Greg Gage owns Black Cat Comics in Sugar House. The store is often full of people sorting through rows of comic books, picking out their favorites.

Now, it is a barren wasteland — one created by the super villain of the modern age, called the coronavirus, or COVID-19.

Like many other businesses, Gage has seen people avoid his store to limit exposure to others. Social distancing, shelters-in-place and lockdowns have kept people from flocking into the store, where your fingers might touch multiple comic books in one day.

“We’re surviving,” Gage said. “The parking lot is very ‘28 Days later’ looking out there. But we’ve got seriously the most amazing customers in the world. We’ve got tons of people that are getting stuff mail-ordered to them. Our shipping has like gone through the roof. And it’s been crazy.”

But there’s another major issue for Black Cat Comics, one that has hit comic book stores across the country. Diamond Comic Distributors — the main distributor for all new comics books — has stopped all shipments of new comic books to stores amid the coronavirus shutdown, according to Forbes. The shutdown could impact more than 2,000 shops across North America and hundreds more throughout the world.

A sampling of some of the free comics available at Black Cat Comics as part of the Free Comic Book Day on Saturday, May 7.
A sampling of some of the free comics available at Black Cat Comics as part of the Free Comic Book Day on Saturday, May 7. | Emily Johnson, for the Deseret News

This means retailers will have no more new products in their stores. No new books. No new Iron Man covers. No new crossover battles. And this is a huge hit to the industry. As Forbes reports, the comic industry had about $1.1 billion in sales for 2019. That number could dip significantly without new material.

“It is definitely going to have an impact,” Gage said, “because there’s going to be a lot of different things that are selling, I think, like older books and things that people maybe looked at once and said, ‘Well, you know if there’s nothing else to read one day maybe I’ll try it.’ Then they’re starting to try it because there won’t be anything else to read for a bit.”

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People are resorting to older books, or stories that relate to their ongoing situation. And to deal with the crisis, comic book fans have been coming up with ideas on how to save the industry, including a crossover event between Marvel and DC Comics. But is it enough to save the comic book industry? Is there any hope when COVID-19 comes for our superheroes?

How to save comics

It’s been almost 25 years since DC Comics and Marvel combined for a mega crossover event, and now the American comic book fandom wants it to happen again, especially with the coronavirus keeping people out of comic book stores.

In the immediate aftermath of all of this, the hashtag #PleaseMarvelDC began spreading on social media with fans sharing their ideas for what can be done to save the comic book industry.

And industry leaders are supporting the idea, too. Comic book stories are much more in the mainstream now because of recent films and television shows, which have made them a part of our every day life. So what would happen if they were mixed together? And is it enough to save comic books?

Writer Gail Simone suggested crossover events including Vision and Mr. Miracle, Thor and Wonder Woman, and Superman and Spider-Man. And Tom Taylor, who has written comic books on Spider-Man and the Suicide Squad, said he would write an issue on Harley Quinn and Deadpool teaming up to take on Darkseid and Thanos if the two companies did a crossover event.

Others have called for Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman, or The Joker and Loki to work together. What about Hulk vs. Bane? Or Batman vs. Magneto?

Nerdist has a slew of ideas that actually make sense, too. Have the Justice League and the Avengers team up for a series called “Ultimate Crisis.” Or maybe have Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman battle together. You could have Green Lantern and Daredevil work together, as well as Batman and Moon Knight, among others.

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As Polygon points out, DC and Marvel have teamed up before for a crossover event. They’ve had random crossover events, including the 1996 “DC vs. Marvel/Marvel vs. DC” event, which created a universe called Amalgam Universe, which had a mix of characters, including Dark Claw (a mix of Batman and Wolverine), Doctor Strangefate (Doctor Strange and Doctor Fate) and Super-Soldier (a mix of Superman and Captain America).

Before the pandemic, the crossover event might have already been teased. The teasing began back in December when DC Comics released the final issue of the “Doomsday Clock” arc, which ends with Doctor Manhattan from the “Watchmen” comics seeing the future, according to Entertainment Weekly.

