Monday, August 29, 2011

Adios to the Old DCU

This week we'll see the last of DC's continuity as its been for the last 25 years.

But let's raise a glass, shall we?

Here's to 25 years of recent continuity.

It was a mess, it didn't make sense a lot of the time, it included the personification of lousy fanboy behavior punching the walls of reality in a hissy fit and accidentally bringing Jason Todd back from the dead...  But if it weren't a totally screwed up timeline and it didn't drive us all crazy, it wouldn't be the DC Universe.

I'd say the world we leave behind on Wednesday is the only continuity I've ever known, or something sentimental like that, but that's not true.  Anyone who has seen my bookshelves or who has kicked around this blog for a while knows that Golden, Silver, Bronze... hell, even Chromium... I tend to think of these things in terms of one long continuity.*

As long as DC makes changes "in-story", as they've done with the reboots that have taken, its all one thing, isn't it?  And that's including Flashpoint.  

To that end, that's how I'm trying to embrace the DCU relaunch that starts this week.  Like the 1986 post Crisis on Infinite Earths relaunch, the move to the DCNu is not as fluid as the natural progression from Golden Age to Silver Age to Bronze Age..., but there's no doubt this change will leave a geological line for comics in general.  Like COIE, we'll be pointing to "Pre" and "Post-Flashpoint" for decades.

What's heartening is that the 1986 model exploded in a burst of crazy creativity, wonderful art, new ideas, new takes on old themes, etc...  You can feel the energy rippling through Perez's Wonder Woman, Byrne's Man of Steel and Miller's Batman: Year One still today.  Until now, I could only imagine what that must have felt like back then.

Yes, I was sort of there, but I was so new to comics, and 11, that it didn't mean much to me at the time.  I just knew that a whole bunch superheroes had died, but it didn't matter because we were starting over.  I was 11.  It was a pretty convenient time to start reading Justice League and Batman.

I wouldn't get into Superman until later, but I always understood the difference between Post Crisis Superman and Pre-Crisis Superman.  But it wouldn't be until I was in college that I understood that "Pre-Crisis" didn't necessarily mean "silly old school stuff".  And that gives me pause when I consider how tomorrow's readers will look at the Justice League in their trunks and tights and try to understand what it was we were thinking...

In a way, it was refreshing to see Dan Didio drop the company line that everything is great, and to quit blaming bad luck, the audience, etc... and admit that DC comics just weren't selling.
“The truth is people are leaving anyway, they’re just doing it quietly, and we have been papering it over with increased prices,” DiDio said. “We didn’t want to wake up one day and find we had a bunch of $20 books that 10,000 people are buying.”
I haven't been "leaving", but the cost of comics has certainly changed my buying habits. I have no idea exactly how much my reading/ buying has shrunk, but its substantial (especially as I dropped most Marvel even prior to the $3.99 price jump), and I've consolidated even books about characters I love, such as Green Lantern and Wonder Woman, into trades. I also don't just pick up a comic to try it out because a cover cost my eye. Not at $2.99.

Will new stories be enough?  Or will the reboot launch a new way for me to look at the DCU?  Or, more importantly, for the creators?

But what are we losing?

Looking at the interviews around Wonder Woman remind me how often the title has been flawed, and how DC just couldn't seem to just figure out when something was working and then leave well enough alone.  I don't think the character has been the same since Infinite Crisis, and I'm sad the character never got a chance to get the loving care she deserved by writers who cared and would have done the work.

There are going to be a lot of regrets like that, I think.  Characters and books that never quite worked, as DC changed models somewhere along the line that instead of writers writing to the character, their environment and milieu, all of those could change at a moment's notice to serve the capriciousness of the flavor-of-the-month writer coming on board.

Maybe that's something to remember as well.

When I think of what I'll miss from the old DCU, most of it boils down to anxiety about what "they" will deal with my beloved Superman tropes.  Yes, I'll miss the two or three origin stories of the JLA I can name without thinking too hard, and know that the new DCU has yet another story planned. 

But in the end, I'm a Superman nut.  And losing the red trunks is just cosmetic, even if I have to admit, I don't really love the new outfit.  I've got too much wrapped up in my head with the old gear.

Yes, I'm losing the Clark/ Lois marriage that I liked (and, frankly, as a married guy, identified with as well or better than single-guy superheroes).  I've been told we'll no longer have Jonathan or Martha Kent, which pains me a bit, as those characters were pretty special to Superman readers (and we cared when Jonathan died in the recent Brainiac storyline).

I have to assume we're not likely to see Krypto in this new world anymore than we saw Krypto until Mort Weisinger decided to start building a menagerie around Superman back in the Silver Age (circa 1955).  The importance of something like superpets seems like something we'll have to put away as DC permanently moves away from reaching out to a younger (or older) demographic, who might find the idea of a Superdog amusing.

And that most definitely means Beppo, Comet and Streaky will continue to languish in the wasteland Morrison saw them living in back in Animal Man.

I can't miss what I loved about the JLA, because DC has refused to give me them very much since Waid left the JLA title a decade ago.  They even blocked the family-affair that Meltzer seemed to be headed toward after One Year Later, effectively strangling the baby in the crib.

I am actually very happy that the current plan is to have the majority of the original 7, and that its a book that will always be a focus for the DCU, not a book where writers are constrained by what's happening elsewhere (well, they say that now).

What I will not miss is the death and resurrection or replacement business surrounding the superheroes that I wanted to see and read.  Yes, sometimes it worked.  The year-long efforts of 52 made me believe Renee Montoya could be The Question.  But I spent a decade waiting around for someone to just go ahead and bring back Hal Jordan.

