Robot 6

Does no one want to visit Earth One? An editorial musing of sorts

Superman: Earth One

Superman: Earth One

I’m a little late to the party with this, but I’m opting to forge ahead anyway …

OK, we all know that people on the Internet like to complain. A lot. And we all know that the chasm between what comics bloggers profess to love/hate and what actually gets bought and read is wide enough to comfortably fit the Grand Canyon with room to spare.

That being said, I find myself rather surprised at the amount of invective and cynicism people have hurled towards DC’s big publishing announcements this week, especially their upcoming line of Year One graphic novels (not to mention their big Superman and Batman plans). Enough so to make me wonder if — contrary to my initial beliefs — that so-called “event fatigue” actually exists, or whether there’s a general and growing distrust with the powers-that-be at Time Warner that extends to all superhero comics in general.

But first, let’s do a quick run-down of reactions, shall we?

Chris Butcher: “It seems like a half-measure at capturing a new audience (at best) with product that’s indistinguishable from their regular releases, or recent initiatives. Possibly worse.” (Be sure to read his thoughts on the War of the Supermen cover art, too.)

Brian Hibbs: “The bottom line is that customers are much less likely to plunk down for a Big Ticket item than they are for a periodical, which is one of the reasons that the OGN doesn’t, to my mind, make a ton of sense.

Johanna Draper Carlson: “When it comes to this particular Earth One effort, I’m glad to see DC considering trying something new. … However, in this case, I think it may be (as so many of their past outreach attempts have been) too little, too late.”

Charles Yoakum: “Doing Batman’s origin AGAIN or Superman’s origin AGAIN is precisely the wrong tact to take.”

Matt Maxwell: “Are these being aimed at adult readers of comics or are they being aimed at kids? I’m gonna take a wild guess and say teenagers plus, though these things will never be racked in the YA section (and therefore will be overlooked by a lot of teens.) Unless they’re manga sized, they won’t be able to draft on the popularity of the manga sections. So it’ll be back into the purgatory of the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore of your choice.” (to be fair, Matt comes out mostly in favor of the project.)

There’s more, I’m sure.

Now while a good deal of this seems like the typical sort of prognosticating that fans, retailers and pundits (myself included) like to do, I find the tone of the discussion interesting because a) We haven’t got a lot of details about the books yet, such as price point, packaging, etc., so the negativity seems a bit premature; and b) it seems to spring from an all-too familiar awareness of DC’s multiple failed projects of the past that line the comics graveyard — Minx, Paradox, Piranha, Helix, I could go on. If folks seem to be betting against this new Earth One line, it may be because DC hasn’t had a very strong track record where reaching out to casual/new readers is concerned.

And I’m sure it’s just coincidence, but I find it interesting these announcements are all coming out at the same time that a number of bloggers are expressing their complete and utter dissatisfaction with not just DC, but superhero comics in general. David Brothers has declared 2009 as “the year that I stopped caring about superheroes.” Cheryl Lynn announced that she’s done with superhero comics as well. And Tim Callahan and Chad Nevett’s frustration with the genre is so deep that they needed two posts to fully express it.

As Tom Spurgeon notes, people get tired of a particular genre or medium and call it quits for awhile all the time, but there seems to be something going on here, a general consensus of dissatisfaction that’s difficult to put a finger on, but palpable all the same. Did some confluence of events — the poor economy, $3.99 price hike, one big, “must-read” event after another, plus a desire to maintain fan interest by increasingly upping the sex and violence quotient — somehow create a situation where superhero fans are so jaded and disinterested they can’t even work up enthusiasm for a new line that attempts to reach out to new readers?

I guess we’ll find out next year.

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Comments

23 Comments

Well, include me in the opposing party’s column. I am very excited about Earth One. I long ago abandoned singles for collections and graphic novels (the only exception is for “Criminal” because of the extras), so the idea of a line of original graphic novels featuring DC’s A-List characters is appealing. Especially with the talent they have lined up.

