Comic books are over. Comic books don’t need an audience anymore. – Leigh Alexander (paraphrased)
DC caved yesterday. After a hashtag called for the changing of a “triggering” variant cover for Batgirl #41. Apparently it’s Joker went too far, and that is evil because he is a villain who crosses the line repeatedly. We can’t confront Batgirl with the scars of her past because that’s going too far because she’s a girl and needs to be coddled, and of course this would never happen with a male character in a comic book franchise at all. That. Would. Be. Problematic. And. Toxic.
The dumbest part about this is that it’s a variant cover. It wasn’t the only cover released. Don’t like it, buy the same volume with a different cover. It’s as simple as that. But that would be reasonable, and as we know by now, there’s no room for being reasonable on the internet anymore.
Especially not when dealing with the way feminist press wants things presented. They’ll be sure to tell you they’re not going to be taking what you like away because they have a problem with it, but they’re sure to throw a crying fit about it until the problematic thing gets taken away. It happened with GTA4 in Australia, and it’s happening with an optional cover for a comic book.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t enjoyed comic books in quite some time now, so I’m probably incredibly jaded on the subject. DC’s insistence to backpedal in such a manner it pleases nobody and Marvel’s insistence of ramming full speed into a wall aren’t all that fun to keep up with anymore. I tried getting back into comics a few years ago, but when Dial H got canceled I ended up just losing interest completely. For me, it was the final straw after seeing a whole lot of stupid play out week after week. I mean, god, did Marvel really think Superior Spider-Man was a good idea at any point in time?
That said, there’s always been problems with comic books. It’s not a new thing. With old comic books the distance gives us a barrier and lets us see them for what they are. Most of the time we excuse the bad writing, the poor pacing, the lack of foresight, and the clumsy way they deal with complex ideas because it was a product of its time. Not all that much has changed over time, the same level of stupidity just rages on to this very day, but just as it was the way X-Men was used as a vehicle to represent any identity not in favor politically and socially… Well, they’re used as that same vehicle to this very day. One issue the word mutie gets compared to nigger, the next they have an incurable virus comparable to AIDs.
Comics have always been a political vehicle, which is both the thing that draws people towards them and pushes them away. On one hand, it’s cool seeing themes currently important in the world played out in a fictional setting with different names to all the items that make up the current hot topic so they’re still somewhat distanced when you’re a little kid reading comics. On the other hand, it’s pretty painful to see these same things being handled so clumsily as an adult reading graphic novels. Especially when you disagree with them.
This isn’t even the entire problem, sadly. There’s still a whole bunch of other things that help keep the comic book audience from becoming as big as it could become. You’d expect that in an age where the image of comic books has greatly improved and has even gotten bigger mainstream acceptance thanks to the movies and TV series that have popped up, it hasn’t really helped boost the sales to the levels they had reached even during an age where comics weren’t anywhere near as accepted.
There are many reasons for this.
- Decades of backstory scares away people who don’t like not immediately understanding or knowing everything.
- Reboots make it feel like there’s no point to keeping up since the new blank slate is only a few years away.
- Politicizing is a double-edged sword; Go too far one direction and you lose the half of the audience on the other side of the political spectrum.
- Politicizing scares away people who don’t want everything politicized. This is actually the larger group.
- Comic books are expensive.
- A very large amount of comic books aren’t worth the price, so people go with what they know. In turn, more experimental and niche works suffer for the price.
This isn’t even all of the problem. There are still a whole bunch of other reasons why most people won’t get into comic books anymore, despite them being a big hype geek identity thing currently. With all of these problems, it’s easy to understand why a niche market like comic books needs positive press to survive. Unfortunately, their press as the same kind of representatives as videogames. It doesn’t matter what the comic book industry does, there is no pleasing online critics. A pleased critic can’t report on the latest problematic controversy. A lack of controversy or heated debate kills the adstream that holds them up.
Making matters worse, both Marvel and DC aren’t just in the comic book business, the comic book aspect is just a novelty at this point. It’s there to show people their roots are still intact, that they still care. Merchandise and video are where all their real money is coming from. And none of that will move if they’re stuck with a controversy. Controversy ensures they can’t continue business with their business partners. Toy companies don’t want to do business with a company with a terrible reputation. So of course they cave into the pressures of people complaining loudly enough on the internet over trivialities. It doesn’t matter if the people complaining aren’t going to buy the comics, or if they’re people who get the comics sent to them for free. Things need to get smoothed out, fast. Before regular people find out about it outside of the internet and is turned away from the product.
Balancing business and art is always a tough act. But it’s not one Marvel or DC are still interested in walking. The moment it’s time to stand up for their beliefs, their work, they back down. Creating the natural blandness that is their products today.
Meanwhile, in Japan the opposite happened. While every western news site absolutely loves to repeat anime is tanking as hard as the Japanese games industry, it’s obviously not true. Please buy our more progressive domestic wares though, you’re from the west aren’t you?
It’s funny, as anime did same to go on the way out during the mid 2000s or so. Except a larger focus on character and series that the audience really wanted shifted it in a more positive direction again. Especially with the help of merchandise. It’s a lot harder to pirate a figurine of a sexy cat girl, so even the part of the audience that typically only pirates shows is still going to end up paying for these things. It’s not surprising that people upset about how characters in our own media are portrayed at any given point are also against the kind of anime that often end up finding success, but for all the smearing they do they forgot one thing. Most people turning to anime don’t really care all that much about what critics say or do.
There is no money in writing about anime or manga.
You can try as hard as you want to create controversy about the subject, but the actual audience for it won’t care. A large chunk of the audience happily watches the dumbest and trashiest shows, knowing they’re watching the dumbest and trashiest shows, and they’re fine with it. This isn’t an insult to anime fans out there either, being able to openly enjoy what you like no matter what people say about it is a fantastic thing and I wish it would be more common in other forms of media.