Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The New 52 - Impressions at the Half-Way Point

As I mentioned, I've been given a great opportunity from the good folks at Austin Books and Comics to read the remaining New 52 books from DC Comics that I hadn't picked up yet.  So, we'll be starting that up next week.

However, as we enter Month 2 of the New 52 here on Wednesday, I didn't want to wait a whole lot longer to discuss some initial impressions after reading about half of the new 52 (Honestly, it could be another month before I got through the remaining books).

Looking at the financial success of the month for DC and comic shops alike, it seems the hype machine fired on all cylinders, and DC accomplished what it set out to do - and that's get readers to the store.  And they did it by doing what no cross-over or event could do, and genuinely bring the unexpected to the table.  No assumptions were safe, history had re-written itself at DC Comics, and the decades that guys like myself have spent trying to get our heads around what comprised the DCU was semi-irrelevant as we picked up each book in September.  I found that a good thing.

that sound you hear is DC laughing at your gripes from behind stacks of money
I'm guessing that at least the month of September and likely October will see sales for DC Comics that nobody in the hallowed halls of DC has seen in years.

What I'm not sure about is if what they sold wasn't anticipation more than product, if we'll have a fraction of these same readers by June, and what it looks like when buyers quit sampling series.  And, certainly, this is the last time DC can pull this stunt for the next few years.*

Given the fact that DC has reportedly sold out of all of the New 52 titles' first run printings, I'm not sure content or the actual exciting new direction had much to do with anything so much as a perfect storm of (a) the certainty that this really was a major deal and, despite comics' constant insistence on "earth shattering", "nothing will ever be the same" - you get a lot of the same out there, and this wasn't that, (b) the opportunity to get in on the ground floor for what might actually be good, and (c) the remaining readers with a collector mentality who really do get excited by new #1s and all new directions.

But let's cut to the chase...

Here's a list of what I think I will be picking up in Month 2 of the New DCU

Week 1
  1. Action Comics
  2. Animal Man
  3. OMAC - I know I bagged on it, but it was a fun book.  I want to see if they can do it again.
  4. Swamp Thing
Week 2
  1. Batgirl
  2. Batwoman
  3. Frankenstein
  4. Superboy
Week 3
  1. Justice League
  2. Supergirl
  3. Wonder Woman (I may trade-wait on this book.  Not sure yet.  I've got a few weeks.)
Week 4
  1. Aquaman
  2. Flash (also might trade-wait on The Flash)
  3. Legion: Secret Origin
  4. Superman
Trade Waiting
  1. Detective
  2. Huntress (depending on reviews)
  3. Demon Knights
  4. Green Lantern
  5. Blue Beetle (depending on reviews)
  6. Captain Atom (depending on reviews)
  7. Green Lantern Corps
  8. Green Lantern: The New Guardians
  9. Batman
So, that's better than what I thought I'd be saying about how many books I'd be reading.  That's 13-15 titles I'll be reading monthly, and somewhere between 6 and 12 trades I'll likely pick up (actually, if I shift WW, Flash and Huntress to trades, it'll likely mean I don't pick up something else, but....).

Not yet a terribly clear picture, I guess.  And I'm sure DC wishes I had between 50 and 52 titles on my pull list, but I haven't been pulling huge numbers of books since, really, the price crested $2.50.

Am I still a part of the audience DC intends to serve?

I've never made any bones about liking a certain traditional streak to my superheroes or that my fandom tracks for DC's more famous characters, so its no wonder I'm looking at books starring the likes of Aquaman, Superman, GL, Wonder Woman and Batman in the relaunch, or otherwise.

oh my god, I hated this comic so much

I think its crucial to remember that, if you are bothering to read my reviews: DC didn't relaunch for me, the 36 year old reader, busily aging himself out of the demographic which DC has decided to pursue almost exclusively with the New 52.**  I am a dude, but I'm not 18-34.  I'm old and cantankerous.  I have tastes in comics that were developed in the 1980's and beliefs in what constitutes a good superhero yarn that began incubating with episodes of Batman and seeing Superman on the big screen.  And I think Moore and Miller took those tropes to their logical extreme in my youth, and they've almost never been topped (something I increasingly hear today's 20-something fans flatly rejecting).

Yes, Catwoman and Red Hood drew a lot of attention this month for sexually driven content, but I knew those books were going to be ridiculous thanks to creative choices discussed in pre-release solicits and interviews.  What surprised me was the step backward, narratively, in a lot of what I was reading to a sort of 90's-era mentality of "just draw lots of action and we'll toss a story on top of it".   This was paired with a near relentless glorification of unnecessary violence in books that just didn't need it, like Firestorm.

Perhaps its the MTV Video Games that have set an expectation for what's a good story.  I don't know.  But it does seem that in about half of what I read, there's a pretty standard formula in which you throw in lots of characters in vaguely paramilitary looking gear, have your villains kill indiscriminately (especially kids, puppies and the occasional mom), and rack up double-digit body counts at every possibility, and quadruple or city-wide genocides if you want to have a real event...  And heroes fulfill Mark Waid's Kingdom Come prophecy with indiscriminate mayhem and insular little worlds where they fight secret wars in public, the populace just ants in their path.

It was a problem I started having with books that were supposedly tongue in cheek, like The Authority prior to 9/11 suddenly making massive death-tolls less amusing.  This...  in so many ways, feels like a step backward in time.  Or, at least a step backward to meet the young men who I would see hanging around the clubhouse-like shops of the time.  I don't think its a coincidence, as it was also a glorious time for creator Jim Lee, now a publisher at DC (which still blows my mind).

