Comics / Cult Favorite

Crisis in the Multiple Titles


By Philip Schweier
August 19, 2008 - 20:20

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It’s a marketing world we live in, so when a comic book character proves popular, it makes sense to branch out said character into additional titles. It’s an idea as old as Superman (the comic book, not the character).

Batman soon followed, and in the years to come we’ve seen Amazing Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man, Astonishing, Uncanny and New X-Men, Punisher and Punisher: War Journal, and I’m sure many more that just don’t come to mind right now.

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Often these popular characters are well-written and well-rounded, with different facets for readers to enjoy. For instance, the inter-relationships among the various X-Men make for interesting character development. But all that characterization holds little appeal for those readers more interested in seeing the mighty mutants go up against the Sentinels and Magneto.

So it makes sense to me that different titles offer different tones to the stories. For instance, Batman is a great heroic character, maybe partly because he has no super-powers. As such, Detective Comics, perhaps focusing on his skills as a detective, might offer a more – dare I say it? – cerebral comic book.

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So there we have multiple titles offering multiple aspects of our favorite costumed heroes. And sure, the titles might be inter-connected in a single storyline, as happens from time to time; Batman RIP for example, or the whole Death of Superman saga from the 1990s. But in my opinion, those stories should be the exception to the rule.

Title-spanning sagas are great, if they can be contained within the titles and presented in the course of, say, six to eight issues. But when DC Comics has to resurrect the triangle number system they used back in the 1990s so that fans can follow the linear continuity of a handful of titles, well, I can’t but feel that things are getting a little bogged down.

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Personally, I like keeping the storylines separate. In my collection, it makes for easier filing, without having to jump back and forth, title to title, box to box. And for those of us with limited budgets – and who isn’t money-conscious these days? – it strengthens our buying process without having to sacrifice other titles.

Two titles should be enough for any single character. With a team book such as the X-Men, I’ll grant Marvel Comics an extra book simply to handle the volume of characters they have accumulated over the years.

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But anything more is overkill, and fraught with the perils of continuity errors and inconsistencies in developing solid cohesive characters for die-hard fans to follow. Because often, as a favorite hero begins to lose those three-dimensional qualities to his/her persona, the books tend to degenerate into slug-fests and gimmicky marketing ploys reminiscent of the 1990s.

I have nothing against the ‘90s. Heaven knows I’ve often been accused of spending too much web space looking backward with fondness. But the 1990s weren’t the greatest era for comic books, as the hundreds of retailers who closed up shop will tell you. Publishers large and small felt the pain as the bottom nearly fell out of the industry when speculators snapped up books, expecting their value to accumulate practically overnight, and were sorely disappointed.

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And readers? Well, we have our own memories of foil covers, die-cut covers and other gimmicks designed to move product. But in the end, many of us asked ourselves if the stories and art were any good, and the answer was usually a resounding “no.”

So my hope is that as multiple titles begin to tie more closely together, publishers and creative teams are able to avoid the pitfalls from 10-20 years ago. Telling a good story should takes as long as it takes, be it two chapters or 12.

That should be the primary endeavor of the publishers.

Praise and adulation? Scorn and ridicule? E-mail me at philip@comicbookbin.com


Last Updated: June 23, 2021 - 00:29

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