Comic Fodder

The Decline at DC Comics

Readers who click on columns/ articles with the Alex Ross Krypto icon will probably know that I am a DC guy. This is not to say that I have some grudge with Marvel. They're the girl from high school I took to the prom, and for whom I will always have a warm spot in my heart (and, really, I can't even remember where it went wrong), but after the wild years of college and my romance with the wild and unpredictable Vertigo, I became fascinated with the bookish and well-versed DCU.

Of late, that romance has been somewhat injured.

Through Morrison's JLA and a discovery of the unplumbed depths of the DCU, I spent a lot of time and money digging through 70 years of DC lore, and only rarely came up disappointed. It was a dual-pronged approach, as I was simultaneously keeping up with DC's new titles, while racing to dig ever deeper into the past with well-timed trades, back-issues, what-have you. And I am thrilled to have a hobby that seems almost limitless in its variety of characters, topics, etc...

That's more or less how I feel about being a DC fan, and a Superman nut.

Back in June, I came back to Comic Fodder after a lengthy hiatus, kicking things off with a screed questioning the leadership of Dan Didio at DC. And while there are occasional flashes of brilliance at DC, I am not entirely convinced that Didio's DC is not on a steady decline that neither Levitz or Didio have done much to stop. If, in fact, Didio himself is not accelerating the entropy.

The June post discussed various DC events at length. I won't reiterate the publishing failures here. You can revisit the post if you'd like to enjoy that re-cap.

But of late, I'm not so sure I'm loving DC.

Previews February 2009

DC released the February 2009 solicitations Monday afternoon, and is my wont, I checked in about half an hour after the solicitations went out. And some items grabbed my interest.

Batman and Detective written by Neil Gaiman with "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" But the rest of the Bat titles? Batman RIP is over with, and I know the RIP tie-in's really did no such thing. In fact, they seemed to just be place holders until the post RIP change came into place.

Blue Beetle: canceled.

"Brave and the Bold" seems like a shadow of its former self at 22 issues.

GL and GLC, both look fairly promising. But there are still a scatter of mini's like "Reign in Hell", "El Diablo", and the tail-spin that is the Titans franchise... And I'm just not sure how interested I am in DC's ouput (and, look... my GOD... that 12th, unasked for issue of "Tangent: Superman's Reign"! Who greenlit that?). Vixen. Vigilante. Meh.

Looking at this, I'm just not sure how much I care anymore. And like that girlfriend, I'm not sure where things went akilter. I really do feel like I'm looking at someone across the table and I have no idea why we're together.

Can't Leave Well Enough Alone

I had lunch with former Comic Fodder columnist Jason C. today, and I hadn't seen him in months. He's reading Final Crisis with mixed feelings. He's all over Batman RIP. And, he's enjoying the Superman titles.

Being a Superman fan and enjoying Superman comics are two mutually exclusive things. But since "One Year Later" hit, the Superman titles have been on an upswing. Apparently the current line is selling well. The "triangle" numbering system is doing its thing, and the stories being told by Geoff Johns, Sterling Gates and James Robinson are on an upswing.

But according to Previews, Didio's own comments, and an io9 roundup, Superman is leaving Action Comics and Earth for a while to go perform deeds of derring-do in space. Which... maybe the team can pull it off, but Superman "Exile" was, honestly, pretty dull.

Moreover, how many times will Superman be out of pocket in the DCU? 52 gave us a year without Superman. Heck, Trinity (of late) hasn't featured its three key players, he's been dead, he's been exiled... How about a series of Superman stories that just stick to Superman in Metropolis? Or on Earth? That doesn't rely on his absence to make us appreciate the character? Or isn't putting Superman at some odds with the populace (because, gee, that's never been done before)?

In the io9 article, Didio says:

I think that’s going to get people excited and scratching their heads and wondering what’s going on.

Well, Dan, that's all going to depend on what you mean by "excited" and "scratching their heads".

