Posts Tagged ‘New 52’

Saving Superheroes from their Gatekeeper

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

Just two years ago Advertising Age magazine listed DC Comics as one of America’s hottest brands. Though the referred to it as “a move fraught with risk,” they applauded DC for reworking every character in the New 52 as an effort to broaden their audience appeal.

That is what every owner of a brand wants, universal appeal. That has been the power of comics and superheroes in particular, for generations. They have had appeal to everyone as a general whole. Who wouldn’t want a character that represents “Truth, justice and the American way” as their trademark?

Few characters in the world are as iconic as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, followed by the supportive cast of the Justice League of America and the rest of the DC Universe. That is why you can you can find their images licensed on every product imaginable from baby toys to automobiles.

It is obvious that once Marvel was bought by the merchandising masterminded Disney Corporation, Time Warner and DC felt they needed to step up their game to prevent Supes, Bats, and WW from being overshadowed by the likes of Spider-man and those damn Avengers.

Rather than polishing up the classic style guides and reminding markets why their product was responsible for the entire genre of superheroes and has stood the test of time having been viable for seventy-five years, they decided to “shake things up” by making their product more edgy, gritty, trendy, socially relevant, sexy, modern, and violent.

Viola! The New 52.

There is evidence that this move has certainly perked up comic sales and generated some new found publicity, though much of this is related to the sinister speculator market.  There also seems to be an influx of new readers, woman in particular, who appeared to be absent from the comics scene just a few years ago.

But has all this change really been good?

Say what you like, the damage is done as evidenced by a stirring, must-read, fan letter to DC, eloquently and passionately written by Gabrielle Friesen, who could not have spelled out more clearly how DC has set the time bomb that is destined to annihilate their, once invaluable IP.

Her diatribe is lengthy and painful to anyone who has grown up loving comics. She details, situation after situation where DC has taken beloved characters that she enjoyed since childhood and subjected them to rape, torture, murder, exploitation, mindless prejudice and persecution all for the sake of “broader audience appeal.”

A brief synopsis can be found in this quote from her letter but seriously, please read the whole thing:

“You want to know something DC? You’re the super villain here. Your company is Doomsday. Lumbering, stupid, terrible, leaving a path of pain in its wake, killing beloved superheroes left and right. Fans like me? We’re Superman (and this is the only time I have ever identified with Superman). We’re brave and smart and powerful, and we want the world to be good and safe. We want our comics to be good and safe. And you are pummeling us down, but Superman rose up again. The Death of Superman was a stupid, and ultimately temporary move on your part. More and more fans like me are leaving, using our superpower of the dollar, withdrawing it, and warning everyone we know not to come near the radioactive toxic waste heap that is your company, that it won’t give them superpowers, only hurt them. We’re going to outlast you; whether its your company collapsing because dominant culture dudebros are not enough of a market to support your behemoth weight, or whether you pull through, get a new editorial team, or just wise up to the fact that more than just dudebros exist in the world, that people love your characters but not the way you treat them, that consumers are smart and have power. You are bleeding out and actively resisting a tourniquet, spitting in the face and insulting the medic offering it to you.

Comics were started by the downtrodden. Superman, the alien immigrant, was created by Jewish men. Wonder Woman was created by a man wishing for women’s equality. Superheroes protect the weak, not those who seek to dominate. You’ve forgotten your roots, and completely assimilated to dominant, oppressive culture.

You are in control of beautiful characters. Kind, compassionate, flawed human characters. Characters who want the world to be better, who help the downtrodden, who rescue kittens from trees and save lives. People who can fly.

But you’re stuck on the ground, actively digging yourself deeper into mud.”

What trademark owner wants to get this letter from a fan? What licensee who paid tons of money to secure the rights to plaster their product with DC superheroes wants to know that these characters are no longer the wholesome bundle of Americana they thought they bought into?

Does Fisher-Price, Mattel and every other maker of children’s toys and apparel want to know that DC editorial thinks it’s humorous that one of it’s major characters were the subject of an art contest where they were to be shown naked in a tub attempting to commit suicide a week before National Suicide Prevention Week?

(Yes, weeks after this contest created a n offensive stir in the industry, DC has yet to take this link down from their site.)

If a sport star or celebrity had this kind of attention focused on them, you know that companies would be pulling endorsements left and right. Ask Tiger Woods, Lance Armstong, Mel Gibson and Paula Deen, just to name a few.

There were high hopes when Diane Nelson was hired lead DC after her tremendous job with the Harry Potter franchise. Is she even paying attention? Would she allow the Harry Potter property to be defiled the way the DCU is? Doubtful! What would J.K. Rowlings say?

Gabrielle Friesen is right. Fans do have the power of their money and their voices. These characters may be copyrighted and trademarked to DC Comics but they belong to us as a culture. It is the people that have embraced them and spent their hard earned dollars to establish them as the icons they are today. Superheroes are vulnerable after all, endangered by their own gatekeeper.

It is time that true fans save their favorite superheroes before it’s too late, before there is a complete meltdown of the entire DCU.

“Up, up and away!”

