Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
“I want to remind readers of this column that all the Marvel NOW! launches are going strong — none have been canceled or RE-relaunched in a whole new direction after 3 or 4 issues — which is a testament to the talent and coordinated effort of our writers, artists and editors,” Marvel’s Axel Alonso said in last week’s Axel-in-Charge column. Yeah, it’s another trademark swipe by Marvel at its competition, but he isn’t wrong. Putting aside the snarkiness, there’s something to be said for a.) making a plan and sticking with it, b.) having faith in the choices you made, and c.) not undermining your creators and your fans with sudden shifts in creative teams.
I of course have no insight into how things are really being run at DC. But from an outsider’s perspective, it feels like its editorial strategy is inspired by the likes of The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. Every man for himself, blink once and they’re gone, blink twice and their replacement is gone. On the day DC announced the new new writers for the Green Lantern books, I remember seeing a tweet that said something like, “Oh, I figured they wouldn’t announce the new writers until [next weekend’s] WonderCon.” My first thought? Just wait — maybe they will.
And I say that with no disrespect to the new creators. I think Robert Venditti is killing it on Demon Knights, and I loved Pinocchio Vampire Slayer, Strongman, 27, Luther Strode. Putting Venditti, Van Jensen, Justin Jordan and Charles Soule on the GL titles is brilliant. They all bring a certain outsider’s sensibility and freshness that’ll be different from what came before, as we move from books written by DC veterans (guided by the chief creative officer) to a bunch of guys who are, for the most part, new to the company. They’re talented guys who know their way around a comic page. Of course, you could say the same thing about Joshua Hale Fialkov, whom two of those guys are replacing. But hey, at least those books haven’t actually been solicited yet, and those of us who pre-order our comics haven’t spent money on an issue that might not be written by the person we thought was writing it.
That isn’t the case with Action Comics, another title that’s been written by a DC’ veteran who’s being replaced by someone to get excited about — but only for an issue. I pre-ordered Andy Diggle’s Action Comics run because I’m a fan of his, and now I’ve got, what, one issue written by him coming my way, with the rest penned by someone else? So that’s one as advertised, then a second that’s just “plotted” by the guy I thought was writing it. I know it’s unintentional, but it feels like a bait and switch. And no, I wouldn’t have bought Diggle’s first issue if I knew he wasn’t writing the whole arc.
These are the latest two creative-team shuffles, but they bring to mind other dramatic creator shifts at DC. Remember when Jim Zubkavich was writing Birds of Prey, for, what, five weeks? Yeah, here’s the announcement interview, here’s the B&B column where we learn Christy Marx will be writing the title instead. It was in that same column the post-Vertigo Constantine title (Heckblazer?) was getting a pair of new writers before it even hit stands. One of those two Constantine writers, Ray Fawkes, was also briefly the writer of Batgirl, in between Gail Simone’s firing and rehiring. So I find it hard to get excited about the new teams, not because of a lack of talent, but because I have some trepidation over how long they might last.
Seriously, Hunger Games. Have you seen this movie (or read the novel)? It’s set in a dystopian future in which the country is divided into 12 districts, and each district has to send two kids to the Hunger Games, where they’re forced to kill each other until there’s only one person left standing. Kind of like that Avengers Arena comic everyone’s so upset about. Even if you haven’t seen Hunger Games, no doubt you know the core concept. But before the story even gets to the brutal kids-killing-kids part, there’s a large chunk of the movie that’s dedicated to the pre-game pageantry, where they parade around the contestants to hype the games, make people love them and give them someone to root for.
Comics have their version of that pre-game pageantry. Let’s use the Green Lantern announcements as an example — the first ones, where they announced Fialkov & Co. were coming on board. DC announces Fialkov is writing Green Lantern Corps and Red Lanterns, so of course he hits the interview circuit. It starts with DC giving the “exclusive” announcement to MTV Geek*, followed by interviews at Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek again, Comic Vine and many other sites. The creators go to conventions and sit on panels where they talks about the books. PR and marketing folks at DC try to figure out the best way to get as much publicity as they can, because that’s their job. Just like it was Lenny Kravitz’s job** to light Jennifer Lawrence and the guy from The Kids Are All Right on fire when they were parading in front of the capital city crowds.
(*I should add that the exclusive announcement is sometimes preempted by a post on Bleeding Cool revealing some or all of the details before the “official” announcement.
**Was it Lenny Kravitz who did that? I might not be remembering it correctly. I’ve only seen it once, and it was many months ago).
Anyway, here’s the big announcement on DC’s The Source blog. Here’s the one announcing Diggle will be writing Action Comics. Now here’s their week-in-review post for last week. There’s something missing, isn’t there? Did I skip over the post announcing both these changes? How was the news that Diggle is off of Action communicated? Tweets … from Diggle. So you get all this pomp and circumstance when they’re coming onto the title, but when something happens that leads to their departure, you end up with incomplete bursts of information combined with radio silence from DC.
Now, a lot of folks will respond to that by saying, “That’s between the creator and DC. It’s none of your business.” Yeah, that’s all well and good, but when there are multiple interviews about why you’re so excited to be writing Green Lantern, and you get me and everyone else excited about why you’re writing Green Lantern, then geez, I don’t know, maybe I deserve to know why you’re no longer excited about writing Green Lantern. If the publisher is taking the creators out and parading them around to all the comics sites and using them to market the comic, then I think when things go south, it certainly deserves more than silence from the publisher. Like I said, I pre-order my comics, and I do that based on what little information I have — the solicit text, the creators involved and what they’ve said about the comic in various places. There’s an unofficial agreement being formed here — you put together a team I’m excited by, and I’ll plop my money down in advance for your comic. If you break your end of the agreement, I think I deserve to know why, at least in the broadest of strokes.
OK, so that’s getting a little more diatribe-y than I was planning, so let’s move on to the third and best part of the movie — the Hunger Games themselves. Those 24 kids are thrown into the battle arena, with a huge stash of weapons and other equipment right there for the taking. There are probably some analogies you could make between the creators and the characters — Rob Liefeld would be the brash, go-my-own-way-and-screw-this Thresh, while Gail Simone is probably akin to Peeta, the one you thought was going down but with a little fan support, managed to make a comeback — but I think the real lesson here is just the chaos of it all. Creators are fired from comics before their first issue debuts; creators are fired and then almost instantly rehired; creators quit for “professional reasons” or because they don’t agree with the editorial decisions being made; creators take to Twitter to air their grievances and frustrations; editors tell creators to take their project elsewhere. Who will be around next month? Who will be the next one to get fed up and quit? Who will be fired? It makes for dramatic news cycles and blog posts, but is it any way to run a company? Is it any way to treat your creators and your fans?
Look, I think there are a lot of things DC is doing right with their line right now. Batman, Animal Man, Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing … these are books that have benefited from strong, consistent creative teams. That approach seems to be working for Marvel NOW, and it even seems to be working for at least half of DC’s current line-up. So why can’t it work for the other half?
I want to read Action Comics and to keep reading Green Lantern Corps. and these other comics you’ve been selling me on, DC, so please — make a plan and stick to it.
Image up top courtesy of J. Caleb Mozzocco
Image below from Avengers Arena