If Monday's edition of "Lying in the Gutters" is any indication, it got James Robinson excited enough to prematurely walk off the Super-Titles, something Didio doesn't have a problem with, anyway, if the departures of Chuck Dixon and Jim Shooter are any indication. According to LITG:

I understand that James Robinson and Dan had a stand up argument that led to Robinson quitting the Superman books and the DCU in general.

Well, hell. That doesn't sound good. Not with Robinson supposedly premiering a new Justice League title in 2009 and his Superman title doing well.

DC Comics: Home for TV Writers from Bad Shows I Don't Watch

Yes, Dan Didio was once a script writer on the never-terribly-popular program Re-Boot, and that may have given him some funny ideas about how comic fans want nothing more than writers from teeny-bopper soap operas to write their comics.

Didio has opened a pipeline to Hollywood to bring in writers under the mistaken belief that bringing in writers from TV shows, or novelists who don't read comics is what DC comics needs. This seems to have freed Didio from believing that his key commodity, his superstar writers, are of much value.

Also according to LITG:

the last issue of "Final Crisis" is further delayed as it is suffering from serious rewrites. It appears that DC Executive Editor Dan DiDio was unhappy with the way the story concluded and the implications for the DC Universe for a while and had ordered changes from a, naturally, rather unhappy Grant Morrison. Considering this is the way he wrote the pitch for the book.

What's odd is that it seemed that after the debacles of Countdown and the Green Arrow/ Black Canary Wedding that Didio had eaten some humble pie and was going to get out of the way of the creative process. But apparently the humility was short-lived. Didio is back to thinking he can write the DCU with his army of Yes-Men writers, including Bedard and Palmiotti & Gray (whose first issue of Maelstrom was simply an embarrassment). And bringing back movie-hack Kevin Smith for what has been one of the most poorly received issues I've heard about in some time (I didn't buy it. I find both his movies and comic work to be sub-par. And, no, that one joke about the contractors on the Death Star does not forgive the free ride Smith's received for the past ten years) isn't a great sign for the direction Didio wants to take the DCU.

Failure to Launch

I can't really think of any big successes Didio can chalk up, short of All-Star Superman, which you can attribute to Morrison more than you can point to anything Didio might have added. It was a labor of love.

Blue Beetle was canceled in the solicits this week, which is a reminder of Didio's other failures.

Two Aquaman series that he couldn't manage
Firestorm
Warlord
All-New Atom
Checkmate
Anything that debuted OYL
Countdown
Countdown tie-in's
Killing the Hawkman title by inexplicably swapping it for Hawkgirl

My Grievances are Legion

How many more "Countdowns", "Maelstrom's", what have you can I point to and not start admitting that maybe I'm not as nuts about DC anymore as I am about the creators who breathed life into the comics I was enjoying? And that Didio isn't cutting it as a man with a vision of how to handle DC Comics?

Telling me I'm going to be scratching my head AND that I'll be excited are kind of two mutually exclusive things, Mr. Didio. And while I'd like to think the Robinson/ Johns duo can pull it off, I have to wonder how much of what is happening is under editorial mandate from some cockamamie idea you cooked up while floating in the tub?

I'm hitting the end of my rope.

I'll stick with a few things for a while. My Superman titles. I'll follow the Bat-titles through Gaiman's run, but I don't see why I'm supposed to be excited about the "battle for the cowl" that sounds like only so much filler (and, really, am I to believe that the Bat-Family would FIGHT over who was going to be Batman? It just sounds kind of dumb on its surface...)

Doesn't it bother you that "Superman/ Batman" is almost unreadable? Wasn't this your flagship book in recent memory?

In conclusion...

Convince me, DC. Stop disappointing. Try to make at least half your titles relevant.

Hire writers who handle material well, not just those who doth please the Didio. (Why isn't Greg Rucka anywhere in the solicits? Who ARE these people?)

I am canceling a boat full of titles from my pull list when I do my next monthly order. You're not trying, so why should I be dropping my hard-earned coin on your books?

Yeah, you'll always get me with collections, special editions, etc... and I may never give up on JSA, GL and Superman... but I can't promise I'll be there for everyone else.

But maybe we can patch this up. Maybe we can work things out if we spend some time apart? Will absence make the heart grow fonder?


