06 April 2011

I Am Appalled

After several years, DC Comics has resumed publishing letters from readers in its comic books. Originally printing reader letters was a way to include enough prose in each magazine to qualify for favorable mailing rates. Along with getting the content for free, publishers enjoyed the bonus benefits of consumer feedback and a chance to foster brand loyalty.

Today comics fans use the internet to express their opinions (usually negative or rhapsodic, with little middle ground), so DC can’t lack for feedback. But the company had another economic motive for bringing back letter pages: it simultaneously shrank each regular installment of its stories from 22 pages to 20 to limit costs.

Having invited letters, the company must now deal with twerps like this guy, published in Marvel’s What If?, #20, in 1980: If only this kid knew that in just another quarter-century he’d have a computer and be able to share such opinions with the whole world.

I found this issue of What If? earlier this year in my grandmother’s extensive archive of Stuff Received from Her Children and Grandchildren. I, or more likely my mother, must have sent her the copy back in the Carter administration.

I don’t remember writing this letter. I don’t remember reading the stories that left me “appalled,” and am a little taken aback by my vehemence. I also don’t recall the story in the issue that contained the letter, though the phrase “Kree-Skrull War” still sets off a couple of neurons at the back of my brain.

That said, I stand by my review. What If? was extra-thick and extra-pricey (60¢! Rising to 75¢!). Its extra pages let storytellers explore an alternative path for one of Marvel’s heroes over the comics-universe equivalent of years. Splitting those pages among three short stories wasted that potential. And these particular stories also failed the magazine’s promise of identifying key turning-points; as Siskoid’s Blog of Geekery says of the three featured heroes, “none of them had origins I could readily recall, and [scripter Steven] Grant doesn’t tell you what’s changed exactly.”

With my current professional experience and cynicism, I now wonder if What If?, #17, was a quickly-assembled fill-in issue, or perhaps an attempt to bring three of Marvel’s third-tier heroes to a wider audience. In any event, it clearly lacked the heft of the Kree-Skrull War.


Bill S. said...

So did you get a response? That was always the most gratifying thing about having a letter printed.

J. L. Bell said...

Nope, there was no comment from an editor in reply to this letter—unless we count the choice to publish a letter from someone who liked the same issue right next to it.