Monday, July 25, 2011

Comic-Con announcement reaction-o-rama!

I did not go to San Diego Comic Con this year, due to my abject poverty and the price associated with traveling from northeast Ohio to the Pacific coast of the United States. That, and also because of my debilitating phobia about flying in an airplane. And of crowds. And of the state of California. And of celebrities. And women. And people in costumes. And Dan DiDio. And the accusing eyes of people at booths as I walk by without buying things from them. And... Well, let's just move on, shall we?

While I did not attend SDCC this year, I did spend an awful lot of time on the Internet reading coverage of the convention. It will not surprise you, given the content of my blog, that one of the subjects I was most interested in was the reception that the crowds would give news of DC's upcoming reboot, relaunch and re-branding efforts, as this was the first big industry convention since they announced the move, which is either the most audacious and ambitious thing the often hidebound company has ever attempted, or the most self-destructively insane (Not that those two things are mutually exclusive, now that I think of it).

A word of warning: If you're as sick of me talking about DC Comics as I suspect many of you are, feel free to scroll down to the later, smaller bullet points. I tried to get all of that business out of the way first, before turning my attention to other announcements.

I’m sure all of the comics news sites covered the “New 52” panel, but the one I read was The Beat’s live-blogging of it (complete with charming live-blogging typos!), so I’ll link to that one.

Tom Spurgeon has noted a couple times this week that the DC panels tend to be “defensive and slightly hostile,” which is one thing that hasn’t really changed (Although why would it? The same folks who have been in charge over the last few years are still in charge of the “new” DCU). While “defensive and slightly hostile,” sounds about right, I probably would have characterized them as passive-aggressive, or even aggressively passive-aggressive.

I guess the panel didn’t deteriorate into a riot, which is good, and it didn’t sound like the entire room was virulently opposed to the new direction, which is obviously a good thing for DC.

Reading the answers and questions really made me kind of sad though, and for the first time since they announced their new direction, I really felt like the “DC Universe” as a shared setting, as a partially autonomous, open source (to a large if select group of people given access) entity was ending. (Which makes the last year or so worth or stories particularly disappointing; if they were ending the DCU, they really oughta done something Crisis On Infinite Earths or JLA Vs. Avengers or bigger to burn it all down with; when COIE reshaped their continuity and cosmology, Alan Moore wrote “Whatever Happened to The Man of Steel?” as the “last” Superman story. This time, we get the JMS-and-committee-created Superman-walking-around story, the title of which I couldn’t even tell you).

Of the new 52, I’ll definitely try out a few issues of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, the only titles where I’m confident I’ll like the work of the creators and am at least optimistic enough about the new directions that I think they could be good, and I’m sure I’ll read more in trade eventually, some out of affection for the creators and others out of curiosity, but everything in the “New 52” sounds like an Elseworlds or "Imaginary Story" to me.

Now, while no real good can come of me typing up a one-way argument with strangers thousands of miles away—and even less good can come of you wasting your time reading it—there were a few particularly depressing things form that panel I wanted to highlight.
“Hire more women. You went from 12% women to 1% women.”

“Who should we have hired?” DiDio demanded. Some from the audience suggested Nicola Scott and Carla Speed McNeil.
I don’t even know how to respond to that. I hope DiDio didn’t sound as defensive as “DiDio demanded” makes him sound.

At the very least, I wonder what happened to Felicia D. Henderson and Nicola Scott, both of whom were working for DC before the announcement (and the latter of whom was one of their better artists). Or they could flip through Marvel’s trade of Girl Comics, full of creators who are all women and who all work at least occasionally for the Big Two and can do superhero stuff just fine.

Or they could, I don’t know, look for some. Don’t these guys ever just spend an hour or two clicking around DeviantArt, or pick up something random and cool-looking off the new comics rack and think to themselves, “Hmm, I wonder if this Marian Churchland or Emily Warren person would like to draw a superhero comic…?”
On Wonder Woman:

Eddie; What you’ve done is turn the gods into something modern, not just toga wearing guys.”

