Friday, August 20, 2010

Comic Book Genre Examination

While doing research for this post I discovered that most readers I'd poled don't collect comics within "comic book genres" the way a person who buys (collects?) mystery, scifi, or romance novels will consume books of the same genre for years.

Based on that research it would seem that comics are generally widely collected by the following criteria. They are listed in order of frequency:
  1. Character (Green Lantern)
  2. Universe (X-Men)
  3. Style (Anime)
  1. Writer (Bendis)
  2. Artist (Perez)
  3. Company (Dark Horse)
Still, there must be some fans out there who collect comics based on "Style" or "Genre" right?

Anyone? All right, I'm sure you've all ready guessed that it is I who collects comics this way.

With the exception of "tie-in" comics (Farscape) I collect two genres: A.) "street level masked vigilantes" most of whom have little (Daredevil) or no (Nightwing) powers and travel by roof tops most of the time & B.) High-Concept type stories with a twist (Power CO.) usually with some sort of scifi twist to it.

There are far more Street Level Vigilante books out there than High-Concept books.

I regularly pick up Detective staring Batwoman (soon to have her own book), Nightwing (currently staring in the Batman books as Batman), MoonKnight, Daredevil (both of whom are in SHADOWLAND right now - I'm picking up ALL of that - which has also introduced me to another street level vigilante who fits the bill: SHROUD), Batgirl, The Red Hood and more.

In addition I have plenty of other books staring Night Man, Hawkeye, Solitaire, Ragman, Ronin, Robin, Ricochet, X, Night Thrasher, and the list goes on and on. I'm sooo true to the genre it self that I even own Bruce Wayne: Agent of Shield which has an amalgamated character of MoonKight and Nightwing called MoonWing in it!

So why oh why do I not have boxes and boxes filled with any ShadowHawk comics?

ShadowHawk debuted in IMAGE comics as Paul Johnstone. Paul was an ex attorney and ex district attorney who, through a traumatic time in his life (HIV among other things which was pretty ground breaking at the time), was motivated to become Shadowhawk:

"Johnstone decided to don the suit, christening himself "ShadowHawk" after his favorite superhero (a name that would eventually lure out the psychotic and racist villain Hawk's Shadow, who believed he was the one entitled to bear the mantle of ShadowHawk), and was taught how to fight effectively with the help of Christine, promising to "take back the night." Johnstone also kept the pills needed to slow his reaction to his HIV infection in small pouches on his belt so he could take them as needed. Early on, ShadowHawk's actions against criminals were brutal. He would catch violent criminals in the act and break their spines, leaving them to be discovered by police with no indication that he had attacked them other than hearsay from the criminals. This led to ShadowHawk garnering a reputation as an urban legend as well as being hunted by both criminals and law enforcement alike."~Wikipedia

This character is the exact type of character I collect, and fits nicely into the genre. He doesn't have any powers, he hides his identity, he has one of those "bird" and "shadow" type names, and he's taking to the roof tops by night to get around the city on patrol.

Jim Valentino (ShadowHawk's creator) has been quoted regarding ShadowHawk's origin that Jim wanted to create a "Batman Clone" but wanted to fix the problem with Batman (as he saw it): that his rogues kept getting out of jail/Arkham and causing more pain suffering and destruction on the citizens of Gotham (hence ShadowHawk's breaking of backs).

It would be one thing if I hated the character, I don't. I own a few. I've read a few more. I'm just not compelled to collect this character like I am the others. Why? I mean he's a clone of Batman after all & I think it's safe to say that I collect all of the other Batmanish characters out there.

Lots of the characters I listed above are DC characters, could that be it?
No, I listed other company characters as well: Dark Horse, Ultraverse, Marvel.

Lots of the characters I listed above work in conjunction with each other, could that be it?
No, Night Man, Solitaire, and X, work strictly alone.

Lots of the characters I listed above are rich (or know a rich guy) and can afford gadgets a plenty, could that be it?
No, Night man and X do their heroing on a budget.

