Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | Blowed up real good

Justice League #1

[Note: This post was written Wednesday night, before the latest round of announcements.]

I was barely into the back yard when the lawn mower exploded.

This mower was far from new. My wife had owned it since a few years before we met, and it may have been old when she got it. It had cut the grass of at least four different addresses in three different states, and had been maintained and serviced fairly faithfully throughout its life. This summer, however, its persistent little engine had been making ominous noises that my amateur care could not entirely mitigate. When it ran over that big limb, which it tried mightily to shred as it had so many others, the stresses proved to be too much. The next thing I knew, there was a puff of smoke, a spray of oil, and a silver-dollar-sized hole in the mower’s side.

I pointed that out to my wife, to drive home the extent of the damage. “See that in the hole? That’s the piston.”

“We’ll take it to Sears in the morning,” was her reply.

Well, needless to say, by this point we were talking about an ex-mower. The most the Sears mechanics could suggest was to order a part that would cost more than a new mower. This was the tipping point for my wife, when practicality superseded sentiment. Indeed, the new mower is remarkably efficient by comparison, atomizing clippings and leaving a uniform green carpet in its wake. It is cool and bloodless, like a Secret Service agent or an athlete in prime condition. With luck, it will serve us as long and as well as its predecessor.

Now, clearly I am not telling you about my lawn mower because this has turned into “Grumpy Old Garden.” Neither am I saying DC had a gaping hole in its superhero line and we readers thought it could be simply patched. There was, and is, no simple solution — not even starting over entirely — to DC’s array of small and large ailments. A few weeks ago I talked about the relationships we readers form with these characters over time, and I can see a couple of ways to roll back whatever Flashpoint facilitates.

Still, after a week’s worth of pondering September’s lineup, I have decided it is time to embrace the new.

* * *

Actually, “blowing up” is probably too strong a term for the combination of creative-team shuffling, continuity tweaking, and renumbering coming down the pike. “Overhaul” sounds better: it implies that some things were working, and some things needed fixing. (I’m sure we won’t entirely agree on what was working and what wasn’t.)

Therefore, the first question is, why a line-wide overhaul? The Batman and Green Lantern books aren’t really being touched, Wonder Woman was due for another rejiggering, and we knew big things were in store for the cast of Brightest Day. What’s more, that Geoff Johns/Jim Lee Justice League book had been rumored for years. So why not have a series of big announcements throughout the summer and fall? Why win the Internet for two weeks in June when you can (potentially) win it for three months?

Part of it, I think, is to raise the level of every new announcement to that Justice League level. I can’t remember the new Nightwing writer off the top of my head, but I know Nightwing is one of the New 52.

Part of it is the suspense. Watching the steady drip of press releases and rumors over the past week has been like a slow-motion version of the March Madness selection shows. (At press time, titles like Justice Society, Power Girl, and Jonah Hex were still on the bubble.)

Part of it, though, is this notion that all the Flashpoint tie-ins were a dry run for the reading capacity of DC’s audience. If we can extrapolate from my local comics shop’s experience, apparently there are enough people out there willing to take chances on Greater Flashpoint that DC feels like they’ll buy a good bit of the New 52. This includes a certain cynical calculus: if DC’s readership will take chances on esoteric Flashpoint tie-ins like Deathstroke and Frankenstein, why wouldn’t they buy a Teen Titans where Tim Drake wears glider wings and Superboy has a tattoo?

And that, I think, has been driving DC, both for the last little while and into the fall. Essentially, DC is asking its current readers to buy into two successive “altered timelines”: first Flashpoint’s nightmare, and then September’s overhaul. Superficially I think you can compare it to 1985-86, when Crisis On Infinite Earths set up a massive wave of from-the-ground-up revamps, but this time it’s happening at a much faster pace, and with virtually no time to say goodbye to the present status quo.

