Archive for Comics Industry

The Bad Times Ahead

Well, if you haven’t been paying attention to comics news this week, you might have missed this scary piece of info — AT&T, the new owner of Warner Entertainment and DC Comics, laid off about a third of their staff, including a ton of editors and their entire merchandising department.

This got immediate comparisons to the infamous DC Implosion of the late 1970s, with Mike Sterling talking specifically about some of the similarities, as well as his thoughts on what it may all mean.

But I want to direct y’all’s attention to a Twitter thread by none other than Gerry Conway, one of comics’ Grand Masters, outlining what he sees as the causes (AT&T has no clue what to do with any of its content-producing subsidiaries and basically wants to treat them the way Bain Capital treated Toys R Us) and the likely future results (very, very little good):

What happened at @DCComics yesterday was probably inevitable once @WarnerMedia became a subsidiary of a tech company uninterested in creating new creative content, and planning only to strip mine existing IP for streaming.

It should have been clear when the incoming AT&T management told the management of the highly successful and profitable @HBO that they needed to upend their corporate culture in order to feed the AT&T cable pipeline with continuous streaming content a la Netflix.

It should have been clear when AT&T replaced the successful management team at @HBO that AT&T didn’t see value in @HBO’s content — only value in @HBO’s *brand*.

The content currently produced at @DCComics or @dcuniverse is of no interest to the tech bros of AT&T — only the brand. Publishing comics is a low profit margin business — the value lies in the IP, and only the IP.

Expect AT&T to do the absolute minimum necessary to keep the @DCComics brand alive for its IP value. Some of the decisions AT&T will make are probably long overdue for a business model tha’s been marginal for decades; this will be brutal and bloody.

This time next year, I predict @Marvel will own about 90% of the new monthly comic market — in which case, retail comic shops are done. @DCComics will probably publish reprints and a handful/dozen of new digital-only monthly series intended for graphic novel release.

When the comic book retail market collapses, @Marvel too will have to turn to a digital monthly/print graphic novel format for a reduced number of titles. It’s simple economics. The business has relied too long on a fragile distribution model. COVID-19 and AT&T have broken it.

In the long run, despite the tremendous personal loss of the people affected by this — and my heart breaks for them, it really does; these are good, worthy people who deserve better — this may be for the best, creatively.

Storytelling in superhero comics has been in a creative, market-driven straitjacket for decades. Pandering to the tastes of a diminishing comic shop readership, relying on marketing gimmicks like variants, reboots and bi-annual “events” to temporarily boost sales.

It’s all had a cost, creatively. A long time ago, in my naif youth, I once argued with Marvel’s head of production at the time, Gentleman John Verpoorten, that some production decision he’d made would have a negative effect on the creative value of the book I was working on.

At the time Marvel was publishing 40 titles or more a month. John gestured at the wall of covers behind him in his office. “Hell,” he said. “If you want to talk about creative value, from a creative point of view we can justify maybe six of these.”

It was true then, and it’s true now. Maybe a diminished superhero comic book market would be a more creative one.

Guess we’ll see in 2021. Till then…

F**king 2020.

So there’s our grim portent of the future. I’m a natural pessimist — or as I like to remind everyone, a realist — so this all makes dreadful sense to me. On the one hand, it would be great for the Big Two to get away from annual crossover events. On the other hand, really can’t say I like the idea of killing off comics shops and original superhero comics as a sacrifice to AT&T’s profit margins…

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Read More Comics!

If you’re a comics fan, you’ve probably already noticed that the comics biz is not doing so hot right now. Diamond is not shipping anything and may go out of business completely. Comics publishers are printing fewer comics, and smaller publishers are in serious trouble. And local comics shops are in dire straits, with many in danger of closing permanently.

The same holds true with traditional book publishing, RPG book publishing, boad game publishing, and local independent bookstores and game stores. The Coronavirus pandemic is serious trouble for everyone, obviously, and local retail stores rarely have the profit margins to let them stay closed for months.

