Saturday, December 28, 2013

CRISIS ON INFINITE PULL-LISTS: Why DC Comics Needs It's Bullet Back

This post is hard to write, but I blame it on the end of the year. As I look back with the season, I can't help but notice that New Years 2011, I collected nineteen of the new promise DC52 titles, and as we step into 2014 I collect one. I feel like I'm forced to turn my back on my home away from home, and I want to explore why.

IT'S WHAT YOU DO THAT DEFINES YOU I'm sure many marketers, accountants and other folk earned a decent beer putting the DC52 together, what I don't understand is 'why?'. Mark Waid once said about JLA: Year One "We don't have to be ashamed that DC has history". That sentence summarised a revival of the original universe, lead by books that relished its truth like Starman, The Flash and JSA

As an advertising dude by trade, it is a core question I've been trained to ask of any new client / product 'What is your point of difference?' What set DC Comics apart from all it's rivals was 'legacy'. One word anchoring an entire line, albeit in different and creative ways. Now DC is not only without a Starman, Wally West, Justice Society, James Robinson or Mark Waid, the formerly new 52 doesn't have a defining point to base itself from. Unless you count gimmick covers. 

The fact that an unveiling of a series of 3D covers seemed to eat up the years marketing budget, while Jonah Hex and Swamp Thing virtually banged tambourines for attention, shows the 52 focus is now on spectacle over substance, and frankly, that should never be a trait of DC Comics.

THE NEW DC - THERE'S NO STOPPING US NOW When that line filled the publisher's barcode boxes back in the day, DC was reinvigorating its entire line in waves, fuelled by books such as The New Teen Titans, Crisis On Infinite Earths and more. Shaking up the range with 'DC52' had equal potential. Freshness could be injected, concepts like Mr Terrific could get a well-deserved solo shot, and various Pandora appearances hinted that a line wide unified direction (something missing since the lead in to Infinite Crisis) might also return.

Alas, in the execution, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater - and no one noticed, because Superman was kissing Wonder Woman.

Sure Amanda Waller decreased the fuller-figured super-heroine population and Harley Quinn made even Avengeline blush, but at the end of the day the tonsil hockey of the two icons is the lead 52 change that couldn't have occurred in the old continuity. Reason being it repeatedly already had. Most notably in the reboots of George Perez's Wonder Woman and John Byrne's Superman, post the original Crisis.

Yes, Perez's Wonder Woman run 'DC52ed' the old continuity of that character, but with the support of the DCU titles around him (no doubt backed by the fact his editor was Vertigo Queen and Kingmaker, Karen Berger) George was given the space to do his thing, and in return provided one of the best works of his career. 

I would rather encourage new fans to pick up trades of this work (or Kingdom Come etc), if interested in seeing a clay and Kryptonian DNA swap, while my creatives and I got on braking adventurous new ground in the existing continuity, rather than charge them $3.99 a rebooted instalment to sit through history repeating.

THE OUTSIDERS: Readers of Detective Comics pre the big bang know writer Scott Snyder already had Batman booked for a flight back into the top sellers list. DC's overall sales figures now rival industry leaders Marvel, but in titles, the 52 divide between the rich and poor is greater than ever. 

Artists seem employed on an ability to draw like the legendary David Finch, and the hot variety of the 52's characters and genres has drastically dwindled away, spreading confusion to the remaining line. The DC52 needs a Geoff Johns 'Sort, Bin, Explain and Highlight' rinse and it's still in nappies. Ironic, as it is applying this formula to a whole universe at once that birthed the 52 in the first place. 

If giving the likes of Etrigan The Demon their own series was a risk before, what is it now fans don't know if the history that made them fans is still relevant? If newbies think the New 52 may still have old strings attached? Or the continuity phobic folk the whole 52 seems created to appeal to fear the continuity the era has now grown?

Me, I've never seen much Dr Who. So while Whovians may get a bit more of the plot in the latest series, we all run around yelling 'Exterminate!' afterwards, so it's win-win. If I want to research I can. Same shoe, other foot; I love me some J'onn J'onzz, but I'm sure new fans can enjoy tales without worrying about shout-outs to the sublime Martian Manhunter: American Secrets. Yessiree, Hot Chocolate was right, everyone's a winner baby,... unless you're from Wildstorm.

