Comic Fodder

Counterpoint: The New Rise of DC

Ryan and I agree on about 90% of the stuff we read. If he likes something, odds are great that I will like it. It he is disgusted by a story, I'm usually disgusted. And for that small 10% where we disagree... Well, nobody's perfect, and I forgive him. What does this mean for his harsh criticism of DC lately? Well, let me play devil's advocate and focus on the positive, put it into context with the greater comics industry, and see if it leads us to a different conclusion.

So what's good at DC? Let's start with the obvious stuff that Ryan loves. He's digging the Superman titles, and I have more good news for him: according to my sleuthing, James Robinson is not leaving DC, and not leaving his work on the Superman titles. It's a dirty nasty rumor, and if my sources are right, it should die out soon. And if he gives us more Krypto but without the four-year-old thought bubbles, we can all be happy. With a potential bonus, DC has decided to make an effort to bring Supergirl closer into connection with the rest of the Super-titles, which may have a rising tide effect on all of them. Cross your fingers.

Let me pause for a moment to dwell on one fact: Superman is big again. After so many years of basically being in the dumper, and a big-budget movie reboot that did not meet expectations for fans or movie execs, this is huge news. Superman is once again becoming a flagship title in actual deed, not just the honorary position he has always held. This contributes to a major effect at DC, whether it was purposeful or not, that involves Batman, and to a lesser extent, Wonder Woman.

Speaking of Batman, has anyone noticed that it has crept up into the top ten for sales on Diamond's chart? Regular readers know that I have had some issues with Morrison's run, but the fact is people are following it, and the net effect on all of the Bat-titles has been positive. This rounds out the one-two shot that DC should have been trying to achieve all along, getting its two big guns into the premiere spotlight. Granted, it could all come crashing down tomorrow (in part because the latest issue of Batman is late, which we hate), but for now, they have breathed new life into these characters.

While the Wonder Woman title has fallen short, that particular character has always been something of a problem for DC. But considering the numerous reboot attempts, you can't say they haven't been trying. Her presence in JLA and Trinity has been good, and has helped to buttress the 'Trinity' aspect across the entire DCU. Which brings me straight to the supporting pillars of DC's new strength in its oldest characters: JLA and Trinity.

JLA has great art. The stories have been all over the place, from lousy tie-ins nobody asked for to average, to well done. It has also been one of the few DC titles constantly infringing on the top ten sales chart. Considering the way the previous edition of this series collapsed, this is great progress for DC. Granted, this run is nowhere near comparison to the Grant Morrison run, but we still have a title with the big stars of the DCU in one place with strong sales. Trinity has been a welcome rebound from the Countdown mess. DC had a great success with its initial 52 for a weekly series, and even though they stepped off the rails for a year, the Busiek and Bagley team has put them back on track, with a double bonus. One, they have had all four weekly issues break the top fifty on the sales chart, and two, their focus on the big three has added to the premiership of these core characters. That adds layers of support to the big three concept, and maintains their success in experimenting with different formats, keeping hope alive for other good weekly series in the future. Even Marvel is trying this experiment in its own way with Spider-Man these days. To a lesser extent, even Superman/Batman is still helpful to this strategy (assuming the big brains at DC are intelligent enough to have planned this, as opposed to every development being a happy coincidence. I have no proof either way...).

But wait, there's more! Ryan is correct when he says Green Lantern and its complementary Corps title look interesting. In point of fact, I cannot remember a more exciting time in the life of Green Lantern than now. With the possible exception of some classic O'Neil/Adams stuff, this is Green Lantern at his finest. Look for these titles to build on their momentum and grow in the next year. Marvel has had great success starting with Annihilation War in jump-starting the cosmic areas of their universe; the GL titles are doing the same job for the DC cosmos, creating a new age of space sagas that we haven't seen since the days of Jack Kirby. There is more to this story than I will get to in this column, but Hal's place in the DCU is important, and has the potential to soar even higher in the future.

Now let's focus on something Ryan barely mentioned. Justice Society of America. Art is phenomenal, sales are great and sustaining, and the story is superb. With the age of DC and the line of families and similar characters, DC has a unique story angle with legacy in a way that Marvel has never managed to duplicate. The current linkage to things Kingdom Come has been executed flawlessly, so that a title that you might think would be full of old stuffed shirts comes across as a blend of the best of the old and the new. The creative team mirrors this idea as well, with the established veteran Alex Ross heavily involved, some relatively new superstar artists and writer, while still involving old-time favorite Jerry Ordway. The end product matches up with anything else on the stands. Combine this with all of those titles above, and things aren't looking so bad anymore, are they?

