Comic Fodder

DC Comics: So What's Gone Right?

I started this column before receiving Neil's comment on my previous post, and it gave me a moment of pause. There have been successes since Didio arrived, but seems many of those wins have been fleeting. What's a bit harder to outline are the wins that have been long lasting, if the four years or so of Didio's stewarship could be considered "long lasting".

Prior to Countdown, DC was in fairly decent shape. Sales were moving on an upward trend. Perhaps more importantly, DC was in a creative upswing. As Neil mentioned, Didio oversaw the dawn of "Superman/ Batman". He was responsible for "Identity Crisis", which was a major draw for DC, and helped cement the DCU for new readers as containing characters, rather than merely icons.

The "One Year Later" narrative jump, despite its eventual failure, was well intentioned. Prior to Infinite Crisis, the DCU had splintered so badly from a narrative sense that characters were dead in some titles and alive in others, or would have a seriously different status quo as writers changed out on a single title. One Year Later prevented the DCU from requiring a massive reboot, a la, post Crisis on Infinite Earths, when it seemed that sort of change was increasingly required.

The End of the Six Issue Run

While not a change Didio's editorial team was able to institute immediately, the most fulfilling change to long-time readers (and, one could argue, the core audience for any given title) may have been the decision to quit rotating creative teams every few issues.

Until Infinite Crisis, Continuity had somehow become a dirty word at both DC and Marvel. In the race to bring writers onto their series for 6-12 issues, many editors decided it was worth the potential sales, no matter how little knowledge the new writer seemed to have of the book they were taking over. While individual issues or runs could be fun to read, there could be little to no consistency between runs (why is Killer Croc a mutant crocodile in this issue, but a Hawaiian-shirted thug over here?). Let alone between what was going on between separate books occurring simultaneously (Azzarello's run on Superman, vs. any other DCU comic).

Post OYL, the DCU is back to world building, and writers are making serious commitments to worlds. Whether its Johns on Action, Dini on Detective or, heck, Johns on Justice Society, a reader can be rewarded for sticking with a comic for years at a time.

Honestly, given how comic fans tend to wax rhapsodic over specific runs on a series, its sort of surprising that this practice wasn't favored by editors for a few years. But I'll chalk it up as a win that DC Editorial has re-adopted this policy and walked away from the belief that continuity is a sucker's game.

Superman

The Superman titles, once under the stewardship of editor Eddie Berganza, were a prime example of the sort of inconsistency which seemed to effect the entire DCU line. Berganza seemed to have little feel for how to build and support a group of books, and instead relied entirely upon hiring and cultivating name talent such as Jeph Loeb, Unfortunately, he seemed unable to keep the machine aligned as his writers went off in different, contradictory directions. This led, eventually, to 2 of the four Superman series receiving cancellation under his stewardship (Man of Steel, Superman Vol. 2). Add in an ever-shifting talent pool and the disastrous addition of Chuck Austen to the Super-bull-pen, and and it gave Superman fans a reason to despair.

The post OYL Superman titles have received a necessary shove in the right direction. Matt Idleson has given his writers a certain leeway in what stories they want to tell, but the Super-titles also feel tighter and with a mature, shared-universe feel that had all but disappeared during Berganza's run as continuity was treated as a major inconvenience.

Moreover, the powers that be understood the importance of Superman to the DCU, putting him front and center during Countdown to Infinite Crisis, and no longer feeling beholden to the portrayal of Superman from "Dark Knight Returns", Superman has once again regained a serious status not just for Superfans, but for readers of DC Comics.

Superman's villains are receiving proper treatment, and it seems that Johns and Busiek understood what needs to be in place for readers to get a fulfilling experience when they pick upa Superman comic. I'm similarly enthused at the prospect of James Robinson, who knows a little something about world building, coming to Metropolis.

Batman

Prior to One Year Later, and right around the time of War Crimes (the follow up to War Games), this reader was ready to cancel his pull at the Local Comic Shop for all of the Batman titles we were picking up. Continuity was similarly ignored, but mostly, what was there left to like in the Bat-Books? Editor Bob Schreck seemed intent on making Batman and his cast as misanthropic as possible, right down to Dr. Leslie Thompkins. Batman was more interested in beinga jerk to his squad of helpers than actually fighting crime, and the plotless, painful "City of Crime" seemed designed to drive readers away.

The narrative, intended to make Batman seem "tougher" or "crazier", instead, made for near-unreadable.

Didio's shake-up and new creative teams have righted a ship that was faltering. If DC had been testing fan patience with a joyless, asocial Batman, the post 52 Batman titles have been something to look forward to.

