Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Forever Evil, Forever DC?

The first regular issue of The Uncanny X-Men I bought was #168 in 1983. I read it sporadically for several years, then started collecting it monthly with #209 in 1986. This decision caused me to begin buying more and more "mutant" titles, which defined my reading habits for years. Longtime writer Chris Claremont was the constant in terms of quality throughout that time, and when he was driven off the books in 1991, I started having doubts. I stuck around until Uncanny X-Men #304 in 1993, using the crossover "Fatal Attractions" as my jumping off point from the entire line. Some of the X-Books were better than others, but I found that I no longer had a passion for that "family" of titles, which had successfully segregated themselves from the greater Marvel Universe for the duration of my following. I've read individual Marvel Comics since then, but in terms of supporting their universe as a whole, well, I've been a fan of their movies, at least.

Meanwhile, I bought The New Titans #78 in 1991, and fell hard for the revitalization of the title longtime writer Marv Wolfman had found with Tom Grummett, Al Vey and Jonathan Peterson. My interest flagged with the drop in quality that came when all but one of those talents left what became a whole other family of titles. One was canceled following the Zero Hour crossover event, and I dropped the other two a few months later. Luckily for DC, events like Reign of the Supermen and Knightfall had begun to draw me into the greater DC Universe. One of the reasons I dropped those Titans titles was because I bought every DC Comic published in October 1994 as part of the first "Zero Month" promotion, and kept up with several as a direct result. Hell, finally finding a welcoming entry point to Legion of Super-Heroes continuity kept me on the hook for two titles across nearly six years. That alone should have made the effort worthwhile for DC, who haven't managed to keep any single volume of Legion going for six consecutive years since then, with six attempted ongoing series in thirteen years.

Here's the thing-- I've been in pretty much the same place with DC as I was with Marvel in 1993, but I've stayed there for the entirety of the new millennium. I got down to just buying R.E.B.E.L.S. at one point, thanks in part to Martian Manhunter getting himself dead, but I've found that it's a lot harder to decouple from an entire universe than it was from a single branch. I wasn't a Titans fan or a Legion fan, but instead I was invested in the entire universe. However, decisions made by DC over time have helped me to kick the habit. My appreciation for the greater DC universe caused me to dislike Superman and Batman even before 1999 because of my resentment at their constant elevation above all other heroes, even (especially?) Wonder Woman. I can't count how many Leaguers have been murdered, raped, or suffered other indignities that render them unusable. The arrival of a new generation of Teen Titans from out of Young Justice members I wasn't into displaced the former members from my heart, and DC's attempts to resettle the old membership in books like Outsiders and Justice League of America failed to win me over. I had hopes for the post-Final Crisis de-boot of Legion continuity back to their '80s glory days, but that was almost immediately polluted, and the property is now as toxic as it ever was. The Green Lantern titles are headlined by a mass murdering idiot I can't stand. I like Supergirl, but I was a fan of Linda Danvers, not Kara Zor-El. Same goes for Connor Hawke. I miss all those characters I embraced as the new deal in the '80s and '90s but have since been discarded for their "classic," retrograde, whitebread predecessors.

Let me tell you, my love for Wonder Woman rivals anyone else in comics, including the Martian Manhunter. I have a blog dedicated to her, but I prioritize J'Onn J'Onzz because the Amazing Amazon has tons of other fans supporting her and overseeing the production of glorious tomes like The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia. I sometimes feel like I've taken the black to guard the Wall between the Alien Atlas and a vast, hostile wilderness awaiting heroes DC deems no longer worthy of maintaining anymore. Alas, poor Zook. Anyhow, my point is that I bought virtually any comic book that featured Wonder Woman for over a dozen years, but the current regime finally managed to shake me loose in 2007, just a few months before I started this blog. I've read much of what's come since, but as trade paperbacks that I often borrowed free from the library. I never thought anything could stop me reading about her entirely, and then Brian Azzarello happened.

The New 52 would have been my perfect jumping off point from the DC Universe, but Brightest Day had gotten me excited about Aquaman again, and the Martian Manhunter was back. I was even optimistic about Stormwatch, since I had been a fan of Wildstorm before DC bought and gutted the company. There was a lot of promise in the linewide reboot, which was almost entirely squandered. Aquaman was already coming back in a big way, but the lose of the wrenching turns of life he'd lived, died and been resurrected from hardened my heart against his further adventures. I was alienated from characters like Captain Atom, O.M.A.C., and Hera help her even Wonder Woman by unholy revisions. Stuff I was following just a few months prior was completely undone, and I snickered at every instance DC tried to sell me a pre-Flashpoint collection like they were touting Michele Bachmann for president. All of DC's Wildstorm revivals dropped dookie on the efforts that made that line great, and then they burned it in a bucket of crap with all their decades of real time continuity related to World War II and points of chronal interest thereafter. Seriously, nothing I cared about in the DC Universe is there anymore...

...except J'Onn J'Onzz. Despite how lousy Stormwatch ended up being, it didn't euthanize the Alien Atlas right out of the gate, and teases in books like Justice League let readers know the Manhunter from Mars still mattered in the greater scheme of the New 52. While I haven't been bowled over by his role in the relaunched Justice League of America, it hasn't been bad either, and his rising profile in the coming months will surely draw my continued attention. Since I was already doing the one title, and I still thought the Secret Society of Super-Villains was a nifty idea, I even picked up satellite issues of titles like Savage Hawkman and Catwoman. If the early issues of JLofA hadn't at least sustained that interest, I wouldn't have decided to preorder all the core "Trinity War" titles, and some of its satellites. Geoff Johns and Matt Kindt have teased a familiarity with Martian Manhunter lore none of his solo series have had since-- jeez, potentially ever. The one thing keeping me around is this last hope that someone will finally get the Sleuth from Outer Space "right."