Cliff: We’re bringing them into a world that is modern.”
Greg Rucka and his artist collaborators did the exact same thing during their run on the title eight years ago (a run interrupted by Infinite Crisis and various other initiatives spearheaded by Dan DiDio and others responslbe for “the New 52.”)
Lobdell talks about the Teen Titans: “We thought that Wonder Girl would be separated from being yet another version of Wonder Woman and have worked really hard to make these characters like you’re there at ground zero of a brand new book.”
How, exactly, do you take a second-generation, legacy sidekick conceived and named after Wonder Woman and make her something other “yet another version of Wonder Woman”…? And why would you even try?
It’s a reason we’re holding it to $2.99. It’s a big investment we’re trying to make it as accessible and affordable as possible .
This is the part where I would be hauled out of the panel, screaming, “What about Flashpoint #2, you monsters?!
NEW Q: What about Widening gyre and Elseworlds.

DiDio: Widening Gyre #2 will come out when Kevin Smith’s schedule clears up. Batman Odyssey is scheduled to come out right after the launches. The 52 books isn’t all that we’re producing. but we are trying to limit the amount of product on the stands, to make it a stronger line overall.
I am glad DC will continue to publish things other than their new, rebooted universe, and I hope there will still be projects featuring the characters I like that I can read without having to look at that Superman costume or feel sad about the creative bankruptcy of the Big Two. Like those DC Retroactive books, for example.

That said, did you guys read Batman: The Widening Gyre,? It completely broke me. It may be the worst comic I’ve ever read, worse even than that completely insane, practically unreadable-as-comics Jeph Loeb-written Ultimates comic with that Battle Chasers guy…well, not quite that bad, but still pretty bad. In the same ballpark, anyway. I couldn’t even bring myself to review it here. I’m going to try again sometime, but it was the strangest comic DC ever published, in several key ways.
Eddie Berganza; I have a timeline you’ll never see. We’re keeping the most important events but compressing it. We are not making this for people to have to read all the history at once.
What? Really? Why will we never see it? Will you let the other creators and writers see it, at least?
Didio: This is why we need new readers, so we have people who didn’t read what I said before. With Arsenal they didn’t like it when we ripped his arm off, and now they don’t like we put it back on.

Q: What about his daughter?

Q: We want beginning characters and this is about Roy startingout and this takes place before he had kids.
And here’s the strangest thing about a relaunched DC universe that still contains so many of these characters.

Is it really possible to interest new readers and/or civilians in a character named “Arsenal” with the power of super-aim based on, um, his name, costume and powers, and nothing else? How do you do a starting out version of a character that is the grown-up sidekick of another superhero?

And how on earth does Arsenal Roy Harper and Nighwing Dick Grayson even exist as the grown-up, adult versions of Green Arrow and Batman’s sidekicks if Green Arrow and Batman have only been around for five years?

So DC has confirmed the dissolution of the Superman/Lois Lane marriage. It’s really weird to hear folks from DC talking about how Clark Kent is bachelor and how they’re bringing a “fresh perspective” and opening up “dramatic new story possibilities.”

They’re essentially restoring Superman to his 1939-1996 marital/romantic status. Lois Lane as a TV reporter, Lois dating a douchebag and a media conglomerate buying out the Daily Planet are all story points and status quos I’ve seen in the comics and other-media Superman stories repeatedly before as well.

Turning the clock back 15 years doesn’t really sound all that fresh and new to me, but I guess it’s in keeping with Warren Ellis’ statement that he thinks DiDio sincerely believes making comics more like they were in the nineties will restore that decades huge sales levels.

—David Uzumeri’s write-up of another panel on the subject for Comics Alliance is a lot less depressing
Lee stated that things were way too easy for Clark Kent with his beautiful wife, nice apartment, and high-paying job, so they felt it was important to restore the love triangle and the sense that Superman couldn't get everything he wanted.
If you’ve even a passing familiarity with what DC has done with the Superman character in the last five years—including de-powering him and forcing him into retirement for a (fictional) year, killing off his dad Pa Kent, exiling him from Earth, giving him an adopted son and then taking his adopted son away, restoring a huge Kryptonian population of 100,000 or so to a new planet in Earth’s solar system and then killing them all off, “too easy” is a weird way to look at the characters’ life.

