8
Aug
2011
The Watchtower
DCnU: The Bad
Chris
Over the past decades, two publishers (Marvel and DC) have dominated the Comics industry. However if you examine comics sales charts of the past few years, you will see that Marvel Comics sales represents a majority of the top of the sales charts, and flat out dominates the middle region of the sales charts. If DC was to remain a viable competitor to Marvel, they needed to take drastic action, and that's exactly what they have done. Earlier this summer, DC announced an extensive business and creative plan to reinvigorate their sales and perhaps those of the industry as a whole. The plan as it has been revealed so far, is a line wide renumbering (52 new #1 issues) all set to ship in September, continuity reboots, new titles, new characters, and simultaneous digital releases for the Ipad and other tablets the same day new comics hit the stores. The DC relaunch has become the biggest comics news of the summer if not the entire year.

Every Monday, from now through September, I will be running a special edition of the Watchtower dedicated to examining this monumental event starting with a three part series entitled DCnU: The Good, The Bad, and The Strange. The Bad

1.) The Nu Universe is Edgy!
I was going to start off this entry with an explanation of why the DCnU's decision to launch a line of edgy titles, while offering up darker, and edgier spins on classic characters is a mistake, but then I found this quote by Tom Brevoort which sums up my opinions more eloquently and succinctly than I could have hoped for.

"By its nature, the DCU has a more optimistic outlook on the world, and the Marvel U has a more pessimistic outlook"¦.the DCU is Aaron Sorkin's "The West Wing"-it's not how government actually works, but it's the way you wish that it worked, the way you'd like it to be-idealistic, passionate, energetic, spirited"¦.But too often, DC seems to try to turn away from their core viewpoint, to make their characters darker or more dystopic or more downtrodden. And it just doesn't play in the long run."

The decision to incorporate the Wildstorm characters into the New DC universe (or DCnUniverse) says a lot about the direction the company is pushing the tone of its books in, and the kind of stories they believe will strike a chord with modern audiences. The Wildstorm characters are known for being, darker, edgier, more morally grey, and prone to engaging in feats of uber violence. Now obviously there are standards that DC as a (mostly) all ages publisher must adhere to, but these characters are prone to using the kind of force that most of the traditional DC superheroes would find unacceptable (hell they had problems with Hawkman's methods). If DC thinks that darker and grittier is the only way to make their titles more exciting to fans than they are operating under the same fallacy of the super hero movie filmmakers trying to copy the tone of the Dark Knight. Dark, Gritty, and Edgy does not automatically equal success, especially long term success. Writers like Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, and Mark Waid have proved time and time again that all it takes to reignite fan interest in these icons is returning to the basics of what makes these characters unique and great. For most DC characters that means a return to a lighter, more optimistic, wonder filled vision rooted in big crazy scifi adventures and set trappings. What's wrong with seeing heroes act like heroes instead of dark violent anti-heroes?

Furthermore the Wildstorm imprint went under. The entire line was folded a few years back because of declining sales and a constantly changing creative directions. Call me crazy, but at a time when DC is at a crossroads, trying to figure out how to revitalize their core characters who are beginning to show signs of disconnect with the fans, spending time and effort trying to simultaneously rejuvenate a group of characters who have already lost the interest of the fans just doesn't seem like a smart move.

2.) The Wrong Kind of Continuity Reboots
Yeah, I know I already mentioned continuity reboots in the Good column, but please, bear with me. The watchword from DC has been that "all the stuff you like, still happened." This, in my opinion, was a mistake. Look, I love the old DC Universe more than just about anyone. I hate to see it (at least partially) coming to an end. I love the old school values, the scifi weirdness, and the 70 plus years of continuity goodness. But at a time when DC is trying to put its best, most accessible foot forward, an ongoing guessing game among the fans of what happened when, and having to reveal the abbreviated and alternated backstories to new and returning readers alike is not what the company needs.

3.) The Usual Suspects (keeping the house writers)
New number 1s, new continuity, and new characters may be enough to entice new readers and reignite the interest of lapsed readers, but those of us who have been following DC for the past year or so know that something hasn't been working. While writers like Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, and Scott Snyder, can still draw big numbers and buzz to any book they touch, a good number of the other DC writers consistently bring in low sales and critical luke warmness. If DC really wanted to excite the hardcore fans, they should have concentrated on bringing in a good 3 or 4 BIG name writers. Perhaps bring Brad Meltzer back for a high profile mini series or introductory arc, offer Superman to Mark Millar, or make TV superstars Jane Espenson or Brian K Vaughn offers they cannot refuse. While I'm not trying to disparage the abilities of anyone currently working for the relaunch, Johns and Morrison cannot carry this thing by themselves. The current crop of DC writers have their fans, but DC really needed to add a few superstars to their September line up to convince those of us in the know that they are serious about and able to launch this new initiative out of the park. Furthermore, some of the more buzzworthy up and comers from the past year are no where to be seen among the ranks of the September creators. Where is Bryan Q. Miller, whose Batgirl became a critical darling almost over night? Where is Chris Roberson whose Superman may not have been everyone's cup of tea, but whose iZombie continues to be one of the most engrossing and fun reads on the stand. Where is Kelly Sue DeConnick who has stated she was invited to pitch on Supergirl (that one is the big mistake, she's gonna be house exclusive and a fast rising star at Marvel in no time). On the artistic side of things, where is Nicola Scott? DC has not had the same luck cultivating a healthy stable of young up and coming writers the way Marvel has and letting some of those names slip through their fingers, along with not reeling in a few more big fish could sink the DCnU before next Spring.

