Sunday, February 10, 2013

DC Comics Think Piece Follow-up #1: "WTF Certified"

Those of you who regularly read the Robot 6 blog at Comic Book Resources probably already read my piece on DC Comics' "WTF Certified" promotion, in which every cover to every comic of their "New 52" line will feature a gatefold cover revealing a surprise so shocking the reader is apparently supposed to think, "What the fuck?!"

The month that DC is choosing to do this is April, so I imagine there was some degree of inspiration taken from that, even though none of April's four Wednesdays fall on the first this year (There are also a lot of Mad magazine variant covers among the April comics). When I first heard of the promotion, I was pretty surprised, to the point of being skeptical, and I wondered if maybe on April 1st they would announce the February publicity was just an April Fool's joke (that's not the way April Fool's jokes are supposed to work, but that is what IDW did last year, announcing a Mars Attacks! Broadway musical weeks in advance in issuing a "just kidding" on the first of April).

My next thought was of a particular installment of The Plain Dealer funny pages from the late '90s. I remember reading it in the basement of my college library, so it would have had to have been somewhere between 1995 and 1999.

It was an April Fool's Day, and, to celebrate, many of the more popular syndicated cartoonists traded strips for the day. I can't remember exactly who did what, but, basically, you would see Hagar the Horrible by someone other than the person who usually did Hagar the Horrible at the time, and maybe the guy who normally did Hagar did Garfield. I'm sure I saved the paper, as that's the sort of thing I would save, but it's in a box in a basement in my mother's house at the moment, so I'm not going to check.

It was really fun to read the funnies that day, and even the strip's that weren't terribly successful were terribly interesting. (UPDATE: In the comments, Anthony Strand helpfully pointed out this Wikipedia page, which is infinitely more specific and reliable than my hazy memory of the event).

I remember at the time thinking that when I grew up and ran my own comic book company, that I would do that every April—have the artists of the various books in my line switch for the month.

When I read about DC's "WTF" month, there was a half a moment where I thought it might be cool if DC did that, had the various artists—or entire creative teams—of their New 52 line switch books for a month, and produce one-off stories that departed dramatically from the ongoing storylines (and, ultimately, wouldn't get collected in the trades, but perhaps in a standalone, monster collection like those DC has done for the #1 and #0 issues of their New 52 line).

But then I realized that few creative teams have lasted all that long, and that even fewer artists have been drawing their books for long enough to establish a connection with that character and that narrative in readers' minds. And those that do tend to need some fill-ins occasionally, and/or to be having so much trouble meeting their deadlines that it would be madness to ask, say, J.H. Williams III, who is one of the artists strongly associated with his book (we all think of Batwoman as the Williams book, and not the Batwoman book, right?), to draw an issue of Green Lantern: The New Guardians just for giggles.

Added to that is the sad fact that relatively few books have artists that really have their own visual identities that are so strong one might even notice artists switching. Like, Williams drawing a book that Kenneth Rocafort or Patrick Gleason usually draws would be noticeable. But what if the guy who draws Sword of Sorcery switched with the guy who draws Catwoman...? Would you notice? I can't even remember their names without looking them up.

There are a lot of really strong artists working at DC Comics right now, but there isn't a huge variety of styles at DC Comics right now.

The other thought I had regarding a way DC could do an April Fool's month event that didn't involve the publisher alluding to the F-word on the covers of all the books they publish for readers 12 and up, books in which the word "fuck" isn't allowed by the publisher to appear in, was to import some of the crazier, zanier members of the gigantic character catalog DC is in possession of.

I can't count how many times that I was watching Batman: The Brave and the Bold and would find myself shocked—shocked!—to see Ace the Bathound appear, or B'wanna Beast, or Detective Chimp, or Plastic Man's baby, or the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man and on and on. That show excelled at digging up DC's goofiest characters and throwing them into Batman team-ups, often as jokes to begin with, although some of them would gradually become important characters (Guys, I seriously teared up during the last B'wanna Beast episode).

What if instead of asking readers to say "WTF?!" about who was causing grievous bodily harm to The Savage Hawkman in April, instead DC had The Savage Hawkman teaming up with The Not-So Savage 'Mazing Man? And Wonder Woman with Wonder Tot? And Batman with Scooby-Doo? And the Red Lanterns with the Red Bee? And the Justice League Dark with Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew? And so on.

But then I remembered Threshold (and/or Threshold Presents: The Hunted), with its "K'rot", DC's answer to Rocket Raccoon, a reinvention of Captain Carrot by way of Bucky O'Hare/Jax, the Giant Green Star Wars Rabbit. And 52's Mr. Mind. And the Mr. Tawky Tawny of Final Crisis and or Flashpoint. And the Bat-Mite in "Batman: R.I.P." And...yeah, I don't think DC really knows how to do silly, funny, zany or goofy anymore.

And besides, part of the reason DC did the reboot was to remove all the clutter of stuff like imps and super-pets from their universe, right? As well as all the silliness, so that things like the Captai Marvel franchise could be more like the Geoff Johns/Gary Frank Shazam strip.

