Batman #50 Fallout: Why Does The Comics Medium Have Such Low Self Esteem?

by James Ferguson

This week saw the release of Batman #50, promoted as the wedding between the Caped Crusader and Catwoman. It was hyped for months and the lead-up has included at least a dozen issues of the ongoing series, plus a series of one-shots leading up to it. Two days before the comic was released on Wednesday, the New York Times ran an article that spoiled the entire thing right in the headline.

I wish I could say that this was surprising, however this happens all too frequently from the Big Two publishers. I think that it has something to do with the need to feel accepted in the mainstream. The stories from comics could not be more popular right now as they’re breaking box office records left and right with blockbuster films. Adaptations are among the most popular shows on television and streaming services. Comics themselves are still not widely read. If you ask the average movie-goer if they read the comics that inspired films like Avengers: Infinity War or Wonder Woman, there’s a good chance you’ll be met with the question “They still make those?”
There’s no good reason why comics aren’t selling millions of copies of every issue given how insanely popular the same stories are in other media. Comics is seen as niche. If the mediums were all represented as people, movies and TV would be the popular kids, and comics would be the desperate dork trying to get their attention.

This is what goes through my head every time I see a big comic event spoiled on a news site that doesn’t normally cover comics, or at least doesn’t do so with any regularity. It’s a desperate plea for attention that is not going to drive people into stores or create new customers. Instead, it’s going to get a momentary blip in chatter, and ultimately piss off the loyal fanbase that were buying all of the issues leading up to the event. It’s cutting off your nose to spite your face.
The thing about this is that it’s happened so often that you’d think that there would be more of a monetary reaction to it. Granted, there were a number of folks online that were quite angry about this and claimed they were dropping Batman as a result. This will probably be a drop in the bucket, though. The sales numbers for these titles has not changed all that much and they’re basically reset whenever the next relaunch happens, so does it make a difference in the long run? Or will fans keep coming back like a battered spouse?

Imagine for a moment how angry you’d be if the ending of Avengers: Infinity War was spoiled in a headline on CNN two days before the movie was even in theaters. There would practically be riots in the streets. Yet, this is exactly the situation that comic books find themselves in time and time again. There is a big difference between a multi-million dollar film and a single issue of a comic book, but doesn’t the same principle stand?
It seems the New York Times took some of the reaction to the spoiler-filled article to heart, although it’s only a matter of time before USA Today or some other mainstream publication spills the beans before a major comic’s release. The Big Two, and the comic book industry as a whole, sits in a precarious position that they got themselves into in the first place. By catering to a niche market, it became a niche market. Now it desperately wants to get back into the mainstream and that has proven to be exceedingly difficult, even at a time when comic book characters are everywhere.

This is all so very disappointing and aggravating because comics are capable of telling such incredible stories. There is most definitely a comic for everyone, and not just among those that inspired movies and TV shows. It’s a rich medium that goes back decades, but it hasn’t been able to quite shake the mentality that defined it ages ago.
Comics haven’t been “just for kids” in years, but will they ever treat comic readers as if they are the cool kids?

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