22 November 2004

COMMENT: On Reloads and Relaunches

Answer: Everyone that bought a copy of Astonishing X-Men #1. [See the end for the Question.]

As someone who stopped buying comic books back in the early 90s - missing the worst of the speculator-driven boom and bust - and started again last year, I can see both sides of the "Relaunch/Reload" debate that seems to be flaring up on several fan sites.

As Comics Buyer's Guide pointed out in a great article a couple of months ago, the comic book industry doesn't really know very much about its audience. Other than the accepted stereotypes - predominantly young, male, into superheroes and Barbie-doll proportions - there's no strong demographic, or more importantly, psychographic - data available. Even actual sales figures are privileged information, guarded closely by publishers seemingly nervous about what the truth about the post-90s boom/bust might reveal. The clues are there, though, easy to read for anyone paying attention: expanded story arcs, trade paperbacks, multiple variations of the most well-known characters with little attention paid to the B-listers...unless Hollywood comes calling.

Despite the protestations of elitist fanboys, rebooting a title can actually be a good thing for both the industry and the readers, especially for one that's been lagging in sales and/or in need of a creative spark. Comics publishers make little to no money from print advertising and, with best-seller status ranging in the 100-125,000 copy range these days - ordered, not necessarily sold - the bulk of their revenue comes from trade paperback sales and licensing. And that's Marvel and DC, the juggernauts of the industry.

Anything not related to the X-Men or Spider-Man, Batman or Superman, is basically lucky to be published at all.

While I would be (and have been) annoyed to see books I follow regularly get the reboot, simply from a cataloging/collecting perspective, if the reboot is as good or better than what came before, then I couldn't care less what volume or issue number appears on the cover. It's when a rebooted title takes a step backwards - ie: New Mutants, good; New X-Men: Academy X, bad - that I have a problem with it. But that can happen within the confines of a long-running series, too - ie: Batman, Loeb/Lee vs Azzarello/Risso vs. Winnick/Ngyuen - with the difference being that a 6-12 month hiccup in Batman isn't going to completely tank the book.

Short of a Bill Sienkiewicz or Greg Rucka jumping onboard, reboots are generally the only way I'll check out a book I'm not familiar with, or characters I've never particularly cared for or had lost interest in. I love Sleeper's "Season" concept, and felt comfortable jumping into that series because of it; and the reboots of Spectacular Spider-man, Teen Titans, and, while not exactly the same category, Ultimate Fantastic Four - all have ended up on my monthly pull list. As a matter of fact, its reboot is the only reason I picked up the new Iron Man, and I'm planning to check out the new Legion series, a title I've never had much interest in before but its reboot has me curious.

One reboot I definitely won't be picking up, though, is the New Avengers, because the Disassembled storyline that ended the original run (and completely tore apart the iconic team) was sloppy and lacking in credibility, and the new lineup simply doesn't interest me at all. [EDIT: I caved.] In fact, it strikes me as a blantantly marketing-driven concept. The ubiquitous Wolverine in yet another title? Where does he find the time?!?

In the end, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Marvel and DC's decisions reflect an unflinching eye on the bottom line. They're corporations first and foremost and, as lacking in common sense as it generally is, their investors rank far ahead of their fans in influencing their decisions.

That said, it's a relatively small industry and the majority of the creative types that move it forward are not mindless corporate drones. Any given book's fan base holds an inordinate amount of power, if wielded properly. Taking a stance that amounts to an elitist closing of the ranks with cries of "the good old days," and contradicts the financial realities of both the industry and the average reader, isn't the proper way to do it, though. While Joe Quesada may be peeking in on a message board here and there for shits and giggles, it's highly unlikely that anything he reads there is going to influence his decisions about whether a new Moon Knight series makes sense or not. (Joe, if you're reading this, it does!)

Question: Who bears the blame for all of the rebooted titles that fanboys across the internet are up in arms about?


Dan Diaz said...

Concerning your Q + A: "reboots are generally the only way I'll check out a book I'm not familiar with, or characters I've never particularly cared for or had lost interest in."

If you were to look over my old comics from the early 90's, it's stacked full of X-Men. But since I've started up the hobby again, X-Books were rarely on my pull list. Astonishing was a perfect book for me to start up with. Most X-Books I've encountered aren't friendly to new comers. There is some much back story involved you don't know were you are. If this is the case with X-Books, which I think it is, then what's wrong with this particular relaunch?

About the New Avengers, I won't even give it a look when it comes out. Its clearly an attempt to pump up sales. Relauching a title and combing two of the most famous......I mean most profitable charactors Spidey + Wolverine, come on. Don't get me started on the variant covers already being advertised for the launch.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Though I didn't buy it, I had no problem with the Astonishing X-Men reload. (The ripple effect through the other X-books kind of sucked, though.) I was primarily referring to the fanboys that are whining about Marvel screwing up other "major" titles like the Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America while praising Astonishing and pushing it to bestseller status. It's all the same thing, IMO, and if it's good enough for one title, it's good enough for all of them, and the sales success of Astonishing simply assured that the practice will continue. Fanboys need to stop whining and put (or withhold) their money where their gripes are.

Shappy said...

Ah, Guy! Astonishing also has the benefit of bringing Whedon to the comics world which brings a whole bunch of Buffy fans to the table. I know people who are reading Astonishing based solely on the fact JW is writing it! Astonishing is the only X-title I read. The only other one I liked was X-Force when they did the re-vamp with Milligan's awesome artwork. Plus all of the revamps are ploys to get Hollywood interested or generate an audience for upcoming movie projects (Ultimate FF). I promise to get some Top Five lists up before the year's over!

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