Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | Remembering the anticipatory Summer of ’86

Superman vol. 2 #1

… And here we are, the day after DC’s ongoing superhero line put a period on an era. Next week brings just two titles, Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1, one sending off the old order and the other ushering in the new. Maybe you’re waiting for next week before starting (or coming back to) explore the superhero books. Maybe you’ve been reading since the start of Blackest Night or Infinite Crisis or even Identity Crisis.  Goodness knows DC has tried hard for several years to increase its audience.

For me, though, this week closes the book (make the metaphors stop!) on some twenty-five years of Post-Crisis storytelling. Although there have been a number of reboots and relaunches during this period, it all goes back to the changes which started in earnest in the summer of 1986. I remember that summer well, both in terms of comics milestones and personal memories, because each was bound up with the others to various degrees. For me, Summer 1986 ended in a parking lot on a Friday afternoon in early September, reading John Byrne and Terry Austin’s Superman #1.

Back then I read a lot of comics while parked in the car. 1986 was my first summer with a driver’s license, which meant I got to cart my little sister and her friends all around town, and wait patiently while they ran around the malls. If that happened to be on a Friday afternoon, when new comics came out, odds were good I’d have my meager stack to keep me company. I even had a bumper sticker, “Danger — Driver Is Reading Comics,” displayed proudly next to a Bat-symbol. One Friday I was reading either Watchmen #5 or the first Mike Barr/Alan Davis Detective in the Fayette Mall lot when an elderly woman walked up to the open driver’s-side window and said “Oh, I see you are!”

Anyway, the summer of 1986 was bracketed by “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?” in May, and Superman Volume 2 in September. In between was Byrne’s reboot miniseries Man of Steel, naturally; but also the start of Watchmen, at least one issue of The Dark Knight, and the all-star Batman #400 and Denny O’Neil becoming Bat-editor in #401. DC’s superhero books were opening up to the post-Crisis status quo, and things were starting to get interesting, even with “Batman: Year One” and the new Flash, Wonder Woman, and Justice League still months away. It was a remarkable period which, fervent desires notwithstanding, I’m not sure the publisher will ever duplicate.

And yes, the comparison to Summer 2011 is inevitable. This has been the Summer of Flashpoint, a hit-or-miss big event whose varied tie-ins mostly shared a nihilistic attitude as crushing and oppressive as the triple-digit temperatures which have just begun to abate. As each series marched bravely toward the final issue of its current numbering, we have been reminded over and over of the change which is coming; and we are each, I gather, some combination of thrilled, terrified, and angry.

Needless to say, that was not my perspective twenty-five years ago. It had been eighteen months since I’d come back to comics — probably, in part, to augment a proto-hipster façade I thought ideal for a tenth-grader — and as my junior year wound down in the spring of ‘86 I was ready to make some significant commitments. Having just discovered the great independents American Flagg!, Cerebus, and Nexus, I was clearly discriminating enough for Watchmen; but the promise of a new-reader-friendly Superman and Wonder Woman was also hard to ignore.

None of it felt like a hard sell; and while part of that was probably my sixteen-year-old naïveté, part was the relatively low-key nature of DC marketing. Obviously there was no Internet, and comics journalism was represented mostly by in-depth essays in Fantagraphics’ monthly Comics Journal and biweekly Amazing Heroes. Even peering two and three months into the future via advance solicitations was still a few years away. For its part, DC put out a four-page flyer, black-and-white on colored paper with not a lot of art, which looked only at the next month’s worth of books. That, plus hints in letters pages and the aforementioned Amazing Heroes, was the extent of my advance knowledge.

Today’s comics culture seems so different that comparisons are almost impossible. The Internet instantly connects fans, pros, and the press, such that news streams steadily from many sources. On my more cynical days it seems like the (superhero) comics themselves aren’t enough, almost by design — as if readers need to be immersed in this roiling sea of data to understand the books fully.

Thankfully, I won’t dwell on those differences, except to say that twenty-five years is an awfully long time to keep up with anything. It was twenty-five years after his debut that Batman got a “New Look,” guided by a new editor (Julius Schwartz) who, by all accounts, saved the character from cancellation. Similarly, twenty-five years before the 1986 relaunch, Schwartz had taken over Superman (moving Clark to TV and destroying Earth’s Kryptonite stocks) and Jack Kirby started on Jimmy Olsen. In the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, twenty-five years was a long time.

However, as our lives accelerate, our years vanish more quickly. Last summer we had Brightest Day, 2009 was Blackest Night, and before that Final Crisis, Countdown, 52, the runup to Infinite Crisis, etc. Indeed, if we measure our years by comics, we can go through whole decades in days. It threatens to leave us with a tremendous mass of stories which might never be digested — because each week the mass grows that much larger….

Okay, maybe it’s not that bad. (Not most of the time, at least.) Still, the constancy of every-Wednesday superhero comics does make the unique voices stand out even more. Take William Messner-Loebs, whose career includes extended runs on The Flash (1988-92) and Wonder Woman (1992-95), as well as a thoughtful, bittersweet year-and-change on Doctor Fate (1991-92). Put simply, his work ages well. His contributions to the ‘80s Flash and ‘90s Wonder Woman Retro-Active specials were great examples of the character-driven approach he brought to each of those books. Sure, his Flash wasn’t quite mature and his Wonder Woman worked fast-food, but those elements made sense for the stories he wanted to tell — stories about people first, and super-action second. As I said over the weekend, his Retro-Active Wonder Woman story made me wonder why DC didn’t turn to him more often. In its way, his take on Diana is right up there with Greg Rucka’s and Gail Simone’s.

