Stepping back and looking at the big picture of comics as we know it, there are moments and movements that do more to affect the industry and medium more than any one single character, creator, series or adaptation can — they’re the events. In the past few years, we’ve seen Disney buy Marvel, DC shake up its upper management, Image induct a new partner, and the promise of digital comics begin to deliver. In the next 12 months, what could happen? What should happen? While nobody will ever have the complete picture as to what the future holds, we’ve gathered the sharpest minds at Newsarama to speculate. What we’ve found is that the key to the future by studying its past — like catching a ball, you must see where it is now and where its momentum is taking it.
Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark – Success or Bomb?
A litany of magazines, newspapers and websites have devoted time to covering the ongoing saga for the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark to the stage. As Newsarama alum Matt Brady pointed out recently — why do people seem to be cheering on the musical’s stumbles? Is it because a musical version of the webcrawler is so foreign to the character’s core audience? Is it the fact that it’s the most expensive musical ever made — $65 million? Whatever it might be, Julie Taymor and the group behind the musical have soldiered on through various delays, accidents and departures in cast. The musical has yet to be set in stone, and won’t be until its official opening night, at this point scheduled for February 7. Explore the two options — if it’s a success, it would inevitably lead to more super-heroes on Broadway. If it bombs, it could tarnish the Spider-Man at a time when the franchise is already in flux as the movie series is being rebooted. Only time will tell if audiences will be turned on by Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, but either way it’d make a great story arc for Brian Michael Bendis in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man.
Green Lantern shines the way for an expanded DC movie slate
Although for years DC had been the leader when it comes to comic-to-film adaptation, the recent burst of successful Marvel movies and the disappointing box office of Superman Returns have left DC with a bit of a black eye when it comes to film, despite the massive box office performance of 2008’s The Dark Knight. And as any parent would do, Warner Bros. is urging DC back into the fight with a line-building strategy similar to their rival Marvel. The first glimpse of that with this summer’s Green Lantern, which is being compared to Iron Man in terms of its ability to push a second-tier character into the limelight and push money into their bank accounts. Green Lantern’s budget comes in at an estimated $150 million, which is in line with other superhero films of the day — matching Iron Man, in fact. But with Green Lantern’s more demanding need for special effects due to its setting and alien cast, one could wonder if $150 million is enough to due it justice. With that question unanswered, DC is already priming the next salvo in its slate with a new Superman film guided by Batman helmer Christopher Nolan and directed by Zack Snyder. And a script has already begun for a Flash feature written by the Green Lantern scribes. But it all hinges on the success of Green Lantern and the strength of Ryan Reynolds as a leading man.
The Second Coming of Crossgen?
After months of teases, in the recent advance solicitations Marvel make their intentions known as they plotted out the relaunch of the CrossGen titles. Originally introduced in 1998 as a South Florida based comic company, it pursued an aggressive comics line based on the then-overlooked fantasy genres of sword & sorcery, detective comics and science fiction. Although the company eventually hit rock bottom in 2004, it innovated several new concepts that became staples of the industry, such as exclusive contracts and digital comics. It also became the launching pad for many new or overlooked artists such as Steve McNiven, Greg Land, Jim Cheung and Steve Epting. After closing in 2004, its properties were snatched up by Disney and laid fallow for six years. With Disney’s acquisition of Marvel in 2009, the company’s execs put two and two together and found a way to bring back these concepts. For Marvel, it’s a chance for a new line of comics with characters and concepts with some pre-made brand awareness. And given the fact that many of Crossgen’s talent found steady work at the House of Ideas, they can take advantage of that in the launching of these series. What does the future hold for the Crossgen line of comics? Only time will tell.
Superman Meets The Modern Day
One of the chief complaints about Superman is that he seems to be a character out of time — a throwback to a bygone age. The most critically acclaimed Superman title in recent memory has been All-Star Superman, which that took those classic elements and fashioned it for a modern approach. Although he’s arguably the most well-known comics character of all time, he seems to be a hard one for writers to grasp effectively and profitably. We’ve seen talented writers struggle both in comics and in film to get Kal-El right, and in 2011 we will see several new writers attempt it, including Chris Roberson on Superman. Superman needs a paradigm shift — in the same way that Frank Miller reinvented Batman in The Dark Knight Returns and Chris Claremont make the X-Men seem real.Marvel TV
The ink’s essentially still drying on Disney’s 2009 purchase of Marvel, and already the wheels are turning into using Marvel’s assets in the massive parent organization — first up, television! Over the past 12 months, Marvel has placed long-time comics and TV writer Jeph Loeb in the head chair for the company’s TV wing, with reports surfacing that work has begun on live-action shows based on The Hulk, Cloak & Dagger and Alias (under the title AKA Jessica Jones). On the animation front, they’ve shepherded two new series in 2010 (Super Hero Squad and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes) with Ultimate Spider-Man planned for 2011. Although some might rank TV under movies in terms of profit margins, in the past ten years TV have become extremely profitable due to DVD collections, more syndication deals, foreign markets and expanded merchandise sales. Plus, in the comics traditional of serialized stories every month, the idea of a comic series with a new episode every week seems right in tune with comic reader’s state of mind. With many of the new writers in the past 10 years of comics coming from the realm of TV we know there’s some serious comic fanboys (and girls) working in TV — now it’s just a matter of getting it off the ground.
