It's been a long haul, but we've finally made it and arrived at the end of the decade in more ways than one as CBR moves into 2008 and 2009 in our Decade In Review! 2008 could be described as a year of big events for comic fans, and we're not just talking about events in terms of line-wide crossovers (although this year had plenty of those). No, we mean milestones in the industry and other media that got everyone talking about comics. For 2009, one could argue that more changed across the comic business landscape than at any other time this past decade. It's certainly setting up an interesting status quo for the next ten years in comics!
Joining us to guide you through all that's occurred in the past 104 weeks are CBR reporters Tim Callahan, Shaun Manning, Kiel Phegley, Dave Richards, Steve Sunu, George Tramountanas, and Josh Wigler. They have gathered for Part Four of CBR's "Decade In Review" with calculators and Excel spreadsheets at the ready. We hope you're ready to look at the bottom line…
Marvel Films Releases "Iron Man"
George Tramountanas: Marvel had so much riding on this - and so much could have gone wrong - but thankfully it didn't! "Iron Man" was a truly sensational film, and changed Marvel from merely being a powerful force in comics to being an overall entertainment entity to reckon with. Think about it - Marvel took a hero that most folks only recognized as a Black Sabbath song and turned it into a phenomenon. And in the process, they launched Jon Favreau's career into the stratosphere, resurrected Robert Downey Jr.'s box office pull and made an Avengers movie a real possibility. Arguably, this was also the first step in making Marvel the irresistible property that Disney decides to buy in 2009.
Dave Richards: The casting of Robert Downey Jr. was perfect. He's one of my favorite actors. This film is also noteworthy in that it was a blockbuster movie about one of Marvel's lesser known characters.
Josh Wigler: Yeah, nobody's asking "Who is Iron Man?" anymore. I don't know that this is a better movie than "The Dark Knight," but it definitely is more fun and I'm more excited about its future potential - especially with "The Avengers" on the horizon.
Shaun Manning: It didn't hurt that "Iron Man" was a lot of fun, but, yes, Marvel's filmmaking autonomy was a bit of a game-changer in the way comic movies are put together.
Tim Callahan: Better than "Dark Knight?" Probably not. More fun, more entertaining? Yup. Robert Downey Jr. makes the best leading man in a superhero movie ever. He has just the right mix of charm, cool, and self-mockery. Also, the special effects were pretty good too.
Steve Sunu: Did the news that a lot of the best scenes in this movie were improvised surprise anyone else? I think this film, more than any other, is a testament to the potential that Marvel has to put out incredible quality films and turn lesser-known superheroes into household names. I went into "Iron Man" expecting nothing and walked out wanting to see it about five more times.
Kiel Phegley: It was a really good movie, and it brought Disney a callin' - as The Man once exclaimed "'Nuff said!"
"Dark Knight" Reigns Supreme
George Tramountanas: Let's look at this movie's track record: the highest grossing comic-based film, the biggest opening ever, and the 2nd highest grossing film of all time. Plus, how often does someone win an Oscar for playing a comic book character as Heath Ledger did? It's a comic book movie by adults and >i?for adults. I'm very curious to see what Nolan and crew will do to follow this up (or if that's even possible).
Shaun Manning: A very strong movie. And so grim that, by the end, I thought those kids might actually get it.
Dave Richards: This is the Batman movie I've wanted to see for a long, long time. Heath Ledger's Joker was the perfect portrayal of my favorite comic book villain. In some ways, his Joker is even better than the comic book version.
Josh Wigler: Like "Batman Begins," there are some ridiculous plot holes in this movie. How the hell did Harvey Dent shoot the driver and get out of the car unscathed? But all of that is forgivable thanks to wonderful direction and acting, mostly in the Ledger department. Steve Sunu: So awesome. The most unfortunate part is that Ledger will be unable to repeat his Oscar-winning performance in future films.
Tim Callahan: The Joker makes this film. Pretty great stuff, though I'll be blasphemous and say that "Iron Man" is the movie that I like more. It's more re-watchable than "Dark Knight."
George Tramountanas: I guess I'm a blasphemer too then. It's funny, I've heard more than one comic fan admit this as their "dirty little secret." We should band together and say it out loud...in private.