Indeed, as we try to make sense of dozens of new creative teams launching dozens of new titles, it’s worth noting that on each of the aforementioned titles, Messner-Loebs’ run as writer kicked off the “second phase” — the revamp of the relaunch, as it were. He followed Mike Baron on Flash, George Pérez on Wonder Woman, and J.M. DeMatteis on Doctor Fate, each time building to a certain extent on what his predecessors had done but eventually putting his own stamp on each book.

That’s the tension between a title you know is going to be there, month after month, and the need to keep refreshing that title month after month. There are countless personal, professional, and/or economic reasons why your favorite creative teams, good as they may be, aren’t working on your favorite books anymore. Nothing lasts forever, but nothing ever quite ends, either. The Retro-Active books themselves are evidence of that. As the previews in this week’s titles remind us, so is the New Teen Titans: Games graphic novel, which is perhaps the ultimate expression of the Retro-Active spirit. Besides, these days it may only be a matter of time before all our superhero-comics yesterdays are readily available, as either downloads or collections. We can rebuild our pasts to suit our needs, one issue at a time.

So here we are, then, at an ending which obviously isn’t the end, waiting for the explosion of color and grit and stylized fashion known as the New 52. It’s not the summer I would have chosen, and I’m not sure it’s the future DC entirely needs — but it’s here. Long ago my capacity for superhero-comics nostalgia took a backseat to a more impersonal sense of scholarship. If nothing else, that gets me through each week; and if nothing else, that’ll get me through these fifty-two first issues.

And again, I don’t think it’ll be as bad as that. As different as they are, the summers of 1986 and 2011 share a certain sense of anticipation. That anticipation — that need to know what’s next — keeps us reading, week after week, until the weeks stretch into years and the years into quarter-centuries. Sometimes it even demands we read the newest issue while parked in a beat-up station wagon on a September afternoon.

Now we are in one last week of looking into the unknown, of savoring a pause pregnant with possibility, of wondering whether the New 52 represents a new renaissance or just a failure waiting to happen. Remember this feeling, because it may be twenty-five years before it comes around again.

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Comments

45 Comments

Excellent piece.

I remember seeing that Superman #1 cover and marveling at the hubris on Byrne’s part. Wonder Woman’s reboot didn’t thrill me at all either: She was this naive Greek-looking broad with long curly hair who had just stepped foot on Man’s World. Steve Trevor and Etta Candy were now an item and …old. Huge Perez fan that I am, I passed.

Bill’s work on Flash did work for me because we had frequent comparisons to Barry and made to feel like Wally was really struggling to carry on the legacy. The series didn’t feel like a blank slate unlike Superman and Wonder Woman’s cases. For me, it was the only reboot that worked (aside from the Justice League’s new direction) since the end of Crisis had neatly and dramatically established a changing of the guard within the Flash Family.

The other great thing about 1986 was that DC had quality editors on their books. Bob Greenberger, Mike Gold, and Andy Helfer in particular made me care about the stuff they were working on. Suicide Squad and Justice League International remain my favorite DC titles of the late 80’s and early 90’s due in no small part to the vast amount of talented folks involved.

All I can say about next week’s proceedings is this: Look to 1986 and strive to match it. It’s all veteran readers can ask for right now.

Thanks so much for this wonderful article, Tom! I missed out on all the fun in ’86, so it’s great to view the first DC reboot through the eyes of someone who lived through it as a fan.

I always look forward to Grumpy Old Fan’s column and read it every time…this was one of his best.

brilliant piece of paper.

I had an odd thought today: why don’t we get this upset, or nostalgic, or introspective, when a TV universe reboots? Seriously. In my lifetime, I’ve seen the Super Friends DCU, the Bruce Timm DCU (1991-2005!), the Teen Titans mini-DCU, The Batman! universe, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and now Young Justice. That’s 6 versions of the DCU, and at least a few of them have been pretty good. None of them invalidates the other.

I remember being sad when the Timmverse ended, but I turned the page and moved onto the next thing. Why is that so much harder to do here?

We will see how this will turn out next week and then the following months…

Reading this column is always a consistent highlight of my Thursdays.

Adam, there are just different expectations. If a cartoon or movie series lasts 10 years unrebooted, it’s an impressive accomplishment. There aren’t many of those around.

But the DCU has been going strong for 25 years with only soft reboots. That is longer than the Simpsons, the longest running American primetime entertainment series, according to Wikipedia.

Obviously people are upset and nostalgic and introspective. 25 years can be a lifetime.

On one hand, it was an extraordinary pleasure to read this article and remember the comics events of the mid-80s and hear how the latest doings might echo past accomplishments. On the other hand … eh, not so much. :) Here’s the problem.

I was a comics nut in 1985 too. Not long after that, I figured out that keeping up with the Marvel and DC lines would cost more money than I considered reasonable to spend on a pastime (even with a teenager’s limited perspective). I also learned that the comics companies were more than happy to lure their audience into paying exorbitant sums for sub-par material like “Action Comics Weekly” or “Marvel Comics Presents.” Coupled with some fortunate external influences, these discoveries snapped me out of the comic addiction — I dropped the buying habit completely, cold turkey, and the sacrifice helped me to make the transition to adulthood, with its many necessary sacrifices for the sake of longer-term benefits.

