Mar 20 2014

What in the Hell has been Going on at DC Comics?

Published by at 11:00 am under Comics,Editorials

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Everybody knows there are two heavy hitters in the comic industry: Marvel and DC. The two companies relentlessly copy and complement each other with the various ebbs and flows of the business; keeping each other honest and maintaining the balance of power. DC invented superheroes as we know them today and gave the world mythic icons like Batman and Superman while Marvel arguably perfected the formula by adding angst and human drama to the characters’ lives, bequeathing unto us legendary characters like Spider-Man and Wolverine. This arrangement has worked out for both companies and comic fans alike.

After some 75 years of Marvel and DC fans are still constantly arguing the virtues of each company to establish which one is the ultimate comic supplier. DC has better TV shows! Marvel has better movies! The Justice League could totally kick the Avengers’ asses! Marvel Zombies was way cooler than Blackest Night! Was not! Was so! You know you love it. At least I do.

But here’s something that hasn’t really been taken into account in this argument: who really has it more together as a business? The Marvel and DC brands have expanded and put their respective stamps all over the entertainment industry, but whenever controversy arises, it always seems to be DC in the hotseat.

I’m not going to rundown my list of reasons I have run screaming from the New 52 yet again, but since launching their post-Flashpoint all-gritty-all-the-time universe reboot it has been one f**king thing after another. Fails are just falling out of the sky.

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I suppose we should be happy it took twenty years to completely skankify Harley Quinn.

Your nerdy fun fact for today is there is actually a website that keeps track of how long it has been since DC has done something stupid: hasdcdonesomethingstupidtoday.com. Their current record is 41 days. February had an extra special act of stupidity for us; namely that during Black History Month they debuted two formerly black characters as white characters, Connor Hawke and Onyx. Okay, Hawke was half white, but now he’s all white for some reason in an industry that can always do with more diversity.

Speaking of diversity, DC last rustled mainstream jimmies by driving out celebrated writers J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, who were writing Batwoman, last year. The title character, Kate Kane, is one of the few examples of a genuinely awesome high profile gay character in mainstream comics. In fact, given my experiences with recent Batman and Batwoman comics, I’d go so far as to Batwoman’s title has been superior. By far. More on that later.

So the reason William and Blackman quit was that the company would not allow them to carry out the marriage of Kate to her female fiancé. To be fair, DC stated that they weren’t allowing any heroes any marriages so I don’t believe they were being homophobic, but that just brings up another level of stupidity.

Writers need freedom to write. They should have creative control over the destinies of the characters placed in their charge within reason. Obviously, they shouldn’t be allowed to kill characters off and other extremities without consulting the bosses, but I hate to think that a company would be so stupid as to make a blanket rule that no characters are allowed to get married ever. When I think about it, all I hear J. Jonah Jameson’s voice screaming “Marriage isn’t gritty! People don’t want to read about loving relationships in 2014!” Well I do, DC. I have only fond memories of Peter Parker’s romance and marriage to Mary Jane and my memories of Marvel’s reboot of it in One More Day yields only bad feelings from top to bottom.

I get that people like the tension of a romantic life in flux, but I think that comic readers have aged themselves into a different demographic and DC is clinging to outdated notions. We are not children and teenagers anymore. A lot of readers are married with kids and there’s nothing wrong with a comic book universe reflecting that in some of its characters.

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FYI: this was the ironic result of DC’s last same-sex marriage proposal.

DC has long struggled with the concept of diversity. They wiped several of their gay characters off the face of the universe when the New 52 came about and haven’t reintroduced them, although they did manage a token obscure Green Lantern, albeit one who got a press release as if a minor character coming out is big news. If you want to impress me, reboot Wonder Woman as a lesbian.

Speaking of the Amazon princess, how’s that movie coming along? You know: one of the most recognizable comic characters of all time, part of DC’s Big Three, spectacular badass immersed in epic Greek mythology, worldwide sex symbol, and an overall avatar of awesomeness? You can’t manage to put out a movie starring THAT Wonder Woman?

Marvel is giving us an alien talking raccoon commando kicking ass while hanging off of a giant talking tree that can only communicate using the word “Groot” and it looks amazing, but Wonder Woman is too tall an order? Oh, you say you had Joss Whedon -the same one who has worked magic in televisions, film, and comics before bringing us the Avengers movie of our dreams- on the case, but you let him go? F**k you too, then; just make her a supporting character in a Batman/Superman feature; it’s not like they made Wonder Woman Superman’s arm candy in the comics or something.

