Like most Januaries, this past one was spent looking back at the year before. What was the best, what was the worst, what we were just looking for any excuse to bring up again. It’s tradition, but it also neglects the brand new year that has just begun. January also gives us a pretty good idea of what we have coming, so let’s think about what some of the publishers have in store for us in 2012.
Marvel Comics Avengers Vs. X-Men is obviously taking center stage for 2012, and that says a lot about what kind of year this will be. It may seem pessimistic to say, but the outlook is not so good on this event. The first big warning sign is that it doesn’t even have a writer. It has writers. It’s an event written by committee, and we all know how often those turn out well. Years ago, Marvel ruled as the king of events. Controversial with readers as it was, no one can touch how successful Civil War was. I will mock you childishly for even trying to suggest that Annihilation wasn’t one of the best cosmic events Marvel has ever done. And there’s a cheeky part of me you can kiss if you want to claim Planet Hulk isn’t among the greatest Hulk stories.
No, no. Look down. That’s the part.
But the Marvel of then is not the Marvel of now. The string of lackluster events in 2010 and 2011 made that case clearly. The Thanos Imperative did more to bury the cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe than anything else. Fear Itself underwhelmed and dragged on twice as long as its story had the substance for. Shadowland proved to be a lot of action covering for a hollow story. Schism was half good and half in dire need of a call to child services. Will Avengers Vs. X-Men be a rock bottom event that forces Marvel to rethink the value of events? I’d wager that’s more likely than it being a resurgence of Marvel’s status as king of events.
Fans of the Avengers franchise should be concerned, because there’s the question of whether it can survive another weak event. It weathered Fear Itself well enough. But the other big 2012 news for the Avengers is that this will be Brian Michael Bendis’ final year at the helm. The fate of the franchise will rest in unknown hands. There’s no telling what it will look like at the end of 2012. Avengers will obviously continue on one way or another, but what about New Avengers? Bendis defines that series. It’s hard to imagine anyone else writing the book unless they make some fairly major changes to make it their own. There’s a lot of uncertainty for the Avengers this year. We only know that Secret Avengers is in capable hands for the time being. Personally, I’m just hopeful that we will finally see some movement on the Young Avengers getting their own series again.
In general, Marvel is becoming a more conservative and franchise-oriented publisher. The cancellation of Moon Knight says a lot about what we can probably expect from them this year. Marvel is pulling back from taking chances on standalone titles and betting on creating mini-franchises instead. Franchises haven’t exactly been Marvel’s strength, though. The concept of superhero families and dynasties has always been more natural for DC. The attempt to give Wolverine a family of titles is now dead with the endings of X-23 and Daken: Dark Wolverine. Iron Man’s shot at a franchise was short-lived now that Iron Man 2.0 is over. But that’s not to say Marvel hasn’t had any success with spin-offs. Hulk, FF and Journey into Mystery are still around and will hopefully continue to be for the rest of the year. Marvel’s focus now seems to be on expanding franchises for Captain America and Spider-Man. The prospects are looking good for Avenging Spider-Man, Scarlet Spider and Venom to go the distance. Spider-Man may finally end up with a family of titles in which he doesn’t actually have to star in every one. I doubt Marvel will see the same success for Captain America, though. I have high hopes for Winter Soldier, but the Captain America and... team-up title seems unlikely to make it to the end of 2012. But in general, it seems like this is going to be Marvel Comics for the year. I’ll be surprised if we see many new titles launch that don’t fall under the umbrella of established sellers. That doesn't mean we won't still see some good ones.
DC Comics The New 52 may have been the big news of 2011, but it’s 2012 that is going to decide whether or not it was a successful move for DC. A short term sales spike was not the goal of the big revamp. This was about expanding and fundamentally changing how DC performs with its readership. We’ll see this year if that has actually happened. The old DC was pretty simple. It had virtually no mid-selling stable of titles and was propped up in sales by the Batman franchise, the Green Lantern franchise and basically anything Geoff Johns got involved in. If that is still the case when 2012 ends, the New 52 failed.
