Roundtable: Superman Family Adventures RIP

The cancellation of Superman Family Adventures, yet another critically-praised superhero comic that DC won’t be publishing anymore, has us pretty riled up. We figured that we could vent about it or offer some constructive suggestions for DC and Marvel’s future kids comics, so we decided to do both. Have you been reading Superman Family Adventures? What did you [...]
supermanfamilyadventures 194x300 Roundtable: iSuperman Family Adventures/i RIP

Superman Family Adventures

The cancellation of Superman Family Adventures, yet another critically-praised superhero comic that DC won’t be publishing anymore, has us pretty riled up. We figured that we could vent about it or offer some constructive suggestions for DC and Marvel’s future kids comics, so we decided to do both.

Have you been reading Superman Family Adventures? What did you think of the comic?

Scott: I’ve only read the first issue of Superman Family Adventures and in many ways it works well as a comic book for young readers with its simple narrative, childlike artwork with lots of visual interest and action, and text that is large and readable. But the many references to DC continuity, especially tongue-in-cheek jokes that reference the New 52 are unnecessary. Young readers won’t get these jokes and it seems DC is more committed to satisfying the nostalgic needs of adult readers who read these books. My question is: do kids really read these series?

Michael: I’m glad to hear you say that, Scott, because it mirrors my own opinion and I thought I was the only one who felt that way. I had the same problem with Tiny Titans. Apparently, what I want out of a superhero comic for children is a completely separate universe in which the heroes can just have fun adventures without referring to a lot of other continuity.

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The final issue of Tiny Titans

I should be fair though and mention that my son had no such hang-ups with Tiny Titans. He loved it and didn’t care that it was slyly referencing comics he knew nothing about. When those references didn’t fly completely over his head, he just had me explain what I knew about them. I didn’t particularly enjoy having to explain old (and usually ridiculous) DC continuity to him, but he didn’t mind it. From the large number of young Tiny Titans and SFA fans I’ve seen lining up to meet the creators at conventions (and from responses like this one to SFA’s cancellation), my boy is obviously not alone.

When I figured out that SFA was going to be a lot like Tiny Titans though, I decided not to buy it. My son doesn’t know what he’s missing and he’s perfectly happy discovering Bone and Calvin & Hobbes.

Eva: I’ll admit, I stopped reading single-issue superhero comics years ago (and back then I was a Marvel Girl, so I only ever had a loose idea of DC Universe continuity anyway), so I haven’t read any of the Superman Family Adventures issues and only briefly glanced at the Tiny Titans collected graphic novel. But I’ve bought both for my library collection. Sadly, Superman Family Adventures has been cancelled before any of the issues reached my shelves, so I may never know if this series would have been as popular as Tiny Titans has proven to be.

In my observations of the kids who read the Tiny Titans series here in the library, sometimes alone and sometimes with their parents, they let the references to comics they’ve never read just float past them, much they way they do with Sesame Street sketches that are written as much for the parent as for the child viewer.

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Marvel Adventures Spider-Man

Mike: I’ve really enjoyed the Superman Family Adventures comic books. I didn’t read all the issues, but I liked how they were accessible for younger readers but also made so if an older fan read them, they might get some of the in-jokes. I personally know younger readers who adored the series as well. It was a lot of fun.

What other all-ages DC/Marvel superhero series have been especially worthwhile?

Scott: DC and Marvel have published a number of series geared towards young readers but frankly, none of them have been truly worthwhile because they don’t stay in print. As well, they don’t appeal purely to young readers because they’re often mired in nostalgia. DC, especially, doesn’t want to upset their core adult audience.

Michael: I really dug Marvel’s Marvel Adventures line from a few years ago. It was exactly what I want in an all-ages comic: imaginative, humorous, self-contained stories. And by “self-contained” I mean not only that they didn’t constantly refer to other stories I’d have to stop and explain to my son, but also that they were done in one issue and didn’t require a huge investment in time or money. Unfortunately, as you noted, Marvel editorial didn’t seem to know what to do with them. They kept tinkering with the format and branding until no one (not even them) was sure what the imprint was anymore.

DC’s had some great kids comics over the years too. I’ve especially liked the Batman series based on their animated shows, from Batman Adventures to The Batman Strikes! to Batman: The Brave and the Bold. But those never last long either. Mike Kunkel’s Billy Batson and the Magic of SHAZAM! was also really, really good, as was the recent Super Friends series that tied into the Fisher Price toy line.

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One of Capstone’s Batman books

Eva: From a pure collection development standpoint, there is no unworthy DC or Marvel property for kids, provided it actually is for kids. Children are as much pop culture animals as teens and adults are and they want, want, want to have access to the cool stories they see in movies or watch on TV. If I had the money, I’d be buying every kids comic (both monthly comics and graphic novel collections) DC and Marvel wanted to put out. Instead, I’m buying licenced properties of DC/Marvel characters from publishers like Capstone and DK. Crazy.

