Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Five Failures of DC Comics

 Lately I've been diving back into the deep, murky waters of DC continuity... circa the early-to-mid-2000's. You know, Morrison's Batman, Johns' Justice Society, Teen Titans and Flash, the various Crisis', Meltzer's Green Arrow and, of course, 52. Much of what I've been reading is shockingly good. Even weighed against the superhero books that are on the shelves today. Much of it is, arguably, not terribly well drawn but then back in those heady days DC didn't exactly seem to be crowded with unique artistic voices.

In reading all of this old stuff though I've had to reevaluate how I see the New 52. DC's bold experiment was something that I stood behind from the beginning. Sometimes vehemently, as when I argued with fellow podcaster Austin Wilson (Hideous Energy) on Twitter so angrily that his co-host actually called my cell to make sure I wasn't genuinely furious. I wasn't and I ended up going on the show to further argue my point with them.

I still defend DC's initial plans for the New 52. In fact the stunt brought me back around full-bore to buying comics on a weekly basis after a lapse of over half a year. At that point I'd just become... well, bored. I was bored with Marvel and DC especially. The characters were stagnant and the stories tepid. The creative teams on a lot of the books of characters I loved did nothing to generate excitement.

When the New 52 launched I stood by it. There were mistakes, but overall I enjoyed a huge number of those first 52 books, and, again, it brought me back to buying monthly comics and, man, it excited me. I hadn't felt that jazzed to go to the shop on Wednesday since Infinite Crisis had started up. It spread to other publishers too. I started buying more Marvel books, more Image, IDW, Dark Horse, Fantagraphics, First Second... just more comics in general. The phrase "a rising tide lifts all ships" was being bandied about back when the New 52 bullied sales higher than they'd been in years and for my part I totally got it. I was proof.

I still thank DC for reigniting a passion and a love for comics in me with the New 52.

But DC has failed to capitalize on the initial successes of the reboot and failed to learn from the mistakes they made at the beginning. Here's how.

  • Creative Talent: Now this may hold slightly less true today than it did, say, six months ago but it's still an issue. Never has a major superhero publisher had such a grand opportunity to foster new talent, and breath new life into their properties than DC did when they announced the New 52. And never have I seen a company squander that opportunity so horrifically. Rather than bringing in new, interesting voices we got the same old writing and artistic talent that had been languishing at the company for years, simply shuffled around to different books with a few notable exception. DC should have been moving mountains to bring talent in from not just Marvel but all points in the comics field. Sure, they might be making some progress in this area now but in my opinion, it's too little too late.
  • NOT-A-REBOOT: One of the most confusing aspects of the New 52 was DC management's inability to actually reset it's continuity. Rather than start over at new 1's that establish our heroes current status and history (or even just going with origin tales across the board) they started with a weird, five-years-later timeframe. This proved confusing to the new readers that this whole New 52 thing was aimed at to begin with. Now newbies are confounded by references to story and plot elements that supposedly were left behind in the old DCU. Batman still has all the Robins and a lot of his prior continuity. Superman still, apparently died at some point, and was reborn, only now this took place in the last five years. Does that mean the Doomsday story is still in continuity? I don't see how it can be because weren't Clark's parents alive in that story and now they're deadoh Lord my head hurts...
  • Build Momentum: Say what you will about events but they work. They boost sales and generate interest in side titles that tie in with the larger story. If they're good it's even better because then you have a huge, epic story that's giving the whole line something to circle around. It's best when a few core titles start building toward this event months before it kicks off. It gives the line as a whole a unified feeling and generates tension and excitement. A great example was Marvel's lead-up to Secret Invasion. Say what you will about that event but the lead-in to it was beautifully executed by Marvel. The New 52 has wholly failed to build excitement about much of anything. Instead we've been treated to a few "micro events". The Animal Man/Swamp Thing crossover Rotworld, and the Bat-title spanning Court of the Owls both spring to mind. Some time in the last 8 months DC needed to really start laying the groundwork for their next big event. Maybe even just in the Justice League and Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman titles. Regardless they failed to do so and now, with Trinity War coming down the pike as just another Throne of Atlantis-style crossover I don't see a lot of excitement out there for it.
  • Interaction: This is a new one. It's something I've only really pinpointed in the last few months as being a serious defect of the company as a whole. I get that there's a lot of negativity out there right now in comics fandom. It drives me insane. Heck I'm a perpetrator of it with this very editorial, am I not? But DC's writers and artists are barely seen or heard from in the media. We don't get a glimpse into their working process or peaks into what they're excited about. Instead we're given press blurbs or find dull, lifeless interviews on USA Today's entertainment blog. I miss the interaction that DC creatives used to have with the comics "media" and fans through social media. Again, I understand how negative comics fandom as a whole can be, but maybe if DC got out there again and really answered questions being asked instead of fending them off or ignoring them entirely, there wouldn't be quite so much negativity. That could just be me being naive...
  • Whatever the Heck is Happening with Editorial: DC editorial baffles me. We have writers and artists shuffling around from book to book like kids playing ring around the rosie. We've had multiple instances of writers and artists vanishing from books AFTER they've already been solicited with no explanation beyond "creative differences". We had this happen three times in one week a couple of months ago. Meanwhile, a lot of the threads you'd expect editorial to step up and take hold of have seemingly been left hanging in the wind like a sock on a power line. Why were so many of the initial story arcs so long?!? Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, all boasted massive, ongoing arcs that seemingly never had any closure. I get that this is serialized story telling but how welcoming to a new reader is a story arc that runs 18 issues? 

Believe it or not I don't hate DC. I don't even hate the New 52. I just wanted to see it succeed and as time has gone on it's becoming more and more apparent that isn't the case. Strangely, with the passage of time and the continuing failure to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the relaunch my love for the old DCU grows. Sure the continuity was confusing but I'd argue in many ways, it's more so now. 

The impetus of the New 52 was to bring in new readers and reestablish the interest in lapsed readers. Its succeeded in both, from a sales standpoint, for a certain time. However, there was obviously no plan in place, no guiding hand steering the universe as a whole beyond the initial launch. Instead we're seeing the New 52 sort of just flounder along as it slips slowly back down the sales charts to be bested by Marvel as it was before that fateful Wednesday in September nearly two years ago. 

It's deeply problematic for me to write this. I'm a huge DC guy. I always have been. Geoff Johns is probably my favorite writer in all forms of fiction. I love Batman more than any other fictional character. But truth is truth and my favorite comics universe hasn't done anything to show me a light at the end of the tunnel. I certainly hope this changes in the next year. I'm open to change, DC. Just give me change that has a purpose and a vision behind it.

No comments:

Post a Comment