In the issue, Doctor Manhattan describes his vision: “On July 10th, 2030, the ‘Secret Crisis’ begins, throwing Superman into a brawl across the universe with Thor himself … and a green behemoth stronger than even Doomsday, who dies protecting Superman from these invaders.”

Not to mention, several big Marvel crossover events include “secret” in the title (“Secret Empire,” “Secret Invasion,” and “Secret Wars” to name a few) while DC Comics often mentions the word “crisis” in its big crossovers (“Crisis on Infinite Earth,” “Infinite Crisis” and “Final Crisis”). “Secret” and “Crisis”? Those are simple hints that a crossover event could be coming.

Batman No. 1 and Marvel Mystery Comics No. 9, popular in the ‘50s, are shown at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas.
Batman No. 1 and Marvel Mystery Comics No. 9, popular in the ‘50s, are shown at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas. | Associated Press

Now, will DC and Marvel link up for another crossover? The two companies would need to make sure Disney is on board, and making that happen might be easier said than done.

But it’s been done before. And it might make sense to bring the two together at a time when there’s little to do and an uncertain future. Superheroes are meant to represent hope. They guide us toward a bright future. Bringing these two sides together for a crossover event would show that it doesn’t matter where you come from or your background. None of it matters. What matters is the fight, and that we take on our enemies together.

But there’s a problem — an economic one

Gage, the owner of Black Cat Comics, said fans want to see a massive crossover event — like Marvel vs. DC Comics, or any other massive book like the “Civil War” collection or “Infinity War” — released when the pandemic is over.

Others are calling for “a big book,” like the Spider-Man issue that dropped right after Sept. 11, which depicts the horrifying day in New York City and the attack on the World Trade Center.

But Gage said those bigger stories will be problematic because they would likely cost a hefty amount of cash. Simple issues might be $8 a pop. That’s unaffordable for those who might lose their job from the coronavirus pandemic.

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“We have to think about these people that have been, you know, out of work or their hours have been drastically reduced. They’re not going to have the money to come in and buy ... a big event thing like that,” Gage said.

He said a bigger story will cost $7 and $8 per issue. “There’s not gonna be a lot of people that are really going to be able to afford that right now,” he said.

Gage said the industry should cut back. He said Marvel should cut back from releasing 80 comic books a month to about 20.

“Let’s build it back up instead of just crash back,” he said.

Why it matters now

It’s not surprising that the idea of a Marvel vs. DC crossover event is being suggested now. Fans are craving for new content since there’s a lack of new releases because of the coronavirus, and that means they’re finding new ways to embrace pop culture and their preferred product, according to Kyra Hunting, an assistant professor of media and arts studies at the University of Kentucky.

Gage, the owner of Black Cat Comics, said fans are currently asking him to ship them comic books about pandemics or the apocalypse — like “The Walking Dead.” Others are looking for more comedic comics.

People want comics that align with how they’re dealing with the moment, he said.

“It depends on the person and what they need to deal with, you know, panic or uncertainty,” Gage said. “I think it’s in proportion to how people are actually dealing with” the coronavirus pandemic.

In this comic book image released by Marvel Comics, Captain America is shown from, “Captain America Reborn,” a five part series from Marvel Comics, available in stores on July 1, 2009.
In this comic book image released by Marvel Comics, Captain America is shown from, “Captain America Reborn,” a five part series from Marvel Comics, available in stores on July 1, 2009. | Associated Press

Fans want to use characters to understand their own anxieties and problems. They try to sort out the chaos by using something stable they enjoy.

“When there’s that absence of new content coming in with characters, instead people can reach for and use those characters to work through how they’re feeling in their anxiety,” she said. “And that’s always been sort of a function of what fandom has been there for.”

Fans might not get a Marvel vs. DC Comics crossover event again. But it won’t matter. Theorizing over what it could be like is something fans do and will continue to do.

“So much about fandom,” Hunting said, “is like waiting and longing and filling in the space with what you love and create.”