Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The New Wonder Woman!

Wonder Woman # 600 hits stands tomorrow, and while I was correct in mentioning that this is Gail Simone's farewell performance, I was incorrect in stating that it's a hello for Grant Morrison. Chalk it up to sleep deprivation, I guess, since we've already reported the news that Morrison is still slated for a Wonder Woman story, but that it appears so bizarre that DC is unwilling to let it stand in continuity.

So who is taking over the mighty Diana? Why, none other than JM Straczynski, of course! Why not just give him Batman, too, he can have the whole DC trinity and they can start calling him Geoff Johns?

The picture above is Wonder Woman's new 21st century digs as redesigned by one Jim Lee. Call me a pig, but the pants gotta go. Actually, it isn't even so much the pants, but the fact that I can't tell where the pants stop and booties begin. Lee isn't going to be pencilling the book, so maybe that will end up being clear in the actual comic. Much appreciated is the new rings that will stencil a "W" in your face if she punches you. Now that I'm on board with!

So JMS talked about his re-boot with comic book resources and had some of the most brutally kind words about past caretakers I've ever heard:

"In terms of character, I decided to circle in to try and figure out what needed to be addressed and what didn't. Diana is one of the DC Trinity, and should be selling as many copies a month as those other guys. But the book hovers in the low 70s/high 80s, and for the last year or two has been hemorrhaging 500-1000 readers per month. That means that those who are reading are dialing out, and nobody new is checking it out. What this suggests is that the stories are becoming too insular, they're not accessible, and there's nothing going on that will get somebody who hasn't picked up an issue to do so.

This coincided with my sense that, as happens from time to time with characters, Diana had gotten buried beneath years of mythos, backstory, supporting characters and an environment that required a lot of familiarity from the reader that made it a bit inaccessible to casual readers. There's nothing inherently right or wrong with any of that, in sum or in pieces...Gail in particular was and is a terrific writer and did some great stories during her tenure...it's just a matter of one kind of storytelling that is designed to bring in new readers, vs one that is aimed at retaining the current readers. You need both of those at various points.

What I finally came away with was a sense of a character who had kind of ossified within the pages of her own book not through any fault of her own, but because the world she occupied had constricted around her. As I've noted elsewhere, she became this Ferrari that everybody kept in the garage rather than taking it out on the open road. A Ferrari in the garage is safe...but that's not what a Ferrari is for."

Couple of interesting items in there for me. I don't know how exact or how literally JMS is quoting his sales figures, but they seem mighty off to me. He seems to suggest that Wonder Woman sells between 75,000-80,000 copies, and that these numbers pale in comparison to Superman and Batman.

In point of fact, Wonder Woman sells less than 30,000 copies a month, at least according to what Diamond reports, which admittedly is an estimate, and admittedly isn't everything. But if you think Wonder Woman is selling more than double what Diamond is reporting, well, you're just fooling yourself. Over the past year, Wonder Woman has been "hemorrhaging" an average of 500 copies per month, so he's correct on that count.

Incidentally, JMS seems to believe that 80K is peanuts in comparison to Superman and Batman numbers....they wish! Batman & Robin is the top ongoing Batman seller, and that does hover around 100,000. But the regular Batman book hovers around 60,000.

And Superman? Forget about it! Superman can't get a sniff of 80,000, even as an event mini-series. You're looking at 40k tops for the Man of Steel. One of two things is happening here. Either the Diamond numbers aren't an accurate measure of comics sales at all, or Straczynski doesn't have a good grasp on the reality of today's market.

I think it's funny that in the middle of him quietly ripping the previous regimes to shreds, he throws in the fact that Gail Simone is a wonderful writer. You read between the lines, though, and he's pretty clear about the fact that Gail is wonderful writer who:

writes insular, inaccessible stories

write stories that don't attract new readers

"ossified" the character (made it rigid, translation: "dull")

created a world that restricted the character

turned Wonder Woman into a garaged Ferrari

Now...does that sound like a wonderful writer to you? Granted, he wasn't singling out Gail there, I guess you could say he took a giant crap on Greg Rucka and George Perez, too! But he sure didn't exclude her from any of that analysis, either.

Incidentally, I don't have a problem with JMS saying any of that. Those are his opinions, and there may be validity to some or all of them. The golden heyday of comics was the 1950s, when continuity wasn't even on the menu. You could pretty much pick up anything of the rack and dive right in.

By today's standards of sophistication, those stories were absolute childish rubbish. But they had the potential for mass appeal that most of today's comics do not. Hand an issue of Uncanny X-Men to a comics newbie. I dare you.

And that's largely what Straczynski is talking about, and it's not really Gail's fault. We are sort of stuck in this horrible place where if you avoid continuity, your inbred audience of 50,000 virgins shakes the pillars of the internet with rage. But what happens if you feed your base what they want, which is a deepening of the established traditions?( some of which now carry sixty or more YEARS of baggage) Now you've pretty much ostracized any new readership, because they have no interest in doing masters degree level continuity research so that they can pay $4 for 22 pages of funny book fantasy.

It is quite the conundrum, and it is solvable with something like Marvel's Ultimate Comics line....for awhile. The funny thing is, those titles have now accrued enough continuity that the cure has become another strain of the disease. Can you hand a newcomer a copy of Ultimate Spider-Man right now and expect them to swim? Really?

And that's the pickle we're in. Write to the last dying dinosaurs and watch yourself go extinct, or piss of your dinosaurs to try and lure in new readers who don't seem to exist and really implode. The solution of course is to introduce comics to folks who don't ordinarily read comics.

If only there were some other medium, like say, a house that showed moving pictures. Perhaps some of these moving pictures, we'll call them movies for short, actually featured some of these comic book characters, and then the movies would point those eyes toward a comic shop at some point. Ah, but that would only have a real impact if a large number of people went to see these "comic book movies".

Oh, wait. You mean Dark Knight did about half a billion at the box office? Oh, shit, guess we should have done something about that. Incidentally, when I went to see Jonah Hex, there was a lobby full of tiny kids in karate uniforms for a local Tae Kwon Do school advertising their services. Not one hint of a comic shop with Jonah Hex trades, though. Or Iron Man. It's absurd. The whole thing is patently absurd. But I digest.

Wonder Woman # 600 hits tomorrow, let's see what JMS does with his little Ferrari in sensible slacks....

- Ryan


Anonymous said...

The reference to 75-80 wasn't to thousands, it was a reference to the ranking of the book, it's in the low 70s upper 80s on the ranking scale.

Chronic Insomnia said...

Yeah, that does follow. In my defense, he could have avoided confusion by addressing the topic as "chart placement" instead of "copies sold"...

Jesse said...

For what it's worth that 75/80 mention confused me... nice to know it was about rankings.

Haven't had a chance to read this whole post yet, but just wanted to say I'm in favor of the new design Wonder Woman. I've always had a problem with the skimpy outfit and this one seems much better. I know these are comics but I still can't help but interpret a woman who fights crime in a bikini or thong as a complete moron. To this day I can never take Psylocke as more than a dipshit in a g-string.

Chronic Insomnia said...

Her old costume was certainly tactically absurd. My resistance (probably temporary resistance) to it is entirely caused by my being a giant pig....