Sunday, February 10, 2013

DC Comics Think-Piece Follow-up #2: The Next Round of New 52 Cancellations

Earlier in the week I had a piece up at Robot 6 about the semi-announced cancellation of The Savage Hawkman, and what it meant for The New 52. It was a poorly-selling comic that looked terrible, had a series of terrible writers and artists attached, went through the too-standard creative roster chaos of so many New 52 books, and rebooted one of the company's most notoriously complicated character's origins...immediately after the publisher's most popular writer Geoff Johns finished spending an entire year setting the character up in a new direction built on the years of work Johns had done to salvage the character.

On Friday, DC officially announced Hawkman's cancellation, which was part of a culling involving five other New 52 titles: Deathstroke, The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Man, The Ravagers, Sword of Sorcery and Team 7.

They join the following New 52 titles in the trash-heap of books launched in September 2011 or later that didn't make it: Blackhawks, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, DC Universe Presents, Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE, G.I. Combat, Grifter, Hawk & Dove, I,Vampire, Justice League International, Legion Lost, Men of War, Mister Terrific, OMAC, Resurrection Man, Static Shock and Voodoo.

Few of those books are terribly surprising to see on a list of cancelled books, and many of them seemed canceled upon announcement: Did anyone think The Ravagers or a Team 7 were going to last, for example? Others seemed like books that theoretically might have worked, if handled differently, like Sword of Sorcery, for example, which repackaged Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld into a generic New 52 superhero fantasy with standard DC house style art (the result of which, it's worth noting, looked nothing like the animated version airing on Cartoon Network) with back-up stories in a $4 book (And the creative team consisted of an animation writer who had a hit series in the 80s, when my 34-year-old, mother-of-three sister played with the dolls that cartoon was designed to sell, and the artist of the pre-New 52 Wonder Woman, many of the DC titles DC regarding as so unworkable that they needed to scrap it).

Let's look at some of the trends among this cavalcade of canceled books, to see exactly what it is the direct market's super-comics readers are rejecting about these books (beyond their lack of Batman):

1.) Rob Liefeld: Liefeld was the artist for Hawk & Dove, which was one of the first New 52 books canceled. He took over writing duties from Sterling Gages on the last three issues.

Liefeld also wrote Grifter and Hawkman, books he also provided occasional cover art for.

He also took over as writer and artist for Deathstroke.

Those last three books were all canceled after he left, and he didn't launch them, but rather followed the original creative teams. But it's safe to say he failed to save any of them, and, whatever blame or credit he deserves for them, the fact remains: Every New 52 book Rob Liefeld worked on during his time at DC has been canceled.

2.) Wildstorm: Grifter, Team 7 and Voodoo were all titles based around properties that began at Wildstorm studios, which DC the business absorbed and DC the fictional universe absorbed in the last issue of Flashpoint. Team 7 had a mix of Wildstorm characters and DCU characters. The title of The Ravagers wasn't a Wildstorm property, but its cast prominently featured at least one Wildstorm character.

The only book rooted in the Wildstorm universe that remains uncanceled at this point is Stormwatch, which features characters from the Wildstorm book's The Authority and Stormwatch. It was one of the initial books launched in September of 2011 and is still standing, so that's a something of an achievement for a New 52 book, however I don't expect it to last too many more months. Jim Starlin is coming on board as its third writer (if I've counted correctly), and Starlin's recent DCU work has generated rather abysmal sales and nothing approaching satisfied, let alone good, reviews.

3.) Drastic Reboots: Is it significant that the two franchises that are doing the best since the relaunch are the Batman franchise and the Green Lantern franchise? Certainly both were popular before the New 52boot as well, but the many, many books in each franchise have managed to not only not get cancelled, but hang on to their creative teams a lot longer than many other books. These are the two franchises that, for the most part, ignored the reboot as well.

