Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Curse Is Upon Us!

Justice League: now with 100% less America!

There's an old Chinese curse that goes:

"May you live in interesting times."

For comic book fans, that curse has certainly come home.  For better or worse, and usually for the goddamn worse, the comics industry does not lack for drama.  Things are happening.  The whole ship might be impersonating the Edmund Fitzgerald.  It's kinda scary, it's often frustrating, and sometimes it's exciting to be around the tumult.

DC is taking a stab at the brass ring (or maybe just a new lease lease on life) with some global scale changes to their entire publishing line.  Pretty sure Geoff Johns and Jim Lee were going to announce this stuff on June 11, but the comics fan base acts like the most petulant of 9 year-olds, demanding to know what they're getting for Christmas four months beforehand, picking the lock on their parents closet to find out if the parents won't spill.

Mark Waid:  not interested in my opinion
It's gross, it's embarrassing, and I guess I'm a part of it, so shame on me as well.  If I had a vote, I'd vote for everyone and everything to keep their mouths shut until the thing, whatever it actually is, hits in September.  This is simply not an option in 2011.  You can blame Rich Johnston over at Bleeding Cool if you like, but he never put a gun to your head to click.

Anywho.  DC is changing in September, and the information that I find most interesting came in a letter Bob Wayne sent out to the comics retailing community.  I'm just going to go with the letter as presented, and then make comments where I feel appropriate.  Sorry, Mark Waid.

To our comics retail partners,

In the time I've worked at DC Comics, I've witnessed any number of industry defining moments.  But today, I bring you what is perhaps the biggest news to date.

Many of you have heard rumors that DC Comics has been working on a big publishing initiative for later this year.  This is indeed an historic time for us as, come this September, we are relaunching the entire DC Universe line of comic books with all new first issues, 52 of them to be exact.

OK, that's pretty big, and this is exactly what we were hoping and fearing.  Some are comparing this move to Marvels "Heroes Reborn" launch, but really, this move by DC makes that look like small potatoes.  Heroes Reborn was about a half dozen books - this is everything.

My principle concern on this front has been Detective Comics and Action Comics.  Wayne hasn't specifically stated that these titles are re-setting or going away, but that's what "the entire line" sounds like to me.  Until I get final confirmation, though, I will not scale the bell tower with a rifle.

I suppose if you're re-booting the whole works, it doesn't make any logical sense to keep a couple grandfathered back.  As the move is constructed, they really have no choice but to flush 70+ years of history in the name of regaining market share, which sadly is what this is all about.  Desperate measures for interesting times and all that.

My hope is that if DC can't continue Detective and Action marching forward, they simply let it go away.  If the tradition mattered, there would be no re-boot.  If the re-boot matters, calling a Batman book Detective Comics is a giant, obvious mistake.  Same for calling a Superman book Action Comics.  If we're saying goodbye to the past and hello to exciting and new, put the old dames to bed, I say.  Call it something new and different, so that a retailer can rack it and I can find it on the shelf.

If I see a Detective Comics # 1 in September, I'm going to squawk about it, is the point.

Honestly, I think the closest comparison to what DC is doing is Jim Shooter's (alleged) plan to wipe the slate clean in 1986 and go with the New Universe.  Shooter denies he ever considered the idea, but Doug Moench and several other folks working for the House of Ideas at the time say that he was completely set to stop publishing Spider-Man, Avengers, X-Men, the whole works in favor of Spitfire & the Troubleshooters.  Legend has it that it was that proposed move that staged the palace coup that ultimately ousted Shooter.  He tells it differently, of course.  But I digress.

The point is that this is potentially the biggest shakeup in the history of comics.  I don't know what age we're in now, but it seems probable to me that history will mark Flashpoint as the beginning of an as yet unnamed epoch.  For reals.

 In addition, the new # 1s will introduce readers to more modern, diverse DC Universe, with some character variations in appearance, origin and age.  All stories will be grounded in each character's legend- but will relate to real world situations, interactions, tragedy and triumph.

Now I'm starting to worry, because most of that either doesn't make sense or sounds counter-productive.  I've never understood the diversity "problem", frankly.  The truth is that I don't know what goes on in the hallowed halls of DC comics.  If there are creators coming to editorial with pitches and story arc ideas that include gay Korean women and the brass at DC are saying to creators "That's a great idea, but can you make it a white guy?", then there's a problem.  Does anybody really believe that's the case?  Anybody?  I don't think even Valerie D'Orazio believes that.

