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Friday, March 24, 2006

Comics and Characters: Marketability and Niches

Over at Comic Bloc, there's a topic about which JSA member should get their own solo book. This is something I've posted about before.

For the curious, *my* opinion on the poll is here.

Anyway, it got me thinking that the popularity of a character shouldn't be a factor in whether a character gets a solo book or not. I mean, sure, it'll bring in readers from JSA, or whereever else the character originally appeared, but that's not going to be enough, and without a hook, there won't be any way to pull in a wider audience.

Let's take Mr. Terrific for example. Michael Holt is an awesome character with personal tragedy, mad skills and a busload of the coolness factor. I like him a lot. It's great when he's featured in storylines and I'm looking forward to his role in Checkmate.

But would I read a solo comic about him? Well, it'd depend on my finances that week. See, as awesome as Michael is, I'm not sure he has a hook that would really draw me to the comic every month. He's a smart guy with tech expertise and a neat costume. But...well, so's Bruce Wayne. So's Ted Kord...Barbara Gordon's also got tech expertise, even if she's a costume-less woman...even little Tim Drake might not be much of a robot-builder, but he's shown himself more than capable of hacking and detective work.

The thing is, while JSA fans would read Michael's comic, most other readers would probably gravitate toward Batman for that first. Batman's got the name recognition after all. Michael, instead, is better utilized in a group setting.

See, comic books, to me, have to offer something the others don't. DC and Marvel and Image and the rest aren't gonna pay to make two comics that are near identical when one would do. The stories have to have a notable difference and something new to offer.

Superman and Batman could have so many spinoff comics because each comic type told a different kind of story. Gotham Knights was very bat family, and then bat villain related, where Detective focused on the mysteries, and Batman proper was of course Bruce's center stage. Legends of the Dark Knight and Monster Men also tell different types of stories.

It's like...looking at group titles: JLA are the legends, they fight the big fights. JSA is closer knit, focused as much on family and legacy...they fight big fights, but they tend to be more personal. The Teen Titans are about growing up, the Outsiders were/are a bit more of a mercenary, grey-area type force...The Classifieds tell less constrained stories, often with a different tone, and only some of the same characters as the main lines...

I've heard rumors that they might bring back Infinity Inc, of sorts, which could work, I'd bet there's an audience for the soapy dramatic emotional crap.

See, the thing is, while many people read all of the titles, many just read one or two, whether their tastes run to coming of age stories or legacies or just plain grandstand heroics.

There can be so many Lantern comics because Hal's Green Lantern can do the home-based, Earth, traditional hero crises, Guy and the GLC can do their space opera/police drama thing, while god knows what Kyle's going to end up doing except that god willing it involves bondage and ripped costumes somewhere.

Comics need an audience and name recognition only goes so far. They need a tone and a genre and a direction. They can always run stories counter-type later, fun interludes that don't always fit the grand scheme, but the grand scheme is ultimately what draws a wider audience.

Going back to the JSA, for example: any one of those heroes would be a great lead character in a comic. They're all personable and appealing and cool. But the trick is figuring out what kind of comic they would end up fronting.

I picked Sand first not because I like him (though I do) but because there's a built in audience for mysteries with an occult/horror edge. It wouldn't necessarily even need a mature label, if the author went with the more subtle/cerebral understated elements of horror. And nothing with the former Golden Boy should ever be completely depressing, there should definitely be some underlying note of optimism, of making a positive difference beneath there.

In fact, it'd probably be *very* successful if they went in that direction. In the bookstores, the young adult shelves are filled with horror, mystery and fantasy. Comics that young people can enjoy are pretty rare,and a great many adults read young-adult related stories all the time. (J.K Rowling and Tamora Pierce could doubtless attest to this.) And because real horror, especially the kind of Lovecraftian stuff Sorrow is associated with, is as much about the unseen, unspoken implications as what's obviously there, a young adult direction doesn't need to impede the story at all. The adults might appreciate more of the subtleties and horrific implications, but younger readers could enjoy it too.

And best of all, there really isn't any series currently that taps into that market. Which means the possible attraction of many non-regular readers who'd enjoy that sort of horror, as *well* as regular readers of Sandman Mystery Theater and JSA who'd be attracted by the familiar name.


Mid-Nite's another one, because as the success of House and Grey's Anatomy now, as well as ER and Chicago Hope way back when, shows, people love medical dramas. And a medical drama about metahumans would be pretty nifty.

How would you diagnose a meta-human, or an alien, when you're not familiar with their particular physiology. What about battle injuries or weird unknown illnesses? Alien plagues? Ancient curses? There could be a lot of fun stories there. Could even bring in other specialists to round out a cast, psychic healers, magic users, alien scientists.