The mixed blessings of some of the other titles is not all bad. While some good series are gone now, many of them were fun while they lasted. Atom and Firestorm weren't the greatest, but Checkmate was awesome while we could get it, and Hawkman was awesome for a while, and who would have thought we'd be saying that in the 21st century? Maybe Ryan is sore because Blue Beetle is going away, but aren't you glad you got to see it in the first place? Let's treasure the good ones that we got while they were here.

Props to Birds of Prey for becoming a long-lasting series, when nobody suspected that it could last anywhere as long as it has. Coolness for a Booster Gold re-launch that was great, and is still hanging in there. Brave and Bold was fun too, and the rotating cast of creative teams means that it could surprise us at any given issue with greatness. Congratulations for the success of the Titan's franchise. Even if some things are bad with it, DC has the potential to salvage it and stake out a very important area in the Legacy arena, allowing for the old (JSA), the current (JLA), and the future (Titans). IF DC would get off their butts, there is gold in the idea of a weekly Legacy series that explores these connections that could be even bigger than Trinity, while still involving the trinity! It is potential like this that gives me hope for the rest of the DCU.

Okay, there is some bad stuff. Nightwing has reached a new high, only to be cancelled soon. Legion has been something of a disaster, but Shooter (who counts as another person who uses the word "grok") is leaving, and some day a reboot will come along that fans will like. That just leaves us with three other characters to "fix": Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Arrow. Final Crisis being published late puts a nail in its coffin for me, but 90% of the mini-series associated with it have been phenomenal reads.

What about the obviously bad ideas? Well, I'm not buying Maelstrom or any Kevin Smith (censored), so that stuff doesn't exist for me. I know it's out there, and it's obviously poor enough that I don't even have to pick it up to realize this, so it won't make much of an impression on my reading enjoyment. It is not like some other titles that I pick up in the hopes that they will have improved, so since I have no vested interests in them, nor any expectations, I can happily forget them, as they will be forgotten by everyone else in a couple months anyway. The goodness of the JSA run, the GL saga, and Trinity, among others, will be remembered for a long time to come.

Now for the real-world comparison. DC was stuck in the #2 position behind Marvel for so long, it was shocking one month a couple years back to see half of the top-selling titles were DC books. Countdown and some other Didio idiocy hurt them for a year, but they are rebuilding things right now. If I have my facts wrong, somebody please speak up, but my impression is that DC has become more competitive with Marvel in the past three years than anytime in the previous twenty. This confluence of events, if they can match Marvel in movie-land for some matinee madness success, could usher in a new age of DC goodness.

So Ryan, I say thee... maybe. Things are 50/50 right now, with an equal number of titles that are good and bad, and with DC on the edge of powering ahead or dropping the ball (and if anyone can sabotage things, it's Didio). The next six months should tell the tale. If they don't mess up, then we should get to see some additional great All-Star comics, some more successful reboots, a good new weekly series, and movies that follow coat-tails (cape-tails?) of The Dark Knight. Can they translate all this into better sales for their mags? It will be hard, but it is possible. In the meantime, I have come to the conclusion that personally, I am enjoying more DC comic titles now than I have in years, so my viewpoint is looking at the glass as half-full, and just waiting for them to fill the rest of it to the top.
Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

I actually feel a little better after reading your column, Travis.

I also want to give props to Gail Simone who is really trying very hard with Wonder Woman. The last two issues were some of the best of the current volume, and I see her now "getting" the character. Given the current trend of writers sticking with books for a long while, she has a golden opportunity to put a stamp on Wonder Woman, much as Perez and others have done.

You did hit the nail on the head that I'm very frustrated that we've lost Blue Beetle. I don't know why some books grab the public and others fail.

But mostly there's just so little signal to noise at DC, and its simply not that hard to believe Didio is driving his key writers nuts (what we know is that Robinson is continuing with his titles, we don't know that the fight didn't happen or that Robinson wasn't using LITG to get fan support behind him.).

Batman is good today, but with Morrison gone, what can we expect out of Tony Daniel and a "battle for the cowl". The Superman books are the best they've been in my experience, but what editorial issue forced the fight between Didio and Robinson?

