Friday, February 1, 2013

DC's "WTF? Month" pretty much sums it up

As if there were any doubt that DC Comics and I may be at an impasse, thanks to the requirements of the hype machine in the Direct Market, we already know that April is going to be "WTF? Month" at DC Comics.

this is, like, 10 layers of sad

Check out The Beat for more on this so-edgy-it-will-cut-you promotion.

Extensive bad language below the break.  Proceed with caution.

That's right, it's "What The Fuck?" month at DC Comics.  Where each and every issue they put on the shelf is intended to illicit the response "What the fuck is happening in this comic?"

Stamping the acronym for "What the fuck (is happening)?" across your books does not mean you are not saying "What the fuck (is happening)?"  Of course you are.  It's not even like you have the option to swap out "Fowled" for "Fucked" in SNAFU*.

Am I offended?  Not personally.  I do think it's an interesting departure from the traditional ideas of what goes into a DC Comic, and pretty telling as to what the leadership thinks is enough of a cultural norm that it'll pass somewhat unnoticed.  I guess I'm a little offended that they'll insist the "F" stands for some made-up stand in for the word "Fuck", but I think we all know what it means, so if I'm offended, it's because they want me to do that work for them instead of owning the letter "F" in a way they never would inside their own books.

Having a cover that was so surprising that you need to buy the comic to find out what's happening inside is...  kind of an obvious idea, and was the MO for DC Comics' covers well, well before a one-month stunt in 2013.

It's a sign of a curiously public admission of failure to understand the point of a cover on a comic that DC thinks they need a special month to make covers on comics relevant or interesting to readers, that maybe this month it won't all be stock heroic or submissive poses for the imagined poster of the characters.

For a long, long time, DC and Marvel's covers were one or two panel works of genius that dared you not to wonder what was happening inside those flimsy pages.  Up until 10 years ago, they didn't need their classy logo.  Back then, we could just count on wondering exactly what emotional issue Mort Weisinger was working through this week.  And this was, sort of, exactly the MO for comics for decades.

Dan Didio couldn't cook this up with 20 planning sessions and a flowchart

"What the fuck?", indeed.

Seriously, I consider the covers of comics to be a lost art.  Short of the gorgeous work of Alex Ross, Adam Hughes and a few others, I sort of think you'd be better off most months with a white cover with the name and issue number of the comic printed in black in Comic Sans than the idea of "iconic posters" of characters all blending into one another into a sea of anonymity on the shelf.

To add to the miscalculation, with "WTF Certified Month!", you're going to be asked to pick up the comic and open a gatefold cover to see the shocking surprise inside (whoo-hoo?).  Which means the draw of the surprise isn't even, technically, on the cover.  Comics fans (who DO care about things like mint condition) have a month to look forward to where all the comics on the shelf will be, potentially, mangled from handling.

The effort manages to put an ugly stamp on the cover of the comic while also obfuscating the actual surprise. It's, really, the worst of both worlds.

Part of why I dug DC Comics was the seeming self-aware squareness over the years.  You weren't going to see Paul Levitz stamp his covers with the acronym for "What the fuck (is happening?)" and play off the text-derived slang of the day.  Some point after Superman's mullet was retired and left to the ages, DC seemed to realize that the way to be cool was to not try to ride the latest marketing trends, that actual cool ideas are just fine on their own.  Until, I guess, about 2007 again or so.

I was accused of being an old man as far back as college for finding pretty much anything slung at me as part of a demographic as an awkward marketing appeal to "my generation" as kind of dopey at best and kind of offensive at worst.**  And so I look at that stamped logo and wonder:  is this as stupid as it looks, or is this actually appealing to today's hip youths?  Or does it feel like your mom, circa 2004, dropping "Fo-shizzle!" in response to your question.  No many how urban, roof-top partying, hip kids were drinking a "Surge", there wasn't anything about the ads that didn't feel condescending and like someone was lying to you, knew you knew they were lying, and didn't care.  It was some serious, sinister, cynical BS.

But that's advertising, I guess.  And maybe DC and Marvel comics.

The New 52 relaunch marked the end of the prior 75 years of DC Comics ostensibly aiming for a broad audience, and editorial wrestling with the past 25 years' march of comics aiming themselves increasingly at an older audience while still making sure if a kid picked up Superman, they wouldn't wind up traumatized for life.  Levitz's exit meant that Didio was now free to do as he pleased, and, in my opinion, that's more or less meant an appeal to a lower common denominator and to try to appeal as hip to 20 - 25 year olds as... I'll be honest, I have no idea what those kids are into.  Carly Rae Jepsen?

More than anything, it feels like the stunt of the month from a company that's begun to feel like the world's worst prop comic, desperately pulling gag after gag from their steamer trunk to increasingly forced laughter from the audience.  Branding something as "What the Fuck Certified!" feels more than a bit like someone aiming at a very, very low bar.  After all, this is the same industry that had to rethink the idea of "this issue, someone dies", when that same line appeared in multiple comics from the same publisher on a monthly basis, and especially the promise that "this is the issue where everything changes!".

For over a decade, the Big 2 have relied on their Carrot-Top routine in the vast majority of their line rather than simply working through editorial to make the biggest surprise of all be a satisfying read that can be enjoyed even after the hype machine has slowed down.

Yes, you have to keep your audience guessing.  But the reason it's illegal to pull the fire alarm in buildings is that people quit paying attention, to the point where people who work in that building will get angry at the visitor for asking if we shouldn't all be worried about that fire alarm.

*SNAFU = Situation Normal: All Fucked Up
**I will confess to, in 1993, however, drinking a can of OK Cola, and in 1994 seeing Reality Bites on opening weekend.
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