Monday, August 15, 2016

DC Comics' Rebirth - DC Tries To Get It's Groove Back

I'm buying way, way more in the way of DC Comics these days then I have in a few years.  Not as many as I might have been back in the hey-day around 2007 (back when I was practically panic-buying comics, afraid I'd miss something), or even as many as I was in the days before DC's New 52 effort launched, but I'm back up from, like, 3 per month (I was picking up Action, sometimes Superman, Sensation Comics and Wonder Woman '77 when it came out).

But, back then, I was literally picking up about 25 DC titles per month, I think.  It was a lot, but I was a Wednesday comics guy, I liked keeping up weekly and monthly with all the ongoing characters and stories, seeing what would happen, good, bad, otherwise, and it was the constant decision-making of "is this comic worth picking up or should I try something else?".  At the core of all the titles I read were four characters - Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Batman (in a somewhat managed capacity as there was always too much Batman on the shelf).  The rest were usually up for debate.

With Rebirth, I'm picking up a few titles:

Action Comics
Wonder Woman
The Flash
Justice League
New Superman
Supergirl (not yet released)
All Star Batman
Trinity (not yet released)
and probably the Super Sons title or whatever it's called, which will come out this Fall.

I'll be waiting on word from folks to see if any of the Green Lantern titles are worth it, but I'm not holding my breath.  When they quit making the book about the Corps shattering and reforming and shattering and reforming, somebody wake me up and alert me.

The business model is different.  Each month we'll get two installments of some core titles while other titles will remain once-per-month.  In the wake of DC's attempt to keep 52 separate titles on the shelf at all times, meaning we got wave after wave of half-baked comics that wound up flopping, the strategy of more-of-same-solid-books makes a lot of sense for retaining shelf-space while keeping focus on flagship titles and characters.  If Action Comics is coming out twice per month, that's two sales versus 1 monthly sale and less of a guarantee of another sale for an ancillary title.  And I think they can move two issues per month, especially if they keep the best talent on those key books.  DC can still experiment with subsidiary titles, new characters and reviving other characters, but they should have a stable financial center based around those titles and be able to attract better talent for no other reason than 2x the paycheck per month is possible if the talent does well and hangs around.

As a reader, of course I like having more comics per month.  As a consumer, yeah, it's a bit harder on the wallet (I've intentionally decided to avoid the Bat-titles until I hear I need to check something out in particular because - holy hell, there are always too many Bat-books).  And, I also like that if a story isn't really working for me, it may be over with in half the time that a six-issue run used to take, or - if they do run a story for six months, that's 12 issues of room for a story to breathe without taking up a calendar year.

The model for the New 52 seemed to be that DC wanted top-down storytelling, and after the first six months of the effort, they genuinely did not seem to care who was writing the books.  It became a mix of "who now?" and "yeesh.  That guy stopped working for a reason," but all were clearly folks willing to take editorial direction and bend for forced cross-over events.

For the moment it seems like DC may not have the juice to call back all of the name-brand writers and artists they used to be able to get.  They haven't mended enough fences, and I don't think they can poach from other companies quite yet.  But the folks they've got on books for this effort are a return to some familiar names, and range from being solid to actual name writers (they got Rucka back for Wonder Woman.  Who'd think that could happen?)

It's an interesting mix, because DC didn't reboot.  They really have kept the New 52 continuity (so I'm doing some mental gymnastics to keep up), but the attitude feels so much more that of the Post-Crisis era.

And I don't even really know exactly what that means or how that happens.  And I can't imagine what occurred previously, from editorial, to make the New 52 DCU such a drag.

Honestly, I'll never really be sure, entirely, why the New 52 Superman never felt like Superman.  I can point to moments here and there, including his very first appearance in Justice League #1 (2011) with a bit of a punk just cold-cocking GL.  But something about Clark Kent's unstable situation at The Daily Planet, his off relationship with Perry, Jimmy and especially Lois...  And then the weirdly militaristic design of Superman's costume felt like tactical armor, something to intimidate, not inspire trust in folks he met or joy in the reader.  For whatever reasons all of those things happened (some may have been legal as the lawsuit with the Siegels was going poorly), it left you with someone who felt like a stand-in.

But even with the Lois and Clark series, and before that the Convergence 2-shots, the introduction of who I assume is our Post-Crisis Superman made the DCU feel... like the DCU.  That the DCU Rebirth one-shot could and would openly talk about how the entire New 52 was off in tone is just incredibly telling and, frankly, damning.  Certainly Flash Rebirth and Green Lantern Rebirth were widely acknowledged to exist to fix unwise character and story choices of the past.  Apply that same title to your whole Universe and... yeesh.

Of course, we now know that behind the scenes, very quietly, Geoff Johns has been promoted to be a President of DC Entertainment.  And anyone who has followed Johns' career would know that while he has a tendency to do distinctly modern things in his comics (decapitations), he has a respect and deep knowledge of the DCU that may not be Waid-sian, but it's certainly better than most of the folks working at DC these days.  That one of his first moves was to bring DC back to what it does well - put brightly colored heroes with a belief in the good in cosmically bad situations from which they'll emerge at least a bit victorious - is a sign things are going better already.

I can't say if he's responsible for the shift in talent and approach on the books entirely himself, but it has happened since he got the new title, and that new DC logo has actually fulfilled it's promise, so long as you just ignore the fact it's in front of Suicide Squad at your local cinema.