Do I care that they are origin stories? No, as long as they are well done. Is it a bit silly that there’s another Superman origin story that is just now being produced? Maybe, but that’s a re-establishment of Superman’s status quo for the regular monthly periodical DC Universe, so I’m fine with it. I can compartmentalize like that. It’s smart of DC to do origin stories for both characters in this first volume to make it as clean an entry point as possible for new readers, particularly for new regular bookstore shoppers.

And you know what? If people are confused about the difference between Superman: Secret Origin and Superman: Earth One, there’s this little thing called the internet that they can utilize to research the difference between the two. Why is everyone so up in arms on that point? BFD. It’s the same self-defeating crap that the comic industry has always engaged in.

Now, I do have my reservations, but they really have to do with one thing: Shane Davis. I’ve not been impressed with his work and I wish they had gotten someone better for the Superman book. Francis Manupal would have been my choice, but he’s tied up in the new Flash book. I hope that Davis brings his A-game and impresses me. I have no reservations whatsoever about the Johns/Frank Batman. I’m more excited about that than any other Batman project that has come down the pike for some time.

Frankly, I see this as a huge step in the evolution of the superhero comic book format. I hope it catches on like wildfire and encourages Marvel to follow suit, with original graphic novels of their superhero characters, as well.

Regarding price point, page couint, etc., I hope they are hardcovers, 120-150 pages in length, full color, $20.

I wouldn’t call the general attitude cynicism, myself, but plain old pessimism. I think people want the idea to work but see too many questions about the execution. And yes, it’s based on track record. Isn’t that better than just hating it for no reason? :) Are you reading more negativity into the discussions than really exist because it makes for a better article?

And why should superhero fans (a category I’m no longer part of) be enthusiastic about something aimed at a group they aren’t part of? (Note that you’re assuming that this line IS aimed at new readers, since DC didn’t explicitly say that either, although everyone’s made that conclusion.) That’s like me being thrilled about manga for Twilight fans. :)

I understand (and live) negativity toward individual projects, but there is a general negativity toward everything these days. And I believe it comes from emotional depression stemming from the economic depression.

I absolutely hate Hate HATE Mephisto as a Marvel character, and deplore how the Spider-Man series used the character, but that doesn’t mean I now hate Spider-Man comics, Marvel, and all superhero comics.

In the case of Earth One (not Earth-1, as some semi-literates are writing it), it looks as if DC is trying a reboot along the lines of the new Star Trek reboot. It’s the same basic characters written in a slightly different universe in an attempt to appeal to today’s audience.

It is also the case that DC is damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Some bloggers are hating on what if there, and hating on what might be there. They are hating the way DC does comics, and hating any new thing DC might try. No matter what DC does, they will hate.

And the solution is simple. If comics no longer appeal to you, find another hobby. Say your good-bye in one final column and move on. To continually post week after week, month after month about how crappy the industry is shows a pathological problem that needs to be professionally addressed.

David, Salt Lake City, UT

December 11, 2009 at 8:21 am

2009 was the year I left comics. Completely, as in I went from spending $100/month (including my 30% discount) to $0.00. My dissatisfaction started in Graduation Day, the edictal publication that heralded in the era of Dan Didio(t). It increased through Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, 52, and Countdown and all the various tie-ins and one-shots. Poor writing, lazy artwork, and non-existant editing pretty much sums up all of those eras.

Not just those events mind you but their after effects as well. The dismanteling of Young Justice, the return to the Satellite-era Justice League of America, the completely unnecessary reboot of Justice Society of America, a worlogog of creators on Superman/Action Comics, the destruction of the Flash franchise, a 3-year snorefest on Batman,all left me with a poor taste in my mouth.

