Comics Creators

Do Big 2 comics dip in quality every other decade?


Every decade has glory moments, even the creative nadir of the 90s and all those X-Men riffs still having sterling work like Kingdom Come or Marvel or Mark Waid’s Flash or Grant Morrison’s JLA. But I was looking through some comics last week and wonder if there’s a kind of pattern forming here.

The early 40s were awesome, an explosion of ideas from the brand new Superman and Batman launched slightly earlier to the creation of Wonder Woman, Shazam, Captain America, The Flash, Green Lantern and pretty much all the DC characters they’ve updated several times. The early 60s were at least as good with brilliant revamps of the Golden Age heroes as well as the creation of 99% of the good stuff from the modern Marvel universe. The 80s were a creative high-point with Miller and Moore and the British explosion and guys like Wolfman, Chaykin and Byrne ruling mainstream comics and the early 00s is already a really classic creative period at Marvel in particular, although some very good DC books came out in this period too.

Now my controversial thought is that these bursts of creativity tend to follow creative fallow patches, the industry being run into the ground and rescued at the last possible moment. Every one of these highs seems to come from a moment of creative desperation, Lee andKirby’s creation of FF, etc, coming as a last-ditch attempt to keep the company afloat. So I wonder, are the 50s, 70s, 90s and RIGHT NOW creative lulls at Marvel and DC? I know a lot of 40-something creators really love 70s Marvel, but as a kid reading reprints in the 80s I much preferred the 60s stuff and found all the Shang-Chi/Power-Man/ Jack O’Hearts etc characters very B-list by comparison. The 90s almost had me stop reading comics and I’d say I’ve read about 3 Marvel or DC titles in the last eight years, switching entirely to indie in around 2008.

But is this maybe a natural creative cycle? Am I alone in finding the alternate decades much less interesting OVERALL than the 40s, 60s, 80s and 00s?



I think it’s hard to argue with, especially for superhero comics.

Maybe the 50s were a high point if you liked horror or the 90s for the Vertigo style stuff but there’s no doubt for me that the odd years are weaker for capes.


I think the 20-year-cycle thing is pretty solid for superheroes, yeah.

I do wonder whether an element of it is creators reflecting their influences, and whether the period between being a reader/fan and being a creator working on those characters is roughly 20 years. So you have people who grew up as readers in the 60s going on to break new ground in the 80s, and creators who were inspired by the 80s revolution putting those energies into early-2000s work.

Which should mean that in four or five years time we have guys who grew up on Ultimates, The Authority, and loads of other Millar/Bendis/Brubaker stuff from the early 2000s ushering in another new era of creative energy.


I think that theory is accurate, although I have my doubts that the '20s will be a creative boon since comics are now mostly just glorified loss leaders for the films and TV. (Yes I know they’re not literally taking a loss, just that they no longer need to feel sink-or-swim desperate)


I think part of this is likely a matter of taste too. I like a lot of the early 90’s material and it’s hard to deny that it wasn’t a boom time in comics particularly with everything surrounding the Image creators. The bust didn’t happen until later in the decade when all that speculation coupled with some poor business decisions brought everything to the brink.


I actually rate the original Image guys and their work at Marvel quite highly. It wasn’t aimed at guys like us, but I really appreciate what they did and kids adored it. I think the saggy years really went full-force around 93 at the Big 2 and lasted until Summer 2000 when we had Bendy’s Spidey and Kevin and Joe on DD, Warren and Bryan kicking off something very special with The Authority and influencing the Big 2 the year before.

But I have to point out comics anything but loss leaders, Robert. 2002 until recently has been record-breaking cash from publishing, the graphic novel market being entirely new and all profit, a huge bonanza for companies and stores and the monthlies having made huge dough for a lot of that period too. Remember anything over about 15K is generally in profit and then you have international, digital, etc, so Marvel and DC anything but losing money on publishing.



[quote=“Mark_Millar, post:6, topic:5376, full:true”]
But I have to point out comics anything but loss leaders, Robert. 2002 until recently has been record-breaking cash from publishing, the graphic novel market being entirely new and all profit, a huge bonanza for companies and stores and the monthlies having made huge dough for a lot of that period too. Remember anything over about 15K is generally in profit and then you have international, digital, etc, so Marvel and DC anything but losing money on publishing. [/quote]

Good point and good to know.

Do you see Marvel and DC having another creative peak on the publishing side?


Marvel was a very strange beast during the 70s. A chunk of their line was more akin to underground comics with titles like Howard the Duck, Man-Thing, Ghost Rider and Tomb of Dracula. We also saw the death of Gwen Stacy in Amazing Spider-Man and the all new, all different X-Men. It was a very experimental time for the company.