In the Batman franchise, Batgirl III Stephanie Brown disappeared and was replaced by the healed and de-aged Barbara Gordon, Commissioner Gordon's hair and mustache are red instead of white now and the Robins have all had their origins messed around with and their costumes uglied up, but, other than that, the comics weren't drastically reinvented and, for the most part, the creators seem to be be ignoring aspects of the reboot. With Green Lantern, some of the characters' origins have been tweaked but, again, for the most part the books are carrying on as if the reboot never happened—certainly pre-New 52 events like the "Sinestro Corps War", Blackest Night and "War of the Green Lanterns" all still happened and are being continually built upon.

Let's look at the books that got canceled in contrast, though. Hawk & Dove, Firestorm and Savage Hawkman were three books that featured characters who Geoff Johns wrote in year-long, biweekly series Brightest Day, following his work with them in Blackest Night and setting them each up with promising new status quos: The reboot yanked them in new, random directions.

Justice League International didn't really make any goddam sense, and was nostalgia title full of nostalgia characters, all of whom had their histories removed out from under them and were being introduced to us as if for the first time. Like the three books mentioned above, most of its cast starred in a year-long, bi-weekly series (Brightest Day: Generation Lost) setting them up in a new direction for a new title that never actually materialized.

Team 7 was apparently set in the past, and was meant to reveal important things from the past lives of various New 52 versions of characters like Deathstroke, Black Canary, Steve Trevor and Grifter as well as set up major conflicts in the New 52.

DC Universe Presents introduced rebooted versions of characters in each arc.

Ravagers included in its cast brand-new versions of long-time DC characters like Beast Boy (who was now red instead of green) and Terra.

4.) Anything Other Than Superheroes: All of the New 52 books are superhero books, but quite a few of them have attempted to mash-up superheroics with other genres of comics. And a lot of them didn't last long.

Blackhawks, Men of War and G.I. Combat were military/superhero books. Team 7 may have been, too (It's one of the few comics I just can't bring myself to even look at; I can't imagine I'll ever read any issues of this new Teen Titans series either, even out of morbid curiosity).

I, Vampire was a horror/superhero book.

Sword of Sorcery was a fantasy/superhero book.

The only mixed-genre books DC is still publishing seems to be Demon Knights, which is a sort of medieval Justice League featuring Etrigan the Demon and other magical characters from that time period, and All-Star Western, which features Jonah Hex in a lead story and a 19th century Western hero of some sort in the back-ups.

There's also Threshold, which looks like it might be a sci-fi/superhero mash-up, but it's hard to draw the line between those genres, given how much they bleed into one another.

Of those, I think Demon Knights and Threshold are unlikely to last another six-to-eight months. All-Star Western will likely last until its pried from Palmiotti and Gray's cold, dead hands.

5.) Black folks: Mister Terrific, Static Shock and Voodoo all had black leads, while Firestorm had two leads, one black and one white. Is that significant? (If it is, it sure is depressing).

The only book DC is publishing with a black lead character that hasn't been canceled yet is Batwing, which starred a minor character from the first volume of Grant Morrison's Batman Inc. Batwing has been buoyed several times by its participation in Bat-Family crossovers.

It sells extremely poorly though and has had several creative team changes. April's issue will apparently feature a new character becoming Batwing. It won't be a terrible surprise if Batwing gets canceled in the next few months.

Green Lantern Corps, like Firestorm, has two leads: One a black man, the other a white man. Sales on that are just fine.

DC seems committed to publishing comics with lead characters who resemble their readers, and the fact that Mister Terrific, for example, got his own title in The New 52 relaunch was heartening, even if it didn't last long (and even if DC isn't currently employing any black writers...kind of too bad Wallace, for example, didn't get a chance to try another book, while other writers can fail, fail and fail again and keep getting new work from DC).

