Thursday, April 19, 2012

The State of DC, Their Business and the Public Adios from Chris Roberson to The Man

Not that long ago someone looked around my living room and, not without good reason, said, "Oh, so you're a DC guy?"

For a moment I hemmed and hawed, made some noises about how I didn't like being pigeonholed, that, yes, I had indeed dedicated two full rooms of my house to be shrines of sorts to DC Comics, but that...  ha, I read Marvel and other stuff, too.

What I didn't have the heart to say (nor did I think they really wanted the full explanation, they were seeking confirmation, like saying "the sky is really blue today, isn't it?") was that I am now buying exactly two DC Comics per month, Action Comics and Superman, and I'm enjoying one a great deal and am reading the other with a raised eyebrow and mixed feelings.  But, otherwise, I'm not buying DC Comics.*

The weird, ugly transformation of DC the past two years finally broke me.  I can't unsee the gears and mechanisms of DC Comics, Corporate Entity, sticking out like rebar through a construction site accident victim.  Its all so bare and obvious and exposed, and it dwarfs every half-assed line of dialog and every broke-back Harley Quinn pose on every page.  Even the inconsequential, predictable, half-baked writing is a function of "what's happening at DC".

The whole Alan Moore thing?  The thing where he asked his fans not to read the upcoming Before Watchmen books?

Maybe a month after I'd learned about DC's New 52 and processed it, I predicted that DC's next step would be to revisit Watchmen.  After the New 52, Dan Didio would be officially out of tricks (after all, what is The New 52 but the exact same bag of tricks he's tried to implement over and over again at DC with no success?) and he'd already be planning for a way to cover for the losses the New 52 would show on the bottom line a year after the launch.

And, of course, the kids are rising to the bait.  That thing is going to sell like crazy on name recognition alone.  But I won't be a part of it, and if that calls my credentials into question as a comics nerd, seriously, you know where you can stick it.

Its not new.  Anyone who has read a Les Daniels book on the DC characters or picked up Men of Tomorrow knows exactly how ugly the scrappy business of comics has been since its inception.  And it is naive to believe that businesses of all kinds don't lie, cheat and steal to get product in your door (weren't we all more than ready to begrudgingly accept the Mike Daisey story about Apple, and then go buy the new iPad3 anyway?).  Anyone who has followed the stories of Siegel & Shuster, Kirby, Alan Moore, Bill Finger, Steve Gerber or others named or otherwise - knows that .

I've compromised my personal feelings regarding the Siegels vs DC Comics, and hope that its just the weird machinations of Toberoff coming between the Siegels and DC living together, happily ever after.  We'll see.  If not...

I am tired of reading books that seem to have moved terribly far away from the concept of the superhero and become the grim and circular slug fests satirized in 1996's Kingdom Come, in which "heroes" battle "heroes".**

And I'll say it:  I'm tired of the fantasies of 18 year old boys, and the 18 year old boys masquerading as adults, working on these comics, defining what a "hero" looks like, when clearly their definition of "hero" means "furious person in tights seeking Dark Vengeance", but has nothing to do with, I hate to say it, but... "the greater good".  I'm tired of the companies - the same companies whose editorial problems jut out of the stories and art at every opportunity - making their profits from the very idea of "heroes" when they demonstrate on a daily basis that they fail to grasp decency at almost every level as a company in how they run their business.

So, while if you've been paying attention to the man on Twitter or online this year, you should know where he stood and where he was headed, it was a bit of a headline today that writer Chris Roberson publicly broke from DC, not burning bridges with individuals or the teams he'd worked with, but as a conscientiousness objector to the state of DC Comics and the lousy business practices he couldn't support as a creator.

I highly recommend you read the article here.  Also, a catalyzing article by David Brothers here.

Its a harsh lesson when you realize sometime in your late 20's (as I did) that adults don't really attain much in the way of wisdom or increased intelligence or moral clarity just by virtue of getting older.  They certainly do learn to rationalize.  Doing the right thing is rarely rewarded, and almost never profitable unless you're in a hokey movie.

Roberson is leaving because of his stance on how DC deals its business, and the reflection of what that means for their history, their current state and what creators can expect from DC in the years to come.