So if you love comics, if you love books or games, and if you’re able to spare the money, it’s important to try to support the hobbies you love — now more than ever.

Many comics shops and bookstores are working to get books to readers even if the doors are locked. Lots of them offer curbside service, others deliver to local addresses and will mail packages outside the area. Some are selling mystery bags of books or comics — tell ’em what kinds of books you like, and the staff will box up a surprise selection of books or comics for you.

And don’t forget you can order directly from smaller comics publishers and game publishers, too. They need the help as much as local retail does.

And let’s not neglect creators — comics writers and artists, authors, game designers. If you have a favorite creator, check their websites and social media to see if they have Patreons or another way to support them directly.

And dang, let’s remember the Post Office needs help, too! You know what happens if the Republicans kill the Post Office? Good-bye to cheap mail order, good-bye to almost any mail service to rural areas. Go order some stamps, please.

If you need suggestions of some retail outlets, check my sidebar — I recently added a new section devoted to retail comics, book, and game stores that I’m acquainted with and that could use a helping hand. But a lot of you have your own favorite shops to support, too.

If you can afford it, let’s try to save the worlds of our imaginations.

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Drawing the Line


I think it’s very, very well-established at this point that DC Comics does a lot of extremely stupid things.

I was willing to forgive a lot. Honestly, I think I was much too forgiving. But running J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman off of “Batwoman” — the most astoundingly beautiful comic book on the stands today — and then spitefully cutting their run even shorter? That’s too stupid. That’s too malicious. And I’m not going to forgive it.

When Williams’ and Blackman’s final issue of “Batwoman” comes out, I’m dropping nearly all DC Comics off my pull list. That’s probably about a month or two away, so we’ll have plenty of DC books to review for the next few weeks.

There are some of their comics I’ll keep buying. I completely refuse to drop “Astro City,” which I’ve been reading long before it was published by Wildstorm or Vertigo and which I consider one of the best long-running superhero comics out there. I suspect I’ll keep reading “American Vampire,” but since it’s going to remain on hiatus ’til March 2014, that may not make a lot of difference.

But I’ll give up “Batgirl” and “Batman ’66” and “Batman: Li’l Gotham” and “Wonder Woman” and all the rest of them. It’ll suck, because I’ve been a DC fan since I was a little kid. I love a lot of those characters. I love a lot of these creators. It’ll suck, and I may be miserable about it.

I’ll give myself permission to buy DC books when I see them at the used bookstore, where I know DC won’t get my money. I give myself permission to buy DC’s “Showcase Presents” collections of old comics, as well as all-ages books like “Tiny Titans” or “Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade,” especially if I’m buying them as gifts. I’ll give myself permission to buy an occasional DC book — this isn’t a hard boycott, obviously. But I’m done feeding so much of my money and attention into that sick, bleeding, rabid beast.

I think there’s a time to say things have gone too far, that things have gotten too bad, that comics fans should stop supporting a company that doesn’t respect readers, creators, characters, or stories.

Get rid of Dan DiDio, Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, and Bob Harras, and you’ve got a good chance of getting me back. Otherwise, I’ll buy books from Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, Boom, Red 5, Archaia, First Second, and just about anyone else.

I’ve got no illusions about this. I’m one guy, and the money I spend on comics is insignificant, even within the far-from-profitable comics industry. I’m one guy with a blog that has fewer than 20 readers a day. I’m one guy, and this will have absolutely no effect on DC.

But I’ll do it anyway. I’ve had enough. The line, at least for me, must be drawn here. This far, no further.

And I’ll remind y’all — and any Time-Warner execs who just happen to blunder onto this blog — that I know how to fix DC Comics, and when the global megacorp finally gets tired of watching their highly profitable and marketable trademarks getting devalued, I’m available to help get the ship righted.

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How to Fix DC Comics


Y’all settle down and get comfortable. I’m gonna be talkin’ for a while.

Let’s start out with something that should be obvious to all of us: DC Comics is broken, and broken badly.