What is interesting about this statement, particularly as regards the live triangle, is the belief that the Lois Lane/Superman/Clark Kent love triangle is essential the character and concept. The argument could certainly be made.

Personally, I think it was, but mostly because Superman was an adolescent power fantasy, a kids comic character. Now that he’s more of a shared, all-ages character, and that his readership has grown up, I don’t think the adolescent romantic/sexual tension that exists between his two selves and Lois Lane is necessarily as relevant—and decades of good Superman comics in which the two are married partners bear that out.

That love triangle aspect of the character is also, I think, a product of the early 20th century, and now seems dated and chauvinistic. Why can’t Superman be himself around the woman he loves? Why can’t they be equal partners? Why must Lois be so dumb that she can’t see two men in her life are one and the same?

The move would definitely be one that might give Lois Lane more panel time, but there’s a danger of reducing her to a plot point and story object instead of a character, and, I think, diminishes her—she’s no longer the human being that landed the most perfect mr. perfect in the world, the single person who is complete equals with Superman, instead she’s someone with a crush on him that Superman would like to be with if it weren’t for his pesky secret-identity and the fact that girls are yucky and have cooties and might get hurt by a villain if they ever fournd out she was dating Superman.

Whatever happens, I do hope they will keep Superman and Lois chaste until their identities are revealed. The few instances where I’ve seen a romantically involved Superman and Lois, wherein Lois doesn’t know Superman is really Clark Kent, have struck me as exceedingly creepy (That Superman/Doomsday animated direct-to-DVD featurette leaps most immediately to mind, and I must confess to have forgotten whether the Lois in Superman Returns new Superman’s secret identity or not—I might just be creeped out by any of the many other creepy things in that movie).
DiDio pointed out that the characters had aged a lot in the DC Universe, with many of them having wives, children and multigenerational legacies. Barbara Gordon was a character they discussed a lot, with most DC staffers feeling that she was likely in her mid- to late 30s. Additionally, they wanted to de-age the characters for story reasons, to allow them to go on voyages of self-discovery, since many of the current DC characters had already matured so much. At the same time, they wanted to tell fresh new stories rather than rehashing old ones, just with younger versions of the characters who hadn't already overcome their greatest battles.
That actually sounds a bit right to me. I would have said Gordon could be no younger than her mid-twenties, but was probably early-30’s.

I don’t think it matters over much, so long as you don’t think about it. Personally, I guess Superman and Batman will always seem “older than me” to me, no matter how old I get; I’m currently 34, so I think of the Wally West/Dick Grayson generation as my age, between 25-35, and the original Justice Leaguers in their mid-40’s. Maybe when I’m 50 or 60 I’ll see that differently though.

I think there’s a real danger here that DC will end up repeating themselves though; the temptation is going to be extremely great to “do-over” stories with the characters.

And, of course, whenever there’s talk of difficulties or limitations with the writing of characters—like Marvel’s argument that being married made Spider-Man stories too hard to tell, or that the DCU heroes are now too experienced—I get a little depressed, as it sounds like a veiled admission of defeat, a failure of imagination. If you honestly can’t think of a way to tell any good Spider-Man stories with a married Spider-Man, for example, then maybe you shouldn’t be telling Spider-Man stories. I’m sure there’s a pool of several dozen to several hundred other writers and cartoonists out there; someone oughta be able to do it.
On Superman's Continuity: When asked for six examples of Superman stories that are still in continuity, Berganza mentioned Doomsday and then gave five classic parts of Superman mythology, such as Krypton exploding.
Uh-oh. Well, double uh-oh, I guess. First, not being able to name five other Superman stories is kind of scary. Secondly, if they rebooted his marital status, than almost everything since the mid-nineties is now in that same weird place where Spider-Man comics were after their continuity-ectomy: Like, they happened, but happened completely differently, since the character’s weren’t married…?

I really liked The Crow the first time I read it. I was a teenager at the time, and read it after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a book with which it shared some aesthetic, I think. I liked the first movie (mostly). As powerful as both were, particularly that comic, I never thought that the concept itself had much juice beyond the story and characters of the original stories. (I remember hating the second movie, and only seeing the third one at all because Kirsten Dunst was in it, and I heart her; somehow, I never read any of the other Crow comics produced).

