Savage Dragon creator and the Chief Financial Officer of Image Comics Erik Larsen recently blasted Marvel and DC Comics for replacing their iconic characters with new characters that try to take up the iconic characters’ identities.
Larsen made his thoughts on the matter public in a recent thread on Twitter where he stated, “For some reason the conventional wisdom at Marvel and DC is to have new characters assume the identities of old characters.”
He explained, “But if I’m a fan of Iron Man–I’m absolutely NOT buying your s****y new Iron Man. I WANT it to flop so that old Iron Man can return.”
He elaborated in a subsequent tweet, “And if you’re going to reinvent a character from the ground up–why NOT just create a new character?
Larsen added, “You’ve done 90% of the work already–why not give that character a new name and let the old one continue to exist?”
Next, Larsen pointed out that by doing derivative characters instead of original creators aren’t sharing in the potential profits from it.
He tweeted, “Creators get backend participation in new characters but not in reinvented ones–if Ed Brubaker had made the reveal for the Winter Soldier a red herring and instead revealed he was Fred Johnson–he would have had participation in that character. Instead he got nothing!”
Larsen then pointed to Blue Beetle and Booster Gold claiming that he believes many others share his opinion in hoping derivative characters fail.
He wrote, “The old Blue Beetle and Booster Gold had a great chemistry–I think a lot of people who might have given the new character a chance didn’t want to support the book because they hoped it would fail and the older character would return.”
He then asserted, “The whole mindset of “I’m not going to GIVE these companies my great ideas” is self-destructive if you give them your great ideas anyway–and do it in such a way that you don’t get a piece of it.”
When asked to clarify his position by artist and writer Phil Jimenez, Larsen stated, “I’m a fan of the person in the costume as much or more as I am the costume itself. If I’m reading Batman and you introduce a new Batman and kill off the old Batman–don’t count on me to keep reading Batman.”
When asked for his opinion on Hal Jordan replacing Alan Scott and Barry Allen replacing Jay Garrick, Larsen answered, “First–that was long before I was born. Second, audience turnover at the time was roughly three years, made worse by the huge comic book backlash in the ’50s and third–it had been YEARS since the original versions last appeared. Their titles were long cancelled.”
He added, “So, there’s a HUGE difference between a company concurrently telling stories with legacy characters while introducing replacement versions and a company reviving long-dead concepts.”
Artist Chris Sotomayor would then ask, “Is it different when we know the character is going to die, like in Spawn? Or if a main character dies and is replaced by their son (with the same name)?”
Larsen answered, “It’s different if it’s one creator and it’s not a cynical ploy or marketing stunt. In the case of Malcolm Dragon, the readers grew up with him and had known him for YEARS before he had a single adventure.”
Larsen would further flesh out his opinion in more responses. In one response he noted, “I was saying creators should create MORE original characters. That’s an original character. Creators should do more of that.”
Twitter user Richard Adam Halls believes the issue is more complex and that it involves trademarked characters explaining, “You want to keep trademark x, you need to keep publishing books with that name. Otherwise someone is going to pull a Captain Marvel on you. But trademark x doesn’t sell. Easy, completely new concept same name.”
Larsen answered, “That’s the real bottom line. If DC doesn’t keep putting out Blue Beetle comics they’ll eventually lose that trademark and once it’s gone it’s gone. If they can’t sell OLD Blue Beetle they try NEW Blue Beetle and if that dries up they’ll try something else.”
Another user would also bring up the copyright issue. However, Larsen would provide a very different answer, “Okay, but if I’m working at DC and I want to create a new version of, say, Blue Beetle, with a new costume, new identity and the whole nine yards– why NOT go the extra step and pick a different name?”
He added, “I’m 95% of the way there already AND I’d get character equity/participation.”
One user would claim making new characters are hard to create to which Larsen countered, “The point is that THEY’RE ALREADY CREATING A NEW CHARACTER–they’re just CALLING it something familiar.”
One user indicated they have had enough of derivative Superman characters for representation sake and suggested creators make something new.
Larsen replied, “That’s what I prefer and that’s what I do! Why do many black characters in comics inherit their mantles from white characters?”
“Why aren’t there more NEW iconic black characters? At Marvel and DC there are, like, three–Black Panther, Falcon and Storm. That’s it,” he said.
In response to a user enthusiastically agreeing with him, Larsen provided an analogy to sum up his argument, “It’s like replacing a Snickers bar with a different candy bar but still calling it Snickers and using a similar wrapper while arguing that ‘People buy Snickers and love the Snickers brand.'”
Another user completely disagreed arguing that replacing the characters is how the comic book “industry grows and attracts new readers.” The user specifically pointed to DC Comics’ Silver Age.
Larsen replied, “It’s a somewhat different scenario anyway because comics had been cancelled, reprints weren’t a thing and readership turned over frequently. So DC was rebuilding and most readers weren’t even really aware that there were previous versions of those characters.”
Larsen would eventually post, “The best method for introducing a new character is the tried and true Silver Surver/Electra/Deadpool method–introduce a new character in a popular ongoing book and bring them back repeatedly. And then spin them off into their own title.”
This position by Larsen is quite a turn from his recent comments about wanting Marvel Comics to make the Punisher gay and have him hunt people who wear his logo.
Back in February, Larsen tweeted, “Instead of changing Punisher’s chest emblem they should just have Frank finally realize that he’s gay.”
He then added, “And the beauty of it–is that it wouldn’t alter the comics at all. He’d still be dressing in leather, ignoring the ladies and hanging out in bars with other sweaty dudes.”
In a subsequent tweet he added, “And then the Punisher skull would take on a whole new meaning–and it would just kill the dudes who brandish it–they’re such a homophobic lot.”
He would later respond to a user writing, “Seriously–if you read Punisher comics which exist–nothing changes. You can read comics that are in print and it all works.”
“Man, he keeps his van tidy. Weird how he hasn’t hooked up with any lady in 50 years. It all fits,” he asserted.
Nevertheless, even if current Marvel and DC Comics creators do indeed create new characters, these characters tend to fall flat with readers.
Bane creator Chuck Dixon explained why, “when they do create new characters, they don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t know how to create an appealing character.”
He elaborated, “In fact, they seem dead set on creating unappealing characters that simply exist to piss off the majority of comic book readers. To say basically, ‘If you don’t like this character, there’s something wrong with you. Go away.”
What do you make of Erik Larsen’s comments on Marvel and DC Comics replacing their iconic characters with derivates and expressing his desire that the comics featuring the derivative characters flop so the iconic characters return?