Episode VI: Return of the Gimmick
Over my time as a collector, I’ve seen a number of comic gimmicks come and go. Some were done quite well; others… not so much. Some enhanced the experience and others… nope. But recently this resurgence of gimmicks that were prominent in at least every other month during the 1990s seem to be poking their way to the forefront again. And I’m not sure that that’s a good thing.
Let me be clear what I refer to when I say “gimmick”. I don’t mean the epic event that publishers do, which truly seemed like a gimmick to get people to buy all of the books they put out. (Remember how many titles every month you had to purchase when Secret Wars II or Millenium was being published by Marvel and DC respectively?) No, epic stories that can bring together characters that may not always work together are something good and something that we should expect from our faithful publishers. Current epics such as Infinity and Final Crisis should help move the status quo along, and they do, even if sometimes they enrage many readers. (After all, some are really good – take the biggest one I can remember ever entitled Crisis on Infinite Earths – but some are just as bad – *cough cough* Avengers vs. X-Men or Age of Ultron *cough cough*.)
When I say gimmick I also don’t mean variant covers (although some people go to some amazing extremes in this regard). Almost every issue that comes out from Dynamite Entertainment – one of my personal favourites for a publisher these days – has 4 or 5 covers to choose from. Many of the books from the Big Two also have at least one variant cover, and that’s not a bad thing. Being able to slect a preference on the cover from an artist that I really enjoy looking at is not a bad thing. It gives me options but I still get to enjoy the same story within the pages of the book.
No, when I say gimmick I truly mean the “bling” that now makes up the book covers and has been making a partial resurgence.
Remember foil embossed covers? It was huge back in the day. I remember picking up Silver Surfer #50 with a cover by Ron Lim that had the Surfer standing out from the cover with the silver foil. Now, with the Surfer it made sense – he was, after all, silver, and his name even pointed that out. But then every book had to do it… and it just became cheesy. Recently, we had Marvel bring that concept back with Age of Ultron, which at least also made sense as Ultron is a robot made of metal. At least it made sense and at least it was one issue, but this unfortunately started a trend which has started to bring back the cheese.
The foil cover was followed up by the bagged issue, also with Age of Ultron. The bagged comic worked great for a book like Superman #75 which was the Death of Superman issue and contained some extra goodies for the reader, like the black armband of mourning. But sometimes it was not done well, such as when Marvel launched X-Force #1 and they came with collectors cards… but to get all 5 cards you needed to buy 5 copies of the book. (I was one of those who – at the time – was obsessed with things like that and I admit that I was one who bought multiple copies…) This was repeated with the “X-Tinction Agenda” story arc that ran across the X-families in the 90s as well as a series of annuals from Marvel. With those books, at least there was something within the book to collect; with Age of Ultron we got the final chapter of the story… and that was it. The book was bagged to presumably prevent the ending from being leaked in advance as to what happened… but then someone at Marvel went and did that anyway, with the details going to mainstream media days before the issue came to print. Wow. Way to keep a secret.
Finally, we hit this month and DC has taken over their entire New 52 line-up with 3-D covers for “Villain’s Month”. The 3-D covers are new to me, I’ll admit, and for some reason people are going ga-ga over them with stores not able to get their full orders fulfilled. Personally, I don’t care overall which cover I receive, especially because after looking at them I actually started to get a headache. (The art is done quite nice, but I am also one of those people whose eyes are so screwed up that I end up with a migraine whenever I go see a 3-D movie as well so I am more than happy to get the 2-D cover.) I do give DC props for trying something new, but the gimmick is just that: a gimmick. I liken it to the multitude of holographic covers from the 90s which everyone and their dog was putting out. It was unique, though, and didn’t harken directly back to an old concept. They found they had not planned well for such an event and gave too little lead time to get orders in properly for what they could conceivably deliver on. Good thing there are folks like me who want the story within the pages more than I want the cover.
But with the Big Two, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the gimmicks are back. OK, we haven’t seen the holograms return nor have we seen the glow in the dark covers a la the big-ass Ghost Rider head or a Venom issue. But I do need to ask: Does it really do anything? For some maybe; for me, no. I don’t care how cool the cover is if the story inside doesn’t do it for me. I love the variant cover option (although I like having the choice – making a small store like my personal LCS have to buy 50 copies of the book to get one copy of a single cover is a discussion for a different time). I do miss the days when the cover actually represented the content of the issue or teased it, but without giving away the surprise ending. (Again, a topic for another time.) But the gimmicks… It does nothing for me. I want to read the story. If you want to do the gimmick, give me – the reader – the option to purchase the gimmick or not. DC did this, and I thank them for that.