In order to keep buying comics, I would have had to completely abandon any consideration of quality in the material. I would have had to embrace reams of crap in exchange for my dollar.

Looking at the comics industry now, it seems to me that anyone who kept buying superhero comics from 1985 to now would have had to abandon their standards of quality not just once, but many times. Whenever quality has suffered, the superhero-comics-producing companies have demonstrated time and again over the last two decades that their commitment to quality material is secondary to their interest in wringing every last penny out of their dwindling audience.

This is nothing new; the history of superhero comic books prior to the 80’s demonstrates over and over and over again that the businesses behind the comics care about making money far, far more than they care about making good comics. Everyone knows this, fan and creator and businessperson alike. The stubborn few fans who have kept sending their paychecks straight to mega-corporate-comics-dom-internationale have surrendered any notion of quality standards in the process (and consequently trashed any notion of personal dignity, but that’s a less-generalizable position, given that comics have traditionally appealed strongly to many of those with the most dubious grasp on personal dignity to begin with — myself included).

Everyone can see that the current DC reboot positively stinks of the most crass profiteering imaginable by a corporate entity. The only people being snookered by this latest swindle are the same ones that bent over willingly for the six previous swindles.

Your heroes would be ashamed and regretful; rest assured their creators are. Don’t kid yourself, reader, but get the hell out, if you only can.

I too remember the summer of ’86 and DC’s relaunch. My taste ran more towards Marvel but I kept up with DC too and at the time the prospect of Crisis on Infinite Earth’s continuity fixes and the new, reader-friendly entry points to long running titles like Superman seemed exciting. While sales were surely a motivating factor on DC’s part, as Tom says, the relaunch of ’86 didn’t seem crammed down reader’s throats and at that point in DC’s history it was really a much-needed move to make their universe more streamlined. Today, the DCnu looks like a depressing cash grab. I have no interest in taking part in it this time around – especially as either they’ll just revert back to the original continuity in time or launch yet another company-wide revamp whenever the sales on DCnu start to flag (which will be sooner rather than later, I’m guessing).

Another superb column, Tom. One can tell you’re a man who really loves his comics.

Rick said “Everyone can see that the current DC reboot positively stinks of the most crass profiteering imaginable by a corporate entity.”

Jeff said “the DCnu looks like a depressing cash grab.”

I sure agree with Rick and Jeff. In this reboot, DC is saying FU to all their longtime readers. DC is saying “We don’t care that you loved these characters all these years, and we don’t care that you paid our paychecks all these years. We’re going after a new audience instead.”

I see DC waving their middle finger in my face.

The Grumpy Old Fan was one of the lucky ones in 1986, in my opinion. I was only 11 years old at tthe time, and most of my small allowance was spent on 25 cent back issues, or on a single title like Batman. Although Watchmen was in full swing, I was not yet a “mature” reader so it would be a few years before I could enjoy it. The biggest bang for the buck you could get in those days were issues of Who’s Who?, or Marvel Universe. Although they were short on artwork, they kept me up to date on what was happening with all of my favorite characters, while turning me on to some new ones. They where basically my 1980s wikipedia, lol. Although I lived through part of the pre-Crisis era, I didn’t get to enjoy it nearly as much as I would have liked. If only I had a bigger allowance then! Of course I caught up on a lot of it after my disposable income increased, but I’m really jealous of guys like him simply because you couldn’t swing a stick and not hit some awesome in comics in those days. Frank Miller and Alan Moore in their prime, not to mention John Byrne and the all the others. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir. All I know is that if DC can recapture some of that magic in the New 52, I’m all in.

I grew up Marvel. My older brother only collected G.I. Combat from DC but mostly Marvel titles (his favorites were Star Wars and Conan). He is 8 years older so I had back issues to go through when I started buying comics as an 8 year old in 1981. I had the old Marvel cartoons in reruns that I liked as well as Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends but I watched all the DC cartoons as well.

I never cared for the comics versions of the characters because I liked Byrne, Buscema, Simonson, and the other Marvel creative talents. But John Byrne was going to reboot Superman after Crisis on Infinite Earths was over so I was going to at least buy the first issue of Man of Steel for collector purposes. A funny thing happened though, I had the entire universe of DC comics opened to me because of that gateway. I’ll miss that universe no matter how many Zero Hours, Birthrights, and Infinite Crises changed things that I “knew”.

In retrospect, it also reminded me how Marvel started to change that summer with Byrne leaving the FF and all the other changes that were happening to the Avengers, X-Men, Thor, Iron Man, New Mutants, and other Marvel titles that I loved.

Looking at the comics industry now, it seems to me that anyone who kept buying superhero comics from 1985 to now would have had to abandon their standards of quality not just once, but many times.

Or they could have just bought the good stuff. Dropping all superhero comics in 1985 would have meant missing Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s Batman: Year One, James Robinson and Tony Harris’ Starman, Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s Flash, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman, Kurt Busiek and George Perez’ Avengers, Peter David’s Hulk, James Robinson and Cully Hamner’s Firearm, Christopher Priest’s Black Panther, Robert Kirkman’s Invincible, Ann Nocenti and John Romita Jr.’s Daredevil, Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s Authority, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Sleeper, Joe Casey’s Wildcats, Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come, Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, part of Walt Simonson’s Thor, Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Daredevil, Ed Brubaker’s Captain America, and on and on …

Nuts to that.

