Comics are pretty incredible when you think about it. That both Marvel and DC have built a living universe featuring thousands of characters, and that within that universe they have told a hundred different stories every month for decades - it’s one of humanities most impressive creations. It’s no wonder the movies do so well having that base to work with. And it’s no wonder millions of people fall for the characters. They’re examples of our greatest stories. Pure creation, lovingly maintained and nurtured.
Comics are built on cycles, roping in each new generation, typically from 8 to 18 when sex and alcohol take over. So it’s a 10 year process, with an overlying 20 year process to each cycle doesn’t feel exactly like the last. We are in 1997 right now - right when the big two looked weak and interest was waning. This generation of fans are different, as comics have retained the core fanbase deep into adulthood, an entire generation who might have been reading comics for 20+ years. And as such you can’t satisfy both the new readers and the old, and the weaknesses in the entire creation start to show the more you read the various characters. The cycle model is failing. It’s wasn’t build for long term fans. Eventually we want to see progress in that model. Eventually you paint yourself into too many corners.
The other big effect is that you can consume the characters in so many more ways now, to the extent that it’s possible the majority of Spiderman or Batman fans have read few or no comics at all. The characters have escaped comics, no longer need comics. Just like we don’t need Dracula books any more.
I think this media expansion, plus the aging core base, alongside the huge amount of competition for out entertainment dollars is putting the comics industry at a nexus. I think both universes essentially need to be frozen in a status quo at this point in order to maintain the brands, and as such comics can’t sell on the illusion of change any more (which was the previously mentioned 10 year cycle). I think like Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein and other literary greats you just tell stories featuring the characters, letting them do whatever and letting them be reinterpreted in different fashions. Forget continuity. Forget the ongoing story. This has already happened with Batman, and so he’s ascended to be the greatest comic creation of them all. There’s all kinds of Batmen, all types of Gotham’s, just the core of the story remaining the same. Any writer can write any Batman story and so long as the pillars of the story are there you can skin it any way you want. He’ll live on forever in that regard.
The same will have to happen to the other big characters. Each of the big 2 companies have maybe 30 brands this can be done with. And that’s what the goal of the next 10 years should be. As such you abandon the long running concept. Just tell a Hulk story. or a Green Lantern Story. Or a Fantastic Four story. Don’t worry about if it counts. Don’t worry where they are in the Marvel universe. And move away from the event driven continuity train. Tell the same thing in a different setting, like they’ve done with Dracula or Sherlock. The old business model is over, the big two just haven’t accepted it yet.