And don’t get me started on the inconsistencies and complete lack of adherence to good storytelling. Stupid about-face motivations for characters, art that would make my high school art teacher cringe, and OMG the lack of consistency. I’m not a slave to continuity but as an example when a character dies, quite well i might add, in one book only to come back completely to life with no explanation or justification I get annoyed fast (Parasite). And no – Superman: Red Son does not explain how this happened contrary to the Wikipedia entry regardless of the fact it came out 2 years after Parasite returned. And how about that brother/sister Parasite, eh? That was cool wasn’t it? (rolls eyes)

All of this lead to the culmination of the most disappointing event I’ve read since Armageddon: 2001. Final Crisis was a complete and utter disaster. JG Jones was the absolute wrong choice for an artists on this book and Morrison tried to cram so much into 7 issues that he needed 2 more just to justify the villain (Superman: Beyond).

And that is just DC – the soap opera angst and naval gazing that oozes from Marvel and the so-called “alternative” independent super-hero titles just makes me sigh in exasperation.

When the only comic I can stomach is about talking ex-warmongering elephants set 300 years in the future then there is a huge problem in the comic industry. This reboot, or whatever Earth: One is supposed to be, will not be getting my money.

False advertising. I’d be better disposed towards the books were DC to name them something other than Earth One. We all know what Earth One is and if DC aren’t bringing back the ‘real’ Earth One, call this line something else.

I was really excited when I read the first bit of publicity about OGNs following the EO Superman and Batman, but in fact it’s another Ultimates deal. Good luck DC, but it’s not for me.

I think it’s an awesome idea to do superhero OGNs, but I personally was more hoping for books along the lines of Azzarello’s Joker, or Superman: Infinite City. One-shot, not really continuity based, awesome stories.

I’m looking forward to Earth One. Specially since I’ll be able to read em cheapo with Amazon.

For what it’s worth, I found this announcement not only dumb and uninspiring, but typical of the kind of delusional arrogance which seems to persist in comics “insiders” views of “outsiders.” While there isn’t a direct connection, I recall DC’s “After Watchmen, What’s Next?” campaign, which just seemed silly in the extreme to me.

Perhaps “After Watchmen” was a major success and I simply haven’t heard about it, but the whole thing seemed based on the notion that there were/are all of these unenlightened potential comics fans out there that need only the right approach from “us” to “convert” them. I’m sorry, but I don’t think that many people went into “Watchmen” and came out thinking “OMG, comics! There are awesome things in comics! Where do I find more???” Come on. Moviegoers who don’t read comics but loved “Watchmen” didn’t need to want DC to tell them “what’s next,” they were perfectly capable of figuring that out on their own (and the answer was probably another Hollywood blockbuster far more often than a comic book).

Likewise, we get ideas that the general public, which apparently loves characters like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, etc., really want to read the comics, even if they aren’t aware that they do, and are just prevented from doing so by problems of continuity, format and/or distribution.

Again, sorry, I don’t think that’s the problem. Comics aren’t nearly so locked away in the awful “Robot’s Dungeon” stereotypical bad comic store that people love to bemoan. First of all, lots of stores are pretty good, certainly no worse than the typical video store. Second, you can still find single issues in retail outlets; one of the supermarkets around here carries them. You can find comics in many public libraries, and comics in various formats have been in safe, clean, “socially acceptable” bookstores for how many years now?

Which leaves the continuity bugaboo. This “problem” has been constantly worried over at all levels of the mainstream superhero comic, from publishers down to the average opinionated fan, for ages. Everything has been tried in efforts to “fix” it, many times over. Reboots, retcons, recap pages, alternate universes, “back to basics” approaches, etc., etc., ad nauseum. The great ironies being, of course, that 1) much of this has only made things even more of a mess (i.e., when you have sixteen versions of Superman’s or Spider-Man’s beginning, a hypothetical outsider looking for an official “start here” is probably not going to be helped by adding a seventeenth), and 2) the whole issue is probably overblown anyway.

Again, in fears about “continuity,” we see the assumption that the non-comics-reader really wants to read our favorite comics but is clueless about how and needs our help. People watch soap operas that have been running for 50 years and somehow manage. I don’t think anyone’s head has exploded as a result of all the various Transformers cartoons and movies which don’t line up into a single A, B, C linear continuity.