Michael Turner passes away
George Tramountanas: Here's another noteworthy member from our industry who left us too young. I remember CBR's head honcho, Jonah Weiland, relating the story of when Michael Turner came out to the CBR yacht during a San Diego Comic-Con. The artist was on crutches from surgeries and radiation treatments associated with his cancer, but Jonah still couldn't get over Turner's great attitude. I recall Jonah saying that of the many interviews he conducted that weekend, Turner's was one of his favorite. He is missed by many...
Kiel Phegley: Mike was just a great, stand up guy. Always excited about comics. Always happy to chat up fans. Always positive about his prognosis. There's nothing much better you can say about anyone in any situation than that.
"Secret Invasion" Invades Comic Shops
George Tramountanas: This event is considered "Part Two" of the Marvel event onslaught. It was brilliantly set up, had a compelling plot, and then...eh. However, it sold well and was considered hugely successful by most. It also kept the Marvel Universe feeling more cohesive than ever, gave a new direction to existing titles, and set the stage for the next chapter - "Dark Reign."
Shaun Manning: The series had an intriguing build-up before it actually began, but the actual story felt like eight issues of nothing. It also suffers from "beginning, middle, ?" syndrome.
George Tramountanas: I, along with many others, would concur with your opinion, Shaun. In addition, you never ever tell the climax of your story in the third-person. Isn't that Screenwriting 101?
Dave Richards: I thought this series was fun, but could have been so much more. The problem was that they didn't do enough with it. The "Secret Invasion" premise was so intriguing that they could have easily gotten a year's worth of stories out of it. Imagine if the Skrulls had won? The Marvel books could be about the heroes and villains coming together to form a resistance movement against the Skrull overlords. Still, I did like the new direction of the Marvel U that arose from the aftermath of this series.
Kiel Phegley: The best developments came in Bendis' flashback issues where things were revealed, but very little of that plot trickery seemed to pay off in a character way back in the main series where things moved slooooooooooowly. A fine concept whose execution was trumped by its market needs, I think.
Tim Callahan: I've liked "Dark Reign" a lot more than "Secret Invasion," though the story did begin well. But "Secret Invasion," after the first round of reveals, offered nothing in the way of surprises, and each tie-in issue was another "Hey, here's how this character became a Skrull."
And the ending of the series? Yeah, we're still waiting for it, because it just stopped and turned into something else. Worldwide panic about an invasion that's actually happening, then one guy shoots a Skrull in the face and it's all over? And no more anti-Skrull paranoia (except in the outskirts of the Marvel U)? No. This was yet another in the long line of anticlimactic events this decade.
The DC Universe Faced Its "Final Crisis"
George Tramountanas: Love it or hate it, I feel this series (along with the ending of "Secret Invasion") was the beginning of the end for line-wide events…well, ones that don't come with plastic rings. DC slapped the "Final Crisis" logo on too many books that really didn't tie in to this series, it ran late and it was completely inaccessible to those not following Morrison's works. While I respect Morrison, having him write DC's major event felt like a movie studio hiring David Lynch to direct "The Transformers" - you'll get something interesting, but don't count on it as your tentpole event.
Shaun Manning: There are some bits of genius here from Grant Morrison. It probably should not have been serialized, though. Delays aside, it reads much better as a single volume.
Dave Richards: I finally read the collected edition myself to see what all the hype was about. I found the main story to be just "okay." I didn't think it was as good or as bad as people were saying, but the two issue "Superman Beyond 3D" tie-in was absolutely brilliant. I wish the whole series could have been like that.
Tim Callahan: Epic, but a failure as an event because DC didn't lead into it properly (literally contradicting it with the abysmal "Countdown" event and the half-dozen New Gods stories they burned off before it began). And then they didn't do a single thing to build on what it accomplished. Instead, they slapped out a few irrelevant miniseries five months later and basically ignored "Final Crisis" line-wide. But while it lasted, "Final Crisis" was a heady mix of apocalyptic events, superheroics, and iconic imagery. It's a nice little collected edition too, even if it's ultimately just a story about a really bad day in the DCU.