Among their newly announced books are ones starring a Japanese woman and a Hispanic young man. The publisher has a ton of great black characters, although chances of launching successful books featuring some of them given other factors listed here might be a challenge (Read: The reboot). Still, I both hope and expect to see Cyborg, Steel, Black Lightning and Vixen monthlies attempted eventually (Cyborg seems particularly easy, as it could be so closely tied to the hit Justice League series—he's the only member without his own title at the moment. I think Steel is a harder sell in the rebooted continuity, as the original Steel who filled in for the dead Superman had an appeal the new version lacks, although Action Comics did seem to effectively work the Good Guy Version of Lex Luthor angle).

I suppose a fifth Green Lantern title starring John Stewart is always possible (especially if new Green Lantern Simon Baz takes over his role in Green Lantern Corps, too). I'm not sure what the legal status of the Milestone characters are, but Icon and Rocket seem easily exploitable, as would be Hardware (particularly if there isn't a Steel monthly, and another stab at a Static book, maybe one that isn't horrible). I like Hero (from Superboy and The Ravagers), Jakeem Thunder (although splitting off Earth-2 from the DCU likely makes hims unusuable in his own New 52 title) Amazing Man II (although maybe he's relegated to Earth 2 now too...?) and Skyrocket, although none of them are marquee names (Then again, neither was Voodoo, but she got a title).

Looking at that list of commonalities between the new 52 books that didn't make it is a little depressing, isn't it?

Obviously DC's shouldn't (and I honestly don't think they will) stop publishing comics with black characters in title roles.

And I imagine they will continue to attempt different genres, although at this point, they may be running out of titles and characters to try out (Space Cabblie? Warlord? Adam Strange? Gotham Central?)

They can't do a whole hell of a lot about the reboot at this point, save for de-rebooting or re-rebooting, which I do think will happen eventually, but maybe not for a few more years yet. Perhaps they will try to focus on introducing new characters and concepts, or building on characters and franchises in a way that doesn't come off as dramatic or extreme as, say, Beast Boy in The Ravagers (A smart way to go forward might be to a be a bit more elliptical about what exactly "counts" as continuity and what doesn't, ala the Green Lantern and Batman books and, to a certain extent, Wonder Woman (other than the origin of the Amazon's and Wonder Woman's parentage, the book doesn't really contradict anything that came before, it just goes off in its own direction, independent of Wonder Woman history/continuity).

Hiring Rob Liefeld won't be a problem, given the enmity that likely exists between the publisher and the artist after his dramatic bridge-burning via Twitter.

And maybe laying-off trying to make stars out of the WildStorm universe characters won't hurt. A Shazam or Orion or Plastic Man or Secret Six or Robin monthly might make more sense than a Majestic or Deathblow or Grunge or WildCATS or Zealot one in the near future.

The first two replacement books DC announced may indicate a change in direction. These include The Green Team by the writing team of Art Baltazar and Franco and artist Ig Guara, which is a revival of a concept from a 1975 1st Issue Special. That's the writing team of Tiny Titans and Superman Family Adventures (plus a few issues of the slightly more serious Billy Batson and The Magic of Shazam) teamed with the artist for The Pet Avengers. That's pretty promising (at the very least, the tone should be quite different than that of the other 51 books).

The other is some weird Gail Simone-written, Freddie Williams II-drawn book that sounds kind of vague and uninteresting, but it's complete lack of mention of any DCU characters at least suggests it may be a book cut from whole cloth, which is an interesting direction for DC. Particularly since the New 52-heralded more intense and focused period of IP farming.


Vanja said...

I don't think that the books failed because of their breaking from the pre-Flashpoint continuity. Just like you said, the books woulds have been much better had they benefited from a strong stylist, and a stable creative team.

Akilles said...

I want a Shilo Norman/Mr. Miracle III-ongoing. Published by someone else than DC. yeah, not gonna happen.

David Charles Bitterbaum said...

I'm surprised we haven't seen Aqualad in the New 52 as he is ripe for his own book. It can tie-in heavily with Aquaman and he is an important character what with Aquaman's arch-enemy Black Manta being the father of this new hero.

googum said...

I really thought the Green Team and the Movement were a joke. Nothing like comics for hopping on a dead trend. And the creative teams seem utterly wasted there.