I’m about the same age as the Grumpy Old Fan, and I’m feeling a little nostalgic this week, too, but instead of getting filled with rage, I’ll just be skipping the stuff that looks bad and buying Gail Simone’s Batgirl, Grant Morrison’s Action Comics, Paul Cornell’s Demon Knights and other books.

Although I believe DC is shooting itself in the foot with the reboot, I have zero rage about it. I’m happy about all the money I’m going to be saving!

Should I buy a new computer first? Or a new guitar?

Great article, but one correction: The Clark Kent as TV reporter / Kryptonite Nevermore era was 1971, which was 15 years, not 25, from 1986. Having read those stories as a teen when they came out, I don’t need to be made older than I already am!

The constant reboots, coupled with the changes in look and feel over the last twenty years, have burned away any sense of continuity I had. I’ll keep reading whatever’s drawn by the artists I like, but there’s no sense of personal connection anymore.

@Jake Earlewine

Thanks for a genuine and much-appreciated LOL. :)

@Earth-2 Chad

I’ll bet your Earth-1 version sees it my way, darnit. :) Actually you’re right to detect heated emotion behind some of my comments, although I prefer the term “anger” to “rage.” I think there’s a lot wrong with superhero comics, more now than perhaps ever before, but I happen to absolutely love superheroes when they’re done well. From back-issue hunting, I’ve managed to acquaint myself with many of those great runs you cited. It’s my affection for what’s good about those comics that inspires my frustration over all the problems.

Your approach of sticking to the quality stuff and ignoring the bad is eminently sensible — it’s really the only way to go, but it’s a problematic approach. One problem is that you can’t buy all the comics featuring the superheroes you love most, because some of those comics will inevitably be done by inferior creators. Another problem is that you get stuck with lots of incomplete stories, unless you plunk down as well for the zillions of crossovers that connect to the titles you buy.

The superhero companies have piled so many little indignities and insults onto the backs of their own fans down through the years. I don’t begrudge anyone who can tolerate the crap and still enjoy the gold, but that’s not me right now … and there are lots of other fans out there who feel similarly alienated, I think.

I do remember 1986 fondly.

It’s actually very interesting, because at the time, the anticipation for the new DC universe was mostly positive after a year of an incredible Crisis on Infinite Earths.
The “reboot” was welcome and the quality of the new comics generally very good.

I think that’s the issue with the new “relaunch-not-reboot”. Flashpoint has been incredibly lackluster, even boring for its first four issues, and while I’m a Geoff Johns fan, I think it’s probably the worst thing he’s ever written. :( The Flashpoint tie-ins have been even worse for the most part.

So here we go, with an event that’s supposed to set up the NU52s that’s not really captivating, and with previews of comics that for the most part, appear to evoke a general “meh” when reading the description and the artistic teams of most titles. While some titles look very promising, the whole relaunch really feels forced. I will try a few titles, that’s for sure, but with most of the DC titles I used to follow being canned, and concepts I love (Hawkman, Omac, to name a few) being done my teams I don’t particularly care about, it sadly means that coming September, I will be buying a lot less DC comics.

Not because I’m against the reboot.
Not because Superman wears no underwear on the outside (even though that costume really looks bad)
Just because so far, most of the titles that I’ve read about in the relaunch really appeal to me.

Well there’s A differences between COIE and this coming restart. I was actually EXCITED about COIE. This coming restart? NOT AT ALL.

Jon Yeager (jyeager11)

August 27, 2011 at 9:39 am

I’m a lifelong Marvel zombie, and as I’ve expressed in another thread, I thought this plan reeked of desperation when I first heard about it.

But now that we’re this close to seeing it happen, my opinion has slowly changed in the weeks and months since the announcement. DC hasn’t beat us over the head with it like Marvel would have. They didn’t talk down to us or make fun of us like Steven Wacker would’ve. They just told us the plan, and then went about their business, letting it all sink in.

And you know what? With no incendiary statements from DC for us to get upset with, it allows us to more quickly look at the big picture. And I now find myself overcome with admiration over the balls it took to do this.

When Johns and the new guys took over, they easily could have played it safe, like Alonso is doing over at Marvel. And we all could have continued to accept the death of comics as a slow inevitability. I mean, look at the numbers : how this story ends is pretty obvious.

And when it would’ve been all over, the industry would look back and say « We did everything we could. It was a good run. Let’s move on to movies and video games. »

But someone in the back would’ve muttered « No, we didn’t. We were carrying decades worth of continuity written by thousands of different writers with thousands of different visions on our backs… each of these characters has lived the equivalent of several lifetimes… how could Peter Parker continue to play the naive everyman when he’s the most experienced superhero on the planet? Besides, all the people who remember when he was first introduced are dying and there’s no one to replace them. Why didn’t we push the reset button as a last-ditch effort to turn on a new generation that’ll carry us another 70 years? »

Well, the DC guys are doing that BEFORE it’s too late to complain that they should’ve. They became the laughing stocks of the industry overnight for thinking so far outside the box, and maybe the idea will fail spectacularly… who knows..?

But I, for one, am slowly coming to grips with just how ballsy a move this is. The more I think about it, the more I realize that this probably isn’t some crazy idea the new guy came up with the day he was offered the chair. I’m guessing this idea has been floating around for years, and everyone just looked at one another and said « It’s time. »

Once you’ve accepted the inevitability of comics dying as a medium, this decision becomes a lot easier to make. Will it backfire? Will DC lose more readers than they gain through this?

