Fanboy News Network Episode 27
discussion on recent conventions
Recent changes at Marvel Studios
DC’s 2 million dollar shortfall and what they are doing about it
Marvel is the wake of Secret Wars
Daniel talks about books
Fanboy News Network Episode 27
“This is why we can’t have nice things”
Daniel returns just in time to discuss the following:
Round three of convention staffs behaving badly.
More concerns about San Diego Comic Con
Why Daniel thinks Jurassic World is a comedy
The uproar over the Mad Max prequel comics
The current state of Marvel and DC comics
Why Jeff thinks Daniel should get Marvel Unlimited.
Fight Club II
Continuity in comics is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it allows the creation of a complex universe of interrelated characters and epic storytelling; on the other hand, it means that new readers may not fully understand aspects of a story that has years of background across many titles feeding into it. And in modern comic continuity we have to deal with canon, with some older stories having been removed from continuity.
Before looking at why this is relevant right now, I want to cover a bit of history. Continuity in comics is hardly new. In the early 1940s, Timely comics had its hero (the Human Torch) battle its anti-hero (the Sub-Mariner), each of whom had their own ongoing series. At the same time, DC comics had several of its heroes team up as the Justice Society of America. Almost every comic company had team ups with its various characters. Back in these early days keeping track of continuity wasn’t a priority, so there were often inconsistencies resulting from these stories and they rarely had any lasting impact on the character’s individual titles. This wasn’t a big deal, especially with the waning of superhero comics in the years post World War II.
But it became a very big deal after the birth of the Silver Age of comics in 1956, with DC comics introducing new versions of their characters with different origins and identities. This meant, at the time, that the Golden Age stories were no longer part of the DC continuity. And then DC decided to up the ante by introducing the concept of a multiverse, in 1961, with the story Flash of Two Worlds where the Golden age Flash met the Silver Age Flash who had accidently entered the first Flash’s reality. Suddenly, you had the potential for stories for characters from both eras. These led to dividing up which stories belonged on Earth 1 (The Silver Age Earth) and Earth 2 (The Golden Age Earth). In general this was easy as anything prior to 1956 belonging to Earth 2. But the wrinkle was that there were a few characters that were the same across both Earths as they were the handful that had never gone out of publication, those being Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Green Arrow. In general the 1956 cut off was used for them as well, with the idea that some stories counted for both, without a lot of concern as to what those were.
Over the years stories were told that on some level clarified the histories, but nothing was comprehensive. Another factor that played into the continuity issue was the static nature of the characters. Most superheroes were presented as being in their mid to late twenties. That meant that in the 1960s you had Superman stories where he met President Kennedy. Years later there would be a Superboy story, back when they were all flashback stories of Superman’s youth, where he met President Kennedy. Things of that nature were usually just hand-waved. In fact, the only characters that aged at all were the teens. Spider-man was introduced as a high school student in 1962. Flash forward to the mid-1980s and he was a college student. Similar aging happened to Robin and Kid Flash over at DC. But that was it for character aging. If there was an update to a character, it was usually handled as a reveal of previously unknown information.
One of the best known of this type was in 1984, when Alan Moore wrote the Swamp Thing Story Anatomy Lesson where he revealed that Swamp Thing was not Alec Holland, a scientist transformed into a plant monster, but instead a plant creature that had absorbed memories from Holland’s corpse as part of its creation. The story was ground breaking, and is still considered the best example of a soft reboot, where the previous continuity is not altered in any way.
In 1985 DC released the ground breaking 12 issue series Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was the first full out reboot of a comic book’s continuity. In it DC merged Earth 1 and Earth 2, as well as other alternate Earths that contained characters DC had purchased from other companies (such as Fawcett and Charleston) creating a single Earth with one history. The stated purpose was to make a cohesive history and create an easy entry point for new readers who were being drawn in by books like Swamp Thing and The Dark Knight Returns.
Over all Crisis was a success, but there were some snafus in the backstories of some characters (especially Hawkman and Donna Troy) that led to several rewrites, which in Donna’s case were ok, and in Hawkman’s case just made things worse. Eventually DC had two different series that tried to do patching rewrites to clear these issues up, Zero Hour, and Infinite Crisis. Both had mixed success at best.
Over at Marvel they decided not to go the full reboot route, stating that they had gotten their universe right the first time. Not that they didn’t like to play with the continuity idea. They have a series, which has come and gone a few times, called What IF. In it the Watcher looks at different universes in which the Marvel characters have made different choices; it’s basically a chance to look at stories Marvel wrote in the past to see what would have happened, had they gone down a different path.
