We are 10 months into the relaunch of the DC universe with the New 52. Originally I had not planned on touching on the event again until we reached the 12 month mark. But as a good friend of mine is fond of saying “When man makes plans, the gods laugh”.
Between some stories that broke in the last week I felt it was time a good time to go over how I feel about the direction DC is going with its titles.
The event that set this off was an interview with George Perez on why he stepped down as the writer on Superman. It came down to a frustration due to lack of consistency on what he was being told. Implied in the interview was a high degree of executive meddling over the head of DC publisher Dan DiDio. According to George he was given contradictory instructions on an almost constant basis.
He also did not like that his book was set 5 years after the story in Action Comics, being written by Grant Morrison. Grant was not telling anyone what he was planning meaning George had to limit what he wrote as he was not to contradict anything Grant wrote.
From this we can extract the following points.
DC did not go into the relaunch with a coherent plan.
The creative staff is not getting a consistent message.
Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee are not in complete charge of guiding the stories due to executive meddling.
DC is giving way too much leeway to Grant Morrison and I suspect Geoff Johns.
From the start there has been a feel that the whole relaunch was an executive plan to reinvigorate the line and make the properties friendlier to other media. The big concern was that it was a rushed half-baked plan and now that seems to be confirmed at least in part by Perez.
Looking at the books there are some points we can see.
Some books have done well. These include Swamp Thing, Demon Knights, Aquaman, Justice League Dark, and Dial H. The thing about these books is that because of how they are written they would have succeeded just as well without the reboot of the DCU. Other books that have done well are the Batman and Green Lantern books, which have largely ignored the reboot.
But then you have the books that have not done so well. Superman has had problems since September. Action is ok, but both Action and Superman feel disconnected from each other. And as you can tell from Perez’s comments Superman has been a disjointed mess. Another book that is troubling is Green Arrow. It started out ok, but like Superman there was a creative team change and now it is borderline confusing.
Another issue is that there is inconstancy in the continuity. In Justice League International you have Batman as a member of the team and very supportive of team leader Booster Gold. In the main Justice League book Batman is loudly calling for the UN to disband the JLI. Add to this the fact that the members of the Justice League are acting like stuck up pricks in contrast to how most of them act in their own books.
There is another thing that makes me worried about the level of executive meddling at DC, and this one I witnessed with my own eyes.
At Emerald City Comic Con I attended two different DCU panels moderated by Batman group editor Michael Marts. In both panels questions were raised about the status of three characters, former Flash Wally West, original Wonder Girl Donna Troy, and most importantly previous Batgirl Stephanie Brown. In both cases there was someone in the audience making a slashing motion across his throat signaling Marts not to answer. In one of the panels where the audience would not let the question go Marts stated that the person making the gesture was a PR guy telling him not to answer.
To recap there was a PR guy in the audience making sure the Batman group editor did not give answers to certain questions.
Now maybe this is not that weird, but for me I have never witnessed anything like that at a convention before.
So what do I hope to see? Personally I am hoping that in another year or so that DC will announce that the new 52 is over and they are fixing the timeline to return to the more familiar continuity with maybe a few hold over changes.
This week DC entertainment announced that they have hired Will Beall to write a script for a Justice League movie. There are also rumblings of trying to get a new Wonder Woman movie going again, as well as Lobo and Suicide Squad movies. This really isn’t surprising. I imagine that with the Avengers currently sitting as the third highest grossing movie of all time that there is a lot of pressure to get the DC properties steaming along.
I can only imagine what DC entertainment president Diane Nelson has to deal with right now. The success of not just the Avengers, but the entire Marvel Cinema Universe highlights how much the DC properties not about Batman have struggled. The DC characters are very powerful and prominent intellectual properties, yet they have not be able to gain any traction.
I think the problem isn’t a hard one to figure out. It’s DC entertainment’s parent company, Warner Brothers.
Last August I looked at the Green Lantern movie in comparison to Captain America. Captain America was a movie that reveled in its comic book roots and yet remembered that it had to be an enthralling action movie for the general audience. Rather than dumb down the character for mass consumption Marvel made sure to build up Steve Rogers so that the movie going public would love him as much as the longtime fans.
Green Lantern by comparison was a stock summer block buster that had a generic action movie plot and Ryan Reynolds playing a character much like he has in most movies he has been in. In other words Warner Brothers was playing it safe. I have a feeling that the production of the movie was very influenced by focus groups.
The end result was a hit of Marvel and an underperformer for DC.
The point I am getting at is that Warner Brothers isn’t playing to the strengths of the DC properties. Marvel has made six movies that know full well they are action hero fantasies and instead of trying to bring their heroes into the real world they are trying to create a believable version of their superhero universe. Disney bought Marvel part way through this and made the wise decision to leave them alone as the plan is working.
Warner Brothers on the other hand does not seem to trust that the audience will embrace a theatric version of the DC universe. The words that keep getting thrown around are “Dark”, “Gritty”, and “Mature”. That works great for Batman as Christopher Nolan has shown, but not so much for Superman, or Wonder Woman.
If you don’t believe me on that point I suggest track down a copy of the recent Wonder Woman pilot. Instead of the strong but compassionate hero she was created to be, Wonder Woman was portrayed as a grim badass who would torture a bed ridden mook for information and straight up kill a security guard who got in her way. Basically she was unsympathetic and the show was terrible.
Not to say that this approach won’t work for all heroes, for example Green Arrow. There is a new Green Arrow series coming this fall that looks pretty good. It is going the darker route, but Green Arrow being a non-powered hero like Batman can make that work. But even this one seems to be victim to focus group shenanigans. The show and the hero in it are just being called Arrow. Apparently due to the failure of Green Lantern the word green is now taboo in a superhero name.
I have an idea that I would like to suggest to Warner Brothers. Bring on Bruce Timm for your film efforts. Timm was the driving force behind the DC animated universe that gave us Batman the animated series, Superman the animated series and Justice League unlimited. These were great and comic and non-comic fans alike loved them. Let Bruce write up some script treatments and whatever you do WB, do not let a focus group anywhere near them.
Today DC comics will release Flashpoint #5 which is basically while taking place in a altered timeline marks the end of the mainstream DCU that has been in existence since the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985.
Today also sees the release of Justice League #1 which users in what many are calling the DCnU.
I won’t be picking up my new books until later this week so I will not really have a solid opinion on anything until then. If I am truly honest I will give the new books until November to really pass judgment.
Here is what I do know. DC reports that they have orders for over 200,000 copies of Action Comics #1. That is easily doubling what they were previously.
My friend Aron, who runs The Dreaming Comic and Games here in Seattle, tells me his in-store numbers are up. People are really interested in what is happening and this is bringing people back who gave up or coming in for the first time. This was exactly what DC has said they were shooting for. For now Aron agrees.
His exact quote “This makes him both excited and nervous.”
He is excited because he is getting the increased sales and traffic in the store. He is nervous because until we see how the books are received there is no way to know if these numbers can be sustained.
Well we will know soon enough. Once I actually get the books and have a chance to read them I will give you my thoughts.
And of course I wait with anticipation on how Marvel will try to make a veiled copy of all of this.