The Sideshow Has Left Town


A couple of weeks ago, I used this column to issue a friendly reminder that the people who publish your favorite comics are not out to get you. On the face of it, you wouldn’t think such a thing would be necessary, but I find the more time fans of anything spend being fans of that thing, the more they start to resent and mistrust the thing’s gatekeepers in a kind of funhouse mirror opposite of Stockholm Syndrome. Before I came back to comics, I dabbled in chasing action figures and oh, brudder, if you think Comic Book Guys have conspiracy theories you should spend some time under the tinfoil hat of the guy trying to start a petition to get Boba Fett’s wrists repainted “correctly.” Really, sir? Hasbro shows a clear Return of the Jedi bias? Tarnishes the character’s memory. I see.

But never mind. It could be anything. Trek, soap operas… give a thing a fanbase, and it’s only a matter of time before some of them are outraged by some disrespect real or imagined.

Naturally, the column I wrote generated all sorts of responses from the iFanbase, ranging from your usual excellence to the sort of hyperventilating that drove me here from those other sites in the first place. There was one thoughtful response in particular that I’m still thinking about days later, one that was tweeted to me rather than being posted in the Comments hornet’s nest. It read, in part (yes, I shortened something that was already only 140 characters):

P.R. perspective: the Brass come off as enjoying screwing with fans’ expectations. Professionalism is as lost as charity.

When I got that message, I couldn’t help reflecting on the reader-editorial relationship and how it’s changed over the years. One of the things people always cite while talking about what made Marvel different when they burst onto the scene in the sixties is the jovial give-and-take established between the loyal readers and the folks behind the scenes. Everyone who made the books was in the credits with a goofy nickname. Fans sought and received No-Prizes. Stan Lee was on his Soapbox in every issue. The staff put out a record and sent it to fans. This back-and-forth became part of the medium’s DNA over the years (today, traces of it can be found everywhere from the Chew or Invincible letters columns to the paper Howard Stern Show that ends every issue of Powers) and Marvel still hold it up as an example of the good, clean fun that sets them apart.

Over the last few years, though, the medium’s DNA seemed to mutate into something a little more grotesque. The stuff coming from behind the scenes began to sound a little too much like pro wrestling, a little less kidding around and a little more smack-talk. In the sixties, Marvel would mention the “Distinguished Competition”; in the last decade, you’ve heard a lot less of that and a lot more derisive cracks about “AOL Comics,” pumping enough bad blood to ensure that Brian Bendis’ proposed Batman/Daredevil crossover won’t be happening for a good long while. There was that period a few years ago when the companies seemed to be waging an Exclusives War, signing any “name” talent they could to a long term exclusive contract, buying up creators like Monopoly properties. The indies get in on the fun, too: at least a couple of successful creators who made their names at the Big Two have gone on to be publicly snarky, passive-aggressive, or so insufferably hostile toward work-for-hire books that you start waiting for someone to get hit with a folding chair.

Or at least, that’s the way it was for a few years. Am I imagining things, or has all that nonsense from the Big Guys quieted down a hell of a lot? Say, in the last year or so?

I say this bearing in mind that my experience of comic bookery over the last couple of years has largely narrowed from 357 RSS feeds down to basically this site, so when I think about what has people talking in Comics I guess I’m thinking about You People, a self-selecting group if there ever was one. Still: the trashtalk seems a lot less trashy. Sure, there was that thing with the Deadpool variants, and one last shot at goading the Spider-marriage fans this fall, but other than that nothing comes to mind. Without noticing it, Industry Outsiders, we may have wandered into a period of détente.

Or I could just not be paying attention. The second best thing about Twitter is the moment a writer, gossip or pundit becomes obnoxious, you can press a button and exclaim, “POOF! You cease to exist!” I have pressed that button many a time indeed, which is better for my long-term health but probably much worse for knowing what the hell is going on.

Maybe the powers that be are too busy turning comics into movies and TV shows to waste time on that Rowdy Roddy b.s. Maybe the new bosses have said, “Come, now. That’s no way to run a railroad.” Or maybe everybody finally realized that Marvel fans and DC fans are the same fans. Marvel taught me I loved Paul Cornell, but when he got Action Comics I didn’t say (aloud) “Traitor, you are dead to me.” I just started buying Action Comics.

Has the circus left town, or has the crowd stopped going into the tent? Or am I just taking my own personal experience and projecting it onto everyone else, when in fact I’ve just tuned out calliope music that’s still playing all around me? Actually, if I’m wrong, don’t tell me; I’m enjoying the quiet.


Jim Mroczkowski feels like “Monopoly Property” is an album title waiting to happen; sadly, he can’t play anything but the chump. Twitter him like that other guy did, and you might be a column idea too one day.


  1. I think younger readers still feel the need to defend "their" charcters and company.

  2. this article has convinced me that we need a monopoly game with creators as properties and we can make game pieces outta company logos. instead of jail you get sent to non diamond distributor and houses/mansions can be indie studios and corporate offices?