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

A well-written column that, sadly, I have to agree with. I get a lot of DC titles, but I might be done at the conclusion of Final Crisis (whenever that is).

-- Posted by: Sean at November 18, 2008 2:36 AM

I'm not defending Dc at all but if you are going to get so self righteous, you should also hold Marvel at the same level. they killed Captain America, they destroyed the character of Spider man in order for him to be this generations Archie and they have a TV Writer who almost writes most of the comics they have and pretty badly as well. Say what you may about DC but point the finger at the other company as well because they are just as bad.

-- Posted by: Fred at November 18, 2008 8:58 AM

Fred, I'm glad you ask us to hold the same standards.

I actually already went through this same process with Marvel over a number of year, so it doesn't feel as dramatic, and I feel it's already been done. I dropped Spidey (for the fifth or sixth time in my life) during the "Mephisto wants Spidey's Marriage" debacle, quit reading all X-titles somewhere in the mid-90's, and have generally been dissatisfied with a lot of Marvel.

I do read Cap, but I also never really read Cap until Brubaker came on, so my view is incredibly skewed (and I'm pretty sure we'll get back Steve Rogers at some point). Daredevil trades make it into my rotation. I also read Guardians of the Galaxy because I love that darn raccoon. I pick up Thor upon occasion, but I quit reading Secret Invasion after issue 3 because I just don't care about the larger Marvel U. That's about the extent of what I pick up from Marvel.

I've never really cared of Joey Q since he and Jemas decided to play Heckle and Jekyll to the fanbase and Joey Q's mouth has literally translated into a loss of sales for me on numerous occasions. I think he's had to really grow into a job he handled poorly for years, and still occasionally makes a mis-step. (If someone isn't into the whole Skrull thing, you don't have a lot of options these days at Marvel).

So, yes, thanks for commenting. I hope this allays any thought of some sudden pro-Marvel bias on my part.

If anything, I'm mostly surprised at how many books I pick up from Dynamite.

-- Posted by: Ryan at November 18, 2008 10:04 AM

I can't disagree with a single point. Didio took what had become a pretty solid continuity and a coherent universe and made it worse than it was pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths. If not for Geoff Johns, where would the company be?
To quote the Kenan Thompson character on SNL: "Fix it!"
One other point: Is all this removing of Superman from Earth just part of DC preparing to lose the character in 2013, when being in a "world without a Superman" won't be any big thing?

-- Posted by: Jason at November 18, 2008 10:16 AM

I for one don't want to see another "Exiled" run with Superman. I loved the direction that the books are/were moving with New Krypton but if that is the end result I will not be happy. I could see him going off to re-settle the Kryptonians on a new planet but to spend more that 3 issues off Earth would not be a direction that I could see myself staying with. I would give it a try but if the stories became weak I would drop it. Yes, this is my favorite comic book character. Action without Superman. Didio what the H$## are you doing!! Robinson gone..what about the New Justice League? Didio if he's gone you should be. I was not sure I liked Robinson on Superman until issue 679 I was hooked. I love what he has done with Jimmy and Krypto. To lose him would be like losing one of your best pitchers. If he is gone Didio should be shown the Door. I have been a Didio "appologist" but that is true then can now see the error of my ways. I love DC and will read what is good but will now look at some more of the Marvel and independent stuff that I had not had the extra cash to buy and drop a DC title that I am not enjoying to buy it.

-- Posted by: Richard at November 18, 2008 12:42 PM

Well, I very, very disappointed in DC for losing James Robinson. I loved his Starman run and enjoyed his Batman: Face to Face stint. I was so looking forward to his JLA take which we will probably never see now.

The number of DC books I am buying is shrinking exponentially with this news as I am a collector of Robin, Nightwing and Birds of Prey. I also dropped Checkmate and All New Atom as the original writers were shunted to other books.

Dido handling of the talent at DC has been abysmal. Why he continues to chase Hollywood writers is beyond me as the stories are never good or on time.

Honestly the only think DC has going for itself right now is Geoff Johns. If they lose him they're done.

