This is a post I have wanted to write for some time, however with the recent announcements of some of the titles that can be expected to hit stands from Marvel as part of their ‘Marvel Now! 2016’, it seems the right time to talk about the possible long term meaning of this. Some people have been discussing for a while the idea of comic book ‘seasons’. To clarify what I mean by this, I am talking about yearly reboots/jumping on points for new readers. This approach offers several pros to the comic book industry, but also creates some significant negatives in my view.
Let’s start with the positives first. Obviously as far as comic book publishers are concerned, comic book ‘seasons’ create a chance to introduce new ideas, storylines and even titles to the publishing line-up that is a great opportunity for them. Aside from the introductions of these elements to the titles that are being published, it offers another incentive to comic book creators, mostly in the realms of widening their audience. By creating yearly comic book launches, publishers are providing their fan bases with adequate points to join into the rich history of the comic book world. This has become especially important to the major companies of Marvel and DC, as their growing film and TV franchises are bringing in new waves of customers and readers to their comic book titles as well.
Of course, there is another benefit to this approach to comics, as it provides the chance for new creative teams to form up for either brand new titles, or to take over the reins of older titles that existed prior to the beginning of the ‘new season’, as it were. This means that on a yearly basis, the opportunity for change ups not just in the stories themselves, but in the storytelling and art companies can cause a dramatic shift to have appeared in quite a visible way. This works perfectly as well with the idea of yearly comic book crossover events, which leads onto the final positive in this approach to comic book marketing in my opinion, the idea of using the, now almost yearly, crossover events in comics as a form of creating a memorable ‘Season finale’.
The idea of this is quite simple, but used effectively can be just as good as a major cliff-hanger ending to a season of a TV show. While with comic books, due to their monthly publishing routines, odds are we are not waiting for nine months or so to find out what happens in the aftermath of the finales, they do provide other opportunities to the comic book world. Mainly, this takes one of two forms in my mind, firstly the idea of having a cataclysmic event or large scale battle (this would be the equivalent of your Civil War, Secret Wars or Crisis on Infinite Earth storylines), or alternatively could be used to provide a dramatic change in the roster of heroes and villains, and the balance between them in the world (this is more akin to your AXIS event by Marvel, or the aftermath of the Trinity War in DC’s New 52). Both of these offer chances for the creators to seriously shake things up going into the next year of comics.
However, this approach is not without consequences. One of the first ones that springs to mind is the relative limitations it can impose on the storylines we can see in comics across the year. If comics were to implement this across the board, complete with new titles and potential new numbering once a year, this would mean storylines would be unlikely to run for more than 6 months, assuming a rough two story arcs per year in a comic book published once-per-month. This would hamper the ability to tell stories such as the classic Spider-man Clone Saga, a storyline which ran for several years before reaching a conclusion, which at times are a great addition to comic book history.
Secondly, it somewhat reduces the impact of earlier storylines and arcs to certain characters. If characters are re-established every year, and launched as a completely new jumping on point to the comic, it means that chances of returning to elements of earlier stories are greatly diminished, as this will confuse new readers. However, the expense of this then falls at on the long term readers, who do not necessarily see storylines revisited. Personally for me, I always loved seeing when comics reached milestone issues such as issue #50, or even #100, but if companies go with yearly restarts to numbering as well, it means the odds of any title making it to this many issues is unlikely, or will not be as easy to chart.
Finally, it somewhat negates the impact of, and heightens the expectation of, yearly crossover events. If this was to be seen as a ‘season finale’ style event, then there will be a significant expectation on companies to deliver a blockbuster style event on a regular basis. If they do not deliver then this can dishearten the fans, however if they do deliver on this idea, then it will lessen the impact of events unfolding in the crossover, as people are expecting a large scale event and the big game changing events will become a much less noteworthy occurrence.
Essentially, if publishers were to aim for this style of comic book ‘seasons’, there is a very cautious middle ground to walk on. As with the Marvel Now! Launches in October, I am glad that some of the much bigger titles such as ‘Mighty Thor’, the ‘Captain America’ titles and the various team books are to continue as they have been going for the last year. This does involve some change ups to the characters (such as Riri Williams and Victor Von Doom each taking up the mantle of Iron Man with different goals in mind) which again opens up new story-line possibilities. On top of this the new titles being added, and the conclusion of numerous smaller titles, will add a sense of variety to the offerings. In terms of the crossover events, I still enjoy them, but feel that not doing a ‘major’ crossover every year will help protect the publishers from either disappointing their fans, or over-delivering and lessening their impacts. While it is a good idea in terms of appealing to new fans, companies should be wary of playing it too heavy handed with the idea of comic book ‘seasons’, as it could risk them losing some of their pre-existing readers.