Comic Fodder

Some Odd DC Comics Moments of the 'Oughts

Firstly, this is in no way a comprehensive list of weird things DC comics did in the last 10 years. None of us has time for that list. But there's definitely some stuff worth discussing.

Secondly, congrats to Travis on his big, new news. I'll leave him to share.

Thirdly, hope you all had a great Christmas. I did. Very few comic-related presents, but I think my family has sort of decided they don't know what to get me that I might not already have. But I did get a nifty DC Calendar filled with vintage cover images! My office mates will get to be wowed by Golden and Silver Age DC for the next 12 months.

So here's a run-down of some things that went poorly, were off the mark, etc...

The Batman/ Captain America Parallel Storyline Debacle

What could have been a promising storyline for either character got mixed up in the oddest case of synchronicity I can think of.

1) Character has big build up in his own book, complete with a forgotten "son".
2) Events culminated outside the main title
3) Time Bullets!
4) Their heirs pick up the mantle
5) Heroes dislodged in time!

I don't know if certain elements of comic fantasy and fandom had just so infiltrated the zeitgeist that this storyline became inevitable in both titles, but the multi-year arc of this thing is simply uncanny. If I were Didio or Quesada, I would be wondering if Brubaker and Morrison didn't have some side-bet going, cooked up at Comic-Con in 2006 that they could map out some basic ridiculous plot points and tell the same story with their new assignments, and nobody would blink.

While both are great story tellers, it certainly distracts from simply reading both series when you start comparing and contrasting.

And added element is that both Cap and Batman, while neither is certainly any stranger to super-powered wackiness, are characters which are, ostensibly, a bit more rooted as human characters than laser-eyed aliens. Yet, both storylines hinge on deep-continuity weirdness and science fiction, which I would not have expected from either storyline early on.

Loeb and Berganza Launch Terribly Unappealing Take on Supergirl

It wasn't that the Earth Angel/ Matrix/ formerly-dead Linda Danvers was necessarily a bad comic. It was just obvious that whatever was going on first with Mae, and then with the Earth Angel/ hanging out with supernatural creatures/ etc... bit that went on had absolutely frikkin' nothing to do with Superman. It doesn't matter if that's the point. That's just confusing to anyone who ever heard of Supergirl outside of Peter David's fevered head.

Funny thing. Comic fans weren't nuts about being told they were just wrong on this Supergirl being-Superman's-Kryptonian-cousin. So Super-fans were super-excited when Loeb teamed with, first, Michael Turner and then Ian Churchill and editor Eddie Berganza to bring Supergirl back to the DCU as Kara Zor-El, Superman's cousin.

The comic debuted at over 100,000 copies sold. Despite serious qualms about the trendy bared midriff outfit, the public seemed ready to give it a go. Until Loeb decided to characterize the former pollyanna as a ridiculous, spoiled brat who did nothing but jump across the DCU brawling with established characters, possibly getting the new Captain Boomerang charged delinquency of a minor (at best), and pining for Nightwing.

Berganza first tried to convince the public they had to wait, that something was coming we'd all really like. Being Didio's pet editor, Berganza was given a DC Nation column, which, really, could not have gone worse (just try to find a copy of that column online). The problem was that comics come out once a month, and cost money for each read. Nobody had the patience.

We'll never really know what Berganza and Loeb had planned. Loeb left the title early on, leaving other writers to struggle with the character, and exposing not just how weak of a concept Loeb had launched, but that attempts to do anything with the character seemed to just expose the limitations of the creative teams as well.

Fortunately, 20-odd years after the first Crisis on Infinite Earths, Kara Zor-El was handed over to Superman group editor Matt Idleson, and writer Sterling Gates more or less explained away Kara's bad behavior due to rabies or something. And while not exactly the most dynamic character in the mix, Supergirl is now a very readable title.

Countdown

What can't you say about the Didio-rrific "Countdown"?

Let's begin by saying that "52", the series everyone said would fail, wound up doing spectacularly well. A weekly comic that sold upwards of 100K copies per issue during the height of its popularity?

However, rumor has it that Didio was so displeased with "52" that he was the brainchild behind the series that almost drove DC off the rails. Not satisfied with the top-selling status of "52", Didio collected a squad of B and C-Listers to help him put the comic together, supposedly headed by Paul Dini, who went radio-silent on the project right from the beginning, and whose hand nobody could say they really felt on the actual series.

Add in the spin-off titles that were, lets be honest, uniformly awful ("Countdown to Mystery", "Adventure", etc... and especially the 100% unnecessary "Lord Havok and the Extremists". And the regrettable "Arena".). In short, DC attempted to dump about 8 new comics per month into the DC-fans' budget, all marked "Countdown" and all supposedly synchronizing the DCU in a new and exciting way.

Until it didn't. And then, later, when it sort of ruined the first issue of the series it was supposedly leading into.

The "Death of the New Gods" series was supposedly something Morrison had asked specifically NOT to happen prior to "Final Crisis", where he was going to handle all of that information himself, thanks. The series itself kept coming out. And coming out. And because this reader has been trained by reading many comics, watching many movies, TV shows, plays, lectures, mimes, puppet shows, etc... to believe that when characters appear, and speak to one another, that eventually a plot will develop... well, I reached issue 26 before noting "hey, nothing has exactly happened yet".

