Wednesday, June 15, 2011

DC Universe: R.I.P. (Reboot in Perpetuity)

Via Screen Rant, DC comics is going to begin renumbering all -- or, at least, 52 (I don't know how many comics they publish now) -- of their comic books, in an attempt to "reboot" their entire "universe."
On Wednesday, August 31st, DC Comics will launch a historic renumbering of the entire DC Universe line of comic books with 52 first issues, including the release of JUSTICE LEAGUE by NEW YORK TIMES bestselling writer and DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and bestselling artist and DC Comics Co-Publisher Jim Lee. The publication of JUSTICE LEAGUE issue 1 will launch day-and-date digital publishing for all these ongoing titles, making DC Comics the first of the two major American publishers to release all of its superhero comic book titles digitally the same day as in print.

DC Comics will only publish two comic books on August 31st: the final issue of this summer’s comic book mini-series FLASHPOINT and the first issue of JUSTICE LEAGUE by Johns and Lee, two of the most distinguished and popular contemporary comic book creators, who will be collaborating for the first time. Together they will offer a contemporary take on the origin of the comic book industry’s premier superhero team.
Comics have become more and more isolated and rarefied as discriminating consumers turn their attention to other media. As comics sales have steadily declined, the major comics companies have become more and more desperate to appeal to a larger percentage of a smaller pool of readers. This has meant creating endless, repetitive "event" comics which feature one core mini-series, and then several crossovers or subsidiary mini series.

For instance, the DC press release notes that on August 31st, the final issue of "Flashpoint" will be published. "Flashpoint" is one of those endless crossover "event"comics. The series covers at least 47 issues.

There's the "Flashpoint" series itself, which runs 5 issues. Then, there are 14 other three-issue miniseries around it, like "Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown," and "Flashpoint: Wonder Woman and the Furies." (Aside: Warner Bros/DC takes its intellectual property very seriously. I wonder how the creators of Frankenstein and the Furies feel about their characters being dragged into DC's crossover spectacular?) Before that there was "Brightest Day," a twice-monthly 25 issue comics series which crossed over into at least 11 other titles (officially-- there were at least eight other titles unofficially involved). From June 2009 - May 2010, there was "Blackest Night," which, like "Flashpoint," had several three-issue miniseries tie-ins with the primary mini series. (This storyline, by the way, centered around dead characters being revived, which is another staple of the big comics publishers -- nobody can stay dead.)

DC's had many more of these "event" comics, some of which I will get to shortly. For now I am tired and depressed.

One of the primary masterminds behind all of these extended marketing gimmicks I mean event comics is "NEW YORK TIMES bestselling writer and DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns," who is writing the new "Justice League" title. In an interview with USA Today, he said,
Johns promises a focus on the interpersonal relationships within DC's trademark superteam. "What's the human aspect behind all these costumes? That's what I wanted to explore," he says.
He wants to "explore" the "human aspect" of Warner Bros/DC's merchandising. This after "Flashpoint," after "Brightest Day," after "Blackest Night," after "52," after etc etc.

Hey you -- you, the guy over there, the one standing in line to buy a ticket to the new "Green Lantern" movie: Are you more likely to buy comics now that they're going to start exploring the human aspect of the relationship between Aquaman and Wonder Woman?

In another USA Today article, DC co-publisher Dan DiDio offers a slightly more cynical take:
"If we can convince the people here we're doing something brand-new and fresh, we have a good chance to really get the people outside on board," DiDio says.
Yes, if you can trick people into thinking that this particular reboot will be the brand-new, fresh reboot, then maybe you'll be able to expand your audience beyond a few thousand die-hard fanboys who will buy anything. I give Mr. DiDio credit for his candor.

The cover image for Justice League number one does not inspire confidence.

They say a picture is worth a thousand critical insights into why an entire industry is failing, and boy oh boy is that ever true with this image. Look at that. They released this picture because they thought it looked cool. They really thought this image would motivate and excite people to buy this book! How clueless are these people? Here's the man who drew that image, quoted in the USA Today article:
"You're trying to have your cake and eat it, too," [artist Jim] Lee says. "You're trying to keep the iconic elements there, but at the same time freshen up the look so that people are intrigued by what they're seeing and hopefully come and sample the wares."
I suppose I'm intrigued enough to ask some questions. Such as, Where are all of those superheroes supposed to be coming from? Were they all crouched on the floor together, and then all at once decided to leap into the air? Why is Batman about to trip over Cyborg? Why is the Flash running at super speed, but still only a few feet ahead of them? Why is Wonder Woman swinging her lasso around-- how are those other guys avoiding tripping on it? Why isn't Aquaman in the water? Why is Aquaman even there at all? I was under the impression that he was considered a joke.

