It’s that time of year again. San Diego Comic Con was last week, and as it is the premier geek culture event of the year and we are a site that covers geek culture, I am obligated to say something about this year’s event, even though I am not able to attend.
Last year I focused on the problems of just getting to the convention, with record sell-out times. Everything I wrote about that is still relevant this year. The other area I focused on was San Diego Comic Con drifting from its original focus and becoming more of a media show, and in that arena there is more debate this year.
The crux of that complaint is that major portions of the show floor have been bought up by media companies who are pushing their various movies, TV shows, and other non-comic-book-related media. This has pushed out more comic-focused vendors and driven up the price of booth space. To be fair, most of these media companies are focusing on product relevant to geek culture, but not exclusively. An example was a couple of years ago when there was a booth for the NBC show The Playboy Club which, let’s face it, was not geek culture. On the other hand, it was a small booth and the show did bomb.
There is also the complaint that panel time is taken up with shows that have dubious geek credentials, such as How I Met Your Mother and Psych.
But how fair are these complaints?
During the convention prominent comic writer Gail Simone went on twitter to address these concerns and ask some pointed questions.
The first point was to ask if fans were asking for more comic-focused content. If so, she pointed out that every major comic publisher and most minor ones had booths at the convention. She could not think of one that was not there. Also the majority of convention panels were comic industry focused. She said that if you took out all the other media at the convention, you would still have the largest comic convention. So is there really too much other media at San Diego Comic Con, or does it just seem that way because of what other media covers?
She does concede that small vendors and people in artist alley do get marginalized and could use more love. However, this could be said of any comic convention; it is just magnified at San Diego Comic Con.
The feedback from some of the web comic creators at the show illustrates that point. Randy Milholland, creator of Something Positive, commented throughout the show that he was not making enough money to justify the expense of traveling to the convention. He said he lost a few thousand dollars, and of course the time lost that he could have been working, so he says this will be his last year going. I have heard similar tales from Studio Fogilo, but they still attend; although I suspect more for contacts and publicity.
But I think the best summation of what is going on with San Diego Comic Con came from web reviewer Leo Thompson, who hosts the show That Sci Fi Guy. Thompson was explaining the difference between San Diego Comic Con and Dragon*Con. His conclusion is that San Diego Comic Con is a trade show, where Dragon*Con is a fan-focused convention. To build on his point, I would say that this would be like the difference between E3 and PAX in the gaming community . A lot of fans would go to E3 when it was open to the public, but it is acknowledged that it is an industry show; where PAX is very clearly focused on the actual fans.
If we assume that Thompson is right, the question becomes: is this a bad thing? My gut check is that if this were how San Diego Comic Con was openly presented, then no it is not; but right now that is not the case.
I think this bears more analysis, and I will look at it again after Dragon*con happens later this year.
In the meantime, please let me know what you think.
Recently I have been writing about the issues DC Comics has been having with keeping its top talent. Previously it was the high profile departures of George Perez and Rob Liefeld. Both men left due to conflicts with the editorial staff. Then you had the resignation of Karen Berger as Executive Editor of the Vertigo imprint. In her case it may just be that she has done the job for twenty years and it is time for her to move on.
Now you can add the dismissal of Gail Simone to the list. This one more than any of the others is really setting of alarm bells amongst the fan base.
Unlike any of the others writers I mentioned, Simone was dismissed. Specifically she received an email from editor Brian Cunningham telling her that issue 16 would be her last issue of Batgirl. Since that was the only title she was currently working on this was basically her dismissal. Now of course she was rehired not two weeks later, but we will look at that and what it means in a bit.
There can be a lot of good reasons to dismiss a creator from a comic book, but none of the obvious ones are visible in this case. Batgirl is a strong seller compared to many DC books right now. In addition Simone has received critical praise for her run on the title. Another point in her favor is that she is a fan favorite author meaning a lot of people will pick up a book she is writing simply because she is the one writing it. Simone is also an advocate for DC and the new 52, promoting it heavily over social media and at conventions. Finally there is a PR factor; Simone is one of only three female creators currently working on DC titles. Since this is an area that DC has already received a great deal of criticism for, it is a risky move to remove the most high profile female creative talent they have.
