Change comes to one of Comics’ Biggest Publishers! Does it spell DC New or DC Eww???
Copyright Heroic Times Jun 2011
All Rights Reserved
Okay most of you comic fans reading this know the gist of the big news that has recently been released. Specifically the recent announcement by Top 2 Comic Book Publisher DC Comics, a subsidy of Time Warner, to in essence revamp their entire publishing line, and their publishing model in September of this year.
Comics being very much serialized entertainment, like soap operas or television shows they build up a history. Overtime, some view that history as a resource and some as baggage. In the face of dwindling sales DC is taking the latter approach and cleaning house, restarting their whole line of books, from number one.
Come September, 52 titles will be kicked out by DC, starting at # 1, with the characters and stories supposedly streamlined to allow easy adoption, by new readers. On top of this they will offer the books via digital distribution, as well as through the traditional dwindling markets of the comic book store.
It is an unprecedented and bold move, in an age where all print media, from newspapers to books, is losing readers. And specifically a necessary move for DC, that has seen its place in the market continue to slip, as its major competitor MARVEL COMICS GROUP owned by Disney, continues to trounce them in sales/market share.
So all in all, I think this bold move by DC, while unexpected, is overall a good one, as obviously they needed to do something.
It’s a hail-Mary pass, and I see it working for them in the short term, generating interest in their books through the line wide shake-up, and the day and date (digital publication that coincides with print publication) digital distribution option, opening them up to a world of new potential readers/consumers. If they capture just a fraction of the digital market, they could potentially move very quickly from servicing tens of thousands of people to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people per issue.
There are some potential roadblocks, most remarked on being the pricing of the digital comic, as most agree the 99 cent or $1.99 cent model is the better price-point for easy mass adoption. However I have no doubt the pricing structure will work itself out in time.
So in short term I see this being a success for the company, however potentially not as great a success as it could be, and potentially not a lasting success as their competitors invariably jump into Digital distribution to compete.
No, I see DC’s biggest drawback to this line-wide overhaul, is the appearance (now this is only going by the miniscule data so far released on the books to come out in September, this is speculation not fact) that the streamlined books suffer the same problem as the pre-streamlined books, which is basically… they are not that good or interesting.
That’s harsh to say, but that is the current problem with DC comics that they seem to, with well meaning overtures to price and distribution and character’s costumes, overlook.
The main problem DC overlooks, to why their sales are dwindling… is the fact that their books themselves, particularly when compared to their main competition Marvel Comics, are not that interesting, they are in fact… lacking.
And it pains me to say this as someone who is not a fan of much of what Marvel does, and infact actively does not purchase Marvel Comics’ individual issues. Generally because of ads breaking up the story, and lack of back-matter or letters pages, failing these things I’ll just wait for the trade, and monthly buy Indie books, such as CHEW or WALKING DEAD that do offer these extras, that for me make the individual issues… worth their price.
If there is a story from Marvel that is getting particular buzz I’ll wait for the trade and pick it up at my local library or on Ebay or not.
On the other hand, DC comics stories are not particularly interesting, I listen to a number of podcasts and read reviews and articles to stay abreast of what’s drawing the buzz in this niche market of comics, and DC seldom… draws the buzz, in any meaningful way. The ones that do I’ll pick up via Ebay or Library, and am generally underwhelmed.
Particularly glaring is the fact that DC’s artwork is bland to subpar. For a medium defined by its art.. that’s not good. In general (in general, not across the board) the writers and artist of DC are not setting the world on fire.
There are exceptions such as Irving Frazier, Basri, Jock, J.H. Williams III (to name ones that spring to mind) in the art camp, and Scott Snyder, Morrison (when he’s the good Morrison) and Rucka (who DC has lost) in the writing camp; but in general the rule applies.
And having looked at some of the talent launching their 52 new books (again not privy to all of them, just going by the early news released as of this date), I see the rule of bland storytellers and bland art and bland takes on characters… continuing.
Where is the talented, amazing writers that are blowing the roof off the place, and everyone is talking about for their Indie work? Where are the Remenders and Aarons and Hickmans and Van Lente’s and Spurrier’s?
With very few exceptions all the exciting writers in comics are working for Marvel. Add to that the fact that Marvel blows DC away in terms of art, and it is a powerful combination.
DC’s art style is largely still stuck in the 90s Image era, and with DC co-headed by Jim Lee, perhaps that’s no wonder, but it is a mistake.
This is the age of the Simone Bianchis and Copiels and Djurdevics and Eptings and Braithwaites and Molinas, guys who offer a level of detail and beauty and storytelling that makes you want to turn pages. And all those guys are Marvel artists.
Now it’s true none of those names, either writer or artist, is known to this new potential readership, that digital distribution offers the opportunity to tap, however my point is… quality will out.
Which means people may be introduced to comics through DCs digital books, but just as in the paper books… they will quickly transition to more sophisticated art and story; which means Independents and Marvel. And they will gravitate to the artists and writers that are steering, capably, the ship.