Dini and Morrison have each managed to carve out their own corner of Gotham. I don't read Nightwing, but Robin has been mediocre at worst, and a good teen-hero book on a good month.

While the return of Ra's al Ghul went off a little less spectacularly than planned, giving the two Bat core titles room to breathe and grow the narrative over years rather than a six-issue run, gave the titles room to expand on the characters, the environment and develop the stories in a way that treats the characters more like characters and less like corporate assets.

Green Lantern

For those of us who were left scratching their heads by the scorched earth policy toward GL, and the Hal Jordan as Spectre series, the return of Hal Jordan and revitilization of ALL of the Earth-based GL's has been a pleasure to read since the first issue of Green Lantern: Rebirth. I'm not clear if this was Didio's doing, or if the ball was in motion before he returned, but you can't argue with the results.

While Countdown was leaving readers disappointed, Sinestro Corps Wars managed to knock it out of the park as far as big sci-fi action and culmination of so many storylines.

All Star

Comics fans are a weird bunch. With the initial success of the Ultimate line, and particularly Volume 1 of the Ultimates, many-a-nerd spent their days opining online that DC needed to form a similar line to compete with Marvel. DC, who was simultaneously suffering the criticism that the "multiple earths" concept, which they hadn't employed in quite a while, was too confusing, wasn't touching that one witha ten foot pole.

Instead, they did one better.

It seems that hiring the best of writers, giving them the best of artists, and giving them free reign to interpret iconic characters has led to some of the best comic book making DC has seen in years. Fans took a while to "get" All Star Batman and Robin (I think it clicked for me on issue 3), but it seems safe to say that All Star Batman and Robin, is doing well both critically and from a sales standpoint.

For a Superman geek like myself, All Star Superman is a small miracle in glossy paper every time it hits the shelves. Morrison truly understands the character in a way that untold numbers of writers who've tackled him simply have not grasped. The art by Quitely has been melancholy and lovely. And it hasn't hurt that the series has so beautifully embraced the silver age while pushing the envelope with a distinctly Morrisonian voice and flourish.

Sadly, it seems unlikely that these titles will actually survive one Morrison, Miller, Quitely and Lee have departed.

And more...

Johns took the same book he was writing, canceled it for a few months, and brought it back. Somehow its now a top-seller for DC. Go figure. It is a better series. Beautifully drawn. Looking forward to how Johns carries the actual story forward.

Losing Ted Kord as Blue Beetle was unfortunate, but the new series featuring Jaime Reyes has been a terrific surprise, and one of the best all-new characters DC has cooked up in some time. (If this is the first time you've read one of my columns, prepare yourself for non-stop propaganda for this series.)

Infinite Crisis and Countdown to Infinite Crisis seem so far away at this point, but at the time, were actually fairly popular. Infinite Crisis managed to deliver some interestig commentary on not just the past two decades of DC Comics, but on the fans themselves. By and large, any meaning beyond a big, concrete slugfest seemed to be lost on the comment-dropping folk of Newsarama. But that doesn't mean the story was an actual failure.

Additionally, 52 was a runaway success.

The post-OYL Wonder Woman was a debacle, but the rejuvenation of the series under Simone (and subsequent rule of silence already surrounding "Amazons Attack!"), demonstrates Didio's ability to change direction.

In the era of the interweb, mistakes tend to get blown out of proportion, and the reality of the situation is that turning the ship once its set in a direction that isn't working takes time. By the time something hits that isn't working, you're already several months down that pathway, and it will be several months more before the mistake could even begin to be addressed.

Perhaps that explains much about how "The Flash" has been treated in the past two years or so, with three different takes popping up, and none of them really taking. (Bart Allen, Waid's West, and whatever it is they're doing now...).

Obviously changing angles on your key characters every few months isn't an optimal situation. So while the ability to change directions is admirable and necessary, the ability to lock in quality teams on books (as has happened on Action Comics, Batman, Green Lantern) is going to be what works in the long run.

So in conclusion...

Unfortunately, the list of failed series, epic narrative problems, and just plain bad ideas (if anyone thinks that Green Arrow/ Black Canary wedding issue went well, you are wrong) stacks up a lot higher than the wins. Too many of the wins, in fact, can be attributed to a small pool of talent. And certainly not the talent Didio leans on for his special projects.

Add in recent news such as Chuck Dixon's ouster from titles that seemed to be selling, as well as the title-by-tile failure of established heroes such as The Atom, Hawkman/ Hawkgirl, whatever... and there's a lot not working in DC Editorial's favor.