Steve Sunu: I remember the tie-ins being a complete mess for this series. Without a reading order and a really unreliable schedule for the series proper, it was impossible to know what was going on. And while it may have been "a really bad day in the DCU," Bendis' "Avengers: Disassembled" was basically about a super-bad day in the world of the Avengers and it read a lot more cohesively than "Final Crisis." I've really been enjoying everything post-Final Crisis, but the event to this day still confuses the ever-loving stuffing out of me.
Kiel Phegley: I enjoyed the hell out of this book and most of the tie-ins, though I've also slowly lost that part of my brain that wants all continuity to line up or "make sense" compared to past stories. If it's good cover to cover, that's all I need, and "Final Crisis" was so, so good.
Robert Kirkman Becomes a Partner at Image and Issues His Manifesto
George Tramountanas: Robert Kirkman is the first writer (who is not an artist as well) to become an Image partner. Between "Invincible" and "Walking Dead," Kirkman showed the power of independent creations. Heck, even his work at Marvel - "The Irredeemable Ant-Man," "Marvel Zombies," "Destroyer" - stood outside the company's mainstream universe and showed what creators can come up with when they don't have to worry about ties to continuity.
During last year's Year End Wrap-Up, we discussed the "manifesto" that Kirkman issued after becoming a partner at length. While there was a good amount of debate about what Kirkman said, all could agree it got folks talking about our industry and the power of indie books (and Image) once more. And that ain't a bad thing, folks!
Tim Callahan: When the manifesto came out, my reaction was something like this: "I see your point, Robert Kirkman, but writers and artists should just do what they want to do, and most of them do indie stuff anyway." But after the overall mainstream funk of the past year, I have to say, "I see your point, Robert Kirkman, and you're right. Marvel and DC are sucking the life out of these writers and artists, and if they can't produce exhilarating, challenging comics in the mainstream, they should do some creator-owned stuff to get re-energized."
Seriously, the overall blandness of Marvel and DC comics in 2009 just shows that some of these really talented folks need to step away and come back with some fresh ideas and a willingness to experiment. The readers have to be willing to play along too, though.
George Tramountanas: To give the general "reader" populace credit, it looks like they were willing to do that with John Layman's "Chew, Mark Millar's "Kick-Ass," and Ed Brubaker's "Incognito." We need more comics like these!
Dave Richards: It seems like the reality of the comics industry these days is that the independent publishers are minor league baseball teams and new creators do work there until they're called up to the Big Two. I think Kirkman's Manifesto was an attempt to change that.
Steve Sunu: There was a moment at Baltimore Comic-Con 2008 where Bendis and Kirkman had it out with this huge mainstream vs. creator-owned debate. Kirkman even brought charts and graphs. It was pretty amazing just to hear these two respected professionals really sit down and have a serious conversation about the possibilities that exist in both mainstream and creator-owned comics.
Kiel Phegley: I remember learning about Kirkman's promotion when I had to write a news story about it for the site and thinking, "Can they do that?" The Image Seven (even after several left) always seemed like the core of what that company should always be, but now I'm glad to see they can expand out to accept the ideas of their youngest and most successful members. I'm not sure Kirkman's manifesto really had much of an impact beyond aiding the Kirkman brand, but I'm very glad Image seems to be doing stronger these days.
Diamond Comics Increases Retailer Purchase Order Minimums
George Tramountanas: 2009 began with this announcement from Diamond last January. I recall a big fuss at the time of this news, but as of yet, the overall effects haven't exactly been dire. It's understandable from a business perspective why Diamond had to do this; it's just unfortunate. Obviously, it means some of the "small books" aren't being carried anymore, but I don't believe the true repercussions of this decision will be felt until a few years from now.
What will those effects be? It may mean that more publishers are going straight to graphic novels, allowing them access to bookstores and Amazon and foregoing the direct market altogether. Or this could be (and probably is) one of the events that convinces new creators to distribute their material digitally. There is a chance that this could give rise to a new distributor who's willing to allow a smaller purchase order minimum, but if Diamond couldn't make it financially feasible, I find it hard to believe that a smaller company could.