The New 52 has been, by and large, a disaster. The stuff that worked was either already working before the reboot or would’ve worked with or without it. The company makes poor decisions that seem to have no purpose other than gratifying the people running the company, and they seem to be working as hard as possible to alienate their readers. The marketing and public relations efforts are so laughable, they’ve inspired this wonderful site, which tries to track how long it’s been since the last DC PR disaster.

Which isn’t to say that Marvel doesn’t have its problems — an over-reliance on summer crossover events and a bizarre focus on giving Millar and Bendis way, way too many comics to write being chief among them — but they’re just not as screwed-up as DC is.

So what happens if the higher-ups at Warner Entertainment get a clue and put me in charge of their comics division? Let’s run down the list.

First, and most obviously, we’ll be firing the guys in charge of the company: Diane Nelson (if we’ll get hire-and-fire privileges over Warner execs), Dan DiDio, Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, and Bob Harras. And I can tell some folks are already saying “No, not Geoff Johns! Not Jim Lee!” Sorry, they’re both getting the axe. Johns is the Chief Creative Officer — and DC has been publishing a lot of deeply uncreative stories since the reboot. He is at least as responsible for the ongoing debacle as DiDio.

As for Lee — listen, I realize he draws real pretty, but he’s also the guy responsible for Superman’s new armored costume. And any costume that makes the long-maligned red-underwear costume look really, really good in comparison has got to be classified as a complete failure in costume design. Even worse is the costume redesign for the Flash. He took one of the most perfect superhero costumes in history and turned it into an over-busy disaster. That’s like deciding to improve the Taj Mahal by adding racing stripes and Ed Hardy logos. And it seems very likely that Lee is behind DC’s move to the ’90s-Image, flash-over-substance, let’s-make-everything-gritty-and-exxxtreme garbage. The guy hired Rob Liefeld, after all.

Ideally, not only would I fire these guys, but I’d try to blackball them as well. They’ve screwed DC up so hard, none of them really deserve to work in comics anymore. However, the comics business being the way it is, trying to keep these guys out, even for the good of the medium and the industry, would probably be an exercise in futility.

Second, dump the New 52. Let the writers finish their current storylines, then dump the Reboot completely. Need a way out of it? Try this: “Hey, Barry Allen, it’s me, Wally West! Flashpoint shot you into Earth-53, where everyone is unhappy and the costumes look like crap! Come on, I came over on the Time Treadmill to bring you back to Earth-1!” Or alternately, just leave Barry over there. I’m not a big fan of Barry Allen, and I wouldn’t care a smudge if we left him in a parallel universe.

With the Reboot out of the way, start rolling things back to the way they were before. Restore the classic looks for Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Superboy, Supergirl, Nightwing, Beast Boy, Captain Marvel, and more. Restore the Robins to their proper places in the Bat-family. Leave Jason Todd — unfortunately, his resurrection has gotten too well-established by now, but he works best as an anti-hero or even a villain. Bring Damian Wayne back as the current Robin. Sorry, Grant Morrison — Damian is too good a character to discard, so he’s still alive on Earth-1.

What else? Huntress is going to be Helena Bertinelli again. I thought her story was a lot more interesting than Helena Wayne’s. Also, Batman isn’t going to have sleazy sex on rooftops with Catwoman, Starfire is not going to be an amnesiac slut, Roy Harper is going to have both arms.

Ya know who’s going to be making their triumphant returns? Pretty much everyone. Wally West, Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown, Renee Montoya (as the Question), Ryan Choi, Atlee, Lian Harper, Misfit, the entire Justice Society, the Secret Six, and Donna Troy will all exist again.

That doesn’t mean we’re completely abandoning characters created for the New 52. If we’ve got any characters we want to write stories about, we can have versions of them exist on Earth-1 as well — Batwing, Starling, Simon Baz, Bunker, Element Woman, Frankenstein, etc., etc. We own ’em — we’re not going to abandon them if they’re worth keeping.

And yes, we’re restoring DC’s classic continuity again. That’s one of the strengths of any long-lasting comic publisher — something Marvel definitely realizes. You dump your continuity, you dump your history — and comic fans really, really love continuity. We all know it’s true, and it’s time to accept that there are things we should be doing just because they make comics fans happy.