On a more official level they tried some different routes to make clean entry continuities for new readers. The first of these was the poorly received Heroes Reborn, where the Avengers were sent to a new Universe where their histories were rewritten (the basic idea was sound, it was just really badly written – where all the stereotypes of bad 90s comics writing got codified).
A few years after that failed experiment Marvel created the Ultimate Universe. This was a separate continuity from the main Marvel Universe that allowed them to do new stories for the Marvel heroes without the baggage of the old continuity. Overall this was a success, as the old universe was also still going on so the fans didn’t feel a sense of loss and could enjoy the new stories as their own thing. Part of the significance of the Ultimate Universe is that years later, when Marvel studios came into being and created the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they cherry picked the best elements of both the old Universe and the Ultimate Universe to make their stories.
As for the movies, a lot of people attribute the MCU success to that fact that it has continuity between all of its films, just like the comics. Some say it is a throw-back to the old movie serials. This has led other studios to try and create their own mega-franchises, such as Universal attempting new Universal Monster movies with this type of continuity.
But not all was well with Marvel continuity. Marvel was not above tweaking characters with various soft reboots. None are more infamous then the reboot of Spider-man’s continuity in the story One More Day, where Peter made a deal with a demon to save Aunt May, but at the cost of having his marriage erased from history; this remains a hot button topic for many fans.
In more recent years DC did another reboot (which I have written about a lot) called Flashpoint which lead to The New 52. Here I will simply reiterate that it was a hastily thrown together reboot designed as a means to drawn attention to DC comics (who were getting crushed in sales by Marvel). It has been a complete mess and divided fans nearly as bad as Heroes Reborn did.
And that leads us to now.
Both DC and Marvel have events going on that are pulling deep on their continuities. Over at DC is Convergence. This is a two month event that will be replacing DC’s entire line of comics for its duration, that will cover the gap created by DC moving their staff and offices from New York to California. It will feature characters from different DC continuities, such as the pre-Flashpoint universe and DC’s various Elseworlds (their answer to What If). This has fans wondering if this will lead to a more permanent return of the pre-Flashpoint universe, which fans have been asking for since it became clear that The New 52 was a mess. Marvel is doing an event called Secret Wars nameds after an event they had in the 1980s. This series has apparently been in the works for three years and will apparently lead to a new Marvel continuity that combines the old Marvel Universe with the Ultimate Universe (remember how I said that the Cinematic Universe was a combination of the two). There is a lot of speculation that this is an attempt to bring the comics more in line with the movies, and therefore an easier entry point for fans who are picking up the comics because of the movies. There is also hope that it will clear up missteps such as One More Day.
No matter which way you slice it, continuity is a big deal in comics, and will fuel fan debate in all corners of comic culture.
Back in 1980, I was struck by what (at the time) was an outrageous idea.
Why can’t Superman marry Lois Lane?
The heart of the idea was that I was getting old enough to realize that the status quo in comics was stifling, and that not letting the characters advance in any way kept the stories from being anything more than kids’ stuff. Sure you were beginning to see books with better story telling come out, like the Chris Claremont run on X-Men, and the Wolfman/Perez relaunch of the Teen Titans. But, overall, the really big name comic characters seemed stuck in a story stasis that seemed to be permanent.
Of course this wasn’t an absolute. DC had characters like The Flash, the Atom, and the Elongated Man who all eventually got married. This also did not count characters like Hawkman and Hawkgirl, who started out married.
Also if you look at Marvel you had Reed Richards and Sue Storm who got married early in the run of the Fantastic Four, as well as Ant Man and the Wasp. But, like DC, it seemed that some characters( like Spider-Man) were destined for bachelorhood.
Then 1985 happened. With the release of The Dark Knight returns and Watchmen, comics suddenly became a venue for serious writing. You also had Crisis on Infinite Earths, which tore down the old DC continuity and relaunched the entire line. It took characters (like Superman) and, even though it restarted them, allowed for stories that advanced and felt like they really could grow dynamically.
From the time of the relaunch, you saw Clark Kent and Lois Lane go through all the stages of their relationship – from dating, to his revealing his identity to her, engagement, and eventually they did get married. Over all, it felt organic and was some very good story telling. It also opened up some fantastic storytelling, with the marriage being treated like one you see in real life if one of the partners is a fireman, or solider. But not all was peaches and cream; from the beginning of the relationship, there were detractors. Some were fans who did not like the break from the status quo. They wanted the Superman who appeared in the cartoons, or the Donner movies, and could not accept a more humanized version of the characters. Others were writers who chafed at having to write about a Superman who was in a healthy relationship, as they felt it constrained them.