Rumor has it a shake-up is bound to happen, and with the summer convention season upon us, it will be interesting to watch the announcements as they come in. At this point, a lack of major changes doesn't bode well for readers or the current regime. Items such as a Palmiotti-penned Power Girl series seems like a lot more of what hasn't been working.

What can Didio do to bring in the talent that's fled (Brubaker, for example, was at DC for a while)? What can he do to knock one out of the park, like the current run on Captain America?

More on this in a later column.

Anyhow, that's it for now. While DC readers are beginning to stir in their seats and Marvel nuts are heading for the doors, Didio needs to find a bag of tricks that's going to recapture the audience. He's got some great tools, and he has some victories, but in the past year, its all seemed like its not enough.

So what did you see as a win? What's worked for you since Didio came aboard?

And what was working that seems to have been sidelined?


Questions? Comments? Hate mail?

Come on, I can take it.

=======


Ryan is an Op/Ed columnist for Comic Fodder. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas where he manages the long running blog League of Melbotis.

He likes Superman.

You can reach Ryan (aka: The League) at theleague.cf@gmail.com

What ever happened to the x-men?

-- Posted by: Anonymous at June 22, 2008 5:13 AM

I think they're hanging in San Francisco these days. I don't really know. Do you know?

-- Posted by: Ryan at June 22, 2008 12:57 PM

It's freaky how much we're on the same wavelength, Ryan. Especially on all the comments about the Superman and Batman titles. Now I know it's not just me wondering if some of these editors are on crack.

-TP

-- Posted by: tpull at June 22, 2008 1:11 PM

Yes, the X-Men are in San Fran right now and issue 500 will be a major jumping on point for all fans. Ed Brubaker is continuing to write it and Matt Fraction is joining him as they alternate arcs.

-- Posted by: Simon MacDonald at June 22, 2008 2:46 PM

DC post OYL is inconsistently consistent. I'm amazed with the success of the Secret Six they took so long to come out with an on-going series. Instead they tried to shoehorn in a Suicide Squad mini. The All New Atom, Checkmate and Shadowpact were great books that suffered from a lack of support from editorial. The new Blue Beetle is a real winner as well.

-- Posted by: Simon MacDonald at June 22, 2008 2:53 PM

I may have to try out X-Men again. I picked up Morrison's run, as well as Astonishing (in trades). But I haven't really read X-Men in about 12 years.

I think DC Editorial believed the Suicide Squad mini would fit in better with the whole "Salvation Run" deal. But it really didn't fit well at all.

-- Posted by: ryan at June 22, 2008 7:53 PM

Back when Identity Crisis hit, it took a lot of shots for the additions it made to JLA continuity. Yet, it sold like hotcakes and arguably was the beginning of a short-lived renaissance at DC.

What made Identity Crisis so interesting to me was the knowledge it demonstrated of the JLA's history, while at the same time challenging it.

I really think Identity Crisis was as close to DC publishing a Marvel comic as anything before. In Meltzer DC had the successful, outsider writer Marvel is known for courting. The story had an edge rarely seen in mainstream DC. And there was actually some focused and dedicated marketing around the series.

Joe Quesada always takes a lot of hits from the internet fandom. However, he always has numbers on his side. Marvel's publishing has almost always gone up in sales year-over-year. No matter what the internet chatter says it simply cannot argue the numbers away.

The same can't be said for Didio. I really think he needs to take a page out of Joe Quesada's EIC handbook. He focuses on a particular character, team, publishing brand or corner of the Marvel Universe that he feels needs help.

Didio needs to stop trying to do everything on a universal scale within DC comics. Put your best artists and writers on Superman, than move onto Wonder Woman with the same process. Once WW has legs to stand on, work on Flash. DC tried to do it all within the same year, practically within the same month at times.

Marvel gets everyone in fandom talking about the Avengers. Once they were on solid ground, they made everyone look at Spider-Man. Then came the Hulk. After that the X-Men got their time in the sun. Heck, even Thor has been given a big, giant fandom hug. The artistic merits of each attempt can be debated, but the numbers usually made them worth while form Marvel's viewpoint.

This worked for DC on GL: Sinestro War. But what's next? GL:SW appears to be a Geoff Johns' project from start to finish, he was the driving force. DC Editorial hasn't even given a hint as to what could be the next corner of the DC Universe to get that kind of love.

It just feels like DC throws out a dozen mini-series events and hopes one turns into the next Sinestro War.

-- Posted by: Neil at June 22, 2008 9:43 PM

I think DC tried to focus on characters who had fallen a bit off the radar. Unfortunately, three examples that come immediately to mind backfired horribly.

