Comic Confusion

This is one of those off-topic posts I promised. It is about comic books and includes a Star Trek reference. Feel free to move on.

Recently, I was in a comic book store. That is not really news. I do that occasionally. I go in with the intention of buying something for the six year old and come out with a few for myself. Don't scoff, it's art and epic literature, really.

I have a terrible problem in the comic book store. I get confused. I don't know what to read. I have fond memories of major and minor superheros (no Archie's in my house) from Superman and Spider-Man to Metal Men and Daredevil. So, I am attracted to their recent titles. But, when I flip through them, I realize I have no idea what the heck is going happening. In some cases, I don't even know who the hero is anymore. There have been a number of Flashs and Green Lanterns over the years. Batman's sidekick Robin has moved on to become Nightwing and there is a new kid named Tim Drake living at Stately Wayne Manor. That is, unless you are reading one of the books in which Batman is a brooding loner vigilante. Captain America, of course, is dead; at least as dead as a superhero gets.

There is more to it than that. It seems that any given character can exist in several incarnations. For example, there appears to be a difference between the X-Men and Ultimate X-Men story lines. Ditto for the Amazing Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, and Sensational Spider-Man. Over on the DC side, there is a newly formed Justice League of America (with Black Canary in charge) but also a JLA series, a Justice Society of America, and something called "I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League." At one point, there was a Justice League Europe and, of course, the Teen Titans who should not be confused with the Super Friends.

So I stand in the store staring at the shelves. I have been reading the new Justice League of America series although I am finding it a bit confusing. Where is Martian Manhunter? I guess he is busy with his cameo appearance on Smallville.

DC launched a new Atom series. When I looked through the first few issues, I was shocked to find that Ray Palmer was nowhere to be seen. Instead, the blue and red tights are on Ryan Choi. OK, but where is Ray? I know he was upset when his estranged wife killed Elongated Man's wife, Sue Dibny, and then Tim Drake's (Robin) father and tried to kill Lois Lane. Did Ray retire? The reason the new Atom series is interesting is that it is close to the beginning. I could jump in without losing much.

Which is not true of the Marvel Civil War series. After I heard that Captain America was killed, I took an interest in the series, which has been going on for a while. I'd like to catch up, but don't see how that could happen. Plus, each hero seems to have a Civil War series going. Check out Marvel's attempt to recap here. Same goes for the DC series 52. It sounds interesting but I don't think I can catch up. Maybe Marvel will publish the whole thing in a hardcover edition.

It looks as if DC is about to launch something big on May 8. That might give me an opportunity to start another series. I feel like I should start reading at issue 1. Maybe I am putting too much emphasis on the issue number. Aquaman #50 seems to be the start of a new storyline.

Aquaman is very confusing to me. In my head, he is the fish monger of the Justice League. He is a hero of dubious usefulness. But, he isn't in the Justice League anymore. He seems to be off on his own undersea adventures. I suspect he harassed Power Girl and got kicked out, but I don't know that for certain. I also would like someone to explain to me why he seems to go from having a regular hand, to a giant harpoon, to a blue hand.

Finally, I can't understand the need Marvel and DC seem to have to introduce variations on a popular heroes. I get that it is brand extension right from the marketing text book. Why take the risk of introducing an entirely new product when you can leverage the popularity of an existing one? That is why we have Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Lime Coke, Vanilla Coke, and Coca-Cola Blak. But do we need that in comic books?

Brand extensions in comic books seems to focus on adding a female version, kid version, or female-kid version of the established male heroes. There is a long history of this stretching from Supergirl and Batgirl to Spider-Girl who is apparently the future daughter of Spider-Man. Other super kids are Wonder Girl (click the link for a picture of the young Debra Winger), Iron Lad and, no kidding, Hulkling.

Which brings me to my last object of curiosity: She-Hulk. Poor Jennifer Walter. She is a lawyer who works for Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzburg & Holliway in NY. Jennifer received an unfortunate blood transfusion from her uncle Bruce Banner. Now, she can transform into the She-Hulk who just so happens to be the most attractive green woman this side of the Orion slave trade.

What to do? The length and detail of this post makes me think I am spending too much time worried about this. But, it strikes me that DC and Marvel are spreading themselves too thin. There must be other people as confused as I am. They must be losing out on some sales. I guess I should pick up a copy of Crime and Punishment or The Grapes of Wrath. At least you know where they start and end. On the other hand, I just saw an ad saying "The search for Ray Palmer" starts May 9, 2007. Maybe that's the place to jump in.


Anonymous said…
Sorry, just noticed your post. I find doing a little research on Wikipedia catches me up on all my friendly neighborhood superheroes. It's amazing what you'll find there.

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