Movies & TV / Columns

Do Physical Comics Make Sense In An Online World?

December 15, 2020 | Posted by Rob Stewart
Marvel vs. DC

Well, it’s official.

As of this past weekend, I no longer have any Marvel or DC books on my Pull List at my local comic shop.

(Which is not to say I have any indie books because I don’t. I have… my pull list is zero. It is no list.)

I finally put my money where my mouth is and dropped the remaining titles from the two companies that I feel like I complain about far more than I praise in recent years. I had gotten to a place where, when I got my weekly email telling me my books were in, my stomach dropped at the prospect of going out and getting them. I knew I would go out into the COVIDy world, bring the new issues home, fling them on my table in piles sorted by title, and read them… maybe? I have issues sixteen through twenty of Young Justice, and I have not gotten around to any of them yet. I leaf through the newest Excalibur or Marauders without really reading anything, then set it back down to get to “later”.

All I have been reading as of late have been the two big piles of back issues of Generation X (volume 1, in which I am missing only issue forty) and Young Justice (volume 1, where I am missing an odd bulk of issues in the teens, like fourteen through nineteen or something) that I accrued on sale in the last few months. I just can’t seem to find the energy for modern Marvel or DC. I still love the history, but for what they put out now…?

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Never made it even this far!

With my Marvel, my complaints come in two flavors. The first of which is that they release books FAR too quickly. Nick Spencer just started on Amazing Spider-Man in mid-2018, and his run is already on the 55th issue! That’s an AVERAGE of just about two issues per month! You know what the last one I read was? Like, issue thirteen or something. The one where Peter told Black Cat his identity again. I got quickly overwhelmed by the releases and just jumped ship even though I thought the title was great. It was! Spencer made me love ASM again! But I can’t keep up that pace.

My second complaint was that I wanted to read SOME of the new X-books but not ALL. I don’t care for Jonathan Hickman, and I only wanted to read books that had either characters I love (Excalibur, Marauders) or writers of which I am a fan (X-Factor). But within a few months of the X-reset, there was already a massive YOU HAVE TO BUY EVERY TITLE crossover (X Of Swords), and I was put back off all the X-Books. I’m not going to have to choose every few months whether I want to dump extra money every week OR read just part of a story. How is it in 2020 that Marvel still does this? Everyone hated it back in the 1990’s!

With DC… I just feel like they are a company without direction. The New 52 was what it was, and it upended a perfectly good Post-Crisis continuity, but I got it. They were restarting EVERY book at #1 and trying something new. But it was reviled, and DC then reversed course and came out with Rebirth. But what was supposed to correct the errors of the New 52 just made everything worse. I no longer know if there IS continuity at all or what counts as continuity or how many iterations of any given character exists. I read DC, and I’m just confused. Superman doesn’t know Kon-El anymore? Why not?

In addition to that, I can’t keep all of the different books with “Dark” or “Metal” or “Death” or “Nights” in their titles straight. I just call them all “Uh, those books about The Batman Who Laughs. I think?”. Look, I am super happy for DC that they hit upon an idea for a character that really caught on. Good for them! Get your hustle, DC. But I can’t keep it together. Is Death Metal Nights tied into Leviathan? Do either of them have anything to do with Doomsday Clock? Did any of these events ever actually “end”? Is Wally West still stuck to the Mobius Chair? If so, which event deals with that? Any? None? All? What?

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Also: But WHY can’t this guy see?

The problem, of course, is that Marvel and DC are each a lot more than just their Spidey, X, and Bat books. It doesn’t always feel like it! But they are. They both have a whole mess of titles being published at any given time, and those books are less likely to be dependent on the goings on of messy event stories or affected by the plague of double and triple shipping.

But man… comics cost four or five dollars PER ISSUE, at a minimum. It’s unrealistic that I’m going to just pick up the newest Quentin Quire or Creeper title on a whim. I have to hear good word of mouth about those books if I’m going to read them, and by that time the run is either already over, or it’s so many issues deep that I’m not going to bother with it. It’s funny to me that Marvel and DC, by constantly renumbering their books, have created an environment where I look at the twentieth issue of a book and think “Whoa, too far along”, but I never had any trouble starting Uncanny X-Men in the 250’s.

And my solution to parts of this is one that I know would meet a lot of kickback from most comic readers.

I’m tired of comic books as a physical medium. They take up space and they are prohibitively expensive. You know what I don’t do anymore? Buy DVDs or albums. Or, as is the most correlative case to comics, MAGAZINES. What was the last magazine you bought? You don’t even know, that’s what. That’s what online subscription services are for. And I know that these exist, to a point. Marvel has Marvel Unlimited, DC has DCUniverse, and Comixology also exists. But I feel like those services are a bit hamstrung by how much physical comics cost to make and how little profit they garner. No company is really going ALL IN on the potential here.

If it were up to me, DC and Marvel would cut their physically published books down to JUST the known sellers, maybe five to ten books for each company. The “Bat and Spidey” books, as it were. Everything else should be online exclusive. Without the costs of publishing and the fears of titles not selling, they should theoretically be able to release dozens more books every month. And that means more talent getting more exposure and more characters getting time to shine. Maybe your favorite comic character is Conner Hawke. You are S.O.L. waiting for DC to make a new book starring him when DC knows it won’t sell. But if it was a subscription service exclusive that didn’t have to be physically printed every month? Get a new creative team in the door and let them tell some stories!

Think about it: how many movies or shows have you watched just because they were on Amazon or Netflix or Hulu? You would never have paid to see them in theaters or on DVD, but since they were included on a service to which you subscribe, you were all in. And I bet you found some great ones! Don’t you wish it was the same with all new comics?

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I’m not gonna pay $5/issue for this book. But as part of a subscription service? I’ll give it a shot.

Like I said… I know there will be pushback. What about collectability? Variant covers? What else will I do will all these boxes and polybags I bought? Comic fans are surprisingly archaic at times. But print media is a dying business, and $5 for twenty-two pages of entertainment is about the lowest value or cost-to-joy ratio on the planet. But $x per month for all the new books I want to read–many of which, as I said above, would never hit the shelves if they depended on being printed–plus an entire history of back issues? Tell me you don’t want that. I want that.

The obvious downside here, and one to which I admit I don’t have a solution, is “What about comic shops?”. My plan is maybe a great business model for fans to enjoy and talent to get their foot in the door, but it would be terrible for these already-struggling small businesses. Like I said… I don’t have an easy answer. I mean, the BIG books will still exist (the aforementioned Bat and Spidey sellers), as will independent books. And other collectibles! My comic shops are mostly full of statues and pop vinyls these days anyway! So… there’s that? Probably not helpful, sorry.

Okay, I really went more berserk here than I meant to, and I didn’t talk about nearly all the topics I wanted to touch upon. So we’ll end this here, and next time, I’ll give my thoughts on how the MCU is comic books now, and why I think I’m about to abandon comics entirely to read more manga!

Until next time… take care! And for more rants and opinions on comics, wrestling, movies, and everything else, check out SWO Productions!