Tuesday, March 12, 2013

DC Comics Leadership - Still Finding it's Way 18 Months into DCNu

These days I'm only reading a few DC Comics, so it's a bit harder to see what's going on in the halls at the company.  Certainly looking at the release of the monthly solicits is an excellent indicator.

The Beat already did a nice breakdown of some things that really stand out.  Todd Allen points out:

  • The $2.99 line seems to be getting crossed
  • We may not be looking at 52 titles anymore

Batman: One More Time, With Feeling (by Scott Snyder)

This news came on the same day DC announced a storyline called "Batman: Year Zero" to fill in all those gaps you had (right?) about what happened after Batman: Year One.   The story shall be about The Bat-Man, who he is and how he came to be!  Snyder's promise that the series will tell us all the things we've never seen before, like Batman's first run in with a super-villain, is true if you're 20 and just got into comics, abut less true if you dropped all the Batman books but Morrison's because you realized that maybe, in his current comics form, the Bat-fellow is getting pretty repetitive (for first super-villain meetings, we recommend the superlative Batman: Snow by Dan Curtis, JH WIlliams III and the late, terrific Seth Fisher).

I don't know what's more surprising: that Snyder's modus operandi with Batman has been to largely keep digging up the bones of well-loved, well-worn storylines done by some of the name-iest names in comics, or that this seems to be a real draw for the Bat-audience.  I'm old, so I was good with Batman: Year One, A Death in the Family, and every story that wanted to goof on Thomas and Martha Wayne from Hush to Death and the Maidens and was thinking maybe we were ready to move on.  But, short of another gang-war or serial killer story, it seems that all DC has to offer re: Batman these days is another whack at the same worn out Batman origin stuff and tilling about in the same soil of Batman's family history and early years.

Clearly DC feels a "Year Zero" story is a good idea from a sales point, but it's also a sign that maybe DC's relaunch efforts are getting re-thought two years in as it's becoming clear there's a huge mess left at DC thanks to their brilliant "5 year window" plan (which didn't work with "One Year Later", so I have no idea what they were thinking).  They're doing what comics have always done and retroactively mucking with the origins because the pieces aren't fitting.

But, I am sure it'll sell like crazy, and this is why I don't run a DC Comics Company.

Still, going once again back to the well and referencing the wildly popular material...  It's a little distressing to see that Didio's plans for DC are so far afield from the 1980's boom of creativity that led to anyone even thinking that going strictly Direct Market was even an option.  Current leadership as already mined DC cash-cow, Watchmen, for all it's worth and he's now mucking about with Year One and other seminal Bat-storylines for fun and profit.  Can there be any question that he'll be looking at the Dark Knight Returns alternative timeline next?

I would remind you, we are getting new Sandman.  How much do you think they're paying Gaiman to try his hand at that?  Surely Miller can come out from his bunker long enough to direct more DKR.  And if not Miller, it's going to be Snyder who seems happy to be the Bat-Fanboy in Chief right now.

A Humbled Editorialship?

But DC publishing leadership has also shown a little humility the past few months, perhaps as someone above Didio and Lee in the food chain reads about their efforts in the press and on the internets.

First, Bleeding Cool reported that Didio stood up at the Charlotte, NC based creative summit and seemingly apologized and swore to do better in the future when it comes to editorial mucking about with creators as they work on stories.

Anyone watching DC has seen the change from a creator-driven company to a company trying to make editorial and IP king, much as it was for most of the company's history.  Whether this can work for an adult audience is actually an unknown as the rise of the adult comics audience coincided (I believe, not coincidentally) with the name-brand creator, who's unique voice fans tended to follow from property to property.

The change has been devastating to the names DC used to count on to provide a unique voice.  Of course, veterans like George Perez left books in disgust, making public comment (something unlike Perez, in my experience) that editorial had simply jerked him around far too often to enjoy working on a big name character like Superman.

It's a little disarming to see DC stacking the books with creators I've never heard of as it signals that DC is simply not going to let creators get the upper hand.  It's too much trouble, and books seem manned by "Yes Men" who can crank out a story based on an email and who won't complain about the interference all that much, right up til the minute they get fired or see their role diminished.

Perhaps we're seeing some rethinking of this strategy at DC, or at least less of the minute-by-minute editorial changes that were part of why I walked off at least a few of the DC reads I was failing to enjoy.

WTF happened to WTF?

I do think someone from high up at DC Entertainment is watching their adorable little publishing company from above these days. As an example, the "WTF Certified!" covers are no longer a thing, and Didio did some awkward handwaving and relied on someone noting that Diamond was stating that the WTF branding was gone.

Kids...  I don't know if you work in a place where sometimes someone in a position of authority does something that someone higher up doesn't like, or your clients don't like...  but there's sort of a program that runs once this is in place, and if you're NOT going to do something that you made some noise about, the first thing you do is just stop talking about it.  Next, you kind of handwave when others ask about "whatever happened to X?", and it's really remarkable how that works.  It certainly seems like the comics press bought the "we didn't need it" line from Didio.  The problem with that thinking is that if something is your idea and you back it, you want to claim the success of your idea.  You don't scrap it because pre-orders look promising.  You carry that through and make noise about it right through WTF Month.