Once the bookie's favourite to independently become 'Publisher #2', Wildstorm was like Valiant is. It's heroes and anti-heroes exploded from the action / sci-fi side of pop culture, rather than the super-hero, and now all find themselves lost in one that is the reverse. One where their continuity has been binned and they now stand in an appearance queue behind the 365 other DC vigilantes who have the word 'Gotham' in their resume.

YOU DON'T KNOW DICK: Speaking of Gotham, in closing let's take the true third of DC's Trinity to the mass public, original Robin, Dick Grayson. Grounded by his fellow Titans, Dick passed on their humanity as the inspirational big brother of future generations, highlighting to their 'authoritarian parents' that their ways weren't always best. Tell me, does that theme need retouching?

Proving answering 'yes' doesn't instantly lock someone in Arkham, DC52 did that and worse. They removed Grayson's foundation of respect and resultant authority, by having him bail on the Robin gig after only a couple of years, and made his crowning achievement being unmasked after becoming a moral-free Justice League's piƱata.

Yet oddly enough, it's because fans still gave Nightwing his pre-52 standing, regardless of what's published, that the events of Forever Evil resonated like they did. Had the event happened in the old DC, with the character's status still deserved, the whole event would've had a lot more gravitas, not to mention a few more hands clapping.

DC, despite jabs from outsiders, was never an outdated one-horse town. It has the greatest concepts in comics, ones that don't need talk show hyperbole to sell themselves. Sure, as fads break the odd fan may be lured away, but you only need be a few days old to know there's no place like home. Homes away from home included.

 What do you think? 

7 comments:

  1. Is it ironic or timely that I was listening to Player's "Baby come back" while reading this? LOL. In all seriousness though I well feel your pain there. It's why I've found myself tip-toe-ing back over to the Marvel side of the fence. Even with their redonkulous "Now"ing of everything and its mother, it still(for now) honors its history and continuity. Otherwise, as you and I have both championed(you more so than me) there's always the indies. Still there's nothing like the old DC, and the rich history it used to have. Hell even back in '05, Johns and co. were bringing back elements of the Pre-Crisis universe. The hell?

    You defintiely wrote a Dear John letter of sorts to DC better than I did, so quiet and respectful golf clap to you Dan. Your pain doth truly show thru, as does our own regarding old DC.

    Style of substance. Well no kidding right? That old adage is older than both of us, and yet continually creeps up, now moreso than ever, especially in light of the NU52. I don't get the appeal, but if this doesn't tell who truly owns DC, than I don't know what does. Corporate. It's them. They're the big bad men in suits. The Real Lex Luthors that have dictated that this is how things shall be from now on, and all for a mere sheckles more. As I've long said about Dan Dildo, until there's a massive regime change from the bottom to the top, or more likely from the tip-top to top, things'll stay the same. Factor in the move to Cali, and I don't see things changing anytime soon.

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  2. this is a nice change of pace Dan. I like seeing your more cynical side for a change. sometimes it's even more fun to read about stuff people don't like as much as stuff they do.

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  3. Thanks folks! Dave, I don't believe in being negative for negative sake, and while I understand the machine in progress at DC I've realised that doesn't mean as a fan I should sit by and silently cross fingers. DC had to work hard to claw it's why back to publisher #2 after Image debuted, and it did that by staying clear of many of the traits they now frolic in. I really edited the above down as much as I could and tried to stick to decent points without letting cynical humour overpower fact - glad you enjoyed.

    Dale, you're right. My pull list going into next year has more Image, Valiant, Dynamite and Archie in it as a direct result of space left by the DC52. And that's pretty thankful timing as these publishers really are producing great bait at the moment too, almost as if they know there are a lot more potential fish in the water these days.

    I completely agree with Marvel NOW too. They are beating DC at their own game, by showing revamping titles enmasse is survivable in the same continuity. The buzz builds. Wolverine's had more number ones in the year just gone than almost his entire career, yet when he sleeps at night he still nightmare's over Magneto removing his metal skeleton. It's a happy equation for accountants and fans.

    The only creative still at DC I feel for is Geoff Johns. Through his original blog board way back in the days of Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. and Flash, myself and many others were granted the privilege of being able to converse in pretty amazing levels with a guy who is one of the biggest and nicest fans of DC I've ever met.

    His passion alone for Cyborg is emmense and hence why he popped up in Flash so often. But more than trying to relate why we couldn't have a JSA serving Captain Marvel who looked like he stepped out of Assassin's Creed, my brain struggles with how as a fan he handles seeing all this. I don't expect him to quit, Warners still offer him amazing opportunities in and out of comics, but he is the gerry Conway of this generation, and while his behind the scenes memoirs are almost as wanted as Karen Berger's, I just feel sorry for him fan to fan that it doesn't seem like he can have his cake and eat it too. He deserves too.