The more I think about it, the more I realize it doesn’t matter. Look at Millar, Bendis and Quesada bolting for Hollywood. Everyone seems to agree on what the comic book industry end game is going to be.

Except DC is trying to do something about it, rather than run away to the next town and seek shelter there.

From a lifelong Marvel zombie who never really “got” DC, I just want to say Thank You to Johns and everyone else in the offices of the distinguished competition, for going balls-to-the-wall with this. Because this isn’t a separate line like the Ultimate universe. You guys are going all out, here.

And who knows? If this works, maybe Marvel will be tempted to do the same, after laughing at you when the idea first came up.

However this ends, DC has all my respect and admiration for the idea, and how they’ve chosen to handle the news since the announcement.

No one seems to be fighting over who gets to do the next mainstream interview and get their name in the paper before the industry topples. They’re too busy trying to keep the industry from toppling.

Kudos, DC.

@ Felicity: You just perfectly articulated what I’ve been trying to express in terms of my own feelings about the reboot, thank you for this. I agree, for me, there’s no sense of personal connection after years and years of reboots and relaunches and Crises and Flashpoints and insert catchy event name here. Maybe it’s part of my own necessary transition to adulthood, similar to Rick.

I remember that summer well as I was 15 and amazed by all the cool comics coming out. Travelling an hour into the city to my ‘local’ comic shop to get the latest issue of Crisis, Dark Knight and Superman. I didn’t have that same feeling that I have now. I am trying to be a grownup about it as I know that the industry is struggling. Someone had to do something drastic. In fact I don’t think that DC was drastic enough. I think that a hard reboot would have been better.

In fact, why not go even further? Why not survey your audience on titles? Do online surveys and do market research into the audience you want. Put all the pitches out there and have the creators sell the audience instead of a room full of suits. The internet comic audience is a small percentage of readers and probably mostly consisting of the aging audience that comic companies still need but want to move away from. Get into the places where these new elusive readers are and find out what they would buy. Find out why they aren’t buying now and fix it.

Some of the creators just don’t work. Scott Lobdell? Dan Didio? Some of the character choices are awful. Voodoo instead of the Secret Six? Grifter deserves his own title? Who made these decisions?

Now that is the angry side of me coming out that doesn’t want the change to come. I liked many of the characters out there in the now defunct Crisis DC Universe. With the embarking on this Nu Age DC I am really starting over again. I wish for the hard reboot so that everyone would be on equal footing. I know that Green Lantern and Batman have been doing well but there is no reason why you couldn’t have started fresh with those guys as well. Relaunch is too wishy-washy. Go all out or stay home.

That all being said, this is the state of the DC Universe now and I will give it a try which means I will do my best to judge the new work on its own merits instead of comparing it to what is lost. I know people say its not lost and that I still have all those issues to re-read but lost is that potential for something new to excite the reader, something that takes the characters is a new place based on their growth.

So, I shall toast the old DC universe this week and hold my breath for Wed. Good luck DCnU. I want this to be good but have fear of an implosion. Hopefully the suits have a back-up plan. Hello Earth-53 anyone?

Personally I like the comparison to 1986 and I think it’s a really good one.

I do think all the references to a “blatant cash grab” that people have been throwing around regarding the DCnU are hilarious, though. Of course the goal is to increase sales; and with the way the industry has been tanking can you really blame them for wanting more sales?

People may not like the execution, but the goal is exactly the same as it was for COIE. Mix everything up and hope the new approach will bring in more customers.

They’re not doing it out of any desire to urinate on the dreams and souls of current fans. They’re doing it because they need to do something because the fans aren’t supporting the current line up and when they make the changes the fans claim to want they don’t support that either.

I like some of what I’m seeing and I dislike some of what I’m seeing. I plan on supporting what I like and not supporting what I don’t. In the meantime I’m certainly not going to get my shorts in bunch because Superman’s suddenly wearing his underwear inside his pants. Costume changes aren’t important. I cordially hate Bruce’s pre-Flashpoint suit (I think it’s the worst thing he’s ever worn), but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying Batman, Inc.

What can I say, Demon Knights looks really cool, and so does Batwoman.

Thoughts of then versus now:

Then, I got most of my comics from supermarkets after the loss of the local storefront newsstand. Usually, I would give my mom a short list of books I was following, and she would look for them on Fridays while she was grocery shopping and I was at school. However, this time of year, I would have been at the tail end of summer vacation when, as long as there were no pressing chores around the farm for a 12-year-old, I would get to tag along on grocery day and (joy!) peruse the spinner and magazine racks myself. I was a disciple of the final years of the Curt Swan/Cary Bates combo on Superman, but was also a big fan of John Byrne’s via Alpha Flight, so I eagerly snagged every issue of The Man of Steel while I awaited the return of monthly Superman books.

Now? I shopped earlier this week at the same grocery store where I bought the entire run of The Man of Steel and umpteen other comics. The only comics-related material on the magazine racks is one or two Archie digests. You wouldn’t even know that an event on par (or, at least, that’s what the current DC regime hopes) with CoIE is happening right now, as far as that particular venue is concerned. This reflects a basic truth that both Marvel and DC fail to grasp: if the monthly comic book is to survive, the key won’t be bringing more people into specialty shops to buy comics–it will be bringing comics back to places that the average man, woman and child visit on a regular, sometimes everyday basis. I would venture a guess that very few longtime comics readers over 30 got hooked on comics buying them from a specialty store; they bought them at groceries, drugstores, convenience stores, newsstands, etc., places they would visit or at the very least walk past any number of times in the course of everyday life.

