The most outrageous plot line you won't find in any comic book these days is the one where the marketing department of the comic publishing company takes over the creative department and runs amok.

The story had its opening chapters years ago when a radioactive spider bit Peter Parker and endowed him not only with super powers but social relevance.Stan Lee believed that it's not enough for a superhero to solve problems with brute strength alone: The crisis must be solved with brains, a lot of character development and a big dose of "realism" that we mere mortals could relate to.

Spiderman must not just vanquish the villain but must brood over the potential misuse of his extraordinary abilities: While flinging himself web by web across the city, he must battle with his super conscience before ever laying a glove on the bad guy.

So far, OK. Spiderman's Lee, along with others like DC's Jack Kirby, led comic writers to develop better stories with depth, breadth, humor and pathos.

Meanwhile, back at the marketing department, somebody noticed that with the improved comics the demographics of comic readership had changed. The readers are now older than the average readers of a decade ago, are more educated and, more importantly, have more money.

The good news about the comic evolution is that the industry has generally improved. To appeal to the older reader the plots have thickened, the characters matured, the art developed and the whole thing is put together on nicer paper.

The bad news is that the social consciousness of comics is now so important that heroes have become so embarrassed by their abilities that they are stymied. They don't hit anybody anymore. They whine.

Secondly, the marketing lunatics have taken over the asylum.

These guys don't know nothing about birthin' no comics, but they sure can find a way to wrench that last dime out a comic fan's pocket.

They know readers are looking for the next Action Comics No. 1. That comic, at last count, was approaching the $30,000 level. And because No. 1 issues have the greatest potential collector value, Marvel and DC Comics give us umpteen No. 1 issues a month. Just to be sure a collector doesn't miss out, odds are he'll buy them all.

The only problem with that is most of the issues stink.

Odds are the series won't last and the investments aren't worth the pulp they're printed on.

Then there is the expensive comic. Not the regular item that recently moved from 75 cents to as high as $1.75. These costly issues go for $3.25.

When a reader sees the square binding, thick slick paper and improved printing of the "prestige format," there should be a guarantee the story and art will match the high price tag. There's not.

The same goes for the extremely popular miniseries in which stories are told in four to 12 issues. That can add up to more than $20 for the series, but far more often than not the stories are pathetic.

The miniseries is first cousin to the even more insidious crossover comics. The strategy in crossovers is that the story line involves multiple titles and you have to buy all the issues involved or lose continuity.

The most infamous of the crossovers was DC's Millenium.

After buying about 50 books the reader finds the drivel ends in a massively stupid non-conclusion where a new series is announced.

Lastly, another format that is suffering dog days is the "graphic novel."

These books, costing anywhere from $3.95 to almost $20, should be a special event featuring first-rate material.

At best, the graphic novel is Art Spiegelman's Maus, the personal history of a Jewish family's struggle against the Nazis. At worst, it is a bloated catalog of junk that smacks of get-rich-quickism.

All of these make-money formats are quickly reaching the glut stage, and it could be just a matter of time before the industry seriously hurts itself - as did the video game industry several years ago.

That growing medium had the chance to really grab the creative attention of a large market with quality entertainment.

Instead, game makers flooded the stores with glitzy packaging and little else. The industry reeled and is only now, years later, making a comeback.

Comics, in all their forms and addictive appeal, have a chance to explore new storytelling techniques and give us something great.

All they have to do is keep the marketing bandits where they belong.