The Never Ending Struggle with Insecurity

In the early days of comic publication, when Marvel and DC were just getting to know the cosmos and the multiverse, triple A titles and popular characters effortlessly carried their own title without fear of cancellation or creative absences, books just continued and the stories kept going. Narratives had the luxury to exist, and, on occasion, when writers wanted to create an epic, runs made definitive character qualities, but no more. The big two are afraid to have runs anymore, so unwanted new number ones fill the shelves of comic book stores every other season.

Variant Cover of Avengers #1 published by Marvel. Another Avengers Relaunch

However, today, as an effect of the time-conservative and hyperactive hunger present in our culture to find and consume media as quick as possible, most comics are no longer allowed to have runs and instead resort to gimmicks to move issues off the shelves. While this may seem like a minor nuance at first to most readers, the success of such under handed practices will only tempt companies to rely on it more.

Note to Readers: Books published by independent companies like Dynamite, IDW, and Image do not seem to have this problem, so, in advance, sorry to all the indy readers, this post will focus around the big two—especially Marvel because they have been the worst offenders as of late. Oscar Barron

With the flashy trends embraced by the industry, comics might be heading in a bad direction. Here are the signs to look out for:

The Short New #1 Cycle

New number ones are exciting. They just are, to a new reader the big number one on the cover on a comic marks an opportunity to start expand their horizons, stumble into a new genre that might become their next muse. And to older readers, who have a few runs under their belt already, a new number one gives them a chance to familiarize themselves with a title or a character that might have slipped them by at some point.

However, even though they are great, like the old saying goes, there can be too much of a good thing.

Promotional Material owned by Marvel Comics. This is just latest number one in the long history of constantly relaunching the X-men

In the industry, when a title seems to lose its vitality or when creative talents move on to other projects, the heavy hitters of a company will relaunch a title with a new number one, “the perfect jumping on point for new readers.” It’s not the fact that the story in a title picks up where the other run left off that offends readers, older readers like that because it pays homage to narratives that came before, but it’s the fact that companies promote it as a fresh start when it’s stale at best.

Case and point: All-New, All-Different Marvel, where nothing was new and very little changed. The great shame of the All-New & All-Different campaign was that it had the potential to break new grounds and explore uncharted areas with stories, but, in the end the forces that be chose not to act. Hickman left a blank check with the 2016 Secret Wars, and editorial cashed it in for ten dollars.

Image owned by Marvel Comics. 2016 Secret Wars, a three year epic crafted meticulously and masterfully by Johnathan Hickman

In, short: when a comic cover wears a new number one, do not assume that can be accessible to any reader. More often than not, it’s a trick to squeeze dollars out of readers’ pockets.

Also, short new number one cycles are a disservice to the writers and artist who want their works to be long epics that readers could look back on with fondness because they make it harder to follow the plot and place editorial influence grossly in view.

All Roads lead to Inflation

Another annoying habit that new number ones have in the modern age of reading comics is that they tend to cost more than their ongoing counter parts. While this seems reasonable to any reader at the launch of a new series that the number one costs a bit more, remember the inflation trend that led comics to bankruptcy in the 90s. It’s a dark part of comic history, but, it should be remembered that the combination of over-pricing and mass producing a comics is a guarantee to make it almost worthless in the future.

Most comics, like most cars, will depreciate in value over time—especially when the same manufacture fills the market with the same model.

Once again, case in point:

Image owned by DC Comics

The Death of Superman, still the highest selling comic book of all time at its release, is now valueless. If a reader walks into a comic book store and ask for this issue, chances are, they owner might just give you a few for free—just to clear space. Take the black bag too! They probably want it out of the store.

The Fallout

Runs are not only important for the legacies of certain characters, but great runs are representative of all of the intellectual worth they have as a medium. When comics come under fire for not being “real literature” or “juvenile” or “low-brow”, great runs, these long-running narratives with a marvelously constructed narratives filled with highs, lows, and twists, are the proof that comics can be a respectable vessel for any artistic expression. Without runs, comics really do become commercialized silly story magazines.

The terms used here may harsh but that is due to the nature of the problem in general: the short cycle of relaunching titles creates disconnect between the reader and the material in the issue. It is hard for a reader to love with a series or character when editorial feels uncomfortable in their sales and deems it necessary to interrupt the reader’s experience with a unnecessary title relaunch.