Robot 6

DC Comics and the shattered illusion

Justice League

There’s a third season episode of How I Met Your Mother where Ted thinks he’s found the perfect girl, but doesn’t see the glaring flaw that’s driving the rest of his friends crazy. When it’s finally pointed out to him, there’s a sound of shattering glass as his illusions are smashed and the veil of perfection is lifted from his image of his girlfriend. In retaliation, he points out one of Lily’s major flaws to Marshall and the dominoes continue to fall until the clatter of breaking glass fills the air. By the end of the episode, everyone stands figuratively naked, their defects bared before the entire group.

This has been happening in serial fiction a lot lately. I don’t mean that this theme comes up a lot; I mean that serialized fiction – whether in comics, TV, or even the movies – presents an illusion that it knows what it’s doing. That there’s a master plan being followed and if you’ll just stick with the story, all will be revealed and eventually concluded in an emotionally satisfying way that makes complete sense. This is of course crap, as I’ve come to realize more and more the last several years. The sound of shattered glass is deafening.

I’m not suggesting that no one’s planning ahead at all. Obviously, there are writers who are. But writers can only plan so far and even the best of them eventually reach a point where they’ve said what they originally set out to say. In order to keep the story going, Sydney has to lose two years of her life, you have to introduce Nikki and Paulo, or Meredith has to betray Derek by interfering with his clinical trial. Or you have to reboot your entire comic book line.

Aquaman

Let’s make something else clear. I’m not talking about Jump the Shark moments. I’m not even sure I believe in Jump the Shark moments. With the right writers in place, long-running series can survive the audiences’ realization that the story is making itself up as it goes along. It doesn’t have to suck after that point, though sucking often occurs. That’s why I’m optimistic about DCnU. I’d like to be more optimistic, but having seen this kind of thing work in the past, I’m cautiously hopeful that it’ll work for DC in September. But whether it works or doesn’t, it certainly does rip back the curtain and reveal the little man working the Wizard’s controls.

With each of DC and Marvel’s events since Identity Crisis and Civil War, the companies have repeated a consistent marketing mantra: “It’s all been building to this.” Say what you will about hardcore fans’ only caring about stories that “count;” DC and Marvel have been encouraging that attitude by having each event flow into the next. The message is that what matters aren’t individual stories within particular series, but the gigantic stories of their entire universes. The illusion is that these gigantic stories are all headed somewhere.

Of course they aren’t. Nowhere, that is, except for the next event. Which will then lead to the one after that. There was no master plan that connected Civil War to Fear Itself. Or Identity Crisis to Brightest Day. Nor do I think anyone honestly believes that there was. It’s an illusion that the publishers sell and we happily buy. We’re not fools for buying it so long as we remember what it really is. It’s when we forget and start to believe the illusion that we set ourselves up for heartbreak.

Batgirl

I think that’s why a lot of long-time DC fans are upset by DCnU. The Don’t Call It a Reboot is essentially DC’s shrugging its shoulders and saying, “You know what? We don’t know where to go next.” Back in the day, this used to happen all the time on individual series that weren’t working. They’d bring in a new creative team and announce a Bold, New Direction for the series. That’s what DCnU is, but on a much grander scale and with much deeper changes. DC seems to have realized that Brightest Day wasn’t leading anywhere they were excited to go, so they made plans to wrap that up and start over with something new. The tactic could work (and I’m rooting for it to), but it does destroy the illusion. And a lot of fans liked that illusion.

At the end of that How I Met Your Mother episode, the group of friends of course realized that they still accepted and loved each other in spite of their annoying habits. The shattering of illusions made their relationships stronger. I’m curious to see if that’s going to work for DC and its fans. No one with any sense believes that DC’s actively trying to divorce itself from its current audience in hope of trying to create an entirely new one. The question is: have they created enough good will with their current audience to weather the heartbreak of seeing behind the curtain? Will fans accept and love them anyway?

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Comments

26 Comments

It’s not so much people buying into the illusion as how badly management has been handling things. The audience has been leaving for a couple years. This is an accumulation of the former fanbase’s disgust with what has happened.

“Have they created enough good will with their current audience to weather the heartbreak of seeing behind the curtain? Will fans accept and love them anyway?”

