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Waiting For Tommy XXXV
By Richard Johnston
Is it really mad, manic, messy, motivated Marvel versus staid, serious, yet sorted DC? Chaos Versus Order? Shadows versus Vorlons? The USA vs the USSR? A Cold War for Comics? It seems that way - and it's getting worse. However it's not that simple. Both companies do have their exceptions - Tom Brevoort shows all the signs of being a DC editor trapped in the Madhouse, while Dan Didio clearly has a Marvel mindset about the man and seems to enjoy kicking things over and making a fuss. To what degree they can influence the company around them is debatable. It seems what initiatives they both create are not only defeated, but become part of what they were fighting against. DC's streamlined procedures became unnecessarily complex and became intertwined in company politics, while Brevoort's more classic Marvel books, while seen as keeping a certain audience, have been used to demonstrate what not to do on other books. Kurt Busiek's departure from The Avengers, citing a lack of desire to compete with The Ultimates, where New Marvel's heart really lies, is seen as a very visible expression of that process.


FABLES: LEGENDS IN EXILE TPB

Where else does this attitude extend? Take trade paperbacks. Marvel have taken to collecting books almost before they're finished. Anything, everything, slap it on the schedule, see if it bites, if it doesn't pull it off, change the order, reduce the pages, whatever it takes to get the damn things on the shelves.

DC still haven't finished collecting Hitman, Transmetropolitan or Authority. They're slower, believing the market needs to pause between initial serialisation and eventual collection. Give the retailers time to sell the originals before the collections, give readers reason to buy the originals by postponing the eventual collection. Buy now, or wait two years.

Marvel have the momentum, DC don't. And there have been unexpected side-effects. Traditional wisdom has it that collecting recent books in trade paperbacks damages the 'market value' of the books it collects. That only if, say, Sandman trades weren't available, the books would go for so much more. Maybe that used to be true, but it seems that there are certain people who are made aware of a comic by the trade paperback, and then have to go back and get the original issues. In some cases the trade seems to be making the original books collectible by implying that they must be desirable if they're worthy of a trade paperback.

It used to be the case that people described themselves as Marvel or DC customers. Crossing over was limited, it was like a Catholic girl been seen out with a Protestant boy on the streets of Belfast. Tongues wagged and you might lose a kneecap. Events like Watchmen, Dark Knight and Man Of Steel helped blur that, as did the almighty power of X-Men, but it took the breakaway Image Comics to smash the 'zombie' system and allow people to see that, actually, they could buy comics from another publisher, and no they wouldn't be condemned for ever more. The channel was crossed, the tunnels had been dug, suddenly there was a lot more to play for, and lose. And when the market came crashing down, it was all up for grabs.


TRANSFORMERS: GENERATION ONE VOLUME 1 TPB

But now, the companies are defining themselves distinctly in the marketplace. You go to Marvel for this, DC for that, let Avatar, Image, Dreamwave's Transformers, CrossGen, Fantagraphics, Dark Horse feed on what's left behind. CrossGen, expert now at finding a totally distinct audience may well rise up to challenge Marvel and DC, but it will be ignored. After all, why would New Marvel Zombies or Old DC Devotees want to look elsewhere?

And so the Cold War Of Comics begins anew. Not necessarily a bad thing, it will generate some interesting comics no doubt. But it can be frustrating for creators, retailers and readers alike.

Rich Johnston writes the comics internet gossip column Lying In The Gutters and is currently working on a new comic book for publication.

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The Waiting For Tommy Archive

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