So with so many positives in her favor what could have motivated DC to remove her? Right now we have no solid answer as DC has made no comment at all about either the dismissal, or the reinstatement. So we can only speculate as Simone herself has opted to take the high road. On the dismissal she simply stated that she is disappointed to no longer be on the book, but made no comment about any other circumstance. On the reinstatement she just stated how happy she was to continue working on the title.
However if you look at this as part of a trend a picture does begin to emerge. Starting with the departures of Perez and Liefeld that I have commented on before, which both men cited conflicts with DC editors. Next you have stories of regular last minute changes to stories that have been turned in, with plot elements being added against the writers will. What we are hearing more and more of is editors dictating the stories that need to be written, making certain characters off limits, and making others mandatory. We also hear of editors getting into turf wars with each other. Finally we hear of writers being kept in the dark about plans for the characters they are writing, such as Simone not being told that Batgirl would be joining the Birds of Prey in their title.
I find Berger’s departure at this time interesting as well. She has been in charge of Vertigo for 20 years, and guided it during a period of amazing creativity. Books that thrived under her tenure and guidance include Sandman, Fables, Preacher, Y the Last Man, The Invisibles, Swamp Thing, Hellblazer and Transmetropolitan. I’m sure there is a good chance that she just decided that 20 years was enough and it was time to step down. On the other hand, after so many years maybe she recognized something going on at the company that made stepping down now a good idea. Trust me other companies would fall over themselves to hire her, and she would be in an excellent position to grab any talent leaving DC.
And talent leaving the ship is another sign of something wrong. In March Marvel has books coming out featuring creative talent that has been working strictly for DC up to now. That could be a group of creators simply expanding out, or it could be them getting set up elsewhere before it is too late.
But let’s get back to Gail Simone. There are certainly rumors going around about what happened, some based on the conjecture above. Basically the best guess right now was that Simone was not making the DC powers that be happy. She had her own ideas how she wanted the stories to go, and she wanted to push the envelope. She had been clear about wanting to introduce a transgender character to the Batgirl title. Also despite her hard work in promoting DC and the changes she is still one of the strongest advocates for better treatment of women in the industry, both as characters, and the flesh and blood ones working on the books. The best conjecture we can make is that one or more people higher up in the DC power structure decided they wanted her gone, and so that is what happened.
Was this a bad idea? Yes, it was an amazingly bad idea. This more than anything else shows that all is not well in the halls of DC comics. And even if they try to keep this lower profile with the fans, the talent is going to know what is going on. The worst case scenario for DC is that the really good creators jump ship, which will affect the quality of the books and ultimately sales. Add to that pressure from vocal fans about what DC is doing and it does not look good for their long term prospects.
I think that last part, the pressure from the fans, is what led to the decision to bring Gail back. Convention season is just around the corner. Fans have already been in an uproar about a lot of DC decisions. The public reaction to firing Gail Simone made all of that pale by comparison. I promise you that had she not been rehired that every panel at every convention would have asked what the hell is going on.
As a fan I sincerely hope I am wrong in these speculations. I grew up with DC comics and I want them to thrive. But right now things I am seeing have me concerned. But I also have hope. The fact that fan outcry got Gail Simone rehired means we do have a voice. If we can use that to let DC know how we really feel about things maybe it will all work out.
I have a feeling the next couple of months will be telling.
The New 52 reached the one year mark this week. At this point I think it’s time for some reflection on how the relaunch has gone. I have written several times on the overall state of the DCU, as recently as last week, so instead I want to focus on the specific books. So here is my take on the titles that comprise the New 52.
A bit of honesty first. I did not collect or read every title. It just wasn’t realistic to do so. I made my decisions as a consumer, although I did manage to read a couple of titles I didn’t collect to try them out. I’ll point out what I did and didn’t read.
With that, here we go.
The first six down.
These were the first six titles canceled by DC after the relaunch
Hawk and Dove
Men of War
I was likely part of the crowd on this one. I did not collect a single one of them, mostly because I was not that into the characters. The exception was Hawk and Dove where it was the involvement of Rob Liefeld that turned me away. Needless to say I must not have been alone in those feelings as they were all gone by issue 6.
