The times they are a-changing. For Batman, Captain Marvel and Green Lantern, that is.
It used to be that comic book story arcs would come and go, but little truly changed in the lives of the main characters.
That’s largely history.
The current approach to comic storytelling is stealing the idea of a “season” from television and streaming outlets.
— Galaxy Comics (@GalaxyComicsSP) June 15, 2016
DC Comics revived the idea five years ago with its New 52 storyline, which rebooted most of its universe. Marvel hasn’t gone quite to that level, but it’s concluding its All-New All Different story in favor of Marvel NOW!
If that sounds familiar, it’s because Marvel relied on the NOW! banner a few years ago.
In theory, the seasonal approach gives the titles and character new directions and, hopefully, new energy by switching up the creative teams. Artist David Finch, for example, is sharpening his pencils on Batman’s cowl instead of Wonder Woman’s magic lasso.
It’s also supposed to serve as an easy entry point for new readers to begin picking up the titles. It often means renumbering the books as well, which is why there have been multiple Batman #1s in the past few years.
While it’s easy to write these changes off as nothing more than a marketing gimmick, they can cause serious issues – and damage – with the titles’ fan base.
FAST FACT: Brian Michael Bendis is writing Marvels Civil War II saga. He previously penned “Ultimate Spider-Man,” “Alias,” “New Avengers” and “Daredevil.”
Take the All-New All-Different story in Spider-Man. You probably remember Peter Parker as struggling high school student trying to make ends meet as a Daily Bugle freelancer photographer.
But if you’ve read the comics lately, you’d be shocked to learn that he’s essentially become the next Tony Stark. Parker Enterprises is one of the biggest things on the planet. Spider-Man is no longer seen as a menace by some, but rather serves as Parker’s bodyguard (again, a la Iron Man to Stark).
— Marvel Entertainment (@Marvel) June 30, 2016
Even bigger changes are happening at DC.
Essentially admitting defeat with its New 52 reboot, DC Comics recently launched Rebirth, which aims to re-reset its universe back to where it was five years ago.
How big a deal is this? Let’s put it this way: They killed off Superman again, and this time you probably didn’t even hear about it because of everything else going on.
— DC (@DCComics) June 30, 2016
The big story this time around? DC is introducing aspects of the Watchmen universe into its stories with characters like Wonder Woman, Aquaman and the Flash. Until now, the Watchmen – acknowledged by many as one the greatest comic books in history – has remained separate.
Does this seasonal approach to comic book storytelling work? It certainly grabs fans’ attention. Rebirth was the highest-selling in May, and has generated a lot of buzz in the industry and with fans.
Marvel is hoping to create some buzz of its own July 13, with a midnight release of its latest Civil War II title, along with a preview of its fall lineup. The hyperbolic publisher promises, “huge reveals, new titles, creator interviews and more.”
Where do things go from here? Only the Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan knows.
Tom Smithyman is a newspaperman turned marketing executive. A comic book enthusiast since the ’70s, he tries to keep up with these alternate realities while juggling a professional career, family, community theater roles and passion for travel. Connect with him on Twitter @tsmithyman andlinkedin.com/in/tomsmithyman/