It just smelled of desperation in place of creative ideas.  And, honestly, part of me isn't convinced this isn't more of the same.  Isn't the re-boot just the old "Barry Allen as Flash isn't working anymore.  What's Wally up to?"-gambit, but on an epic scale.  Couldn't we have given those characters a chance in the wake of Brightest Day to see if the classic versions, all in place, couldn't sell a few comics all on their own?

Will the new universe have the same sense of amazing, world-bending excitement I could get from an issue of Green Lantern or The Flash (and, yes, I DID feel that way when those titles were firing on all cylinders)?

Short of the "what will they do to the Superman I know and love?", the next question almost certainly seems to be "Will I see Wally West ever again?"  After all, Wally was one of my gateway drugs into the DCU.  I still remember buying a couple Flash comics at the gas station en route to summer camp.  Not only did I read them so many times in the mere week I was at camp, everyone else did, too, to the point that they weren't worth packing and taking home by week's end. 

Getting back to Wally circa late 2001 was a huge treat, and I now completely regret the fact I didn't follow Wally through the Mark Waid years (something I hope DC makes it easy for me to rectify one day).

Oh, and I'm a Martian Manhunter fan, too.  No doubt the 36 issue run from the late 90's is no longer relevant to anything, but I loved it every single issue.  And its the presence of J'onn J'onnz that is why I'll consider Stormwatch (having Paul Cornell writing doesn't hurt either, but I'm pretty ambivalent when it comes to The Authority characters).

I don't know why DC has such a hard time in the direct marketplace.  And while I applaud this herculean effort, I'm still a bit stunned that DC didn't also take a harder look at the DM and why they struggle in those shops.  I had predicted on this site that DC would be finding its way back to drug stores and spinner racks, but that isn't happening, and frankly, from some images I've seen of preview art, they're most certainly not appealing to kids (how many piles of bodies and pools of blood do we really need?).  The "all-ages" aspect of comics that drew me in and kept me there has most certainly been jettisoned for the more lucrative young male audience, I suppose.

While I understand they have a core demographic, some of what I see worries me as it seems so, so focused on appealing to those young males, and at the expense of other demographics (I aged out of their demo two years ago, and in looking at the ads, I can feel it). 

I'll miss the sense of history I felt I'd earned within the DCU, certainly.  As exciting as it is to think we're all leaping forward, and we're all headed into the unknown, according to a recent count I have roughly 6200 floppy DC comics.  I likely have around 500 DC trades (I've never inventoried my trades properly).  That's not just a lot of money spent, but a lot of time and brainpower invested.  That's a pretty good chunk of my life.

Its funny, because today a young man who works in my building in IT support came by my office.  He's from Pakistan Bangladesh, super nice kid, but is still a bit fascinated with American and Western culture in the way of the newly-arrived.  In my office at work I have up a large Jim Lee drawn Superman poster and two smaller posters of Golden-Age Superman, and a painting of Superman with Super Grover

This kid likes superheroes.  I think he likes what they tell him about what America, in a lot of ways, and I can tell he really doesn't know where to start with his questions.  But today, he was looking at that Jim Lee poster, and he said to me "its like you've got this other place you can go, with all of these amazing things".  And I agreed.  It may not be how I would put it, but it's true.

Its not just that a man can fly, but that he'll put on the cape and be there in the nick of time to save the day.  And that's the thing I'll always have out of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman, no matter what things look like come September 1.  At their core, that's who the characters are, and when they stray from that, we know.

Good-bye to the end of an era.  But that's what it really is, the end of an era, not the end of comics, for God's sake.  And not even the end of characters I love.  I want to believe that this will be the beginning of something fantastic and new, and I can only hope that DC doesn't spend the next ten years trying to recreate the world they're closing down now.  Its such an exceptional opportunity, if they just reach out and take it.

Here's to a tomorrow with a new Justice League, and soon enough, a return to a Superman who is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, can change the course of mighty rivers, and who can leap tall buildings in a single bound. 

notice the numbers of the cars?  "19" and "38".  I heart you, Superman comics.
I've missed so, so much.  I think you always do in these things.  I've given no love for Ray Palmer or Ryan Choi.  I've said not a word about Power Girl, Black Lightning or Metamorpho.  Or Dan Garrett, Ted Kord and Jaime Reyes.  Or Alan Scott.  Or Black Canary or Oracle (man, I'll miss Oracle).  Or Kara Zor-El or Kon-El as I've known them.  I haven't said a word about Vic Sage, or Rocket Red or even Ralph and Sue.

We'll see you on Wednesday, new DCU.  And here's to hoping that Lois Lane gets her damn due and her own book in the DCNu.

*Frankly, I think only reading modern comics does the reader a disservice.  Its like if you only watch movies that were released that month to DVD, or only read books from the New York Times best seller list.  As a publisher, DC has a rich and colorful history (I very much recommend Men of Tomorrow for a great overview of comics history), and I deeply believe that you get a much richer experience reading modern comics when you're familiar not so much with continuity, but the styles, ideas, characters, etc... that have come before.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent summary and epilogue to the current DC Universe.

Unlike many others, I was a big fan of the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline and reboot. I think Marv Wolfman, John Byrne, George Perez and Dick Giordano shepherded DC to great heights back then. The present caretakers...not so much.

I wish the new DC all the best. It will be good to get people excited over DC again. I hope that they can maintain a quality of excellence and not go down the path of pointless mega-crossovers and marketing shenanigans.