s two-month limited series Convergence is done in April, he’s also going to be done with comics.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because all it is now is one big cataclysmic event leading into another,” he said. “It’s boring, it doesn’t mean anything, and I’m not wasting any more money on the shit.”
Yeah. I get it.
Back in the eighties the comics industry was experiencing a boom in great visual storytelling that was busting down all the preconceived notions about comics. No more pop-art balloons. No more women whose only aim in life was to become a Mrs. fill-in-your-favorite-single-super-guy here. No more “*choke* *gasp* *sob* How ironic!” neatly wrapped up endings. Stories became more complex; the superheroes weren’t always red-white-and-blue American good guys who always saved the day.
Yes, Marvel had been doing this since the introduction of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15, cover-dated August 1962, but across the country there was an explosion of energy in the eighties: the independent market took root and prospered, the Comics Code Authority seal vanished from covers, the Brits launched a second pop culture invasion, and people were openly reading comics on the subways, on the buses, at work, and at school. The story ruled, man!
Comic historians can tell you when it exactly happened, but I know that it was after Crisis on Infinite Earths and Secret Wars and, especially, The Death of Superman, that the story disappeared and the event took over.
Ah, The Death of Superman – everyone was buying multiple, multiple copies and stowing them away in attics and cedar chests and shoeboxes because everyone knew they would be worth $$$$$$ someday. Only of course millions of issues were printed and of course DC wasn’t going to really ice their licensing giant and of course the public’s ability to be sucker-punched was infinite (pun intended). So of course it will be about 500 million years before a mint copy of the issue will be worth gazillions. But of course DC made money, lots and lots of money, and generated lots and lots of publicity, including a Time magazine cover.
And so of course, the people at the top of the corporate DC ladder wanted to do it again. And again. And again. And again.
And so they did.
And Marvel did it as well. I think they started (but again, ask a comic historian for the exact stats and dates) after Secret War I with the expansion of the X-Men line, which led to crossovers, which led to X-Men crossovers, which led to Iron Man and Thor, and Punisher expansions which led to crossovers and then to across-the-line events.
Oh, and let’s not forget the variable covers with Mylar and special graphics and holograms. And there were “3-D” pop-up pages, and double-page fold-outs and…
Dig it, man. These were all events.
But what happened to the story?
It went elsewhere…to the comics that nobody really noticed (and so got cancelled), to the book publishers who started graphic novel lines, and, especially in Marvel’s case, to the movies and television. (Although, as Marc Alan Fishman recently noted in his column last week, DC’s Flash is gettin’ it.)
John Ostrander’s column yesterday reflected on the wonderful world of robotic (computer) storytelling. He noted that these stories, and I’m using shorthand here, suck big time. Grammatically correct and all that, but no heart. No soul. No emotion.
But the Cylons evolved, and I’m guessing so will these programs, John.
Maybe not in our lifetime, old friend, or yours, but one day there will be an X-Men or a Superman or a Daredevil or a Batman written by a computer.
And it will be an event.