For god’s sake, particularly with Superman or Batman, etc., the concepts are so simple and so universally-known that I can’t imagine that anyone NEEDS an official “starting point.” A majority of GNs and TPBs on the shelf at Borders, featuring such characters, are probably not going to need a ton of explanation to the “new fan.” There are certainly exceptions; a book with two Supermen flying around in electrified costumes might potentially be a little baffling, but again, let go of the assumption that everyone who isn’t already reading comics is helpless. I doubt that anyone walks up to the shelf, finds the Batman section, and then just pulls out a volume at random and walks up to the cashier. The “newbie” is probably going to exercise an astonishing amount of judgment in skipping over books that don’t seem to make any sense.

And yet… here we go again anyway. DC announces yet another new, “clean” continuity for the clueless would-be fans that they are apparently convinced wait only for a helping hand. More of the same crap is thrown at the same wall.

And you wonder why some people aren’t jumping up and down and high-fiving.

I can’t say I’m super-excited by this – I can understand not wanting to see Superman’s origin again. But I also can’t understand the negativity. DC is trying to reach out to new audiences with its most important characters in a way that could move us beyond the pamphlet. How is this a bad thing?

I think by now, we’re at the point where some people just don’t trust DC to do anything right. And then have to tell us this over and over. Personally, I try to avoid such posts. I have never once read a Tucker Stone review – I don’t need the grief or the anger. I still love DC. I still love super-heroes (and find most comics that don’t have super-heroes to be pretentious bores). I like JMS’ comics works, and like Geoff Johns’ comics works. There is no reason that these books cannot be huge. And there is no reason that DC can’t find a new audience.

And if current readers don’t care…TOO BAD. They already have us. This is about going beyond a rather miniscule audience that seems to be either buying every book DC prints or buying none and blogging about it. This is something DC has to try, or else it risks becoming ever less relevant and less profitable. And if it fails, I don’t think they lose much by trying.

I dunno, after Watchmen, I had a lot of friends that asked for advice on what to read next. Even if many people don’t need the help, if a small percentage does, isn’t it worth trying to help them? I thought the After Watchmen promotion was great, just that it didn’t reach anyone that mattered. Didn’t they only advertise this in comics and LCS’?

Gee, I don’t think the Titanic’s deck chairs look any better over here than they did over there.

Count me in as someone happy about Earth One. My reasons, stated in more detail elsewhere, have to do with my excitement for the way in which Earth One honors the long-format comics reading experience — if you view comics collections as a product by themselves, not as an afterthought of the monthly format, then Earth One is a realization of that view.

I respectfully disagree with Wraith’s statement that continuity doesn’t turn off new comics readers. Even as Brian Hibbs notes that customers are more likely to buy a periodical than a higher priced trade, he also mentions that the first volume of Sandman sells six times better for him than a volume toward the end of the series — I interpret this to be because new readers like to start at the beginning. It’s the same reason DC numbers the volumes of Justice League, Teen Titans, and other series, because readers like to know where to start.

But there’s so many Superman and Batman volumes that it would be impossible for a new reader to know where the first volume is. Even if someone reads Superman: Secret Origin, they don’t go next to the book that collects Superman #1, but rather to a book halfway through the modern Superman run, and I can understand how that would be crazy-making for a new reader.

If a new reader did happen to go into a comic book store, and if they said to the person behind the counter, “I’ve never read Batman before, where do I start?” the retailer could give them Batman: Earth One, volume one. Subsequently, they could give them volume two, volume three, etc. I think the new reader in the bookstore that Wraith posits does need a starting point, and Earth One gives it to them, in a format that new reader might be expecting.