Look, I'm reading some war comics these days, and those things, written in the 1950's - a supposedly kiddie-environment, have more brains and a geometrically greater handle on storytelling than anything you saw out of titles like Teen Titans or Blackhawks this go-round.  And books like Sgt. Rock are about nothing but a nightmarish slog across Europe, in a kill-or-be-killed scenario.  But you can feel them trying to DO something with the medium, characters and opportunity.

There's a shocking lack of that within this relaunch.  Yeah, they restarted some titles or level set for the future on others, but this was the chance for so many titles and creators.  It may have been coincidence, but it seems like the push in 1986's reboot, probably the best analog for this relaunch, there was a furor in the air that lasted years and years with creators, leading directly to Vertigo and the evolution of formats, ratings, etc... in comics, exploration of the space.

I only saw that same sort of fire in two or three titles out of the 20-odd I tried (and I avoided several titles because I knew they were going to... well, Red Hood, people).

There is stuff I liked, a lot.  I am genuinely very excited about picking up my books tomorrow.  And that's my new rule under the New 52.  I am only buying books that excite me (Superman aside, because, man, I have a problem).  DC pulled the trigger wanting a new response from readers, and they're getting it.  Its a wake-up call for both sides.  If you're going to change everything, DC, make me care.  Justice League International?  Not a way to make me care.  Hiring all the same writers using the same bag of tricks as before?  Not a way to make me care.

I appreciate the "comics journalism" stories about how shake-ups are already underway within DC's new titles.  If writers and artists can't make it work, there's no reason to keep them going.  And while I don't wish anyone to lose their job, I don't thinks its fair to readers or a good long-term business strategy to see comic taken down or characters damaged or retired because Dan Didio's pet writers don't know how to put together a compelling story, but how do you find a metric to quit hiring that guy?

Try harder, DC.  Earn me as an audience, and I will be grateful.

With the deal from Austin Books, I'm very excited to have an opportunity to read the rest of DC's New 52.  I want to know what else is happening.

But I think that I am also aware that the push from DC to seek out their new audience is also a push for me to re-evaluate as a reader.  I may have developed loyalties to DC in the past 10 years, but its certainly not all I read, and superheroes are not all I read.  And I don't want to become the guy reading comics month after month (and spending that kind of money) and finding himself unhappy.

I had an email exchange with a gentleman many years my senior about four years ago, and he expressed how he'd abandoned superhero comics and why.  It was the first time I admitted to myself: this may not be something I do forever.  I know you don't see many 60 year old men at the comic shop except the few hard-core guys who are more into the history and craft than the continuity or caring who is writing Outsiders these days.  Sooner or later, I'll fade away and my reading will change.

Frankly, if I were the same guy at age 40 that I was at age 20, I think that'd be a pretty sad case.  My expectations as a reader are growing and changing.  That's out of my hands.

The great thing is that DC has found several books that I do still want to read (Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Frankenstein, etc...) and Superman has not been so re-imagined that I'm freaked out.  Its still Superman.

So we'll see.  I have lots of comics.  I'll buy lots more.  I've been reading for decades, and I still find new things with comics to love, be it reprints of old comics, new genres or writers thus-far unexplored, or trying to build a respectable Superman and Enemy Ace collection.

And so that's my rant.

I'm going to go read Catwoman.  Srsly.

*  although I'd argue a return to the old DCU would boost sales for a bit, too.
**   I remember this demographic, and I wasn't a part of it in the 1990's, either.


Simon MacDonald said...

Here's what I'm going to be picking up going forward:

Week 1

1. Animal Man
2. Swamp Thing

Week 2

1. Batgirl
2. Batwoman
3. Demon Knights

Week 3


Week 4

1. All Star Western
2. Justice League Dark

Trade Waiting

1. Action Comics (my Morrison rule)
2. Batman
3. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. (if I hear good things)

I too am upset by the 90's fication of the DCnU. That wasn't a good era for comics and yet they seem to be set to repeat their mistakes.

A couple of things that I was turned off of as the DCnU continued to roll out was the crazy amount of violence i.e. the slaughter of innocents in many books. That seemed over the top to me and not really necessary. Also, the "sexy" book were really sophomoric. Luckily I didn't buy them but I've heard enough about them from people I trust to know my decision was sound.

I'm giving DC another two months of books to see if I'm going to continue to get these books monthly. I've been looking at how much I've spent over the first month of the DCnU and it is significant. I may just have to go back to trades on all of this.

Also, if the DCnU just loses me it's okay cause there are great books out there like American Vampire, Unwritten, Chew, Morning Glories, Atomic Robo and that Kamandi trade that I'm salivating over. So I know there will always be good comics out there for me to read.

Can't wait to hear your reviews on Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws.

The League said...

That seems like a pretty respectable pull list, to me. There IS a lot of other stuff out there, which is why I'm not worried. And I'm also very much over being worried I'll miss something, and so I think I need to buy "everything".

I guess with Didio at the helm, I shouldn't be too shocked if he's asking artists to amp up the violence. He is the guy who gutted Wendy and Marvin. But I think they're missing how much gratuitous violence plays badly with a large part of the population, including 18-34 year old males. There's a difference between a John Woo movie and Faces of Death.

Simon MacDonald said...

Yeah, right now my comic budget has been spent for the time being pre-paying my October and November books in order to get my LCS discount on floppy prices. Because of that I don't have the cash for:

Morning Glories Vol. 2
Chew Vol. 4
Kamandi Omnibus Vol. 1
Unwritten Vol. 4 (soon to be released)

So mission accomplished there DC at the detriment to Vertigo.