Mike: I really enjoy the monthly Looney Tunes comic book. It’s weird, but it’s DC Comics’ highest-numbered monthly series right now. I’m a big fan too of the classic Batman: The Animated Series comics. Many times they were better written than some of the regular mainstream Batman comics. Why DC Comics decides to not even collect it in an Omnibus-like edition to this day just mystifies me. It’s not like the animated series is even in mothballs – you can regularly watch episodes of it on the Hub network daily. My 7-year-old son loves watching it too. I really also did enjoy the recently-cancelled Batman: The Brave and the Bold comic book series too based on the animated property of the same name. Other comic book lines that are still on Cartoon Network or the Hub that would be great to resurrect/collect would be Animaniacs (59 issues) and Powerpuff Girls (70 issues).

Have there been any DC/Marvel superhero series that you were happy to see cancelled? If so, why?

Scott: Personally I would never cheer for the cancellation of a particular series. Creators put a lot of hard work into these stories and are trying their best with the direction given to them by editors. With the multiple attempts and subsequent failures of pretty much all of DC and Marvel’s series for young readers, I blame the higher-ups for a lack of vision and failure to see the potential in these kinds of books.

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Scooby Doo, Where Are You?

Michael: I agree. Even the ones that I haven’t personally enjoyed had passionate fans.

Mike: Atari Force? Well – you’re right – they still have fans today too.

What do you believe is the biggest problem DC and Marvel have in keeping going an all-ages superhero series?

Scott: Both DC and Marvel lack commitment to a long term plan for their all ages series, knowledge of what appeals to today’s readers and awareness of the children’s publishing industry.

Michael: I agree with all that and would just build off that last point. For some reason, both companies are insistently focused on trying to make kids comics work in the Direct Market, a system that really only works for readers with lots of discretionary income and transportation to a comics specialty shop. That audience includes some parents, but doesn’t include the kids themselves.

And where they’ve thought at all about general bookstores, from the outside it looks like their strategy is pretty half-hearted.

Lori: DC has another problem in that its parent company, Warner Bros. can have too much of an editorial say in what goes on in the comics division. Many of their popular, all-ages titles that are based on cartoons seem to get the axe as soon as the cartoon does. They don’t let the comic grow into its own, which is more than possible since titles such as Scooby-Doo lasted a long stint without a cartoon or movie to support it. It’s nice to have media-tie ins, but as a parent it’s nice to see books go beyond their TV counterpart.

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Batman Adventures

Eva: Exactly what Lori said. For crying out loud, people! Does no one at DC or Marvel remember what it’s like to be a kid? Just because a show is off the air doesn’t mean the love for the characters or the storyline dies.

Mike: Amen, Eva!

What could DC and Marvel do to correct that problem?

Scott: What both companies need is a champion who understands children’s publishing, has a keen eye for creators and IP’s that could be developed specifically for kids, understands the potential of a diverse line of books with appeal to different age groups, and a decent marketing budget to promote a line of young readers series.

Michael: I’d add that a better bookstore strategy is important. Get the comics out of the graphic novel section and into children’s sections. Get them into children’s bookstores, too. And of course, let people know that they’re there.

I know that everyone’s still figuring out digital, but that might be a solution as well. Kids can’t afford a three-dollar comic at the comic book store, but they might be able to handle a 99-cent one on comiXology. Especially if parents had the option of setting up a pre-paid account for their children to use in shopping from a kid-friendly section of the site.

Lori: As a parent, I have to say having a branded line, like DC had with their “Johnny DC” line made it a lot easier for me to point out books that were appropriate for my kids as they were growing up. Parents like being able to see something and be able to trust that the content is safe for their kids. Marvel had that as well recently with their “Marvel Adventures” line. Now both have gone the way of the Dodo, so it takes more time and research to figure out what is safe to bring home, and a lot of parents just won’t take that kind of time. They will go with what they know is safe; My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Adventure Time, even the Disney titles,which will help Marvel in general, but not their superheroes specifically.

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BOOM!’s Walt Disney Comics

Eva: What all three of you have said. I’m so frustrated that it’s hard for me to articulate well the things I’d like to see happen. I want both companies to figure out who they’re publishing for — long-time readers? first-time readers? children? adults? I want both companies to figure out who is buying their books — adults? dads? moms? the kids themselves? I want both companies to figure out who they want to be buying and reading their books — is their goal to build a new reader base? to flatter long-time readers/new parents into thinking they’re doing something neat for their kids by buying comics that aren’t really for the kids? to publish good stories for kids? At this point I don’t even care much what the companies ultimate goals are, I just wish they’d have some.

Sigh.

Mike: I wish that DC and Marvel would try to go into their back catalog and rediscover some of the hidden gems they had published. Libraries are practically begging for younger reader superhero comics. Young kids come into the library to read Batman – and there’s not a lot out there collected and nothing in single issues anymore. DC Comics has access to 150 single issues alone from Batman: The Animated Series’ comic book counterpart. If Batman is timeless, shouldn’t these stories be too?

And don’t get me started on what Disney is having Marvel Comics do with their Disney properties: nothing. I was starting to really love the Disney Comics by Boom Studios that featured Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and the like (I believe most were reprinted from Italy) and BOOM! – now they’re no more. There’s easily a treasure trove of Italian Mickey Mouse books that just need to be translated and printed and no one wants to do it at Marvel/Disney. {Sigh}

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