How many times can you clone someone? How many times can someone die? How many different people are going to take up a superhero mantle from someone else?
Some may say these questions are odd and don’t make sense. But if you apply them to superhero comics they make perfect sense and also drive the fandom crazy. Truth be told it doesn’t take too much to get comic nerds angry. So what do you do when the capes start to go from freshly baked bread to croutons that you never asked for, you look towards the indie shelf at your comic shop.
Scout, Boom Studios, Source Point Press, and IDW, are just some of the independent publishers that are making their collective voices heard with well-thought-out stories and phenomenal creative teams that are delivering them. Not to mention the rate that these books are flying off of the shelves, and what is being found to be commonplace is they are selling out at the distributor level creating a secondary market that has seen top-dollar being requested and received for these books, and there is not a cape or mutant in-sight. Now, I’m not going to bash the superhero genre or Marvel and DC. The sky is not falling and those two companies are just fine, however, at times there seems to be a bit of staleness or the attempt to retell a story without asking if that story needs to be retold. The cloning of Peter Parker was a slap in the face to Spider-Man fans everywhere and was nothing but lighting off a cherry bomb to direct your attention to Marvel and not the new hot company consisting of creative refugees their due recognition from the company but wanting to explore fresher territories. Fast forward 30 plus years and it’s Miles Morales’ turn at a Clone Saga. Remember my comment about croutons?
For years we have walked into our LCS’ and grabbed Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, Fantastic Four, etc, and devoured them. We’ve read these books religiously and conversed about them as if they were holy scripture. We defended our interpretation of said books till we are red in the face and acknowledged how we will die on our Kryptonian hill for our beloved characters. That’s not to say there haven’t been good story arcs, events, or new characters introduced but over time there will be a need to upgrade. The truly tricky situation is to find the proper formula for the right upgrade. Is it a new suit? Is it a new creative team? Since time immortal the big two have fiddled with the creative knobs in order to not only best each other but to maintain some sort of relevancy while keeping characters and stories fresh. Some are going to miss and some are going to hit, but in the meantime, while they are in their war rooms trying to figure out Batman’s next move companies like Boom Studios are releasing titles like Once Future and Something is Killing the Children. Creators such as David Pepose, Frank Gogol, and James Tynion IV, are leading the charge of the indie surge.
So what is the reason for this so-called “indie surge”?
Well, if you grab ten people and ask them I’m sure you are going to get about 7 different answers. To me (and this is solely my opinion) I attest it to fresh storytelling that doesn’t take itself too seriously and isn’t afraid to tell a story that hits close to home but at the same time doesn’t feel like a forced answer because some other company has done something similar. Also, I believe folks are craving the shorter story that gets to the point. Source Point Press isn’t peeking over to see the answers on IDW’s test. How many times have we’ve seen Marvel and DC use each other’s homework and pass it off as their own? Case in point…DC releases Harly Quinn: Black, White, and Red. So naturally, Marvel has to do Wolverine: Black, White, and Blood. I mean when you have characters that span generations and decades you’re gonna run out of unique ideas from time to time, but at least try. Don’t get me wrong this isn’t a bad thing perse but it’s ideas like this that get the books lower on the “must-read” pile, however, it may seem that DC has seen a little bit of the proverbial writing on the wall and tweaked some newer knobs they forgot existed. This gave us a much-needed breath of superhero fresh air with the announcement and flawless execution of Future State.
But wait, there’s more. We now have Infinite Frontier and along with that, we have gained some great stories with creative teams that are knocking it out of the park panel after panel. The cool thing about Infinite Frontier is we are getting almost miniseries with new and old characters alike. Along with this new format is some great names in the industry that are established and those that are setting their trailers ablaze with their offerings. Is this the new DC standard? Are they paying attention to the indie side of the house? Only time will tell. Then there’s Marvel and it appears that Marvel is gonna Marvel and that’s just how it’s gonna be. They did give us the super-charged King in Black event that was really well received and the tie-ins were solid. Then there’s Carnage: Black, White, and Blood…
I don’t care what Edna Mode says about capes. They’re not going anywhere and I’m glad for that. Regardless of how bad the story is, I will continue to blindly reach for Batman, Spider-Man, Venom, Punisher, and Nightwing because you never forget your roots. Even though the big two continue to rebirth and clone their characters every couple of years you can chalk it up to an 80-year-old character that gets passed around like a Cracker Barrell menu and that’s fine. Just like how the readers are going to interpret the story, the writer, artist, and letterer are going to interpret the character as they see him or her at that moment. Unfortunately, if you’ve been telling the story for 80 years, you’re bound to run into a wall here and there and that is absolutely fine as not every at-bat is going to be a home run. Since Frank Castle can’t write about himself, it’s up to Marvel to make sure the best team is at the helm.
Superhero books are always going to read differently than non-superhero books. But what is not going to be different is the amount of hunger to tell the story. Now, you can say that the indie folks are trying to “make it” and that’s probably true. But what’s your reasoning for Tynion’s non-DC work or Snyder’s Nocterra? The model that these indie companies are following almost feels like they are using DC and Marvel against themselves. They’re belting out quick 5 issue series’ that are selling out and Marvel has the Avengers chasing the Phoenix Force around. As I said previously the big 2 aren’t going anywhere, superhero comics aren’t going anywhere, however, there is a new dawn on the horizon. If you don’t believe me, the next time you are at your LCS look at the size of the indie shelves and the different titles that adorn them. No longer are they relegated to the back of the shop like the adult section of your local Blockbuster.
These books are upfront and ready to be explored.