Truthfully, I was a bit skeptical when I saw DC had hired Dan Jurgens to write Action Comics, which seems a little foolish at the moment.   I've seen lots of folks with classic runs come back and not be able to re-capture the magic.  While I liked Jurgens' work, it was not as hip or polished as some of what I liked during the original run.  But...  then, DC hired Jurgens to write some of those Convergence books, and they were much better then they needed to be, and as I'm reading his current work on Action, his writing is inline with what he'd always done, but somehow Jurgens has reached a new level of sophistication that has immediately elevated him from "one of the good Superman writers" to "this guy totally gets everything about Superman and he knows how to create a nuanced world around him".  Despite the many, many gaps that the books have to fill with narrative caulking, I am totally satisfied at the moment.

Likewise - I'm a fan of Peter Tomasi who came on Green Lantern Corps a while back and immediately showed a true craftsman's know-how and who almsot kept me around in the New 52 with his Batman and Robin title.  Here he's paired with writer/ artist Patrick Gleason, and Superman is doing a great job of establishing the family-centric status quo of Superman and and maybe some of the same for Krypton and Kryptonians.  If I have a beef, it's that within a few issues they took Krypto off the game-board for no real reason, and I'd like to see that amended.*

Meanwhile, Rucka has returned to the Wonder Woman title and is taking advantage of the semi-monthly format to tell two stories on alternating issues with alternating artists.  And, man, it's no news I'm in the bag for either Rucka or his take on Wonder Woman.  I'm absolutely pleased with the two topics he's taking on - a definitive origin for the modern era, and a definitive shaping up of continuity that bridges Pre-Crisis, Post-Crisis and the New 52, and we'll have to see what that means.

That I so thoroughly enjoyed Phil Jimenez's new book, Superwoman, is not a surprise, exactly.   Jimenez is one of the finest comics artists of this era, and he's got a great head for story paired with a terrific ear for dialog.  Sure, he does great work when drawing for other folks, but go back and read his Wonder Woman run sometime.  Even as a young lad he had the chops.  The book takes on what's happened with the New 52-era Lois Lane, and what's happened is that, in the wake of the death of the New 52 Superman (someone who is seemingly far more mourned in the comics than in the real world) she's gained his powers and become Superwoman.  Jimenez sets her up with Lana Lang as a foil - someone with whom she doesn't necessarily get along with, but who she knows she can trust and cajole into helping her.  Together they return to Metropolis with Lang going back to her roots and getting a media job as a tech reporter (not a lightweight assignment in a city like Metropolis).  Things escalate, and in a single issue we get one of the most jaw dropping endings of an issue I can remember in quite a while.

I'm still behind on my Flash and Justice League reading.  The Olympics are on, y'all, and that means all eyes on Beach Volleyball and now Track and Field are on (please cheer extra hard for Walsh-Jennings & Ross and Allyson Felix).  As Wally West is appearing in Titans and Wally is just as much my Flash as Barry Allen, and because I got into DC via the Teen Titans circa 1985, I can't not read.

Look, it's super early to be calling Rebirth a roaring success, but what I can say is that I loved DC Comics, good, bad and in-between for a very long time, and then, for a while, I had no idea what I was looking at.  It felt ugly, unimaginative and soul-less.  Superman comics seemed to exist entirely just to make Superman a miserable sad-sack.  But when I open these comics, it may not be exactly the best of the best of what I loved about each of these characters - but how often was it ever, really?  Still, it feels like something had changed.  It feels like someone is trying.  And even if the Superman books are, technically, far messier than they've ever been and I have no idea how they'll get all the pieces in place to restore Clark and Lois as journalists and reconcile they're alienness to the New 52 Universe, for now I'm willing to go along for the ride.  Unlike the issues we'd see with the New 52, these ones look like they may get acknowledged and dealt with.

Flat out, I'm enjoying these comic books.  Genuinely enjoying them, not just reading them out of habit or because I want to keep up or whatever.  If you gave up on DC, I don't blame you.  If you think you'll get burned (again), I really, really do not blame you.  But speaking for myself, I'm glad I took the risk and gave it a shot.

*that's an act of bad-faith, y'all


Stuart said...

Haha, I remember "panic buying." It's been a while.

Simon MacDonald said...

Wow, I'm really surprised that you are picking up so many titles. I've fallen so far off my comic book reading duties I haven't picked up anything from DC in a long time. I look forward to hearing how Rucka's WW goes and I may be convinced to tap into some of these other series if I hear good things from tastemakers like yourself.

The League said...

Well, I do feel like I'm in a sampling period with the Rebirth stuff, and I imagine things will get dropped after a while. Compared to how many books I used to read (something I kind of blush at), it doesn't feel like all that much. But things have changed from the New 52. It may be worth keeping tabs on it.

Simon MacDonald said...

Yeah, now that I think back I was picking up that many titles when the new 52 got released and I quickly fell off of that train. I don't even want to count how many titles you and I were collecting pre-new 52 days. Like I said I'll be interested to hear how it is going 6 months and 12 months into the reboot/rebirth/refresh.

Fantomenos said...

I think Wonder Woman is the only DC title on my pull-list right now, but I'm totally with you on the Rucka re-boot.

Have you been reading "The Legend of Wonder Woman"? I'm enjoying it a bunch, not least for the take on Etta Candy (still not as radical as the original conception, but that will never happen in this marketplace, any more than a faithful Preacher show).

Please let us readers know how Trinity is when it comes out!

The League said...

I'm trade-waiting on Legend of Wonder Woman, and now I kind of wonder how relevant it will be. I thought it was DC shoring up her origin, but then Rebirth and Rucka happened. I'll still read it, but, man, bad timing for someone out there. I do recommend "Wonder Woman: Earth One". It's... really something. I love their take on Etta and the Holiday Girls.

Fantomenos said...

I loved the Earth One take, that was a rare "pre-order the hard-back because it's Morrison on Wonder Woman omigodOmigodOMIGOD!"

And I don't think Legend is redundant, I love that we've got 3 brilliant takes on the origin in rapid succession...