If the results of the Relaunch Survey on CBR are anything to go by, the answer is mostly “No”

Yes! Every time I hear the “master plan” schtick, I think of those nine Star Wars movies that Lucas had already written back in the late 70s, and I roll my eyes. Some times there is a plan (masterful or not), but mostly it’s made up as it goes, and that’s okay. If the end product is good, it doesn’t really matter if it was planned out five decades for five minutes ago.

So THAT’S why there’ve been an onslaught of seemingly interconnected events over the past several years. Why didn’t anyone do anything to stop it from happening? Why doesn’t anyone do anything to stop it right now, so it can never again occur?

D Eric Carpenter

June 15, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I guess I’m in the severe minority. I’m looking forward to the restart.

I don’t believe that this specific restart has been planned for a long time, but I do believe that DC has been looking for ways to retool and rejuvenate the line for the last few years. I think that every major event has been an attempt to clean things up and get interest going in the line.

But they never really caught on. I do believe that there has been some planning that ‘if X and Y and Z don’t work, then we’re going to pave it over and start again.’ And I think it got to that point. Brightest Day didn’t create the interest they wanted…so we’re left with the restart option.

That said…I’m actually positive. I’m going to give a lot of these titles a try.

As a kid, I loved finding something I liked and then finding out all I could about it. I began reading Legion of Superheroes during Earthwar and had a LOT of stuff to find out, which I took great pleasure in. Now, I kind of get that for the whole universe.

Now, I admit, I’ve been taken down that path before: Zero Hour had much of the same promise, but dropped the ball on the follow through. But I’m hoping, and not blindly–I’ve still got a cynical side, that this time they really do follow through.

I’m amazed at how adaptable negativity is, though…it’s really laughable. It’s gone from “Oh my God, they’re restarting everything!” to “Well, they may not be rebooting the WHOLE thing, but how come no one trusts Superman!” to “Okay, well…that’s him at the start…but that means the JSA never existed!” No matter what the news, the fan negativity finds some way to squeak on.

My take? I’ve got a feeling…nothing more than that…that this is the ‘official’ restart of the multiverse. Yes, yes, I know…that means we’re going back to the Silver Age. The horrors! Modern writing looking at the Silver Age.

I suspect Morrison’s Multiversity may have adapted to the new situation…where we might actually see an Earth 1/Earth 2 kind of setup where the Golden Age did occur on another world, but on this world, Superman is the first…

Sort of like it was way back when.

I don’t know. But I’m looking forward to finding out and hoping that it doesn’t crash and burn.

I do believe the modern shattered illusion began in DC Comics with 52.

Simon DelMonte

June 15, 2011 at 1:30 pm

I am a Mets fan. My illusions have been shattered by true pros far more often than DC ever has, or ever could.

Shattered illusion? Sorry, no. Disillusioned? Oh, hell yeah. What this boils down to is “We’ve made such a mess of the DCU by allowing every writer that comes along to do whatever they like with no consideration for past OR future continuity that we don’t have a clue what to do, so we’ve decided to toss all the history that inspired you to hang in this long and start all over with THE EXACT SAME CREATORS that screwed things up to begin with…see, it’s not that the stories were bad, it’s that Superman was wearing his underwear on the outside that was keeping the sales down.”

I did not have any illusions shattered. I am about to have characters I know and love as they are now torn from me. I’m getting too old for yet another reboot or whatever they want to call it where I have to keep track of what’s canon and what’s no longer canon. Better they should have just started all over. Said from September on, we’re starting from scratch and then done just that. Start with Superman coming to Metropolis and slowly give us his origin. Ditto Batman and Wonder Woman. And that would’ve been Sept. In October, bring in the others, with them at the start of their heroing careers, meeting each other for the first time, learning secret identities, whatever. A whole new DCU. That I would’ve been intrigued by enough to read. What they’re giving us, not so much. My pull list of 25 or so DC books will be going down to 4 or 5. I want to get Batwoman since she’s still new. And I want to try Voodoo and Grifter because they weren’t part of the regular DCU and I don’t have the same attachment to them as the regular DC gang. Plus, I really like both of them.

I’m looking into non-DC/non-Marvel titles to start reading, too.

I just realized that if this DCnU thing has no heroes prior to Superman it in effect means Starman didn’t happen in this universe.