Even with the current exorbitant prices (and whatever the costs of publishing these days, they are exorbitant and ridiculous, considering not only the amount of ads in an average Marvel/DC comics, but the quality of the sponsors buying ad space; the days of “kids, make money selling ____”, Hostess snacks, and novelty item ads are long gone), how many kids might convince mom or dad to buy them a comic if they’re right there in the supermarket, or the department store, and not walled off in a storefront full of (perceived) weirdos who do nothing but read comics and quote Monty Python?

DC, you don’t need another reboot, and you don’t need to alienate the fans you have just to roll the dice on attracting a few new ones. You need to get the product out there to the people who, given the chance, just might like it, not try to entice them into going out of their way into unfamiliar territory with no real incentive to do so but, “It’s issue one! Start from the beginning!”. You too, Marvel.

@Jon Yeager

Yes. This is DC saying “We will not go quietly into that good night.”

One definition of insanity is to continue doing the same thing while expecting different results. DC could have done that, kept publishing event after event in the hope it would draw in people who aren’t emotionally invested in the characters or stories. That’s what Marvel’s doing and we can all see how well it’s working for them. Even when their market and dollar share goes up, the pie’s still shrinking.

This is a Hail Mary Pass from the deck of the Titanic. They had to do something ballsy, and while we can all discuss the execution, the numbers show they to do something.

Also: want a blatant cash grab – Marvel’s variant cover for any store that orders 5,000 copies of Ultimate Fallout 4 – now that’s a cash grab,

These comments aren’t directed personally at Jon Yeager or at Deadshot or Lemurion, all of whom seem like super-articulate and reasonable people, but this is more directed at anyone else who read their posts above.

As to Jon Yeager’s remarks … Comic fans tend to be highly educated, and many of them know how to make an amazingly-strong case for almost any opinion; it’s one of the things you learn in high school and college if you get a good teacher or two. In my opinion, it is sad to see the way that DC and Marvel can continue to soak their fanbase (cha-ching!) because there are always fans ready to rationalize their own victimization. YMMV.

As to Deadshot’s and Lemurion’s respective remarks (among so many others!) … It seems to me that these views may be the most popular ones out there among the fans: there’s hopefulness tempered with skepticism from being burned so many many times before. I have to wonder if there’s anyone left at DC who personally cares about taking care of the fans, rather than simply watching their own personal bottom-line (and look, honestly, I don’t blame any individual looking out for themselves when they have to, but that doesn’t excuse the corporation’s collective misbehavior). We’ll see pretty soon if the company is going to do its fans right or wrong. Here’s to all the fans who are keeping their eyes wide open, just in case it turns out that they get railroaded again.

This DCnU thing is interesting and ballsy and all those things. What bugs me most about it is that is, in part, repeating the problems of the post-Crisis world. It is not being ballsy enough, if you will.

Remember Hawkworld? The original mini-series was supposed to be an origin story for Hawkman and as such, revisionist that it was, it might have worked. Then they decided to make an ongoing series of it, following on the heels of the mini, but set in the current DCU. How many continuity problems did that create? Suddenly, having Hawkman appear at that point made much of the JLA history impossible. Also, rolling Earths 1 and 2 into one created two Hawkmen on one earth, too similar to ignore, too different to explain into one story without incredibly convoluted explanations. The explanations kept piling on until Hawkman was soon considered too damaged to deal with.

Never mind the convoluted histories of Power Girl, Wonder Woman (which turned into having her mother as the JSA WW for a time—talk about convoluted), and who knows who all I’m not thinking of right now.

So my issue with this relaunch, reboot, whatever is that they’re once again trying to role old continuity into the new status quo. Some stories of Batman and Green Lantern stand. Some stories of Superman, too, but without his parents or marriage to Lois—which makes them very different stories sometimes. (Can the death of Superman story have the same emotional impact without his parents alive? Yet, we’re told that story still “happened.”) Batman has been operating for 5 years before the emergence of Superman, but secretly, unknown to the public because Superman has to be the first public superhero. Meanwhile, Batman has trained and “graduated” at least 3 Robins and has the 4th in tow. Green Lantern has had major intergalactic adventures that spilled into other heroes’ stories, some of whom may no longer exist. We don’t have Wally West, but we have Bart Allen.

It simply looks like Hawkworld all over to me.

Had they been really, truly brave (both in 1986 and in 2011), they would have started over completely, across the board. Start 5 years into everyone’s careers, that’s fine, but don’t try say some stories we knew still happened. The Killing Joke makes little sense with a college aged (?) Barbara Gordon. A post Oracle Batgirl doesn’t work, not at that age. If you’re going to be brave and hit the reset button, hit the reset button across the board. Nothing has happened. We know nothing about any of these characters. Really reboot.

That would have been really daring. That would have been interesting and a real jumping on moment.

Ah, 1986 was the year I started buying comics really. At least when I started convincing my mom to take me to the shop a couple of times a month. So, for me, COIE was the ultimate experience for a boy who had only seen DC heroes in issues here and there, not epic stories. And I did get Man of Steel, Batman Year One, and a few issues of Wonder Woman, and of course, I loved the Wally West Flash series starting with issue 6 – Russian speedsters – Amazing to a 13 year old!

