Panelology - Who Do We Read? (Part 1)

by Brandon

Panelology triumphantly returns this week after a long, but necessary, mental health hiatus! Continuing on with my look at the essentials of collecting comic books, I'm taking up the issue of comic book companies. Who do we read? Why do we slavishly follow companies? Is there hope for mankind? Read on!

Comic book fans are pretty unusual. Our purchasing habits tend to follow one company or line with great regularity. Sure, we all venture out, but we tend to follow a company's titles as a general rule of thumb. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is a curious phenomenon that happens within our hobby. I'm a huge music buff, but I don't tend to follow record labels around. I, like any proud fanboy, also love movies. Yet, I don't find myself lining up at the the local yokel movie theater every time something from Paramount or Warner Brothers comes out. Even gamers tend to sample across the spectrum.

This isn't a rule for everybody, but many in our community tend to stay with one company for a majority of their purchases. I'm no different. I freely admit that I am Marvel fan. I do tend to dip out into other books and companies, but I would say a full two-thirds of all of my purchases come from the House of Ideas. Just this past weekend at HeroCon, I heard a young man exclaim as he was rifling through the 50% off TPB boxes, "Man, all of this shit is Marvel! Why would anybody read this stuff?"

Well, let's see...

I love Marvel. I think Marvel tends to do a great job of mixing the fantastic with reality. I think in terms of character development in the superhero realm, Marvel does a better job than anybody out there. For super-heroics, Marvel offers a wide variety of titles, both solo and team books. Marvel doesn't seem to be afraid to take risks with their properties. Just look at Brand New Day and the Death of Captain America arcs if you don't buy this argument. For better or for worse, Marvel likes risks. I don't think they are as risky as they were back about eight years ago or so, but that was more of a function of survival than anything. Plus, they have a quasi-impressive line of labels now. Max, Ultimate, and Icon have solid potential. I believe the Ultimate line may be the only one that has at least lived up to its potential, but if rumors are true about this line, it could be going the way of Valiant pretty soon.

Ah, the "old" guard. If someone wants superhero titles, DC is where it is at. Marvel has them too, but DC seems to be focused so much on the superhero that they seem to lose the characterization Marvel tends to focus on. That could be my own bias of DC coming in, but I don't think that focusing on superheroes is a bad thing. I think DC appeals to those fans who want heavy continuity and stability. I don't see them as risk takers, but more as stability-setters. They really have bought into the event trend, which is great for their readers because they tend to demand a more cohesive, connected universe of titles. Their Vertigo line is also one of the best lines out there for mature readers. It mixes fantasy, crime, science fiction, and mystery so well. Unlike the Ultimate line, Vertigo has far exceeded its potential. Vertigo acts almost like an indie label being hawked off by a major company. I really enjoy many titles from this line. Except for Jack of Fables.

Dark Horse
DH is an interesting company right now. They have tons of opportunities going for them. They have a good mix of licensed properties and original titles. On the licensed properties front, they have some big licenses with Star Wars, Conan, Indiana Jones, Buffy, Aliens, and Predator to name just a few. I bet DC and Marvel would cream themselves to snap up those properties! These properties bring in a locked-in fanbase that tend to follow the titles out of love for the characters. This is good money for DH. Chances are that at least one of those properties interests you, my fine readers. DH also has some really good original titles. Hellboy, Fear Agents and The End League immediately come to mind. All three of these titles are exceedingly well done. DH seems to be more willing to take a dip in the original title pool lately, which seems to be working for them. Also, their collected editions

Image has a lot going for it these days. They have a stable of some really excellent titles that are very diverse. To use a terrible word, Image has cornered the market on "funky" titles. That's right, funky. That's probably not the right word, but it works for the time being. They have a zombie book, outlandish and grounded superhero titles, spy books, and action/adventure titles. Image seems to do a bit of everything and they are able to filter it through their funky lens to make it unique. Fell, Casanova, The Walking Dead, and Savage Dragon are all strong books in my mind from this company. Image has tons of potential, and I think Erik Larsen is doing a fine job tapping that potential.

Those are just four of the "big" companies. Just between those four, there is enough diversity in comic books for anybody to find a title they love. But what about the other comic publishers? Great question! Next week, I'll take us on a journey through some of the indie publishers.

I'll definitely be getting back on a regular weekly schedule too. Between taking two grad classes, teaching a creative writing class, and wrapping up the school year, things have been a little hectic around here for me. But never fear! I'll be back next week with Part 2!


Cindy Cooper said...

Awesome post, Brandon!

I agree with much of what you said here.

Comic book universes are often like soap operas in that they create an entire world with it's own overall storyline that endures for generations. It's hard to get into a new soap once you've been watching certain ones for years. My mom has always since before my birth, been a CBS soap watcher. She's tried watching, say Days of Our Lives or General Hospital and in the end she just can't get into them. They aren't home.

I feel like that with Marvel. I know those characters and I know what's going on with them and where they've been. There are characters in the DCU that I love too, but I can never really stay in that world too long. It just doesn't feel like home.

It's completely nuts. Isn't it? LOL

The General said...

That's a funny analogy about Soap Operas, Cindy, because it's actually pretty accurate. My mom is a complete Days of Our Lives and General Hospital fan. She's tried other stations, but similar to your mom, always comes back to what she knows best.

Doug Smith said...

I'm a Marvel guy too; you can thank The Electric Company for that, as that's where I discovered Spidey, which brought me over to superhero comics. It was a few more years before I started sampling DC, and they've never been able to surpass Marvel in my heart.

Which is ironic, because looking back at the comparative quality of the two companies, I think DC pretty much kicked Marvel's butt starting in the mid-'80s and going through 2000 or so. But Marvel remained my #1.