The Books I didn’t bother with:
As with the previous six these are titles I did not collect.
The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men
The Savage Hawkman,
Red Hood and the Outlaws
Legion of Super-Heroes
For a lot of these titles, like Voodoo and Grifter, I didn’t have an interest. For Teen Titians and Superboy I was not happy with the treatment of characters I had grown attached to in the previous incarnation. For Red Hood and the Outlaws and Catwoman I actually read the first issues and disliked them enough to not want to bother collecting them.
So those are books I didn’t follow. Now on to the ones I have.
The books I decided to drop.
These are the books that I was collecting but decided weren’t ones I wanted to continue following.
Wonder Woman: I wrote a whole article on my thoughts on this one. I just did not like Brian Azzarello’s take on the character. I found her too cold and the changes in her origin did not sit right. I know a lot of people consider this one of the better books of the relaunch but I do not agree.
Green Arrow: I was not originally going to collect this title, but found myself really enjoying the first issue and decided to collect it instead of Catwoman. I got a kick out of the first six issues and thought this was going to be a high point of relaunch. However with issue seven writer J.T, Krul was replace with Ann Nocenti, and the quality went south right away. I realized that I was finding myself confused half the time about what the hell was going on. I dropped the book after issue ten.
The Books I have been following that are not living up to the expectations:
This is a tricky one. I am still enjoying these titles enough to keep collecting them. However I just feel they are not quite up to snuff so they are usually that last ones I read in the weeks they come out. I’d say a couple of them are in risk of being dropped if the quality dips much more.
Justice League: Yep, the cornerstone title of the whole New 52 relaunch and I have problems with it. I think a lot of my problems here are an issue with the tone of the series. I find it more cynical than I would expect with the League. Most of the characters are portrayed as arrogant, even if that is not their portrayal in their own books. Even Superman comes off this way. I am especially surprised at the writing of Green Lantern as he is not acting like he does in his own book despite the fact that Geoff Johns writes both. This even happens in the Shazam back up feature where Billy Batson has gone from a good hearted kid to a jaded brat.
Superman: This is a book I really wanted to love, but instead I just like it in a lukewarm way. I think its problems can be explained by the fact that the writers have really had their hands tied. I already wrote a lot about this back in June. Basically issue #1 felt like being dropped in the middle of a story and that feeling has persisted. The individual issues can be good, but as part of a whole tapestry not so much. And I find this insane considering it has been written by both George Perez and Keith Giffen. I am also just infuriated with the lengths being taken to keep Clark and Lois apart. Clearly it is not as bad as the complete ass pull Marvel performed to split up Peter Parker and Mary Jane, but it is beginning to feel a close second. Superman Group Editor Matt Idelson has gone as far as to say Lois and Clark will not get together at all on his watch.So basically it is a book that can be good, but not consistently.
The Flash: I’ll be honest this book confuses me. On one hand Francis Manapul is doing a great job exploring the Flash’s powers and his conflicts on being the Flash. On the other hand Barry Allen is coming off as a rookie superhero. If this book was set five years ago like Action comics and it was the beginning of his career it would make sense, but that is not the case. There is also the issue of Barry no longer being with Iris, who in old continuity was his wife. Here, unlike in Superman, it feels more organic, especially as you get the feel that despite the obstacles they will eventually get together.
Green Lantern: New Guardians: The weak link in the Green Lantern line. Again it has its moments, but I think it suffers from too big a cast and not a lot in the way of focus. It started with a great concept, Kyle Rayner suddenly having a ring of every color, and just as quickly dropped that idea to make it a team book, about a team that has members who have no real reason to work together. Not an impossible task to make work but the execution has been very uneven. Later issue have improved on this, but it still has a way to go.