Tim Callahan: The direct market is an insane distribution system anyway. A comic shop has to order enough comics to satisfy demands, but then they're stuck with worthless back issues of the product that doesn't sell within the first few days. And the distributor runs a monopoly on top of that, basically. And with comics going digital, most of these shops won't exist much longer anyway. The purchase order minimum just helps Diamond stay afloat a bit longer, but that's about it.
Dave Richards: If a small publisher can't get his book carried by a distributor who runs a monopoly, they're going to be forced to look to other avenues. So here's hoping Diamond's decision leads to something that will break their monopoly on the system.
George Tramountanas: I love ya like a fellow CBR staffer, Dave, but I wouldn't count on this.
Kiel Phegley: Yeah, the only hope for shorter indie books to have some kind of viability these days is to be hand sold at shows like SPX and MoCCA or to be serialized on the internet rather than as floppies. I think the Diamond policy was bullshit considering their place in the market, but this was probably coming anyway.
"Watchmen" Movie Hits Theaters
George Tramountanas: The "unfilmable comic" is finally filmed and made faithful to the source material as well. The movie is R-rated, set in the correct time period, and includes elements fans only dared hope for (including Neil Gaiman's "Tales of the Black Freighter"). The trailer came out, and both film and comic fans react positively. The stage was set for the next "Dark Knight," but then something funny happened...comic fans decried it as "too faithful" (aside from a missing squid). It just goes to show that there is no "one-size-fits-all" when it comes to moving material from one form of media to another. Personally, I think filmmaker Zack Snyder deserves an award for the fantastic job he did. Trust me, no matter who took on this challenge, no one could have made a better "Watchmen."
Shaun Manning: You know what, if you're going to make a "Watchmen" movie - and someone was gonna - I honestly believe this is just about the best film we could have hoped for. Flawed? Yes. But what were you expecting, exactly?
Tim Callahan: I'm still shocked that a director like Zack Snyder - a director so focused on visual details that he let some terrible performances ruin many, many scenes - didn't get better wigs for the characters. That is seriously all I kept looking at in the theater: the really bad wigs. No one else seems bothered by that, but I can't turn my eyes away. And if you have a good TV and you watch it again, I bet you can't either.
Also, the musical cues are a bit obvious, no?
Josh Wigler: The problem is that Snyder made a painstakingly faithful adaptation until the very end. It's like he couldn't find a way to make the squid work, so he just gave up and delivered something that is no less convoluted and is absolutely less visually interesting. I wouldn't have minded the ending change if Snyder had done anything original leading up to the climax, but he was making Alan Moore's "Watchmen," not Zack Snyder's "Watchmen," so the sudden act of infidelity really ruined the whole thing for me. I kinda wish he had made more departures throughout the movie - I would have loved to see his reimagining, not just translation, of many scenes from the book.
Steve Sunu: Josh, you and I actually saw this movie together with a bunch of people. As comic book adaptations go, it actually was very faithful, but I think it failed as a film. The biggest problem I had with it was that it didn't elicit the same undeniable "this is so cool" reaction that the comic did. My biggest beef with the movie was the soundtrack. Some love it, I disagree with that position.
Dave Richards: When I first read "Watchmen," it was so hyped I was like, "That's it? 'V' and 'From Hell' were both better!" So I went into the movie with a little bit more of an open mind than others. I enjoyed the film, and when I got home from seeing it, I thumbed through my "Watchmen" collection again and noted, "Hey, that part was in there!" So, for me, "Watchmen" was an enjoyable movie that made me take a second look at the source material and appreciate it more.
Kiel Phegley: I think people would have freaked out ten times as much if someone else would have made a movie like we'd heard abut (Black Ops team!), so all things considered, I think the film holds up way better than it should considering it's more a fanboy diorama in parts than a full adaptation.
Average Comic Book Price Increase to $3.99
George Tramountanas: Most comic fans could see it coming in 2008, but 2009 made it official: the average price of a comic book became $3.99. Fans screamed and hollered online, but it didn't matter one iota. To be fair to the fans, this was one of the largest price increases the industry has ever seen. As a matter of fact, how many products can raise their prices by 33% and not have folks flip out?
