Saturday, May 30, 2015

Slowly making my way through DC's "Convergence"

Last week DC released the final issue of their Convergence mini-series, the two-month stop gap from DC Comics that was originally advertised as something editorial was doing while they took a break from publishing to move from DC's traditional home of NYC to sunny LA.

Of course, well in advance, it became clear that Convergence was going to be more than just a hiccup in DC's publishing schedule.  After the initial skyrocketing sales for The New 52, units moved have fallen off, and time and again, DC has wound up canceling a huge number of their initial offering of 52 books and the successors of same, all while keeping up appearances by maintaining a publishing line of 52 books (which always felt like something dreamed up by an actuary somewhere, so why it was part of their public marketing, I will never know).

"Welcome to... The Honeycomb Hide-Out!"

The first hint that we could count on major changes, post-Convergence, was that DC decided to follow their award-winning, best-selling Wonder Woman run by well-known comic writer Brian Azzarrello by hiring the previously-unpublished wife of popular comic artist David Finch (an artist with whom cheesecake was pretty much an inevitability) to pen the series.  It was a signal to anyone who has followed the industry for the past two decades that DC was basically putting New 52 Wonder Woman in a holding pattern for a while, but if you absolutely need a Wonder Woman comic - here's one to read (and, please, do not notice that Sensation Comics and Wonder Woman '77 are both fantastic and not technically part of the main stable of DC's titles managed by their core comics people).

There have been a few other things along the way that also signaled that DC was cooling its heels a bit, but I can't think of any real specifics other than shuffling of creative teams (and, keep in mind, I haven't really been reading any DC Comics for a while, so this is just info gleaned from headlines), but it all kind of made sense.

And then the "Divergence" information was released for June solicits, and my suspicions about DC's change in approach seem to have been at least partially correct.  There are lots and lots of new titles which are not "in continuity", so to speak.

But, the past few years, DC has really changed their game in September, and as those solicitations are still some time away, I still believe a lot of what's happening in Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman come next month is just filler until we hear about plans for the fall (I mean, Lois revealing Superman's identity to the world is a real, longterm change?  Really?  That's adorable.).

And there's some good reason why you'd want Divergence.  Unfortunately, it mostly has to do with how weird it is that we can always know what's happening next thanks to solicitations coming out months in advance - and DC possibly wanting more time to get their stories straight on what their mainstay titles would be like in September or afterwards.

I never fail to appreciate how Chip Kidd squeezes money out of DC.

When it came to the actual Convergence mini-series and related titles, I was far more interested in the spin-off titles.  Very clearly, those comics would revisit key points in DC's main-stay character's publishing histories, and that sounds better than any 8-issue mini.  After all, most DC "event comics" operate as some sort of editorial backdoor device to implement new policy, and Convergence seemed to be one in even less of a stealth mode than usual.

All of this has been at great risk, as well.  DC's audience (and that of many a LCS) is a newer one.  At least that's been to whom they've been reaching out.  The new kids haven't been trained to just go ahead and buy/ read the event comics no matter how mediocre-to-bad, just for the sake of keeping up.  I cannot imagine this has gone over well with the "I only read the 18 Batman titles" crowd.

And, unfortunately, "sort of trying" is how I'd describe the 5 issues of the mini series I've read so far.  It's pretty much a disposable series were it not for the implications.  It features characters mainly from the Earth 2 series and - lord knows why - the 80's Burroughs/ Howard knock-off series, Warlord.  An odd choice, and as totally forgotten as I am sure Warlord is for anyone under 40, I'm not sure that Earth 2 is a DC concept that has held tremendous cross-over appeal (I've never read an issue of the series despite my love of the JSA).  Mostly, the mini-series feels a whole hell of a lot like a really half-baked DC cross-over event.  Which it is.  It has a nigh-omnipotent character with a plan that harms a whole lot of people.  A secondary bad-guy who creates even more trouble.  People chattering away at each other with interchangeable personalities and dialog.  People die casually.

I dunno.

I've read the first issue of most of the Superman-related Convergence titles, and it's...  You know, it's always nice to see familiar names getting work.  There's no denying that it warms the cockles of my heart to see folks who wrote comics in the 80's and 90's appear on a byline.  And it's neat that there's a chance to see these folks working again on books where they did a lot of good.

But it's also odd to see the quirks of DC from their particular eras reappear in the comics, like Louise Simonson's blase approach to transitions between static scenes and action scenes, or Marv Wolfman's tendency to give everyone dialog as if they were having coffee in a university commons area around 1981 or so, right up to and including Phantom Zone villains.  And I can even enjoy it, knowing "hey, you don't get to see that all that often anymore, so I can appreciate this for an issue or two".  And, at some point in the decades to come that won't be a possibility, so I hope DC keeps bringing people back from time to time.

One series has focused on a pre-COIE Superman and Supergirl and their Kryptonian enemies, one on a post-COIE Superman and Lois trapped in Gotham, one on Steel and family, one on Matrix (sadly, my least favorite version of Supergirl), and one on a very 90's version of Kon-El - aka: Superboy.  All have their strengths and weaknesses, and while I understand the conceit of the Convergence is seeing these Earths battle it out, I'm at least hoping that they're really working toward finding what's at the core of all these characters and what they can do next.

DC is very clearly grappling with itself on an existential level that I don't envy.  They've created a new audience with the New 52, but it's a fickle audience that seemingly would rather be on tumblr posting their own doodles of a Chibi Deathstroke on a rainbow with Aqualad than diving into back-issue bins, and the further they've gone down the New 52, the more they've alienated their readers who came on prior to the New 52.  Over the decades, with their multitude of changes to "fix things", they've managed to create a multiverse of versions of their intellectual property while also refusing to allow talent to access those older versions except in the most rare of circumstances.  Meanwhile, they've also generated wave after wave of former fans like myself who became dissatisfied when they saw favorite versions of their characters swapped out in what seemed to be ridiculous .

But what they DO have, and I'm shocked that Convergence embraces this, is a rich history of so many versions of all of these characters.  What DC has fought against for 30-odd years as a weakness, in and of itself, has always been a strength of the DCU (I have NEVER agreed that the multiverse was all that complicated).  They've had great writers working in odd little pockets and epic stories that had to disappear - stories that meant something to people at one point, who didn't take too kindly to seeing those stories dismissed as less relevant than a high collar and ugly belt.

I haven't read all of the Convergence mini yet (and am kind of cringing at the thought of everything but the last pages of the final issue),   It'll never be my favorite story at DC, but few of the event comics ever really work all that well.  But I have to think DC has been to comic publisher therapy and is dealing with itself as an adult comic company rather than the adolescent trying to be seen as a responsible young adult despite their actual actions.

Of course, DC could totally f all of this up before January, so who knows?

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