Fastforward 25 years of near weekly visits to the comic store (though there were a few years, mostly overseas, that I subsisted solely on subscriptions to GL and Aquaman). And while I am more of a wait-and-see attitude, I wish Flashpoint had been more epic – though it has its cool points like Thomas Wayne, hold out hope that some writers will make the best of this opportunity, and try to imagine what I would have liked as a 13-year old.

And in reference to the money-grubbingness of comic companies. Really, they make their money when fans buy comics and what do we buy. Hopefully good writing – sometimes. But otherwise, gimmicks and cool characters. I’m a sucker for a team-up and I am not alone. So really, but giving us what they think we want is how DC and Marvel make their money. Whether it turns out good or bad is not based on their inherent greed, but on execution. Such is life and when that rare confluence of comic companies making money and ecstatic fans occurs, life is good.

I wasn’t on board for the 1986 reboots, but I came along a short time later. I’d bought some DC’s and Marvels as a kid in the late 70s and early 80s, probably in equal measure. But the Adam West Batman and the Super Friends made more of a DC guy overall. I was shocked to read “The Untold Legend of the Batman” (which I still have) and see what a badass Batman was compared to the TV versions I’d seen (but I loved it). But my greatest comic love from that time was probably for Marvel’s Star Wars books.

Anyhow, in the early 80s I discovered sports, music, and girls and I stopped buying comics from the grocery and drug stores. It wasn’t until I read about The Dark Knight Returns in an article in Rolling Stone that I got interested in checking that series out. About a year or two later, when a comic shop opened down the street from my house, that I picked the series up. Then Watchmen. And Year One and The Killing Joke. And the Man of Steel miniseries. And then Batman, Detective, Superman, Action, Green Arrow (and The Longbow Hunters), Green Lantern, The Question, Legends of the Dark Knight monthlies, Hawkworld (the mini-series)… Great stuff. Pretty much all of it, most of the time, for several years to follow.

Sometime in the mid-90s I lost interest and stopped buying again. I came back after X-Men, Spider-Man, and (especially) Batman Begins all hit the big screen and made me remember why I loved comics so much. But DC’s stuff just wasn’t the same for me. I picked up on a few good books I’d missed along the way (No Man’s Land, which is sadly out of print now, The Long Halloween, and some others) , but this wasn’t the DC I remembered and loved from the late 80s and early 90s.

I became far more interested in Marvel (Brubaker, FTW!), and DC stuff that was outside of the DCU (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, some Vertigo, All Star Superman, etc.). The DCU stories/books just weren’t as good or creative, too many crossovers that I couldn’t care less about, too much bloodshed and juvenile views on sexuality, and taking characters like Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent off the table for awhile just turned me off even more. Aside from the Sinestro Corps War, which itself couldn’t leave well enough alone and had to feed into other lengthy cluterf*ck crossovers, I just didn’t like what Didio was serving up.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with the DCnU. I figure it can’t be any worse than garbage like RIP and Final Crisis, but it doesn’t look good to me either. So I guess I’m an even Grumpier Old Fan? DC’s 1986 reboot was a good thing that made for something of a “golden age” of comics for me. I’ll go back and revisit those from time to time, because nothing DC’s doing now is working for me.

Oh, and get off my lawn you rotten kids!

Wow, good article. Great thoughts. I look forward to your column.

Almost all the employees at DC and Marvel were fans before becoming employees and still are. Next time those particular fans are in a situation where their personal, individual financial needs come into a direct conflict with their desire to be true fans and to be true to fandom at large, those particular fans should make a little financial sacrifice at that single moment in time and give the fans a little love instead. That’s all I’m sayin’ …

I loved reading comics in the car because I was too excited to wait. It was the 90’s so it might of been stuff like X-Factor or Ghost Rider. The INcredible Hulk during the David/Keown run perhaps.

The problem is we had SEVERAL “Soft” reboots since 1986 which confuses things!

Superman had AT LEAST three – Byrne,Birthright and Secret Origins

Supergirl – Oh, WHAT A MESS! – I Think Next to Hawkman, no other character post-Crisis had so many changes! (and that INCLUDES Power Girl as well)

Hawkman – Why did they have to keep mucking about with the character – Who’s idea was it for Hawkworld to be set near present day? When they finally fixed it in the pages of JSA – it worked – and then they went and mucked it up AGAIN!

Captain Marvel has two – Roy Thomas and Jerry Ordway (Plus the BS that Jeff Smith version was
in continuity for all of 5 minutes, then it wasn’t – THANKFULLY)

LSH – I lost count! (and that’s not counting the 3 reboots of Mon-El!)

Wonder Woman – Two – pushing her first appearance post-crisis,and then
back to the begining of the modern age of heroes, not to mention her mother’s
time-travel back to the 1940’s and Joying the JSA! Plus Poor Donna Troy – first
she an adopted sister, then she’s a sorta twin-sister!

Batman – He didn’t know who killed his parents, then he did,then he didn’t then he did!

and so on.

If you look at the stuff done in the 25 years BEFORE Crisis – NON of this type of stuff happens – There are ADDITIONS to the mythos, not outright changes. There’s only ONE “Fix” in the whole time-period – When they restored Linda Danvers the proper College Age rather than mid-20’s. Somewhere along the line, they remember she’s supposed to be roughly the SAME AGE as Dick Grayson!