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They did whatnow?

How does this stuff happen? How out of touch does a company have to be to get to the point where they appear to be declaring war on their own creators and fans? Just ask Alan Moore. Their decision to make prequel series to his perfect and complete exactly as it was Watchmen was met with a resounding “why?” from fans and more than a little bit of bile from the embittered creator.

It seems like some writers at DC are given the privilege to do any ridiculously stupid thing they want while others are doomed to get the shaft no matter what. Gail Simone’s Secret Six was one of the most beloved pre-New 52 titles, but that didn’t save it from the axe. In addition, she was booted from Birds of Prey for the second time and Barbara Gordon was dismantled (or reassembled, I suppose) and sent back to Batgirl duties, leaving us sans-Oracle. Yawn.

DC had the good sense to allow Simone to continue writing Barbara Gordon…for a while. Then they fired her. The they re-hired her because the internet lost its collective mind. Why wouldn’t a talented and consistently high-performing female writer in a male-dominated industry be given at least the same amount of respect as the vanilla-flavored likes of Geoff Johns? You tell me.

Grant Morrison’s seven year reign as king of all things Batman has been…patchy. He has no shortage of fans who will assure you that if you read every single issue over and over it makes sense kind of, but I’m going to give you a quick rundown of the kind of insanity that made me simply stop paying attention in case you are not familiar with Morrison’s roughshod ride.

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Uh-oh is right. Morrison, are you out of your shiny Scottish gourd?

The reintroduction of Silver Age nonsense like Bat-Mite and Bat pets, along with Bruce Wayne’s ridiculous and flamboyant-looking hidden personality, the Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh, are exactly as ridiculous as they sound and look. And apparently superheroes can’t get married, but they can have children and then take them out to combat evil as Robin while still toddler-sized, and then bring home a cow.

There used to be a rule that the only characters who stayed dead in comics were Bucky, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben. Since only one of those are necessarily true anymore, I’d think Batman’s parents would have been a good addition. Surely that sacred line wouldn’t be crossed. Oh wait, Morrison brought back Thomas Wayne (or did he? Not sure even Morrison knows) as a villain in the cash-grabbingly titled Batman RIP in which Batman does not rest in peace in any sense of the term. But if he did, he’d have rolled over in his grave.

In addition this kind of sacrilege, we got Batman Inc. where Wayne decided to have a bunch of Batmen all over the world because reasons, and then there was the tour of Batmen throughout history like Pirate Batman, Knight Batman, and Native American Batman and Morrison’s public insistence in interviews that Batman was “very, very gay”.

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I have no idea whatever he could mean.

What do you say to a writer who believes that the character he is writing is gay and continues writing him as straight anyway? Sorry about harping on Morrison for so long, but there is a lot of crazy to sort through to make this point: why does a male writer this bizarre get to do whatever the hell he feels like while female writers get the axe for keeping characters interesting without making a complete circus out of their assignments?

If you thought mayhap I was alluding to sexism, mayhap you could be right. DC’s history with their ladies is sketchy on a good day. Everything from Wonder Woman’s origin as a chauvinistic bondage toy to Black Canary’s fantastic 2007 solo miniseries identifying her on the cover as being “From the pages of Green Arrow” (translation:  “It’s okay, guys, you’ve heard of her boyfriend and he’s in it too” ) in large type above the title.

And this isn’t just related to corporate politics and panels. For the love of God, could we get a cool Lois Lane on the big screen? The Lois Lane from the DC animated Universe (and modern comics given the right writer), not the old “Superman’s Girlfriend” Lois Lane who existed only to to be boring and give Superman someone to rescue. I want this Lois Lane:

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The Lois that is the most awesome reporter out there. The one that was all integrity and snark, knows exactly who Superman is, and chooses to play along. The one who only needs Superman to rescue her when she is a mere mortal getting in trouble on a superhuman level due to sheer badassery. Who the hell wants to see yet another film where drab Lois is just there because Hollywood says audiences won’t relate to a man in colorful tights unless he gets with a hot chick to prove how straight he is?

