Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Watchmen 2? Blergh.
We placed an empty cardboard box on our stairwell this morning, intending for it to go up when one of us had reason to walk upstairs. The box was about two feet deep. The stairs, not two feet deep. And so it was that I sat, watching Jeff the Cat as he approached the box. From his perspective, this was a box. They all do the same thing. You hop in them, and you have a fort and it is all pretty awesome. Boxes, by their nature, mostly stay put when you jump in them.
However, if the box is just sitting there, perched on the edge of the stair, likely eleven pounds of cat at the end of the box not supported by the stair is going to cause quite the calamity. He's done it before, this leaping into the box on the stairs. And even if it starts well, it ends poorly, with him suddenly at the bottom of the stairs, a box tumped over, him looking around wondering who is to blame for what happened. For when he has jumped in boxes on other surfaces, this just never happens.
And so it is, so often, watching DC Comics of late.
Once Dan Didio and his seemingly-in-need-of-ritalin-yes-man Jim Lee took over at DC Comics as publishers, its become increasingly clear that neither of them really cares all that much about the characters and properties of DC Comics.
I mean, it kind of makes sense. Lee rode off his success on X-Men and other work to jump ship from the big 2 and create what became the Wildstorm Universe, which was an answer to how boring and wimpy he must have found traditional superhero comics. Lots of shouting and bullets and whatnot seemed to be the formula, and I know the Wildstorm U has its relatively small dedicated defenders and supporters (but not large enough to sustain series any longer). I, myself, enjoyed the first few volumes of The Authority before the sameness of the premise, a sort of Boris the Bear-ish approach that saw the angrier Justice League stand-ins straight up killing analogs from other properties.
The Wildstorm U had a fairly impressive start in the mid-90's, then fizzled in the early 00's (I have theories about what 9/11 did to readers' perspectives on the mass body count that books like The Authority doled out routinely), then failed to reignite on what I believe were no less than four attempts by DC Comics to get folks back into Wildstorm during the last decade, none of which took off.
None of this, of course, seems to have registered with the current heads of DC, who keep trying to revive the concepts even as their animation division is preparing a new DC Cartoon film based on the Action Comics issue "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way", which was a retort to the ongoing commentary of the DCU in Wildstorm comics. And one that, in my opinion, actually answered it fairly well.
Meanwhile, Dan Didio has championed ideas like Lord Havok and the Extremists, Countdown and dumb the unpleasantness in that book, Countdown Arena (pitting heroes against each other to the death!), disembowlizations of Super Friend analogs Wendy and Marvin in a lambasted and poorly sold Teen Titans run, narrative mine fields like One Year Later, the trainwreck of the slow-motion death of the recent Superman books with the New Krypton year-long odyssey followed by JMS's half-baked plan.
I'm not sure anyone remaining at DC got the memo that the guys you put in charge don't have a record of seeming to know what success looks like, except where they accidentally stumble onto it, and they tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. Especially with the new issues of Justice League featuring a very-Authoritarian seeming Justice League (drawn by Lee), readily dispatching and dismembering the hordes of Apokolips with no comment regarding their state as living, sentient beings. And, of course, Superman taking down military aircraft because they're bothering him.
None of this has much to do with Watchmen, of course, or the seeming unofficial confirmation over the Holidays that we'll be seeing sequels and prequels to Watchmen appearing beginning in 2012. But its not too hard to start to draw a picture of what's going on at DC. Lee is still riding off his ideas of what makes a good comic based upon the ridiculous state of the industry in 1995 (and a belief that with Harras at the helm, he'll steer DC back into those waters), and Didio seems to believe that what you really need to appeal to an older reader is the sort of stuff of moderately successful slasher films and half-assed action flicks. None of which has ever translated particularly well between comics and film. (I peg a lot of that to the difference between one medium where the editor controls the pacing and timing, and the other where the reader manages their own pacing to a large extent).
Watchmen surely looks tempting, what with the steady sales of the book after two decades and the skyrocket in sales before the recent film (which landed with a thud and left a lot of deeply discounted Watchmen merchandise on the shelves). I'll put the idea of returning to Watchmen without Alan Moore behind the book aside for a moment, and instead sit down in my easy chair, rub my eyes, exhale loudly and wonder exactly how many short-term stunts will Didio and Lee try rather than just getting their shit straight with their monthly comic books.
Jesus Christ, guys. You're publishers now and you're still running around chasing shiny objects.
I am sure many artists and writers will take a pass on trying to ride the coattails of, arguably, the most successful superhero book to date. Many others will take the work for financial reasons, and many because they don't see what the big deal was in the first place. Likely, as many creators sign up, you'll see a matching list of reasons why they've joined up. But its hard not to believe, looking at the track record of what Lee believed made for a more grown-up comic, and what Didio thinks should be in the pages of a DC book, that they're among that loud herd of comic creators and readers (and, if the movie was any indication, Zack Snyder and the studio, included) that believe Watchmen's primary success and appeal to a larger or mass audience was because it included less cartoony depictions of violence and mayhem.
Watchmen came out of a place and time that's now decades in the past, by someone who was living during the Vietnam-era, the end of the 60's, and who might have something to say about the 1980's. It came to its conclusions about the nature of saving the world within the text. To be a jerk, aside from Morrison (who I don't think will touch this material), its mind-boggling to think DC would believe they even have anyone on staff who could carry off something that's even in the same neighborhood as Moore's clockwork pieces. I mean, can you imagine Geoff Johns trying to write a Dr. Manhattan story?
I'm getting cynical/ realistic about the current DC, and while I don't mind a cash grab, I'm also not going to say I'm going to give any of these titles (and it will be multiple books) a glance. I know the 20-somethings will poo-poo the original and write their reviews about how Tony Bedard is the right voice for the Comedian. But those 20-somethings will be wrong (and embarrass themselves in the process).
DC is circling this very inviting box, not quite understanding how precariously balanced the thing is. It looks so fun and inviting, and it seems like so very little can go wrong.
I look forward to see who they blame on this one.