Thursday, September 13, 2012
A Boom Tube Back Into DC Comics
We're now a year in, and I've got some things to say.
Remember when you said it wasn't a reboot, and then it turned out to be a reboot for pretty much everyone but Batman and Green Lantern?
Yeah, that was pretty sweet.
But overall, it's worked. Out all the many, many things you've done in my time as a fan, you got me back.
I've been a DC fan for about 20 years now.
So I came of age in the '90s. Yes, the bubble era! That hubristic, speculator-driven, everything's-a-collectible era. I owned the Robin III miniseries with the motion-slide covers, right alongside everyone else.
I saw Batman get his back broken. Superman die and be reborn. Green Lantern turn evil, die, and be reborn. Wonder Woman get rebooted another five times, including dying and – yes! – being reborn. And lame-o villains pumped up (Underworld Unleashed, anyone?), useless “reimaginings” (Tangent), glow-in-the-dark covers, and Jim Balent drawing the ultra-athletic and lithe Catwoman with ginormous juggs. Batman even merged with Wolverine.
But I also saw you present the future of comics, picking up where Watchmen left off and kicking comics into novelistic territory and cinematic splash.
Neil Gaiman's mythic Sandman operating alongside Sandman Mystery Theatre. James Robinson's Starman merged new ideas with old grudges to paint a vivid portrait of a man discovering his inside hero amid a classic father-and-son tale.
Warren Ellis sneered at our burgeoning digital omnimedia world and corporate-political corruption in Transmetropolitan. Grant Morrison restored the Justice League. Mark Waid and Alex Ross' will was done in Kingdom Come, forever making me like The Spectre. And Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale used The Long Halloween and Dark Victory to fill in the spaces Frank Miller hadn't hit in his modern Batman.
And then there's Garth Ennis. Hitman took the lamest of the DC crossovers – Bloodlines, featuring parasitic aliens – and gave us a Tarantino-tinged tale that was by turns ghastly, funny and sad. And Preacher added apocalyptic hilarity to the self-serious Vertigo world.
But let's get back to those superheroes.
You had the tough duty of reinvigorating your characters after years and years of constant crossovers in the 2000s that left readers like me out in the cold with burdensome continuity. You had the challenge of making your comics cool in a time when superheroes are all we talk about in pop culture.
And most importantly, you had to take cool points away from Marvel. Nearly impossible in a world with 15 comic book movies a year, and nearly all the good ones are Marvel. Iron Man now is cooler than Green Lantern, because his movies were better.
So Dan DiDio, Geoff Johns and Jim Lee cowboyed up and said let's rebuild this our way.
And so far, it's worked. Sales are up, by a lot. And you got me buying your stuff more than I have in more than a decade. Spending more than this 30-something probably should. But I had to see how it would turn out.
You struck gold with deep fans who slide into being casual readers. Folks like me.
A year in, I'm paring down what I'm reading, but I like a lot of what I have. And I'll tell you why.
This version of Wonder Woman works. Not the one that gallivants around Justice League and makes out with Superman. Johns' characterization of Diana doesn't work for me the way she does in her own title, written by Brian Azaarello. I also prefer how she's drawn by Cliff Chiang: beautiful, athletic, strong, solid, graceful and tough as all hell. She looks like a volleyball player or pole vaulter, as opposed to Jim Lee's ultra-voluptuous fashion model.
Your better books are horror comics. I love Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing, Animal Man and Batwoman. And mostly because they surprised me by being straight-up horror or having tons of horror elements. (Justice League Dark and I, Vampire do, too, but there's more magic in those.)
I never thought I'd say Swamp Thing and Animal Man are my favorite comic books, and that I look forward to them more than those 47-odd Batman titles. These characters feel more grounded in the real world, even though they are dealing with zombie-animals and plant-gods.
But I love how sick these two books are. Each issue has something hideous, nauseating and frightening. Undead men with backwards-turned heads, rotted cattle and a cockroach queen. Swamp Thing growing armor of bark and leafy wings in a title that depicts the plant world as a green-painted abattoir of survival.
It's a testament to the art, which never would fly with a normal superhero book. Buddy Baker's family-driven desperation sweats off the page in Animal Man. In Swamp Thing, Alec Holland's regret and despair do the same.
