Reviews

July 2nd, 2011
 

DC Relaunch: My Praise and Worries.

jim-lee-justice-league-relaunch

Before you automatically think this is going to be a fanboy bash fest, let me assure you that I want this DC relaunch to be the most successful things in comics to have ever happened. I truly do. If this is a hit then it’s going to be good not just for DC, but the rest of the comic industry as a whole. Bringing on new readers means people will buy other books too. Comics really are the literary form of crack, we just need to get those people into the comic shop. More than likely if you’re reading this you’re already a comic fan and you mainline your books weekly, and while we’re currently the bread and butter of the industry, it’s not us that DC is trying to wrangle in with their current strategy.

Superhero comics has the biggest hurdle to jump for any entertainment industry. If you want to see Transformers 3 but you haven’t seen the other movies, well it’s just 4 hours and $6 in rental fees to get caught up. Twilight is just 4 books. Most bands only have 10 hours of published music at the most. In the case of DC comics they have some characters that have been around for over 70 years. Marvel with many that have been around for over 40. Everyone knows who these characters are. They’re pop culture icons that have appeared in cartoons, lunch boxes and major motion pictures. While those other mediums are a taste of who those characters are, the real meat is in the comics where the actual canonical story telling is taking place.  Sure, there are jumping on points in that history where you can dive right in and get a good idea of what you’re dealing with and to start learning about the characters, but for the most part to fully understand what’s going on you’ll need a strong grasp of all the history.  I’ve been a comics fan for 2 decades now and when it comes to DC I maybe know half of what the hell is happening.  I really love their characters, but even a veteran in loving the industry still has to do constant research every time there’s an event. While that makes the hardcore fan feel privileged, it alienates everyone else.

What DC is planning on doing this September upon conclusion of their “Flashpoint” storyline (which I’ve really been enjoying) is relaunching (and in some cases rebooting) their entire comics line with 52 #1’s. In most cases the past continuity still exists, but for all intents and purposes this is the beginning of the DC Universe. I’m a hardcore fan and I think this is a great idea. It’s one of the reasons I love Marvel’s Ultimate line. A fresh beginning for characters that are universally loved and an opportunity for people to stop flirting with the idea of reading comics and to actually commit. In all honesty I thought DC’s Earth One line was going to be their version of it, but it looks like they have much grander designs.

Check out this video to get their take on it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAYLSfeE0wI

The main thing DC is doing is reorganizing many of their books so they can keep an eye on who the major players in the universe are, as well as characters who are very interesting but aren’t that popular. The biggest changes are that Superman (as well as the rest of the Super family) are being completely rebooted and the Justice League (no longer the Justice League of America) is the world’s first super team and they’ve only existed for 5 years with Superman being the very first superhero. I couldn’t be happier about this. Superman is the world’s greatest superhero and I honestly feel like people of this generation honestly do not understand him. The Justice League is the greatest super team to ever exist…ever. Not just in the DC universe. Realigning to have a strong focus on this is the greatest news for superheroes.

That being said, what I have to say next is my criticism to what I think DC is doing wrong with all this. Trust me, there are things that I firmly believe they’re doing so damn right, but other things that make me think there’s a little bit of crazy going on in the DC offices. Relaunching the Justice League and Superman are honestly the best things you could do. They’re placing their biggest talent on those books, with the dream team of Geoff Johns and Jim Lee on the League. By all rights, Justice League should be outselling every Avengers book combined every month simply based on the fact that it features the characters that practically invented the term, “superhero.” DC has tried giving Superman a face lift so many times over the last 20 years, and honestly, it’s long past time for corrective surgery. Combine that with the Shuster/Siegel lawsuit and the upcoming movie, reintroducing the most classic superhero of all time just seems like common sense to me. I also think making as little change as possible to some of the more successful characters like Green Lantern and Batman is showing good insight into what works and what doesn’t. Granted, Superman, Green Lantern and Batman books make up about half of the DC relaunch, it’s what they’re doing with the other books (and even a few bat books) that scares me.