Which is fine. I’m not saying those stories somehow mean less to me. But…a DCU without Jack Knight, even a retired Jack Knight, is not something I’m really interested in beyond being the place where Superman is, in my head it goes Superman, Starman, Deadman, then maybe Batman when it comes to solo DCU characters. My second favorite character in the DCU is now…not there, or his stories happened in a very different way. That book was all about the history of the DCU. Since that history is negated so is the book’s ties to it.

But not what I want from my DCU. I mean, if you’re going to do this, allow James Robinson to come back and tell a new story with the character, offer him the chance at a second go, if he wants it. Give him a chance to work his voice into the DCU now, since you’ve removed his last addition. Seems only right since you’re wiping his work from your history. And at least throw a bone to us who loved the book, give someone else a shot at creating a new Starman. It doesn’t have to be Jack Knight. Doesn’t even have to be a Knight. But since that book was all about the passing of the name, and the fact that there has been a Starman in the DCU for decades…why isn’t there one in the DCnU?

Starman gave me years of entertainment. This just seems…stupid. You can dig up I…Vampire but no Starman?

This whole thing with the so called DCnU has been kind of interesting to watch unfold from the perspective of someone firmly in the Marvel camp. I’ve read the odd monthly DC book, but never for more than a year or two. Usually stick with the Vertigo stuff. I think the only thing this big reboot has done for me was pique my interest in some of the fringe comics…Demon Knights and Frankenstein for sure…but both of those I would only consider because of the writers attached to them…and both of those are probably on the chopping block already and they haven’t even come out yet. Oh well.

No illusions shattered here. I knew that this was Marvel and DC’s game. Figured it out a year or two into reading comics. Then a year or two later I started to get bored. It’s not that the stories were any more or less good, I just decided I wanted off the ride. Now I only get the stories I care about if I have enough room after the indie and manga I get.

YES. I’ve slowly been phasing out my monthly readings, and DC’s relaunch has solidified that for me. I’m tired of believing that it all matters when, really, it’s all just cyclical and doesn’t matter. Characters have a certain status quo, slowly deviate away from it, have several major storylines and radical changes, and then go back to status quo. All with the illusion that it’s going somewhere. It’s not.

I forget who first realized that superheroes lack a natural ending. It was either Frank Miller (leading to The Dark Knight Returns) or Alan Moore (leading to his thankfully rejected Twilight of the Superheroes). Or maybe it was Neil Gaiman with his “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?”, which basically made the point that Batman will go on forever and ever, so keep buying, readers! Well, whoever discovered it, I’ve become increasingly sympathetic to that viewpoint: these stories just go on, and on, and on, and don’t stop.

The only one of DC’s 52 I *might* have bought is Morrison’s Action Comics. But you know what? In 5 years, we’ll be getting another new origin for Superman. They might as well do one every year now. It might be good, it might not. Doesn’t matter; in enough time, we’ll flip to something else.

I will check out the reboot and I have not bought a new comic in 2 years.It is risky.But I sure hope all of the creators have been tied to their new titles for at least 12 issues.If not ,this will be an epic fail.Good Luck DC.

NYJ summed up nicely the way I feel about the whole super-hero comic industry. The problem isn’t so much that this is a bold new direction for the company, it’s that this is ANOTHER bold new direction for the company. DC and Marvel have both had a strong tendency over the past ten years or so to proclaim that THIS IS THE STORY THAT MATTERS. But after having THE BIGGEST STORY WE’VE EVER TOLD every year for 10 years, it results in the disillusionment and something that can only be called (forgive me for saying it) “event-fatigue.” I know we’ve faded away from the phrase over the past few years, but after dealing with the hype and empty promises year after year with THE WORLD’S MOST IMPORTANT STORY EVER TOLD!, it makes you yearn for the day when you could plunk down your $1.00 (or $.65 or $.35 or whatever) with the knowledge that you would get a complete adventure for your investment. Or at the very least you wouldn’t be forced to buy a dozen or more different crossover titles in order to understand the story that you originally paid to read.

The turning point for me was Infinite Crisis. Between the Countdown Special, The prologue minis, Infinite Crisis itself, the epilogue minis and specials, OYL and 52, and the fact that not one series or special (that I can remember) had a satisfactory conclusion because they all fed into something else that promised to give you the rest of the story, I just got fed up. That ended up as one of the major reasons I dropped collecting monthly titles entirely several years back.

