With so many excellent examples of teen literature on the market today, the young adult publishing world has blossomed, attracting many adults who find within YA books an intellectual and emotional satisfaction sorely lacking in much of adult fiction. Is there an adult series as beloved and discussed as The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Percy Jackson? Is there an adult book that can reduce you to the same satisfied, sobbing mess as John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars? Since when have we had characters as alive and iconic as Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter, Weetzie Bat, Huckleberry Finn, and Octavian Nothing in adult fiction? My point is, now more than ever the caliber and craftsmanship of YA fiction has reached a seeming Golden Age, with authors such as M. T. Anderson, Laurie Halse Anderson, Maureen Johnson, Ransom Riggs, and David Levithan writing with a mastery little seen in the sphere of adult publishing. There are plenty of fantastic examples of how teens might talk, act in usual and unusual circumstances, and interact with adults and their environment in the realm of a story. Which is why there is absolutely no excuse for the DCnU’s aggressively mediocre teen-oriented comic books.
Some of you already know that I am a (sometimes not so) clandestine comic book geek. It started when I was little and read the Wolverine comics my dad brought home. Then I read Generation X and some other books for teen readers, and loved them. I’ve collected modestly on and off for a while now, since, regrettably, there are few comic book sellers in Appalachia, and that’s not because of a lack of fans!
As a YA librarian, I made a point recently to sample the teen stuff out on the market today. One of my favorites geared towards this audience is DC’s rebooted Teen Titans series. Teen Titans has always been a struggle for the publisher, mostly due to sub-par writing. Scott Lobdell has the reins of the series now, and the first two issues have been a wildly entertaining ride. Some of the complaints I’ve seen online are included in IGN’s low-scoring review of the latest issue: The series is filled with cliches that don’t let the characters grow as they should, and the series is also riddled with plot holes. Here’s why neither of those complaints are really a problem for the publisher.
I try to read as many of the YA books I order as possible, so I can knowledgeably answer questions from teens and parents. Most of the really popular series (House of Night, Angel Burn, The A-List, etc.) are fueled by teen angst, romantic tension and admittedly saccharine cliches that nevertheless strike a chord with teens. When we become adults we often want something a bit more cerebral and less emotional, but hormone-driven adolescents are generally much more pleased with an honest expression of powerful emotion and an affecting storyline (which is one of the things YA writers cite as the greatest pleasure of crafting teen fiction). I think that emotional honesty is appealing and refreshing, but it can occasionally become tiresome or cliche.
Teen worried about his/her wacked-out sister/friend dealing with dark issues? Romantic tension building within hours of two teen strangers meeting? An idealistic and an embittered teen meet and are at first disgusted with each other before slowly becoming friends/lovers? A global conspiracy only teens know about? A brooding young man with a dark secret? Yes, these storylines and character types have been used over and over again, but that’s because they work and sell spectacularly. Teens might read the exact same tale over and over again, but at least they’re reading, and that’s an open gateway to more original and riskier works.
As far as plot holes are concerned, there’s many a teen book that I’m shocked I can’t see through due to the sheer amount of narrative fallacies. Why do cops, teachers and staff so willingly give out information to a 17-year-old boy? Where are the adults in this story and why aren’t they interfering with very clear dangers to their children? Why do only kids know about this global conspiracy, anyway? Where did that Harley Davidson come from? When you’re having a lot of fun reading an entertaining story, the plot holes don’t matter as much, and they can be easily ignored.
I don’t mean to say that Teen Titans is high-quality stuff. Better quality titles such as The Runaways, Avengers Academy, Young Avengers, and Action Comics are out there, and they represent the John Greens, Lauren Myracles, and Maureen Johnsons to Teen Titans' Stephenie Meyer. But Lobdell knows his audience well and is very savvy about using everything that appeals to teens about popular YA fiction. I can definitely see reluctant readers picking up this book, loving it, and moving on to higher quality titles and even, dare I say it, actual books! It's a fun story, hits all the right chords, and has just enough danger and romance to keep you coming back for more. Recommended!