So what I’m going to get into now are the 5 major things that stand out to me as just bad calls. Honestly, even if there’s continuity explanations for it, it doesn’t mean it should even be done in the first place. It’s like Coke changed the recipe on us, but when people are like, “Hey, I prefer Classic Coke,” Coke basically held their ears and screamed really loud while hitting their head against a wall. So here are my 5 reasons I’m worried about the DC relaunch.

5. What year is this?

Look at the costumes. Go on, take a good look at them. This looks to me like I fell asleep and woke up in the middle of one of Rob Liefeld’s wet dreams. Instead of shoulder pads and pouches we have armor on everything and V necks. What’s that? All the costumes were co-designed by Jim Lee and some by…Rob Liefeld? Well that’s just…fuck. Really? Rob Liefeld? He’s been the practical joke of comics for the last 20 years. In fact, almost everything that went wrong with the industry in the 90’s can be traced to people like Liefeld, Lee, Mcfarlane and Silvestri. I’m not saying they knowingly killed the industry, but because of them everything you saw in comics was big boobs, big pecks, pouches on top of pouches, shoulder pads and nobody had feet. I mean, who needs feet when you have gigantic, tapestry sized capes to cover them up with?

So take a look at the new League. Almost all the costumes with the exception of Wonder Woman and Superman are pretty much the same as before…only with about 500 hundred lines with plates of armor. It’s a good thing Superman has that…because he’s…Superman. I can imagine that every artist who has to pick up these books later will have a picture of Jim Lee above their drawing table so they know who to blame every time they have to draw one of those completely unnecessary lines, when before they had a more simplified costume that made more sense. Comics are a visual medium, but that doesn’t mean we need to experience sensory overload on every frame.

Another problem that arises when you have one person pretty much design everything, it ends up looking like one person designed everything. One of the coolest things about superhero costumes is that most of them were either designed by the character in their basement or somebody in their life helped them design it (I.E. Martha Kent). So now everyone has the same V neck and armor plating in just about the same spots, almost as if there was a formula being followed for superhero costume creating. So you’re telling me that Batman is going to design the same thing that Green Lantern’s ring is going to slap on his body? Out of all of the redesigns the one that ends up looking the best is Aquaman…because they barely changed a damn thing. He wasn’t forged from a cookie cutter. He’s wearing the exact same thing he wore before…with a V neck.

4. Naming a character after a scrotum move then giving him his own book where he’s supposed to protect a continent.

Batwing. Yup, that’s the name of our token, black Batman. He doesn’t have a sidekick named Sack Boy, but he has pretty much the shittiest job in all of the DCU. He is, as Judd Winick has quoted, “The Batman of Africa.” Yup, Africa. Bruce has Gotham covered, this dude has a fucking continent. No other heroes, just our poor mans version of Black Panther who was born from Grant Morrison’s most recent acid flashback. Maybe DC hasn’t noticed, but just about 80% of the most horrible shit on this planet happens there. Let’s just let the dude with no powers take care of it.

Comics have a bad history of introducing black characters in the most racist of ways. They’re either jive talking and from the hood, a character with, “black,” at the beginning of their name, or in this case, they’re the black spin-off of an already popular character. Can’t a hero just be a black dude who’s a hero? It’s not that hard to imagine. Just think of a person that can do cool stuff and say he’s…BLACK!!! It’s not magic. Static Shock is popular and he’s doing just fine. In fact, DC is giving him his own book, so they know it can be done. On top of it all we have 11 Batman books coming from this relaunch, and they decide to cut Red Robin from their line up, one of DC’s best characters, for this gimmick aimed specifically at the demographic it’s going to offend the most. Bad call, DC.

