May 22, 2016

MEANWHILE, DC REBIRTH IS BRILLIANT BUT ALSO HIGHLIGHTS ALL THE PROBLEMS OF THE US COMICS INDUSTRY IN 2016



Somewhere in Burbank, this is the head honcho of DC Comics (soon the head honcho of DC Films) Geoff Johns, and I can only imagine him doing exactly what Adrian Veidt did in Watchmen, who essentially did the same thing as Alexander the Great did.

What Gordian knot? 

I will fucking cut through it and give the world a second chance!

It's a decision that managed to both piss people off and have people applaud it. For the entirely wrong reasons, I would say. Now, this blog entry will probably - because I am deluding myself that after applying to the DC Writers Workshop recently that somebody at DC might read it - nullify any chance I might have to be picked out of that giant hat at random, but, well, here I go.

Much has been said, no, more or less ranted about Dan Didio and Geoff Johns and the editorial issues and micro-managing and [insert your favorite hate rant here] at DC Comics over the past decade or so, how the DC Universe has become virtually unrecognizable from that Second Golden Age in the 1980s, which by the way birthed exactly that Dark Age that people then ranted about, looking back at earlier days with the fondness of an old fart with Alzheimer

(of course I am not talking about Ronald Reagan, settle down)

But here is the thing. And I have said this, both publicly and privately, DC Comics was merely reacting to what the ever-decreasing paying fan base in the US comic book market voted for with their dollars, and what they voted for was

(1) The Dark Knight/Watchmen era

(2) The Image Superhero "Splatterpunk" era

(3) The Mark Millar/Warren Ellis/Brian Bendis Ultimate era

All three eras on their own were highly successful mind you, and especially the Mark Millar Ultimates era is the Daddy of those Marvel movies everybody considers to be all light and delightful, because if you hadn't had Millar, you wouldn't have had funny dickhead Tony Stark, grim and yet utterly American idealist Captain America and a variety of other influences so big, they changed the entire Marvel publishing model. Most of all this could be seen by the very Meta creation of Nick Fury as Sam Jackson becoming Sam Jackson as Nick Fury.

Now, how meta is that?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the street, DC was running into problems.

Yes, they have had their share of grim'n'gritty, even started the grim'n'gritty with Moore and Miller, and some will blame and have blamed that they took the wrong lessons from those books in every way but Sunday.

I disagree. 

I don't like to disagree, because it is so much more fun to just shout "Dan Didio must die! Or leave! Or eat shit! Or.." Well, you get the idea. But let us take a good look at what sold, the kind of books that I listed above. Much is being made out of how creative and creator-friendly a place Image is. Today. But not at the beginning. It was friendly to the original creators. And what they created were knock-offs of those mythic characters they grew up with, then twist and turn them into something vaguely recognizable yet utterly cynical and violent.

In such, yes, Dark Knight and Watchmen were influential in all the wrong ways, but that is like blaming Star Wars (the original) for all the crap blockbuster movies you can "choose" from today. In the intelligence community, they call that "unintended consequences".

You, aging kids, bought those other books.

You were not content with Dark Knight and Watchmen, you wanted the Dark Watching Knightmen forever and ever, more violence, please, more gritty, more rah rah rah.

Now, Image could do this easily, since none of those characters were ever invented to also be read by kids

(BAM! POW! ZING! Comics! They ain't just for kids anymore)

and Marvel was already halfway there, with their bestselling book(s) throughout the 1990s being primarily SNIKT and BANG, uh, Wolverine and Punisher, both hyper-violent as well.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the street, DC Comics looked... quaint. All the things that people demand to be brought back now, those are the things that made the same people leave buying DC Comics in the 1990s. What? Superman being a good guy who would always do the right thing, regardless of cost?

Boring!

Batman being first and foremost the world's best detective?

Boring!

Them being friends?

Inconceivable!

Have you not read Dark Knight

And so, DC Comics reacted the way any company has to and will react. They... changed the formula. They did the New Coke to react to Pepsi, because DC Comics didn't leave you, you left them.

But here is the problem.

You can do this shit of rape porn, violence porn, porn porn... to meaningless characters. It's easy. They have no impact. They have no pop culture value. You cannot do this to Superman, to Batman, to Wonder Woman, to the Flash. 