To Robert: I think so. Like said earlier, Alan Moore read amazing 60s comics and came in and rocked the house in the 80s with Miller. Bends and I grew up reading that stuff and did our things at Marvel 2001-2008/09 from Ultimate launch to Civil War and Old Man Logan, etc. In around 5 years time someone now in their early 20s will come in and do a fresh take on maybe even a character or team we don’t really rate at the moment and make it the corner-stone of publishing for the next stage. Chances are there will be two or three of these creators. I remember Marvel really, really not wanting me to focus on the Avengers characters in Summer 2000 as they felt X was where the money was. So you never know what passion someone has or what that great new spin is going to be.

To Todd: I always tend to think in superheroes so it’s interesting to note that the 30s, 50s, 70s and even NINETIES (with Vertigo) were horror (plus a little sci-fi). Maybe that’s why superheroes seem a little boring at the moment and we’re all veering to sci-fi etc. Interesting.



@DenizCamp, are you still hanging onto that Legion of Super-Heroes pitch? :slight_smile:


It way be that in the “bad” times, the alternative/indie areas get more experimental in search of success and finding audiences. When you look at the “good” times, there is usually an incorporation of the successful qualities of those alternative titles of the “bad” times into the mainstream lines.

It will be interesting to see what the takeaway from the alt/indie scene of this time into the mainstream will be.


This might be apocryphal, but I thought that the move into less mainstream areas in the 70’s was due in large part due to Superheroes not selling…hence the DC meltdown at one point. Hence you saw publishers moving into areas like horror, like Blaxploitation (very sanitised Blaxploitation with Luke Cage) and like Kung Fu.

I’m open to correction.

Having read a lot of stuff during that era, I thought that it was pretty experimental. There was a real sense to throwing a lot of stuff at the wall and seeing what stuck. There was stuff like Ultimates which we love and cherish and stuff like Planetary that Wildstorm was doing, but there were also books like Hourman (by Tom Peyer) and Gotham Central and Slap Leather and X-Statix and NYX.


I think it’s important to define the dynamics of what might cause this. Desperation breeds risk, success breeds complacency. Not only for the publishers, but also for the creators. In the 2000’s Marvel and DC both were willing to take some risks with their characters - not huge ones, but enough to better sell the illusion of change and offer something new and fresh. Civil War, Ultimates, House of M, Avengers Dissembled, etc…

Once things became successful there’s an element of ‘don’t screw up a good thing’ that I think comes though in the work. More critically though I think you have creative types who stifle creativity as they settle into lead roles themselves. The publishing game feels like a sports team. You have these star players that rise, some of whom can change the game. They’re young, hungry, work hard and offer something folks have never seen before. But a person can’t stay that way forever, middle age creeps in, risks become less appealing and ideas start to dry up. Sports stars eventually end up being forced out, maybe a few years later than they should have been due to deference to their history. That doesn’t happen so often with comics.

Funnily enough I think it only takes 3-4 books for that new energy to set people ablaze once again. It’s not major surgery, and it’ something that seems to happen naturally. History suggests both Marvel and DC will get their acts sorted and will deliver something new and great in the next few years. But to be honest it’s hard to see how that could happen and what it would look like right now. All their brands and characters feel very used and overworked at this point.


I also wonder if creators are stockpiling some of their better ideas for their creator-owned work for a post-Big Two career. Granted, there are some ideas that truly work best in a Big Two setting as most of the world-building has already been done. But some of those squirreled-away ideas could possibly revolutionize mainstream comics if given the chance.


It actually doesn’t work like that. The CO stuff has its own logic and stories, the Marvel and DC stories growing from their own continuity and mythos. I’ve literally never saved an idea I liked too much from Marvel or DC and used it for creator-owned, though Wanted, for example, came from rejected proposals from Marvel or DC. It works more like that than someone halfway through a DD idea deciding they’ll just use it on their own character.



raises pitch triumphantly into the air I. HAVE. THE. POWER!


Makes sense.

Do you think the Disney takeover of Marvel and greater scrutiny of DC by WB are having an impact on the current creative atmosphere at the Big Two? Are Marvel and DC being impacted because they are now having to “synergize” with other aspects of the parent companies’ operations? If this is the case, is this all part of the “learning curve”?

I do not know if this is really happening or not. I’m just throwing it out there.


Agreed. When it comes to specific characters, themes or story elements, yes, those you can move between creator owned and company owned. But when you come up with ideas for, say, Hawkman…that is such a hyper developed mythology already, such a clear note through the air, that your ideas only really function for that character.

I’ve always been a little perplexed at the hesitancy to create new characters for companies, too. I understand you don’t get to own them, but as a creator you can literally create infinitely many characters, and much of what might make them popular or not popular is out of your control.


Is that the way it works for most creators now? I had assumed a lot of creators were just holding things back for themselves. I couldn’t blame them.

I remember a lot of the Image guys saying they held back and some of their Marvel ideas actually becoming their CO. Supposedly, Rob and Todd wanted to kick Marc Silvestri under the table for something he was presenting at an X-Men writing get together because they were getting ready to pitch him on coming over. Evidently, that idea became Cyberforce.


Also, some characters may simply work better in a shared universe where the continuity acts as “shorthand” to handle some of the explanatory load.