As others have noted, a lot of the pessimism towards the Earth One project is based on DC’s “track record.” But DC is also behind Vertigo, one of the most successful comics lines in the bookstore market. And while most of the pessimistic opinions are certainly informed, they/we seem to be looking at the initiative from the viewpoint of super-hero fans who have intricate knowledge of both the fictional history of comic books and the comic book industry. We seem to be forgetting that these books aren’t for us. There for fans of the characters who have either never had regular access to the monthly comic books or who have tried and failed to get into them.

(Mini rant here for a second: Anybody who says that super-hero comics are as easy to plug into now as they were even 10 years ago is spewing crap. I’ve been reading super-hero comics since the mid-80s, but have transitioned into reading mostly collections since getting married. I picked up Batman: Face the Face and Batman: Gotham Underground and was severely disappointed in both of them because they both required that you understand backstory that wasn’t included, and Gotham Underground had something of an open-ending even though it was supposed to be a stand-alone mini. This is just anecdotal, but if a super-hero comics veteran like myself can’t read a Batman story without a glossary, something is seriously wrong).

For those who say that this is just another reboot, I’m viewing these OGNs kind of like Star Trek or Buffy the Vampire Slayer novels that you can find in book stores. In both cases the properties are being based on a foundational continuity, but a new continuity from that which is supplemental to the original property, not necessary to it.

Ultimately, we as fans reserve the right to piss and moan about anything and everything before we get the full story. I remember how the Internet went into meltdown when Ultimate Spider-Man was first announced way back in 2000. It was a stupid, stupid idea that couldn’t possibly work and would cost Marvel fans and profits.

For those who believe that Earth One is destined to fail, I want to know what other ideas would do any better, because what the industry is doing now obviously isn’t working.

I have a couple friends who are not comics fans, but have a decent grasp of the basics (who Green Lantern is etc.). 1 vs 100 had a comics half hour a couple days ago, and they were completely confused as I tried to explain why there were 4 Robins, or how Rogue was able to fly. These are people who have read and enjoyed comics I have given them to read (Watchmen, New Frontier), but are so confused as to what the hell is supposed to be going on in the mainstream books, that they dismiss the whole enterprise. This is why we need to allow people the opportunity to find an entry point into this increasingly insular hobby. Also as a solely trade reader, they are the absolute best way to get into a character’s backstory, and I applaud DC for a renewed focus on them.

I’m not surprised critical types, fanboys and retailers aren’t into the idea, it’s NOT FOR THEM.

It’s for people are put off by the very things these people seem to revel in, comic shops, labyrinthine stories that only mean anything if you’ve read hundreds of issues and followed a story for a year, navel gazing self referential BS (Morrison, I bet most of these people who hate this idea love Grant Morrison’s work), this whole Earth One thing is aimed at an actual audience outside the current one. And as such, the current one isn’t going to like it, they never do. They hated the Ultimate line when it was announced, then when it was taken over by that degradation artiste Mark Millar (Morrison lite) they suddenly loved it, they pissed themselves over the Ultimates.

The point is, I expected no less from most of these people, they’re hostile towards anything that might expand the audience of their ‘thing’, always have been.

And where else SHOULD THEY START?

People generally like to read a story from the beginning people biatching about ‘not another origin story!’ again, miss the point entirely. It’s the quickest way to show “This Is Not The Comic Shop Nerds’ Superman and Batman”.

Damn, there is so much failure in these reactions it hurts the brain.

“People watch soap operas that have been running for 50 years and somehow manage.”

Um, not so much anymore.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/08/AR2009120804109.html

comicsatemybrain

December 11, 2009 at 5:49 pm

Setting aside the question of publication format, it might be worth pointing out that a lot of people whined about Ultimate Spider-Man… and then the first issue was actually *published.* Instead of disaster, it had solid story and art and was a sales success for several years.

So let’s wait for these books to be published before deciding whether or not this is an epic fail. *sheesh*

“Damn, there is so much failure in these reactions it hurts the brain.”

Wow. This is an internet discussion… about comics… and you were expecting what, exactly? A cheerleading-only zone? Apologies. I tried that, but I just can’t figure out pom-poms; I’ve never been good at accessorizing.