There are some fascinating elements about the DCU that don't really get explored. What does it mean to have aliens and superheroes all around, in plain sight, interacting with normal people in normal society. To know that John Stewart, the Green Lantern, and his blue girlfriend live down the hall from you. That if you go to Warriors on a Sunday Night, you might catch a glimpse of Superman or Aquaman...Magic's real, aliens are real, superpowers are real...and where Marvel's got most of those folks looked down upon or trying to blend in, DC's got a lot of 'em out and proud.

So what does that *mean*?

What does it mean for the judicial system: What happens to the supervillain once he's arrested? How is evidence collected? How do warrants work? Can a lawyer appeal on the grounds that Batman was unnecessarily brutal when he zip stripped his client and left him infront of the GCPD building?

Best part of Manhunter, I think, is the look at superhero justice. Allows for a lot of fun crossovers letting Damon hit on Carter too. Gotham Central was good for the look at police procedure...it'd be fun to see more of that.

But anyway, I think the comic companies are more likely to go with characters around whom a new, interesting, and most importantly marketable franchise can be built around versus whether the character is popular or not.

Remember, Guy Gardner got his own comic after all. :-) *Twice*.

17 Comments:

  • At March 24, 2006 7:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    People all care about stories...the question is,how long do they continue to care?

     
  • At March 24, 2006 9:29 AM, Blogger joncormier said…

    This is a really thoughtful post. You managed to put into writing EXACTLY what I'm feeling about mainstream comics these days. There was a lot of potential for this type of thing a few months ago and it seems to have fizzled a bit. It only takes a few good ideas and a bit of consumer prodding to get new stuff on the market.

    New comics are coming regardless of what we might think, so why not try something new instead of a rehash of what you (or the other guy) is doing? I'm going to mull this over a bit more and post something similar today I think...

     
  • At March 24, 2006 10:52 AM, Blogger jamawalk said…

    I'd buy The Amazing Adventures of Ma Hunkle every month.




    Seriously.

     
  • At March 24, 2006 11:28 AM, Anonymous AnthonyF said…

    I wonder why Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. has never been revived. Courtney's become a much better character in JSA over the years. With all of that development, plus the chance to explore Pat, an interesting character in his own right, I think the series could be even better now than it was in 1999.

     
  • At March 24, 2006 5:27 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    anon: ideally, *that* is when you have interesting enough characters to keep them interested. But starting with a direction is better when it comes to *building* an audience I think.

    jon: In general, I'm pretty happy with the variety available in comics, but it seems like sometimes they are focused too much on popularity of characters and end up telling the same story ad nauseum and then wonder why the comics aren't successful.

    Besides, even if say Dr. Mid-Nite's medical drama thing didn't do well, after all, at least they tried something new, huh? :-)

    jamawalk: Are you kidding, housewife with a frying pan dressed up like a male superhero or even a modern story of an old woman who works for the JSA and keeps all these idiots fed and taken care of?

    I'd read it too.

    anthony: Possibly because Courtney's got a lot of focus in JSA proper, I suppose. But I'd definitely like to see it revived. Giant robot-suits are cool. :-)

     
  • At March 24, 2006 9:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I lost track of all those stories that began well,or were promised in a future that never came...Do you have any series or characters that you think could be done better?

     
  • At March 24, 2006 10:04 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    anon: hmm, I think that's a difficult question. I'd imagine editorial mandates are a pain in the ass sometimes to write one's way around. Crossover events can also, I bet, interfere with initial plans.

    As for characters: I think Jade's always been problematic. She's a nifty idea: Alan Scott's daughter, green Lantern powers, green skin...but she never really lived up to that potential. No one really seemed to have any idea what to do with her, so she was always tacked on to someone else's story. She tended to be written inconsistantly at the best of times, and occasionally completely awful.

    Another character that I felt was a complete mistake was Faith in the JLA. She got introduced in Obsidian Age in a "look how cool and mysterious she is?!" way. We could see that she could lay-on-hands heal, destroy stuff, fly and was apparently the Fat Lady...oh and somehow subdued Etrigan. But we never really learned about her. That sort of mystery is okay for the other characters, but I think the reader needs more to latch on to than that. Maybe a bit more of her perspective in her own words would have helped...but I doubt it...she was too much of a Deus Ex Machina type of character.

