Thursday, September 5, 2013

Here's Your Hat, What's Your Hurry? DC Comics and Me

Dave-El here and welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, the blog that at least TRIES to stay dickhead free.

I can't say the same about DC Comics.

Understand this: back in the mists of time, in that strange and unusual era called The 70's, Li'l Dave-El began reading comic books in earnest. Oh, I read them before but just random kid stuff comics like Casper or Richie Rich or Archie. But around 1974, comics became a habit and that habit was fueled by DC Comics.

Why DC? Mostly because I really liked icons such as Superman & Batman as well as Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and more. Marvel just struck me as...weird. If you were to go back in time and ask Li'l Dave-El what he meant by that, he would hard pressed to articulate it. Maybe the art wasn't as clean & bright as the work of Curt Swan, Irv Novick, Dick Dillin and other stalwarts of the DC line. Maybe heroes with full face masks like Spider-Man & Iron Man left me cold. Also the Marvel stories I did sample never seemed to end. The cliffhanger is the life blood of a comics' fan but for me, I liked getting a story that was pretty much complete in one package.

Or it could've been the nickel.

When I started being a true comic book nut, DC's regular titles were 20 cents. Marvel titles were 25 cents. Basic math: I could buy 5 DC comics books or 4 Marvels. Now I was willing to triple that investment in DC's 100 Page Super Spectaculars; that was a lot of comic book reading in one package. Yeah, they were mostly reprints but hey, I was new to comics and it was all new to me.

Later DC  did inch up to 25 cents but then Marvel moved to a 30 cent price tag. So the nickel kept me a DC fan.

Then came the DC Implosion in 1978. All of a sudden there were WAY fewer DC books than ever before. I was very far from being a rich kid but I found myself in the odd situation of having more pocket change than comics to buy. So I drifted over to Marvel.

My timing couldn't have been better. I started reading X-Men by Claremont, Byrne & Austin and Iron Man by Michelinie, Romita Jr and Layton. Oddly enough it was the inkers that got me on those books. I loved Terry Austin over Marshall Rogers on Batman and Bob Layton made Joe Staton shine on the Justice Society. It was seeing their familiar names in the credits that brought me on board those titles at that time. 

Then 1980 came around. DC was starting to recover with more titles and some bigger names coming over from Marvel, especially Marv Wolfman & George Perez on a little something-something called The New Teen Titans. At this point, I was getting ready for college and I was really trying to keep my comics budget under control. And since the teams I had been following on X-Men & Iron-Men were breaking up, I decided to cast my lot with DC.

Yes, DC had its transgressions but Marvel could match DC screw up for screw up so DC didn't have a monopoly on stupidity. And over all, I was happy with most of DC's line of books and characters. For the most part, I have never regretted that decision.

Until now.

Well, to be fair, that sea change occurred over 3 years ago (and the launch of the "New 52" has only strengthened my feelings on the subject). 

But it seems there's been one damn thing after another.

 J. Michael Straczynski did the impossible and made me stop buying Superman; the New 52 version has done little to welcome me back.

Countdown was an insult and Final Crisis was a train wreck (so too was Infinite Crisis).

Do not get me started on Identity Crisis.

Nobody seemed to know what to do with the JLA except Dwayne McDuffie and DC wouldn't let him do squat before they fired him.

Advances forward with heroic legacies that brought us Wally West, Kyle Rayner, Connor Hawke & Ryan Choi gave way to the status quo of Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Oliver Queen & Ray Palmer. The only idea DC seemed to have was to go back to old ideas.

And the advent of the New 52. OK, points for doing something daring: building a new comic book universe from scratch. Starting everything at #1. But as Chris Sims has lamented over at Comics Alliance, a wealth of comic book knowledge doesn't mean much any more when history gets tossed out with the trash.

Maybe I'm just too old for comics. Or maybe I'm reading the wrong comics. Why am I NOT reading Saga? Or Invincible? Or Manhattan Projects? Or any number of frequently buzzed about comics that have been on my radar but not in my budget. Is there really any good reason to still be loyal to DC?

"Loyal" seems to be a word missing from DC's vocabulary of late. The watchwords out of DC for the last two years has been "editorial interference". Writers and artists finding their way to the exit, sometimes of their own volition, sometimes not. John Rozum on Static Shock, Ron Marz on Voodoo, George Perez on Superman, Gail Simone on Batgirl (but brought back in the face of fandom's rage, particularly over the egregious act of the editor firing Gail via e-mail), James Robinson on Earth 2, Andy Diggle on Action Comics, etc etc ad infinitum.

Now the thing is this: DC can do what it wants. Batgirl doesn't belong to Gail Simone. If a creator wants to go one thing and DC wants something else done with that character, it's certainly within DC's rights to set the terms and it's up to the creator to make it work or take a walk.

But it's been the nature of the "editorial interference": plot points, storylines and characters developments worked out in advance and approved by DC suddenly being altered or yanked at the last minute. Re-writes and re-draws take time away from writers and artists to get started on the next paying gig. Re-do's go with the territory but the pace and the timing and the sheer capriciousness of these changes make it almost impossible for any creator to tow that kind of line. 

DC has struck again.

J H Williams III and W. Haden Blackman have announced they are walking away from Batwoman after issue #26. There are times that I've been challenged by the stories on Batwoman and by Williams' artistic flourishes. But I like being challenged. Of the few remaining New 52 titles that I collect, Batwoman is the one I'm most likely to re-read for the joy of discovering something new. Even with Williams off the art to focus on the new Sandman project, I've still enjoyed Trevor McCarthy's art. Following in the footsteps of J H Williams III, I think Trevor has stepped up his game and is delivering some of the best art I've ever seen from him. 

And on top of all that was the ground breaking nature of Batwoman's very existence: an openly gay character headlining her own comic book. Kate Kane is a lesbian and nothing is done to shy away from that. But the thing that fascinates me a lot has been how...ordinary that part of her life is. And by ordinary, I don't mean dull or boring but it's just...there. A fact of life. Which is how it should be and probably why GLAAD has repeatedly bestowed kudos on the book. Williams, Blackman and McCarthy have consistently delivered a quality comic month after month.

Does DC look around and say, "Here's a title that's doing pretty well. How can we fuck with that?"

Per the reports from Williams and Blackman, the reason for their departure is (say it with me) "editorial interference". And the kind of interference we've been hearing about: last minute changes to long planned and approved storylines.  Among other things, apparently DC doesn't want Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer to get married. (Well, at least DC doesn't discriminate. DC busted up the marriages of the Flash and Superman too.)

Wow! This post has gone awhile, a lot longer than I intended it to be. But I guess I'm facing a moment of truth. I am not bound by the decisions made by Li'l Dave-El back over 40 years ago in front of a spinner rack at Dameron Drugs on Main Street. I don't want to give up comics. But I think I need to seriously reconsider what I read, particularly if DC keeps showing me the door.

Don't bother getting up, DC. I can let myself out. 


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