3. And I will lay my hands upon you and by the power of Christ you are healed…Batgirl!!!

One of the most important characters in the history of comics is Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl. After she was shot by the Joker she was confined to a wheel chair. For most people that would be the end of their superhero career, but for Babs it was the beginning of her becoming who (many would argue) she’s meant to be, Oracle. She’s the person that keeps the Bat family, The Birds of Prey and the Justice League not only connected, but provided with the much needed information to save lives. She’s pretty much the most important person on all of those teams. She saves more lives pushing buttons on a keyboard then she ever did swinging from buildings. She’s also stood as an inspiration to people with disabilities everywhere by showing that just because you lost the use of your legs doesn’t mean you lost the use of your mind. Never in storytelling have we seen as much of an important evolution in a character as we’ve seen in Barbara. But hey, we’re relaunching so fuck that inspirational bullshit and creative storytelling. Lets see her tap dance.

A spit in the face to fans everywhere, Barbara is getting out of the chair and once again taking on the role of Batgirl. It’s not like we didn’t have two other people (Stephanie and Cassie) doing a damn good job already. One of the books DC said they’re not going to touch much is the Batman books, yet here we have the most unsafe touching of all. Their hands are all over the bathing suit area on this one. So far they haven’t even whispered what the status of Steph and Cassie are going to be in this brave new universe. I really don’t want to find out that they potentially ruined one character and made two perfectly good ones disappear like it’s an episode of Mindfreak. On top of that, Barbara had already retired from being Batgirl before she was shot and she’s a little old to still be calling herself girl.

The only saving grace (and hope) this book has is that it’s being written by Gail Simone, who is quite possibly the best writer DC has, who has also been writing Barbara for many years now. She loves the character and I sure hope DC isn’t holding Gail’s family hostage in order to get her to mess with one of the best characters in fiction. Given the grade A talent on the book, she’ll need to spin quite the yarn to not only justify the change in the character, but also be able to please the fans. If anyone can do it, it’s her, but does that mean it should even be done in the first place?

2. Heroes Reborn 2.0.

Anybody remember this shit? Professor X went bad, became Onslaught then swallowed up all the superheroes like it’s a bukake video. After that all the Marvel heroes (with the exception of the X-Men) were relaunched with new origins, updated costumes and a new direction. This story was terrible and it did the exact opposite of what it was supposed to do by overall decreasing readership amongst all of Marvel and acted as the death rattle to them declaring bankruptcy. This initiative was lead by…wait a second…JIM LEE AND ROB LIEFELD!?!?!? WHAT THE FUCK!?! Did we learn nothing? Wait…Scott Lobdell wrote a bunch of Marvel books at that time and he’s writing a bunch of the books in this relaunch? What was that definition of insanity again? Look, I know these people were hot shit back in the day when people didn’t really read their comics, but if you guys aren’t getting a little sense of de ja vu then I think whatever it is you’re doing, you’re doing it wrong. Just so it’s clear I’m a huge fan of Jim Lee and Scott Lobdell, I just can’t help but notice history repeating itself.

What you do with stuff like this is alienate your true fan base and make new readers confused about how the hell we even got to where we are. Now I’m sure that what DC is doing is in no way going to be as much of a turd milkshake that Heroes Reborn was, but you can’t deny there are a lot of similarities. The main thing that differs though is that the caliber of comic writer now greatly exceeds the caliber of writer then. Companies are a little more aware that audiences are going to put up with less bullshit since we’ve already been burned so many times in the past. The important thing to any story is that you in fact tell a good story. As it stands now it’s looking like DC is that used car commercial you see in the middle of the night in between infomercials. Nothing but bad special effects and people yelling about how great something is.

1. 52 is a pretty damn big number.

Us comic fans love us some #1’s. We really do. Even we know that comics are worth less than our social security these days, but there’s still a part of us that really believes that we’re getting in on the ground floor and that it could be worth something some day. All true nerds would love to get every one of these books so they can feel the full spectrum of what DC is trying to do, but the truth is most people just can’t afford to do it. I know that no publishers intends for their customers to be able to get every book…or even half the books, but with such a big thing going on in one of the best fantasy universes around, you want to be involved. I have every single issue of every Ultimate comic put out because they made it accessible for me to do so. At the most they were only publishing 6 books a month making it easy for me to be a part of everything they were doing.