In spite of this, for over a decade, you had Clark Kent and Lois Lane as a happily married couple, and they were not the only ones. Wally West (Barry Allen’s successor as the Flash) married his girlfriend Linda Park. Over at Marvel you even had Spider-Man get married.
This was also paired with the growing idea of the legacy character. You had Wally West pick up the mantle of the Flash after the death of Barry Allen. You even had Dick Grayson become Batman after the apparent death of Bruce Wayne. So you had comic characters growing and their stories progressing. It was a great time to be a comic book reader.
We should have known it wouldn’t last.
The first signs of this problem were over at Marvel, when it was decided to retcon away Spider-Man’s marriage. I’ve written about the specifics of that in the past, so I won’t rehash here. The basics however were that Editor-In-Chief, Joe Quesada, wanted Spider-Man reset to how he was written during his own youth.
Sure it annoyed fans, but it was nothing compared to what was going to happen over at DC.
The first sign of trouble was Emerald Dawn, which saw the return of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern. This was written by Geoff Johns, one of DC’s best writers. The problem wasn’t apparent at first, as Johns did not discard Kyle Rayner, Hal’s successor, but instead made all of the Green Lanterns a team.
The real signs of trouble came with Flash: Rebirth, which was the story that brought Barry Allen back to life, again written by Johns. While not stripping Wally West of his status as the Flash, he was quietly moved to the background.
DC was rolling back the status of its Universe to the Silver Age status quo.
There was another troubling factor going on at the time; there were writers complaining that writing for a married Superman, or even Flash was too hard.
This brings us to Flashpoint and the launch of the New 52.
I’ve written a lot about what a mess this entire relaunch was, but one of the biggest factors contributing to this was the loss of all the character progress that had occurred. I may not have minded so much if it had been a clean and total reboot, but the half assed way it was handled (with not really rebooting Batman and Green Lantern) made it more glaring that characters like Superman and the Flash lost all their development from all of those previous stories.
And, of course, a large part of this was that not only were Superman and The Flash not married any more, but that their wives (Lois and Iris) were not even their love interests. In fact, the writers went out of their way to make it clear that they were in no way romantically linked.
The part that really annoyed me was when DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee said that, once they got rid of Superman’s marriage, the stories just flowed. This implies that the marriage was the problem, and not his lack of skill as a writer.
But at least the DC Universe had some married couples, like Animal Man and Aquaman. Or so we thought.
This all came to a boil during what is now known here as the DC PR Meltdown; the week when DC could not keep their foot out of their mouth.
This is when everyone learned that DC editorial had pulled the carpet out from under the long planned wedding of Batwoman, and her girlfriend Maggie. When accused of shying away from a same-sex marriage, DC Co-Publisher Dan Didio said it was not the same-sex part that they were against, but the marriage part. He said that they did not want any of their characters married, because the level of sacrifice needed to be a hero did not allow for that kind of happy ending. He fundamentally said that no DC hero should be married. So, basically, a ban on marriage. He seems to believe all heroes need to be miserable. I am left to wonder how these clearly hack writers ended up in charge of the DC Universe. Of course, I am sure the answer is politics, but I digress.
Another DC editor was challenged, after these comments were made, to reconcile these comments with a character like Aquaman, who is successfully married to Mera. The editor said Aquaman and Mera were not married. It was pointed out that Aquaman, king of Atlantis, regularly refers to Mera as his queen. The editor countered that just because she is his queen, it does not mean they are married. This came as a surprise to series writer Geoff Johns, who had never been told they were not married.
The only hero allowed to be married was Animal Man, and that is because his marriage (and its slow collapse) was central to the story. Not that it was a happy marriage, which is why I guess it was ok.
So why has DC come out against marriage?
I reject Didio’s argument that heroes don’t get that kind of happy ending. First off, marriage is not an ending, it is a commitment to the most important person in your life. Also, it is not easy and comes with many challenges that can lead to dramatic moments. Superman and Flash writers were able to find those for all the years each characters was married.
I also reject the argument that marriage limits storylines. A good writer would not have that problem. The issue is that a lot of the current writers (and more importantly right now editors) are caught up in their childhood power fantasies, and their heroes being married doesn’t fit into them.
As for the overall all ban, I have a suspicion that it was an attempt to cover a bad decision. I think someone in the editorial chain did not want there to be a same-sex marriage. When the story broke big, I think Didio’s statement against marriage was an attempt to hold off the accusations of being homophobic, chiefly due to how ridiculous the claim that Aquaman and Mera are not married is.