The relaunch of the DCU is kind of like that. While I am optimistic about this event and genuinely looking forward to to some of the new titles and concepts, I’m afraid that they’ll require reading every title in order to enjoy just one. And I only say that because that’s been their MO for the past decade. If I knew that I could enjoy any super-hero title (say, Firestorm) by itself and that each title would be at least a little separated from every other title, I’d be a lot more inclined to jump into the new DC (“There’s no stopping us now!”) a little deeper because it wouldn’t require me to buy EVERY title published EVERY month.

As it is I’ll probably pick up Justice League and a small handful of titles in September (which will still be the biggest investment I’ve made in comics in several years) just to get an idea of the directions they’re taking, but I sincerely doubt I’ll follow any of the titles more than a month or two, and I probably won’t even buy any of the trades when they’re eventually collected.

I truly hope DC takes this new starting point as an opportunity to tell individual stories instead of relying on horizontal continuity, but I sincerely doubt they’ll do it. I wish them the best on this project, but I can’t imagine this experiment lasting for more than 24 months before being dubbed a colossal failure, re-instituting a more traditional continuity, and jettisoning most or all of the leadership by SDCC 2013. And I’m guessing we’ll start to see severe cracks in the plan by no later than SDCC 2012.

(Good lord I’m verbose.)

I truly hope DC takes this new starting point as an opportunity to tell individual stories instead of relying on horizontal continuity…

Me too, dude. Me too.

Broken Mirror master.

It seems to me that a variety of factors forced this. The fact that the best books either of the big 2 can concieve can’t sell 100k with any regularity. The rise of digital. That Brightest Day may have painted the line into a corner. Ongoing( Lord, is it ongoing) litigation over Superman, with the decendants of other creators waiting in the wings awaiting the outcome. It may be early to call this a Hail Mary, but it has that feel.

How about taking a longer term approach like.. I don’t know.. writing stories people want to read? or maybe letting creators build characters? From my prospective the focus on “this months sales” is far too great. If I wanted to interest someone in comics (and I have numerous times) I wouldn’t loan them Final Crisis. I’d loan them Denny O’Neils Question run, or the new Power Girl run.

That’s a good point, Geoff. Right now the perception is that if you want to enjoy superhero comics, it’s a huge investment because you have to follow the entire universe. That perception isn’t actually true for ALL DC and Marvel comics, but it’s true enough to be off-putting both to new readers and to the current fans who are eager to recruit new readers.

The idea behind DCnU is exciting to me for its potential to tear down that perception. What’s interesting though are the comments DC’s making about how it’s “not a reboot” and “all those old stories still count.” They’re obviously working hard to bring along the current fans, but I’m extremely curious to see how it works. I don’t suspect they’ll lose a lot of hardcore fans, who are – of course – hardcore. What I can’t wait to find out is whether the new approach brings in new readers. That’ll determine whether DCnU is here for good or just another quick event.

When DC announced this reboot, I can honestly say I was pissed a bit. And it’s not because they’re ending a book I love in particular (they’ve done it enough times to me that I’m pretty much expecting it) but rather it’s the lack of sense in this move.

Looking at the current sales estimates, I understand that DC is getting killed. They usually control 30-40% of the market and had lots of top sellers in the OGN market. But looking at the sales estimates for last month, they controlled 26.82%, with an event running. That’s abysmal by company standards. The movies they’re putting out aren’t generating much in way of comic sales, so they’ve stooped to advertising on their comics movies like Green Lantern, which would be fine if they weren’t putting them on books totally unrelated to the movie.

I’m not old enough to remember the relaunch in the 1980s post Crisis on Infinite Earths, but I’ve read up on it and it seems the consensus reasoning behind it was that the DCU had become too complicated (multiple Earths, WW2 era origin stories, etc.) and didn’t make sense. CIE allowed them to clean sweep it all and restart. Fine. But here’s my problem; over the passed 6 years or so, DC slowly rebuilt the over-complicated structure of the DCU with the various events (52, various Crisis books, GL books) until continuity became bloated and unwieldy, choking creativity to the point of pushing creators away from the DC. There were editorial mandates about certain characters for certain crossovers, stories that could or couldn’t be told because of them, and artists who either refused or followed these mandates. Things need to change for DC, no doubt.