This story reminds me exactly why I rarely scroll down to read comments and why I’m starting to skip a lot of comics journalism. I have never seen fans of an art form or hobby (depending on how you regard it) gripe and complain the way internet comic book fans do. I especially enjoy commentary from people who haven’t picked up a comic in 20 years, people who trounce superheroes but never read them, the henny penny types who always cry the sky is falling on the industry, the list goes on and on. Obviously not every book that comes out is a hit, and most books that come out are never going to be timeless works of art. We see that with any medium. I also get it that critics critique and their word on a book is not always going to be favourable nor does it have to be if the material does not merit it. People also have every right to question and discuss what we see in our comics and this is a place for people to vocally (or rather textually) share when what it is they’re seeing just doesn’t work. However, I guess I’m terribly naive enough to wonder though if a few more people related to this industry could accentuate the positive just a little more often if maybe that wouldn’t translate across the board. I know in choosing shops over the years for my business, it’s always benefited me to go to the shop that the employees are enthusiastic for comics versus the ones who grumble about every project or haven’t enjoyed a comic in over 20 years.

I was going to write this really snarky, mean-spirited post about how its not stories that are my problem with comics lately, but comic fans and every long-winded cynic with a blog site who thinks their opinion is far more meaningful than it really is, but then Joe Hare came along and did it, without even being all mean-spirited and snarky. Point is? The negativity is unnecessary. You’re not being helping the industry. You’re not being “properly critical”. These are just excuses–you’re sucking the fun out of comics.

This is actually some of the best news to come out of either of the Big Two since DC started publishing Warlord again. I do find it sad that DC is basically redoing the revamps of the late eighties again (after spending the last ten years erasing said revamps), but I think both creative teams are designed to offer a lot of great work here. Some of my excitement will be withheld until we see a price point for these books, but I think it is the closest we will see to a new mindset from DC for some time to come.

And it always makes me sad when I hear about readers giving up on superhero comics. It always strikes me that they aren’t really stretching and finding the really great books, especially outside the big two, like Savage Dragon, Invincible, The Anchor, etc, etc.

I’m one of those who gave up on superhero comics this year, after twenty years of reading them.

I agree with the posters who say that retelling origins and rebooting franchises is probably not the way to go. I agree that the various must-read epics have been disappointingly dull to an issue. I also highly doubt that people preparing to jump into Superman or Batman really need a “start here” issue. Besides, knowing these characters’ origins will still leave you with 50+ years worth of issues to catch up on if you want to start “at the beginning.”

I think the best approach to making comics open to new readers would be to stick to three to six issue arcs, allowing characters to change incrementally and slowly over time rather than all at once through a major “Something Huge is Happening!” epic. That was the trend when I started reading comics. I remember that was how Wally West became half robot, got a bunch of money in an inheritance, lost all that money, began working for the IRS, got his full speed back, and whole slew of other changes. The important changes that writers see potential in will stick (death of Gwen Stacy, Dick Grayson becomes Nightwing) and minor details whose effects last for only a year or two (how many people even remember that Wally West was briefly part robot?) will fall by the wayside quickly and easily. The “must read” history will be able to be condensed into a decent weight graphic novel that hits the highlights that are most relevant to the growth of the character.

That said, these are general objections to the approaches that DC has been taking lately, not specifically aimed at Year One. Maybe Year One will turn out to be just what these characters need, and manage to tell interesting stories that were only possible in their early years when they were young and inexperienced. Ideally, I think, it would then go on to hit those most pertinent highlights and turn them into a single fluid story. A kind of official timeline for these heroes, since their actual histories are basically a mess.

However, I find it very hard to believe that these will work for new readers, because the very first question out of new readers’ lips will be “Earth One? What the hell does that mean?” A story designed to draw in new readers should not require a lengthy explanation of some of the silliest, most elaborate, least sensical, and in my opinion stupidest continuity patches in superhero history just so that the title makes sense.

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