WSJ looks at comic books and the success surrounding the Avengers, Batman, Spiderman, and X-Men franchises:
You might thus assume that superhero comics, the original properties on which these franchises are built, are in flush times. They aren't. The upper limit on sales of a superhero comic book these days is about 230,000; just two or three series routinely break into six digits. Twenty years ago, during the comic industry's brief Dutch-tulip phase, hot issues of "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" sold millions.
That two-decade slide "is a bit of a puzzle, especially because comics, broadly speaking, are respectable as never before:"
If no cultural barrier prevents a public that clearly loves its superheroes from picking up a new "Avengers" comic, why don't more people do so? The main reasons are obvious: It is for sale not in a real bookstore but in a specialty shop, and it is clumsily drawn, poorly written and incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in years of arcane mythology. [...]
The people who produce superhero comics have given up on the mass audience, and it in turn has given up on them. Meanwhile, the ablest creators have abandoned mainline superhero comics to mediocrity.
I'm not that concerned about superhero comics tending ward mediocrity--in the same way that summer blockbusters (like the Transformer movies) are for the motion-picture art form, or soap operas for TV. "The superhero comic has for decades been the fixed point around which this vital American art has revolved," the piece continues, and "it deserves better than to be reduced to a parody of a parody of itself."
Agreed. The medium needs better works of art, but also requires better criticism.