But how is doing the same thing they did in the 1980s going to fix the issue? Especially, if as they claim, current continuity will somehow still apply? Does that make sense to anyone at all? If Barbara Gordon is Batgirl, what age is she? If she was never Oracle, how did Birds of Prey happen? It’s only one example but it demonstrates succinctly that this massive change to one character has rippling affects in a shared universe setting that will HAVE TO CAUSE A REBOOTED ORIGIN. To me, this will alienate the “hardcore” fans who have a lot of investment in the continuity and characters of the DCU. How could it not? Was Tim Drake ever Robin in this world? Was Dick Grayson?

Another thing that puzzles me is pulling Vertigo characters into (or back into I should say) the main Universe. Vertigo works. It has for a long time been the place for very good writers to create new and interesting concepts in original works like Y: The Last Man. It’s been a place for darker horror fic with the likes of Hellblazer. It’s been a place where characters that are next to useless in the main realm getting their own chance to shine (Madame Xanadu, The Losers, Unknown Soldier, etc.) It may sell far less than the main universe, but it’s a bit of a feather in DC’s cap that they essentially have an art house/boutique publisher in their repertoire. Now it seems that they want to pair down Vertigo, take characters that are popular there (Death, Constantine, etc.) and start folding them into mainstream. If they can leave Vertigo stand alone, say have a mainstream version of Constantine and a VErtigo version of him, I think it could work. But DC Editors want continuity. They wants books to link because it may cause the reader to buy both comics. So how long until Vertigo becomes only a place where creator owned, independent stories get published? If Vertigo becomes the DC version of Icon (an anemic attempt by Marvel ape Vertigo to begin with) I would imagine even more fans will be alienated.

And then there’s the talents choices picked up for the relaunch. Sure we all know Gail and Grant and Jurgens; but please tell me who half of these other writers and artists are. Give me some name recognition that will direct me to works of theirs that will instill in me confidence that this relaunch will be handled with skill. Who are Joshua Hale Fialkov, Mike Green and Mike Johnson, Kyle Higgins, Jeff Lemire, Scott Snyder, NAthan Edmundson, etc.? And why are they often writing more than one book at a time? Most of these writers have one, maybe two books under their belts, some of which haven’t been out for all that long, have been cancelled, or just weren’t very good. Yet, DC is relaunching their universe staffed 1/3 with the untested. It seems an odd choice and I hope it works out, but when you put them on books like I, Vampire or Men of War, you seem to be dooming your supposed rising stars to obscurity.

And please tell me how Tony Bedard is writing anything? Has the pool grown so shallow that Tony “The Killer of Books” Bedard gets to write a GL book and Blue Beetle (the one I might have picked up, had this horrendous staffing choice not have been made)? Scott Lobdell is in there more than once; yes, Danger Girl Scott Lobdell. Bad WildCATS run Scott Lobdell. Rob Leifeld is drawing a book. Not just covers, but the whole book in his untalented, footless style. I can only assume that DC started approaching people to restart the Universe and got a lot of “No” before they stepped down to these levels.

Great article that perfectly articulated why I’m upset by the Not-Reboot.

Event fatigue is a real thing, but collectors have stayed on board the train because, as you said, “it’s all building to this.” That hypothetical “this” is when all of our wallets could take a breather and we could jump off the train for a while.

The Nu-Boot is basically DC’s train jumping the tracks and crashing into a tree. A lot of collectors are dizzy, confused, and realize that there was never a destination or even a conductor. Not only is the trip abruptly over, but you can believe they won’t board that train again.

It’s also why I have strayed more and more from the big two and drifted more towards indies. When I read a finite series like BKV’s Ex Machina, I know the entire way that there’s an endgame in mind, even if the exact path changes in the middle.

I’m getting really sick of people about the cyclical nature of comic characters who have been in serial publication since the 60’s and before. If you want self contained stories with the narrative satisfaction of a unified vision from beginning to end there are lots of creator owned and/or published pamphlets out there that could use your support try buying them.

And there are people who don’t know who Jeff Lemire is or question his credentials? Really?

Googam son of Goom

June 16, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Julian is right.

If you want self-contained stories with the narrative satisfaction of a unified vision from beginning to end there are lots of creator-owned…pamphlets out there that could use your support….

Amen.

Interesting take. I think it makes a lot of sense. I also think there’s another illusion being shattered: there is no such thing as a version of any of these characters that has ever remained consistent. Read comics for more than a handful of years and their continuities won’t be the same by the end. It’s just that most of the time it happens gradually, so it’s easy to pretend it’s been consistent. Reboots do it in a sudden and definitive way that you can’t hide from it.

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