When I was younger there was this phenomenon (I think it’s always been there and always will be) where as a kid your parents and the grown ups don’t particularly care for your music, or they will declare “I just don’t really get it.” Which is still, I think, their nice way of saying they don’t like the modern music. Of course in my young man arrogance I thought to myself that I would never be that kind of adult. I would always follow the trends and I would have an open mind about “current music”. Well, I think I have a more open mind than most but I don’t think I much care for current music as much as I’d hoped.

Okay Kiefer, where are you going with this? I thought this blog was about comics. It is. This morning I got to thinking I’ve become an old man about my comics. The comic industry of today however seems to suffer from the opposite problem that the music industry has (depending on your perspective I suppose). In the music industry we have so MANY artists out there all clamoring to get a moment to make something NEW. Something that will resonate with the listener even if for only a moment. So we have new bands and talents EVERYWHERE; New personalities, new egos, new CHARACTERS. So many new “characters” that you could listen to music all day every day and there would still be new music and new acts to hear. You could forever discover new music.

What about the comics industry, specifically Marvel and DC? If we applied this same metaphor to them it would be like a record label that had a bunch of “safe” acts that could continue to put out similar sounds forever. Why would you ever need to suffer the Nickelbacks of the world if you always had Metallica? And if Metallica got too old? Well we’ll replace the lead singer and now we have  “Superior Metallica” or “The Uncanny Metallica” or “Wolverine and the Metallica!” It’s still Metallica, but it’s not your dad’s Metallica!

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Have we run out of superheros? (or villains?) In the 80s-90s we were still getting new hero ideas. I’ll grant you we had some really bad ones but we still had Ideas that could stick. They had a decent amount of intrigue and dedicated imagination attached to them, for example: you had characters like Gambit, and Bishop (who were not what I’d consider A-Listers, but some folks really gravitated towards them) and Gambit at least seems to have stayed the course, Bishop may still be around too.  Guy Gardner was a joke for a good long time but in recent years he returned to the Green Lantern Corps as a real deal legit hero and has had some interesting story arcs and character development. At this point he’s no longer  “just” the edgy replacement green lantern.

So then my next question: Why aren’t we seeing new fully developed characters that are taking off or at least taking root? Why do we have to have Doc Ock in the body of Peter Parker, or mixed race Spider-man in the (Ultimate Marvel Universe), or Bat Woman, or Batwing, or RED Robin (re-branded just so we can add Damien as another Robin? so he can die? and speaking of dead Robins…), or Red Hood? Does re-branding of an already popular character or costume “count” as a new character? (And before I get too many comments on how I’m hating on these ideas but they are “really good” I’ll concede that some of them have really worked I don’t hate these characters that’s not the point… The point is they are not really new ideas)

Lets take  the X-men as another example: you can come up with any superpower and apply it as a mutation and they can’t come up with a character that’s as cool as the pre-existing ones? They had/have a new team of young x-men every 5 years or so but aside from “Hope” (who is basically a Jean Grey/Rogue wannabe that got sent to the future with Cable as a baby) I couldn’t name a single character on the current young team, not a single one. But I know that if you want the book to succeed it probably has to have either Cyclops or Wolverine in it.

It might be that I’ve been reading comics too long (see also “he’s too old to get it” syndrome) but It seems like writers are no longer creating new intellectual properties for the big publishers (given how little they get out of it as compensation goes, I can’t say as I totally blame them, but that’s another rant entirely). Rather we see great writers take out the same old toys and play with them again (and again and again). In fact they’ve played with these toys so many times that they’ve actually broken a couple of  them (a few times) and put them back together (red-blue superman? Venom/Anti-Venom? The Spider-man Clone saga?) This new age of stories seems to drag out old characters every once in awhile just to see if they’ll hit. B and C list heroes and villains might get a slight dust off and get either revived or chumped out with an almost “VH1 Where are they now” style treatment. Bengal? Thor Girl? Night Thrasher? Deathlok? Morbius the Living Vampire? Where are they now? And would it matter if we actually knew where they were? But we have to try because Deadpool! Amirite?!

DeadpoolracksI know it’s possible to have awesome new characters. Kevin Smith brought back Green Arrow after he seemingly died and at one point and he developed the villain Onomatopoeia who actually later became a Batman villain. Onomatopoeia is a highly skilled cold calculating killer who only speaks in sound words (hence the name) that he hears which he then echos back (a brilliant concept considering the pop correlations to the classic Adam West series). CREEPY. I think he has the potential,  if not the presence, to make an awesome mainstream villain.

You also have the rare case of Mark Millar’s “Kick Ass” getting publisher support and making it big extremely quickly and becoming a movie franchise almost as fast as he finishes each run.

So yes they are out there, we’ve had glimmers like “The Court of Owls” but for every great idea like that we’ve had, the carnage or venom symbiote trade hosts at least once.

So we know these creators have ideas, these writers are genuinely clever people. So why aren’t we hearing about their new ideas?

Is it because?:

1) they DO launch them but they launch them independently so they don’t have the marketing power of a big box Warner Brothers/Disney behind them. (If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it count?)

2) they save their ideas in the hopes they can launch their ideas on their own but never get the time or opportunity to do so. (They have bills to pay first! Not criticizing, just facing facts.)

3) the big publishers actively discourage the use of new characters over the established highly recognizable cash cow characters of the last several decades. (Listen sure we could give this White Stripes band a try  but we know that “Ultimate Metallica” will make us money. So why don’t we just do that instead?)

I don’t have any answers this is purely a rant but I do find this all very odd. Hypothetically if you work for a company with that kind of tradition and that kind of massive audience (Unless you actually ARE actively discouraged against making new characters)  why wouldn’t you want to be known as the writer that created the NEW big thing? Wouldn’t you want to have created a character like Magneto that might someday continue on longer than yourself?

In the interest of time I’m targeting mostly DC and Marvel here but before I go here’s some more to chew on: Cast the net only slightly wider and you get IDW and Dynamite who lovingly craft tales for old licences… They aren’t even trying to change it… just make a couple bucks and write a couple of books (apply the music metaphor? Cover bands, really good ones but cover bands nonetheless.)

Yes unfortunately with new characters we’d get some Miley Cyrus along the way but hey we might also get some Jane’s Addiction too. What do you think? Am I off base? Am I paying attention to the wrong stuff? Let me know in the comments. Got some good character leads for me? I’d love to hear em!