    Most incarnations of the JLA have had problems I think. JLI lost it's cohesion I think, around the time they brought in General Glory. (A tip, if you want to continue making the most hated character the butt of your jokes...you might not want to include a character whose very presence starts to underscore that said hated character is pretty much mentally a child...Suddenly Batman dropping him with one punch is more uncomfortable than hilarious. And that's just annoying).

    The current JLA should have ended a lot more...dramatically than it did. Even if there was no way to get the big players back, there should have been some way to have it end with a bang instead of a fizzle. Maybe when the moonbase exploded and J'onn disappeared. Save Ollie's ranting for his own series. If they did extend it, there should have been more of a somber, funereal feeling. It's the end of an era after all, it should feel like it.

    Hmm, it's hard for me to pinpoint series though, as if they're still ongoing, there's still a chance for them to look up. There are a lot of storylines that I think could have been better in terms of pacing, direction, perspective or characterization, but often they're followed by things I like again...

    Characters are touchy, because sometimes they're just awful, but a writer can turn them around and make them interesting to me after all. Like for me personally, I'd never cared much about Helena Bertinelli until Gail Simone started writing Birds of Prey. Hawkman's a character I hate, but it's a love to hate sort of thing, and I wouldn't have him any other way. I'm *supposed* to hate Hawkman.

    Hmm, I think you've given me a couple of days worth of blog posts to think about, man. :-) Thanks!

     
  • At March 25, 2006 4:52 AM, Blogger Althalus said…

    And a medical drama about metahumans would be pretty nifty.

    Just thought I'd mention it's already been done at least once. Only two issues, but I liked it. A collection is solicited in April Previews, IIRC.

     
  • At March 25, 2006 5:13 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Heh, cool! Good to know!

     
  • At March 25, 2006 12:29 PM, Blogger Scipio said…

    "god knows what Kyle's going to end up doing except that god willing it involves bondage and ripped costumes somewhere."

    Maybe Kyle could be the new Wonder Woman.

     
  • At March 25, 2006 12:30 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Oddly, you're not the first to suggest that, Scipio. :-)

     
  • At March 25, 2006 12:35 PM, Blogger Scipio said…

    What I think would work best is not solo books for JSA members, but an anthology book with several short solos of various members.

     
  • At March 25, 2006 12:37 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Scipio: That could be cool too. It's kind of what I was hoping JSA: Classified would end up being, if issue-long/multiple-issue long stories instead.

    But I'd also like more JSA stories in general because I'm greedy.

    And I figure even in an anthology my favorites would have no panel time. Because I'm cynical. :-)

     
  • At March 27, 2006 12:34 AM, Blogger Hale of Angelthorne said…

    "What does it mean for the judicial system: What happens to the supervillain once he's arrested?"

    Unless they've got evidence besides punks hanging from a lamppost, most superhero collars are going to walk, unless the hero has a public identity and doesn't mind spending alot of time testifying. Wearing spandex and beating up bad guys on a nightly basis probably stretches the concept of "citizen's arrest" to hell and gone, and in some states illegally obtained evidence is excluded even if it was a private citizen who obtained it, so I imagine sometime in the 1960's, the courts start throwing out convictions, there's a conservative backlash, and some states pass "superhero arrest laws" while others start deputizing heroes. As for supervillains, I'd bet on some kind of federal law that gives the feds exclusive jurisdiction over all metahuman crime, maybe it even outlaws all use of superpowers, but the feds choose to look the other way in the case of popular superheroes who tow the line.

    "'Yes'--you always say yes--to anyone with a badge--or a flag..."

     
  • At March 27, 2006 7:05 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    hale: Sounds good to me! Now I wanna see some of that in the comics! :-)

    Though Gotham Central did kinda talk about it a little, Robin's current arc is doing that some too, and Manhunter's definitely addressing a lot of court stuff.

    But more is good, darnit!

     
  • At March 27, 2006 11:26 AM, Blogger simon said…

    The other nice hook for Sand is his sense of being a man out of time. He could be like the frozen-in-ice Captain America, but more fun to be around. He's a twenty-something who grew up during the depression! What would he make of the contemporary culture of affluence and animadiversion? Are his connections to the Alan Scotts of this world, or the Kendras?

    He also has a relatively unusual set of powers and skills, plus the buncha disposable income from the Dian Belmont estate.

    And best yet, it gives us a chance to read more adventures of Wesley Dodds in flashback form.

    Sign me up!

     
  • At March 27, 2006 11:51 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    simon: Yep! Exactly! So much fun potential there!

    (Including the flashback adventures! More Wes and Dian is always a good thing!)

    Hmph, well, if no one else'll write it I'll find some way to do it myself. Give me a few years. ;-)

     

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