When a Comic Book Guy starts looking back more often than he does forward it's a danger sign; I try hard not to be that guy but some months it's harder than others. It's not (well, not entirely) nostalgia so as much as the terrible sameness found in the bulk of Marvel and DC's product; it's a little something I've come to call 'Thermos Theory of Comics.'
Remember your old lunchbox, the one with a Thermos? The way you could pour anything from homemade chili to Campbell Cream of Salt soup into it but when you poured it out it would invariably have the distinct flavor (and smell) of ...Thermos? This being the stale and slightly sour taste of whatever had been in it last...and probably the time before that as well.
The two things I miss most in contemporary comics are (a) back-ups and (b) the heady days when Marvel and DC would (admittedly mostly out of economic desperation) try their hands at publishing just about any sort of comics in genres ranging from kung fu to barbarians to horror. So it should come as no big surprise the DC comic I increasingly find myself looking forward to each month is Tales of the Unexpected.
And it's not for the lackluster Spectre lead feature; rather, it's the Dr. 13 back-up written by Brian Azzarello and beautifully drawn by Cliff Chiang. Now I absolutely loathed his overrated run on Superman (and will never forget that he wrote that Superman considers the phrase 'Save Me Superman' to be his personal 'Holy Trinity,' apparently unaware of just how many people would find that wildly inappropriate), but Azzarello does a remarkable job here. He's come up with a story featuring half a dozen of some of DC's most obscure characters (everyone from Anthro to Genius Jones to Captain Fear) and he manages to get each and every one of them just right.
So clearly what I have in mind (putting post-modern takes on older, lesser-known characters) can be done, it just takes the corporate will. And the Tales of the Unexpected format (48 pages for $3.99) would be perfect for an anthology dabbling in different genres. As to whether there's a market for it...
Well, we really won't know that until someone tries, will we? It's certainly true DC just tried (and failed) to find a place in the direct sales market for barbarian titles like Warlord and Claw the Unconquered, but Jonah Hex has been at least enough of a steady seller for DC to greenlight another western in the form of a revival of Bat Lash.
And while it would undoubtedly be hard selling a large chunk of your customers on a new regular western (or teenage caveman saga, etc.) comic, they might be willing to pick up a one-shot or short-run series...depending of course on who was doing it. Especially during a slow month, like January, when a reader's choices are more limited.
I'm of course suggesting this because its material that I personally would care to read; that's a given. But I'm also suggesting it because trying something new and different makes more sense than producing more super-hero titles that will almost invariably crash and burn within one or two years.
It seems to me that instead of chasing after the next super-hero hit (and just when, exactly, was the last time a new super-hero comic, not counting team books or 'events,' was anything like a hit?), it would make more financial sense to create a second tier of titles that were steady, stable sellers that might have a better chance at selling in collections outside the direct sales market.
And, finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention something in this month's Marvel solicitation booklet: Spider-Man Magazine, a 96-page magazine that features comics, puzzles and a poster - in short, the format I've been asking for in these columns for quite a while now. Let's hope it's a success.