Your attempts at diversity are solid. Now keep going. You already built a foundation in the 2000s with Blue Beetle, Vixen, Firestorm, Renee Montoya/The Question, and others. But overall, DC, your main hero lineups are almost exclusively heterosexual white men.
It was good to see Static Shock and Mister Terrific, along with stuff such as Voodoo and Blackhawks. Too bad they weren't what I and other readers were looking for.
I was so ready to support comics with black male main characters, but I didn't like them too much. The books just felt too generic. I sincerely wanted Static to become DC's version of Spider-Man as a cool teenage hero. And I like a good science-hero in the vein of 1960s Flash. But this wasn't it. Felt like a retread.
Mister Terrific, I thought, was going to be a little more out there, but it appeared to cram half-baked, dated racial issues into the storylines, and I didn't want to bother.
I think it's a by-product of how much mainstream superhero comics – DC especially – don't tackle race.
DC probably is still years away from a racially salient yet irreverent book such as Reginald Hudlin's run on Black Panther.
I don't like that you gave Amanda Waller the Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition treatment. But the return of Etta Candy as a black woman is pretty cool even if it amounts to 3-4 lines in a few Justice League issues.
Now I want some more Milestone characters in this DCU. A little Hardware? And would Icon and Rocket work in Earth-2, at least?
Batwing, on the other hand, has played its protagonist's ethnic background as a strength, with David Zavimbe's personal history, as a child soldier, tied to sociopolitical issues in Central Africa. It's not the amazing Vertigo version of Unknown Soldier that jumped deep into decades of Ugandan conflict, but it didn't have to be. Now please, please, armor Batwing's head?
Crazy-sexy-cool works in the DCU. You could say the coolest character in the New 52 DCU is Aquaman. After all the reboots to make him serious, this one works. Geoff Johns did what the other reboots didn't: He tackled the Aquaman jokes head-on. Then he gave Arthur a mysterious past, made him angry, haunted and conflicted, had him fight monsters and kill stuff.
How can you not respect this dude? He's super-strong, beats the daylights out of his enemies, had his own superteam, and he can summon great white sharks with his mind. Finally! Someone gets it!
And having Ivan Reis on your book is money. Dude draws the sexiest superheroes, female and male, in the business. Gorgeous pages full of figures that leap off the page.
My other top winner in the crazy-sexy-cool category is Batwoman. It's not really New 52, but her long-awaited continuous series has all the Gothic weirdness of early Detective Comics, with the Religion of Crime. Kate Kane is so pale, so messed up. And she's dating the cop tasked with hunting her down? Even better.
All-Star Western is kicking butt as well. Though the Western part of the book hasn't really shown up, we're seeing Jonah Hex put to continued great use by Jimmy Palmiotti. Transporting the Guy Ritchie-Sherlock Holmes formula of adrenaline-fueled steampunk pizzazz to comics makes for top-notch reading.
Batman has history. Well, Batman already has tons of history. But with the New 52, now Gotham City has history. The Court of Owls storyline allowed for DC to create a new history for Gotham. Combined with All-Star Western's 1880s Gotham, we see that Batman is part of a long line of special weirdness as first set forth in Grant Morrison's Return of Bruce Wayne storyline.
And anything that has Batman fighting an army of ninjas is great. But Batman fighting an army of undead, self-regenerating ninjas? Make this storyline the post-Dark Knight Trilogy reboot, please.
So, DC Comics, what next? You've done well so far. Most of these books I can't put down. At least, not yet. But I'm interested to see where all this is going, and how long you can sustain it.
There's so much wacky stuff in the DC continuity, and I want a lot of it back some day. Comics need that bit of hokey stuff, because they're supposed to be fun, right?
At the very least, bring back Power Girl's old costume? It can't be any worse than Catwoman and Starfire slutting it up, right?!? Throw this fanboy a bone!
I don't need any other female character in the DCU to show any skin while fighting. Just PG. She's a 6-foot-tall blonde, has Superman's powers, is all shredded up and has giant boobs. Who wouldn't show off, just to freak people out? I know I would. Besides, it's not the boob window that's the problem, it's how you draw it.
Oh well. A fanboy can dream, right?