Thursday, June 5, 2008

Staying Power

O.k. so I was getting a post ready about the meaning underneath the symbol that Anthro was drawing at the end of Final Crisis #1. You know, this one.

When Kamandi shows up and is all, “Metron gave you the knowledge to kill a god,” it led me to think that perhaps that symbol had something to do with said comment. You know, maybe it was a schematic or something that suggested how to kill the gods. So I did my Internet snooping thing and came up the circle within the circle meaning a celestial body around a sun – or a universe. The line vertically bisecting the circle has stood for lightning, but this line doesn’t go all the way through. So perhaps it is lightning striking, and then stopping, in our universe. Perhaps The Flash is the only thing that can stop the evil.

If you flip it over the symbol, I realized resembled something.

Almost like a balanced scale over a universe. Perhaps Libra was the god killer. However, then I realized that the symbol was just Anthro drawing what he saw on Metron’s chest and it would be ridiculous to sport the key to your demise on your clothing. That would be me like wearing a shirt with red circles all over it that signified where to stab in order for a definite kill. So that kind of ended the post.

So onto something else, something that has been rattling around in my brain since Devon put up the ‘Taking a Wiz” post a while back. It was a comment that Martin made when talking about Wolverine:

Once you get past the initial Siegel/Shuster/Kane/Finger/Marston and Lee/Kirby/Heck/Ditko creations, there're very few comic characters who have broken out of the ghetto of comics fandom and achieved serious mainstream prominence.

This raises a big question in my mind, one that goes beyond Wolverine, and that question is why? Why do some characters hit the A-list, Batman, and others languish until the fondness of some creator rescues them from comic limbo, Libra? Why can some comic characters support two, three or four monthlies, Spider-man, while others have struggled for years to keep one title going, Black Panther? I really can’t tell you what it is. I can tell you what it is not.

It is not simply age.

Yes, it is true that the majority of the characters that we know and love today have been around for some fifty plus years. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Black Canary, Captain American, Iron Man, Cyclops, all have put in decades of service in the medium. Hell, even Nightcrawler has been BAMFing for over thirty years at this point. However, this is certainly not the rule by any means. It was the case, characters like Aquaman and Martian Manhunter, created in 1941 and 1955 respectively, would have some of the best selling books out there while Deadpool, created in 1991, would not have had 117 issues devoted to him over the last eight years. Yet, the reverse is true. Hell, Aquaman is nowhere to be seen, Martian Manhunter is dead and Deadpool is getting a new #1 soon.

It is not simply power or weapon.

There was a time where it felt like if a character had a blade or an improbably big gun or guns that character was destined for firm footing in the realm of comics. Like that was the recipe for success so we wound up with a ton of these characters. I bring up almost every character from Image: Stryker, Warblade, Chapel, Sentinel, Killrazor. Even the Indies jumped on the love of the sword. Ninjak, I am looking in your direction.

It’s not simply powers either. It used to be costume/personality as well. Short and caustic, rakish with a trench coat or a goatee, sometimes both, a past filled with mysterious government programs that left the character tortured and alone, I could go on. How many of these characters that I have alluded to or named still remain today? Very few.

It is not how well the comic is written.


Will Pfiefer on Aquaman, Will Pfiefer on Catwoman, Will Pfiefer on HERO, these three titles show that no matter how well a comic is being done, how great a character is, it can still wind up on the chopping block. Well that, and the collective apathy that the comic community shows an awesome writer like Pfeifer. But I could keep the list going, I bring up comics like Hourman, WildCats Vol. 3, Chase, Batgirl, Firestorm (three times). One of the things that killed me at one of the panels at NYCC this year was when Didio mentioned that Blue Beetle was selling low.

It just goes to show you that every great character might not have the energy keep up the monthly marathon.

But you know what?

I don’t think the comic companies/writers/artists have any idea about staying power either. I don’t think there is a formula; the characters that have made it have simply made it. That is why you have so many relaunches and revitalizations. It’s like they are throwing darts at a board hoping one of them hits the bull’s-eye. Now Aquaman has a hook hand, now Hourman is a robot, now Speedball is Penance, now Superman is blue, now Spider-man is going to sell his love to the devil. The characters that stick around are malleable enough to be stretched like silly putty but firm enough to retain that which makes them them. How it works though is anyone’s guess. Know what I mean?

8 comments:

Moored said...

That you mention Will Pfeiffer and Joe Casey titles gives your thoughts even more weight in my book. These are two very talented creators who churn out great books month in month out. And yet they never manage to sell.

Gyuss Baaltar said...

As to the first part of the post,
it's an orrery

BIG MIKE said...

Hehe... you said orrery...

Gyuss Baaltar said...

orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery orrery

Jon said...

Isn't it just Metron's chest symbol? Which, I mean, is an orrery. Maybe a multiversal orrery.

Siskoid said...

More than a generic orrery, it has to be Morrison's schematic for the multiverse and how its parts are meant to connect. I don't know how it will be important, but I'm intrigued.

As for staying power, I would disagree that a "low seller" has no staying power. Aquaman and Catwoman (2 of your examples) will always be around in one way or another, and are part of the the relatively few characters the general public knows about. There is a big difference between a character that will be remembered forever and one that can be marketed to comic book readers.

Your real question is why some characters will always sell reasonably well and others won't. And even when one with "staying power" has low sales (it's happened), why the company will try to save it (a new #1, a huge paradigm shift, a marketing stunt, or just keep it going low sales and all) no matter what.

It's due to their being iconic (the purer concepts of the early days of the Big Two are more iconic and thus have more staying power). You can't NOT publish Spider-Man, or Batman, or Superman. They are likely someone's first comic because of recognizability. And you probably can't not publish a character that served as foundation for your comic book universe. It's possible not to publish Thor for a few months, but not for long. Recognizability.

Allan said...

William Goldman summed up your entire post in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade when he explained that no matter how many theories folks in Hollywood throw out to explain why one project failed and another succeeded, the truth is that "No one knows anything" and the reality is that popular success is a total crapshoot where factors such as quality and artistic worth simply have no meaning.

Matt Worzala said...

Touching on what siskoid said, you look at someone like Deadpool and you go "Hey, random fella, you know Deadpool?" and he's going look at you funny and maybe mention he liked "Magnum Force" better. But you go "Hey chicka-chicka, you know Aquaman?" and she's going go "Oh baby, you're speaking my language."

Which, in a way, backs the original point that it's weird that a person as, I would argue universally, recognized as Aquaman can barely hold down 50 issues and
Deadpool is in triple digits.

Oh, on a completely related note, I've always like Firestorm in theory. Much like a Twix bar, he's (was) two flavors in one, student and professor, except instead of chocolate on top, it's Nuclear Fire. ... how can you not love that?