Justice League International: I have enjoyed this book even though I feel there have been a lot of flaws. Sadly the flaws have been enough that this book was never widely embraced and is being canceled. The book’s strength has been the characters. Booster Gold managed to retain the character growth from pre-flashpoint, even if he lost the story. The August General in Iron actually had a character arc and growth which I would not have thought possible from his earlier appearances. Unfortunately this great character work was bogged down in some very cliché story telling. The JLI was sponsored by the U.N. but several members objected, their first threat was an alien intent on destroying the world, and only they, and no other superheroes were there to fight him. They were unpopular with the public and a terrorist group used that to try to destroy them.
Resurrection Man: Here is another book I was really excited about. I loved the original series in the 90s and was always hoping to see this character return. And even better the original creators Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning were writing it. But after the first few issues it was clear this was not the same series as before. First off it seemed to be a true reboot with the character starting off in the exact same situation he started off the old series. Again it was not a bad book; it just wasn’t exciting me that much. I think part of it is that in the old series Resurrection Man was very much involved in the DC Universe. In the new series this could have been an independent comic with no changed needed at all. This is another book that is being canceled.
Birds of Prey: I will admit I may be a bit harsh on this book. The original series was written by Gail Simone, one of my favorite comic book writers. So this book not being written by her could only suffer. Also the heart of the old series was Barbara Gordon as Oracle. Barbara is still in the series as Batgirl, but she is not team leader, Black Canary is. And you also have several team members that do not fit. In particular you have Poison Ivy on the team. Yes she is often a sympathetic villain, but she is still a villain. And big surprise, the current story line has her betray the team and force them to help her in her extreme agenda. You could have taken bets on when this was going to happened.
The books that have met my expectations.
This next set is the books that are performing exactly as I had expected. I enjoy each one and none are in any danger of being dropped.
Detective Comics and Batman: the Dark Knight: I’ll just do these two together. They are both solid Batman books. I know that grouping them like this makes them seem interchangeable, but in this case it is more that continuity in the entire Batman book line is strong right now so they do not feel like they are happening in two different worlds.
Batwoman: I have a weird relationship with this book. I really like it, and think that J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman are doing a suburb job writing it. But it is not as good as when Greg Rucka was writing the original series. I guess it is a repeat of my complaint about Birds of Prey, but without the other weaknesses I see in that book. I especially enjoy how they are doing a Tarantino and jumping around in different time frames to tell the story.
Batman Incorporated: This was a late starter being one of the replacement books after 6 months. This is a solid continuation of what Morrison was doing with this title prior to the New 52 relaunch.
Nightwing: Of all the Non-batman staring books in the Batman line this is the most tied in to the overall continuity. It makes good use of Dick Grayson’s history as well. My only complaint is the change of the costume making the formerly blue parts red. However I do get that this is done to create a visual connection to the other Robins. Every one of them has red as the dominate color of their costume.
Action Comics: Another of the cornerstone books for the New 52. It works really well as a “Superman year one” style book. Grant Morrison does a great job telling the story of a young superman still learning about his powers and figuring out what kind of hero he wants to be. While I do enjoy the book I do have a couple of complaints. The first has nothing to do with the book itself. It is just that Action Comics was one of the longest running titles, reaching issue #904 prior to the relaunch. It was set to be the first comic to reach issue #1000. The mandate that all New 52 titles start with issue #1 has disrupted that. My hope is that at some point DC decides to honor this milestone and restore the original numbering. The other complaint is that I can’t help but feel like this book is more of a well written Elseworld title, then a cornerstone of New 52 DC Universe.
Green Lantern: The Flagship of the Green Lantern books. Like the Batman books this entire line largely ignored the reboot of the DC Universe and is continuing with the story that Geoff Johns has been telling for the last 7 years. Combine this with the fact that it is largely set off Earth and it might as well be in the old DCU. On the other hand that history allows for the continued character arcs Johns has been playing with to continue and thrive.
Red Lanterns: The odd duck of the Green Lantern books. When it started I was not sure how you could sustain this book due to the almost feral nature of most Red Lanterns. To be honest around the same time that I dropped Wonder Woman I was considering dropping this title as well. But the book turned itself around by making some of the Red Lanterns more intelligent and introducing a human Red Lantern. The story telling became more focused and I have found myself enjoying it.