I'm not alone in this either, check out these sales numbers from the same month in 2005 (I couldn't find 1992 - 1994 numbers):

18 Batman 646 $2.50 DC 69,931
38 Daredevil 78 $2.99 Marvel 45,042
46 Nightwing 113 $2.50 DC 39,811
51 SP-Nighthawk 2 $2.99 Marvel 35,161
53 Robin 143 $2.50 DC 34,119
223 ShadowHawk 6 $3.50 Image 4,280

The truth is not really such a mystery. Tweeting about ShadowHawk last night brought the answer I was looking for chirping to the top of my brain:

ShadowHawk did die (multiple times) but more importantly it suffered from missed deadlines. There were more than a couple of gaps between issues. Each were significant in time, and more than one coming in between what I'd call "key" issues.

Don't forget that WIZARD magazine was covering Image comics like no other publisher at the time. Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, they didn't get half the page count that Image stories got back then. Every. Little. Thing. Image. Did. It was in WIZARD and I would have been chomping at the bit to get my hands on ShadowHawk in between issues of Youngblood and Wildcats!

What's a street level vigilante comic book genre fan to do when his book isn't on the shelf week after week?

He finds another one!

Thank you Jim Valentino you helped introduce me to the ULTRAVERSE (The Night Man) and Dark Horse's COMICS GREATEST WORLD (X).

I owe you a debt of gratitude I can never repay. :)

- Caine


JimShelley said...

Very interesting insight! I wonder if the goofy helmet didn't contribute to some of his failure. I've always thought that contributed to Aztek's failure as well.

BrittReid said...

Actually, Bruce Wayne: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn't an amalgamation of Nightwing (Dick Grayson) and Nick Fury, but presently-dead (but getting better) Original Batman (Bruce Wayne) and Nick Fury!

Don't forget, "street-level" heroes were the basis of comic books' forerunners, pulp magazines!
There were very few actual super-powered heroes in those!
For example, The Shadow's pulp incarnation didn't have the power to "cloud men's minds." He was basically The Batman with .45s!

Caine said...

Thanks for commenting. I'd meant to suggest that one of Wayne's agents on SHIELD "MoonWing" was an amalgamation of Nightwing & MoonKnight. You are right about Wayne and Furry.

What's funny about the Shadow is that they treated him back then much the way comic book properties are treated now. Each media type he was written in (long form, short form, radio)had him just a little bit different.

Caine said...

What, one must be asguardian to wear a funny helmet & get sales? :) I think you may have a point, not a lot of DC characters with helmets.

RKB said...

In a early Wizard (issue 12 or maybe 13 or 14) Jim Valentino said Shadowhawk started out as a 'gritter' version of the Fox for MLJ, that fell through so he did ShadowHawk. At the time I thought the Shadowhawk art work was such a throwback to the Bronze Age it really stood out to me and I enjoyed it. The mystery contest as to who Shadowhawk really was also got me (and I guess others) more interested in the character. One of the reasons for the early lateness of the first series was "bone head Jim broke his drawing hand", but after that, typical early Image. Starting off as a series of mini's who still couldn't meet release dates didn't help. One of the most influential (not in a good way) things about comics I have ever read was a E.G.O. EverybodyGotOpinions column in Wizard #27 were Todd McFarlane talked about how sales weren't down just because image books were late.... -the wages of never getting books out on time is everyone finds something else to buy.
I don't really collect based on genre, but if Golden Age (mostly collected editions) is a style then everything else is a part of the mix.

Nick Ahlhelm said...

I'm calling you out on this one, simply because I remember Shadowhawk as it came out. Outside of one delayed issue (because of a problem in a 90's era gimmick cover), there was never any delays in Shadowhawk stories during the regular 18 issue run by Valentino. He purposefully plotted his run as four individual books simply so that he wouldn't have the deadline problems that a lot of the other Image originals suffered from.


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