My final thought was how great it would be if they gave their regular creative teams the month of April off (to catch up on their deadlines), and handed all 52 books over to creators of the sort they once hired to contribute short stories to 2001's Bizarro Comics and 2005's Bizarro World (If you didn't read those, here are a few names: Kyle Baker, Tony Millionaire, Sam Henderson, Dylan Horrocks, Stephen DeStefano, Paul Pope, James Kochalka, Andi Watson, Evan Dorkin, Peter Bagge, Gilbert Hernandez...) Can you imagine how awesome a "Bizarro Month" would be?

As an added bonus, "Bizarro Month" would use a universally-understood DC Comics term, and it would use it properly (they're not really using "WTF" correctly, as it's more a term of derision than a simple exclamation of surprise). Oh, and it wouldn't allude to the F-word on all their covers.

The main stumbling blocks to doing a Biazarro Month, in which they'd publish, like, Aquaman written and drawn by James Kochalka (as is his duty as a father), Stephen DeStafano's Batman and Andi Watson's Wonder Woman or whatever would be 1.) It's probably easier to get big-name cartoonists with plenty of other, better gigs to contribute short stories than it is to get them to do 20-page comics, 2.) DC might have trouble rounding up 52-ish cartoonists like that post-Before Watchmen and 3.) A large swathe of their regular audience would likely freak the fuck out, and they may or may not all be replaced by readers with better taste for a month.

Anyway, I'm going to stop writing, close my eyes and imagine April is Bizarro Month at DC, and there are 52 done-in-one issues of comics by the greatest cartoonists hitting the stands every Wednesday that month...


Ah, I needed that! Did you guys read the same imaginary issue of Johnny Ryan's Suicide Squad that I did? That was amazing, wasn't it?!

Okay, where was I...?

Oh yes, the main reason I wanted to revisit DC's WTF "WTF Certified" promotion for a second time in one weekk was simply to link to two other pieces.

Tom Bondurant's "Grumpy Old Fan" column on the subject is a great read, and, as he points out, DC used to do "WTF" covers all the time—it was called the Silver Age. He has a lot of great examples, but for a long, long time DC Comics was famous for covers showing insane-looking stuff on them, the sorts of things that would cause readers to think, if not "WTF?" at least, "What in God's name is Superman doing to poor Lois and/or Jimmy this month?" or "Who is marrying who?" or "What is Batman wearing?" Or "What is up with The Flash and/or Superman's head now?" and buy the issues out of intense curiosity.

That would be another way DC could have gone—a month full of Julius Schwartz-like covers of bizarre imagery and mysterious, leading questions.

Another route would have been a month of "Imaginary Stories", which would have allowed them to really go for-it with crazy cover imagery and out-of-left field plot developments (And, again, could have given their regular artists a month off to get back on schedule drawing all of those little lines in Superman's new costume or whatever).

Finally, I would like to point your attention to this week's installment of "Comics of the Weak" at The Comics Journal, in which Abhay Khosla covers "WTF Certified" the way only Abhay Khosla can. Here's the lede:
I’m not really sure if I understand this story 100% correctly, but here’s what I know: the latest news in mainstream comics is that April will be “Fuck Fuck Oh Fuck!” month at DC Comics. It’s sort of a Mad Magazine thing where if fans fold the covers into an origami crane, a shock twist DC Comics surprise is revealed, causing fans from coast to coast to scream out “Violently Fuck My Face, DC Comics!”
Khosla asks and answers all 52 of the shocking questions attached to each of the books involved. Rest assured that if any of those questions are asked answered with those answers come April, they will indeed generate a hell of a lot of WTFs.


Rockett Davey said...

WOW! How much time do you have on your hands?
I enjoy your blog...
Yet I have better use of my time than read this way too wordy post.
GOD Bless your spare time.

Anthony Strand said...

That newspaper comics event has its own Wikipedia page!

Caleb said...


Not as much free time as I'd like, that' s for sure. The 40-hour-per-week day job eats up way more of it than I'd like.

But wordy...? This was only like 1,700 words...about an hours worth of writing. If you REALLY wanna see too long posts, click on the "long posts" tag in the goofy word/tag cloud thingee to the right some time...


Thanks! I'll update.

bad wolf said...

First off, as far as DC's using the abbreviation for "fuck" in the title, i twould have been just as valid to use "WTH" for this stunt.

Second, all that reminded me of one of my favorite 80's stunts, Marvel's Assistant Editor Month! Man, that was in early days for me so i hoped it would happen again for quite a while after that...

JRC, the OWL Says Who said...

I was going to name check Assistant Editors' Month too, that actually produced some wonderful stories, some silly, some serious.

David Charles Bitterbaum said...

I'm sobbing now at the idea of 52 amazing DC comics all done by some of the top indie talent. I'm sobbing because such a thing is basically impossible and now I can't stop thinking about how beautiful it would be. Thanks a lot Caleb, now I'm horribly depressed.