However, had I not dropped all of my non-Sleuth from Outer Space related comics already, "Villains Month" would have likely done the trick. The 3D cover gimmick is stupid, and I'd be ticked to be forced to pay extra price for it. If it turns out $3.99 is the new norm, count me out of even tasting any non-Manhunter titles in the future. The excess of villains has wiped out my SSoSV interest, which extends to the Forever Evil mini-series. I'm rather disgusted with DC as a company, between the creepy pandering reworking of their characters and the endless stream of disgruntled creators most recently represented by Paul Jenkins. When I think back to "Zero Month" in 1994, despite regretting my decision to continue following Xenobrood to the bitter end, I still see the wealth of opportunities DC provided me as a reader to try new properties in a variety of flavors. When I look at "Villains Month," I see a gimmicky cash grab that no prospective reader would be likely to invest in as a whole featuring mostly quite familiar (often thoroughly played out) properties, few of which will see their stories expanded beyond ongoing Batman/Superman/JLA narratives. It really is up to the independent publishers to save the industry from self-cannibalism, and it's very much up to guys like Matt Kindt to talk me out of giving up on even the small corner of the DCU my favorite Martian lives in...


will_in_chicago said...

I have perhaps more faith in DC as a whole, even if I have scratched my head at some of the changes. (Let's say that I would not trust the current version of Amazons in the DCnU -- save for Wonder Woman -- any further than I can lift 10 tons. Newsflash -- I am neither a Martian nor a Kryptonian.)

I am not as negative on Superman and Batman as you, Frank. However, I have to wonder why DC relies so heavily on two franchises, when Marvel has a lot of characters to work on. (Okay, they do seem to be relying very heavily on the Avengers and X-Men franchises.)

J'Onn seems to have not suffered for his time in Stormwatch. He was in the shadows a lot, but I saw some things that I liked. It seemed he truly hated leaving the team and making everyone forget about him. He has made a difference in the DC Universe as it now exists, rather than just being killed as a publicity stunt.

Perhaps if the DC writers and editors listened to the fans more, we would see fewer people turned off by the changes. I did see the need to reboot many things, as the continuity got cluttered. (Marvel just tends to do this in the background with a very flexible timeline -- where Ben Grimm and Reed Richards served in "the war" which has moved from World War 2 to Korea to the Gulf War.) Superman dealt with the destruction of New Krypton and spent time walking about in a run that was not well received.

My hope is that things will get better in the DCnU. Perhaps Diana will still be the daughter of Zeus, but perhaps she will get her people back -- and they will not seem as brutal as they have been portrayed. Perhaps the writers and powers that be at DC will also gain some humility.

Omega Agent1 said...

I don't think anyone feels the weight of DC's continuity muck ups as much as I do. And like you Frank I don't do a Wolverine blog because he already has a ton of fans and more individual books than any other character I know.

i'm preparing to make a big indy purchase in the coming weeks but it feels like Borg implants are being pulled from me the way I've re-rooted myself in the DCU.

Marvel is doing good things over there right now but the books cost a little more than I want to spend especially when I'm not locked into a character or story line at the moment.

You summed up a lot of things that I wanted to express over at my spot without sounding like the angry man that I think one or two of my partners think I am. Really I just wanted to make some points and call out some fouls. Anyway two tears in a bucket and all that. Nice post man.

LissBirds said...

I hear ya, Frank. Every time I look at the solicitations for DC, I just feel nothing: I have no allegiance to these characters, because I don't know who they are anymore. All of my favorite heroes are either dead, in limbo, or radically changed: Phantom Stranger, The Question, Adam Strange, Harley Quinn, Ted Kord, The Atom. What happened to all of them?

What happened to good storytelling and stories that jumped off the page--larger-than-life characters? At this point, make Bruce Timm in charge of something--he understands how to tell a story in an economical way, and he knows how to sustain an emotional connection with an audience. Even on a bad day, he's better than what DC offers now.

The only character remaining for me is the Martian Manhunter. I could live with his current incarnation, but I too am still guardedly waiting for someone to come along and get him "right." I think he is rarely used to his full potential, and I don't mean that in terms of how powerful he is.

Anonymous said...

^not Timm.

he worships Batman way too much

Dixon said...

It's been a long times since I've been a part of the superhero blogosphere that brought me so much joy, and a significant reason for this is the fact that the New 52 gave me just the excuse I needed to stop reading current DC Comics entirely. I can only echo the sentiments of everyone else who has posted on this subject here.

My love for the scarlet speedster, my love for the great heroes of the DC Universe, has been shattered by the maddening and often offensive creative decisions being made month after month in these titles. You've offered a fine summation of this sort of thing in this post.

The good news? They can never take away my back issues, and the heroes I know, love, and dearly miss live on in the imagination and through blogs like this.

Thanks, Frank.

Diabolu Frank said...

Good to hear from you, Dixon! If it helps, there's a glimmer of hope. Outgoing Warner Brothers President Jeff Robinov had a lot to do with pushing DC onto its current trajectory, while new WB Chairman Kevin Tsujihara used to work with Paul Levitz to keep DC out of the WB's sights in the '90s. Maybe the company will find a better direction, especially if stunts like the guaranteed money-losing 3D cover month only hurt their bottom line.