Dial H: Another of the 6 month in replacement books. It is a revamp of the old Dial H for Hero book. Had this book been released prior to the New 52 I am convinced it would have been a Vertigo title. Fantasy author and first time comic writer China Mieville has taken a basically juvenile power fantasy concept and made it grand ancient alien conspiracy.
Earth 2: Really the jury is still out on this one. Of the 6 month in replacement books this one has had the slowest buildup. I am certainly enjoying it right now, but I do not feel that it has settled in to its story arc yet.
The books that have exceeded expectations:
These are the top drawer books for the New 52, the ones that I read first when I get them. Basically these are the ones that I feel have made the New 52 a success even if a flawed one.
Aquaman: File this one under “who knew”. For years writers have been trying to figure out what to do with Aquaman. This is compounded by the meme that Aquaman is a lame character based solely on how he was portrayed on the Super Friends. Geoff Johns took that meme and turned it on its head. It is a combination of deconstructing the meme, thinking logically about the real extent of Aquaman’s powers and how they work, and exploring his back story. I’m not kidding when I say that on the weeks this title comes out it is the first one I read.
Batman: Remember how I said that the Batman books had the best internal continuity of all the DC titles, well this book is the anchor point. In prepping for this article I asked my friend Aron who runs The Dreaming Comics and Games what is his bestselling title for the New 52. His answer was this one. I think a lot of credit goes to Scott Snyder’s writing. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite comic writers. One point is that this book does the best job of exploring Bruce Wayne as Bruce Wayne. So many books treat Bruce as simply Batman’s disguise, but Snyder goes for something deeper.
Batman and Robin: This is a close second to being the best Batman book. Here you have Peter Tomasi really exploring the Father/Son dynamic between Bruce and Damian Wayne. Tomasi is another writer, like Scott Snyder where they are getting to the point where I will check a book out simply because they are writing it.
Batgirl: I’ve already mentioned that Gail Simone is one of my favorite comic book writers and if anyone was going to handle Barbara Gordon becoming Batgirl again correctly it is her. Despite all my misgiving about this one aspect of the New 52 that I have written about before, I love this book. That’s right, even though I find how DC has handled the issue of what happened to Stephanie Brown rage inducing, it has not dampened how much I enjoy this title. Gail writes Barbara as a slightly broken character that never the less has the strength to get beyond that and be a hero. Too make a character simultaneously broken and strong is no small feat and here it is done masterfully.
Batwing: This book just caught me off guard. Judd Winick is one of the most inconsistent writers in comics today. He wrote a Catwoman book so bad I refused to pick it up, but is writing a new Bat character so well that he is becoming a favorite of mine. I think Winick, who is often a writer who falls back on social agenda writing has done good job of balancing the issues a character for the Democratic Republic of Congo is going to face, with telling a good superhero story.
Green Lantern Corps: Oh look, another book written by Peter Tomasi. This is the strongest of the Green Lantern books. It is the one doing the most to move forward the threat of the Guardians of the Universe plot. As its name implies, it makes use of the entire corps and feels like the stakes are truly universal.
Justice League Dark: Aron at the Dreaming says that for his store this title slightly outsells the main Justice League book. It was a decent book under Peter Milligan and would have probably ended up in my meets expectations category, but then Jeff Lemire took over and this title just took off. Lemire obviously loves the fringes of the DC Universe. This book also builds on a lot of ideas from the vertigo books that many of its characters come from.
Swamp Thing: At this point it should be clear that certain writers are really bringing their A game for the New 52. Here Scott Snyder gets to show his chops as a horror writer. He also has built on the Swamp Thing mythology in a way that has found a way to make sense with what the DC Dark titles are doing without ignoring the great stories that made Swamp Thing a cornerstone character for so many years.
Animal Man: The companion book to Swamp Thing in that they are telling the same story from two different angles. Jeff Lemire has taken this superhero character and turned the book into one of the best horror title in years.
Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.: This book is a kick in the pants. While Jeff Lemire has made Superhero Animal Man’s book into a horror title, he has took horror character Frankenstein and turned the book into the spiritual successor to Grant Morrison’s Invisibles. This got taken to 11 when Matt Kindt took over the book after issue #8. There is just a level of crazy in this book that is written so consistently that once you read a couple of issue you can buy completely into it. Half the fun of this title is just following along with the various concepts that Kindt introduces.