I understand it from the publishers' end: expenses are going up, the print industry is slowly losing its audience - what do you do? It's a double-edged sword, of course. You raise prices to stay in business, but at the same time, you lose part of your audience due to this increase. At least DC gave folks extra pages of story for this price increase, and I applaud them for that.
However, the question remains: how elastic a product is comics? Does a change in price affect sales? Thus far, I'd have to say "yes"...barring event comics. If you'd allow me to toot my own horn a second here, in last year's end-of-year wrap-up, I posed an interesting question: are event comics the "hologram covers" of the current comic buyer generation? In asking this, I was wondering how much event comics temporarily inflate sales. And if 2009 is any indication, the answer to my question is…quite a bit!
In both March and May of this past year, no publisher managed to sell more than 100,000 copies of any title. The main contributor to this? Neither of the Big Two had any event comics come out during those months. People are buying less monthly comics, and an increase in price will only speed this trend on. Now, I'll admit that it's possible to poke a hole or two in my theory, but I think there is a lot of evidence to support it as well. After "Siege" in 2009, Marvel has announced that they will be holding off on line-wide events for awhile, so I guess, like all things, we'll discover the truth in time.
Shaun Manning: Well, the price increase has had an effect on sales to me. It wasn't as if I shouted "I'm not going to buy that because it's $3.99," but it does make borderline-buy titles that much easier to drop.
Tim Callahan: Yeah, it's impacted me as well. Not in the sense that when a $2.99 comic went to $3.99 I said, "No way!" But in the sense that I had to just cut back on the total number of comics I purchased. For a month or two this summer, I was dropping $80-$100 a week on comics just to keep up with everything. But I can't afford to do that, even as a highly-paid comics pundit. I spend less than half that now, and with most comics at $3.99, that means I'm only reading about 10-12 issues a week. 40-50 comics a month may sound like a lot, but it's only about 1/4 of the stuff that's on the shelves of my mainstream-heavy local comic shop. Who can afford to buy all this stuff at $3.99 an issue? Something's got to give.
Dave Richards: Agreed. Something has to give. I think the most immediate effect we'll see is with the miniseries. Event minis will continue because they're part of a larger story, but why buy smaller minis at that price? I think this is going to make more and more people wait for collected editions.
Marvel Comics Unleashes "Ultimatum" on the Ultimate Universe
Tim Callahan: Maybe it wasn't all the $3.99 comics that caused me to cut my comics buying in half. Maybe it was the embarrassment that was "Ultimatum." Or the embarrassment of buying every issue, reading the series, and thinking, "What am I doing wasting my time and money on this utter garbage?" Note: "Ultimatum" is possibly worse than its reputation would have you believe.
George Tramountanas: If this book was supposed to reignite readers' interest in the Ultimate Universe, I'm afraid it failed. More than anything, it seemed as if this series drove readers away from the Ultimate line rather than towards it. Marvel has its work cut out for itself if it's going to get folks to buy into the Ultimate Universe again...
Dave Richards: I really did not care for the actual "Ultimatum" miniseries, but so far I'm liking the new direction it established for the Ultimate Universe. It appears to have fired up the imagination of writers like Bendis and Millar, and they now seem intent on making the Ultimate Universe its own distinct place, which should lead to some interesting stories.
Kiel Phegley: The new books have been entertaining but aren't selling at the top of the tops. I get the feeling that whenever Millar and Bendis decide they're bored with the Ultimate U, it'll be done. But that's probably years off yet.
John Layman's "Chew" Is Released
George Tramountanas: Between this book, "Haunt," and "Image United," Image has had a huge year in publishing. The fantastic thing about the success of "Chew" was that it's a non-superhero/non-horror book that, somehow, people managed to find and read. I'm also extremely pleased for John Layman, as he is a true comic creator at heart and showed folks what can be done in this art form. Simply put, this is one of Image's biggest selling books in a loooong time...
Shaun Manning: And no one saw it coming.
Tim Callahan: John Layman seems as surprised by the success of this comic as anyone. But he's a bit more giddy about it. And good for him.
Steve Sunu: And it has an iconic Asian main character/hero that isn't drawn like he's got a bad case of bedhead. This is hands-down my favorite new series of the year.
