Do Comic Books Still Matter?

This should be the best of times for comic books as Hollywood continues to mine those two-dimensional stories, searching for gold as they transform them into movies, TV shows, video games, and other lucrative franchises.  Yet, as with other print content, the comics industry struggles to desperately find a way to sell their traditional products, the monthly issues that continue to be their bread-and-butter.  We've seen gimmicks to boost sales, targeting both collectors and new readers, from ambitious multi-title, year-long storylines to silly variant covers.  Characters have been killed off and resurrected, superhero costumes have been redesigned.  Now, DC Entertainment is rebooting its entire lineup, launching 52 new number one titles.  A feature story in the New York Times sparked some debate as the public argued about the merits and relevancy of the four-color paper medium.

Some folks argue whether this warrants a front page Times story at all.  Is talking about comics really newsworthy?  The answer is "Yes."  DC is a decades-old company in an industry that continues to generate billions of dollars worth of revenue through various ancillary properties -- toys, merchandise, amusement park rides, and the aforementioned motion pictures, television, games, and more.  But can it sell comic books?

Some complained that comics are not a serious form of artistic expression.  That certainly has been a criticism that has haunted the industry since day one.  Yet, while some say that comics rot the brain, I agree with those who view the evidence that comics have helped increase literacy levels and aided in motivating kids who might not otherwise be inclined to pick up a "real book."  Comics, in a way, are entry drugs to more reading.

Then there are the reverse critics who complain that comic books have lost their way and have abandoned their younger audience in favor of adult readers, spewing out tales filled with sex and violence that would make fictional heroes from the Golden Era like Captain America or Captain Marvel blush.  While the market certainly skews toward older consumers who value nostalgia, continuity, and more complex and mature storylines, there are still kid-friendly titles out there.  Also, while every story might not be suitable for all ages, the best tales are perfect for everyone instead of being condescending, pandering, and dumbed-down.

DC is getting all the press, but other companies are also resorting to gimmicks to earn some publicity and generate some additional sales (while waiting for the ink to dry on new multimedia deals and non-print project developments).  Marvel continues its own Ultimate line, which reimagined characters like Spider-man, the X-Men, and the Avengers

If DC's "New 52" is a success, expect the floodgates to open with new starts across the board every few years or so.  Long-time fans will be annoyed, like they were when John Byrne rebooted Superman in 1986 or when Crisis on Infinite Earths hit replay on the convoluted DC Universe in 1985. 

The more things change, the more they stay the same...by changing, but staying the same.

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