Demon Knights: This was easily one of the best books of the New 52 right from the start. Set in the medieval past and playing with several characters in the DC Universe that are immortal, Paul Cornell has built a grand fantasy epic. The best part for me is having immortal villain mastermind Vandal Savage portrayed in this title as a boisterous, life-loving barbarian warrior who is one of the heroes.
Worlds’ Finest: Where Earth 2 is a book I am still a bit on the fence about, its companion book has no such issues. This book has a very solid hook that Power Girl and Huntress are the Supergirl and Robin of Earth 2, trapped on Earth Prime and wanting to go home. Veteran writer Paul Levitz, who originally created the Huntress, puts the focus of the series on the relationship between the two heroes and their quest to go home. The chemistry here is perfect.
So there you have it, my take on the state of the current New 52 titles. Overall I like what I see right now, but it is definitely a mixed bag. My biggest concern is that the DC Universe no longer feels cohesive, and I think that is due to there not being a clear overall plan.
I am sure I will revisit the line again as there is a lot going on over at DC right now.
Ok, so for the last 3 posts I have gone on about why I think the relaunch is happening. Today I want to wrap this up by going the other direction and discuss what I think about what will be happening.
My biggest issue right now is the derailing of characters that have seen a lot of growth over that last few years. The relaunch appears to be sweeping a lot of it aside.
First, the one everyone is talking about: Batgirl. Since the 60’s Barbara Gordon was Batgirl. She was the plucky girl who wanted to be a crime fighter like Batman and Robin. She was often the third wheel of the Batman characters.
Then the Joker shot her.
And he didn’t even shoot her as Batgirl. He went after Barbara Gordon as part of a plan to destroy her father. The result was she was left paralyzed from the waist down.
This resulted in her going from a third wheel bat character to a major force in the DC universe.
Rather than wallow in self-pity, Barbara used her intellect, drive and cunning to re-forge herself as Oracle, information broker for the superhero community. She trained to be a bad-ass fighter even from a wheel chair and formed a team of heroes to work directly for her called the Birds of Prey. In the process she became a role model for people dealing with disability that the public embraced.
And now that’s over.
Come September Barbara will somehow be healed and become Batgirl again. DC has said that they are not rewriting her history. The old stories I have mentioned are still be her back story. But instead of being a strong woman rising above the adversity of being confined to a wheel chair coordinating heroic efforts across the globe, she will be leaping the rooftops of Gotham City fighting one crime at a time.
I note that no one has said anything about Stephanie Brown, the daughter of minor Batman villain the Clue Master that Barbara took under her wing and trained to be the new Batgirl.I guess she will either be ignored, killed, or go back to her previous identity of the Spoiler.
Another point is that several other characters are getting completely rewritten, so that unlike Barbara, the previous backstory is just gone.
So if you had been following any of the Teen Titans almost all of them are getting completely new backstories. Wonder Girl, the mortal daughter of Zeus, taken under Wonder Woman’s wing and trained to be a hero. She has gone from Heroic leader of the Teen Titan’s to a thief being recruited by the team to help on a mission so they can keep an eye on her.
Why this complete change? We have no idea.
Finally we have Zatanna, one of the premier magic heroes. She has been headlining her own book, which has been very well written and is in the middle of a story that from where I sit doesn’t seem like it will be wrapped up in a satisfying manner in a couple of months. Well that book is over in August and Zatanna will now be part of Justice League Dark, the new magic based team. Maybe her storyline will continue there, but I doubt it and she has to share the stage with the other magic heroes.
I notice I have focused on female characters. They are not the only ones this is happening to. Superboy, Kid Flash and Red Robin are getting complete overhauls as well. And theirs all all just as annoying as Wonder girls.
However I could be wrong. This does not have to be gloom and doom. Batgirl is being written by Gail Simone, one of DC’s best writers. If anyone can take this and turn it into a compelling story it is Gail. Too bad they had to cancel her excellent Secret Six to do it.