Such suddenness is wrenching, not least because it forces readers immediately to choose the extent of their investment in the New 52. I don’t mean committing irrevocably to Justice League Dark today, June 9; but I do think many readers (and potential readers) have been deciding generally whether they’re getting most, some, or hardly any of the New 52. Again, this is in contrast to 1986-87, when the new Superman was rolled out in June, the new Wonder Woman in November, and the new Justice League a couple months after that. A reader like me might wake up one day in the fall of 1987 and realize he was reading three times as many comics as he had been the year before. Today I’m buckling down in June to make a post-August budget. It is all very are-you-with-us?, which can be thrilling if you say yes, and a little alienating otherwise.

I am very excited about a few things. I’m particularly eager to see if the rumors are true about Grant Morrison and/or George Pérez on the Superman books. I’m very glad that Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, who I loved so much on “Architecture & Mortality,” are the new Wonder Woman team. Geoff Johns and Jim Lee should make Justice League worth watching, at least for as long as their schedules allow. Gail Simone seems very enthusiastic about returning Barbara Gordon to Batgirl, and if she’s happy, I’m happy. I’m also curious to see what she (and co-writer Ethan Van Sciver) bring to Firestorm. In fact, there are a number of creative teams which seem well-suited to their new assignments: Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette on Swamp Thing, Jeff Lemire and Alberto Ponticelli (great on Unknown Soldier) on Frankenstein, John Rozum and Scott McDaniel on Static, DnA and Fernando Dagnino on Resurrection Man, and Paul Cornell and Diogenes Neves on Demon Knights. My September budget seems to be filling up quickly.

However, quite a few of the New 52 just don’t interest me. New directions and/or new creative teams for Hawkman, Teen Titans, Hawk & Dove, and Green Arrow aren’t enough to earn my $2.99. I can appreciate Dick Grayson resuming his Nightwing career, but without the Titans, Batman, or Chuck Dixon, the character has been somewhat directionless. Similarly, I like Captain Atom, but after Rise Of Arsenal I’m not sure about J.T. Krul. Red Hood and the Outlaws just looks unpleasant.

Overall, from the forty-odd titles released so far, my impression is of a publisher interested mainly in doing variations on the familiar. While 1986 was concerned primarily with relaunching the big names, it also featured a slew of new titles. (Ironically, Booster Gold was one of DC’s most successful new post-Crisis characters, but as I write this there’s no word on the current book’s fate.) Even Batwing, which represents a pretty significant step for the Bat-books, isn’t entirely new, spinning off a character from Batman Incorporated. I commend DC for diversifying its characters, but the credits boxes still include a lot of Krul, Judd Winick, Peter Milligan, Fabian Nicieza, Scott Lobdell, et al. In fact, while Gail Simone is still writing (or co-writing) two titles, as far as I can tell she’s the New 52′s only female creator — no Felicia Henderson, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Amanda Conner, or Nicola Scott as of yet.

Even the “Vertigo-verse” books seem more superhero-flavored, especially Justice League Dark. (Seriously, that’s the title? I’ll probably get the first couple of issues, but I can’t imagine that group under the JL banner without a healthy dose of hipster distance. Still, it does have Zatanna….) Demon Knights is “medieval superheroes,” Frankenstein is “monster superheroes,” and Resurrection Man and Animal Man are unconventional superheroes. I … Vampire! and maybe Swamp Thing look like the most straightforward horror book, although I presume they both fall under the DCU umbrella. With the few slots remaining, I’m hoping DC signs up for more Jonah Hex, gets back into the war business (maybe with Blackhawk), and goes further into fantasy with Amethyst. Finally, although he’s a straight-up superhero, I have to think there are plans for Captain Marvel, and this overhaul is as good a time as any.

That said, it’s good to see DC branching out again, even if it’s into familiar territory. Creative teams can change and premises can be reworked, but I don’t see DC abandoning the overall structure of the New 52 in the near future. Ultimately, that’s what this is about: convincing a cynical readership — not to mention that elusive pool of hypothetical new readers — that these comics can speak to them. If DC is so wedded to a main line of 52 ongoing series, it might have been more exciting to launch one new book per week for a year (culminating in the Johns/Lee Justice League, perhaps), but that plays to the habits of us every-Wednesday readers. Announcing a whole new lineup, and putting it together in a much shorter timeframe, gets everyone’s attention.

