Friday, January 1, 2010

2009 in Review - The Biggest News of the Year

Ever since I was little kid with an odd fixation to watch the news, I always loved the Year-End specials they did in the very last day of the year, where they recapped and remembered some of the biggest and most relevant news of the previous year. Of course, watching them now becomes a depressing affair, so instead I am going to write my own, obviously concentrating on the happenings of the comic industry this past year.

While it sure may have seem like a bleak year at first sight (what with Blackest Night and Dark Reign taking over the two main publishing houses, darkening just about every character's life), a glimmer of hope seems to lay beyond the horizon, hinting at new beginnings and brand new golden eras. Hit the jump to see the biggest news of the year, how they affected us, and how they may yet affect the future.


When 2009 started, U.S. President Barack Obama had just been elected, waiting for his inaguration, he was a bona fide merchandise star. A self-described comic nerd (having professed his love for both Conan The Barbarian and Spider-Man comics), Obama soon started appearing in just about every comic you could imagine. Obama's comic appearances are too many to list here, but no genre was safe from his sudden takeover: fantasy comics (Barack The Barbarian), zombies comics (Army of Darkness: Ash Saves Obama), disaster comics (Drafted: One Hundred Days), animal comics (Obamamouse - yes, really) and several autobiographical comics.

Additionally, Obama also made guest appearances in several Image comics (such as Savage Dragon and Youngblood), and Marvel comics (Thunderbolts, Secret Invasion). The crown jewel of Obama's guest appearances, however, was his appearance on both the cover (originally only a variant) and a back-up feature of Amazing Spider-Man #583. A mixture of speculation and honest interest from the mainstream media and the public at large made this issue a highly sought-after item, and went on to various printings and became the highest selling single issue of this decade.


In the early days of the year, Diamond (the mayor and pretty much only distributor of direct market stores) raised it's threshold order numbers for publishers in a substantial way. In the same move, they also removed the adult supplement of Previews. What this meant is that if a certain title did not reach that certain threshold, they would no longer appear in the Previews catalogue.

This move probably did not affect Marvel or DC in any significant way, but smaller independent publishers had to struggle with these new policies. It's hard to find a positive aspect to this piece of news, as a smaller industry is not good for it's long term survival, but the new order threshold meant that these smaller comic publishers started working on alternative methods of distribution, including the digital route.


They say it couldn't be done! It was the un-filmable adaptation from hell! Legal problems would stop it! It would suck anyway!

Well, the last one is debatable, but 2009 finally saw the release of a feature length adaptation of one of the most popular and critically acclaimed comics, Watchmen. Under the watchful (ho ho, I am so clever) eye of Zach Snyder, who also filmed the 300 adaptation, the Watchmen film was incredibly faithful to it's source material, with only a few parts deviating from the threaded path. Interestingly enough, most critics seemed to enjoy these parts more than the extremely concrete adaptations (the opening credits is one such case). In the end, the movie was a mild success, but nowhere near the level that The Dark Knight was the previous year.

Additionally, because of all the press the movie received, interest in the original series skyrocketed, with DC publishing new printings of the Watchmen collections. I honestly lost count of how many months the Watchmen paperback stayed at the top of the sales chart, consistently outselling about everything else in the stands.


During 2009, it became increasingly clear that $3.99 would soon become the average price of single issue comics. While Marvel lead the way in raising the prices, DC was the first one to announce back-ups for some new series. Booster Gold was the first title to be published that featured a back up: Blue Beetle (a title that had been recently canceled). Slowly but surely, more DC titles began adding back-ups to their pages. As the year went on, Marvel also began adding back-ups to some of their titles as well.

Back-ups were once a staple of the industry during earlier years, but had not been seen in a consistent fashion in years. There is no hard data to support the notion that the addition of these back-ups have lured more readers to the series, but it seems that the back-ups are here to stay. Expect them to grow in strength and numbers in the following year.


Wednesday Comics was the latest in a series of weekly comics from DC, in this particular case in an extraordinary "newspaper" format that was meant to reminisce readers of the old comic pages of yesteryear. To back this concept up, DC tapped a bona fide selection of creators, including such heavyweights as Neil Gaiman, Dave Gibbons, Kurt Busiek, and many others. The series was an anthology that would feature one page of story a week (and one of them, Superman, was even published USA Today) and it received an intensive publicity campaign.