The post-OYL relaunch of Flash (I've never bought that they relaunched Flash just to kill Bart) went incredibly poorly. But, at the time, the new series received a lot of attention.

Similarly, Wonder Woman relaunched (unnecessarily) under a new creative team, and was off the rails from the first issue. Publishing delays were awful, the story made almost no sense, and, I suspect, the original plot changed completely by the fourth issue. Add in the Amazons Attack debacle and Jodi Picoult's semi-embarrassing issues, and... well, they need to take a breather and start again.

Third, the initial launch of Supergirl was incredibly promising, but the series went nowhere for more than a dozen issues, writers other than Loeb seemed to be handling Kara better, and the whole thing was just sort of painful to watch unfold. Add in Berganza's flubbed attempt to draw in readers with a DC Nation column that DC has since removed, and Supergirl was handled about as poorly as one can imagine.

I get the feeling Didio believes he is stronger with the company wide events, and that the characters are best left to their editors. That's not necessarily wrong, but... DC needs to promote what's working, and not just hope that conventions and a DC Nation column will do it.

I think, in his way, he did as you mentioned with Superman and Batman since OYL. Had there not been so many publishing delays, both series might have received better press.

Further, it seems almost as if the success of the Sinestro Corps War caught DC almost by surprise, possibly expecting it to sell well to the fans who were already onboard, but not much else. And that ain't right.

I'm not sure Didio is the guy who knows how to build his core characters the way you describe. I'm also not sure he doesn't know how to do it. But things like "Amazons Attack!" don't give me a lot of faith.

In some ways, I wonder how much of a chance comic readers will give DC and Didio when he does do right. But that might all be moot.

As per what's next... well, we're in Convention season. I'd expect we'll start hearing about all that over the next month or so. And I may have a higher comfort level in not knowing whats going on with a title until I read the solicitations online.

-- Posted by: ryan at June 23, 2008 2:13 AM

Didio has already acknowledge the failure of Countdown (Newsarama interview a few months ago), which is why the Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern titles aren't being directly tied into Final Crisis. Instead each series will get their own big blockbuster event. The main writers of those titles are the ones doing it, so it's something they can build to.

He acknowledged his mistakes, took well deserved hits for it, took more well deserved hits for it, and then took even more well deserved hits for it. It's time to move the f'ck on about. I'm not talking about that great article you did last week Ryan, as it beautifully laid out what a lot of DC fans were thinking.

But, he has acknowledged his error and is attempting to correct it. It'd be one thing if every single DC book tied into Final Crisis and Trinity was going to be the spine of the DCU, but DC isn't doing that.

It's not going to happen overnight, as he has to build trust back with his readership. And, he can do that with storylines like Brainiac and Batman RIP. Simple as that. Which is essentially what worked for DC and Marvel decades ago. All the books back then ultimately built to a big storyline in their respective title.

The one positive Didio has brought, is the end of every single story being six issues long. The recent Toyman story is a prime example of this.

And, I'm sorry, but somehting has been bugging me. Everyone loves to point to Marvel's trouncing of DC, as an example of Didio doing horribly. But, those same people overlook the fact that Marvel has been flooding the market and have been doing so for a couple of years now. Consider the sheer amount of number one titles Marvel releases every month, the amount of variants each title seems to get (far worse then what DC or any other publisher does), and they publish more books a month then DC (but don't have the variety DC does, as they produce almost three times the books with Marvel U characters in it).

One only has to look at the 34 titles that are being released the same week DC has Final Crisis #2 out.

Basically, it's the same bullsh!t Marvel did in the ninties and once again, no is calling them on it.

Imagine if DC had as many anti-climatic endings to their cross-overs like Marvel has. Fans would be screaming holy hell. Alexis Luther meets his end in Infinite Crisis, what was Quicksilver's fate in House of M? Well, go read another series to find out. What's that? A whole series where Captain America leads one army of heroes against an army led by Iron-Man, over an issue that doesn't actually violate's anyone civil rights, leading to a big battle where Captain America just quits. And, now Secret Invasion, where Hank Pym is revealed to be a Skrull in the first issue and it's completely ignored in issues 2 and 3.

Let's not forget Joe Q, who was just applauded on this thread, going on and on with comments on how Marvel doesn't just push the big reset button like DC does, how permanent Peter Parker revealing his ID was, only to push a gigantic reset button one year later.

Oh but, Superman didn't seem aware of the New Gods dying, which didn't gel with a mini-series no one liked, read, and/or bought, let's hang Didio by his nuts.