    I’ve thought of this for all of 3 minutes and clearly I’ve already put too much thought into it 

  3. I have a friend who has recently made the transition from reading Marvel exclusively to mixing his pull list with quite a few DC titles. he said to me the other day that part of what burned him about Marvel was the very Deadpool variant stunt Jimsky references here. He thought it was a low blow. After I thought about this a bit I realized that while I agree it was a low blow, I really don’t care anymore. I’m over it.

    Sure, being a DC fan (for the most part), I’ll toss the occasional "universe with problems" jab at my Marvel friends once in a while, but it’s all in good fun. I read Marvel too, just not as much. I’ve been in the DCU for over a decade. I’m comfortable there. I don’t feel like I’m missing much by being mostly exclusive, and on the occasion that I do notice something that interests me on the other side of the release wall, I pick it up. It’s that simple. Folks who feel they are being traitorous by doing so are really only shortchanging themselves.

    My point is, maybe as the industry continues to evolve, it’s fans are maturing. We all know that comics aren’t for kids anymore. The fans of the nineties have gotten older, and maybe we’re not interested in competing anymore. Or maybe it’s the end-is-nigh attitude that seems to be hanging over the industry in the last few years. Maybe as the industry adapts to a new market, the fanbase finds itself coming together more than we used to, in support of the biz. The answer remains the same; read what you like, don’t read what you may feel you have to read. This is the best way to vote. With your feet, not your mouth.

  4. "maybe everybody finally realized that Marvel fans and DC fans are the same fans."

    That would be very smart of them, wouldn’t it?  Good column, and though I wouldn’t say I’ve noted any appreciable changes, lately, it would definitely be a positive direction.

    Though I’m not sure that public displays of vitriol between the companies were particularly new in the last decade.  I’ve read various editorial-written columns in back issues (mostly from the 80s, I think?  I’m certain Jim Shooter was involved in some way, and possibly Dick Giordano?)  that made me think ‘Wow, there were people in this industry at that time who did not like each other at all and didn’t bother to hide it from anyone.’  

  5. My theory is that they’ve all been too busy dealing with their corporate overlords, or that maybe TW and Disney told them to keep it “professional.”

  6. It’s like a Coke drinker mocking someone for being a Pepsi drinker.  I feel like a buffoon for ever having contributed to this kind of behavior. 

  7. I love that hugging image.  So awkward.  So much gut showing.  It’s like neither of them had ever given a hug before.

  8.  As I recall, there was a story going around a few years ago that Marvel promoted and released their half of the Amalgam trades (each company published half and split the profits) while in bankruptcy and when the time came to pay, DC Quesada and Jemas turned around and said that DC weren’t getting a cent.  Which DC took, I think rightly, as a dick move and put into place a policy of not working with Marvel while either Jemas or Quesada were in charge.  Why get burned twice?

    I don’t know if it’s true, and can’t remember where I even heard it now.  Has anyone else heard this?

    I find the snarking horrible to listen to, personally.  And the fact that 90% of it I hear is from Quesada against DC has driven me away from enjoying Marvel comics.  At least Stan had a sense of grace and playfulness.

  9. Erik Larsen still likes to get his Haterade on.  No one cares though.

  10. Bendis looks like he’s hoping Kirkman won’t eat him.  It amuses me.

  11. Is Bendis really short? or is Kirkman really tall?

  12. I recently made the switch from mostly marvel to mostly DC.  I still love my old standbys at marvel, but i am currently in deeper with DC, (mostly cause of the return of Bruce Wayne and Blackest Night/Brightest Day). But I know there will come a day in Marvel, maybe tomorrow, maybe 10 years from now, when something major happens and my pull will switch back to more marvel Heavy. 

    I think that one of the reasons i am so DC heavy right now is because it is still somewhat new to me.  Sure i knew the names of most of the characters and their basic mythos, but i didnt really know them.  I didnt KNOW Hal Jordan, I didnt KNOW Arthur Curry, i didn’t KNOW Dick Grayson.  And because i am now getting to KNOW them, i am tricking myself into thinking "i like them more".  This just simply isn’t true.  I still love Steve Rogers, i still love Peter Parker, and i still Love most of the Marvel U.  But what i do love more then anything else is that childlike feeling of exploration of something new.  For me that is DCU right now. For others that may be being inspired to read Walking Dead after the series, or picking up a 25cent West Coast Avengers from a garage sale, or being handed Dark Knight Returns from a crazy uncle. 

    What it is we’re reading, and what gets us to read them don’t matter as much as one important thing.  That we are reading comics at all, and that unifys us.


    But that’s just me…

  13. Awh, I kinda liked the rivalry. Rivalries are always fun. Right now there’s a strong rivalry between anime fans who enjoy Pedofiliac underage 8 year old TNA films (called Moei/Kawaii/Cutesy shows) and old school 80s fans like myself. Biased? Oh yes, but you try watching a show like Chobits on youtube and tell me that it’s not borderline pedofilia.

    Oh… we’re still talking about comics….? 