The project, however, was not a big commercial success, especially when compared to other previous weekly series. A high price and low page count seemed to keep people away, despite some very high critical praise from just about everyone. Whether it was all enough to warrant a second version in the future is still up in the air.


Chew is a brand new comic series that started this year by Image that proved to be as popular as it's content was ridiculous. Starring a "cybopath" cop named Tony Chu, who works for the FDA investigating food-related crimes, the series became a runaway hit basically overnight. The first issues sold out of many reprintings and the sales have been growing ever since it launched, including some incredible sales in the trade market as well.

It had been a long time since a creator-owned series had created this kind of excitement and interest, specially such an off-beat and non-superhero one. Expect Chew to keep growing in the next year, and adaptation into other media may not be far off either.


It happened during San Diego Comic-Con. Rumblings of a huge announcement were hinted at days before, and some speculators guessed it, but no one believed it until they announced it: Marvel purchased the rights to the legendary character Marvelman (later known as Miracleman). The character's history of legal problems and trials is incredibly complicated, but Marvel seemingly worked through it (somehow, we still don't know all the details).

Nothing has been done with the character yet, as it seems there's still all kind of legal kinks to be sorted out before Marvel can start republishing older material (such as Alan Moore's influential run on the title) and completed unfinished arcs (Neil Gaiman was the last one to be working on the character before legal troubles put a stop to it). Many people thought that Marvelman would never see print again, and that this would become the biggest news of the year, until...


Disney bought Marvel. It seemed like an April's Fools joke, or a far fetched speculation post, but it happened and it took the industry by surprise. Not a whole lot was known about the deal, as it still wasn't approved by the stockholders (that didn't happen until the very last day of the year), so speculation about how this would affect (if at all) Marvel's day-to-day operations was the talk of the day.

The possibilities of this deal are incredibly far reaching for comic fans all around the world: from movies and other adaptations, to an alternative means of distribution outside of the direct market and everything else along the way. Lots of questions, but very few answers so far. Maybe we will learn more about the changes in this new year.


Superboy Prime wasn't involved in this one, but the structure of DC was fundamentally changed this year as well. Warner Bros. (DC's parent company) decided to take a hands-on approach and restructure DC Comics while at the same time creating DC Entertainment, which would be in charge of adapting comic material into other media.

Paul Levitz, DC's long time publisher, resigned from his position instead opting to concentrate on writing and editing series. Levitz was replaced by Diane Nelson, who had previously worked as a in the past in several films (most notably the Harry Potter movie franchise). Day-to-day operations did not change in any noticeable way for readers, but the future of DC (and it's adaptations) may be very different because of these events.


The foundation of Image Comics marked an era of comics, and almost all of the original founders (with the exception of Jim Lee, who works at Wildstorm now) decided reunite in 2009 to create a comic together. Image United, written by the new Image darling (and the only non-founding Image partner) Robert Kirkman, hit the stands this year. It also marked the return of Spawn (this time as a villain), one of the most popular character during the 90's.

Whether you liked the comic or not, it's hard to argue just how much energy and motivation the creators put into this project: each creator would draw his character onto the page, and it was all done manually (read, each page would be shipped to each creator so they could add in their pencil work).


Those are just some of the biggest news of the year, but there were many other happenings that I didn't have space to include. Honorable mentions go to Deadpool and his newfound popularity, Kick-Ass getting a film deal before it is even finished, the Siegel & Shuster state regaining partial rights to their creation, DC's successful plastic ring promotion, and the Scans_Daily shutdown, among many others. What else did I miss? What do you think should have made the list? Let me know in the comments sections.

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Batman1983 said...

What a way to end a decade. Great wrap up of all that was both 2009 and the end of 2000s.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

No love for Brubaker/Lark leaving Daredevil? Nah, just kidding, that wasn't the biggest news. But it was for me.
Also loved that indies made a larger mainstream comeback with Parker and Asterios Polyp getting news on those sites that normally wouldn't.
Great write up, Matt. Here's to some note-taking for 2010 as things surely stay just as interesting.

Christine said...

Great post, Matt and Happy New Year to the whole team!

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