And let me point out real quick that when I complain about sexism, I am not going to talk about fashion. Whining that comic books puts women in silly, form-fitting costumes is something only people who never touch the things (in other words: haven’t seen the male equivalents for comparison) could complain about. But hey, why bother learning about topics you pretend to care about when you can just read a post from someone else who hasn’t bothered either and complain about whatever they complained about? Yes, boys like boobs more than they like no boobs. This is more biological fact meets financial convenience than political stance.

If we could stop trivializing the portrayal of strong women in comics by calling for The Adventures of Denim Woman and Burka Girl or other things we have no intention of buying and focus instead on supporting the artists and writers who are doing it right, that’d be sweet. Then maybe we could get more Oracle hacking the Batcomputer to tell the Caped Crusader to piss off and Wonder Woman facing down the might of the Chinese military with an axe and shield and less of the “females should be used only to assist the male lead” mentality and contests where DC asks entrants to draw Harley Quinn committing naked suicide. Yes, that was an actual thing.

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Pictured: doing it right.

In conclusion: comics may have come a long way, but DC is still doing its part to assure that there are still miles to go before we sleep. Marvel has its problems too, but in my experience they’ve risen to the occasion so far this decade (in some areas more than others) while DC almost seems to be uniformly moving backwards. So if anybody can shed some light on what the hell these guys are thinking, I’d really appreciate it. I’ve almost stopped paying attention altogether.





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4 responses so far

  • cypher20

    Honestly, I would think it is all this political nonsense that is harming DC, especially Wonder Woman. I pity the person who eventually puts WW up on the screen. They are pretty much guaranteed to tick somebody off and get the internet’s knickers in a twist.

    For example, you say “Yes, boys like boobs more than they like no boobs. This is more biological fact meets financial convenience than political stance”

    sarcasm on/ Well, how dare you ignore how many women read comics! What are you, some kind of chauvinistic pig? /sarcasm off

    In reality, I totally agree with you on that point. It’s just a plain old fact. I wish it could be different, but it ain’t.

    Query – how were Simone’s books selling?

    • Joshua Durant

      One of the things that feminism forgot is that it was about choice as much as equality. Wonder Woman doesn’t need any reason to dress as she does other than she wants to. How these characters act and how others act towards them is more important than what they wear. Even during puberty I didn’t buy comics for how sexy the outfits were. I bought them for the stories and characters. The only real issue I have with the Arrow TV show is I want the Amanda Waller from the comics not someone who looks like a model.

  • David R

    I’m not one of the Morrison fans who swears up and down that everything he writes makes sense if you read it over and over. That would be spoiling the fun of his work. I DO genuinely love the lurid insanity he dives into in much of his writing. The frame you pulled out of R.I.P. is fantastic stuff, as is the entire mechanism backing it up.

    He also prefaced his labeling of the character as “gay” as saying that he’s obviously written as a hetereosexual. Like a lot of Morrison ideas, this both does and does not make sense, but seems to be getting at something true regardless.

    The thing with comparing Morrison to, well, basically anybody is he’s way, way more famous than pretty much any other comic writer (save fellow icons like Gaiman and Moore). And thus, he brings a lot of clout to his writing. In other words, his creative latitude hasn’t been granted because he’s a dude; it’s been granted because he’s Grant Morrison.

    And like you, I should probably apologize for focusing so much on Morrison, but a) I think he’s awesome and b) I think you’re suffering from target confusion in that part of this article.

    WRT the subject at hand, my problems with DC are basically that their stuff isn’t well-written right now and they kind of botched the opportunity afforded by the (ballsy, very cool in concept) New 52. I can’t say Marvel’s been much more interesting to me, despite coming out ahead on the diversity scorecards. Truthfully, I think whether or not a company’s output is sufficiently diverse and whether it’s actually good can be more or less separate issues, though obviously faulty priorities have a way of inciting screwups in both areas.

  • David R

    He’s published Supergods, Happy, Joe the Barbarian, and another round of Seaguy since starting on Batman (not to mention his other more high-profile stuff). I wouldn’t say that he’s just coasting with Batman. Especially given how bananas his take was. Besides, he clearly likes playing in the bigger sandbox as well as building his own stuff, which I can respect.

    I’ve also come under the impression that it’s not like Morrison can just start any project he wants. Even for him, the sales have to be there. I think Seaguy in particular is something DC published for him almost as a favor. Could be mistaken, but the person who told me that isn’t usually wrong.

    But the main thing is not to think of the past seven years for Morrison as being exclusively dedicated to Batman. I’m particularly fond of Joe the Barbarian, for the record.

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