But we’re not necessarily going to restore the entire continuity. Frankly, this is a great opportunity to take some of the bad stories from the years just before the New 52 and throw them into the East River. Let’s get rid of “Cry for Justice” — Lian Harper is alive, Roy Harper isn’t an amputee, Green Arrow didn’t somehow get the drop on Prometheus, the Atom didn’t torture people by kicking their brains. Let’s get rid of “Identity Crisis,” too. There were parts of that story I kinda liked, but it’s worth it to memory-hole stuff like “Dr. Light raped Sue Dibny” and “Deathstroke moves faster than the Flash.”

Now here’s a tough question we’ll have to take care of: Is Barbara Gordon still Batgirl? Or is she wheelchair-bound Oracle again? That’s a damn good question, and trying to answer it is actually kinda scary. I think Barbara was a better character as Oracle, but you don’t want to take her out of the chair and then re-paralyze her again. It seems cruel. I think my preferred solution would give her both worlds — on Earth-1, she’s still paralyzed and does most of her good deeds, including leading the Birds of Prey, as Oracle. But in a world as full of technological miracles as the DCU, she should have access to a temporary treatment or super-suit that lets her periodically swing around Gotham as Batgirl.

However, for something as important as the fate of Barbara Gordon, I think I’d probably let some of the smart writers who love Babs, including Gail Simone and John Ostrander, take the lead in figuring out what happens to her.

Okay, that takes care of the New 52. But there are plenty of other items on our rebuilding agenda that we need to talk about.

What are we going to publish? No, I’m not going to talk about every single comic that’ll have the DC bullet on the cover, but let’s discuss some general trends. We should aim at publishing two Superman books, three starring Batman, and two for Green Lantern. There should also be a solo book for Damian Wayne. I’d love to see Power Girl back in her own comic again. And I think we should be publishing a comic called “Batgirls” that would star Barbara, Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown, and any other Batgirls we want to include — maybe the Huntress, maybe Carrie Kelly, maybe Harper Row.

I want “Dial H” moved under the Vertigo banner. It just doesn’t fit in a mainstream superhero universe, and we shouldn’t handicap it by trying to force it into that mold. I also want John Constantine out of the mainstream DCU and back in Vertigo. Heck, Vertigo needs to be strengthened in general — there’s more to comics than superheroes, and DC should embrace Vertigo’s vision. Can we get Karen Berger back in charge? Let’s try.

We’ll be giving the Wildstorm properties back to Jim Lee. There are actually some characters I think we could have some fun with, but we’ll be parting with Lee on less-than-friendly terms, and I think he’d be unlikely to let us keep using them.

I’d also like for DC to start publishing Milestone again, either as a separate imprint or more strongly blended into the mainstream DCU. DC and the comics world in general owe a debt to Dwayne McDuffie, and part of the way we could pay it back is to make sure his creations are still available to readers.

And one of the first things I’m going to do when I’m put in charge of the company? I’m greenlighting “Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 9th Grade.” Because in complete seriousness, “Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade,” the 2009 all-ages series by Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones, was phenomenally fun, and the creators had a great plan to continue the series all the way up to Supergirl’s senior year in high school.

I also want to give Art Baltazar and Franco permission to do anything they want to for our all-ages line. “Tiny Titans,” “Superman Family Adventures,” another series entirely — their work is just too much fun.

We need to be expanding our all-ages comics anyway. Not just comics based on TV shows, though those are important, too, but all kinds of comics for readers young and old. I don’t care if they’re not million-sellers. All-ages comics are how we get young readers and their parents caring about comic books. It’s how we persuade them to become lifelong comics fans. All-ages books are an investment in the future of the industry, and I think we need a lot of them.

And I want us to start cultivating more women and minority creators. It’s embarrassing that DC is so bad in that area. We need talent, and we don’t need to alienate anyone who has the skills to make good comics for us.

Also: Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener, creators of “Atomic Robo”? We need them working on a book for us. Pronto.

