Tuesday, June 28, 2011

DC Reboot Round-Up, Part Four: The Test Tube Babies

Previously, on the DC Reboot Round-Up… In an attempt to prop up flagging sales, DC Comics has decided to hit the reset button on their super hero continuity and go for a more action-oriented (some say, “Nineties-Style”) focus. The degree of change to each character is predicated entirely upon sales. So Batman barely changes at all, while Hawkman (for instance) gets a major overhaul. Other changes include Wonder Woman getting pants, and Superman losing his underwear.

Now we move on the experiments, books DC’s launching in hopes of capitalizing on the more diverse interests of the wider digital audience they hope to find waiting for them out there on the world-wide interwebs. There are war books and westerns, but first we’ll be looking at something that I (though not DC) am calling their “Dark Line.” A group of books that seem designed to be a sort of “Vertigo-Light,” corporate-owned supernatural characters having adventures that, while perhaps a bit… well… darker than your average DC super hero title, don’t go the Mature Readers route, either.

This is the sort of thing out of which Vertigo itself grew, of course, back when DC was having such good luck with their mature readers Swamp Thing, Hellblazer, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, and Sandman titles that they decided to create a separate imprint for them. And they did something similar a few years later, when Starman, The Demon, Hitman, Chase, and maybe a few others formed a small group of edgier (but still all-ages) comics set in the DCU. So this is hardly new territory for them.

If anything in the reboot seems geared toward me and my interests, these books are it. So let’s see how they fare…

Justice League Dark

The Team: Peter Milligan and Mikel Janin

The Premise: When threats too weird for the regular Justice League arise, that gap is filled by the team of Shade the Changing Man, Madame Xanadu, Deadman, Zatanna and… John Constantine?!

The Appeal: The sheer “what the fuck” factor will no doubt spark some Fanboy interest here. I know I’m planning to check out the first issue, anyway, just to see if Pete Milligan can pull this off. It’s Constantine that’s the problem, of course. The rest of these guys can function just fine in the spandex world. But Constantine? I don’t have a problem with them re-establishing him as a citizen of the DC Universe. It’s fun to have him pop up and put one over on Superman every now and then. But having him join an organization that would call itself the Justice League of anything just seems… Wrong? Silly? Out of character? Maybe all of the above.

As for mainstream interest… Maybe? Constantine’s the only character anyone who’s not a huge funnybook dork is going to be familiar with, and they’re probably going to wonder why he’s not American…

Saturday, June 25, 2011

DC Reboot Round-Up, Part Three: Franchise Free-For-All!

Before we launch off into our discussion of DC’s rebooted “family” franchise titles, a quick aside: The DC brass have been making the rounds, doing their best to sell funnybook retailers on Fall initiatives that are, in part, designed to put those very people out of business. They’ve been facing understandably tough crowds, but in the process it seems a bit of the company philosophy behind the reboot has been revealed.

First and foremost, DC will be all about the action, post reboot. “No more talking heads!” is one phrase they’ve apparently been tossing around. Which, near as I can remember, isn’t something DC’s been doing anyway, but okay. That does seem to be the predominant trend out there in the world of cutting edge pop comics these days, and it’s probably a good model to attract new young readers. As long as you couple that with words like smart, funny, or cool… You’re on to something. Unfortunately, those are NOT words they’ve been tossing around, so… Hrm.

Another interesting tidbit is that they’re aiming the reboot at males between the ages of 18 and 34. Or, in other words, the same people who are buying their books now (or does the average DC Fanboy come in at 40 or above these days?). Actually, to be fair, I’m sure they’re talking about males between the ages of 18 and 34 who don’t already read comics. Which is most likely an achievable market that’s worth expanding into, albeit one in which DC will be facing an awful lot of competition. I would hope, though, that this is just the initial wave they’re talking about here. The market for women and teenaged girls is potentially even more massive, and DC already has properties and publishing lines in place that could be marketed toward them with very little effort, as well. Of course, they’ve marginalized Vertigo sufficiently at this point that maybe that’s not in the cards for them after all…

At any rate. With all that in mind, let’s get back to those solicits, starting with maybe the most important super hero of them all...