After 40 years of being a DC fan now is time to say goodbye. Good luck to you new readers, bring your money and innocence, I had enough.

@Rick

You’re right, almost all the creators did start as fans, and I think most of them still are.

The problem I think they’re facing is that they’re having to put the long-term health of the industry before any particular character. If sales continue their current decline, the industry might have ten years. That’s it.

So while many of them may love certain characters, they don’t feel those characters fit that well with their new direction and the old direction isn’t working..

They’re making tough and not always popular decisions because they feel that’s the only thing that can give the industry a chance. Are they making the right decisions? I don’t know. If I had to guess I’d say they’ve made some good decisions and some bad ones.

The point is that they are doing something.and if they can pull it off they’re going to save the whole industry – including Marvel.

i must say with this new reboot about to happen im a bit skeptical, but ill take a wait and see approach. at first, DC had me hooked pre-Crisis with their e-2 stories, but as i learned later on via a 7-11 in 1986 thru Crisis 3 (my first Crisis issue) that Crisis had eliminated the multiverse and made it into a single universe, it completely shocked me because i felt like i had lost some dear friends in the form of the jsa, esp when i got the last days special, and had lost the e-1 wonder woman as well. as time progressed, i accepted the idea of this new single universe, and the way it was revamped via byrne’s superman,perez’s ww, and miller’s batman:dk returns and yr. one. i was a weekly buyer startin in 1988 when i got my first job until the sudden cancellation of the jsa series in 1991 after 10 issues, so suddenly after their return from limbo. of course, it got me mad for awhile at dc, and i stopped reading dc for awhile, until the death of superman, which made me return for good. both dc and marvel have had their share of reboots to their characters at different times, but this time dc has decided to take the biggest gamble yet, with a complete reboot and retooling of their characters. as to how well it will do, only time will tell in the next months and 2 yrs. but this is completely different from 1986’s reboot, whereas different character revamps took place over several years (86/87-superman,jla,flash,batman,wonder woman; 1988-gl;1989-hawkman), this is one complete revamp where everyone goes back to square one at the same time,so again only time will tell how successful this revamp is.

Great article. I too remember the excitement of reading a new comic in the car simply because I could not wait to see what happens next.
Relaunch or not, the big news this week is day and date digital. Replace my car with Starbucks on an extended break on Wednesday afternoon and I can’t wait to see what the future holds on my iPad. I love picking up my physical books (and will continue to do so on some of the titles) but 25 years of collecting can bring a lot of capacity problems. Not to mention with work and family obligations, the 15 minutes of escapism a comic book can bring is priceless to me. The idea that I can access that anywhere, anytime, means a lot to me.

While I’ll save my opinions on what will sink and what will float until after I’ve actually had a chance to read what has piqued my interest, I question the logic of some decisions.

Scott Lobdell? Really? Who the F green-lighted that decision? Someone who has never read Scott Lobdell’s work before, that’s who.

Liefeld? *gag* Wow. I’d completely be interested in a Hawk and Dove series drawn by just about ANYONE else.

The Teen Titans appearing to be a throwback to the garbage Image pumped out en masse back in the early nineties?

Tony Daniel’s goofy GWAR-looking Hawkman?

Emo Harley Quinn, Robo-Deadshot, and a hammerhead version of King Shark INSTEAD OF letting Simone do her own reboot of Secret Six?

Good Lord, do I hope that Cornell, Johns, Snyder, Lemire, Morrison, Simone, Milligan, and Morales can rise above the abysmal lapses in judgement.

Also: DC, a division of Time/Warner, is a business at the end of the day. Their job is to make a profit. Satisfying your fanboy desires comes after that. If everything works out the way they want, the two are interconnected. Sadly, our little community continues to get smaller and smaller. Guess which one of the two take priority? If pleasing the fan community was the prime motivator instead of sales, T/W would pull the plug so fast the sound of our collective heads spinning would crack the internet in two. Of course it’s all about the moolah… just like it is for Marvel, Image, Dark Horse and every other publisher. Anyone bitching that the New 52 is just a cash grab needs to dry their eyes, and then wake up and smell the coffee.

This was the best-written article I’ve read on CBR in a long time. Really takes me back. I was also 16 in 1986, which was the year I realized I wanted to write and draw comics professionally. And I blame that incredibly inspiring, post-crisis DC launch for my foolhardy decision.

Jeff Frost said, “Also: DC, a division of Time/Warner, is a business at the end of the day. Their job is to make a profit. Satisfying your fanboy desires comes after that. …”

Thank you for that paragraph; it was awfully well-put, and I couldn’t agree with it more. Now, ask yourself this: is the _reason_ that “our little community continues to get smaller and smaller” _because_ the major companies prioritize profit-making over making quality comics? If you think the answer is “no,” with all due respect, I hope you receive good financial compensation for your willful self-deception. Just IMO.

“Similarly, twenty-five years before the 1986 relaunch, Schwartz had taken over Superman (moving Clark to TV and destroying Earth’s Kryptonite stocks) and Jack Kirby started on Jimmy Olsen.”

Like Lou said, this was in 1971, not 1961.

Great article otherwise!

I too remember the Summer of ’86 and comics life before the marketing hardsell and the internet’s instant information. I’d show up at Tony Isabella’s Cosmic Comics in downtown Cleveland every week and see what amazing reads would show up. You don’t realize how the world keeps shrinking until the next “big event” presents itself.

Very well done piece. I really enjoy your column.

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