And finally, let’s talk about the business side of things. And we’re going to start out scaring the crap out of the stockholders, ’cause a couple of our decisions will, in the short term, lose us some money.

I’d like to see us improve things financially for our freelancers. I’m the type of guy who’d kinda like to pay everyone a salary, but I also know that’s really not the way things work in the publishing world. Writers and artists in magazines, book publishing, and comics are, for the most part, freelancers who get paid when they do work for us. Not much of a way we’re going to be able to break that pattern, and ultimately, there’s probably no reason for us to try. But I’m tired of hearing about comic creators who die destitute or have to declare bankruptcy because of health troubles. We screw over too many of our creators while the corporation gets insanely rich on their work. So let’s try to improve things a bit. Better insurance options, better savings options, profit-sharing — anything we can do to keep creators’ heads above water. It’s not just good for our creators either — it’s good publicity for the company. And that is a gain for us in the long-term.

Ya know what else? It’s time to let Alan Moore have “Watchmen” back. He signed an agreement in good faith, and the company has gamed the system to keep from letting him have the rights back. I think it’s time to hand the rights back over. Now I’m sure the lawyers will have their say about which rights he’ll get — sorry, Alan, it’s really unlikely that you’ll be allowed to burn every copy of the movie. And here’s the other thing — after we give him the rights to “Watchmen” back, we say, “Listen, we know we haven’t had the best relationship, but that was with a different administration of the company. We want to let bygones be bygones. Now, would you like to write anything for Vertigo?” And that is also a gain for us in the long-term.

Anything else? I think it’s time to stop leaving marketing and PR in the hands of us hotheads in upper management. Comic readers and creators have strong opinions, and that often leads to us saying things that don’t go over well with the fans. It’s time to do what we can to reduce that, and that means hiring some real marketing and public relations professionals to make sure our messages — and our corporate messaging — are clear and efficient. And I think we need some of them helping guide us through pitfalls we’re not even aware of, so I want a public relations pro in a fairly high position to watch what we’re creating, who our creators are, who our readers are — and how to improve our communications and marketing, and to warn us when we’re about to do something that will needlessly alienate and anger our audiences. I don’t want them there to write corporation-safe stories for us — I want them to help us make sure great stories are getting told the right way.

And I’d like to improve the availability of all our collections, graphic novels, and trade paperbacks. I ran into a situation a couple weeks ago where I really wanted to get one particular trade paperback — a fairly recent one, too — but it was already out-of-print. That should never happen, barring short periods where we’re between print runs — everything we’ve published in book form should be available to readers, either in print or digital — or even in print-on-demand. We shouldn’t force readers to pay $50 for a trade paperback to complete their run on a series. We shouldn’t force them to torrent a series that isn’t available otherwise — because it’d be better for us to sell it to them ourselves! And I really think that, though it’ll cost some to make sure our comics — including the DC Showcase collections — are available, it’ll also be a long-term gain for us.

And finally, when it comes to our publishing philosophy, part of the work we’re doing needs to be comics evangelism. I’m not talking Stan Lee-style evangelism, because there’s only one Stan Lee, and I don’t think he’s gonna start publishing Stan’s Soapbox for us. What it does mean is that we need to work to spread the good news of comics everywhere. That means all-ages comics as an investment in the future of comics; alternative comics to make sure we’re not neglecting adult storytelling; female and minority heroes and creators because we need to expand our audience. And always great stories and great art and great characters. Because that’s still the best way to get more people reading and caring about comics.

And that, my children, is how we’re going to fix DC Comics.

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Heart of the Sun

I picked up a ridiculously small number of comics on Wednesday, but here’s what I gotta say about ’em.


