9/29/2012

With the recent reboot of the DC universe, a lot of people are asking where the industry will go from here. Will this be a genuine new start for the comics or is it just another publicity stunt? This isn't really new. Publishers are constantly trying new stories and plotlines to attract readers. Sometimes these changes make the character better. Other times, they have no real impact. Other times, it's a complete disaster that angers fans and alienates casual readers, making the character even less popular than before. That's why we decided to take a look at some of the worst comic book publicity stunts ever. 


7. Superman Gets Electrical Powers - In the late nineties, Superman was in trouble. Sales were slipping again, but he had just been killed and brought back to life. So DC came up with a plan to kill Superman's identity. They not only changed his costume, but his powers. For vaguely explained reasons, Superman lost all his old powers and suddenly transformed into an energy being with electrical powers. Even his costume changed, losing the cape. Funny thing, though - readers didn't care to see the Superman they knew for decades become a completely different superhero. That's why Superman abruptly got his powers restored and everything went back to normal. Well, sort of.


6. Wonder Woman Loses Her Powers - In the 1960's, Wonder Woman's popularity had sunk to her lowest levels. In a desperate attempt to make her relevant and capitalize on the popularity of the spy trend, Wonder Woman lost her powers and became a secret agent. While the stunt did get attention, readers didn't exactly embrace the new Wonder Woman. After all, Diana Prince without her powers isn't really Wonder Woman. She's just a woman. In the end, no less than noted feminist Gloria Steinem make a public call for Wonder Woman to get her powers back. Which she did.




5. Green Lantern Becomes a Supervillain - DC wanted to shake things up for Green Lantern - introduce a newer, younger Green Lantern. But how to get readers to accept the new Green Lantern? Simple. Make the old Green Lantern Hal Jordan into a mass murderer. In "Emerald Twilight," Jordan snaps because his city is destroyed, attacks all the other Green Lanterns, and becomes the supervillain Parallax. His reign of terror is only stopped by a new Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner. Unfortunately, it backfired. Readers were outraged at their beloved hero becoming a villain, and Rayner never really caught on like Jordan. It took ten years to fix this by claiming Jordan was possessed by an alien monster, and readers are still upset about it.

4. Deathmate Crossover - In the early nineties, the two independent comic companies Image and Valiant decided to collaborate on a crossover event called Deathmate. The premise was that Solar (one of the flagship superheroes for Valiant Comics) and Void (one of the flagship superheroes for Image) would fall in love, but their meeting creates an amalgam universe. An ambitious mini-series that took characters from two different companies, was designated by colors instead of numbers, spanned over a dozen issues, and was intended to be read in any order, Deathmate was already a challenge. Yet it got worse when most of the major writers refused to get involved, and those creators who were involved didn't really want to do it. Then Image Comics, already known for its reputation for unreliability, ran late on their half of the series. That made Deathmate an even bigger disaster financially, because readers would pre-order the comics, then cancel the pre-orders in frustration when the comics didn't show up. Then the retailers would re-order the comics, but by then no one wanted to buy them, so the unsold comics sat on shelves. It didn't help that Deathmate was poorly written and drawn to begin with. This stunt backfired horribly, leading to so much frustration and skepticism about the companies as a whole that sales for both companies' regular titles plummeted, Image and Valiant closed, and some even blame Deathmate for the comic crash of 1996 that almost destroyed the comic industry.

3. Spiderman "Revealed" to be a Clone - I won't bother to summarize the entire event of what came to be known as the Clone Saga, because even the writers themselves didn't have it figured out. What it boils down to is that Marvel decided that Peter Parker was too happy, what with his wife and child and successful job, so they decided to get rid of it. Specifically, they tried to erase twenty years of continuity by claiming that the Spiderman we knew all those years was just a clone, and the real Spiderman is a homeless guy who would just walk in and take over. The low point was when a stressed-out Peter Parker backhanded his pregnant wife, MJ. Sales of Spiderman actually declined during this period to the point where they had to retcon it again, and have it turn out that Peter really wasn't a clone after all, turning the whole thing into a complete mess.

2. Spiderman's Marriage Gets Erased - The comic book one-shot One More Day has become almost as reviled among fans as the Clone Saga. After Aunt May is mortally shot, Spiderman turns to Mephisto (the Marvel Universe version of the Devil) to save her. Mephisto agrees to do so, only in exchange for Peter Parker and Mary Jane's marriage. This leads to history itself being rewritten so that Peter and Mary Jane's marriage never existed. Marvel was again apparently motivated by a desire to make Parker more accessible, but it turned out just the opposite happened. People have questioned the entire concept, from why Peter Parker would turn to the Devil for help to how to reconcile decades of stories revolving around his marriage. The fallout is still going on with sales of the book dropping (although Marvel insists it's a general downturn in the industry, not One More Day-related).