People say the comic industry is suffering these days. Companies can’t sell millions of issues anymore like they could back in the day. Hell, you’re considered a blockbuster if your book can break 80,000 copies. Of course, at the time that these numbers were rocking registers there was literally about 75% less books coming out with national distribution a month (I’m talking all companies), we weren’t recovering from a major economic crisis, books were less expensive and nobody was trying to shove a major relaunch down our throat to a very cynical audience. Yes, now we sell less comics, but spread out over many more books with a much higher price tag. The times, they have a changed. What would happen if instead of having a bunch of books, most of which people are going to pass like gas after Thanksgiving, we instead focus on a small number of books that we push like an inner city crack dealer? What if instead of having 11 Batman books, 4 Green Lantern books, 4 Superman books, 3 Justice League books, etc, etc, we did this:

Justice League
Justice League Unlimited
Batman
Bat Family
Green Lantern
Green Lantern Corps
Superman
Super Family
Flash
Aquaman
Wonder Woman
Justice Society of America
Teen Titans
Legion of Superheroes
Mystics
Brave and the Bold

Start out with 16 books. They cover all the bases of the main characters, have side books for all of our favorite niche characters, hit the major teams (which JSA is now completely gone), and then one extra book that can be a giant sized anthology where we get stories from other DC characters. With this you can have just about all of your bases covered, introduce people to a new universe where they can conceivably afford to get every book, and if this works and gains popularity you can branch out to more books making sure to not over saturate your market. I’m pretty sure that you would sell a lot more issues of your books, retailers wouldn’t have to consistently take as big of risks, continuity would be tight and most importantly, your customers won’t feel like you’re trying to milk them.

This is getting back to basics. This is trying something different. In this case less could very well be more. This is giving Gas-X to a bloated industry. You want to get people into your world, don’t have so much damn world. This is something that Marvel could learn from too. Do we really need 5+ Avengers books? 10+ X-Men books? Can Wolverine and Deadpool really be everywhere at once? Your continuity and industry does not function like a Nintendo. You can’t keep hitting reset every couple years and have that work. I’ve been reading comics for 20 years now and I’m getting sick of this shit. This is coming from someone who wants to write comics for a living. Imagine if every character in Harry Potter had their own series of books. Sure, we love our near sighted wizard and his friends, but we couldn’t keep up with every character nor would we want to because it’s just too much. I firmly believe you will bring readers back to comics if you advertise that you’re going to focus your efforts into smaller numbers so you can have more people that will buy everything.

I feel like I’m sounding like Jerry Maguire here, but I really believe that if this industry is not only going to survive but also flourish we’ll need to try something different. DC has one of the most amazing universes with the best cast of characters. I’m a marvel person, but most of my favorite characters are DC. At the computer I’m writing this on I have Robin and Green Lantern statues looking right at me. I’m wearing a Batman shirt and wrist band. I wish I was the Flash. I know it’s too late for DC to look at this and to heed my advice (which I’m sure is all stuff they already considered), but to really make the difference they want to make they need to actually do something meaningful and different.

Like I said at the beginning, I want this to work so bad. Success for DC will translate into success for the entire industry. I want nothing more than to see these characters survive another 70 years and people to look to Superman and Wonder Woman for hope like I have, but you just can’t do it if you don’t make it accesible to people.

I really do hope that every person reading this article goes out and buys some books from this relaunch. Give it a chance. I may be bitching here, but I’m going to be getting a decent amount of stories from this. There’s some great talent working on some awesome ideas. Below are the books I’m going to get from all this.

Detective Comics
Action Comics
Justice League
Teen Titans
Green Lantern
Green Lantern Corps
Green Lantern: New Guardians
Red Lantern Corps
Wonder Woman
Flash
Aquaman

I’m not trying to be negative because at it’s core I believe this is a good idea, I just want it to be done right. Tell me what you think below and list the books you’re going to get.

Mikey Neilson

mikey@chroniclesofthenerds.com


All content © 2009-2010 by Chronicles of the Nerds

 
 

 
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