Uncanny Avengers #8

The Peak Space Station — the HQ for S.W.O.R.D. — has been knocked out of orbit, but Thor and Sunfire manage to — just barely — save Rio de Janeiro from the plummeting wreckage. After Sunfire takes a few minutes to get uncharacteristically egotistical about praising himself, he and Thor take off after the Apocalypse Twins, whose murder of a Celestial has set the whole disaster in motion. They reveal that Wolverine, as a member of the black ops X-Force team, participated in the executions of Warren Worthington and a young clone of Apocalypse. Meanwhile, Captain America finds himself trapped in hostile territory in the Sudan, where an unknown person has brought him for a secret meeting. And as the rest of the team rushes to Apocalypse’s old home base at Akkaba, the Apocalypse Twins destroy their old followers and then blow up the city.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good story and art. Nice set-ups for future issues — Thor doubts Wolverine, Sunfire’s an arrogant dork, Cap is meeting someone mysterious. Still a bit bugged by how little I care about the Apocalypse Twins, though. And that I didn’t know Angel was dead. I was pretty sure he was appearing in one of the X-books…


DC Entertainment Essential Graphic Novels and Chronology 2013

Basically, it’s a bit oversized listing of what DC considers its most important graphic novels, along with some spotlighted GNs and trade paperbacks for most of their characters.

Verdict: Thumbs up. At least partly because it’s free.

For the most part, I’m in agreement with the books they pick to spotlight. I’ve got some quibbles — Ain’t no way JMS’s “Earth One” books are considered worth getting, and there’s a pretty vast amount of emphasis on the New 52 and Flashpoint vs. the older comics that were generally considered the best reads. Not a word is mentioned of any Flashes other than Barry Allen or any Batgirls prior to Barbara Gordon. And there are a pitifully small number of Wonder Woman collections listed, which DC should feel really embarrassed about. And not a single all-ages collection from a series that hasn’t been cancelled. Holy crap, DC Comics, how did you let that happen?!

But most of this is a pretty good summary of the better DC graphic novels, as well as books from Vertigo and MAD. It’s a decent reminder of some comics you may not have picked up yet. And again, it’s free.

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Irritated Again


Oh, comics industry, do you have to do all these things to disappoint the polar bear? Do you really?

So first, there’s this bit of news that’s had the comics news sites roiling over the past few days: Geoff Johns will no longer be writing “Green Lantern.” This is considered so earth-shatteringly important that you can see multiple articles devoted to Johns and GL on all the big sites.

The thing is, this isn’t important. The only reason anyone cares is because Geoff Johns is one of the people running DC Comics (into the ground, he added venomously), and because his devotion to Green Lantern is so overblown that he’s got the company publishing four different GL comics — the same number as the Superman-related comics. We can pretty well be guaranteed that Johns will eventually pick up some new character obsession, if he doesn’t just insist that DC start publishing a dozen “Aquaman” comics.

What else does DC think is important for the comics world? Well, they’re going to let bigoted has-been douche Orson Scott Card, still coasting on the positive reputation he got from writing “Ender’s Game” in ’85, and now better known for being a homophobic freak, write some Superman stories in a digital comic.

Now that’s a real WTF moment, DC.

And you know that DC was probably entirely expecting this, if not actively excited about it. Card’s background and reputation isn’t a secret. You mention his name in nerd circles, and you’re stone guaranteed to get as many people who hate him for being a gay-bashing scumbag as there are who love him for being the author of one of science fiction’s most beloved books. Heck, you can find people who love “Ender’s Game” but still hate Card for being a gay-bashing scumbag. His reputation is inextricably tied to the fact that he really, really hates gay people.

And DC, a company that has more and more often marketed its comics by trolling and insulting comics readers, decided this sounded like a public relations triumph. They knew it’d be controversial, they knew it’d really get the outrage pumping — and courting controversy and outrage is all DC really knows how to do these days. They certainly don’t care about quality stories, because Card hasn’t written anything more impressive than his homophobic screeds in at least a decade.

But really, you know what bugged me the most today? More than the foofaraw about Geoff Johns quitting one of his bland superhero comics? More than one of the Big Two embracing a bigot for the sake of cheap publicity and easy HuffPo hits? How about Don Rosa, the chronicler of Disney’s duck comics for several decades and a man second only to Carl Barks himself as one of the Scrooge McDuck creators, quitting comics completely, partly because he’s getting old and his eyesight is fading, but also because Disney can reprint his work any time they want to, put his name on the cover as a selling point, and not pay him a single dime. Yeah, not even a lucky one.

