I was a Marvel Comics kid. From the mid 1970s until the early 1980s I was all about the Marvel super heroes. In the early 1980s when George Perez started drawing the New Teen Titans I finally had a DC comic book that I liked too. But in the end I liked indie comics better. Pacific Comics, First Comics, Eclipse Comics, and lots of other small press comics. Even as a kid I liked Marvel’s weirdest, offbeat stuff best: Omega the Unknown, The Guardians of the Galaxy, The Defenders, Adam Warlock, and whatever other oddities they had made by talented people. That’s my taste. The creative out-there stuff.

By the time the mid-1980s rolled around I was in college and had pretty much gone all indie comics. I stopped buying all my long standing Marvel comics, Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men, Avengers, and Defenders. I had hundred issue runs of those series that extended back to my childhood but I wasn’t interested in them anymore. I still bought plenty of comics but they were all indie books. Captain America was the last Marvel or DC comic that I kept buying. I bought that one well into the 1990s before the “Heroes Reborn” storyline made me give it up.

I may not have bought Marvel or DC comics regularly anymore but over the years I would check in with them and read some of their comics. I wasn’t a huge fan of the late 1980s-early 1990s Lee/Liefeld/McFarlane stuff but I checked some of it out. I also remember liking some late 1990s Avengers comics. When there was a creator I liked on a book I would give it a look. Or if I got nostalgic for a character, mostly Spider-Man or the Hulk, I would check that out too.

I did this all the way up until the early 2010s. That was period in which I was buying mostly collected editions. If I wanted to check out what was going on in the Marvel Universe I’d buy a collected volume of something. I read “Planet Hulk”, “Spider-Man: Brand New Day”, and “Spider-Man: Spider Island” that way. I thought they were all okay. But then I stopped. Over time I did get nostalgic and wanted to check things out but I didn’t. I haven’t bought any Marvel or DC comics in years. What happened? That’s the question I asked myself.

The answer I came up with is really a conjunction of three things. Especially as it relates to my childhood favorite Marvel Comics. The first part of the answer for me is that all the characters I grew up with are no longer themselves. They’ve all split into many versions of the same character. There are at least six different versions of Spider-Man, four different Hulks, five Wolverines, and a whole League of Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four). No longer are any of the Marvel super heroes special. Each is just a face in the crowd. The last time I got nostalgic to read some Hulk I couldn’t even find a comic that starred the Hulk I wanted. I wasn’t nostalgic for a knock-off version of the Hulk so I just gave up on it.

I think different versions of popular characters is a natural extension of a company growing and becoming more corporate. In other words it’s hard to stop. By “More corporate” I mean that more mangers and money people are hired. People whose job it is to make money off of Marvel’s intellectual property. And they do their job.

One thing you have to understand about making comics is that no one knows what will sell. With experience you can make some guesses but no one really knows. All the creative people I’ve known in comics, from editors to letterers, have always tried to make the best comics that they can. But they’re not the ones who make the decisions on what comics get made. The money people do that job.

So imagine you’re a money person at Marvel Comics. It’s your job to make as much money as possible for Marvel. Spider-Man and the Avengers are your best selling comics. So what comics do you want to make? More Spider-Man and Avengers comics of course. You may not ultimately know what comics will sell and which won’t but you do know that Spider-Man will sell better than Quasar. So you green-light Spider-Man projects and red-light Quasar ones.

As I said before the creative people are trying their best to make good comics but their creativity exists in this context. If you’re creator and you’re pitching a project you know your chances are better with Spider-Man than with Quasar. And if you’re creating a new character basing that character on an already popular character increases your chances of approval. So inventing Spider-Girl is better for you than inventing Quarry-Girl.

Creating yet another Spider-Man knock-off annoys me because it makes the character less special in my eyes. It makes me less interested in Spider-Man when he’s one of a thousand Spider-Characters. And that’s not even an exaggeration. There was a Spider-Verse comic that had endless alternate world versions of Spider-Man. Ughhhh…

That leads us to the second thing on my list. Creative choices get more conservative. “More corporate” also means more people have to approve a project. When Stan Lee was running Marvel in the 1960s, as far as I’ve ever read, he only answered to the owner Martin Goodwin. So if he wanted to get a project done he had to convince one guy. If you’re a creator at Marvel these days how many people do you have to convince to go forward with a project? I’m not even sure but I bet it’s three or four. At least.

Successful creators in this context will learn what will get approved and what won’t. They’ll tailor their stuff towards that approval process. The stuff that gets through this process easiest is the stuff just like other successful stuff. Hence we get six Spideys, six Hulks, six Wolverines, and so on. Every popular hero these days has a superhero “Family.” Creative choices get narrower. Instead of new and creative projects we get more of the same. We get variations on a theme. We get Batman and the Joker in a dozen different time periods and a dozen different alternate realities. That is the exact type of stuff I’m not interested in.

The third thing on my list is a simple one. The number on the comic book. The issue number that was on a comic was my last tenuous link to the comics I read in my youth. I collected The Amazing Spider-Man from about issues 165 until 265. So if I saw issue 467 at least it had a context for me. But over the years Marvel and DC have relaunched and renumbered all their comics. The number on the front means nothing to me anymore. That last connection is gone. So now if I want to check out the latest issues of The Amazing Spider-Man it doesn’t really exist for me. Instead it’s the latest edition of some other Spider-Man series. They don’t even bother to use volume numbers anymore.

Of course the worst thing for Marvel and DC is that I don’t even care. I can’t even be bothered to nostalgia read anymore. But lucky for me there are plenty of other good comics out there that I can buy. And I do.


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