P.S. Fred I agree with you that Marvel has screwed up Spider-Man but Brubaker's Captain America run has been epic.

-- Posted by: Simon MacDonald at November 18, 2008 1:11 PM

update: Superman editor Matt Idleson contacted the Superman Homepage to debunk the story regarding Robinson leaving Superman.

http://tiny.cc/DVF9q

I'm not sure what happened there, but my guess is that once the word was out on these stories, DC at least has a much better idea whose side the readers are on.

-- Posted by: Ryan at November 19, 2008 12:29 AM

Stephen Golding makes a good point over at Kung Fu Rodeo. Why cancel Blue Beetle when he is a major fixture of the new Brave and the Bold cartoon? Wouldn't you want kids to be able to find a comic with the character in it?

http://kungfurodeo.com/2008/11/20/wtf-is-wrong-with-dc-comics-the-blue-beetle-edition/

-- Posted by: Simon MacDonald at November 23, 2008 10:08 PM

funny - i JUST posted this on another board. cut and pasted for your viewing pleasure:

As a DC'er with 30+ years of books in my collection, my reaction to the analysis of DC sales v Marvel sales can be summed up in one word.

Yup.

No argument from me about what was said. However I would bring up one additional point: let's not pull punches here, DC return to "iconic" versions of its heroes is all Dan Didio.

In the late 90's and early 00's while Marvel was printing on lower quality and smaller-sized books, DC was actually moving into new directions with it's characters and people were buying it - Kyle and Wally were successful as carriers of the Green Lantern and Flash legacies; JSA was in full swing revitalizing older characters; Supergirl, Impulse, Superboy and Young Justice all brought a fun flavor to the DCU; Superman was invigorated with new artists like McGuiness and Mahnke and writers like Loeb and Kelly (Action Comics #775 alone made up for most of the crap from the mid-90's); Legion Lost and the new Legion titles were pulling in strong numbers; the Outsiders were truly outside the norm; and books like Batgirl and Azrael and Man of Steel were expanding the Batman and Superman franchises into new territory. And the Wildstorm launch, especially Authority, cannot be ignored either but that's all Karen Berger.

Then Didio comes along. Within 2 years he cancels 11 of the 14 titles I just mentioned, ALL of them selling in the 30's - 50's, then proceeded to return JLA to Justice League of America, JSA to Justice Society of America, Outsiders is now Batman and..., plus bringing back back Hal Jordan, Oliver Queen, Kara Zor-El, (now Barry Allen) and a slew of other people that, as noted, no one cared about any longer except DC lifers. And don't get me started on the return of the multiverse.

I did not like these returns to iconic status and still don't. I embraced the changes from the 90's and liked the new directions. Not so much anymore - everything since Identity Crisis has not sat well with me. I was here for the 1980's the first time, I have no desire to see them again and pay 5x the price I did back in the day.

There are some bright spots - his attempt to return the new Teen Titans to the 1980's version morphed quickly into actual NEW Teen Titans (and the poor sales of Titans should further emphasize that poor decision). JSofA's new direction is just as strong as JSA. And books like (the now canceled) Blue Beetle and Jonah Hex are worthwhile risks. But everything else has slid down both in sales (market contraction notwithstanding) and my favorites list.

Yes I still buy about 20 DC titles a month but many "must haves" are in jeopardy of being dropped, plus my fav books keep getting canceled, some I'm not surprised about due to sales but they are still favs. And now 25% of my pull is non-DC (most of which are 2nd tier Marvel books). What does it say when I put Elephantmen on the top of my pile?

DC is still profitable and as long as they are making money, Didio is going to be around. Saying they are somehow in jeopardy because Marvel outsells them - even by such a large margin as Sept 08 - is doomsday nonsense. The profit off of one figurine is equal to that from 10 comics and we all know how well that stuff sells. But there is so much potential that is going to waste because of where things are that I just don't have the spirit to stick around. There's a difference between an underdog and a loser and DC is no longer the former IMHO.

-- Posted by: David at December 12, 2008 2:59 PM