Marvel Comics Are Available in iTunes Store
George Tramountanas: While the announcement of this is something that seemed to have come and went, it's big news! This is a major publisher acknowledging other digital delivery systems for their books. The overall effects so far are small, but I'm expecting to see this ripple spread across the pond.
Tim Callahan: This is a step in the right direction, but still meaningless until there's a way to read them effectively. A Kindle for comics that is way better than an actual Kindle is still needed. A super-thin, durable Mac tablet, for example. Also, let's all agree that motion comics are terrible and move on, okay?
Dave Richards: I agree with Tim - digital comics are the future, just as soon as someone comes up with a way to make the art fit your screen.
George Tramountanas: Maybe things need to move in a Zuda-like direction, though. Maybe it's time create art that fits the screen to begin with? Just a thought…
Disney Buys Marvel
George Tramountanas: The last of the Big Two publishers is no longer a solo act. What does this truly mean? Well, we don't know for sure. There are lots of potentially exciting possibilities: Pixar-produced Marvel films, Marvel characters at Disneyland, and more money in Marvel's coffers for a more diverse range of product. Then again, there's loads of questions as well: Universal Studios still has the theme-park rights to many Marvel characters, so what does that mean? How does Paramount's distribution deal with Marvel Films factor into this purchase? Will Disney ever veto "inappropriate" material published by Marvel?
Despite all the questions and negative consequences, I'm on the "eager and excited" side of the fence. Time to play "wait and see…"
Shaun Manning: Effects of this are pending. I'm actually as curious about the effect this has on the culture of Marvel as it will have on the content. Right now, DC (owned by Time Warner) and Marvel present themselves very differently to fans, to the media, and so on. Will responsibility to a larger corporate entity change the face of Marvel?
Tim Callahan: We all just want to see the Brad Bird or Pete Docter version of "Fantastic Four," right?
Dave Richards: The punk rock fan in me is sad to see that Marvel is no longer solo, but like George said, effects are to be determined. I'm not panicking though. Disney is a huge company that owns a lot of media properties, and not all of them are watered-down family friendly fare.
Kiel Phegley: I think Disney will change things, but I think those changes won't really take hold for another decade yet, so there's no point in waiting for it.
Warner Bros Forms DC Entertainment; Paul Levitz Steps Down
George Tramountanas: Warner Bros possibly begins to understand the concept of synergy with this move. It never made sense to me that this company had some of the best superhero properties in the universe, but didn't seem to know how to exploit them. Based on her handling of the Harry Potter franchise, President Diane Nelson seems like a smart individual, so I'm excited to see what occurs with this new entity. Just as with the Disney-Marvel deal though, effects are still TBD…
Dave Richards: It does seem like Warner Bros is starting to wake up and realize that they own all these great characters. Here's hoping they do something with them in a way that allows for films, television shows, and other media and doesn't hamper the creative freedom of comic creators.
Tim Callahan: I don't know how this will affect the company, but I know that in my personal dealings with him, Paul Levitz has been nothing but generous and helpful. How many other presidents of major companies answer your emails right away? How many other high-powered corporate executives take the time to fact-check your manuscript the same day you send it to them (as Paul did with my "Teenagers from the Future" book, replying with a dozen corrections only a few hours later)? A great guy to work with, for sure. Paul will be missed.
Kiel Phegley: Getting a new publisher in at DC has the potential to change everything both in terms of how that company runs and by extension how comics are made and sold in the U.S. While I think that a lot of the content of DC's books has been every bit as cutting edge as any genre entertainment on the planet over the past ten years, the publisher has been very conservative in terms of presentation, sales outlets and new media. Levitz seemed to work with an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude. We'll see how this new person addresses those ideas and whether they come from inside comics or outside, but either way, with what we've seen from Diane Nelson and the Warner Premier stuff both in stores and online, I think this is where the first major shockwaves of 2010 will be coming from.
And with that, it should be time to proclaim, "That's all, folks" - but there's still more to come! Our reporters have gone through each year of the past decade, but there are still trends to look at which covered the entire span of the last ten years. So come back soon and check out what the CBR News crew has to say. In the meantime, be sure to swing by the CBR forums and give us your two cents. You might even walk away with some change…