Gerry Giovinco



The New 52: Disrespecting the Dead Guy?

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Knee-jerk reaction? Maybe, but when I saw a headline on Bleeding Cool that the late Jack Kirby was being used as a character in DC’s New 52 I almost had an aneurism.

What are they thinking?!

Fanboy homage  aside, Jack Kirby is a man whose legacy is, beside being arguably the greatest and most dominant comic creator of  all time, that he and his heirs have been stripped of creator ownership of most of his creations developed  in his five decades in the business. We are not talking deprivation of scant royalties either. He was significantly responsible for the most marketable characters at Marvel, a company that is currently worth several billions of dollars. Jack Kirby has been violated by the industry he played a major role in building. Gang raped by the industry that he dedicated his life’s work to.

I was surprised to discover that Kirby had actually spent more time working for DC than Marvel over his long career and, though this does not account for the ton of work he did for the company in the 40′s and 50′s, it is well documented that DC has fairly paid royalties for his work done late in his career. They proudly claim  that Kirby made more money off of his work  from his New Gods characters than he made from all of his work done for Marvel, citing royalties paid for appearances and merchandising related to the Super Powers series.

That, of course was a different DC comics, lead by creator friendly Jenette Kahn and Paul Levitz who pioneered royalty sharing and creator ownership at a time when independent publishers were forcing the Big Two to recognize the value of creator’s rights.

The new DC, purveyor of the New 52 that is aggressively bastardizing their entire line of characters in a strategic effort to prevent copyright reversion and the immanent threat of public domain, is not so creator friendly.

Ask Alan Moore whose WATCHMEN was ripped from his control and whored out without his consent long after he had been courted with promises of creator ownership of his work. BEFORE WATCHMEN was a slap in the face to anyone who thought DC actually respected creator rights.

Ask Gerry Conway who recently reached out to his fans in an effort to be notified when his creations would appear in various media so he could file forms to be paid royalties due through DC’s “equity participation program.” Conveniently, the new DC is not in the business to notify the creators when their characters are used. The burden of discovery is on the creators and payment is not retroactive.

Ask Jerry Ordway whose work defined DC Comics back in the 80′s and 90′s. He cannot get a lick of work today from the company he helped keep afloat in turbulent times.

Ask the heirs of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster who watch the iconic character that these two men created be endlessly rebooted to the point of mutilation where Superman and his story are no longer recognizable, all to protect DC’s ownership of the IP.

The New DC, has no respect for the creators, the characters or the fans. They are run by a narcissistic band of privileged fanboys, focused only on their own singular vision and the bottom line.

So, the thought of Jack Kirby appearing as a character in the New 52 stirs the acid in my gut and makes me want to puke. Kirby deserves better than to have his likeness paraded in faux homage as a cartoon character in a comic book. I imagine the Kirby character showing up in future encyclopedias of the DCU, in animated series and in 3DCGI video games, all with a DC trademark attached.

Worse yet, I imagine Marvel falling in line and parroting DC. Why not? He’s a historical figure. “We’re only trademarking our rendered interpretation of him, like Disney did with Pocahontas.

I’m sure this rant sounds irrational but tell that to fans of Bruce Lee.

Audrey Hepburn,

and Fried Astaire

who have seen their idols resurrected from the dead by advanced media technology to sell whiskey, chocolate and vacuums. At least these commercials were made with compensation to the appropriate estates or heirs.

There was a time when DC would go to great lengths to gain approval of a celebrity’s likeness. They required Neal Adams to get approval for the 170 famous faces that he drew in the 1978 Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali wraparound cover!

I guess they don’t feel the need for approval to use Jack as a character because he is dead.  What’s he going to say, “I’ll sue you?”

While DC is squeezing yet another buck from the legacy of Jack Kirby,  his granddaughter, Jillian, is plugging along with her Kirby4Heroes kirby4heroes.com campaign to raise money for the Hero Initiative to support other comic creators in need. That’s what Jack would have done. It’s what would have made him proud. Her Kirby4Heroes facebook page is a glorious celebration of the joys that her grandfather brought to all of us and the impact he had on popular culture.

She and her family have taken the high road to place Jack on the pedestal he has earned. Do they deserve, as heirs,  to be compensated handsomely for Jack’s contributions to the industry? Absolutely! But it is more important to them that the good will of his name be maintained in a dignified and positive manner.

Jack took enough abuse from the comics industry when he was alive. Can we please show some respect now that he is gone? He will have been 100 in just four years. Is it possible that his centurion celebration will be one of honor rather than a crass marketing bonanza benefiting those that need it the least?

I pray that I see no Jack Kirby action figures with a jointly owned Marvel/DC trademark stamped on his ravaged behind.

Making Comics Because  We Want to

Gerry Giovinco



Betrayed

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Has the comic book been betrayed by the Earth’s mightiest heroes? It’s a sad question to pose after probably the most geek filled comic book extravaganza the world has ever seen with the opening of The Avengers movie and Free Comic Book Day all happening in the same weekend. Comic book fans worldwide have been celebrating universally like never before, gathering at the multiplex and local comic shops in droves, dressed in their favorite comic book swag and costumes.

