Omnium Gatherum #79: There’s More Than One Born Every Minute These Days
By Vince Moore
Howdy, folks, and welcome once again to the Omnium Gatherum.
It doesn’t matter who said it but as the saying goes, There’s a sucker born every minute. Nowadays it seems like there are more than one sucker every minute, a whole lot more.
For example, all the flap and kerfuffle over the new costumes DC announced for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman last week. All kinds of gnashing of the teeth and ripping of clothes occurred on Facebook and Twitter over this.
Not to mention the dustup over the upcoming Batgirl cover that harkens back to The Killing Joke.
It seems to me that people’s feathers and dander get kicked up an awful lot each and every week.
So much so that I keep wondering when some of y’all folks out there will get the hint that you are being played for fools.
I mean, this is the TMZ, Kim Kardashian age. This is a time of shock and awe and shamelessness. This is the Age of Opinion as Truthdig pointed out recently, opinions which can deny the finds and facts of science. This is the Age of Nerd Outrage Each And Every Week! Arggh!!! Rrrrr!!!!
This is also the age where there is no such thing as bad press. That as long as hoi polloi are talking about you, your company, your brand(s), all is right with the world. This is true especially when that talking is taking place across the various platforms of social media. When your fans and/or haters (who is to say if they are separate categories nowadays) are talking your company or characters or storylines or costume changes up or down, that is digital word of mouth worth its weight in gold and cheaper than paying your own marketing and promotions department.
This is especially true when the news or non event presses the Nerd Outrage button.
Let something like the new costumes for the DC trinity hit the internets and that button gets pushing immediately, sending fans (mostly old ones) into rages in the privacy of their own homes that storm and stress all across the internets wide and far.
Or let a superheroine be threatened with an act of violence or with a change of costume that will show more skin and there are whole websites devoted to raging, raging against the dying of the light of empowered superheroines and fangirls everywhere.
And the companies, especially Marvel and DC, can sit back and watch all of this happen with smiles on their collective faces, smiling as their websites get more traffic and their names get mentioned over and over and over again, with links back to news items spreading like wildfire or the plague.
My perspective is a bit different these days. My last tour of duty in comics retail allowed me to glimpse another side of all of this hoopla. The side that a retailer who has to place orders sees. The side that sees the hype as hype, done to drive up orders on his or her end, in the hopes of driving up sales when the books come out.
Because it just is too difficult to tell good, compelling stories with superheroes these days, I guess.
Because the Big Two, Marvel and DC, are stuck in the bind of having to manage intellectual properties that are resources for current or potential movies and television shows, I reckon. They are also stuck with a model that causes every story to be collected into trades for future sales. This is very different from when the comics had to sell each and every month on their own merit. As I mentioned a few columns back, I am rereading some old favorites that have been collected. Paul Levitz even mentions in his introduction to the Great Darkness Saga hardcover that those comics were never meant to be read as a collection or as a single story; they were designed to be read in the month the books originally hit the newsstands or comics shops. So every issue feels complete unto itself. But, as a collection, that makes the reading a more satisfying experience because of that completeness and because the subplots are really the continuous elements to pay attention to. In the Great Darkness Saga, the return of Darkseid in the 30th Century is the main thrust but watching the relationship between Timber Wolf and Light Lass go through its ups and downs or seeing Lightning Lad fall apart over several issues are amazing to see unfold, each at their own pace.
Superhero comics used to do that, to tell the never ending stories of our heroes, the adventures and the soap opera, every month. Those writers and artists had to hook readers with compelling stories and subplots, interesting characters, dynamic art. And hype was used but used sparingly. It’s not like Phoenix is getting killed every few months or Thor is losing the hammer to every Tom, Dick, or Harry (oops, bad example but you know what I mean!) or the Punisher is being turned black every week. Stan “The Man” Let spent most of his time hyping Marvel as a brand and still cranking out kick ass, fun yarns by the pound.
Now it’s event upon event upon event, hype after hype after hype. Do the stories themselves matter anymore? Do the superheroes have adventures and fight the good fight anymore or just suffer through endless crises in secret?
I guess not, not in any real sense. We are in the Age of Sensation, when hype matters far more than style, let alone substance.
So go ahead, Nerd Rage all you want, folks. Because there are a lot of suckers being born during those minutes. All of which makes the Big Two and other companies happy.
Because as that great philosopher of the 20th Century W.C. Fields said “Never give a sucker an even break!”
Until next time, folks.