I am a huge fan of nerd news sites like Ain’t It Cool and Newsarama. I like to go in and get the inside scoops on the latest geek stuff that is going to dominate pop culture. It’s a nice ego boost to be able to tell somebody what the next big thing in pop culture is going to be before anybody knows about it.
I was recently on AICN and they were doing a glowing review on the latest offerings from the resurgent comic book company Valiant. For those who don’t know, Valiant was a line of comics that was popular in the 90’s due to small print runs and an emphasis on deep, realistic writing over flashy art (which was the calling card of its counterpart, Image comics),. I was never a big fan of Valiant. I found the stories too hard to follow and the art was unimpressive in my eyes. But in this iteration of Valiant, the reviews of all of their books have been positive.
However, a satire comic from the awesome webcomic The Gutters has implied that Valiant’s sales aren’t doing too well.
It makes me wonder if Valiant, or any other publisher, for that matter will ever rise up to pose a legitimate challenge to the big two. Back in the 90’s, Image and Valiant were basically printing money, and were a seen as viable challengers to the throne of Marvel and DC. After Valiant (which then became Acclaim comics) fell apart, that fourth spot was replaced by Dark Horse, which had struck paydirt with its Star Wars, Aliens Vs, Predator and creator-owned properties (most notable Frank Miller’s SIN CITY and MARTHA WASHINGTON offerings). Then it was Crossgen’s turn to take a shot at the big time. And now you have publishers like IDW, Dynamite, Boom studios and Oni press fighting for your hard-earned dollar.
With today’s consumer being so splintered in tastes, I find it hard to see any company building the kind of cache that Marvel and DC has. Those two have icons in their stable, and long, established properties that people have literally grown up with. Dark Horse, and to some extent Image and some of the others, also have these things in their stable, but while most of them inherited or landed these properties, at the big two they were created there. And then there are the financial and promotional backings of AOL/Time/Warner and Disney for Marvel and DC, that the others can’t even hope to match. Leads me to believe that makes it all but impossible for any upstart company to truly muscle in on their marketshare. Dark Horse is still around, but with Disney buying Star Wars, Frank Miller not putting any new material out and AvP not being as viable at it used to be, Dark Horse’s power has been greatly diminished; while Image has simply become an umbrella publisher for quirky creator-owned properties, and not the place to go for the kind of longevity that Marvel or DC offer. Even their biggest and most iconic properties (Spawn, Witchblade, Savage Dragon, Shadowhawk, Youngblood, Walking Dead and Invincible as of right now) don’t have near the status of Marvel and DC’s offerings, and this is after 20 years of being in the mainstream consciousness.
I also see this in Pro Wrestling, where upstart wrestling promotions like Chikara and Ring Of Honor are trying to gain a foothold on the massive marketshare being held by the WWE (and to a much lesser extent, TNA.) Long gone are the days when you had to flip back and forth to see what was going on with competing promotions. Heck, even before the Monday Night Wars, WCW was seen as a viable alternative to the old WWF with its own cable presence and pay per views. But nowadays, the closest thing we can get to real competition is TNA, and the gap between #1 and #2 is more like a canyon. And #3 (Ring of Honor) can’t gain any ground because their top talent is always getting raided by The two companies ahead of it.
But even though it seems like we will never get another viable competitor to the big boys, I still applaud every little company that makes the effort to try. Heck, nobody believed a kid with a handful of rocks and a sling could beat a giant, either…