Opinion: The Comics Pendulum

When it comes to american comics, there are two big publishers: DC Entertainment and Marvel Comic, more commonly reffered as “The Big Two”.

You have Image in third, sure, but when it comes to dominating the market, there is a pretty big gap between Image and these two

source: https://www.bleedingcool.com/2017/03/03/without-overships-dc-and-marvel-are-neck-and-neck-for-february-2017-marketshare-but-marvel-doesnt-have-one-superhero-title-in-the-top-ten/

More than half of the comic market is dominated by these two alone. When you speak about the comic industry, these two inevitable will form part of the conversation.

They are also infamous for creating and/or perpetuating some of the most toxc practices in the industry such as keeping on releasing variant covers for inflated sales or saturating the market with event after event, not to mention the number of ways in which they have screwed creators over the years from either not giving them royalties when it is due or filling their stories with editorial mandates that end up becoming a mess. An entire book could be written about Alan Moore’s feud with DC and it is well known that Image was created by a group of 7 creators who felt Marvel didn’t give them the respect they deserved.

Point is, Marvel and DC are the biggest competitors in the comic industry, but they also perfectly exemplify everything wrong with it, too.

However, this is not to say the two of them are always like this. In fact, there are periods in which they act quite decent, launch interesting books and don’t feel like they are exploiting their readership for that one extra dollar.

This periods are cyclical: Each period of blossom is followed by a period of them doubling-down in their most toxic practices and dropping the good things they had going for them at the time. After a while, a new period of blososming appears and the cycle begins anew.

Now, this is probably true with all sorts of media. The interesting thing about the DC/Marvel relationship is that, usually, they are at opposite ends of this cycles: when one company is going down, the other is creatively strong. When one of them is actually being supportive of their creators (read: they are not screwing them over at every second), the other is exploiting their writers.

This aspect of the Marvel/DC relationship is what I call “The Comics Pendulum”.

Pictured: A visual representation that probably isn’t that useful

Okay, but what is the Comic Pendulum? It is a way to represent the way both Marvel and DC cyclical periods of decline and growth operate. It goes like this:

  • The pendulum is constantly moving from one side to the other. Sometimes it stays on one side for a pretty long time, sometimes it stays there for a short period. Sometimes it simply stays in the middle.
  • When the pendulum is on DC’s side, DC is great and Marvel is bad. It is when you get the most out of the different DC Families such as the Flash-family or the Super-family. You have fun, optimistic books, etc. Marvel, on the other hand, will adopt bad business models that punish the reader the more loyal they are to Marvel.
  • When the pendulum is on the Marvel side, the opposite happens. Marvel revives some of their team books, they make a push for diveristy, you have sincerely funny books that make you laugh out loud, etc. DC, on the other hand, tries to drink even more from the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” well, sacrifices their legacy characters to bring back older characters under the vague concept of “iconic” and the editorial mandates go insane.
  • Then there is the middle point which, depending on oyur point of view, may rarely happen or it may be the natural state of things. It is when both DC and Marvel are terrible as companies. It is the time when you make the most out of Independent comics. it’s the time when Image is at it’s storngest. when readers remember IDW has great licensed material, etc.
  • There is no point in which both companies are good.

Now, some things should probably need to be cleared:

Talking about stuff such as a story’s quality is a pretty subjective thing. However, there are certain factors one can objectively say  “Ok, that is not normal” such as when DC had it’s infamous “Creative Exodus” during the middle of the “New-but-no-longer-so-because-Rebirth 52” that seemed to have the common thread of writers complaining about editorial interference or, more recently, Marvel complaining that DC having cheap books and recently allowing retailers to return them was unfair to both Marvel and retailers… even though retailers have said they preffer DC’s returnable policy and that Civil War II’s problems were squarely on Marvel (in short, Marvel asked them to gamble while DC gave them reasons to order high with little risk and the result was happy retailers).

This two events are an example of The Big Two suffering consequences from their own actions (DC by having their writers walk off the company after the higher ups pushed their buttons too far. Marvel losing sales due to poor marketing ideas).

The interesting thing to note, however, is how the other company was doing while these things were happening.

During DC’s Exodus, for example, Marvel was introducing both Kamala Khan (who has managed to reach a demographic both companies have tried and failed to appeal to in the last decade) and Angela to the Marvel Universe and there was, overall, an increase in diversity not only with their titles but also with their creators.

On the other hand, as Marvel has recently been suffering a drop in both readership and quality due to anti-consumer tactics and really unpopular changes such as Captain America being a Nazi (for those interested, here is my opinion on the topic. Bear in mind, it is not open to discussion), DC is doing pretty well. Rebirth has been pretty much an apology for the Nu52, restoring many of the more unpopular changes the Nu52 did, managing to get popular writers such as Greg Rucka back on board and overall having more retailer and consumer-friendly policies. This has paid off for them.

You can discuss wether or not wether either of The Big Two actually became “better” or “worse” than it was before quality wise, but it is a different matter to discuss things such as retailers actually stating that people are getting burned out of Marvel Events or that there are well documented evidence of DC losing plenty of well known writers over editorial interference, many times walking off right in the middle of their runs. You can also see data that shows the other company was doing much better.

When the Pendulum is in the middle. that’s when both companies are at their worst. Both companies are simply awful and it is when Independent comics get the spotlight. It allowed Image to earn a lot of prestige among comics fans and became the third strongest comic company out there.

However, there is not a point in which both companies are doing great. That’s because, even during their good periods, neither of the Big Two actually drops their most damaging policies or change the staff that came with this policies in the first place. The pendulum swinging back simply represent one company realizing they are losing their readership and need to do something while the other company decides to put pressure to a readership that was already reaching a boiling point. There is also the much simpler fact that, when either Marvel or DC decides to go for a more consumer-friendly approach, the other company’s flaws become all the more obvious.

What this means is simply that each company is always one step away from becoming awful. For example, the Pendulum is on DC’s side, but DC still has problems such as them introducing Watchmen into the DC Universe as a way to keep on exploiting that particular story. At the same time, not everything Marvel is producing is “bad”. At the time of me writing this, Marvel still has quality books such as The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl or Ms. Marvel but the reason why I say the pendulum has switched sides is because of Captain America becoming a Nazi and Marvel’s tone-deaf approach to the criticism of this change as well as their big annual Events getting out of hand, which has had readers actually drop Marvel books. DC’s rebirth, on the other hand, has had people go back to reading DC titles at a more cheaper price than Marvel.

In short. When you feel there is a drop in quality among one of The Big Two, that probably means it is time to go to the competition, because it is a sign that the pendulum is changing sides

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