- Posted by Johanna on August 31, 2011 at 5:23 pm
- Category: Comic News
I just can’t do it. I can’t get excited about the new 52 DCU, or whatever it’s called. Maybe because I remember buying the first and best of these “it’s all different now” events, Crisis on Infinite Earths, off the spinner rack at the newsstand. Maybe because the death and destruction of Flashpoint made me cringe. But really, I suspect it’s because it’s the same old guys in charge now as were before, and they really don’t seem to get it.
Some evidence: Kids don’t recognize the new characters. But that’s ok, DC still doesn’t care about them as customers; their focus is teenagers. That’s a stupid choice, as Heidi points out: “[Kids are] the fastest growing segment of the comics market at this grim time — but then nothing Didio or Lee says gives any indication that they know who their audience — actual or potential — really is in more than a wadded up spitball sense.” But then, it’s clear that for all the talk about expanding readers, they’re not comfortable reaching for anyone outside the traditional adolescent male.
Still, this baby/bathwater toss got the company what it wanted: Publicity. For all that comic readers know that #1s mean next to nothing any more, the media still is fascinated by the idea of a new Superman, a new Batman, a new Justice League. Although maybe even they’ve wised up a bit; that NY Times article just linked calls it “a last-ditch plan to counteract years of declining sales”. That’s not complimentary. That, in fact, is a huge indictment that the folks in charge have no idea what they’re doing.
Look at it this way: Throwing out everything and starting again is the easy way out. We’ve all done it, but taking a troubled project, analyzing what went wrong and how to get it back on the track to success, that’s the hard — but ultimately more rewarding — solution. It’s also the more mature approach. Most of us in the adult world don’t have the excuse of ignoring everything our co-workers and companies have done in the past.
It’s also taking it easy on the creators. According to Jim Lee, “By making these kind of changes, we would restore a lot of the things that we wanted to have in the characters and also set the stage for really cool stories that we couldn’t do before. And that we could achieve by rolling back the experience on the characters, so they’re not in the prime of their careers, they haven’t battled their arch-nemeses a million times, saved the world countless times. We felt that was a richer, more fertile ground to mine for all the characters.” Well, sure, if you don’t have to pay attention to anything that’s come before, of course it’s simpler. But just what stories couldn’t be done before? The only thing I can think of is the second first time. Who’s taking bets on how quickly we start getting retellings of the first time Batman met the Joker, the Penguin, the Scarecrow, the Riddler… a reboot just means reruns.
But why shouldn’t they make it easier for their workers, since most of them are the same loyal company men and old cronies? The truly new talent, with more original visions, are doing their own things. And some of those who are participating in the revamp, well, they hate the characters they’re working on. Is that a recipe for great reading?
Sadly, DC isn’t even doing that well with this last-ditch Hail Mary. They’re bragging about 200,000 issues sold of Justice League #1, but even non-comic-readers know that that’s chicken feed. Sure, it’s a lot better than most monthly sales figures, but they undercut the entire company, playing fruit basket upset with all their creators, and that’s the best they can do? Heck, put the President in the book, and you can get almost double that. (Amazing Spider-Man #583, January 2009, more than 350,000 copies.)
Dan DiDio talks about characters created in a different age that need to “feel fresh for a new audience”, but in trying to split the baby, they’re keeping the names and some of hte histories but changing the costumes. (Some in truly ugly ways.) If you want new characters for today’s world and today’s audience, then make truly new characters. But it’s not about that; it’s about Warner looking to DC to be their new property factory and wanting these brands ready for TV shows, movies, and merchandise. There’s no other reason to, for example, force Batgirl (a character really clicking with a new audience) back to being Barbara Gordon and eliminating a creative, fresh direction in storytelling in order to have just one Batman named Bruce Wayne.
This gamble is alienating existing readers and habitual buyers who liked what they were getting. They have no reason to continue, since the promise is what they liked is gone. Will all this publicity attract new readers? Not based on the sole example we have so far. Justice League #1 doesn’t show the team in action — instead, it’s mostly a Batman/Green Lantern story. It has no female characters. And critically, it doesn’t serve as sufficient introduction. Graeme McMillan writes: “Where was the introduction to DC Comics? You know what I mean: A text piece for new readers who’ve been swayed by the hype into picking up their first DC comic in quite some time, the kind of thing that Marvel has become very good at including in the first issue of their event books. Considering the positioning of JL #1 as the flagship book of the relaunch, I’m surprised that there was no real attempt to say ‘Hello, new readers! This is why the Justice League is important, here are where you can find out more about each member, and here are some other books you might want to check out.’”
The true problems with print superhero comics are more basic. For what you get, as a percentage of income, comics cost too much, and they have a history of treating talent horribly, so no one’s interested in contributing great, original ideas. But instead of fixing those problems, instead, we’re all getting distracted by digital. Did you know that while Comixology, the official DC Comics digital vendor, wasn’t selling Justice League #1 until 2 PM today (to avoid annoying direct market retailers), the comic was available online through the usual sharing spots before midnight (the official print release time)? They provide better service and a LOT better pricing — $4 for a double handful of digital pages? Ludicrous!
One of the bright sides I see to all this is that DC and Marvel are becoming more distinct from each other, as Marvel continues to play to the established comic reader with events and crossovers. More choices for more different readers, instead of trying to make all the titles appeal to the same small group, is a good thing.
I’m not sure why I’ve just typed over a thousand words on this subject. I’m not saying anything original or new (just like the DC event I’m talking about!). I just felt the need to capture this feeling right now, so I can look back at it in five years and see what’s happened then.