Publicity for upcoming movies starring Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and The Mighty Thor got me started thinking about the cover prices of the comic books from which such heroes sprang.
Readers in the Great Depression got a 64-page comic for one thin dime. When I was the age of my son (that is, 7) my weekly allowance was based on the 12-cent price of a 32-page comic book. As recently as 1988, the average price at the spinner rack was 75 cents.
But slicker paper, digital printing, business-savvy creators and higher stockholder demands have caused an escalation of prices. Although, truth be told, the strongest forces are (a) whoopee cushion malpractice suits, (b) the cost of organic sound effects and (c) the bringing of X-Ray Specs under the control of Obamacare.
People who have lost track of the once ubiquitous periodicals would doubtless recoil as if from kryptonite upon learning that standard comics recently reached prices as high as $3.99. I'm sure many old-timers think the iconic American comic book is somehow immune to inflation and daydream about halcyon days of picking up pop bottles to buy the latest Vault of Horror -- in contrast with today's necessity of picking up BAIL JUMPERS to finance a comics habit. ("Up next: Fan The Bounty Hunter.")
Recession-strapped readers revolted, so starting in January of this year, DC Comics boldly initiated a price rollback to $2.99, with the "Drawing The Line At $2.99" campaign. The press release I read didn't reveal how this was accomplished, so my imagination went into overdrive.
Here are some of the possible cost-cutting measures:
Wonder Woman now has to pay extra to carry her magic lasso on her own invisible plane.
Aquaman, King of the Seven Seas, is now Dispenser of the Moist Towelettes.
The Bat Signal switches to wind power. ("Maybe The Joker escaped for lack of a breeze, but at least Gotham City is greener than Metropolis -- PAINTED green, with a big 'Kick Me' sign, but green nonetheless.")
Billy Batson no longer changes to Captain Marvel with a succinct shout of "Shazam!" He now spouts advertising messages for Hoveround wheelchairs, large-key telephones and adult diapers. ("I don't play a doctor on TV, but since i do wear my underwear on the outside...")
Competitor Marvel Comics has done its own price-slashing. How? Well, for one thing, Bruce Banner (alter ego of the Incredible Hulk) will probably turn pitchman. ("You wouldn't like me when I'm selling replacement windows.")
I'm sure other characters will be making sacrifices to keep comics affordable. "Casper the Friendly Ghost" could be downgraded to the cheaper "Casper The FRENCH Ghost." Mickey Mouse could alternate between chasing the Phantom Blot across Europe and chasing cheese through a maze back at the university.
Over in the Archie titles, detention hall at Riverdale High could be rented out for housing Gitmo detainees. ("Please! Waterboard me! Deny me the Koran! But don't make me wear one of those stupid Jughead hats!!!")
Comic books are a legitimate art form, an aid to learning to read and an integral piece of Americana. I hope the cost-cutting helps keep them around for future generations. They don't deserve to be the 98-pound weakling of the publishing world, rolled up in the back pocket of History.
Discouraged sea monkeys: the dark underbelly of the unemployment figures.
©2011 Danny Tyree. Danny, a former columnist for Comics Buyer's Guide magazine, welcomes reader e-mail responses at email@example.com and visits to his Facebook fan page "Tyree's Tyrades." Danny's' weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.