Don’t Believe the Hype

As the old year passes and I find myself so exhausted it’s hard to imagine getting to the other side of January 2nd, I also find myself low on things to write about. But then came a couple of news items which have caught my attention, but to write about them I’ll have to revisit my March 3rd column (see “Confessions of a Comic Book Guy–Oh No You Aren’t”) where I touched on the Marvel comic Fantastic Four: A Death in the Family.

If you can’t remember that far back, I was complaining bitterly about how in a desperate attempt to somehow make just another ordinary one-shot comic “significant,” retailers and readers were flat out lied to. We were absolutely guaranteed to witness the permanent deaths of not one but two members of the team that would have permanent ramifications. It didn’t just say so in the solicitation for the comic; Joe Quesada went out of his way in his regular Friday Cup of Joe feature on Newsarama to confirm it with the quote “Gone, goodbye, nevermore.”

Of course the whole thing turned out to be another time travel thing that had absolutely no impact on the regular Fantastic Four comic. I felt then and feel now Marvel hadn’t just crossed but crossed out the already faint line between hype and flat out fraud and I’m dredging all this up again because we have two handy examples of juicy, overripe hype that avoids that mistake.

Like the “accidental” release of artwork featuring the “totally new Fantastic Four;” Marvel has (yet) to claim the new team of Johnny, Ben, Storm and The Black Panther is in any way permanent, but then the “new FF” has been a staple for storylines almost as long as “in this issue the FF breaks up!” You’d have to be a fairly recent reader of Marvel comics to fall for this one.

And while I have to admit I got a bit of a sneer when I first read the piece I’m going to try very had not to convey that attitude the next time someone comes into Dark Star wanting to talk about it. Maybe it’s just the season, but it occurs to me that since these sorts of things are supposed to generate excitement I’m not doing anyone (including our financial bottom line) any good by pouring sand on the fire.

The second piece involves a more realistic “new look”‘ for Betty & Veronica courtesy of artist Steven Butler. Now this one probably means a lot less to superhero-centric shops but is actually much bigger news, seeing as how it’s only the second time (other than Tania del Rio’s manga style art for Sabrina) that the company has dropped its decades old house style.

I have no delusions that this one is any more permanent than the new F.F. line-up, but like del Rio’s work on Sabrina it’s definitely a trial balloon to see if kids are willing to accept a different looking art style. But I think it might be a good idea if Archie finally did change its house art style, because clearly the elephant in the room is there’s been a steady decline in the quality of Archie art for decades.

Not that I blame the current artists; there’s a lot of very talented people working for the company. But unfortunately they’re required to draw in the obligatory house style which looks like a shakier, sketchier and less well defined (backgrounds in the comics have become almost nonexistent) Xerox of the work of Dan DeCarlo, the man who established that house style in the first place.

Now I’m no Archie expert (if you’re the same, a good place to start is The Adventures of Little Archie collection; it seems absolutely insane no one has turned this into an animated series), but this seems obvious both to me and my significant other who did grow up reading them. See for yourself; crack open one of the Archie Americana trade paperbacks, which you hopefully have at your store, and compare it with one of the current comics.

For decades the company has had an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mentality, just updating the character’s clothes, props and references, or occasionally placing them in different genres. And to be fair it’s worked for decades. But while the house style is instantly recognizable by generations it might finally be time for it to change.