We used to have a comic store in this county, owned by a couple and their son. It used to be quite popular, and was a regular fixture of our half-empty strip mall until the ailing couple retired just a couple years ago (They now visit the library regularly, bless them!). She’s a grizzled egg of a woman, plump but determinedly strong, and she doesn’t mind in the least telling us what she thinks of our collection (and its definitive lack of good Western films). He’s become ill recently, but he’s still the same mustachioed block that I remember from visiting the comic shop as a girl. He likes reading about conspiracy theories, the Great War, and the Old West.
They had stopped receiving comics at their shop well before it closed. More money was to be made in trading cards and tanning beds, and both are a far less risky gamble than selling comics. Brian Hibbs, a comic store owner, has an excellent article on exactly how risky and potentially unprofitable selling comics in the direct market can be over at Comic Book Resources’ Tilting at Windmills blog. As Hibbs explains, individual comic issues are purchased by retailers based on what the retailer expects local demand to be. It’s possible that a new #1 issue of a major title like, say, Captain America could attract a good 100-150 customers. However, it’s equally possible that other, more exciting titles could be on sale that same day, or the comic could be rather badly reviewed, or maybe some of your regulars can’t make it in that week. In any case, you COULD only sell 20-30 comics, leaving you with dozens of copies left over and an expensive return policy. In other words, you’ve lost any potential for profit on a gambit. On the whole, retailers have found it safer to order conservatively. It’s better to sell out and buy extra copies later, inconveniencing a few customers, than to over-order and be unable to turn a profit. More and more stores are having to branch out with, say, tanning beds, to make ends meet.
It’s hard enough taking a gambit as a comic store owner on one or two prominent number one titles, but to present 52 at the same time? Is DC crazy? No responsible store owner is going to take a chance and order enough copies of all 52 titles in their much-touted reboot to attract the audience each comic will need to survive. Hibbs notes that several of these titles seem to be “dead books walking,” and I trust a retailer’s judgment. Looking at the new lineup myself, I can identify at least a dozen I will guarantee will face cancellation by the end of the first year. DC has to realize this. Why include B- and C-list characters with small fanbases while getting rid of popular niche books like the high-quality Secret Six? I’ve heard rumors that creators have been drafted to work on new projects that aren’t mentioned in the initial 52 titles, making me wonder if they’re intended as “mid-season replacements,” of a sort. But why bother pouring money and time into a book that is surefire failure? Isn’t that a massive waste of everyone’s time and resources?
All in all, it seems as though this reboot has been a bit poorly thought out. I’m not entirely sure what audience DC is trying to appeal to from the solicitations. I’m assuming my generation, since we seem to be journeying back to the ‘90’s, but where does that leave Generation Y fans? I have to say I saw nothing in the lineup that struck me as completely “modern.” I thought Batgirl was hip and modern. I thought Secret Six was edgy and modern and hilarious. I thought the new Batman and Robin team was a refreshing and inventive twist that breathed new life into an aging book. And now instead we’re getting aging characters in suits at least a decade old. I’m sure some of these titles will be gems, but they need to be promoted better and we need fresh, young creators to do some major redesign work on several of these titles already, judging by the solicits.
Anyway, my point (and I have one, though I seem to have let it off the leash!) is that DC seems to be making a desperate gamble to make some headlines while ignoring the plight of the retailers who will inevitably have to pick and choose which titles to take a risk on. Too many titles causing a lack of profit was one of the reasons that our local store’s comic section went out of business. They weren’t making enough on any one book to make ends meet. And so my little Appalachian town lost yet another spot to hang out and speak geek with friends. I’m not saying Marvel is innocent here - they sell WAY too many titles as well (Do we NEED that many X-books, really?), but they present clear cash cows that stand above the rest of the lineup and provide retailers some security to order more obscure titles. You need that balance, and by rebooting everything at once, DC appears to have temporarily lost it. Here’s hoping they can work themselves out by the end of the year.