  14. I don’t know. I look at some of the stunts, the publictiy angles about Status qou changing things and I sort of roll my eyes. The statis qou is always changing, but only in small ways, that is the nature of the beast, but I wonder about the theatrics of it all: Instead of making proclimations about things that will likely bot change just for the sake of stirring up buzz sales, and the vitrol from die hard fans why not take a more moderate approaxh: "Hey we’re going to be doing this storyline with this character  for a while and here’s why it’s cool.

    Instead of BATMAN DIES! NO MORE MUTANTS! THE CHARACTER YOU LOVE IS NOW GOING TO CHANGE FOREVER! Yes, this will create buzz and sales and news websites will cover it and the Internet will break in two, but I wonder if the Big Guns are as tired of the continuity obssessed fandom as they sppear to be, why encourage such behavior, really?

    To quote Bing Crosby, Ac-centuate the Positice, elimatre the negative: Change the gosh darn conversation!  

    Also, I’m less interested in your produxt if you spend most of your time and social networking chutzpah telling me how awesome your product is, without at least every once and a while, ackowledging some of the things that you think another company is doing well, and what other product besides yours is doing good stuff, without prompting.

    Maybe thar’s crazy talk, but while promoting your product, choose a jem from The Other Guys. It shows that a love of the medium trumps a love for sales, (which it doesn’t I know, but in’t that preferable to endless  self promotion insofar as it improves your public image?

    What haem is there in ackoledging in  someone from Acknoledging how awesome BATGIRL is, while promotig the hell out of Peper Pots, Rescue and Iron Man. (for example)

    That is the kind of thing I would see.

    But then I’m a dreamer.


  15. Dave, are you talking about individual creators or are you talking about marketing?  Because just about all the creators I know of have good things to say about people doing good work, no matter who it’s for.  I don’t know that it makes sense for people in marketing to hype other people’s products, though. 

  16. Jim,

    You know, it’s funny. Remember how a few years ago Quesada was actively saying how he wants fans to pick a side for friendly competition? He’s very much on the side of "you take one side, and that’s it" and while that may have been cool when I was eleven or twelve, I like seeing what each company has to offer. If a creator I enjoy goes from one company to another, I’ll see what they do at the other place. If I enjoy it, I’ll stick with it. If I don’t, then I’ll spend my money on something else. 

    This whole idea that you’re strictly Marvel or DC is ridiculous at this stage in comics. Right now, they need all the money they can get. I mainly read DC, but I try a little of the Marvel Noir line, some Image Comics, a little Avatar and Dynamite here and there, with just a dash of BOOM for fun. 

    Once the industry recovers, then we can afford to play these little games, but until then, he can bash DC all he wants, in the end he’s the one that has to look at sales. 

  17. @Caroline I was thinking of the higher position EIC’s and such. Other writers and artiats do a great job of telling fans other things they like, but the people that have the mic’rophone the most don’t tend to evsngslize the thingd their companies don’t produce. I’m not talkibg stanzas of praise for the competition, just a tip of the cap for exceptionally well done work


    Is that relaistic marketing?  Maybe not. But given the size and polarity of the auduence, I’d say it’s necessary now more than ever.

  18. @jjkish7, Bendis is a pretty short guy. Kirkman is a bear of a man, but I don’t recall him being overly tall.

  19. Getting "defensive" (wish I could think of a better word)…getting defensive over "your" comic companies feels like a young person’s game.  When you have to worry about putting food on the table, and making sure the bills are paid, it’s a luxury to care about comic publishers.

    Of course, now that I type this, I have to wonder if that’s true.  Perhaps at the end of the day you really do care about the pleasures of a comic book that much more, and the niceties you rely upon are even more important to you, since you can’t take them for granted as you might have when you had no responsibilities when you were young.  So caring about the success of one publisher over another might be more important to you.

    Perhaps some people become more polarized as time goes on about the things they care about?  

    Then again, perhaps you become more understanding?

    Oh god!  I just don’t know!!!  Leave me alone!!  Get off my lawn, you damn kids!!

    Okay, in all seriousness, there is something akin to routing for a sporting team here, I suppose.  I’m not a sports fan, so I have trouble understanding why one roots for a team simply because they are located in our town, city, state.  If you love seeing professionals play the game well, what does it matter if they’re on the Giants or on the Rangers — but for a lot of people this does matter.  

    Perhaps we’re so hardwired for this sort of "tribalism", that it pops up in all sorts of areas. And companies who livelihood is based on competing for the same dollars from readers when times are really tough will gladly encourage this (verses Marvel and DC now having corporate "Sugar Daddies" would can help ease some of these pressures — are they really "Sugar Daddies"? Probably not).

    Frankly, in the end I’m doing a lot of speculating with little facts, and that’s often a bad idea.

    So I’m ending this rambling comment now, so I can going to go back to less controversial topics like global warming, evolution, and politics in general.

    (Good article, Jim!)

  20. Another point to make is that Dan Didio’s Sunday afternoon panels always mention how much he enjoys/enjoyed Marvel Comics and have Marvel creators on them to talk about how they all love comics and their stories about growing up with them.

    I find them pretty heartwarming I have to say.