There’s a big dustup over the recent news that Batwoman writer W. Haden Blackman and artist and co-writer JH Williams III to quit the title based on the idea that DC higher-ups don’t want Batwoman, who is a lesbian, and her fiancee Maggie Sawyer, are not allowed to get married. There are lots of complaints that DC is anti-gay marriage, but the fact is, it’s not just gay marriage, DC is against all marriage and it’s not just DC, Marvel is every bit as guilty.
Now I’m probably not going to be particularly nice in this article because I think the whole thing is ridiculous. Yes, there may be some sound business reasons for doing it, but mostly it has nothing to do with business and everything to do with an immature view of the world.
DC head honcho Dan DiDio has gone into damage control mode, saying, “They put on a cape and cowl for a reason. They’re committed to defending others — at the sacrifice of all their own personal instincts. That’s something we reinforce. If you look at every one of the characters in the Batman family, their personal lives kind of suck… Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon, and Kathy Kane — it’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s also just as important that they put it aside as they know what they are accomplishing as the hero takes precedence over everything else. That is our mandate, that is our edict, that is our stand with our characters.”
That is complete bullshit. If that was the case, these characters wouldn’t have an endless string of relationships throughout their books. It’s rare for them not to be involved in some kind of affair, how is that okay, but once you get that piece of paper from the state, it’s not? It’s a fact that, since the New 52 started, pretty much every married character in the DCU has been broken up. Superman isn’t with Lois Lane. Aquaman isn’t with Mera. Animal Man’s marriage has ended.
But Marvel is no better. Joe Quesada has gone on record saying he hates characters being married. It was his personal mission to break up Peter Parker and Mary-Jane Watson, which he finally achieved with One More Day. I’m sure Dan DiDio has sold himself a bill of goods, he probably believes what he says, but to be honest, I have a different conclusion.
These people are just overgrown children. These are people who just don’t understand how to deal with a serious relationship in a comic book world. They are used to reading two-dimensional relationships, superheroes only have significant others so the bad guys have someone to kidnap, torture and kill. Lather, rinse, repeat. That’s the problem with modern superhero comics, they’re all full of lathering, rinsing and repeating. That’s why Marvel has a sliding timescale, to keep all of their heroes young. That’s why both companies have rebooted their universes in recent years, to erase all that pesky continuity, not that they paid much attention to it to begin with. Most of the comic writers have no clue how to write a character in a serious relationship either, they’re used to using boyfriends and girlfriends as bait, not as an addition to the personal lives of their heroes. The problem here is both bad management and bad writers, but it’s also bad fans. While both companies pretend they want to keep their comics relevant for younger fans, we’ve known for many, many years that the average age of modern comic readers is in their late 30s and going up every year. In fact, recent surveys have suggested that 25% of comic readers are over the age of 65. Virtually no one under the age of 15 reads comics at all. So why are both companies trying to make their comics relevant for an audience that doesn’t exist? Because it’s not the age that matters here, it’s the maturity. Like it or not, there are a lot of people, regardless of physical age, who are quite immature emotionally. A lot of the people who grew up reading comics and having no girlfriends of their own, fantasized about being Spider-Man and getting to be with Mary-Jane, or they imagined how it would be to be Cyclops and have a hot girlfriend like Jean Grey. These people have never really changed. Oh sure, some of them might have lucked out and gotten married, but they still want to read about the fantasy world where even the most geeky superhero can have a beautiful babe on each arm.
And so, people like DiDio and Quesada cater to them because that’s what the comic market has always been and, as far as they’re concerned, always will be. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. See, comics are dying, whether they like it or not, and a lot of that comes from their own refusal to see the market as it actually is and court new sources of revenue. Sure, they’re making tons of money from the movies at the moment, but that will eventually go away and they’ll be back to their sad little marketplace, with top books barely selling more than 100k a month, which was cancellation sales not that many years ago. They have to understand that if they want to bring in new readers and especially if they want to bring in younger readers, they have to change their whole strategy.
See, there are a significant number of people who are emotionally well adjusted and still read comics, although more and more of those people drift away every year because the comics just aren’t being written for them anymore. These are people with careers and mortgages and families, people who have the disposable incomes to spend on comics and other entertainment merchandise, but who are realizing that comic books just aren’t worth the time and money that they used to be. This is the audience that can save comics. Why? Because they have one important component, they typically have children. Parents that love comics often raise kids who love comics. But there have to be comics that both age groups enjoy. Marvel can’t put out all comics for adults or all comics for kids, they have to do some for each and they need to understand that the kids comics are going to be a slowly growing demographic for at least a decade or more. Far too often, they put out comics and when they don’t have an immediate best seller, they drop them, that’s not something that will work here. Put out good, high-quality comics that appeal to professional, intelligent, mature adults and wait. People will buy them, maybe not in droves right away, but the word will spread, people who have loved comics in the past and dropped them will slowly start to come back and they’ll tell their friends. Sales will slowly grow. Then Marvel has to introduce kid-friendly comics. Not stupid nonsense like Teen Titans Go, but titles that feature the same heroes as the adult comics, perhaps younger versions but I don’t think that’s necessary, yet aimed at a younger audience, perhaps in the early teens. This creates a younger audience that will grow, over time, to take over for the audience you lose due to attrition and death. This will work, but it’s a long-term project and most companies don’t deal in the long-term anymore. That’s why so many industries are just falling apart, they expect immediate success or they stop trying.
Marriage, whether DC and Marvel like it or not, is a perfectly natural and normal part of life. It’s something most people want to do. They want to see their heroes do it too. It’s not the end of the story if two people get married, it’s only the beginning of the story. You have to have quality writers who can actually tell a mature storyline, who know how to write significant others as more than potential kidnapping victims. Comics have to evolve and they have to evolve now or when the comic book movie industry falls apart, as it certainly will, the market for comic books will plummet and both DC and Marvel will be on the auction block with no one interested.