* * *

Regardless, the one thing that sets DC apart from just about every other superhero publisher, and the one thing that DC seems eternally bent on sabotaging, is its eclectic nature. I’ve said many times that as much as it may try to emulate Marvel, DC’s superhero line isn’t the product of a small Bullpen collaborating on the same shared universe. For better or worse, it’s a confederation of different creators, bringing disparate influences and distinct perspectives to a variety of genres. Its three keystone characters each represent something unique: Siegel and Shuster’s idealism, Marston’s social activism, and Kane and Finger’s expressionism. Later, they’d be joined by Carmine Infantino’s streamlined speedster and Gil Kane’s striking space-cop. DC is all these names and more: O’Neil and Adams, Englehart and Rogers, Wolfman and Pérez, Levitz and Giffen, Fleming and Von Eeden, Moore and Gibbons, Wein and Wrightson, and on and on. Accordingly, there is a real opportunity here for DC to let its characters be defined by a “class of 2011″: not just Morrison’s Batman and Johns’ GL, but the new teams generally. Twenty-five years ago, DC did just that, with the “Byrne Superman,” the “Pérez Wonder Woman,” and even the “Ostrander Firestorm.”

Furthermore, because DC has blown up its past, it can no longer use all those decades’ worth of stories as an excuse for failing to attract new readers. You want something accessible, hypothetical audience? Well, here you go, served up with new No. 1 issues just itching to be downloaded. Start here and don’t look back. However, the new DC must be about more than just the nth different version of Hawkman or the Justice Society. The new DC needs desperately to take chances on new characters and new ways of telling stories. I’m excited about the anthology books because they represent this kind of experimentation, in terms of both character development and format.

Most importantly, DC needs to be committed to its new initiatives. Make no mistake, I expect to see a return to traditional numbering, sooner rather than later, especially for the continuously-published books like Action and Detective. However, I don’t want the DC of 2012 to look like the DC of 2010. It should try to live up to all this ambitious hype about diversity and outreach. It should include a healthy mix of genres, and not just variations on superhero formulae. Its books should ship on time, establishing expectations and building anticipation. Its A-list titles shouldn’t draw attention away from the midrange books — instead, the midrange should get the care it needs to prosper, instead of being left to sink down the sales charts.

It cannot be said too forcefully that after August 31, there is no going back. If this all turns out to be a grand, year-long “Heroes Reborn”-style digression, and some future Big Event restores what Flashpoint changed, the New 52 will be seen as a crushing failure. There are ominous echoes of the mid-‘70s “DC Explosion,” a flood of new series (including revivals of Teen Titans and All Star Comics) which largely didn’t survive the subsequent “Implosion.” Before too long, DC’s books had migrated largely into what we now call the Direct Market. Therefore, a large part of the New 52′s task will be to get ahead of any potential implosion by actively courting new readers, and especially the new digital marketplace. If DC doesn’t do that, after all this buildup, I’m not sure it could summon the institutional courage for another attempt.

Although this isn’t the best way to take a great leap forward, it’s better than nothing. The old machine still runs, but its days are numbered, and it’s only a matter of time before a new model takes over. Here’s hoping DC has avoided a big blow-up.

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Comments

15 Comments

I actually see some DC books out on the stands at the local Supermarket, so that’s a good sign. I think they look pretty good, too. They got some great artists there.

Lumping Milligan in with Krul abd Lobdell, that’s just harsh and unwarranted. Milligan writes great comics. Don’t knock him because of his gender or what his compatriots aren’t doing well.

Funny, I just figured out an almost ironic parallel between this year and the years leading up to Crisis on Infinite Earths:
-Both had a Superman mythos with a Krypto, a Supergirl, and a Superboy.
-Both had a point where Batman was close to romancing Catwoman, and a different Robin.
-Wonder Woman was facing stagnant or bad continuity situations.
-Aquaman and Martian Manhunter were wrapped up in some issues of their own.
-Both had a Justice League lineup that wasn’t too well-liked by fans.
-Both culminated in a big universe-changing event that made changes that either stuck or have been reversed, but have left a lasting impact.