Only time will tell.

But, again, its good to see a list like this that reminds me there's plenty of stuff to look enjoy now and look forward to in the near future. I may just wind up a lot more selective in my DC purchases over the next few months.

-- Posted by: Ryan at November 19, 2008 11:54 PM

I'm still pessimistic about DC at this point. When I go up and down their titles the only ones I seem to be enjoying are the ones written by Geoff Johns. While I'm not reading Superman right now I'm loving his Green Lantern and Justice Society of America.

And while I enjoyed his tenure on Booster Gold I'm concerned where that book is going as it needs a continuity wonk like Johns to function correctly.

The same can be said about Teen Titans which has been in a tail spin since he left.

Actually I have to give props to Gail Simone as well for her work on the canceled All New Atom and her current work on the Secret Six and Wonder Woman.

I think that Morrison's take on Batman is very interesting but nobody seriously thinks that Bruce Wayne won't be Batman for any significant length of time. I think Warner Brothers can point to 529 million reasons as to why the Battle for the Cowl will be a moot point and whoever takes on the mantle of the Bat will be reduced to a footnote in Batlore.

So on the positive side of the ledger we have Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the JSA.

On the negative side we have Nightwing, Robin, Birds of Prey, Blue Beetle, JLA, Hawkman, Aquaman, the Atom, Green Arrow, Manhunter, Teen Titans, Outsiders, Titans, Flash and Checkmate.

To me the negative side far outweighs the positive and the reason behind it is Dido. He is unable to keep talented comic book creators happily in the fold. Instead he is chasing the Hollywood writers.

The only way this thing can get turned around is attracting good talent.

-- Posted by: Simon MacDonald at November 20, 2008 12:26 PM

Travis I don't always agree with your reviews but after reading this and reviewing what I am reading and enjoying I see that DC is my comic book company of choice and for good reason.

The Buy Pile:
Final Crisis (for me I've loved it since #1)
Terra mini-series

The "MEH" Pile:
JLA (up and down for me)
Supergirl (of late)
Batman:Cacaphony (more so becaus the art does nothing to enhance the story)
Sgt Rock:Lost Batallion (we'll see what #2 brings)
Robin (some issues or meh)
Nightwing (improving and will end too soon)
Allstar Batman and Robin (only because I have to wait so long)
Sman/Sgirl:Maelstrom (I got it at the suggestion of my LCS owner who had never led me astray. Love the Art in the first issue and the interaction with Supes and Sgirl but not the villan)

The Gone Gone Gone pile:
Batman & The Outsiders (crap just total crap)
Legion of Superheros

Then there is everything else I just don't want enough to drop something and pick up pile.

The Buy pile is by far larger. With the resolution to the Robinson thing and some self reflection I still love DC. My Marvel buy pile will stay at 3 books (Thor, Cap America, and Daredevil)

-- Posted by: Richard at November 23, 2008 11:16 AM

I pick up the same Marvel titles, Richard. Makes me wonder if its a quality thing, or if its because whatever's in those books resonates particularly well with DC fans.

And I am always happy to see GL Corps get its due. Travis always covers it, but I always wish it would get as much attention as its sister title.

-- Posted by: Ryan at November 23, 2008 12:53 PM

It is the classic "Hero" that all three represent. This is what lacks in the Marvel Universe for me with the exception of those three titles (Thor, Capt America, and Daredevil). DC with its iconic heroes has this in spades. Continuity is not the end all be all it is just an outline and it matters less that story quality. Really why is continuity such an issue is it beause a generation of Marvel fans have been telling us that is what makes Marvel better. Marvel's books are not, in general, better they may be better marketed (all the free stuff at your LCS) But take all the "events" out of Marvel and you would have just a few books that can sell well as just as regular series. Xmen, Thor, Capt America, Daredevil, Hulk (the sales of this book confuse me. It isn't well written or drawn, and Spiderman (maybe). I may have missed just a couple but not more than that. The rest all hinge on the event of the moment. They aren't books anymore just extentions of continuity. The same cannot be said for the DC books the good ones are good for their own stories and with Geoff Johns doing what he does we see real affects not just events that ripple around a comic book universe. I'd rather be a strong 2nd then a weakend number 1.

-- Posted by: Richard at November 23, 2008 10:42 PM