Don't ever read this
Want to know what a comic book built on modern diversity looks like?  It looks like the JLA/99 series, which has all the right people in all the right colors spouting incredulous corn syrupy nonsense about all the right religions.  It's insipid, it's insincere, and it's offensively haughty.

JLA/ 99 is an atrocity, because legislated Pharisee morality is neither interesting nor transformative.  It's not a story.

Tell fucking stories.  That's it.  Now, if DC wants to put out a call and say "Listen, whatever you think we wanted before, I'm just telling you now, there are no limitations.  Any race, any sex, any creed, if it's a strong idea, I want you to pitch it."  That I approve entirely.  That involves no limitations.  Mandating "diversity", if that's the plan, is limiting, and that will not produce good stories.

I don't know that I'm love with an editorial push toward "real world" connections, and I can promise you that Tim Callahan is not.

Costume, origin, and age changes do not make for better stories.  Better stories make for better stories.  Not exciting.  And what exactly does it mean to have wholesale changes that are grounded in each character's legend?  That's contradictory nonsense.  I'm avoiding histrionics for now, though, because we still don't understand the shot yet, and I expect we will not until Flashpoint # 5 hits at the end of August. But everything in that last paragraph is a bit disconcerting.

This epic event will kick off on Wednesday, August 31st with the debut of a brand new JUSTICE LEAGUE #1, which pairs Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, together for the first time.  (Yes, this is the same week as FLASHPOINT # 5)

Couple of things.  First off, somebody get Geoff Johns a Red Bull or something.  By my count, he's doing scripts for a Green Lantern team book, and the Aquaman series, and Justice League (no more America, thank you very much) after Flashpoint, and he's acting as Chief Creative Officer?  Somethings got to give somewhere.  To be fair, I still enjoy his work on Green Lantern, I don't notice notice any significant decline in his work.  Yet.  I worry for that kid, though.  That's not burning the candle at both ends, that is throwing it into the mouth of the volcano.

Also, a little troubling that we're already backing off the "Flashpoint # 5 is the only DC title shipping the last week of August" stance.  Are we making this stuff up as we go along, guys?  Scary.  We'd like to at least pretend that the conductor knows where this train is going.

We think our current fans will be excited by this evolution, and that it will make jumping into the story extremely accessible to first-time readers - giving them a chance to discover DC's characters and stories.

We are positioning ourselves to tell the most innovative stories with our characters to allow fans to see them from a new angle.  We have taken great care in maintaining continuity where most important, but fans will see a new approach to our storytelling.

Some of the characters will have new origins, while others will undergo minor changes.  Our characters are always being updated; however, this is the first time all of our characters will be presented in a new way all at once.

This is another one of those confusing things that I've promised myself not to get upset about until I see the product.  I just don't understand how it's possible to "maintain continuity where most important."  Who decides what's important, and it sounds like they're only going to muck with certain characters, which doesn't make sense to me unless the DC Universe post Flashpoint is an amalgamation of different worlds?  Like I said, I don't know, so I'm not going to get worked about yet, but it sounds like nonsense doublespeak.

As for the first time readers and the jumping on, and all that rhetoric that I'm just completely weary of, whatever.  I'll believe it when I see it.  In terms of taking market share from Marvel with the existing fan base,  I think this is a ballsy and interesting ploy.  In terms of growing the pie, I haven't seen a viable plan for that yet.

Dan DiDio, Bob Harras, and Eddie Berganza have been working diligently to pull together some of the best creative teams in the industry.  Over 50 new costumes will debut in September, many updated and designed by Jim Lee, ensuring that the updated images appeal to the current generation of readers.

Hey...nice jacket
I laughed out loud when I read that last bit.  You mean like the current generation of readers fell in love with that Wonder Woman costume he designed?  Funny.  To repeat an earlier point, new costumes do not make better stories.  New costumes make for new action figures, for sure.  Congratulations on that.

I'm more interested in the best creative teams in the industry bit.  We'll have to wait and see on that, as all of the teams in question are under a strict gag order not to talk about any of it.  And yet, here we are 11 days before the big announcement was supposed to pop talking about everything any way, so I'm not sure why we bother at this point.

