Identity Crisis in Comics

I have always been critical of the comic book industry. Maybe it isn’t fair but we are all guilty of laying down our money, for comics or any other form of entertainment, as an unspoken license to judge, second guess, and sulk about the things that happen and supposed terrible decisions behind them. Of course, we could have done better, right? With that in mind, I have long had a private joke about a miniseries, a successful one by most accounts, that DC Comics released in 2004 called Identity Crisis. To be clear, I am not here to beat up on Identity Crisis. It was somewhere between above average and good for me and, to be honest, I don’t remember it well at this point in time. For me, the only connection it has to comics, is what it represents to me personally, which I think is largely the point and goal of any media. I mean, it’s a comic called Identity Crisis, which sums up the industry quite well if you ask me.

I have been collecting comics monthly since about 2000. Over the years, I have mostly been annoyed by reboots, relaunches, rebirths, or any other spin the industry has put on pulling the rug out from under its fan base. For example, your favorite comic is currently on issue #21 in June and you wake up one day to discover the July issue is going to be inexplicably knocked back to issue #1 or, in an equally odd twist, warped forward to issue #500. That’s not to say I haven’t been sucked into these stunts on numerous occasions because I have indeed. I’m not completely naive. Since the major comic players and titles have been around for decade upon decade, I understand the need to change things up to keep it fresh or when a new generation or company takes the reigns. That makes sense and I can wrap my fragile mind around those facts. In the end, all the reboots, DC or Marvel, have only pushed me out of the monthly comic scene. I’m simply fed up with the absurdity. At this time, I currently buy whatever Conan series Dark Horse sees fit to publish, more on that soon. To clarify, I still buy other comics but almost exclusively in graphic novel form because it represents a cozy finality that monthly comics cannot offer. In my opinion, monthly comics represent pure chaos nowadays. Maybe they always have and it took me a while to notice. Who knows?

Okay, so I am just another complainer but that is good news. If I stopped caring altogether, I would not waste my time complaining. I do have a proposal that I cannot imagine is a groundbreaking idea by any means. I’m going to lay it out as a numbered list below because we are definitely dealing with numbering issues here.

#1 Drop the traditional numbering system completely. It obviously isn’t working and makes comic entities appear foolish and the fans feel foolish.

#1.1 Implement a new numbering system, big surprise. Every year, and I mean EVERY year, start a new issue #1-12. This is a win for all. You get closure, continuity, and the industry gets to release #1 issues with regularity, which equals sales. Not to mention, we already measure our lives in this manner to a large degree, companies and individuals.

#1.2 The #1-12 yearly system is more than enough issues for any story arc, or multiple ones, and adds structure to story telling and the industry as a whole. It also gives the readers something to look forward to as the latter part of the year is winding down. Let’s be honest, we do not care about issue #63 most of the time even if it is awesome, until issue #64 mysteriously becomes #200. At that point, it simply pisses us off and is akin to an alternate cover with our favorite hero giving us the finger.

#300 The frequent issuing of new #1 issues leaves plenty of room for autographed, graded comics, 1 in 50 special sketch covers done by the best artists, also autographed and graded, and plenty of wiggle room to accommodate a relaunch tied around a big movie release. I hear a lot of winning going on here.

#5 Every successful 12 issue run will be celebrated with the release of a hardcover graphic novel collecting the year’s entire run. Release this after issue #6 of the current year releases and, for added oomph, make it coincide with a major Comic-Con. If you start your issues every January, the timing would be perfect for San Diego.

This brings me back to Dark Horse. What I respect about them is how they have handled their Conan series, for the most part. For example, my beloved Conan, also released in 2004, ran a respectable #1-50 run. After that, there was Conan the Cimmerian (#1-25), Conan Road of Kings (#1-12). Conan the Barbarian (#1-25), Conan the Avenger (#1-25), and the new series Conan the Slayer, set to begin this July. Now, I’m not saying this is perfect, and my plan calls for something different, but I like knowing what to expect from Dark Horse and they have been delivering on this formula for more than a decade.

In closing, you can take all this with a grain of salt or dismiss it altogether. It’s my idea, so obviously I am biased, but I do not see a single negative aspect here. Even if a comic runs continuously, the story and direction are inevitably going to change no matter the number printed on the cover. At least this way, you know what you are getting as a fan and what your are in for as a writer, artist, editor, or publisher. That’s my take on it and, if I may be so bold, I think it is a great system, at least in theory. Unfortunately, a theory is all it may ever be.

2 thoughts on “Identity Crisis in Comics

  1. There’s no question, Adam, that the comic-book industry (certainly insofar as it applies to Marvel and DC) is in need of dramatic systemic restructuring. At this point, the comics basically serve as a loss leader for the movie (and television) franchises based upon them; if sales figures are any indication, no one seems to actually read them anymore — certainly not the preteen audience for whom they were originally intended. I don’t know if it’s because comics themselves are an outmoded medium for delivering spectacle (alien words and devastated cityscapes are now easily and routinely conjured on the silver screen courtesy CGI), or that kids today have moved on to more sophisticated forms of entertainment (like immersive, multiplayer videogames and virtual-reality simulations), or that superheroes themselves have just become a nostalgia act — “the ephemera of a previous century,” as Watchmen scribe Alan Moore deemed them. Maybe a combination of all three. But, there’s no doubt the comics industry needs bold, innovative thinking if it’s going to remain relevant as a form of artistic expression in its own right, and that does not mean rebooting the entire lineup with number-one issues every time sales flag. Perhaps someone will take your suggestion under advisement…

    Sean

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    1. As I mentioned in the article, I don’t collect as much as I did, like you said, when I was of the junior high/high school age. To be fair, my collecting probably peaked in my early twenties since I had more income. For me, it’s a combination of habit, hope, and refusing to let go of a connection to my childhood. Many things change as we age. I once was very much opposed to digital comics but I’ve since warmed up to them considerably. I am one of those guys that considers it an art form, not to the point of snobbery. The way things are going, I hate to see an art form that has endured through so much of our past century’s history become a forgotten medium. Timing is everything. If we want a blog to die, we need only stop posting. That may be the mentality that keeps monthly comics going. Perhaps they are the cost of doing business for the highly lucrative movie industry that has sprung up around them. One thing is certain, they have decades of material from which to churn out the CGI riddled blockbusters most of us enjoy. I do often ask the question, “How many times must we watch the Waynes be murdered?” Unfortunately, each and every one of us are kings and the comic movies are our jesters, which is fitting. I always considered them “entertaining” movies but not necessarily “good” movies. I feel like I could keep rambling about this but that is as good a stopping point as any. Thanks for your comment.

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