Subject 02: Gimmicks
No, it’s not an obscure comic book character… but it sounds like one straight out of the 90’s. For the record, I’ve been alive long enough to have seen Captain America die 3 times, Superman twice and Batman has been dead or disappeared at least 3 times. With TMNT #59 dropping Wednesday, I don't think this could have been better timed.
If a major character is set up to do/be a specific way, in order to retain and protect the copyright/trademark they have to always pretty much be that way. Spider-Man with the alien black suit was never going to last long before he had to go back to the traditional red and blue and protect the Spider-Man brand. The consumer expects Spidey to be a good guy and wear Blue and Red, not a villain in black. At some point, the character has to revert back to the original version in order to “not deceive the buying public”; it has to be Peter Parker, it always comes back to him. It’s why these things never last long. Well except Miles… but that’s different (Secret Wars Ultimate universe merger – Miles is cool, I’m not hating).
But back to gimmicks, as someone now famously said on the CBSI Google group “What’s next, Batman killed his parents!” and that’s really the level of absurdity things have degenerated down to for a sales bump. That’s right, looking at you Captain Hydra.
As a speculator, you have to recognize when a gimmick could turn out be a long term thing and when it’s something that won’t last. A good rule of thumb is: If you’ve seen it once, it’s only a matter of time ‘til you see it again. The OLD saying was nobody stays dead in comics EXCEPT: The Waynes, Bucky and Uncle Ben… and even that’s not true anymore! Nobody stays dead. Death is a gimmick.
Now people are probably thinking, “That’s not true, what about Winter Soldier?” Well, what about him? Bucky Barnes may be the Winter Soldier, but how long did he stay a bad guy before they changed him back to Cap’s best pal? With a character like Bucky, who cares what they do with him? He’s not a Spider-Man, Wolverine, Batman or whoever. Trust me, there was no major outcry when they changed Bucky, cuz nobody liked Bucky to begin with. And he was dead. Now he’s finally cool as Winter Soldier so nobody’s crying about it then or now.
Logan/Wolverine – let’s talk about him. Old Man Logan is a cool idea; I don’t read the book but I get the appeal for people who have been reading Wolverine for 30 odd years. I like the idea of X-23 taking up the mantle, but it’s never going to last because at some point Marvel is going to have to put Logan back in the role. It’s a branding thing. They don’t really have a choice if they want to protect the copyright/trademark for the Wolverine brand. With X-23 being a female and not another male character, this gives them some wiggle room; the same for Jane Foster as Thor, Shuri as Black Panther, and Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel. A female version of a character in the current world climate probably isn’t going to be a huge issue. Miles Morales totally works and now they’ve integrated him into the regular continuity. Laura, Jane, Carol and Shuri all work because they’re women and more importantly they exist as themselves in continuity. All 4 of those ladies exist prior to taking up the mantles.
What’s the longest these changes last for? A year, two tops? That’s not arbitrary. Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel has been around a while now. So has Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel. But not major characters in the billion dollar club… seriously, nobody's going to say Captain Mar-Vel is more popular than Carol in the role, it’s just not going to happen… Ok, fine there are like two guys out there that might think that. I guarantee more people are upset about Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel than anyone about Carol taking over Captain Marvel.
What about Batgirl and Robin? Again, they are not a billion dollar property- nobody’s going to complain about a different woman being Batgirl. As long as the character of Batgirl does the things Batgirl is expected to do, the property’s safe. Cassandra Cain proved that when she became the first Batgirl to get an ongoing title and it ran longer than any Batgirl series to date. That’s right – Cass’s book lasted longer than the new 52 Batgirl title by 20 issues. Barbara being involved in the book as Oracle is a large part of why this works. Keep in mind, Batgirl was a one-off character in the comics until the Adam West TV series.
Robin, same thing. It’s less about who’s under the mask and more about what the costume and actions of the character look like. If the costume design for Robin changes too much, it’s going to be a problem; that’s why he’s always red, yellow and green and has a cape and an R on his chest with a mask. That’s Robin, and it doesn’t matter which boy is in the suit or what the suit looks like as long as those things stay the same. I say boy because look at how short a time Stephanie Brown was Robin, less than 6 months. It was a gimmick and it was never going to last because Robin’s a boy… not to mention it was all kinda stupid anyways, “Hey, remember when we killed Robin, yeah, let's do that again, instead it won’t be the Joker and this time and it’ll be a girl Robin”. Sigh… and then they just brought her back anyways, like Jason Todd. “Oh wait, but she’s still a good guy and we’ll have her take over the Batgirl mantle, so NOW it’s different.”
Think about that for a second. Anything of major impact in real life… getting married, having a child, a dear family member dying… anything important is turned into a gimmick to sell books. It’s not good storytelling when you retcon it out 6-12 months later. Now if you do something like that and make it stick, that’s something else. When Joker brutally killed Jason Todd, that was impactful and was good storytelling. It was roughly 18 years before he came back as Red Hood.
A person other than Bruce Wayne will never be the sole Batman. Same with Superman and Clark Kent. If there’s another character taking up the mantle, the original will reappear or still be connected to the property in some way. It absolutely has to. So keep that in mind when you’re speculating on books. It’s cool of you pick up multiple copies of something like that. It’s cool if you love the story, but understand that in the end, it’s a gimmick.
I'm not saying they can't last or they're all bad. Without gimmicks we would never have had so many flavors of Robin or Batgirl and Bucky would have never been cool. Great stuff can come from gimmicks and understanding the difference can save you a lot of money in the long run.
Till next week, Viva GwenPool!