The Orphans of Wildstorm
When DC announced in September 2010 that it was shuttering the long-running Wildstorm line of comics, people immediately began to ask: what happens to the characters? Although the titles themselves have been on a downward slide for years, there still remains and immense brand recognition with the characters created by this La Jolla-based imprint over the years. Dec. 22’s Wildcats #30 marked the last hurrah for the line as we know it, but both Geoff Johns and Jim Lee have said work is underway to bring back these characters. DC has a long history of acquiring properties and bringing them into the DCU fold, but with mixed results — see Captain Marvel, Captain Atom and Blue Beetle. DC recently experimented with two new groups of characters they licensed — using the Archie superhero characters for several miniseries that were tangentially connected to the DCU, and the recent First Wave titles featuring a menagerie of pulp heroes such as Doc Savage and the Spirit. Where will the Wildstorm characters end up? No matter what happens, I’ll say now that seeing Midnighter join Batman Inc. would be something.
The Return of the Summer Event
After an almost year-long hiatus, Marvel fired the starting gun for the return of the summer event series. Fear Itself kicks off the festivities, with DC expected to bring out Flashpoint and Multiversity later this year. Although online fans are often noted for complaints about the nature of events to tie-in numerous ancillary titles that make reading “just” the event miniseries not enough to get the story, sales numbers have proven that readers keep buying. After a deflated sales period in 2010 for single-issue sales, readers and professionals of all stripes will be anxious to compare figures to this year’s crop of event books with recent high-water marks like Civil War and Identity Crisis. Although there is some truth to the idea that an onslaught of event books brings diminishing returns and fracture the ongoing narrative of titles participating in the crossover, done effectively it is a market-proven strategy to increase sales and generate renewed interest in groups of titles. Smaller companies such as Top Cow and IDW have done event series of their own — albeit on smaller scales — proving that it’s not just the Big Two employing this tactic. The key to sustainable event books seems to be like anything: moderation is key.
Digital Comics’ teenage years
2010 was a big year for digital comics. We saw numerous print comic publishers expand into the digital realm, in some cases setting up their own sites and other times partnering with third parties to bring their titles to mobile phone devices. The Walking Dead began same day-date release for its print and digital iterations, and Marvel has experimented with this on numerous occasions and announced that its Death of Spider-Man event in the Ultimate line would be released simultaneously in print and online. Where do we go from here? With almost all of the major publishers buying into digital comics as a future for comics publishing, 2011 will see publishers work through issues dealing with formatting, pricing and the introduction of new content for digital readers. The unwitting silent partner in this matter is brick-and-mortar retailers, who could easily see any rise in digital sales as a hit to their profits — and although some publishers such as Top Cow and Dark Horse have taken steps to make comic stores a part of the transition, comic stores are by-and-large at a loss for how to take advantage of the digital platform.
The Stagnation of the Direct Market?
For years now, some comics pundits have belabored the idea that comic stores as we know it are on the way out. With the onset of graphic novels and their inclusion in big-box bookstores, digital comics, and the aging ownership of comics retailers, these shops have many challenges facing them. Comic stores have seen their colleagues in other mediums — music stores and independent book stores — fall by the wayside, and although the direct market comic retailers were the main reason American comics survived the collapse of newsstand distribution in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the future of comic book stores looks unclear. Although a new major comic store is opening up in New York City this year, numerous smaller towns are finding themselves without a comic shop — some fans finding themselves 100 miles or more from their nearest retailer. The problems plaguing San Francisco’s Comic Relief after the death of its founder provide a bleak picture to the way some comic stores are heading. Despite all the nay-saying, the recent foundation of the comic store retail organization ComicsPro seems like a bright spot for innovation and retooling for the future and coming to grips with the modern comic audience. There are several promising and successful shops and regional chains of comic stores that are leading the way, and several publishers and pros — such as Fantagraphics, Dark Horse and even DC’s Geoff Johns — own comic stores and are ideally placed to understand their retail partners.
In The Corner Of Our Eye
Events happen every day, so there’s bound to be more breaking news than what we can fit into eleven bullet points. Here are several other ideas that made our short-list and should be considered.
The War For Talent Earlier this month, DC announced that its editorial department was being renamed “talent relations” and you can take it from this writer that it’s more than just a cosmetic change. In recent years, we’ve seen Marvel actively recruit and nurture the careers of many new and overlooked creators. In addition, they’ve supported a solid stable of writers — recently dubbed “The Architects” — that act as an informal brain trust for the big picture of the publisher going forward. One of the reasons that Diane Nelson was promoted to run DC was for her superb talent relation skills (as evidenced by her relationship with J.K. Rowling) and it you work that in with the promotion of two comic creators – Jim Lee and Geoff Johns – into the management regime then things are bound to look better for talent in 2011. DC seem to be moving in that direction, but Marvel isn’t slowing up — C.B. Cebulski recently tweeted that he has an active list of cons and territories to visit on behalf of Marvel’s talent drive.
Comic Publishers Fall Through: Although 2010 has been relatively quiet in terms of comic company closures, the past five years have seen a number of comic ventures falter. Although not standalone companies, we saw Wildstorm and Zuda fall by the wayside and several established companies pursue a drastically different publishing strategy, bring in outside investors or dramatically cut their monthly output. A healthy comics market does all publishers well, but only if their businesses are in position to take advantage of the success.Which of these events will make the biggest impact on 2011?