There’s been a bit of a back and forth on the old internets about all ages comics. Christopher Butcher weighs in and summarizes the kerfuffle here. His take is basically that it’s much ado about nothing, and that the complaining about a lack of all ages titles is really mostly about super-hero nostalgia:
So let’s really, really narrow this discussion about “all ages” comics to what it really is: Superhero Fans Want To Buy Superhero Comics For Their Kids That Are Simultaneously Exactly What They Read As Kids AND All New At The Same Time. They want all the comics on the stands to be ’safe’ for children, while still engaging them on an adult level like all of the other media targeted at adults. They want the stuff they read as kids and teenagers in the 70s and 80s (or hell, the 60s) to be the same as what’s published today for their kids. They will accept no substitutions, and most importantly they need it to be CANON. That’s right, even if the Superhero comics meet every other criteria, they can’t take place in their own “universe” or be the “for kids” version (even if it’s for ‘all ages’), it has to be part of the 616 or DCU continuity or else it isn’t ‘real’. Superhero fans want validation for their tastes and interests, just like the OCD football dad who couldn’t make it to the NFL and is going to live out his dreams in his son. Exactly the same sentiment, but without a million dollar paycheck at the end of ‘reading superhero comics’, so waaaay less pressure.
And that’s what Retailers, older retailers in particular, want to sell them. Because it’s what they read, and it’s what they know, and they have the same nostalgic feelings for and biases towards that material.
I’m always willing to sneer at superhero fans, as most folks know. But I think this maybe misses or downplays a fairly major point — kids really, really, really like superheroes. A lot. It’s not me who was foisting my old Spidey Super Stories and Super-friends comics on my kid because I desperately wanted him to read them for the sake of my overwhelming nostalgia. On the contrary, I pulled those out of the long boxes because my son was obsessed, and I figured it would be cheaper than buying new reading material. And let me tell you, by the time I’d read them fifty or sixty times out loud, any lingering nostalgia I felt for the material was killed well nigh dead.
Butcher goes on to talk about the Marvel Adventures all ages books, which he notes haven’t been doing so hot, especially in pamphlet form — especially, especially in the direct market. The Marvel Adventures books have come up more than a time or two on this blog (Most recently in a Vom Marlowe review here.) They’re in general quite good; certainly, my son has enjoyed a number of them, from Spider-Man to the Fantastic Four to the Avengers. And I can confirm as a parent that they tend to be more fun to read than old Superfriends comics.
The point, it seems to me, is that super-hero comics really should, in some sense, be for kids; that’s where the biggest potential audience would be, in any logical world. There are a small percentage of 35 year old men who are consumed with the desire to read super-hero comics, but there’s a much larger percentage of 5-10 year old boys who would (at least potentially) like to read those comics. The industry hasn’t totally abandoned the younger audience,it’s true — but it definitely sees them as a side-issue which it addresses fitfully, nervously, and not always very effectively.
So Butcher may be right that most of the hand-wringing about all-ages titles is from retailers working through misplaced nostalgia. But even if that’s so, I think it’s indisputable that Marvel and DC and the industry as a whole don’t really know how to sell super-hero comics to kids, which is embarrassing given the fact that selling super-hero comics to young boys should be about as difficult as distributing crack to addicts. I mean, it’s clear enough what the problem is in terms of distribution barriers, institutional focus, marketing, and so forth. But still, it’s pitiful.