Crazily, in that first six month window, DC had insisted we HAD to read Countdown to GET IT. And thus I read the series, because it would cross over. JLA's Lightning saga sort fo crossed over. As did random issues of Supergirl, Jimmy Olsen was super-powered and knew Clark's identity for no real reason, the very temporary death of Bart Allen, etc... So DC was sort of insisting that this very bad series, which was going abso-frikkin'-lutely nowhere was sort of dictating the entire line of comics.

One could speculate that a comic with a half-dozen writers being dictated by Didio was the reason the series didn't really work. Or that the other series were a distraction. Or something. But in the end, Countdown turned into a very odd mess of horrendous plotting, no character development, and the utter abuse of the goodwill of the fanbase. That Didio kept his job is a fact that still boggles the mind.

BUT:

You can't say DC doesn't occasionally learn a lesson. They did completely change the weekly comic format for Trinity before giving it a breather. Didio focused on creator-driven events, not editorially dictated hoo-hah, and has managed to come back strong with long-form storytelling in many of the franchises.


DC Can't Play Ball with Alan Moore

I don't think anyone observing WB and DC Comics for the past 10 years or so would be surprised when this writer might opine that WB exec Alan Horn, who was more or less in charge of trying to make a go of DC's film projects could have probably done a better job. Keep in mind: DC Comics is not part of WB's print side of the company. They're part of the film division.

If you want to know how Horn may have squandered the past ten years, we can point to the failure of Catwoman, trainwreck of development that all but guaranteed Superman Returns would look bad financially (and almost brought us several version much, much dumber than SR), and how WB absolutely failed to capture the superhero-lovin' zeitgeist of the 00's despite owning what were the gold standard for recognizable superheroes.

But we can also point to the fact that he didn't find a way to make nice with Alan Moore, arguably one of the most influential creative minds of the last 30 years and the mind behind multiple WB tent-pole movies of the past decade.

How and why WB and DC were unable to meet the fairly modest, if over-the-top, demands of Alan Moore when they seem able to stroke the ego of the least dependable of actors in Hollywood, I doubt I'll ever know entirely. Or why DC decided to edit Moore's work before release, I can't begin to guess (and if its adult, its adult. I'm good, you don't need to censor stuff for me. I can decide if Moore is going off the rails.)

Moore is simply good for business for DC, and while its understandable that the man is a bit (ahem) eccentric, DC could certainly have used Moore's product and support when adaptations of his various projects hit the theater (and certainly not with the paragraph that appeared in every story about every Moore project about his refusal to take any money).

Between "V for Vendetta" and "Watchmen", DC and Warner Bros. had an opportunity to translate some of the best-regarded work in comics to seminal films. While "V" received fairly good reviews (Filmfodder gave it a B+. Whaddaya know. And it received a 73% at Rottentomatoes.), nobody ever accused V of being as groundbreaking, or anywhere as masterfully told as the original comics. This year, we finally received the Watchmen movie we were all dreading, and despite promises of a cultural phenomenon, we got a movie that turned Watchmen into a very long, very dull video with an explicit sex scene added, I guess, for the kids. But by Watchmen, the Alan Moore ship had sailed.

WB's loss has been Top Shelf's gain as Moore moved to the publisher to carry on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and publish other new works (including the successful "Lost Girls").

WB's inability to work with talent they didn't understand and DC's inability to manage their relationship with Moore was a bad signal for creators, and demonstrates how little progress has been made since Jerry and Joe sold Superman to National.

The Decade of Super-Suits

Neither you nor I have the patience to discuss the tangled legal web of the legal status surrounding Superman. The basic story is as follows: Jerry Siegels heirs spent the '00's trying to lay legal claim to Superman, and with every court case, they seem to get a little closer. At this point, supposedly Superman and the elements that appeared in Action Comics #1 (at minimum) belong at least in part to the Siegels.

But the recent return of Superboy to the DCU and the fact that Lois and Superman still appear in DC comics (but where is Butch Matson? Who will get the fat Butch Matson dollars?). Anyway, its all been terribly confusing, and I don't find it particularly beneficial to paint either side as the crook. Nobody in 1938 knew what would become of the alien in the circus suit.

In 2013, the entirety of Superman could revert to the Siegel and Shuster estates (although Shuster has no real heirs). We'll have to see what happens. I am betting the Siegels get a big ol' check and relax a bit.

For more on the current state of the case, check out Jeff Trexler's discussions at Newsarama.

Anyhow, all of this should have interesting indirect fallout as Disney buys Marvel and the Kirby heirs, Ditko, etc... are left wondering if maybe they shouldn't get part of that payout.

In Closing:

As always, I invite you to add your own favorite disasters, odd-ball moments, and crises in the comments section!

Its been a long, weird ten years for DC. But a funny thing seems to be happening.

After years of entropy, Warner Bros. handed DC Comics from Alan Horn to Diane Nelson, who will, no doubt begin to make some changes around the place. DC may finally find an eComics strategy. We may actually get some superhero movies from DC in the 10's. And with the Earth One announcement, DC seems to be attempting to tap a new audience.

Most importantly, DC did hang onto Didio long enough to let him learn some hard lessons. From a publishing side, many of the titles are heading into 2010 with solid footing that you couldn't say they had in 2000, when picking up a DC comic outside the Vertigo line felt like a crapshoot.

Certainly the spectre of the Siegel lawsuit hangs over the next few years (and maybe the spectre of a Spectre lawsuit! - Siegel create Jim Corrigan, too, kids), and anything can and does happen. So let's see what the 10's bring, and hope its not "Countdown 2".



Questions? Comments? Hate mail?

Come on, I can take it.

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

He likes Superman.

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