Now, best of luck to DC’s policy of giving artists they are trying to keep (they tend to lose creators to Marvel), writing assignments of popular characters… to entice them not to jump ship. However, It is a suspect policy.
Not every artist is a Frank Miller (who before being Hollywood Frank Miller, started out as an artist, than became an iconic writer, DARK KNIGHT, 300 etc) and even Frank Miller took a while to be THE Frank Miller.
I am saying it is idiotic to give your flagship titles/characters to unproven writers. No disrespect, beyond the truth, intended to David Finch and Tony Daniels (two popular DC artists and now Writer/Atists), but I’ve never been a huge fan of their art, and by all reports their writing isn’t setting the world on fire. Now it is quite possible with practice they could become kick-ass writers, but you don’t let them practice on your flagship characters such as Batman. It’s thinking like this from DC, again that 90s Image model, mantra of “art is all”, that has been hurting their market share.
Art is important, desperately important. But the writing is also desperately important. And when you can bring top writers AND top artists to a title (which is what Marvel does), then you have a title to hype and to generate sales. And DC fails with both aspects, the writing… and the art.
Nearly every single book Marvel puts out, looks great. That’s how deep their pool of artists is; as opposed to DC that has probably less than a handful of artists I consider great, and the rest, are a “grin and get through it” bunch.
Add to this Marvel Comics are better art designed, and you point out another major failing of DC. The first thing you see of a comic is its cover, and Marvel’s covers are not just better in terms of the actual cover art, they are better in terms of typography and design.
They are, as a whole, as a gestalt, the more interesting covers (exceptions to this being Sam Basri’s phenomenal covers for POWER GIRL).
And fault Marvel for what you will, I think a lot of this has to do with artists such as Quesada and Bendis, who have strong visual instincts, being in editorial control of Marvel and knowing what a compelling cover should look like.
These are the reasons Marvel is # 1. And this whole DC overhaul of their universe and digital delivery announcement while groundbreaking and exciting, will be less effective than it can be if it does not also look at improving quality.
For DC’s announcement to really have had teeth in it, and pit-bull like hang on staying power, they needed to release these 52 titles with a substantial number of amazing creative teams, and from the early solicits, I don’t see this happening.
The most high profile announcement of the new books is Geoff Johns and Jim Lee on the JLA.
Jim Lee’s style was interesting to me in the 90s, but I find it less so in the 2010s. I think part of that is… he’s not the artist he was 20 years ago, looking more like Lee acolyte Ed Benes… than himself, and paradoxically he’s enough of the old Jim Lee for his style to seem very dated. Of course that’s to me, there are huge fans of his, so no doubt the relaunched JLA will garner huge numbers. I just don’t think I’ll be among them.
Along with the art, another thing that raises early flags regarding this new JLA title… is the makeup of this new team. DC makes lip service to diversity, but tokenism is not diversity. First you remove John Stewart as the Green lantern, which is this generation’s Green Lantern (thanks to the JLA cartoon), and you fill it with a boring 70s lineup, and add Cyborg as a concession to tokenism?
I would prefer people not use any characters of color, then drag out just one Black character on a team. I hate seeing just one Black character on a team, give me at least two Black characters, or don’t do it at all. Because without exception that one Black character will be poorly and stupidly written.
And I dislike Cyborg in particular as a character. What is it with Black male characters in comics having to be missing limbs or in someway physically or psychologically damaged? What is that? for the writers to feel comfortable writing him? Be it Cyborg or War-machine over at the esteemed competition. Which is why if you’re going to do diversity, the mass media familiar John Stewart makes more sense than Cyborg, and toss in Vixen and/or Firestorm to go with him. Both characters offering a lot more to work with than the neutered Cyborg. Or don’t do it at all, because (say it with me) tokenism is not diversity.
And while we’re on the subject of Firestorm, what the eff is it with Black characters having to wear yellow? What is that about? You see all these sly little digs they get in? Even as a kid reading Power Man in the day, I was like…”he’s cool and all, but what the f–k is he wearing a big yellow shirt for?!” Even at age 7, I knew that just wasn’t kosher. I mean really? WTF?
Seriously, Mix non-people of color, writing people of color, and typically this is the kind of almost subconscious bs you get. Sad isn’t it? :)
Beyond the JLA, everything else mentioned suffers a bit from that underwhelming writer/artist syndrome that DC has.
Now I am interested in the MR. TERRIFIC comic announced, though I’m not familiar with the writer, and while the cover art is good, the interior art… not making me do handstands.
So yeah, it’s great that DC is doing this massive overhaul, and particularly pushing the digital distribution issue, but ultimately how ever you distribute the books… they have to be good, and if DC’s books, can’t currently compete with Marvel traditionally, digital delivery won’t change that.
DC will have the upper-hand for the time it takes Marvel to get a digital presence, but once the playing field is even again, DC loses again… unless they address the underlying problems with their comics. Those being: 1/ that they are still written for a white 1950s audience, rather than a multicultural 2011 audience, and 2/that they actively need to court the hot writers and artists, ala Marvel.
That’s the bottom line. There ain’t no more. I do wish DC well, and here’s hoping they evolve sooner rather than later.