Why do bad things happen to good fans? Whether it’s atrocious art, ridiculous writing or something else entirely – some crimes against fandom cannot go unanswered. When that happens, it’s time to say “BLAARGH!”
Back in the early 90′s, Marvel got the bright idea to boost the sales of one of their flagship titles by giving their readers a new incarnation of the Fantastic Four for a brief storyarc. In a shrewd bit of marketing, they decided to recast the FF with Spider-Man, Wolverine, Ghost Rider, and the Hulk; four of their most popular characters at the time. Marvel cheekily made no effort to hide the fact that they were looking to hook readers in by putting four marquee names on the team, but rather played up the obvious sales ploy on the covers and editorial notes of these issues. The storyline wound up being a fun read with awesome illustrations by Art Adams, but it was never treated as a must-read by the company. Nowadays, it seems both Marvel and DC want to not only create new teams made up of already popular characters that normally have little to nothing to do with one another and are also hyping them up as the latest “gotta have it” titles, once again putting sales over quality storytelling.
Marvel’s newest initiative, known by everyone as Marvel NOW!, seems to have been created to reshuffle the majority of their teams to include new members. This isn’t a new ploy by the number-one publisher in comics, but it’s never been this flagrant and widespread. In addition to giving us a combination Avengers / X-Men team (you know, those two teams that have been fighting each other for the past six months), we have a brand new Thunderbolts team, led by the Red Hulk and featuring such notorious non-team-players such as the Punisher, Elektra, Venom, and Deadpool. These are obviously wildly popular characters which will obviously boost sales for the new Thunderbolts book, but when you look at the history of at least three of these characters, it makes no sense for any of them to be on a team at all. Marvel will no doubt try to come up with a valid reason to unite them all, perhaps as their own take on DC’s Suicide Squad and Secret Six, but it’s obvious that the only reason Marvel decided to put them on the team was for sales reasons.
DC is not guiltless in this attempt to make readers buy even more books. Recently, they announced that they will be publishing yet another Justice League book, Justice League of America, that will feature such familiar characters as Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, Green Arrow, and Catwoman. While the idea of having J’onn J’onzz and Hawkman back on a Justice League team pleases me, the inclusion of Selina Kyle is puzzling from any legitimate storytelling angle. In both the previous and New 52 versions of the DCU, Catwoman has been a lone figure who more often than not engaged in illegal activities, so putting her on a prestigious team like the Justice League makes absolutely no sense. I’m sure DC will justify the decision by having this new JLA team go on more “black ops” style missions and keeping a lower public profile, but that angle has been milked to death with the recent X-Force and Suicide Squad titles. Add to the fact that it really doesn’t hide that DC knows that more people will buy the book if it features a character with a wide fan base that already has a successful solo title.
This trend of putting all popular solo characters on teams never really sat well with me. I was somewhat on board with Bendis putting Spider-Man on New Avengers back in 2004 because it created not only a new dynamic for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes but also created major changes in Spidey’s own book. Making Daredevil an Avenger this past year, however, never seemed like a good idea considering what had happened just months prior in his own book and in the ill-conceived Shadowland miniseries. If both Marvel and DC want to maintain a cohesive continuity (which, of course, DC has had quite a bit of trouble with lately), I don’t see why they want to force some of these costumed vigilantes onto teams when it doesn’t seem true to their established characters. Maybe some of these titles will work out well, but none of these announcements interest me in the least. As someone who has grown immune to the Big Two’s Hype Machine over the years, I am more prone to get excited about an upcoming comic series based on the stories they tell and not as much by the cast of characters they have assembled, especially if I can read those characters in their own books, where they will be better utilized and, in most cases, better written.