4.) Whatever happened to the Greatest Generation?
One of the most unique, DC properties, (and a personal favorite of mine) is nowhere to be seen in the new 52. I'm referring to the Justice Society of America. In the current DC continuity the Justice Society of America were the first organized group of costumed mystery men, active circa World War II. Fast forward to the modern day where the few surviving members of the team, kept (relatively) youthful by their powers have taken on the mission of training the world's next generation of super heroes, bestowing on them both their vast experience and iron clad morals. Many of their charges are carrying on the legacies of their deceased teammates. For instance, the current Hourman is the son of the original Hourman, the current Dr. Midnite was inspired by the example of the original, and the new Wildcat serves on the team alongside his father, the original Wildcat. The book explored superhero legacies and the nature of heroism all the while delivering really solid super hero stories with a very unique Norman Rockwell-esque feel. And one of the best parts of the book, and the aspect that made it most unique was the generational differences between teammates. Only in JSA could you have a 17 year old, a 27 year old, and a 77 year old all serving on the same team and have it be perfectly normal. While JSA mainstay Mr. Terrific is getting his own solo series come September, the rest of the team remains noticeably absent, with the official and vague word from editorial being that the concept is "resting" for awhile, probably due to the fact that in the new DC continuity superheroes have only been operating in the public for the past five years. However that new mandate doesn't preclude a team that could have operated clandestinely overseas during the War, or worked in the shadows at home, their existence covered up by their own actions and a government wary of how the public would respond to the existence of beings with extraordinary powers. Bottom line, the Justice Society of America was a very special comic, and something unique to DC. I really hope the concept pops up before too long in the new Universe, because I truly believe that this title is still one of DC's most viable properties and commands a decent sized and fiercely loyal fan following.

5.) The Superman Family
Remember how long it took DC to find a take on Supergirl the fans didn't hate. If you don't, it took a long while, almost two years. When she was first introduced in Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner's arc of Superman/Batman, the character was wildly popular and quickly catapulted into her own series where everything flew off the rails. She turned evil like every other five issues, and when she wasn't evil she was very, very naive and mopey. That all changed when Sterling Gates got his hands on the character, and started writing her as a resourceful, likable, and relatable teenage girl, who still had a lot to learn, but was always aspiring to something greater. What about Superboy? The character has experienced a renaissance in recent years, in no small part to the excellent decisions of Geoff Johns and Jeff Lemire to move the character back to Smallville and set his quest to become worthy of being the successor of the world's greatest hero against the backdrop of a town whose idyllic rural beauty hides a strangeness and danger that would make Sunnydale seem like a great place to live. It would appear that these recent positive directions for both of these characters have been abandoned in the DCnUniverse. Editorial describes the new take on Supergirl as such: "She's got the unpredictable behavior of a teenager, the same powers as Superman - and none of his affection for the people of Earth. So don't piss her off!" Kinda sounds like we're returning to square one. And don't get me started on the hookerific costume redesign. Writers and editors have thrown around the term "living weapon" quite a bit in describing the new take on Superboy, with Scott Lobdell even going as far as to say that he is an antagonist for the first arc or so of Teen Titans. While I'm not against trying new things and shaking up status quos, these are ideas that have been tried before, and have proven unsuccessful It's further evidence of a very flawed train of thought. Just because dark and gritty works for Batman and it is the company's number one seller, doesn't mean dark and gritty will improve the sales of other books, especially the Super titles which should be the very opposite of dark and gritty. The Super books, more than any other DC property should embrace the ideals of hope, wonder, and imagination. Seeing DC's current plans for these characters really makes me wish Grant Morrison would drive the direction for this line similar to how he has steered the bat titles for the past couple years.

**Note: Do you agree? Disagree? The RTBN crew runs on comments. Let us know what you think. If you enjoyed this article, please swing back on Wednesday for my comic reviews of the week, and on Friday for a more general edition of the Watchtower. And check back on Monday for Part 3, DCnU: The Strange.
Tags:
comments powered by Disqus