Axel-In-Charge: Navigating the "Civil War II" Landscape, Bringing DMC to Marvel
1. For Batman and Green Lantern, if it ain’t broke, DC’s not fixing it. In 2010, you had to go all the way down to the Direct Markets #109 bestelling title, the debut of J. Michael Straczynski’s abortive tenure on Superman, before hitting a DC book that wasn’t part of the Batman line, the Green Lantern line, or the Green Lantern-spawned Blackest Night and Brightest Day events. DC has rewarded the creators behind these franchises’ success by keeping them more or less in place, albeit with some title-swapping and artist-shuffling. Geoff Johns, Tony Bedard, and Peter J. Tomasi are still writing the three main Green Lantern series (along with the previously announced Peter Milligan on Red Lantern), while Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder, Tony Daniel, David Finch, and Tomasi are still handling the books with “Batman” in the title (with long-time Gotham Citizens like J.H Williams III, Gail Simone, and Judd Winick filling out the line).
2. DC’s rolling the dice big-time on an I Can’t Believe It’s Not Vertigo-verse. Today’s big announcement of new “dark” titles features such Vertigo characters as Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Shade the Changing Man, John Constantine, Madame Xanadu, as written by such Vertigo creators Peter Milligan (Hellblazer), Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth), and Scott Snyder (American Vampire). That’s quite a vote of confidence in Vertigo’s taste in creators, characters, and tone, especially given that many industry observers saw the line as an afterthought for the new regime. Of course, how this will impact Vertigo itself has yet to be seen. It’s also worth considering that Vertigo’s biggest and most durable hits over the past decade or so have tended to be creator-owned titles existing in their own worlds and straying pretty far from the imprint’s horror-magic roots, so launching eight shared-universe horror-magic books — over one-sixth of the new DC Universe line — is a gamble in and of itself.
3. Characters and concepts, not creators, are key. Green Lantern titles. Batman books. “Dark” series. Big bright hero books. By now the pattern is clear: DC’s structuring its publicity, at least, by grouping comics by their in-world characters rather than by their behind-the scenes talent. So instead of, say, a big roll-out for the multiple titles being written by established superstar (and DC CCO) Geoff Johns, key supporting players like Tomasi and JT Krul, or up-and-comers Snyder and Lemire, the focus is on franchise. In the writer-driven superhero-comics industry, that’s a strategy that bears noting.
4. Talent-wise, DC’s keeping it all in the family… When DC announced its plan to launch 52 series with brand-new #1 issues all in one month, much of the speculation centered on who’d be drafted from outside the publisher’s existing pool of talent to help reach that goal. The answer seems to be “Not very many people at all.” Johns, Morrison, Simone, Winick, Krul, Tomasi, Bedard, Lemire, Snyder, Milligan, Paul Cornell, Brian Azzarello — these are all familiar figures for DC readers, as are most of the artists with whom they’ll be working. Ron Marz and the Abnett/Lanning team may not have done much work for DC lately, but they’re hardly unknown quantities either. Of the currently announced titles, I think recent Marvel vets Paul Jenkins, who’s contributing to the anthology title DC Universe Presents; Josh Fialkov, who is writing a revived I, Vampire; and Duane Swiercynski, the writer for the new Birds of Prey are the biggest, and possibly the only, surprises.
5. …and they’re using artists as writers to do it. In practical terms, staffing up for 52 series without bringing in a lot of new blood means giving many creators best known as artists a shot at scripting as well, whether they’ve got an established track record with it or not. You can count Tony Daniel, David Finch, Francis Manapul, Ethan Van Sciver and Dan Jurgens in that number. That has to be a uniquely appealing selling point for the publisher versus Marvel, where you’ve seen less and less of that sort of thing over the years. On the other hand, anyone with memories of the ’90s’ scheduling and storytelling debacles can tell you there’s a hefty potential downside to this kind of move.
6. Some creators and comics aren’t making the jump. Chris Roberson, whose job it was to pick up JMS’s Superman pieces and who by most accounts acquitted himself admirably in that task, tweeted today that he’s done with the DCU (but not iZombie, in case you were worried). Brian Wood, himself a Vertigo mainstay who recently said he was working on some company-owned stuff for someone, saw a projected Supergirl run make like the matrix version of that character and disappear. Brian Clevinger was in and then out on Firestorm. Michael Alan Nelson was in and then out on…something. The Batman announcements were mum on the future of Red Robin, its star Tim Drake, his one-time girlfriend and current Batgirl Stephanie Brown, and longtime Bat-writer Paul Dini. The “Dark” books didn’t include Xombi or Zatanna, which you’d think they would. On the road to the New DCU, there are casualties.
7. The diversification of the DC Universe has had mixed results so far. DC’s PR has touted a diversity that reflects its readership as one of its primary goals. How are they doing on meeting it? Mister Terrific, Batwing and Voodoo get solo titles, Jason Rusch is one half of Firestorm, Cyborg joins the Justice League’s Big Seven, John Stewart anchors a GL title, and four female-starring Batman books are in the offing. At the same time, Xombi appears to be gone, Cyborg was already in the Justice League briefly, and most divisively, Barbara Gordon’s restoration as Batgirl has people who’ve come to care about the character in her paraplegic incarnation as Oracle (I don’t think this is an exaggeration) heartbroken.
We’ll see what the back half of the announcements bring!