Tuesday, July 12, 2011

DC Reboot Round-Up, Part Six: At Last, the Cynicism!

We took a little break after completing our run-down of all 52 series of the DC reboot. Because that was some exhausting shit. But now we’re back with an overview of the apparent mentality behind the New DC.

In a word, that mentality seems to be “lowbrow.”

Okay, okay. That’s fun to say, but it’s not entirely fair. I think they’re actually taking a very widespread approach that embraces many different types of readers. There are books for their current Fanboy audience, books for lapsed readers who grew up in the 90s, even a handful of books aimed at freaks like myself. But honestly, all continuity changes aside, I don’t see anything they’ve solicited as a major move away from the kinds of funnybooks DC’s putting out now. The real change here seems to be in the marketing, and in a renewed focus on the characters with the widest name recognition. Which is a smart, smart move for them, I think.


Stupid is the New Smart

I’ve also gotta say that they’re doing their best to make it sound like they’re dumbing things down across the line, or at least aiming more for the lowest common denominator. Which, certainly, is one tried and true way to grab for the brass ring of the mass audience. It’s the road Hollywood’s chosen to take in recent years, anyway, and it’s hard not to see more of a Hollywood influence coming into DC these days, what with half the company being relocated to Los Angeles and the Warner Brothers suit who’s been put in Paul Levitz‘s old job.

Then there’s the Dan Didio one-man dumb comics road show. DC’s Co-Publisher is out there talking shit about “talking head comics” at retailer summits across the nation, and pushing the idea that the New DC will be all about action, action, and more action. He’s even said that the movies are making better comics than the comics themselves. Which is an easy thing to say, but… Outside the Raimi Spider-Mans, I’m not so sure he’s right. I mean, the first two acts of Iron Man were great (you know, the talking parts). But it falls apart in the third act when it tries to do the super hero stuff. And that’s generally considered the best of the lot.

But I’m getting off-topic. Between Didio’s antics, an upcoming series from the writers of Transformers (a film so stupid it made me ashamed to be a dork), and an obvious attempt to grab for the Twilight audience that turns this guy…

…into this guy…

…I can’t help but think that the New DC isn’t exactly going to be challenging my intelligence very often.

That’s okay, though. Not everything needs to make its readers work, after all. Simple escapism can be great, too, as comics’ long history has shown: CC Beck’s Captain Marvel, the EC horror line, 1960s Marvel, Jack Kirby’s New Gods, Walt Simonson’s Thor, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, Ellis and Immonen‘s Nextwave, James Stokoe‘s Orc Stain… All pure entertainment, and all great funnybooks.

Of course, pure entertainment tends to turn out best when it’s the work of powerful creative vision. And, frankly, I don’t see too much of that in the reboot solicitations. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First, I feel that I must address one of the biggest criticisms leveled against the reboot. Not to repeat myself, but…


A rather annoyed Jim Lee, in response to this charge, pointed out that only four or five of the reboot artists are drawing in the 90s style. But I think Lee (the king, by the way, of that style) is kind of missing the point here. We’re not just talking about the poor-anatomy-and-storytelling-with-lines-everywhere art style popularized by Lee and his cronies at Image. We’re talking about a whole set of decisions that seem calculated to bring the flavor of the 90s back to DC in the present.

Decisions like hiring prominent 90s Marvel figures such as Bob Harras (now DC’s editor-in-chief), Fabian Nicieza (writer of Legion Lost), and Scott Lobdell (writer of Superboy, Teen Titans, and Red Hood and the Outlaws). Didio's emphasis on action smacks of 90s funnybooks, too. There’s also a whiff of the infamous “artists don’t need writers” debates swirling around the number of artists DC’s assigning to write things. So I think there’s definitely a 90s feel to part of the New DC line that goes well beyond a handful of crappy art.

But again, I think the 90s thing is only one aspect to their multi-faceted approach. I’m assuming it’s part of their initiative to recapture lapsed readers, playing to the nostalgia of 90s fans for the comics they read as kids. I might argue that most of those readers became lapsed because the story content of the comics they’d been reading was so close to nil that their interest just died. But I’ve already made it clear that I think the 90s brought us the worst super hero comics in the history of the genre, so I’m probably not the person to ask.

(An aside on the writer-artist thing: It can be great when you turn somebody with a fresh outlook loose on a corporate property and let them go nuts with it. Unfortunately, they’re going less for that 1980s sort of writer-artist model and more for (again) the sort of thing Image turned out in the 90s. Which is to say, sub-par versions of the same kinds of stories we’re already seeing in comics I’m already not interested in buying. Somehow, I just can't shake a feeling of…)

Same Shit, Different Universe

Faced with the task of updating the DC line for a new generation, DC’s editorial staff mostly seems to have played it safe. Rather than seeking out radical new talents who might have brought fresh approaches to old characters, they mostly went with proposals from known quantities in the super hero ranks. There are exceptions, of course, and I’m not suggesting that they toss all their current employees aside. But I see very little in these solicits that promises an exciting new approach.

I realize that there’s all the incentive in the world for DC to be a little conservative in their approach right now. We’re living in tough economic times, and those typically reward simple escapism more than they do exciting new approaches. Still. I just wish there was at least one book I could look at and be stunned by. One creative team that made me genuinely excited to buy a DC comic out of sheer surprise at their assignment. One cover to match the balls-out shock and awe of, say… this:

In fact, that’s it. That’s what the reboot’s missing.

There’s no Beta Ray Bill factor.

There’s no complete what the fuck moment to make me think that DC might just be doing something exciting and innovative here. Instead, they’ve gone out of their way to reassure people that it’s NOT a reboot. That it’s a reLAUNCH instead, and that all of everyone’s favorite super hero stories still happened just the way you remember them. Except for the parts that couldn’t have. But let’s not talk about those…

No, fuck that! Let’s talk ALL ABOUT those! I’d be much more impressed if Didio and company had gone out there and said “The year is one, bitches! It’s a whole new world where anything can happen, and probably will! Wonder Woman's a lesbian! The Flash is black! And you don’t know it yet, but you’re gonna go NUTS for Raphael Grampa’s Hawkman!”

Okay, okay. So I briefly imagined what would happen if I was in charge of the DC reboot. But, man, I’d love it if even ONE of those things had happened. If they’d announced just one book that blew my mind with how weird it sounded. As it is…

I think the DC reboot is smart in many ways. I applaud their attempt to expand the funnybook reading audience, and even think it might work for about half of these titles. But I personally find it pretty unexciting, and mourn the lost opportunity for staid old DC to get a little bit crazy.


  1. Now I'm trying to imagine what a DC version of Beta Ray Bill would be... Maybe an alien given the power of Shazam. Or am I being too literal?

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