I salute Roberson.  He's taking a path I am certain many others wish they had the courage or cajones to walk.  He could have kept trying to get work there (he finished and greatly improved the JMS-started Grounded storyline and wrote one of the best stories in Superman/ Batman the title saw.  And, of course, DC has published his iZombie as a creator owned series and he's worked with the spin-off  Cinderella mini-series).

It would be disingenuous to not say his already rising star may have gained some velocity from the DC treadmill, but having had tried it out there, he's moved on quickly.  He owes the creative teams the thank-you's, which he gave.  And its not like DC didn't get something out of the relationship with Roberson, lest you think he owes them something.  Just his patience and careful resuscitation of the Superman title during its darkest hour (in a single issue) should be earning him personal phone calls from Johnny DC himself.

Full disclosure - I have met Roberson in person.  He's a great guy with a lovely family, but we're not going fishing together or anything.  Rather, I just very, very much happen to agree with where I think he's headed, and that's to greener pastures for anyone who takes their career as a creator with a sense of their own destiny into account.

DC and Marvel are great IP farms for toys and movies, but at some point, they lost sight of what they were doing narratively and from a business standpoint.  Creators going to work there need to do so with both eyes open, and know that it's a way station on the way to building a career and a better comics market.

I won't dwell here on a hundred other thoughts on what might make sense for DC to do as an IP business, but I will say that I doubt Roberson is alone in his actions as per leaving.  But he deserves the kudos as he's  the one who said something publicly.  We need more of that, for the Siegels and Kirbys out there.

A creators bill of rights is a great idea if you have room to negotiate, and, I am sorry to say, you are not going to negotiate with Disney or Time Warner.  Not for what matters.

We need Roberson and a few dozen more like him to take a risk, and give not just themselves a chance, but a chance for creators.  And if comics are going to grow again, as they did in the 1980's, its not going to be at DC and Marvel.  The spark of innovation is moving outward.  I may be a Superman fan for the rest of my life, and that's one thing, and its something I suspect I'll wrestle with for a long while as DC and the Siegels work out their differences.  But if I want to see what's next for where the medium can go, and if I want to not feel like I'm supporting those visible gears in the story machine, built on some fairly Luthor-like prinicples, following the likes of Roberson makes it that much easier to keep reading comics.

*I'm talking monthly floppies.  I have intentions to purchase some titles such as Wonder Woman's first trade under Azzarello and am considering The Flash.  I am also buying some reprint items.
**my abandonment of Marvel came with the final issue of Civil War at which point I knew I'd just finished reading (and spending money on) a book I found ludicrous and childish.  And, rather than move on, Marvel has found ways to keep smashing their heroes together like a stupid, angry child smacking his toys together in the sandbox until the limbs fall off.  That anyone is excited about X-Men vs. Avengers is of absolute amazement to me.  How many times do you really need to see this?  Shouldn't SHIELD be arresting all of these idiots by now?  Why not go out and do something useful and burn off all that energy?


Jake Shore said...

Say it brother!

Simon MacDonald said...

Yeah, it's pretty obvious that I'm not the target market for DC's new 52 line of comics. I really tried to love it but after half a year I'm back to buying no single issues.

On a related note I swung by my LCS to pick up my copy of Swamp Thing #7 that had been waiting for me for awhile and I decided to flip through Justice League #8. Really, are they for serious? This is the highest selling book in all of comicdom? Obviously, I am no longer in touch with what sells today as it was not my cup of tea.

I'm going back into my hole now to read my independent books.

horus kemwer said...

Good article.

I noticed after my (monthly) trip to the comic shop Wed. that I'd only picked up one DC title (and that was the last issue of Batman: Odyssey). So, although I had formerly considered myself "a DC man" I am now following none of their monthlies. I certainly don't identify with the publisher as a positive brand name anymore.

On the flip side, I'm now following three Image titles, more than ever before, and am developing a progressively more positive image of Image.

The League said...

I'll take a look and see what was in my stack. I think its interesting that we've all dropped the weekly habit, if you guys were on that kick. I certainly was, but when I went in this Wednesday, I realized it'd been 3-4 weeks since I'd been in the shop. Kind of crazy. I missed the shop and the workers there more than I think I'd missed grabbing "this week's stuff".

I was also very late to the weekly habit, and didn't start doing that til my last year of college when stores started carrying only what they could sell out of immediately and I felt like if I weren't there Wednesday I wouldn't get my stuff.