In the end, I think the whole war on marriage that DC has declared is just another sign of how badly there needs to be a change in the editorial structure. Time will tell, I suppose.
San Diego Comic Con makes changes to how they handle ticket sales.
Casting news about the Ant Man movie gives us a glimpse into the direct the film will be going.
Rumors about the Superman/Batman movie suggest how Warner wants to introduce the larger DC universe to the movie audience.
DC comics announces the return or a lost character.
Trigger Warning: This episode will discuss a sexual assault at the end.
This episode Jeff goes over recent news in geek culture.
The Casting of Wonder Woman in the Superman/Batman movie.
Subscribers not getting issue #27 of DC Comics.
DC’s success with the TB series Arrow.
The events surrounding the alleged sexual assault at Aki Con in Seattle.
It’s been two years since the launch of the New 52, so it’s time to look at the state of DC comics again. Last year at this time, I took a look at the individual titles that make up the new 52 and how I thought they were doing. I cannot do that this year; two months ago I stopped collecting all DC titles.
If you have been following me for a while, then you know how much of a DC comics fan I am. If you are new, here I suggest clicking on the DC comics tag at the bottom of the column. But if you have been following me, you also know I have been very critical about the direction DC comics has been going. Over several months I started slowly dropping titles, as I had decided I should not be reading books I was not enjoying. Two months ago was where I hit the point of looking at what was going on at the company over all, and decided to vote with my wallet and drop them completely. I found that DC comics overall had just become a joyless place, where every book was being written like it was Batman, and the Batman titles were being written like they were a Lars Von Trier film.
And then this last week happened.
I find it interesting that everything hit critical mass at the 2 year point on the New 52. It all started on September 5th when J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, the writers and artist for Batwoman, were leaving the series with issue #26. Their reason for leaving was given as last minute editorial meddling on an already approved storyline. In this case, it was the marriage between Batwoman and her girlfriend Maggie Sawyer. With same-sex marriage being a major social issue, this got a lot of attention.
To be clear Williams and Blackman gave their reason for leaving as constant editorial interference, not specifically that there were not being allowed to follow through on the marriage.
Keep in mind that this has been a common complaint over the last two years. Talented creators leaving DC, for this reason, has become so common that the site Gutters and Panels created a timeline about it.
On September 7th at Baltimore Comic Con during a DC Nations panel, DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan Didio clarified the company’s position: Didio said that they have no problem with gay marriage; they just don’t want any of their heroes to be married, gay or otherwise. Didio went on to say that to be a superhero is to sacrifice your own happiness. In other words none of the heroes in the DC Universe can have a happy personal life, and that includes being married.
It was also announced that Mark Andreyko would take over as the new writer on Batwoman with issue #24. This means that Williams and Blackman will not be doing the last two issues of their run as they planned.
This led to one unnamed DC executive being asked “what about Aquaman and his wife Mera?” The executive clarified that Aquaman and Mera are King and Queen of Atlantis, but that they are not actually married. This came as a surprise to Aquaman’s current writer Geoff Johns.
While this was bad enough, DC had another problem come up at the same time. An artist talent search was announced. Basically, this contest involves drawing four panels of the character Harley Quinn, based on description’s from the writer of her new series, Jimmy Palmiotti. The problem arose from the description of the fourth panel:
Harley sitting naked in a bathtub with toasters, blow dryers, blenders, appliances all dangling above the bathtub and she has a cord that will release them all. We are watching the moment before the inevitable death. Her expression is one of “oh well, guess that’s it for me” and she has resigned herself to the moment that is going to happen.
People complained about the promotion of a “sexy suicide”. It was later clarified that the sequence in all four panels involved Harley breaking the fourth wall and discussing the absurd situations her writers put her in. Palmiotti eventually took the blame for the uproar, for not providing context to the scene. However even with context there are a lot of people upset simply by the imagery.
Both situations were bad enough, but DC found a way to make them worse. In both cases, DC co-publishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee took to twitter to defend their positions.
If you follow this link, you will find a listing of how Didio defended the prevention of Batwoman’s marriage and spun the departure of Williams and Blackman as a good thing.
And if you follow this link, you can see the very long twitter thread that Lee made explaining context in sequential art.
After reading both threads there was one conclusion I was able to come to: neither Didio nor Lee have much respect for their fans. Both took condescending tones on twitter, and dismissed fan concerns out of hand.