I am excited! Come September, I’ll have more money for action figures and other toys. I’m excited about having the money to try new things, probably from indie publishers. I’m still trying to put together my new pull list together and there actually are a few DC titles I plan to try, mostly because they have nothing to do with the main DC characters who are being changed. I plan to try Voodoo and Grifter, Batwoman (which I’ve been eagerly awaiting), and maybe Blue Beetle (because I miss him). Every other character I love is being tweaked into something I’m not interested in reading. I’ve read Dick Grayson as Nightwing. I prefer him as a Batman. I’ve read Babs Gordon as Batgirl. I want to read her as Oracle and Steph Brown as Batgirl. And so on. I want characters to move forward, not backward. I doubt DC will miss me and the 20-25 titles I’ve been buying each month.

i am seeing some titles coming that has me curious to give this latest plan by dc a shot. including returns of some long missed titles like suicide squad and batgirl even though babs being back in the old dudes is kind of dc trying to go back to the old pass. since always liked her as oracle. plus want to see what gail does with fire storm. and still a few slots left for maybe the return of ragman.

2011 – The year we go BACK! – to the Future!!

I think DC has lost its mind. So to speak.

How are all these reboots supposed to attract new readers? How do they plan on getting these mythical new readers to even walk into a comic shop? I predict DC will discover that, following the reboot, perhaps two percent of their sales will be attributed to new customers. Maybe less. While they’ve driven off perhaps thirty percent of their old fans. This has all the makings of a disaster.

For decades, DC and Marvel have survived — and their creators have prospered — by milking every last coin out of life-long comic book addicts like me, fan-addicts who are emotionally invested in the characters we grew up with. When comics companies change the characters we love, they remove the thing that keeps us hooked.

I’ve looked at the sneak peeks of DC’s reboots, and I can’t see even one that interests me. I’ll take a chance on a couple of them, but that’s quite a drop because I’ve been buy about 25 to 30 DC’s each month.

I’ll be trying a few new books after the relaunch, but not continuing any that I was buying previously. I’m really interested in why DC chose to bring in a score of journeymen writers and ’90s artists for this relaunch. Many of those result in an instant “pass” from me, and I hate to have the potential new readers see that material first because there’s a #1 on it. Maybe they’ll eat it up like people did 15 years ago, but I doubt it.

I plan to try the books by Paul Cornell, Jeff Lemire, Grant Morrison, and J.H. Williams III. I might give the Azzarello/Chiang WW a shot because of the creators involved. I would have picked up books by Brian Clevinger, Chris Roberson, and Brian Wood too if they’d been kept in the post-Flashpoint plans. Oh well.

It’s just “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” unless there’s a marketing plan to go OUTSIDE comics shops and lure potential new fans in from other venues.
Many younger (under 30) fans of the characters consider the tv/movie/animation/game versions to be the “true” characters and that the comics are just hard-to-find, irrelevant items.
How can publishers change their minds?

EXAMPLE: with Thor, X-Men, Green Lantern, and Captain America in theatres this year alone, why aren’t there souvenir books filled with material about the movie itself AND reprints of the comics tales the films adapted into their plots (along with linking text and illos) available AT THE THEATRES?
Show how one version derives from the other!
Make the movie fans go…”WOW! THIS is where THAT came from???”

Atomic… Movie theaters really don’t sell merchandise at the theaters. It would probably require some serious co-op dollars that would be better spent elsewhere. Publishers have been selling souvenir magazines for decades, but rarely in theaters. The only significant marketing I remember was the Kryptonite which could be purchased when the first Superman movie came out, way back in 1978.

Also, given the short life-span of a movie (less than a month in theaters, especially during the summer), it’s not feasible to offer something like that for such a short period.

Besides, people who enjoy the movie will find the comics. The movie IS the advertisement (as seen from the Watchman trailer). They become fans, start searching and chatting online, and it’s so easy to find them. That’s why Marvel flooded the stands last year with all those Thor comics… so they’d have graphic novels to sell in bookstores during the movie, alongside the junior novelization, the “Art of” book, and the beginning readers.

Rumor (via Bleeding Cool) says that DC will have television commercials. Plus there’s the marketing muscle of Time/Warner.

