A couple months back someone on Twitter asked where all the solo breakout books are for female characters in comics. It also turned into a discussion of solo books in general and how they tend to fail when a character is pulled out of a team book for their own run. It got me to thinking, and I was talking to my supplier (comic supplier, not drug supplier…though the difference is subtle) about it on my last pickup. I know there are still gender issues in the comic industry, but having been a collector now for over 20 years I can say they are getting better, so I don’t think gender is the biggest factor in why solo books for female characters fail but Marvel can certainly do better at trying to start a run of female solo acts. If you look, across the board solo books that were not established years and years ago tend to have a very short shelf life and in my experience here’s why I think that is. Keep in mind, this is all based on the books I’ve seen and read from Marvel (I’m not a DC guy).
I think the number one killer of solo books is quality. Almost every solo book I’ve seen that springs from a team over at Marvel seems to be given to the ‘farm league’. What I mean by that is they tend to pick the new artists and writers to do the book. I don’t know if it’s because Marvel knows it will most likely fail so they don’t want to invest in the big dogs, or they just use solo books to break in new people. Either way, comic books are expensive and if you pay 3 bucks for a book just to open it and find eye-bleedingly bad art and mind-cripplingly awful writing, you are more than just disappointed. My own supplier holds aside these spin-offs for me if they come from a team series that I already pick up, and almost every time I ask him to cancel after the first issue. Heck, the latest one I got I didn’t even read it. Flipping through the first couple of pages made me die a little inside and I put it right in my pile to bag, board, and put away. The most I’ll do with it is put it in my inventory and never look at it again (I’m a collector after all…see hoarder). No, I won’t tell you which issue, or the artist involved, I’m not here to put down anyone’s work.
Oddly enough I’ve not found this to be the case in the books I’ve picked up on the female characters going solo. A fear years back Emma Frost had an amazing run, both in art and story. So did Rogue even further back. There are fewer female breakouts for sure, but it seems when they are done, they are done right. Why? We can speculate all day on that one and sadly I don’t have a line to anyone that does know how or why those decisions are made.
Quantity vs. Value
I think another huge factor is value. As I said, comics are getting expensive, and people are cutting back on the number of different series they read. Hells, a lot of readers don’t even buy mainstream titles anymore, opting for the indy presses and mini-series books from the smaller companies. In all cases, people are more concerned now about getting what they pay for as the days of .55-1.95 comics are long behind us. You get more out of a team comic or an established solo series like Wolverine. Generally better art and writing from veterans in the industry. Longer and more in-depth story arcs, more characters, and generally more value. Collectors take a risk on the solo books, as they tend to be of less quality, and also valued less in the long run. You can be damn sure I’m more interested in investing my money and time reading what all of the X-Men are doing, than just what Magneto ran off to do for 8-12 issues.
Do they deserve it?
Honestly, do some of these solo characters really deserve a solo career? Or just a quick jaunt out on their own? Most members of a comic team are created and written to be part of a team. Their powers and personalities compliment the other members of the team, or are limited by them. Take the world of the mutants in the Marvel Universe. Any single mutant is targeted by any number of enemies, from aliens to anti-mutant religious nuts, and striking out on your own is dangerous. You need to be a survivalist, independent, and in a sense your own leader. When the X-Men teams are created and new members are added for example, the characters are not written to be individualists, unless they are meant to be the black sheep, the one that rubs against the established order, like Wolverine. I know I keep going back to him but that is the character he was designed to be and why his solo book has lasted so long. He’s a popular character, no matter what team he’s on, but he also has all the character qualities that make him an independent survivor. Not many of the other X-Men, male or female, were doing so well when the team found them, or when they found the X-Men. To pull them from their team and set them off on their own just seems off, it doesn’t write well, and the reader knows it.
Now, it’s hard to tell if the industry won’t support solo characters, especially female characters, or if it’s the fanbase. There have been a long line of established female characters in their own books, and solo characters appearing in others, but across the board there are few solo characters in general that seem to do well if they weren’t established before say 1995. We can pin the issue on gender bias, but we also have to look at the attempts to get past that, that have fallen flat. I have big hopes for Ms. Marvel though as the buzz is good about the story, the character, and the art. If we can get another solo book from Marvel to become popular, whether the character is male or female, it might spark some creative interest in creating new characters and giving them their own run.