That last really doesn’t surprise me much. Both have displayed this behavior before, especially at conventions. It can also be seen in how they have been handling the overall promotion of the DC comics universe for a while now. Between the overall presentation of the new 52, or particular storylines such as the Superman/Wonder Woman romance, there has been the underlying message. Unfortunately that message is “this is what you are going to like, and we are going to keep hammering you with it until you accept this.”
It should go without saying that the fan reaction has not been positive, but again this is nothing new. There is now a website called Has DC done something stupid today. If you go to the link, you will see it has a counter for how many days it has been since they posted something fitting their criteria of something stupid. The record so far is eight days.
Due to his position at DC Comics, and his public visibility, Dan Didio has been the focal point in all the online discussions related to DC’s direction. For example, fans on twitter have created a hashtag #firedidio as a place to vent their frustration over all of the above issues as well as the handling of the company overall.
But not every bit of coverage has been against DC. Rich Johnson, of Bleeding Cool, wrote an editorial in response to #firedidio defending the DC co-publisher and citing the good things he has done for the industry.
So where does all of this leave us?
As I made clear at the beginning, I personally am not happy with the direction DC comics is going in. From the beginning, I feel that the New 52 was a hastily thrown together project. Rather than take the time to put together a cohesive reboot of the DC Universe, a rush job was done without any clear vision, and the result has been a muddled mess.
On top of that, you have had the editorial turf wars and the non-stop executive meddling in the process. If there has been a consistent narrative that has emerged, it is that DC comics no longer values its creators. Writers and artists, even well respected ones, are now considered disposable as the editors ride roughshod over them.
Does this mean that the ire directed at Dan Didio is deserved? I think the answer is yes and no.
From the outside, the problems appear to be on a corporate culture level at this stage. This means it comes from the top down. In this case, we have four people that need to be held accountable. DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson, DC Comics co-publishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee, and DC Comics Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras.
There could be an argument made that Chief Creative Office Geoff Johns should be included here, as well, but his duties in that role involve DC properties outside of comics so, in this regard, he is a writer who happens to have a great deal of influence.
Lee is in a similar boat, in that although he is co-publisher he appears to spend a lot of his time on outside branding and lives on the west coast, so is not often in DC Comics New York office.
Bob Harras, on the other hand, is a flash point for a lot of fan ire. As Editor-in-Chief, he has certainly been involved in much of the interference that creators have complained about. Also, when he held the same position at Marvel, the company was on the edge of bankruptcy. He also gave the green light to the Spider-Man Clone Saga, considered one of the worst storylines in comic history. Many fans on the #firedidio hashtag want him gone just as badly.
And, of course, we have Dan Didio himself. Unlike his co-publisher, Lee, Didio is very much involved in the day to day running of DC Comics, and is basically the person setting the pace. He is also a very public figure at conventions and on social media. It should come as no surprise that he would be the focus of fan ire and, given his position and statements he has made, there is a lot to reinforce that.
On the other hand, from a strictly business perspective. he has gotten the job done. DC Comics owner, Warner Bros, is concerned with two things – profits, and being able to leverage the DC brands into other media, for additional profit. From this perspective, Didio has done a fair enough job that there is nothing directly warranting his removal. The PR faux pas are not enough to get their attention.
Of all the people in charge, Diane Nelson is arguably in the toughest position. As president of DC Entertainment, the buck stops with her. Also, if Didio, or any of the others were to be fired, she would be the one doing the firing. But, as I have written before, she is not a comic publisher; she was originally a movie brand manager. She looks to Didio and Lee to handle the publishing side of the business, and has always presented a united front with them. Unless something drastic happens, she is not going to do anything to them.
So what can we, the fans, do? Two things:
A lot of people have said that the #firedido hashtag is useless, as it will not actually get him fired. They are of course correct about it not getting him fired, but not that it is useless. It gives the fans a place to vent their frustrations, and is a public sign that a lot of people are not happy with the direction DC Comics is going. It also lets fans that are feeling that frustration know that they are not alone. Of course the same is true for the fans who are happy with DC Comics, and that want to defend them.
The other thing is what I and others like me have done: vote with your wallet. A twitter hashtag may not make WB pay attention, but dropping sales certainly will. If you are not happy with a title, but are still buying the book, then you are telling them to keep doing what they are doing since you are willing to pay for it. Remember that the bottom line is the almighty dollar.
And if both are happening at once, then we may see something happen. If sales start dropping and fans are complaining loudly about something, and citing it as the reason they have stopped buying, then you will see changes happen.
Do I expect that anytime soon? No, but if DC Comics does not do something to halt the drain of the talented creators it will eventually.
Until then, I will wait for the day when I can return to reading the stories about my childhood heroes.