Free Comic Book Day itself has become a huge annual event, now in its tenth year it attracts over a million people to comic shops more than double the number from just five years ago. Comic fans and potential comic readers can’t resist the offer of free comics and continue to make this promotion a growing tradition. This is a good opportunity to point out that comics here at CO2 Comics are free to read EVERY day so if you are sill wallowing in all the free comics you acquired this weekend, just remember the buzz does not have to wear off!

Marvel Entertainment could not have picked a better weekend to launch The Avengers movie, especially with all the comic book love in the air generated by Free Comic Book Day. The Avengers could have been released in the dead of winter and still been a mega hit. A bona fide blockbuster, The Avengers will be the Titanic of all superhero movies and may even give that sunken barge a run for its money. Though I might be giving them too much credit for something that could have been a wonderful coincidence, it was sure nice of Marvel to remember its roots and tie into the comic fans’ big day and make it tremendously more special before they throw them to the curb.

I know I sound like an insufferable old bore but as much as I love super heroes, I realize that I loved the medium of comics even more. For me, comics are a  visual medium of incredible creative freedom and opportunity. It is one of the few mediums where the reader can relate directly to the literal and visual expression of a lone creator without the influence of  a long list of production personnel, editors, actors, etc. Comic books, graphic novels, comic strips, all mean a lot to me just for this reason and I would love for more people to be aware of these wonders of the medium. I would love to see comics everywhere, read by everyone.

So why wouldn’t I expect this Avengers movie to be a huge vehicle to promote comics? Isn’t Marvel in the business of selling comics? Surely they would seize the moment. Right?

Nope.

I was just in my local Walmart, you know, America’s Store. It’s being reconfigured, fittingly for this blog post, into a Super Walmart and right in the middle of the store is a huge cardboard Marvel kiosk featuring Thor, Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America leaping across a city skyline. Marvel Mania! On the display was every Marvel video you could imagine, Spider-Man, X-Men, Woverine, Electra, you name it! There were cartoon videos, even the old Bill Bixby Hulk videos, a video candy store of everything Marvel.

Then it hit me. There was Marvel merchandise in every department.  The toy aisle was loaded with Marvel action figures. There were Marvel hats, shirts, pants, shoes, even underwear. Marvel PEZ dispensers, floor mats for cars, posters, greeting cards, fabric and more only began to round out the list of everything that could bear a Marvel logo in Walmart.  Everything except… comic books.

What?! Comic books aren’t good enough for Walmart?! Marvel doesn’t have enough clout to get comic books or graphic novels into Walmart?! Do comic book shops have some exclusive deal that I’m unaware of to prevent comics from being sold at Walmart?!

Outside of comic shops apparently, Marvel doesn’t even think comics are worth giving away. Here’s a website that has a long list of all the premiums that Marvel is using to promote the movie from action figures, to cups and cars but you never find a comic book used as a promotional item. Why? How can comics be such a great medium to have spawned all of these great characters only to be shunned by a company that built its empire by exploiting this magnificent sequential art of words and pictures?

I have a theory. Marvel fears the comic book. Marvel views comics as a threat because they are too easy to make and distribute. They know from experience. Comics abound on the internet, nearly anyone can publish and sell online. Anyone can create the next big comic book sensation. Just as Marvel dethroned DC in the sixties with their ragtag reinvention of the superhero, toppling juggernauts like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, even the mighty Avengers are vulnerable to a new character birthed in the pages of a mild mannered comic book. I’m sure the powers at Marvel and Disney see different shades of green every time they hear the name Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, four megastars that climbed out of a sewer in the slum of a black and white independent comic book.

When I was researching the use of superhero parodies in the porn industry for my blog post Seduction of the Ignorant I discovered that that industry is struggling to stay afloat, beaten by easy access to porn on the internet, cheap homemade porn their most threatening competition. Porn producers have turned to expensive, special effect laden parody productions that are harder for the average Dick and Jane to make in their bedroom studio.

Marvel Entertainment is doing the same thing. They are focussing now on marketing their IP through blockbuster films budgeted in the mega millions. They have corralled the hardcore comic book fan into a niche market that can barely support sales figures that would have been an embarrassment thirty years ago. They have willfully created an atmosphere that has forced competition to meet suppressed quotas to even be considered for distribution into this niche market.

DC has taken full advantage of this abandonment of the comic market by Marvel with their onslaught of the New 52. They too are actively boxing out the little guys by flooding their IP into the comic market but they realize that comic books have the same power they always had and they are redesigning their universe and working out the bugs without risking millions on a film that could flop at the box office.

If you are a fan of comics, support your local comic shop, explore the internet for great new comics like the one’s here at CO2 Comics and download those comic apps for your mobile devices. Keep an eye out for the next big sensation to be created in comics and don’t be surprised if it does not come from marvel or DC. Be vigilant comic fans because despite the rise of the superhero in cinema, comic books are still the bastard child of the entertainment industry and even the Avengers betray them.

Celebrating Thirty Years of Comics History!

Gerry Giovinco



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