Action Comics

The Team: Grant Morrison and Rags Morales

The Premise: Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… Oh dear god in heaven! It’s a MAN!!!

The solicit for this one is kind of sparse on the details, but Morrison himself has said that this book will be telling the story of Superman’s earliest days in the cape, sort of an “angry young Superman” take that looks at how he operated initially in the new history, and how the world responded to their first super hero. It’ll apparently be a slightly more vulnerable Superman, too, one who’s still growing in power as his cells soak up solar radiation, and thus might still be hurt by, say, an exploding shell bursting on his chest.

Perhaps even more interestingly, not long after All-Star Superman wrapped up, Morrison also said that he’d like to do just such a “Year One” take, incorporating the character’s early righteous anger and Depression-era social activism. So I’m hoping we see some wife beaters and evil landlords getting tossed out of windows in this book, or maybe a corrupt politician or two being bullied into public admissions of guilt. But that’s just speculation and wishful thinking.

The Appeal: As a huge Grant Morrison fan, I’m a little biased here, but I’d imagine it would be pretty broad. Morrison’s already shown that he has a rock-solid understanding of the Man of Steel that’s proven popular with Fanboys, intellectuals, and mainstream readers alike. His one weakness in terms of the mass audience is his penchant for complex narratives that require actual thought on the part of the reader. His Final Crisis series, for instance, was so demanding that it drove many Fanboys into a rage. But his recent work has shown him incorporating that sort of thing into stories that still work for people who are only looking at the surface and just like to be wowed by cool ideas.

On the artistic side, meanwhile, Rags Morales is a solid draftsman of the type traditionally assigned to the Superman books. His clean lines and clear storytelling make his work easy for inexperienced funnybook readers to follow, and he has just enough flair that his stuff’s not boring to look at, either. I’ll be most curious to see how well he works with Morrison. Artists with more traditional styles don’t always deal well with the more bizarre ideas he throws at them. I like Rags’ stuff, though, so we’ll see.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

DC Reboot Round-Up, Part Two: Gonna Be a New World

In Part One of our analysis of the DC Reboot, we waxed cautiously optimistic. Change is always just a little bit exciting, and the prospect of a drive to push comics into the faces of more readers than they’ve had in a good long while is heartening for an industry that’s been dying on the vine in recent years. But it’ll all be for naught if the books themselves aren’t any good.

So, armed with Bleeding Cool’s list of the September solicits, I’m going to sit down and take a critical look at what we currently know about all 52 series debuting in September. Of course, none of these comics have come out yet, so this will be pure speculation, based on what the solicit says, and the track record of the creators involved in each book.

Also, I should probably admit that I’m not really the intended audience for these comics. I like super heroes, and like to read good comics about them, but I'm a tough audience. I like to work a bit as a reader, and if I'm not given any work to do, I need to be dazzled by audacity so I don't get bored. I tend to prefer personal, quirky, idiosyncratic projects to this kind of corporate-owned-and-orchestrated stuff. So since DC doesn’t currently employ very many writers or artists I’m a fan of, I won’t be buying many of these books myself. Consider this more of a clinical look at the reboot, then, dissecting the books’ appeal to the Fanboy Nation, and to this mysterious audience of casual readers DC’s courting on-line. It’ll get smart-assed from time to time, I’m sure, but I’ll try to keep my personal biases clearly identified as such.

And with that, away we go…

Justice League


The Team: Geoff Johns and Jim Lee

The Premise: At the dawn (or at least second breakfasts) of the age of heroes, Batman brings together a team to combat a mysterious threat too big for him to tackle alone.