Speaking of jokes, and this is something I've always wondered: Why is it that Green Lantern can be a member of the colonial occupation force called the Green Lantern Corps and a member of the Justice League? And, really, did Green Lantern have to use his "power ring" to create a giant gun that is positioned in roughly his crotch area?

Is there anyone in the world who looked at this image and didn't say, "Oh for crying out loud not again"?

Whenever comics publishers run out of ideas -- and they run out of ideas a lot, it seems -- they "reboot." Justice League originally began publishing in 1960, then was rebooted in 1987, 1997, and 2006. You can see the pattern there -- the space between reboots has steadily declined.

Green Lantern, the guy with the gun coming out of his crotch in the image above, and the object of a new movie opening on Friday, was himself a re-boot. The original "Golden Age" Green Lantern appeared in 1940. An editor at DC named Julius Schwartz took the "Green Lantern" name and created a new version, with a new identity and origin. He did the same thing other characters, such as the Flash and the Atom. This was done in the mid- to late-1950s.

Even this "rebooting the whole DC Universe" idea isn't new. DC did it or tried to do it 1985, with a mini series called "Crisis on Infinite Earths." The earths were "infinite" because any time a story appeared that contradicted something that had happened in a previous issue, they'd claim it had occurred on a different earth, in another dimension. So DC published a mini series to join all the earths together, and move everything onto one earth.

Well, there were problems. It's not really important to go into them, although hardcore comics fans love that kind of stuff. Anyway, to address those problems I have too much self-respect to go into in any detail, DC ran a series in 1994 called "Zero Hour: Crisis in Time." That didn't really take care of things, so they did "Infinite Crisis." That was basically just an excuse to say "eff you" to the heirs of Superboy's creator, who had won a lawsuit against DC giving them the character's copyright-- I've written about that here. Then there was "Final Crisis" and oh who really cares just somebody make it stop.

Back when the comic book was born, it was primarily a vehicle for publishing reprints of newspaper comic strips. The comic strips of the 1930s and 1940s were much different than those we think of today. Their subject matter was much more varied. Comic strips took up much more print space, and they weren't relegated to a "comics page;" they appeared throughout the paper. (Sunday editions of comic strips took up entire tabloid-sized pages, and featured stunning artwork and admirable craftsmanship from illustrators like Alex Raymond and Hal Foster.)

These comic strip reprint editions became so popular that publishers started to buy original content. For the first few years, it was primarily humorous stuff, but then publishers started to run adventure and crime strips, and then stories about men in skin-tight uniforms (it's kinda hard to draw clothes) and capes (better to express the movement of the characters). Superheroes took over and, except for about a decade after WW2, they have pretty much dominated comics ever since.

Those original stories were considered ephemera. Because of oddball postal restrictions, the stories were generally 8-12 pages in length, and featured different characters. No attention was paid to continuity -- the stories were self-contained, and self-contradictory. The thinking was that the stories were aimed at kids, and kids are pretty dumb; or, at least that the kids who read the comics might do something other than just read comics. Like, for instance, go outside and play, and shoot peas from slingshots, smoke cigarettes and play stickball. There was no concept of "back issues," so nobody expected readers to go back and say, "Hey in issue number 14 you said The Weenus couldn't fly but in issue 25 he's flying that ain't right I want a No-Prize!"

Today, it is nothing but going back and puzzling over what happened 25 issues before. Comics readers spend maddening hours discussing minute continuity details. This level of engagement has had two effects, as I've already said: The first is to drive casual readers away, and the second is to harden the resolve of those few fans who have remained. The creators have responded by plundering 70+ years worth of history to rehash the same stories over and over again. A few might throw in some PoMo commentary and deconstruction to try to spice things up, but the situations remain the same. They have remained mostly the same since 1938, when Superman made his first appearance in Action Comics #1.

They've had more than 60 years to get this formula down. Look at that image above, of the upcoming Justice League, to see what's been learned in those 60+ years.

Back to USA Today:
"It's part of our jobs to make sure that these characters stay dynamic and relevant," [Jim] Lee says. "And that's what drove us on a creative level to make these kinds of changes."
Changes? Really?

No comments: