O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
I read all 13 of the Villains Month issues released this week by DC Comics, and in so doing I saw 89 people killed (Kryptonians and Thanagarians included) in all manner of ways. I saw people shot to death with laser guns, with regular old bullet guns, with eye-beams, with an arrow and even with an umbrella. I saw people stabbed, bludgeoned, impaled, decapitated, blown up, pushed off buildings, flash-frozen and shattered. I saw someone’s neck snapped, someone’s life-force magically drained, people sliced in half with psionic energy, and others torn to pieces by claws.
I saw a bestial woman eat the still-beating hearts of her victims.
But man, the rabbit that Arcane tore in half? That’s the image that sticks with me from this week’s Villains Week offerings. Thank God they didn’t put that on the cover; imagine that arc of rabbit innards being flung your way in lenticular 3D!
DC Entertainment may not have planned it this way — “planning” being something with which DC may be only tangentially familiar — but I doubt its high-ups wanted to release these December solicitations the Monday after what had to be a pretty rough weekend. When you’ve just had to deal with a celebrated creative team walking off a fairly successful book — citing “editorial interference,” and reminding people that the character’s original writer also left after increasing frustration with DC — you might not want to follow that up by calling attention to all the other changes coming before the end of the year.
And don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of Batwoman and “sucky personal life” talk before we’re done. Solicits first, though …
If the first week of Villains Month is any indication, a good bit of the decimal-point issues will feature stories set in the early stages of the Crime Syndicate’s takeover. This wasn’t that apparent from the September solicits, and subsequent months also appeared light on explicit crossovers. December is about the same, with Teen Titans dropping out of the crossover lineup, and Pandora and Phantom Stranger joining the three Justice League books, the three Forever Evil [Colon] miniseries, and Suicide Squad.
I’m still kind of flummoxed by Dan DiDio’s comments last weekend at Baltimore Comic-Con explaining why Batwoman can’t marry her girlfriend Maggie Sawyer. “Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives,” he said at the start of the DC Nation panel, according to several sources. “They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests. It’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s equally important that they set them aside. That is our mandate, that is our edict and that is our stand with our characters.”
I don’t disagree with the idea that main characters ought to struggle. A sunny walk through the park doesn’t make for much of a gripping adventure yarn. That is pretty basic writing strategy for drama: Put your characters through hell and watch them climb out. Serialized superhero stories, and in fact most Western narratives, are structured around that up and down of going from seeming defeat to triumph. It’s particularly appropriate for Batman and his family of books: The Dark Knight is built around tragedy, and his obsession over fixing that tragedy is what drives him. Bruce Wayne continually sacrifices his personal life in his constant pursuit to make sure what happened to him won’t happen to anyone else. It’s that drive that’s turned him into something of a social misfit — he can play the part of Mr. Debonair but getting emotionally close to him is almost impossible.
So on that level, I don’t disagree with DiDio.
Students of DC Comics’ publishing history can probably rattle off at least a few editors from the company’s first few decades. Whitney Ellsworth edited the Batman and Superman books in the 1940s and ‘50s before becoming a producer on the Adventures of Superman television series. In the Silver Age, Mort Weisinger presided over an exponential expansion of Superman’s mythology, including all those varieties of Kryptonite, the introductions of Supergirl, Krypto and the Legion of Super-Heroes, and ongoing series focused on Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. Similarly, as editor of the Batman titles, Jack Schiff supervised one of the character’s most recognizable periods, filled with colorful mysteries and giant-sized props.
Of course, the phrase “Silver Age DC” is virtually synonymous with Julius Schwartz, who worked with writers Gardner Fox and John Broome and artists Carmine Infantino, Mike Sekowsky and Gil Kane on rebuilding DC’s superhero line. One could argue fairly reasonably that without them DC Comics as we know it today might not exist (and neither would today’s Marvel).
However, while Ellsworth became DC’s editorial director in 1948, Schwartz Schiff, and Weisinger weren’t in similarly lofty positions. Today we readers hear a lot about “editorial control” and the dreaded “editorial interference,” charges aimed largely at the men at the top: Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras, Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. We hear a lot from them (illuminating and otherwise) about the general direction of the company. We also hear a good bit from various writers and artists, including Johns and Lee, regarding specific titles.
Nevertheless, on the management tier in between are the books’ editors themselves; and that’s the area about which I’ve become rather hazy. Therefore, I started looking through New 52 credits boxes, and supplementing this research through the Grand Comics Database, to see who was editing what.
Publishing | ICv2 has one of its periodic Big Interviews with DC Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee, this time covering how new readers are finding digital comics, how variant covers are working and graphic novel sales in bookstores, among other topics. Here’s Lee’s rather elliptical take on the flurry of recent changes in creative teams: “Without getting into the specifics, from the outside looking in, it might look like there’s a string of changes that point to one common theme, as you suggest. But from the inside looking out, you’ll see that each one has a different set of circumstances and conditions that ultimately led to the conflicts or the resignations or changes in creative personnel.” [ICv2]
Retailing | ICv2 also reports that Amazon and Overstock.com are having a price war on graphic novels, and readers are the beneficiaries. The website did a little shopping around and found a handful of graphic novels priced at up to 70 percent off full retail. [ICv2]
As part of the big push for the opening of Man of Steel, and the 75th anniversary of Superman, DC Comics Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee appeared this morning on Bloomberg Television to discuss the evolution of the character, the new series Superman Unchained, digital comics, and what trickle-down effect the film might have on the company’s comics.
Lee on Superman Unchained: ““I was working with Scott Snyder and we said if we could only tell one Superman story, this is what we would tell. If you only have one shot you want to do all the classic element of superman. We have lots in there. We have Lois. We have Lex Luther doing diabolical things. There is a new villain named Rathe. I think we can reveal that now. That is an exclusive. Scott will hate me for that [Laugher]. We are adding things to his mythology and that’s how you keep him fresh and relevant.”
If the recent New York Times profile of former Vertigo Executive Editor Karen Berger — to say nothing of industry sentiment — made it appear as if the position and prestige of the 20-year-old imprint have been greatly diminished under the restructured DC Entertainment, the company would like to assure you otherwise.
A new Associated Press article, which seems tailored in response to that May 29 piece, turns the spotlight away from Berger and on to her successor Shelly Bond, who has worked at the imprint since its launch in 1993.
The Times contends that Berger’s departure in March “raises questions about the future of Vertigo and where its renegade spirit fits into an industry and a company that seem increasingly focused on superhero characters who can be spun off into movies and TV shows.” However, Bond speaks in rosier terms about the direction of the imprint, which lost its last founding title — and longtime flagship — in February with the end of Hellblazer (which was resurrected in the DC Universe as Constantine).
“I am so ready to bring in some new blood and new bravado and just continue to show the masses that comics are the most essential part of pop culture,” she tells The AP.
In the recent New York Times profile of former Vertigo Executive Editor Karen Berger, Dave Itzkoff writes that DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio “said it would be ‘myopic’ to believe ‘that servicing a very small slice of our audience is the way to go ahead.'” It’s a weird way to structure the quote, but assuming Itzkoff is accurately capturing what DiDio meant, that’s a controversial stance for DC to take.
But he kind of has a point. Heidi MacDonald rightly notes that Vertigo books make up roughly one-third of DC’s list of essential graphic novels, but if we’re just going by sales, Vertigo’s slice of DC’s pie does look pretty small. According to Diamond Comic Distributors, just 6 percent of DC’s graphic novels in April’s Top 100 were Vertigo titles. The percentage was a lot higher in March (15 percent), but only 7 percent in February. The number of Vertigo titles in the Top 100 has been pretty consistent in the past three months: two or three. What made the difference in March was that DC had less Top 100 titles overall. Of course, that only covers a short amount of time and only includes direct market sales, but if we look at a list of what DC considered its top-selling graphic novels as of last autumn, only about 13 percent of those are from Vertigo. None of that is super-scientific, but it paints a pretty good picture of how much Vertigo contributes to DC in terms of sales.
Publishing | Dave Itzkoff profiles Karen Berger, who stepped down in March after 20 years as executive editor of DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint (she still consults on a few projects). The story has a wistful tone, with Berger suggesting that DC is more interested in its company-owned characters and Co-Publisher Dan DiDio basically agreeing, but noting it’s an industry-wide trend. He said it would be “myopic” to believe “that servicing a very small slice of our audience is the way to go ahead,” adding, “That’s not what we’re in the business for. We have to shoot for the stars with whatever we’re doing. Because what we’re trying to do is reach the biggest audience and be as successful as possible.” [The New York Times]
Although Grant Morrison is drawing down the curtain on Batman Incorporated with July’s Issue 13, DC Comics will give the series a final hoorah in August with a special one-shot anthology.
