Thursday, March 29, 2007

Thus We Enter the Crisis Age of Comics

I believe it started at the beginning of the 21st century. Comics were changing. The fallout from the a-bomb dropped on the industry in the 90's had subsided. In plain English, comics were good again.

In the 90's, we saw a lot change in the industry. DC and Marvel felt the sting of competition for the first time in the form of Image Comics. Everyone was on board. New superheroes in new situations peaked the interest of readers everywhere. Books like Spawn, The Maxx, and others began to catch the attention of readers everywhere. It was refreshing to see new faces and new stories after so many years. Other publishers pushed books that seemed like undiscovered frontier for readers. New and old readers alike shifted their focus from Superman and the X-Men to Valiant titles and other new "independent" comics. I believe that this is was caused the mass of crap-tacular horror that is 90's comics.

My belief is that, in response to this new demand for non-mainstream superhero books, Marvel and DC went to drastic measures and made some pretty bad decisions to compensate. Thus began "great tales" of Spider-clones, Magneto monsters, and dead Kryptonians.

The Four Horsemen of the 90's Comic Apocalypse

This beast came to us in the form on Marvel's "Onslaught" crossover. I call it Famine because it's universe expanding nature caused most Marvel fan's to go broke every month. You had to buy every issue of every title, just to understand what was happening in the particular books you actually read. You could fill a couple of long boxes with the crap you had to buy to get this crossover. It was so big, that I never really understood what was happening. And I was buying books that I never read. Hulk, Cable, and more crap than the inside of a Port-a-John. This disaster of a crossover was boring, expensive, and pointless. (For shame Mark Waid. We love you now Mark, but for shame.) At the end of this mentally handicapped crossover, came "Heroes Reborn", which really was "Heroes Need Money, Buy our Variants". This 'relaunch' of the Marvel U was a waste, and caused Famine in the industry during the 90's.

"The Death of Superman" caused the greatest speculation boom in comics history. People that had never touched a comic book were buying cases of this book, thinking one day they would become rich off their resale. NOPE. Not only did the "Death of Supes" book flood the market with what seemed like 20 printings and variants, but it was complete garbage. The Man of Steel didn't fall to his arch nemesis Lex Luthor. He was killed by an illiterate grey monkey with a top knot and green Hulk pants. The story was so poorly written, that the only way Lois and Superman could have had less chemistry is if they were in two different comics.

This also spawned a demon child comeback. "Reign of the Supermen" haunts me to this day. Four variations of the DCU's most powerful hero, all with bad haircuts and die cut covers. To this day, every shop has back stock of these 'gems of crap', enough to inventory another store.

This highly infectious disease was brought by "The Clone Saga". Our friendly neighborhood Spidey was cloned, found his parents, died, and ruined Spider-man books for years. His clone, Ben Riley, was a hip hero, with a hooded sweatshirt for a costume. Not only did this story not make any sense, it was costly and pointless. We, as readers, needed this story about as much as we need the flu. It made me sick and want to puke, just like the flu.

This isn't a particular story of issue, but the state of comics in the 90's in general. Marvel and DC flooded the market in attempts to make more money, and when it becomes top priority to make as many books as possible, creativity and good writing go out the window. Variant covers and high sales numbers overpowered the need for good writers and good stories.

Another big change was how comic collecting snuck into the mainstream. Comics started to become more and more valuable. People wanted back issues and variant covers more than ever. For the first time, collecting became more important than actually reading the books themselves. This trend still continues today, (check out the value of early issues of Marvel and DC books in the first few issues of Wizard magazine, compared to today) although it isn't as bad with the multiple printings and so forth.

All of these events plague the "modern" age of comics. But out of the darkness, came a light....

The "Crisis" Age of Comic Books

As I stated above, I believe that comics took a turn for the better at the turn of the century. New writers and artists started to appear, and the stories and characters themselves once again became the reason we read and spend our hard earned money on comics.

New books, like the Ultimate line from Marvel, gave new twists on old characters, making the stories interesting again. Writers like Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Brian Michael Bendis, and Joss Whedon, started writing great stories that were not only creative, but driven by the characters themselves. The heroes we all know and love mattered to us once again. Creative teams actually researched their characters to make stories make sense. Enter now the new age of comics, where the past matters and we as fans can actually place stock and care for the heroes we love. And I am stating that this new age of comics officially started with Identity Crisis #1.

Written by Brad Meltzer, this dark and disturbing story is the beginning of continuity making sense and having a purpose in comics. In the mini-series, we find that someone has figured out the secret identities of our favorite DC heroes, and is killing their loved ones. Besides great story telling and wonderful art, we get to see a darker side (which is much more realistic) to the DCU.

We see continuity tie together really well for the first time, as well and the secrets to mind wiping, and the fact that you should never piss off a cheesy C-list villain like Doctor Light. (I know, Doctor Light!!!) I loved this book, and everything that followed it from DC.

Although the good stuff began before this issue and story, I am picking this as the beginning because I feel that this is where it became absolutely important to make a great story in every issue, at least for DC. Some other great things like Y: The Last Man, and others came before IC, but this is where I start the time line.

Marvel and Image have done some good things in the past few years too. The Ultimate books, Runaways, Astonishing X-Men, The Walking Dead, and others have all been great books that I really enjoy. I still think Marvel needs some work with the variants, and weird editorial ideas like Spider-Armor Spidey and "House of M". But they have well written books and great artists too. I think I like DC better because they made it important to have great books and stories across their universe, and chose not to put out meaningless stuff like Marvel Romance Redux and X-Men: Apocalypse/Dracula (for jgd3).

I know it isn't exactly perfect yet, for either of the big two, but it is better and a world apart from what we had in the 90's. I think it takes great minds like Dan Didio to understand what comics need, and great writers like the ones mentioned here, plus guys and gals like Grant Morrison, Gail Simone, Ed Brubaker, and the countless others to make comics special and worth the $2.99 we pay for them. Books like 52, and many others, are great consistently. That has made comics so good again. I feel like we have only seen the beginning of the "Crisis" Age of comics, and the best is yet to come.



Erik said...

Though you and I heavily disagree on some things, I agree with ya here. I don't think the "Crisis Age" of comics started with Identity Crisis though. I think it was a shining example of a direction comics were going but I don't think it was the beginning.
Anyways, great post!


Mikey said...

Thanks ET.

I actually put in the post that good things came before IC, but that first issue is when, at least for DC, the good stuff was becoming constant.