But if you have a movie coming that you want to make a billion dollars on, you suddenly become a lot more risk averse.  You really, really don't want stories out there about "What the @#$%?" being plastered all over the cover of your family-friendly Superman book a few weeks prior to the Superman movie's release.

And, btw:  they aren't going to come out and say "we messed up", which is, apparently, the cue even the bigger comics reporting outlets needed to even speculate about what happened there.

But speaking of the new Superman movie...

Man of Steel and Cutting Comics

In addition, DC recently backed off the controversial Orson Scott Card Superman comic using artist Chris Sprouse's objection as their reason for putting it on hold.

Kids...  DC is trying to launch an Avenger's-like Justice League franchise with Man of Steel arriving in theaters in June.  If you remember the Action Comics 900 debacle, DC scrambled after finding themselves a topic of conversation on cable news outlets and online media as Superman renounced his citizenship in a sort of homily back-up story in the comic (and the emails I got from people wanting to get my impression.  Hoo boy.).  They scrubbed a harmless story in a succeeding issue of Superman where Superman befriends an American Muslim superhero, and planted stories about Dan Didio not liking cats in trees.

Weird days.

Basically, I think DC made a deal with Sprouse or used his nervousness on the topic to get him to help them out of a news-cycle they didn't want t be a part of.  With Man of Steel about to hit theaters, they really didn't need pundits asking "but doesn't Superman hate the gays?".

In 2006, the night before Superman Returns hit theaters, I watched Larry King pick up a months' old internet rumor that had been completely debunked and ask Bryan Singer, Kevin Spacey and Brandon Routh if Superman was going to be gay in Superman Returns.*  Not only did it make the openly gay Singer lose all his steam and look utterly deflated, make the straight and very young Routh look puzzled and make the semi-closeted Spacey look like he wanted to walk...  it was that sort of thing that made the internet and journalism maddening then.  It hasn't improved in 2013.  In fact, it's gotten worse.

Do I think Diane Nelson called Didio and said "what are you doing to my company, you ape?"?  Yes I do.  or someone who reports to Diane Nelson said it on her behalf.

DC is used to being a stand alone company that's pretended to play with the big boys, but never really understood the bigger picture.  As DC Entertainment, everything is different.  The success of Marvel has meant that, for the first time, comics companies are seen as one, big monolith, and they need to behave that way.  There's a reason Mickey Mouse went from scamp to everyone's pal in the blink of a few successful cartoons, and a reason Superman went from back-alley bruiser to protector of the Constitution in a few years.

And in conclusion...

DC is growing up.  Or, at least the needs of DC Comics are changing.

I may not be thrilled about the direction of the Batman comics, but I don't need to be.  Someone else is looking out for them for a new generation of man-child readers.  It also seems like DC is struggling so much with it's own inner workings that it is effecting the content, and with a need to show profitability, we're going to see the past squeezed for every story anybody ever liked.  We will not be seeing much new, unless Didio was sincere about releasing creative control back to the guys who are just trying to write four issues in a row without a cross-over.

Meanwhile, the weird-guy-in-the-basement nature of comics is catching up to the show runners as they realize that there are eyes on them in an all new way.  And even if you think you can reach your modest audience of your specific group with promises of manufactured edginess.

As it has been for the past few years, the workings at DC are more entertaining than 90% of their output.

I do think guys like me who thought the New52 was going to fail were not correct, and if we're sitting around waiting for DC to come back to us as an audience... they're selling more comics now than in years.  At this point, bringing back the old DCU would be a major, major editorial undertaking and confuse the new readers.  But sooner or later, DC will also want to make money off those ideas, one way or another.

*I still kind of think Tom Brevoort started that rumor


horus kemwer said...

I'm puzzled by the last section - "DC is growing up" and " Someone else is looking out for them for a new generation of man-child readers" - it seems like this is exactly what's not happening.

It's really kinda sad. But it seems they're losing on both fronts, surely - on the one hand, they're failing to satisfy folks like you and me, who have now left in disgust (admittedly, we have some different tastes, but I think we're by and large annoyed by the same recent DC trends). On the other hand, though, they're also losing on the purely business side of things, otherwise, why so much backpeddling, why such a complete and obvious series of fumbles on the IP front (see all non-Dark Knight movies)?

The League said...

DC is growing up into a real, live part of the company of Warner Bros. When they try to have a promotion like "WTF Month", it actually gets noticed by the adults at DC Comics rather than just being something that's happening out on the playground where they've comfortably been the past 15 years. They're making mistakes as they're now seen as part of the corporate structure that plays by different rules.

It's also key to note: DC is actually doing pretty well right now. We may have left, but there's a new crop of readers at DC. And while I may not like what they're doing in Batman, DC is making comics that satisfy the needs of the audience they're courting. If I took a dig at the "Man-Child" readers, its that DC has also stopped trying to age the actual content with the readers and has back-peddled to appeal once again to the never-ending crop of 18 year old males they want as their audience.

They are trying to get their act together as a company, and the GL movie was a misfire from jump and probably more indicative of the way DC Comics movies were being handled on the big screen than what's currently happening. They assumed "just put a guy in tights up there and we'll bank", and it failed. If the rumors are true that Nolan is now exec producing everything at DC, then that's a major change in thinking on DC and WB's part and, for the first time, a willingness to blame execution rather than content. Controlling that execution is a big, big deal when it comes to maturity for DC.