These characters, they are the pop culture equivalent to Jesus. Gasp! Shock! Horror! Did I offend somebody with this as well? Probably. Shut up. Sit down. Listen. The DC heroes have been around for such a long time that we "know" who they are supposed to be, the way we "know" who Jesus was supposed to have been.

No, we don't know what cloned fish he and his CEO Monsanto Pete used to feed all those hungry mouths at the lake, but we have a general, mythic idea of who and what Jesus was, and if you were to tell a modern Catholic that Jesus also pretty much threatened those who didn't follow him with eternal damnation, you'd get that glazed look of "don't believe you. I know Jesus. Jesus, he knows me"

The same thing applies to Superman (I always come back to Superman, because he was and is my hero). We don't care that there have been stories here or there where Superman killed or was violent. Those stories existed long before Zack Snyder. 

But we reject them. The way a modern faithful rejects threatening Jesus.

We know Superman. And Superman knows us.

Especially in the far vaster landscape of movies and pop culture, far removed from the minutia and fan wank of the shrinking comic book market place, where they get really angry if you change a little thing from a book they read 30 years ago, screaming, "But in 1983, this happened, how dare you change this bit of continuity that I based my life on!"

(I am no better, only I don't scream, but also because I know, I will always have my Superman, and he is owned by a corporation, and that corporation needs to make money, so... from a professional standpoint, you have to accept it and maybe not buy the books but don't get your knickers in a twist over it)

Marvel has had it far easier, especially launching those movies.

Nobody knew Iron Man. It allowed Robert Downey Jr. to make Iron Man his own. You cannot do this to Superman, as the (sorry) failures of both Zack Snyder movies have shown, where he fundamentally changed what people perceive as Superman. 

But in the comic book market, things are even more difficult, because the audience is (a) smaller by far and (b) are heavily invested in those characters, for better or worse, often for worse, since it comes with a sense of entitlement similar to one I once encountered when we launched The Official Dreamcast Magazine. Greenlit by Sega, it was supposed to look, feel and read like a lifestyle magazine, that was the general mandate I was given when I launched it.

However, neither Sega nor the publishing company realized or understood that the first year or two of a console launch was presenting you with a product so expensive that it by default became a specialty magazine, with far different rules. With "fans" heavily invested in the product, again for better or worse, but ... just imagine being trolled by Sheldon Cooper for eternity and eternity and eternity.

This tension between fans and the potential wider audience, it started to choke and suffocate, boxing itself into ever smaller boxes, because fans demanded 

(a) an eternal continuity 

and

(b) something new and original

and 

(c) something that is retro

Now, you try and do that shit all at once. I did the re-launch of another magazine called PowerPlay with its editor Ralf Müller once upon a time, which was positioned as a hardcore gamer magazine but which had bled readers by the time it was taken over by the company I worked for, and of course they wanted to position that magazine again as a lifestyle magazine, with pretty big pictures and short articles, and to his everlasting credit, the editor told me that the readers would shit on that from way up high.

(Note to people. Always listen to the folks on the front line)

So there all I did was minor touch-ups, better design but left the editorial positioning largely alone, because I am arrogant. Not that fucking arrogant. 

With DC, though, Rebirth's start is literally the "fuck all this shit, I am going to Gordian Knot the fuck out of you". It is a brilliant yet also desperate move, and one that will hopefully also soon forgotten as the new universe takes hold.

Now, much has also been said about how the mere concept of Rebirth (and its inclusion of Watchmen as a meta-level event) is trolling Alan Moore and his genius. And how DC fucked him over. And how they now stalk him and troll him and...

... I'll be honest (and if somebody at DC during the vetting of the application even gets this far reading this, I won't get a place at the Workshop for sure). I don't like how that shit played out. I don't. But not for the reasons you might think. 

Rather, I believe that once upon a time, Alan Moore was happy. And DC was happy. And both lost out. If you don't believe me, look at Supreme, which I consider to be maybe the best Superman of the past twenty years, next to Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman, but they both suffer also from high-concepteritis and are heavily dependent upon those fan wank memories that both writers ostensibly are so vocally against. Read Supreme without knowing Superman, it's a worthless series. Read All-Star Superman? Same thing.

So, relax, everybody. 

You can start your bitching and/or applauding in a year or two.