1. Superman Dies - You may be surprised to see this as number one. After all, for years the comic industry has been telling readers that the "Death of Superman" storyline was a triumph. Record sales, bold new characters like Steel, praise from the industry for DC daring to do what no one else dared. All true. What they never talk about it what happened afterward - the collapse of the entire comic book industry. Chuck Rozanski makes a compelling argument that it was the death of Superman that caused the speculation bubble to burst, and comic readers to leave in droves. That's because of two things.

One, anyone who actually believed Superman would stay dead felt betrayed when he came back. It established once and for all that nothing is real in comics, and that publishers were willing to do anything (including exploit the real feelings we have for our heroes) just to sell a few more copies. Two, the issue where Superman dies ended up being worthless. That's when we all collectively realized that if a comic about the death of Superman wasn't worth anything, nothing was, and the whole comic collecting industry was a big joke. We're still feeling the effects of this publicity stunt, because the industry is shrinking, people are more likely to watch a movie about Batman than read the latest issue, and paper comics are going unsold on newsstands.


What do you think of these stunts? Any others that you can think of? Let us know in the comments.
[Image Source: Wikipedia]
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8 comments:

Nigel Mitchell said...

I thought about adding Robin's death, but that could be considered a successful publicity stunt. The majority of readers hated Robin at the time. They thought he was whiny and unnecessary. That's why they voted to kill him. Once he was dead, suddenly everybody loved Robin, and he's been an enduring character again

Nigel Mitchell said...

1) It's about publicity stunts, which tend to take the form of storylines in comics. There are a ton of unpopular storylines, like Superman walking across America, but only a select few are intended to boost sales and backfired so much.

2) The bubble burst for a lot of reasons, some of which were stunts like these. This isn't just my opinion - check the links. However, my overall theme wasn't "publicity stunts that killed the comic industry," but publicity stunts that led to the character becoming less popular than before. You mention the nineties several times, but Wonder Woman's depowering occurred in the sixties, not the nineties. Also, Spiderman's marriage was erased five years ago, not in the nineties.

3) Similar events had occured, but never intended to be as sweeping as these. Superman's Red/Blue was loosely based on the old story, but at the time it was not sold as an homage. It was sold as, "This is the new Superman. The old Superman is gone forever." Hal Jordan had left the Corps before, but never went on a killing spree and ended up being killed as he was in "Emerald Twilight." Superman had been through a lot, but never transformed allegedly permanently into a new hero, nor had he been killed (also allegedly) for good. Spider-Man's previous clone sagas were never intended to replace Peter Parker, as the Clone Saga had done.

4) Certainly these were very brief overviews of the events. Anyone who wants the full story can check the Wikipedia pages. My purpose was to give a summary, otherwise this article would be twenty pages long. However, I disagree that it needed more historical context, because you seem to think this article is about the comic industry as a whole. It's not.

Pat Dilloway said...

I liked in the History Channel special on the history of comics where Dennis O'Neil owned up to the Wonder Woman thing being a complete disaster. It was nice he didn't try to cling to some stupid excuse to justify it.

Anyway, I think a lot of things have hurt the industry. Video games, the Internet, etc. Then there's that they started to make comics more adult which was great for adults but it's not really good for wooing the younger generations. Plus they just about only sell those in comic book stores anymore for $4 or more a pop. I mean I'm old enough where I still remembering buying comics for like 50 cents and what a huge deal it was when they raised it to 75 cents!

Nigel Mitchell said...

I actually did like the death of Superman as well for the way it showed the impact of losing a major hero. Just wish they had come up with a better villain to beat him, and I wish they hadn't pretended Superman was never coming back.

jeremy [retro-zombie] said...

doomsday was awesome... did you read the continued saga, i only ask because it explained more detail of doomsday origins.

jeremy [retro-zombie] said...

now i enjoyed the superman fiasco... except the energy red and blue part.... somewhere i still have my black arm band.

Colin "Fitz" Biggs said...

I'll give Supes a pass for his twists, but Spiderman's marriage and abusive behavior were too much to forgive.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Never read that, but I never really cared for Doomsday.

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