That said, there’s obviously a lot of interest in the character and concept, so I’m not surprised it’s coming back, nor that IDW’s the publisher doing it. It’s really rather weird to look at the The Crow today, however, and think of him as a 21st century character or product. Looking at him and his story in context though, James O’Barr was well ahead of his time in a lot of ways, and he and his comics wielded an awful lot of influence over certain elements of pop culture.

The other two IDW projects mentioned in this report sound even more appealing. I can’t imagine what the Popeye comics would be like, if they are new, comic book adventures based on the old strip continuity, but I’m really excited to learn more.

Marvel is publishing a new Villains For Hire book, which has Misty Knight leading a team of villains. Kinda like DC’s old Suicide Squad, in which tough black lady Amanda Waller lead a team of villains. Or current Thunderbolts, in which tough black guy Luke Cage leads a team of villains?

I wonder if this means Thunderbolts is going away…? If not, that’s two books with two very similar concepts going on at the same time. Heck, Luke and Misty are even pals in the Marvel Universe, aren’t they?

DC released a mess of interior art from a bunch of their books. Unsurprisingly, the Batwoman stuff looks particularly nice, and those Guillem March images were enough to get me to overcome my resistance to Judd Winick’s writing. I think I’ll read Catwoman in trade someday…I can always just ignore the words and look at the pictures, right? The sense of motion in some of those panels is just amazing…

—I’ve never watched any Star Trek—none!—not a single TV show episode or a single movie (In 2002, I tried to find episodes of Voyager in preparation for a feature article I was writing about a Star Trek celeb-starring fundraiser for Ohio gubenatorial candidate Tim Hagan being held in Cleveland; his wife, actress Kate Mulgrew, played Captain Janeway; I didn't manage to find any before the article saw print, however). And I am quite adverse to the Legion, despite given the concept a couple of chances (Waid and Kubert’s short-lived run, Geoff Johns’ Action arc “Superman and The Legion of Super-Heroes” and Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds).

So why do I think this sounds kinda cool?

This crossover sounds even weirder to me than a Star Trek/Legion one. Johanna Draper Carlson wonders after the appeal. I would probably buy it if it featured Josie and the Pussycats instead of the Archie gang.

Really? I still haven’t read the second one yet. The first one was really rather good, though.

—This doesn’t sound as flashy and exciting on the surface as some of the other announcement, but I be there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to end up being a lot better than a lot of the above mentioned projects: Guy Delisle’s next book is going to be about his time spent in Jersualem.

I was particularly intrigued by Drawn and Quarterly's Editor-In-Chief and Publisher Chris Oliveros’ statement that, “There has never been a book like it.” Considering the fact that I can think of a handful of cartoonists who have spent time in the same geographical area and produced great works, this should be something special.

—Current comics creators probably shouldn’t opine about Siegel and Shuster’s treatment of and by DC in public, especially if they’re currently working on Siegel and Shuster’s signature creation and on DC’s biggest cashcow of all time. Even Grant Morrison, who seems like one of the smartest, nicest and coolest folks in super-comics, come across as sounding like a bit of a jerk in doing so.

—I can’t wait to read Frank Miller’s Holy Terror, although I’m gonna have an awfully hard time not mentall drawing little bat-ears on the lead character while reading it, I think.

I guess Image is publishing a MacGyver comic…? Here’s Robot 6’s mention of the announcement, in a round-up of news:

Image Comics will resurrect the classic television show MacGyver as a five-issue miniseries written by MacGyver creator Lee David Zlotoff and Doctor Who writer Tony Lee, and illustrated by Becky Cloonan.
And here’s a transcription of my thoughts while reading that sentence:
Really? Why that’s a weird thing for Image to publish, I can see what Zlotoff would want to do that, but I can’t imagine anyone wanting to read—OHHH, Becky Cloonan.

—The line-up for this new Defenders comic from by Matt Fraction and Terry Dodson sounds a little goofy—Red-She Hulk? Iron Fist?—but I do love The Defenders, and will likely give this a try if it’s $3 a pop.