Seriously, comic book fans, this is way more important than one of DC’s bigwigs flouncing off and paying the comics news sites to freak out about it.

This is a depressingly familiar story. The comics publishers have never shown much interest in supporting the geniuses who’ve made them rich, and it’s absolutely ridiculous that Disney markets their Scrooge McDuck collections with Rosa’s name but won’t pay him any royalties or anything else in compensation. That’s infuriating and just sad.

Don Rosa deserves better. And we all deserve a better, less noxious comic book industry.

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A World Without “Superhero” Trademarks


So here’s the latest thing to irritate me about the comics biz.

There’s this little publisher called Cup O’ Java Studio Comix that’s been working on a comic called “A World Without Superheroes.” And Marvel and DC are going to take ’em to court because of their jointly-held trademark of the word “super hero.” (or superhero or super-hero or whatever variation.) They’ve done this before — a few years back, there was a comic called “Super Hero Happy Hour,” which changed its name to “Hero Happy Hour” to keep from getting sued.

I think this is all fairly silly, and I hope, since it appears that Cup o’ Java is willing to take it to court, that this is going to spell the end of the Marvel/DC trademark of “superhero.”

Ya see, the thing with trademarks is that you have to keep them protected. That means keeping track of people who may be using your trademark and getting them to stop. ‘Cause if you don’t, you run the risk of a court saying you haven’t done anything to protect your trademark, so anyone can use it. Or worse, from a business viewpoint, if your trademark gets used too often as a generic replacement for any variation of a product or service you provide, even if it’s actually offered by one of your competitors.

Let’s take this slow. Some companies take trademark enforcement way too seriously — McDonald’s, for instance, sues just about anyone who has a “McDonald” in their business name. McDonald Dry Cleaning, McDonald Lawn Care, McDonald Chainsaw Repair. That’s just mean, ’cause no one is going to assume that the same company that makes Big Macs is also going to fix your chainsaw, right? Too many lawsuits for frivolous reasons just makes people mad at you and gets you a reputation as a bully.

On the other hand, you really do have to make sure you don’t let your name become too generic. Xerox has had that trouble for years, because people started using their name as a verb — “I’m going to go xerox my files” when they meant they were just going to go make some copies. Xerox has worked hard for years, usually through advertising and public relations, to remind people that Xerox is a trademark, not just another word for photocopies. Same thing with Wham-O, which is so on the ball about protecting their trademark on the Frisbee that when you search on Wikipedia for “Frisbee,” it automatically redirects you to the article for “flying disc.” I mean, as far as I can tell, there’s no Wikipedia article at all for the Frisbee product, ’cause they’re so focused on making sure people remember it’s a Frisbee(R) flying disc.

There’s a whole branch of trademark law that has to do with generic trademarks — common words that used to be trademarks, like aspirin, zipper, kerosene, escalator, yo-yo, even heroin.

And let’s be honest now — “superhero” is a completely generic term. It describes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Storm, and Iron Man. But it also describes Spawn, the Tick, the Incredibles, Danny Phantom, the Powerpuff Girls, Fantomah, and every player character in the “City of Heroes” and “Champions Online” computer games. Your kid runs around with a bath towel around his neck and a paper domino mask, and who is he? He’s a superhero. Lower-case. Commonplace. Generic.

In “The Incredibles,” Bob Parr says, “Of course I have a secret identity. I don’t know a single superhero who doesn’t.”

In “Hancock,” Mary Embrey says, “Gods, angels… Different cultures call us by different names. Now all of a sudden it’s superhero.”

In “The Greatest American Hero,” Ralph Hinkley says, “I’m not quitting my job. How am I supposed to eat? Go down to the welfare office and stand in the superhero line?”