Ahead of the release of August’s solicitations, the publisher has announced Batman Incorporated Special #1, featuring stories about Man-of-Bats, Red Raven, Jiro, Knight, El Gaucho and other characters by the likes of Chris Burnham, Ethan Van Sciver, Dan DiDio and Joe Keatinge.
If the purpose of Free Comic Book Day is to raise awareness of comics, well, mission accomplished! The mass media has taken note, and newspapers large and small have been running articles about comics in general and what is going on in their communities in particular. Here’s a selection of the meatier articles; you can find out what’s going on near you at the FCBD website, and Steve Morris has compiled a list of additional lists at The Beat.
Comics | Matt Moore takes the wide view, talking to Joe Field, organizer of the first FCBD, and looking at the increase in comics sales in the past year as well as the print-digital divide. Moore talks to DC’s Dan DiDio, Marvel’s Dan Buckley, and an assortment of retailers and customers about the convenience of digital and the pleasures of brick-and-mortar comics shops. [Associated Press]
Advice | Allison Babka offers a “virgin’s guide” to making the most of FCBD. [The Riverfront Times]
Comics | Whitney Matheson lists the ten FCBD comics you won’t want to miss, as well as some tips for first-timers. [USA Today]
After four installments, Comic Book Resources’ monthly “B&B” feature, in which DC Comics Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras and Editorial Director Bobbie Chase answered questions from readers and CBR’s Josie Campbell, is no more. Jerry Ordway’s work situation, and controversies generally, were apparently to blame. Of course, DC is free not to participate in such things, and CBR is likewise free to investigate such controversies on its own. Still, the whole thing only highlights the problems DC has had in connecting successfully with fans.
Now, it may be more accurate to say DC has had problems connecting successfully with fans who are vocal about their negative opinions of the company. For all I know, DC may be quite popular with whatever audience it has targeted. Regardless, despite its constant PR presence, today’s DC seems a lot more guarded than it has been; and I think that can only hurt it in the long run.
Ironically, part of the problem is the corporate-comics news cycle. Each week’s worth of DC books has a couple of promotional features, namely the “All Access” editorial and the new “Channel 52″ two-pager. Beyond that (and probably more frequently than once a week) the company issues press releases and facilitates interviews for various news sites. Furthermore, each month’s solicitations advertise what’s coming out at least two months in the future; and during convention season the company can manage its particular messages in person. That’s a lot of information for a company whose bread and butter come from a few dozen monthly 20-page story installments.
Publishing | In advance of Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio and Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada discuss who’s reading their comics, and the creative challenges of writing about characters who have been around for generations. Asked if he was the custodian of contemporary myths, DiDio answered, “You know, I feel like a renter, to be honest. I’m in charge at this moment, and the goal is to keep these myths healthy enough so that, eventually, you can pass them down to the next person who rents them.” [Chicago Tribune]
Conventions | Christopher Butcher, the organizer of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, talks about how the show has grown and what to expect this year, including an interesting slate of international creators, from David B. to Taiyo Matsumoto. [The Comics Reporter]
Like the early-morning regrets after an all-night bender, DC Comics reportedly has decided to pull back from plans for its “WTF Certified” cover promotion — at least in terms of the controversial title.
Newsarama reports that Co-Publisher Dan DiDio told attendees at last week’s ComicsPRO annual meeting the “WTF Certified” logo won’t appear on any of the comics released in April, “because we don’t need it.” According to an unnamed retailer, DiDio said there’s already awareness of the event among store owners and readers.
When contacted this morning by ROBOT 6, DC declined comment.
The title refers to the linewide event featuring gatefold covers designed to reveal scenes that “leave reader in a state of shock.” “This was a way to accentuate that threat or shocking moments in our heroes’ lives,” Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras said in a Jan. 14 interview with Comic Book Resources. “What we’re doing with the covers is thematically linked to that. They will be page-fold covers; the covers will tell you a story. There will be an image that will crack the page fold, and as you open up the cover, you’ll say, ‘Oh, wow!'”
DC Entertainment Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee will appear with a half-dozen DC creators on the Jan. 22 episode of Face Off, the Syfy competition series that pits special-effects makeup artists against each other.
The episode, shot in July at Comic-Con International, challenges the competitors to create their own superheroes with assistance and advice from Lee, Mark Buckingham, Cliff Chiang, Tony S. Daniel, David Finch, Nicola Scott and J.H. Williams III. The winning design will be featured in Justice League Dark #16, which goes on sale Jan. 30.