The top superheroes of 2012 are… Aquaman and Hawkeye?!

Posted: January 4, 2013 by Michael Houle in Comicology - Comic Books, DC Comics, Marvel, Movies & Television
Tags: , , , , ,
Aquaman #13 cover by Ivan Reis.  Hawkeye # 2 cover by David Aja.

Aquaman #13 cover by Ivan Reis. Hawkeye # 2 cover by David Aja.

For over 70 years, Aquaman had been lauded by DC Comics as one of their most singularly important character properties alongside icons like Superman and Batman.  Yet for all of DC’s posturing fans had never seemed to frame Aquaman as anything more than a silly, overrated merman who talks to fish.  Marvel’s Hawkeye, with his gaudy purple uniform and yawn-worthy bow-and-arrow gimmick, had suffered a similar stigma throughout the years.  However, 2012’s biggest industry initiatives—DC’s New 52, Marvel NOW, and Marvel’s ‘The Avengers’ movie series—have finally turned Aquaman and Hawkeye into exciting, profitable franchises.

The mainstream perception of Aquaman has historically been unflattering.  He has been parodied, spoofed, and mocked in shows like ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ ‘Entourage,’ ‘Spongebob Squarepants,’ and ‘Family Guy.’  In his current ongoing comic by Geoff Johns, Aquaman must deal with a public that sees him as weak and silly; in issue #1, a civilian asks Aquaman, “How’s it feel to be nobody’s favorite super-hero?”

The mainstream perception of Aquaman has historically been unflattering. He has been parodied, spoofed, and mocked in shows like ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ ‘Entourage,’ ‘Spongebob Squarepants,’ and ‘Family Guy.’ In his current ongoing comic by Geoff Johns, Aquaman must deal with a public that sees him as weak and silly; in issue #1, a civilian asks Aquaman, “How’s it feel to be nobody’s favorite super-hero?”

Since its launch in the summer of 2011, DC’s New 52 Initiative has given newfound relevance to characters like Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing, and Animal Man.  These characters, who have often struggled to gain readership, now star in their own self-titled books and are handled by A-list creative teams.  However, no property has received as big a boost from the New 52 initiative as Aquaman has.

The success of Aquaman’s current comic run is due largely to the quality work of writer Geoff Johns and artist Ivan Reis, the same duo whose work on ‘Green Lantern’ from 2006 to 2011 made that property the most popular—and profitable—it has ever been.  Inker Joe Prado and colorist Rod Reis have also made significant contributions to ‘Aquaman.’  According to sales figures from Diamond Comics Distributors, Inc. ‘Aquaman’ has consistently been one of DC’s top-selling books. Throughout the years, there have been many attempts to capitalize on the Aquaman property—reboots, genre changes, and even a proposed TV show á la  ‘Smallville’ called ‘Mercy Reef’—but it seems nothing helps a property succeed more than a top-shelf creative team.

Marvel’s ‘Hawkeye’ also benefits from great creative talent.  Write Matt Fraction and artist David Aja, who teamed up previously on ‘Immortal Iron Fist,’ have joined colorist Matt Hollingsworth to explore Hawkeye’s adventures battling street-level crime—a far cry from the galactic-level sci-fi threats he might normally face as a member of the Avengers.  Until this past July, Hawkeye was never able to support a self-titled ongoing past a few issues.  Fortunately for Hawkeye fans, his current comic shows no signs of stopping.

‘Hawkeye’ has been one of the flagship titles in Marvel Entertainment’s initiative to make comics more accessible to casual comic fans and expand readership, such as with their recent slew of relaunches under Marvel NOW.  With Hawkeye’s new book, Marvel is trying to capitalize on Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of Hawkeye in the summer blockbuster ‘The Avengers.’  The film, in the hands of director Joss Whedon, has become the third-most profitable movie of all time, and is a part of the ever-growing Marvel movie franchise initiative that catapulted characters like Iron Man and Loki to unparalleled popularity.

Suddenly, Hawkeye is a household name, has been seen worldwide in a major movie, and has a critically-acclaimed, self-titled comic by some of Marvel’s best talent.  Not bad for a guy in purple with no superpowers.

Hawkeye is sure to appear in the upcoming sequel to ‘The Avengers,’ and look for Aquaman to play a pivotal role in the fast-tracked ‘Justice League’ movie.

2012 was certainly the year of Aquaman and Hawkeye.  Here’s hoping 2013 brings them even more success.

Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye in 'Marvel's The Avengers'

Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye in ‘Marvel’s The Avengers’

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Comments
  1. Evan says:

    It’d a decent write-up about the histories of the characters and how and why they got where they are now, but I found myself looking for more-

    What was it about the heroes’ older titles that didn’t make them appeal to a broader audience? How pivotal were the “reboots” of Marvel NOW and the New 52 in making these characters accessible? Is a good writer/artist team all it takes to give a character the attention he/she deserves? Etc.

  2. Michael Houle says:

    Looking back at the previous solo efforts, you find that Aquaman has had a handful of decent runs. In particular, the mid 1980′s to the mid 1990′s featured some pretty great Aquaman stories in a few limited series even if he could never shake the perception that he’s a “lesser” superhero. But no book until the current run by Geoff Johns was ever a runaway financial success and no book ever got so many comic fans to say, “Wow, Aquaman is pretty awesome!” The public reception to this current book has been unique. Hawkeye has just never had a successful solo book, period. There are many possible reasons why now is a good time for Aquaman and Hawkeye to succeed–growing audiences from movies, toys, cartoons, and video games; the growing trend of readers following favorite creators rather than characters; digital initiatives that are reaching more readers in different ways–but their new popularity owes itself mostly to two things: one, the major marketing and publicity push that comes with a major initiative like Marvel NOW or the New 52 (whether or not the book “officially” falls under that banner), and two, the companies put their absolute best talent on the books. The artists and writers on Aquaman and Hawkeye have done phenomenal work in the last few years, and readers trust them enough to try out anything they are attached to. Suddenly, with the best talent onboard, both books are running into second and third printings–a clear sign that the books have been more successful than expected.

    Of course, great creative teams and a lot of marketing don’t always make a book successful. It’s hard to say why certain books succeed and other don’t. But the point of initiatives like Marvel NOW and New 52 is that they create a lot of buzz that, for a short while at least, bring a lot more eyes on comics, and a lot more potential buyers. (Another reader brought up a slight error: Hawkeye doesn’t officially fall under the Marvel NOW banner until January; but because it was also a reboot and came out at the same time as Marvel NOW and The Avengers movie, it benefits immensely from the marketing and publicity Marvel is getting from those two initiatives.)

    It’s a complicated answer to a complicated question, but hopefully this makes things a little clearer.

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