The Blue Age of Comic Books

Origin Story

In red, yellow, and blue, “Earth’s Mightiest Hero” ushered in a new age of comic books.

In July of 2012, Ms. Marvel was promoted to Captain Marvel. The first issue of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel (2012-2013), in which Carol Danvers becomes Captain Marvel, would sell more than 40,000 issues at a price point of $2.99, a far cry from 1962’s 12¢ cover price ( In November of 2013, the last issue of the series would sell fewer than 20,000 issues at a price point of $3.99, down only four thousand from the issue before. Most superhero comics’ sales peak at their first issue, but the relatively small drop in print sales despite the price increase between issue #16 (September 2013) and #17 (November 2013) made something apparent to brick-and-mortar retailers that might not have been so before: women were buying comics, and they were willing to pay for them. However, what is perhaps most significant about issue #17 is not the increase in price but its narrative or, rather, meta-narratives. The issue pays tribute to fans of the series, dubbed the “Carol Corps” by DeConnick, and introduces canonical superfan Kamala Khan, Marvel’s new Ms. Marvel. Captain Marvel (2012-2013) #17 was one of the first of the series to offer print readers a digital comic redemption code.

Kamala Khan would go on to star in the Ms. Marvel series (written by G. Willow Wilson) that debuted in February 2014. It would become a digital bestseller. Not only were women buying comic books from specialty stores: they were buying online and they were buying into characters that were not made by the same superhero formula that had produced characters like Superman and Spider-Man. Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American, Muslim, teenage girl was considered a less likely candidate for success than the white, blonde, All-American Carol Danvers, and yet both have remained in serialization in part because they are representative of changes within the comic book publishing industry and in part because they are representative of a new kind of audience. Comic book publishing, once an out-and-out boys’ club, has, in the age of new media, had to respond not just to a shift in the means of production but also to the diversification of a niche market from which publishers could benefit, each constituting what Henry Jenkins refers to as “affective economics.” Fans, many of whom may not have seen themselves represented by mainstream comics before the last decade, have demonstrated through new media the ways in which their influence might actively guide production, whether that means seeing more women, people of color, and others of marginalized identities being featured in comic books or the hiring of their real life counterparts as writers, artists, and editors.

If the earlier ages of comic books were defined by corporate mandates and collector markets, then the Blue Age of comic books, such as I will argue for here, is defined by the digitization of comic books and comic book culture.

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