Comic Fodder

Special Review: What in the (censored) is going on at DC?

This is not your normal comic book review. It is part tromp through history, part review, and part commentary on the recent shakeup in employment at DC Comics.

Batman and the Outsiders

by Chuck Dixon and Julian Lopez

It’s very hard to review this title. It was originally revived with Judd Winnick as the writer, who promptly made more gay characters. That’s fine if it makes for good story, but instead it just seems to be what he does. This being the third or fourth time it abruptly came up in a title he wrote that someone decided to announce/become gay, it was simply a matter from his first issue of who and when for the gayness to be announced. I don’t have a problem with gay characters in comics, but Winnick appears to be on a holy mission to inject as many gay characters as he thinks he can get away with into the comics scene, and no editor can stop him at any company. The title was run into the ground, until a re-launch was announced.

The re-launch was written by Tony Bedard, a relatively newer writer to me, but a favorite ever since I read some of the great stuff he did for CrossGen. If anybody, anywhere, knows how to get hold of issue #4 of Negation War, I would owe them big time. I hope I don’t meet Bedard, ever, because even though I like his work, I would probably pester him immediately to act out his script for the final issue. But I digress…

Bedard penned a series of one-shots that basically had Batman running around assembling this new team of Outsiders, only to be replaced by Chuck Dixon soon after. The official story is that Bedard had too many writing commitments, and something had to give. Why he would give up this title to write some of that Countdown mess, I’ll never know, but perhaps corporate politics played a hand in this somewhere. The title quickly became a mess, simply because there didn’t seem to be much direction given to Chuck Dixon when he agreed to take over. In one sense, this could have been a good thing, because it meant he had something of a clean slate to start over and do what he wanted. Instead, he tried to stay in continuity and move slowly from what Bedard started into what Dixon really wanted.

A better thing to do would have been to create a major crisis that shook up the team on the very first issue. All of those one-shots that showed all the preparations of Batman would have simply proven the old military adage that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. Maybe a few fans would have felt cheated, but it also would have had the potential to create a real-world feel. We have had examples of this recently in JLA, where a team was forming (and Batman involved, no less), and they ended up accepting a couple members they had not originally planned on taking. How cool would it have been to have more than half of Bedard’s choices fall out due to a big event in the first issue, and have others come into the fold right away?

Whether from editorial fiat or by his own choice, Dixon opted to write within the confines of what had come before, and maneuver events to shuffle out the characters he didn’t want to write, and introduce the other characters he wanted in the series. The overall attempt was decent, and the artists put in some good work. Despite a valiant effort by the whole creative team, though, the story was mildly forgettable. No sooner did Dixon finish his scripts for the next few issues, leading to the final team complement that was his true goal, than it was announced that Chuck Dixon was no longer working for DC Comics.

Speculation has been rampant, but the true cause could be anything from arguments on Batman and the Outsiders, to some issue with Spoiler, to disagreements over the direction (or involvement) in the Batman R.I.P. storyline ideas. Maybe with time, we will hear the true story. Suffice it to say that Dixon will still be paid royalties for reprints of his past work at DC, so the pre-existing contractual agreements will not be infringed. Other writers will be stepping in to fill his shoes after the already-prepared scripts from Dixon are used, for each of his respective titles. The good news is that Dixon had a habit of writing ahead, and we will probably get to see more stories from this author than if it had been another person getting fired.

Where does this leave Batman and the Outsiders? Unfortunately, it looks like a car wreck. Three different creative teams in less than ten issues, with Frank Tieri announced to take over the writing chores. And what a chore it will be… to read it. Tieri is at best a mediocre writer, and at his worst, I feel cheated if I pay money to read his work. The best move for DC is to work to an ending by issue 12, have Batman shake his head as if he should have known better, and walk away from the Outsiders. He’s done it before. They should have asked Mike Barr to come over and put the finishing touches on the series, give it a year or so of breathing time, and then bring back a new team, with a professional editor and a writer with a solid plan, a good story idea, and the time to follow it through to completion.

In the meantime, does Dixon’s departure herald any other major changes behind the scenes? Many fans of DC were just starting to relax, pleased with Dixon’s “fixing” of the Dr. Leslie Thompkins mess, and just a general satisfaction with some solid, dependable story-telling. I’ve already lost track of how many posts I have seen in passing of fans regrettably announcing they would automatically drop BATO from their pull lists, either because they read it only to follow Dixon, or because they can’t stand Tieri, or both. Personally, I found this firing unexpected, because Dixon’s writing career has had nothing but compliments, from the writing itself, to his work ethic, to some good sales results during his past tenure on the various Bat-titles. Just the idea that DC would fire him strikes me as unsettling. I detest speculation, and I don’t want to come down unfairly on DC when I don’t have the full story, but I must admit that I view DC editorial with suspicion now for so quickly getting rid of such an obvious talent. The mess that was BATO could not really be helped, given the circumstances, so I highly doubt that was the source (or the major source, at least), of the end of his relations with DC.

