Superhero comics run on the old serial narrative. Hero faces death. Hero is threatened by death. Then Hero saves the day. And then after a few hundred issues you have to give the threat some credibility by killing the Hero. Then you replace him with something else. Then you bring him back.
Four Supermans. Three Batmans. Doc Ock as Spiderman. And then once you’ve shaken things up, cleared the ground, you use that as an opportunity to give the whole thing a fresh look before going back to the way things were all along.
Nothing really changes in comic books. That’s truer than ever because the comic book audience is now 40 year old males and they want more sophisticated storytelling without changing the stuff they grew up with. Those two are irreconcilable. And this is how you reconcile them. You make big changes and then reset them. Spiderman reveals his secret identity and then makes a deal with the devil to undo it. Big stuff happens and then it doesn’t. Everything changes and then it doesn’t.
The one thing that comic publishers fear for their IPs, even big ones like Spider-Man, is that they will be shelved and ignored. Event comics are a cry for attention. Making big changes gets readers to browse it on their iPads one more time. They make it seem like the comic is going somewhere when it’s not. When it can’t.
What can you really do with an iconic character that hasn’t been done before? Nothing.
Every comic book character has died, been replaced, had to kill, been accused of murder, lost the loves of their life, been defeated, had their identity exposed etc…
There is nothing else to do. Not a thing. Oh you can make him gay. That’s about it. And then change him back. See Vampire Slayer, Buffy. And once every comic has done its gay love story, there will be even less out there.
Superhero comics stopped being relevant a while back. Even Spider Man, one of the younger of the top superhero comics, is out of it. These aren’t stories, they’re IPs. Like Mickey Mouse or the Simpsons they’re just around because people remember them and kids buy the merchandise. That’s it.
There are no more stories left to tell. Just lunchboxes to sell. Or Apps. And the kids who buy Spider Man gear aren’t reading the comics now, they’re seeing the cartoons or the movies.
The comics began it all, but now they’re just this odd relic tagging along. Disney isn’t interested in Spider Man because it wants to sell Spider Man comics, but because it wants to make Spider Man movies.
DC and Marvel are relics full of characters to be monetized by movie studios who put movies first, games second, cartoons third and comics zeroth. Their target audience is 17. The comics audience is 37.
Batman, Superman and Spiderman comics have become the ugly stepchildren of their own IPs. Their audiences are too old, their medium is dated and they have to pull off new stunts that their audience is familiar with because their audience is pushing 40 and grew up on those stunts.
Comics aren’t dead, but the big boys are irrelevant. And being irrelevant means fighting harder for oxygen. It means more stunts which get reset and alienate whatever audience remains after the initial buying frenzy for the issues that aren’t going to be worth anything in twenty years dies down.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s a dying industry trying to pull off one more comic book stunt. Peter Parker dying in Doc Ock’s body is a metaphor for the entire industry. Old fans. Old characters. No reason to go on.