-- Posted by: DavidH at June 25, 2008 1:02 AM

BTW, I have no problem with knocking DC, analyzing them, etc. As you did last week Ryan (again, I agreed with you). I do have a problem with people doing it with ulterior motives.

I think a weekly series is a mistake. The pacing of them are often way too slow and the extra $12.00 a fan is paying on a weekly series is four less books they are getting. Especially in this market. Busiek and Bagley on a monthly Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman book would likely sell very well. And, it frees Bagley up to do another DC book.

52 worked for a number of reasons. One, Morrison, Johns, Rucka, and Waid were writing the book. Two, people wanted to find out what happened to DC after Infinite Crisis. Three, Black Adam was one of DC's hottest characters (even Marvel had Namor show up with an outfit similar to Adams's, which is funny, because Adam was DC's Namor). Fourth, Booster Gold and the Question were popular B level characters. Fifth, all the awesome new characters that were being introduced. A new Infinity Inc., Supernova, Super Chief, Batwoman, Isis, and ultimately Dr. Fate. Except Dr. Fate never showed up, Supernova turned out to be Booster Gold and is now a meaningless villain, Super Chief was treated like a joke, Batwoman hasn't been seen since, and Isis was killed (really stupid, because like Thor is with Marvel, Isis is thought of as a DC character, DC should have had an Isis decades ago). But, 52 really was a failure, despite the money it brought in. Besides tying up the DC U for a year, they also tied up their four best writers, which led to a staleness in their respective titles.

Another big bomb is that political comic coming out. It is so mind boggingly stupid, that I'm now re-thinking my stance against hanging Didio by his nuts. It certainly has the potential to alienate fans. For example, to a lot of fans, Superman is clearly a liberal, Batman is the one that is conservative (Superman leads by hope, Batman by fear, plus Batman pretty much violates people's civil rights on a nightly basis). But, to other people Superman is the conservative one and Batman is the liberal, the see Superman as a government stooge, while Batman fights the machine. It's best to allow the reader to decide what Superman and Batman are.

So, DC has made mistakes and will likely make more mistakes. But, there have been more sucesses and positives.

All-Star Superman is a clear example of that. It will make more money over the next 25 - 30 years then Civil War, House of M, World War Hulk, and Secret Invasion combined. Like the Dark Knight Returns, Judas Contract, and Great Darkness Saga before them, the Sinestro Corp Wars will likely keep making money for years to come.

Most people don't care about Legends, Zero Hour, Millenium, Invasion, Eclipso: Darkeness Within, etc. With the exception of the first Crisis (mainly because so much attention is always given to it), most of the cross-overs are quickly fogotten.

A truly great story or storyline will continue to have power for decades to come. The Killing Joke and the Watchmen are still great reads, can't say that for Millenium.

So I think creating blockbuster storylines within each title will have stronger results then the huge company wide cross-over and likely resonate with readers more. That has to be considered a huge postive for Didio.

-- Posted by: DavidH at June 25, 2008 2:16 AM

DavidH,

I want to loop back to your comment about Didio taking blame for his mistakes. I agree that it was big of him to own up to problems at DC. And it does seem he learned some sort of lesson by ensuring Trinity was stand-alone (but not out of continuity, as it was at one time and how it should be).

With recent rumors/ news that Didio's contract has been renewed, I am hoping for the best. But if I can get in one last dig...

For a person who seems pretty aware of his audience and can speak to a crowd of DC-geeks in their own language, I'm concerned about the constant disconnect between hype and reality. ALL of Didio's ideas look great on paper. A weekly series? Awesome! Death of the New Gods? WOW!

As Lord of the Manor, its up him to make sure his editors and creators execute on the very public hyping of plans. Which, in many ways, comes down to managerial style. As much of a mess as DC made of the transition from Countdown to Final Crisis, nobody has owned up to that SNAFU, and it seems nobody's job is even in jeopardy.

This is THE JOB, the reason these people make a living with benefits and whatnot, for the editors at DC. Dan Didio is their boss, and it is his responsibility to manage this stuff. At some point, one wonders, where does the buck even start so it can stop?

I completely agree with the longterm outlook for stand-alone material like "All Star Superman" vs, say, Infinite Crisis. And I certainly dislike important action happening in spin-off's, etc... Although I think DC did some of that with the tie-in's to Infinite Crisis (I'm not positive, but I think the death of Dr. Fate occurred in a one-shot somewhere).

I'm going to tackle some of the issues you discussed in an upcoming column. So please come on back, and we'll chat.

-- Posted by: Ryan at June 25, 2008 2:31 PM