Spector speaks, but who should listen?
I’ve wanted to write an article like this for some time now. I knew I wanted to vent my frustrations with the comics industry, but I didn’t know how to jump into the subject without coming across like a raving lunatic—which I admit to sometimes being the case.
As my comic qualms simmered in the back of my mind for weeks on end and I pondered how to kick off this editorial, DICE 2013 rolled around. I’d planned on burying my anger even further in the recesses of my mind in order to focus on the conference, but I found some inspiration in an unlikely spot.
Celebrated game designer Warren Spector was scheduled to speak at the conference; he didn’t cancel his appearance even after the disheartening news that his studio, Junction Point, closed just a week prior to DICE. I’m sure this experience inspired Spector’s talk about spending almost four decades in the game industry—and what he saw now that he had the chance to take a step back.
Anyone who’s had the pleasure to speak candidly with Spector knows that he’s quick with a joke no matter the subject. Because of this, his presentation was one of the more enjoyable ones at the conference, even if it lacked the structure of other talks. But shooting from the hip—as Warren is wont to do—certainly ruffled a few feathers. Spector condemned the tongue-in-cheek zombie-ripping romp that was Lollipop Chainsaw and gushed over Heavy Rain creator David Cage’s work (maybe Warren’s trying to line himself up for an interview?), but what made my blood boil was his encouragement that we all “put away our geeky things.”
This irked me on several levels. Not only does what we do as game journalists drip with geekiness, but my beloved hobby of comic books is another cornerstone in the foundation of any solid nerd cred. My rage was palpable, to say the least—to begin with, anyway.
Like many other geeks, my first instinct had driven me to anger, before rationale (and, later whiskey) settled in to calm me down. After all, the same old song and dance from our favorite games, movies, and comics are like geek comfort food, and we don’t take too kindly to folks messing with tried-and-true recipes. But the more I thought about Spector’s words, the more I realized that he didn’t mean for us to drop the hobbies near and dear to our hearts or to stop being inspired by them. He didn’t literally want us to stop being who we are.
Warren Spector wants us to get away from the same tired formulas we’ve been using in games since he got into the industry. He wants developers to stop being so geeky and to grow up in a figurative sense so that we can break boundaries as a medium. The same can be said for what’s going on in the comics industry.
And this leads me into the point of this article (yeah, I like the sound of my own voice—I know, I know!). For the most part, the comic industry, much more so than the gaming industry, has become tired and stale, at least when speaking of the Big Two, DC and Marvel. “Transmedia” was a buzzword thrown around liberally at DICE, and it seems that with the comics industry being so focused on crossing over into games and movies, Marvel and DC have completely forgotten what it means to tell meaningful, entertaining stories through the traditional pages of a comic book.
In fact, Marvel and DC have gotten so far away from what they once were that they’ve transformed into an Ouroboros—a snake eating its own tail. I’ll let you decide which one of the Big Two is the head and which is the tail, but it doesn’t really matter. At this point, we can’t tell which came first, the chicken or the egg—because both are scrambled. Every time there’s a major story in one universe, the other has to go for a copycat narrative. When one relaunches, so must the other.
And heaven forbid that an original idea actually explains the drastic story switches this constant cycle signifies. If a writer uses time travel one more time to launch a series, I’m going to break the fingers of whoever wrote it. I’ll still never forgive DC and Geoff Johns for how they brought Swamp Thing back. And I’ll never forget what Marvel and J. Michael Straczynski did to Spider-Man back in 2007; they felt the best way to relaunch the character was for him to sell his marriage to Mephisto. I want you folks to look back over that last sentence and contemplate that for a little while if you’re not familiar with a horrendous little story arc called One More Day. Spidey sold his marriage to the damn Devil! It’s too much for even a comic-book fan like me to swallow.
The worst of it—at least in regards to the Big Two—is that it doesn’t look like things are going to change anytime soon. In fact, if this weren’t my job, I might be tempted to take Warren Spector literally and stop buying comics altogether, because the stuff being printed nowadays on a regular basis is slop.
I do see some potential for hope, though. While the Big Two continue to bite off each other to the point that, soon, there’ll be nothing worthwhile left to read, the indie scene is resurgent. The return of classic Valiant Comics like Archer & Armstrong and Shadowman, new Star Wars books from Dark Horse, IDW’s takes on Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Archie’s continued success with other videogame properties like Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog keep comics viable, much like how gaming’s own indie scene continues to breath fresh concepts into the industry year after year.
In the end, Warren Spector was right. It’s time for the comic-book industry, just like the game industry, to put a lot of their geeky, tired, uninspired ideas of what constitutes content away and to grow up. We can keep the capes, though!