    His success made DC such an awesome and fun place over the pre-52 years, for the machine to turn his way of writing against the hand that wields it is just one of the rankest moves of the whole thing to me.

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  4. hey Dan, might I make a suggestion that perhaps something from JJ Jirby's gallery would make for a great Making The Mark posting some day?

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  5. I dropped all DC - I can't bear to watch the mess unfold. I agree with above poster - the move to Calif. means they are going to do more of this gimmicky marketing stuff and less stuff with substance. IMO the DCnU formula was this. Marvel fanfic the whole thing. Ditch continuity except for important A listers and editors' favs. Deage A listers. Get rid of legacies as the hallmark of what made DC different - which means: get rid of first gen/second gen Titans and their whole continuity. Milk Batman for all he's worth with 30 titles. That leaves the Superman, WW and JLA. (Flash and GL were already focused on earlier.)

    Having gotten rid of Titans and their legacy stories (the current Lobdell TT team is just an empty youth brand) - use the themes that made Titans stories successful. Apply those themes on the deaged Superman, WW and JLA. Thus you you now have WW, Superman and JLA playing out rehashed 80s and 90s Titans soapy stories: shipping tropes, betrayal of the team, turning evil, supporting characters, time travel.

    This totally misses the point of what DC's legacies were about, and why the Titans were important in the DCU.

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  6. I already have the four TPB volumes of Perez's WW work and mighty fine it is too!
    For me this whole Nu52 continuity is a bad mistake that DC just wont apologize for - we have various comics stuck in different time zones and several iterations of characters that don't match up, plus the enforced absence of fan-fave characters like Donna Troy or Steph Brown doesn't help. Youre absolutely right - DC did have legacy as its core base but afraid to say that since Crisis on Infinite Earths [which I love btw, who doesn't?] we have now had to get used to regular reboots every seven years or so and the long-established continuity we took for granted has become corroded. I just cannot get into this current DCU at all, theres simply no editorial control put in place,
    I remarked the other day on another forum that Injustice Gods Amongst Us wasn't exactly a good comic but character-wise it isn't so poor, and I wished that if we had to have a company-wide event that changed the DC landscape it had been this comic as the REGULAR ongoing continuity, not this Nu52 rubbish. It would've been too remisiscent of the Iron Man/Cap America feud in the dreadful Civil War series but I think DC would've handled it better, esp with this upcoming Superman vs Batman movie [what an opportunity they missed with that].
    I buy 13 DC titles per month [down from 18 pre Nu52] and its still my mainstay comic buy [Marvel get around 10 titles from me].

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  7. Thanks again guys - appreciate all the perspective here aye!

    Dave - sure - I am planning on bringing Making a Mark back in a big way in 2014, so sure he fits the bill!

    Tam, always good to see ya here Mr, and you are 110% right. I hate it when I read DC and thing the editors want their company to be Marvel, yet it is so often the case. Though even on successful stories, like Superior Spider-Man, Marvel still know when to cut and revert.

    I was nervous not seeing The Titans in the original preview art, but Cyborg was there, Nightwing and Starfire too - and a claim was made Vic would serve as a Titan between the time jumped from the League's first story arc to the second five years on, which seemed an odd move but made it look like the team would still exist. Now we know better, and I think it's that make it up as we go along feeling vs a unified sense of direction that is as frustrating as the event itself. DC is the original universe and they are planning their years like rookies.

    I used to be like you Karl, I used to buy 'x' comics a month regardless of if it flew like a turd or a bird, but the Big Two have seen to that one in just two years, I no longer buy Justice League which was a sign of the apocalypse four years ago, and I guess that's how your pull list works. I think that kind of loyalty of handing over money to get annoyed just isn't appreciated by companies who think if readers don't like it they'll walk away. Some like reading Fantastic Four every month, regardless of how off the record Matt Fraction is as a writer on that series. Same with Superman / Teen Titans and Scott Lobdell. Both are great writers, but Marvel has stopped Matt writing the FF and moved him to better suited pursuits. Scott is still writing both of his, and wishing he was either back on stage doing stand-up or doing books where he was aloud to craft a hit along the lines of his Generation X or the Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix.

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