DC announces this now, Internet chatter dies down by September, DC launches with some massive publicity! “Superman Resurrected!” would be one such headline. The Internet, for one month, will talk about nothing but the New DCU 52.

It’s possible they’ll have the top ten books that month.
It’s possible all will be in the top one hundred titles.
If that’s so, it’s a success.

I agree with Atomic Kommie’s way of thinking. It’s not the comics that need to be rebooted. What needs to be rebooted is the way comics are marketed and sold. Kids (and adults) need to be sold on the concept that comics are cooler and more fun than movies and video-games. Changing the comics is indeed “only rearranging deck chairs”.

Both DC and Marvel now are owned by companies with big advertising dollars. You’d think that with all the high-profile movie exposure, some marketing genius would find a way to make comics as cool as MTV was back in the eighties.

But I guess if you’re a “marketing genius”, you’ve made a more lucrative choice of which industry to work in than the comics industry.

Torsten said…
“Movie theaters really don’t sell merchandise at the theaters. It would probably require some serious co-op dollars that would be better spent elsewhere. Publishers have been selling souvenir magazines for decades, but rarely in theaters. The only significant marketing I remember was the Kryptonite which could be purchased when the first Superman movie came out, way back in 1978.”

I wrote and designed souvenir magazines that were sold IN the movie theatres
Among them: Heavy Metal the Movie, Star Trek II, Star Trek III, DragonSlayer, Rocky III, Annie and Grease 2 (I got to meet Michelle Pfeiffer).
The company I worked for had ALREADY done over fifty films including several James Bond movies, Star Trek the Motion Picture, and a little film called Star Wars. You may have heard of it.
So don’t tell me “it can’t be done”.
It can. I was there.
it just requires a little out-of-the-box thinking.

Torsten said…
“Also, given the short life-span of a movie (less than a month in theaters, especially during the summer), it’s not feasible to offer something like that for such a short period.”

See my answer above, plus, the books can be repackaged as an incentive with the DVD/BluRay releases and sold in bookchains and off the movie/comic company websites!

Torsten said…
“Besides, people who enjoy the movie will find the comics. The movie IS the advertisement (as seen from the Watchman trailer). They become fans, start searching and chatting online, and it’s so easy to find them.

History says you’re wrong.
No comic book movie has produced a marked ongoing increase in sales as compared to pre-movie figures.
And Watchmen, with only 12 back issues, a graphic novel and no ongoing titles is vastly different from Thor, Green Lantern, X-Men, and Captain America with literally thousands of back issues and several ongoing series each!
You can collect EVERYTHING in print about Watchmen for under $500. (not counting overpriced “incentives”)
Try doing that with ANY of the other characters!

Torsten said…
That’s why Marvel flooded the stands last year with all those Thor comics… so they’d have graphic novels to sell in bookstores during the movie, alongside the junior novelization, the “Art of” book, and the beginning readers.”

Then why couldn’t a book/zine like I proposed be included with all those titles in the bookstores AND be sold in the movie theatres?

And you strike when “the iron is hot”, as they’re going into and coming out of the theatre!
It’s called “point-of-sale”, an impuse item!

Googam son of Goom

June 13, 2011 at 5:52 pm

I think Aarghh! has said it best, none of this is going to produce new readers superhero comic books. I realize that desperate times call for desperate measures and that’s what this rebooting is. It’s the flailing of a drowning man and it’s painful to watch. Comic books are really expensive for what you get and only a small niche group is willing to pay 2.99 or 3.99 for 10 minutes of entertainment. My non-comic reading friends will pay 12.00 to see a 2 hour blockbuster, but not 3.99 a month for a comic book.

As a loyal DC Comics fan of 35 years I want to thank DC for finally helping me break my comic book habit. This disaster in the making has finally driven me away from my preferred source of entertainment for good. You can’t spit in the face of your audience and expect them to just go along with it. Diversifying the characters has worked SO well in the past hasn’t it? (Super Friends, Milestone, etc…) The new designs look awful. DC might gain a few new readers…MAYBE, but I doubt very seriously it’ll make up for the number of “old timers” like me who’ll NEVER buy another DC Comic.

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