This book will be launching in the past to establish the heroic foundation of the rebooted DCU, then (according to Jim Lee) moving on to the present day. This new JLA origin story works fine for me, considering the way the modern interpretations of these characters interact, and will probably make a lot of sense to readers familiar with the team mostly by reputation. No word on the exact final line-up, but we know the book will at least feature the original core six: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and the Flash. Oh, and Cyborg. Which-- whoa, weird! Cyborg is now a founding member of the Justice League?! Guess he's replacing Martian Manunter. Which, I should add, does nothing to endear this book to me at all. At. ALL.

The Appeal: For me, zero. I love the Justice League, but this creative team is like my own personal funnybook Kryptonite. AND they seem to be taking Martian Manhunter off the team, in case I forgot to mention, which not only makes this the worst Justice League book evar(!!1!), but also gives me even more reason to hate them.

In the world of People Who Aren't Me, however, this book is a perfect storm: it‘s being positioned as DC‘s flagship series, and Johns and Lee both have massive fan followings that could combine to make this a funnybook store sales juggernaut. I’d guess that it’s going to have good mass appeal, too. Johns’ storytelling style is very mass-audience-friendly, and the fresh start may limit the amount of history he tries to pull in. Lee should be fine, too, but as long as I’m talking about him…

The fact that DC’s chosen Jim Lee to redesign their characters in a way that appeals to a fresh new 21st Century audience cracks me up. His sensibilities might have looked fresh 20 years ago, but now? I dunno. This is symptomatic of the biggest problem I see with the new line in general: how are they supposed to draw in a new audience when the books will, for the most part, be done by the same people who are doing non-mainstream-friendly versions of them now, and guys who were popular with huge funnybook dorks 20 years ago? But more on that as we progress…

Friday, June 17, 2011

DC Reboot Round-Up, Part One: They Shoot Fanboys, Don't They?

It’s an interesting time to be a funnybook fan.
That is, of course, a Chinese curse, and I’ve seen many of my fellow fans reacting in that spirit. But in spite of the turmoil, I have to admit, I’m kind of excited. Sure, on the one hand, the industry is dying. Sales are terrifyingly low, and getting lower. Partially, that’s because of the recession, and partially because of competition for the audience’s leisure time from more novel (and free!) on-line content. I mean, even I must admit that I’ve spent more time reading about comics in the last month than I have reading actual comics. But that, in part, is because of anticipation for what’s coming up in the immediate future. Which brings me, in roundabout fashion, to my topic for today: The DC Reboot. Now that all the solicits are out, and some of the basic questions have been answered, it's time to take a look at the plans and try a little "big picture" analysis based on what we know so far...

Reboot? Relaunch? Rehash?

Come September, DC Comics will be starting all their comics over from number one, with an altered history and a different attitude. Some characters will be different, some won’t change, and still others won’t exist at all anymore. They’re insisting that it’s not a “reboot” of their shared universe, that the continuity the Fanboy Nation holds so dear to their hearts still “counts.”

And, sure. They’re not changing much for Batman or Green Lantern (rather wisely not fixing what ain’t broke), but you know… It sounds to me like they’re making some pretty significant changes here. No super heroes in World War II? An aloof Supergirl who doesn’t like Earthlings very much? The Authority (okay, Stormwatch) exists alongside the Justice League? The public doesn’t like or trust masked heroes? Wonder Woman in pants?!

And then there's this:

Wh- Where are his underpants?!??!

Not Dead Yet...

Stepping out of character for just a minute (which is to say, all Nerd Farm gags aside)…

It’s been kind of quiet around the Dork Forty of late, but don’t think that’s because I’ve lost interest, or have run out of things to say about the funnybook business. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve just been preoccupied with other interests of late: music, movies, role-playing games, books with words in them… As I’ve always said, and seldom shown around here, I’m an all-purpose dork, and other things have captured my attention. But I hope to get things back on track around here soon. I’ve been following comics all through this little blogging vacation, and have lots to talk about. Later today, in fact, I should be weighing in with a look at the upcoming DC reboot...