…Then Say Nothing At All

If you look at the covers of comic books of today, they are different from comics of the past in a lot of ways (higher prices, fewer pages of stories, more adult themes), but one thing stands out: the covers don’t have word balloons.  Evil villains aren’t calling out the heroes or threatening to rob the bank or blow up a building or rule the world, the pictures say it all.  Well, almost all since we still have story titles and maybe a mention of what multi-part crossover the comic is a part of, but almost no word balloons.

Glancing at the covers of the comics from the last month on our wall I could only spot one comic from Marvel or DC that had a word balloon on it, and that was an issue where a monster bellowed out, “You want some’a this, Santa?!” as he tried to squeeze the life out of Flash.

Comics release on Wednesdays each week, but good little comic stores that have been following the rules (and paying an extra $4 a week) get their comics on Tuesdays so they have time to sort and pull the comics (and it’s entirely possible that *ahem* some of us may also have the time to do some “research” into the weekly stories).  I separate the comics by title and put them into bags and boards (possibly after “researching” the titles that beg to be read) and I couldn’t help but notice that at least three DC titles, one DC variant cover, and one Marvel cover all had word balloons on them.

Huh?

Not counting urging us to buy bonds or support the war efforts, fewer than a half-dozen Batman comics had word balloons on the cover in the first 65 or so issues, after which somebody decided readers needed to have “talkies.”  I vividly remembered lots of word balloons in DC comics of the fifties and late sixties, but some quick browsing revealed that when Marvel started publishing superhero comics again in the early sixties they didn’t use word balloons very much, just like in the 1940s.  What was noticeable about the silver age Marvel comics of the middle sixties was how awesome they looked without a word balloon screaming, “If I don’t stop that monster, the entire lake will go dry!”  Fantastic Four comics from issue 21 to 98 and Spider-Man covers from 8 to 85 and X-Men covers from 1 to 64 had no word balloons at all.  Sure, there were lots of boxes screaming things like “Face Front, True Believers!” and “The Inhumans Are Coming To Dinner!” but as often as not there was just artwork telling us a story.

Sure, a few of the Flash comics in 1959 were balloon-less, but on the whole Batman and Superman and the JLA all had villains or sidekicks to talk to…and sometimes Batman and Flash spoke directly to the reader (don’t let anybody tell you Deadpool started that!)  Perhaps as a result of Marvel’s success, DC word balloons became scare in the middle sixties, but by the end of the decade there were word balloons everywhere again, and they ruled the roost for years.  And then…comics were wordless again.  The last time anybody had something to say on the cover of a Batman issue was #398, back in 1986.  Apparently companies had rediscovered the power of a well-drawn cover.

So are the few covers with word balloons this week a hint of things to come, an experiment to see if they help sales, or simply a coincidence?  Only time will tell.

From superheroes to a supergroup – here’s Asia drawing the same conclusion:

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