As it stands, it seems unlikely that DC is going to see major gains overall from the New 52. Some titles, like Green Arrow and Savage Hawkman, have already settled down in sales where their predecessor series sold. We’ve now seen the first wave of cancellations, and that was made up largely of new titles DC took chances on. You can be sure a second wave is coming before the year is over too. 2012 may also see the collapse of DC’s Edge line of comics, which are underperforming in general. It's a real shame, because I know I have definitely been enjoying most of them. The sudden creative team changes happening now will likely hurt more than they help with the exception of the Peter Milligan taking over Stormwatch. I think we’ll see DC coalesce behind that book as perhaps the last Edge title standing of 2012.
That’s too bad about the Edge titles, but 2012 could easily be the year we see the Dark titles secure their place among DC’s lineup. Vertigo’s former characters are succeeding where Wildstorm’s are not. If there are any titles you could honestly declare the breakout hits of the New 52, Justice League Dark, Swamp Thing and Animal Man would have to be among them. This year’s crossover between Swamp Thing and Animal Man will be the major deciding factor. If it lives up to expectations, which I think it will, it will give the New 52 a notable triumph for DC to brag about. It's a big opportunity for Jeff Lemire, who will soon be writing two of the most popular Dark titles Animal Man and Justice League Dark.
The revival of Earth-2 may be DC's big experiment of the year, though. But sight unseen, it is already proving to be divisive among the readership. Some are excited at the idea of James Robinson and Paul Levitz recreating the famous parallel Earth. Others find the very idea of Earth-2 counter to what the New 52 is supposed to be all about. Personally, I find myself in the latter camp. What doesn't help its case is that I feel DC has cheated me out of yet another strong female character, Helena Bertinelli, in favor of Helena Wayne, whose origin as the daughter of an alternate reality's Batman immediately makes her too strange and convoluted to ever fit in well as part of the Batman family. Needless to say, I'm pessimistic about DC's chances of finding much success in Earth-2. But if you couple the controversial attention this will get with the possibility of Robinson and Levitz being at the top of their game, I could end up being wrong.
Image Comics Well, we won’t be seeing The Infinite.
Dark Horse Comics The apology to Buffy fans will continue throughout the year from Dark Horse with the Season 9 era of that fandom’s franchise. Season 8 resulted in a lot of unhappy fans who felt Joss Whedon and company allowed the freedoms of the comic medium to cause them to lose their way with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. From what we’ve seen of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 9 and Angel & Faith so far, it’s clear that Dark Horse is looking to win those disgruntled fans back. The stories are more grounded and more akin to what fans could have expected to see on the television series. There’s reason to be optimistic about 2012 being the year Dark Horse gets it right and shows there is life for Buffy and friends on the comic page.
Mike Mignola is promising more bold developments for the B.R.P.D. beyond what’s happened to Hellboy. You know, I’ve never actually read a Hellboy book before. I’m getting more and more curious, though. This may be the year I end up catching up on years worth of Hellboy.
IDW Publishing If you were a child of the ‘80s, you need to be paying attention to IDW this year. The publisher has launched bold new directions for its G.I. Joe and Transformers franchises. A new Cobra Commander has been crowned, and Optimus Prime has gone into exile. It’s actually rather impressive how IDW has made both properties feel fresh again after decades of various other parties putting their own spins and interpretations on each. Cobra Civil War gets my vote for the best story event of 2011. Okay, okay. Baroness should have won. But still, the event has positioned the franchise in a very interesting place for 2012 with the Joes having to reorganize from their losses and Cobra becoming something new and more overt. Elsewhere, Optimus Prime and Megatron have been removed from the Transformers equation. Instead, Bumblebee and Rodimus Prime are trying to follow through on their own visions for a post-war Cybertron. I don’t know how it will turn out. But I do know that IDW is doing something different with these properties, and that is worth paying attention to.
Let’s also not forget that IDW’s reimagined Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series will continue to develop this year.
Seriously, where’s my badass He-Man series now?
Obviously, there is a lot more to come this year that I can't cover in one article or that I'm just not psychic enough to know about. I'm sure each of you have your own thing you're expecting. I doubt I even touched on half. o doubt there are some surprises in store. But as far as my expectations go, this will be a better year for the smaller publishers than Marvel and DC. Both will no doubt continue to dominate sales. But DC won't find the major gains it was looking for from the 2011 relaunch, nor will Marvel rekindle its event magic with Avengers Vs. X-Men. The smaller publishers seem like they have a lot of interesting things going on, though. 2012 may be the year to take more of a break from the Big Two and shop around for your reading pleasure.
Or I'm entirely wrong. That's a good 2012 prediction too.