Did Marvel and DC sue to protect their trademarks in any of these instances? ‘Cause if Xerox had to deal with a lot of movies and TV shows using their trademark so carelessly, they’d raise hell, I guarantee. Why do DC and Marvel let this stuff slide?

Have they complained over the last few years about the tagline on the “Invincible” comics?


“The Best Superhero Comic Book in the Universe!” They’re even cribbing the Fantastic Four’s tagline, and Marvel didn’t say boo about it.

The fact is, Marvel and DC only try to enforce their trademark when it’s a small publisher that doesn’t have the money to fight them in court. And while that’s a great strategy for winning court cases, it’s not a good strategy to use when you want to really protect your trademark. Because everyone else uses it so much, it’s now completely generic. They don’t try to protect it when Image or Pixar use it or even book publishers who publish books with the word “superhero” in their titles. It’s almost like they know they’ve got a phony-baloney trademark, and they don’t want to draw too much attention to it.

Letting Marvel and DC have a trademark on “superhero” is about as stupid as letting Tor have a trademark for “science fiction,” or Universal Studios have one for “movie,” or Safeway have one for “groceries.” That’s not just my fat-guy schmuckass opinion either — legal experts generally think it’s kinda loopy that Marvel and DC — two competing companies — were ever allowed to share a trademark on such a generic term anyway.

“Superhero” belongs to all of us. And DC and Marvel can’t put that genie back into the bottle.

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Boredom and Solutions

Well, here we are. I’ve got nothing I particularly care to blog about. I’m done with all my reviews, at least ’til I go pick up new comics this afternoon. Not that I’ve got a lot of enthusiasm about that either, because I’m really feeling burned out on reviewing comics. There just isn’t much that feels like it’d be fun to blog about. I don’t have any particularly old comics that I could scan and make jokes about. I could run a “Dose of Awesome” post, but I can’t think of much that feels awesome lately. Waffles? Strawberries? Sleeping ’til just barely late, but not late enough to get a headache, on the weekends? No, nothing that feels like a really good topic.

Part of the problem is that there’s just not much worth getting enthusiastic about in the comics biz. I’m not saying there aren’t good comics out there, both from independents and by the big companies. But I’m well past the point now where I’m able to get very excited about anything anyone is offering.

DC’s rebooted 52 is an exercise in undisguised cynicism. Even with titles that are otherwise pretty good, you just can’t escape the idea that Dan DiDio and Geoff Johns are having a laugh at our expense. And that doesn’t even get into the way they keep treating women and non-white readers as some sort of barely tolerated embarrassment, only good for drumming up outrage, not so much for telling good stories to. There’s nothing like feeling used and disrespected to make you want to skip reading comics for a few months.

Not that Marvel is a lot better. Sure, they’re not doing anything as blatantly disrespectful as the “New 52,” but any company that’s still letting hacks like Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar call the shots is never too far away from pulling off something that’ll make “Red Hood and the Outlaws” look like Sunday tea with your maiden aunts.

On the other hand, I really do like a lot of what I’m reading from Dark Horse, IDW, Boom, Image, and other companies. In a lot of cases, they’re the only publishers who are really working to push the comics bubble. They’re working to expand what comics can do.

I think the only way we’re going to see exciting comics again is to work at it ourselves. If you write or draw, and you want to break into comics, it’s time to take Marvel and DC out of your Future Ambitions file. More and more often, working for the Big Two is a good way to tell stories the corporation wants but no one else does. Work on your own characters and your own stories, whether it’s within comics or somewhere else. Write webcomics, novels, screenplays, short stories, videogames, roleplaying games, children’s books, you name it.

And if you can’t write or draw — and there are plenty of us who can’t — keep reading new and good stuff. Keep pestering DC and Marvel about what a bad job they’re doing — because ignoring them just sends a message that we all approve of them. But let’s keep an eye out for good stuff, and let’s make sure other people know about them. Comics as an art form — heck, storytelling as an art form — must move forward, whether or not DC and Marvel are in the lead or at the back of the pack.

There won’t be much to be enthusiastic about immediately, maybe not for a while. But it’s got to happen eventually.

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