The fans are through relaxing. Now they are waiting for the other shoe to drop, wondering who else will be fired, or if anyone will just jump ship. BATO is DOA, and I expect sales to plummet as soon as the Tieri run starts. Where Marvel is full of excitement at their plans and stories and events, the atmosphere at DC feels more like one of suspension and uncertainty. Marvel tends to throw out ideas and run with them, and hash things out as they happen. DC tends to hold meeting after meeting, ordering people to tow the line to the story that the powers-that-be declare is final, and woe to anyone who doesn’t want to play ball. Instead of excitement and joy at DC events like Final Crisis, people have been holding their collective noses, and holding their collective breath, wondering if DC can ever match Marvel in sales and story, or if they will yet again fall on their face. This event merely adds to the concern, when all we want is for someone to give us a decent treatment of these great characters, and help to re-establish them in the comic book genre as the forces to be reckoned with that we all know they deserve to be.
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Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

I have to agree with you TP, DC is a mess. It is a shame DC has not learned from Marvel's policy of creating concepts that can be summarized in a few short sentences.World War Hulk, the Hulk gets shot into space, and comes back really pissed. Secret Invasion, shape shifting aliens take over the planet. Countdown,huh?

-- Posted by: earl jones at June 28, 2008 7:53 AM

I'm not overly fond of the conclusion that seems to have bubbled out of post-Final Crisis #1 chatter that DC NEEDS to limit output to material that can be summarized in a single sentence.

While Countdown was definitely a narrative failure, I don't think it dictates that DC's more complex events need to give in to simplicity and predictability of storylines like "Secret Invasion" as a goal (no, I'm not impressed).

I suppose to some extent its anticipating the difference between a Hollywood blockbuster that opens huge, but is ultimately rather somewhat forgettable (and/ or enduring), and movies that aim for a bit more depth to their narrative structure. They don't always work, and they aren't as likely to have the biggest box office, but the payoff can be far greater and create works that last far longer.

What this has to do with Chuck Dixon's exit from DC, I have no idea.

-- Posted by: ryan at June 30, 2008 12:51 AM

I wasn't responding specifically to Mr Dixon's termination I was commenting on the general mess that DC has created. I have no idea why Chuck Dixon was let go. The point I was making was, that the recent crossovers were not designed to appeal to new readers, but instead preaching to the "choir". As a thirty two year member of the "choir", I was confused and bored.

-- Posted by: earl jones at June 30, 2008 7:43 PM

I find the reactions to Final Crisis incredibly interesting. I finally received my monthly comic shipment today, so I've just read it before reading your response.

I do think DC has a major problem if their loyalist fans, such as yourself, can't get excited by the series.

DC's event series are often for "the choir". I certainly don't see Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis or even Identity Crisis aimed at casual readers. or, really, any massive cross-over/ tie-in series. And this includes Marvel.

That's not an endorsement or criticism. Its just an observation.

For the record, I'm not finding any of Final Crisis boring or confusing. It seems to be a matter of taste. In fact, I'm quite enjoying the set-up, but then again I'm a JLA, Green Lantern and New Gods fan, so this series seems pretty well aimed at me.

-- Posted by: Ryan at July 1, 2008 12:26 AM

I guess I am an old time grouchy fan,who appreciates the DC heroes, and always will, I am getting weary of the insular nature of todays comics. There seems to be no thought given to expanding the readership for these wonderful characters. I think that is not only poor business sense on the part of both Marvel and DC, I think it is shame that a lot of potential fans will be prevented from enjoying the comics due to their muddled narratives. I believe it was Stan Lee, who said that every comic is someone's first comic.

-- Posted by: earl jones at July 1, 2008 5:28 PM

I agree that its an issue with the overall lines that there needs to be a better effort within comics to introduce characters to the reader. I'm not sure continuity ever kept out many readers. But I do think readers have to work a bit more with comics like Final Crisis, as with any Morrison comic.

What I find interesting is the fan community's insistence that the material has to always behave as if it should be a welcome mat to new readers, when absolutely nothing about how comics are bought or sold suggests retailers or the publishers want to sell comics to new readers. Pre-ordering comics through Previews? Are you kidding me?

I guess that's to say, the publishers are very much out of the mindset that they're competing for allowances at the spinner rack, and so they aren't treating superhero comics like someone's first comic.

As someone whose been reading superhero comics for 20-odd years, I don't mind stories that build on the stories I've previously read. I don't particularly think its a bad thing that they can tell stories that are new, but build on prior history (if you will), and reward you for your work. It's a unique challenge to payoff both longtime readers and readers new to characters and concepts.

The challenge I think the Big 2 need to overcome if they want to reach that new audience (because I'd like to see kids 30 years from now just as excited about Spidey, Superman and Batman as I once felt) isn't limiting continuity. Heck, My first issue of Batman was the 519th issue of Detective.

Instead, they need to get comics back in the hands of kids where kids are. It may necessitate the return of spinner-racks, or they may reach kids where they live: online.

-- Posted by: Ryan at July 2, 2008 1:10 AM