My pitch for a Defenders book would be to title the book Defender Avengers—having the word “Avengers” in the title would totally be worth at least 20K units ordered a month, I bet.

—Have you guys noticed that in the past half-decade or so, Marvel seems to steal all of DC’s good ideas, while DC steals all of Marvel’s bad ideas?

I like both of the Wonder Girl costumes in this gallery of “New 52” redesign sketches better than the one they ultimately went with (Or did they go with the second one, and Booth just draws it weird?) I especially like the one I excerpted above. (I also really, really like this, Wonder-person costume, and the idea of Wednesday Comics creator Ben Caldwell doing a Wonder Woman series.

September’s relaunched Wonder Woman snagged one of the better creative teams of all 52 new books, but man, how cool would it be if they did something really radical, like a Wonder Girl—Wonder Woman’s adventures when she was a girl!—book by Caldwell…?

—I’m excited about both of Fantagraphics’ two big archival announcements, Zap and creator-specific collections of EC Comics.

I still haven’t caught up with their Krazy Kat, Complete Peanuts or even Popeye yet though. And there's the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck stuff coming up too!

After I post this, I’m gonna go by a lottery ticket.

That’s kind of cool, actually. Not putting-CaptainMarvel-and-Plastic Man-in-the-founding-line-up cool, but still pretty cool. I think I will try Justice League #1 after all…

—Finally, according to this report, former New Teen Titan Cyborg will be a founding member of the Justice League. What does that mean for the history of the Teen Titans, a run of comics which is among DC's best-loved and best-remembered (particularly for folks who were reading back during the time Marv Wolfman and George Perez were working on them), but also comics that inevitably age the DCU, as it starred the sidekicks coming of age and becoming young adults themselves. If it's knocked out of continuity, than that could be troubling, but I notice DC is gearing up to sell a Wolfman/Perez original graphic novel set during those fictional years and using that continuity.

I wonder if Martian Manhunter's absences from the new Justice League means that he is no longer a founding member. That's going to really, really, really hurt that character's standing and marketability in the future, although I suppose if he is kicked out of the League and grafted on to the new Stormwatch line-up, it signals DC having finally given up on him.

If DC wanted a black person on the founding League, I do wish they would have went with Black Lightning, Amazing Man, Vixen, Icon or Hardware, John Stewart or even Mr. Terrific instead of Cyborg, if only because it moves him from one generation of heroes, back to another (Hey, does that age him and make him more experienced?). But then, I suppose the choices depend on how much DCU continuity is changed (Was there a Golden Age with a JSA and All-Star Squadron? Did Batman recruit Black Lightning into The Outsiders a few years after he turned down League membership? Was there a JLA Detroit? Is the Milestone Universe still part of the DCU?), and I don't know anything about all that.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand why the "love triangle" is necessarily chauvinistic. As a matter of fact, I believe that it is actually quite the opposite. Lois Lane acctually wielded much of the power in the Superman/ Clark Kent / Lois confusion. All three characters were in pursuit, and as a result Clark Kent, Superman's actual identity remains denied.

This relationship was one of Superman's major weaknesses as the man of steel. He could do whatever he wanted, except have the woman he wanted without compromising who he was as a person. It is not always a matter of him having a macho sense of duty in protecting Lois, but in remaining true to the ideals he represents.

Personally, I believe that this may be the one solid move in the Superman reboot because it gives the story back much of what was missing and brings the character back down to earth. It is a shame that DC decided to make him more Kryptonian than Human because it takes away all that was gained by rebooting their personal lives.

FLD said...

I agree with most of this. I don't worry about the continuity though, because I don't believe this universal concept is sustainable. It just isn't constructed very well, and contradicts too much past history that even a layperson knows.

Case in point: "And how on earth does Arsenal Roy Harper and Nighwing Dick Grayson even exist as the grown-up, adult versions of Green Arrow and Batman’s sidekicks if Green Arrow and Batman have only been around for five years?"

Answer: Dick Grayson was never Robin. Read the solicit to Nightwing #2 and tell me that's not what is implied. Will, not, stand...