Comic Fodder

Blogging "Countdown": 4

Well, boy Howdy, Jason!

We're now 47 issues into Countdown. Or five issues in. Oh, hell, I can't do the math. I did get my copy of the first 52 trade in the mail this weekend, and as much as I enjoyed the series, I'm having a hard time actually cracking the thing open and delving back in to the series. For some reason I really just want to re-read the Buddy Baker arc.

You've posted once again, and I'm slow to respond, but here we go.

Getting that copy of 52 Part 1 in the mail also got me thinking a bit about how readers stuck with "52", and, not at all to my surprise, Countdown is receiving the backlash that DC more or less should have expected from event fatigue. After all, Countdown marks the third round of contiguous major event comics (assuming Countdown to Infinite Crisis and Infinite Crisis were sort of one event, and then 52 as the other) that readers have been expected to buy in order to keep up with the mega-narrative of the DCU. It sort of makes me a bit nostalgic for the themed but completely dismissable summer annual crossovers.

I wanted to start with the comment you made in passing regarding author Matthew Pustz's work when you mentioned

...the twin communities of comics producers and comics fans interacted over the years and ended up producing a medium that is as much about producer-consumer dialogue as anything else.

What I would throw out there is that there's always a huge risk when editors and writers are the comic fans themselves who've crossed a line and are fanboys writing fan fiction rather that acting as custodians of the DCU's mega narrative.

Perhaps that's part of the management of continuity, and since that's what we've been talking about, that's how I'm going to frame it. It's tough to imagine a medium or genre outside of superhero comics and soap operas where a kid can get into a character, read new stories for (potentially) a lifetime, and/ or possibly bust their butt to eventually make working on that character part of their livelihood. And at some point, that fanboy can rest easy knowing full well that the character may still be in publication well after that fanboy goes to the great comic shop in the sky.

Sure, other, more self-contained stories in other genres will be told and re-told in new iterations (how many versions of the Arthurian legend are in print at this very moment?), and even movie franchises like Star Wars may pop up with a few more movies, but superhero comics seem unique in that cycle of fanboys feeding into the circle of the genre's life.

In some ways, that insular relationship may be part of why it's so surprising/ dismaying to the rest of us when we see a continuity slip in the pages of our favorite comics. What other genre can a writer enter into where its very likely a huge portion of your participating audience knows far more about the characters, the setting, the circumstances and the history than the person being told to put pen to paper? And with readerships the minuscule size they are (me and my 20,000 pals reading Blue Beetle), shouldn't publishers be a bit more concerned when they actively irritate their existing fanbase?

The insularity of geekdom in the DCU is probably the greatest driving factor in the return of DC's pre-COIE Bronze Age status. It's the DC that Azzarello's "Architects" no doubt were reading when they first discovered superheroes, and a universe they may have felt was robbed from them in the abrupt reconfiguration of their favorite titles and characters when COIE hit. For those of us who have no real memory of the Bronze Age Legion of Superheroes, the current Lightning Saga tale in JLA and JSA is even more of a mystery as our vague notions of who the Legion actually is have been mucked with by at least three reboots of the Legion in the past fifteen years. For a DC geek like myself, I can follow along. It doesn't bother me that I don't know every aspect as I feel as if I know enough through the story, and I'm on a bit of a discovery/ recovery process, right alongside the JLA and JSA. That insularity can pay off in rewarding the reader for having the knowledge in their back pocket of past versions of The Legion, but its not a requirement of the storytelling. And that's sort of always been the way with comics. Whether you actually looked for back issues to learn more in the dark age before strong trade and collections programs, you were drawn more tightly into that definition of fanboy and participating in that relationship between reader and creator which you mentioned. After all, back then we were told which back issue to seek out right there in an editor's caption.

Perhaps that insularity is, in fact, helpful to maintaining continuity if DC's editorial recognizes how to manage the continuity. At some point, new readership would be nice, and it seems somehow there must be some stream of new readers entering the market. I have a rant about returning spinner racks to drug stores which I'd like to place here, but which I will save for another day. But I bring it up because you mentioned that:

In this ecology, comics are in most cases a product for adult aficionados with enough disposable income to not blink at the $3.00 price of a color pamphlet: aficionados who have been with the form long enough, and care enough, to find the complex unfoldings of the fiction compelling.

Which describes me well enough that I've asked the wife to see that it's read aloud as part of my eulogy when I am found dead, crushed under crates of "Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen". I do want to clarify that we're talking superhero comics here, because, as I understand it, the kids love manga and supposedly buy it at some astronomical rate which Dirk Deppey or Johanna or somebody would gladly remind me, if given the opportunity. The question that DC and Marvel seem reluctant to even ask is if their product would sell if distribution were not held hostage by the Diamond Distribution cartel and someone in sales could figure out how to put a comic in a Scholastic book order or back in a CVS spinner rack.

If you're worried about complexity, I present to you the Narnia books and Harry Potter. These are the stories, games and other mythologies these kids have to work with and which they glide through without blinking. We're patting ourselves on the back quite a bit assuming the tales of Mary Marvel are going to be a bit much for the average nine-year old whose seen all three Matrix movies five times (and explained them to his mom).

It seems the publishers and distributors are more than happy to artificially create a barrier which they've set in their minds at the point when they read Dark Knight Returns and decided that comics were no longer for kids (much as I did myself when I read DKR at age 12). The problem of distribution may not even be the $3 a pop (but it can't help), but that comics are available only in specialty retail shops that are usually as easy to access as Dick Cheney when he's gone to ground. Is it that hard to imagine that the same kids buying all of those Spider-Man shirts and toys would pick up a $7.00 Spider-Man collection? Or a $2.00 comic?

It strikes me that, in a way, Countdown would be a great entry point to the DCU for a kid. Lots of characters to follow with differing storylines, touching on familiar territory like Gotham, Metropolis while building up newer ideas, but everything is tied, presumably, into a single story. And, of course, they're explaining everything in those Monitor-laden back-up features. Add in the fact that there won't be any continuity issues as the story moves along, and it would probably be as easy to get a kid going with this than the recent train-wreck which is Action Comics' release schedule.

Also, if folks think multiple Earths are that tricky, Absorbascon is here for a reality check.

Trying to figure out why the Trix Rabbit can't buy a box of his own cereal may be more complicated.

Anyhow, I think I've sufficiently strayed off topic enough for the evening.

In closing, I'm also going to throw down this gauntlet:

This may be a bit premature, and I'm too forgiving of anything featuring new Gods and Jimmy Olsen, but..

I like Countdown.


Up, up and away,

Ryan



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Ryan is your resident reviewer of DC Comics. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas. He likes Superman.
ryan@filmfodder.com