The publication of JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 will also launch digital day-and-date for all ongoing superhero comic book titles - an industry first.

WOW.  Talk about burying your lead!  Of all the announcements that have been or will be made about characters, costumes, and continuity, this one slams them all.  Day and date digital for all ongoings.  We're FINALLY going to find out if the revolution is real, folks.

There's a lot more we need to know on the issue.  What's the price point?  What's the application?  Where will it be available?  What involvement with the physical retailers, if any?  How does this connect with Diamond's digital plan, if it does at all?

We just don't know.

On Wednesday, June 1st, this initiative is expected to be announced in a nationwide feature article, and we're hopeful the news will be picked up my media outlets around the world.  Throughout the month we'll reveal more details of our plans with articles in both the mainstream and comics press and on June 13th the Diamond catalog solicitations for all of the September titles will be released, followed by the June 29th street date of the print version of Previews.

Well, today is June 1, and I don't know what nationwide feature article Wayne is referring to.  Everything I'm seeing is pulled straight off the DC Source blog.

DC Comics will support this initiative with an innovative mix of publicity, promotional efforts and retailer incentives designed to maximize your opportunity to increase your DC sales.  We will discuss additional details of these incentives when we get closer to solicitation later in June.

We'lll be updating you more through email as September nears.  But today, I hope your (sic) share our enthusiasm for this historic news!

Do I share Bob Wayne's enthusiasm?  No.  I'm cautiously optimistic.  My prediction is that DC will take market share from Marvel in September, even if they only publish the 52 main books.  Something tells me that there will be more than that available.

I just know that it takes more than an "S" belt buckle on Superman's costume to mean anything long term.  Grant Morrison writing a Superman book - now that sounds promising.  I'm hearing a lot of hype, and you know what?  Hype isn't all bad.  When the top selling book on the Diamond chart is sitting at about 70,000, we need some goddamn hype.

But for this to be meaningful in the long term, I don't want to hear about costume changes or diversity.  I want to hear about the stories that we'll remember 70 years from now.  You want to kill Action Comics?  Fine.  What's coming out in September that our grandchildren will look back on as the stories that started it all?  I guess that's going to the Canterbury Cricket, right?

- Ryan


Web Wreckage Stephen said...

you know, I won't be surprised if this is the move that pushes me away from DC books for good. Right now I am primarily a trade-waiter with their books, but I don't know if I want to re-invest in their books and characters if so much is thrown away in such a potentially whole sale manner. To be honest, recently every time they have had a Crisis of some sort, it has chipped away at my interest in the DC line as a whole. With this? I don't know.

BTW, Ryan, did you know that Gail Simone is off whatever new Birds of Prey book they are doing? Were you reading it or was Secret Six your only Current Simone title?

Chronic Insomnia said...


I don't blame you for thinking that way. DC is taking a gamble with high risk and potentially high reward. And the danger of courting a new army of followers with a (supposedly) clean slate is losing the army you already have.

If this goes over like Superman "Grounded", they're dead meat. You know, the last five years have been the Big Two saying "Trust us, this time it will pay off for sure." It never seems to. If this one doesn't pay off, the result should strain good will well past the breaking point.

The thing of it is, it could be great. We just don't know anything at this point. We know certain creative teams and titles. That's not enough to make a judgement yet, at least not for me.

I am reading Birds of Prey, and it sounds like the characters won't be the same, and Gail is for sure off the book. So I'm left wondering if I'm reading a "dead end" right now, which is probably harsh. I suppose the measured response would be to simply enjoy it while it lasts. Logically, do I read the book because it will last forever, or because Gail Simone is really good? I guess it's the latter. But I can certainly understand a reader feeling like they're wasting their time right about now, anticipating whatever they're reading now to be irrelevant in about three months.

These are interesting times, for sure.


Web Wreckage Stephen said...

I am also wondering about a semi-stand alone title such as Thunder Agents; this kind of reboot of everything is something I could see Nick Spencer using as an excuse to quietly finish walking away from DC, thus completely making him a Marvel exclusive when it comes to the 'Big Two' (as per his recent contract). This would be kind of ironic, considering i recently made the decision to go and acquire the Thunder Agents DC Archives Edition HCs based on my recent rekindled fondness for the series.