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Comic Convo: DC Comics Post Convergence

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Pat: So last week DC announced a new direction for the publisher signaling an end to the New 52 initiative and attempt to address some of the problems with their line of books. How do you feel about this shift and the books that were announced?

Cosmo:  Well, I think that the time has come to lay the “New 52” label to rest. It has been three and a half years, so the branding has had its day. What was once exciting to see at the top of a cover has become ho-hum. The moment is right for a new initiative.

As for the initiative itself, let’s start with what it’s not: a full on reboot. There have a few rumors running around the internet that DC would take this opportunity to erase the New 52 timeline and return to their previous continuity. Those rumors have turned out to be exactly what they always were: the wishful thinking of purists. From what we have seen so far (and it should be noted story/character concept details are pretty sparse), DC does not seem to be ret-conning anything. Reshuffling some elements perhaps, but that is a regular feature of comic book narratives. Friday’s announcements have confirmed DC’s commitments to the New DCU. They might be tweaking things, but this timeline, for better or worse, is not going anywhere. And I believe this was the correct choice for them to make. There have been plenty of mistakes with the New 52, however, that doesn’t mean that fixes can’t be made without tossing out the whole system. DC needs to work within their own guidelines, and can’t just hit the reset button every few years when editorial gets frustrated.

Pat: See for me, in regards to the time line, it seemed to be that they are saying it doesn’t really matter which is always how it should have been. On Tom Brevort’s formspring he often described continuity as a “tool” and I think one of the problems the New 52 had was being too obsessed with continuity and how that worked within the context of their rebooted universe. When creating a comic the most important factors should be the quality of the craft & story but too often, the New 52 let the timeline get in the way of that. That they seem to be backing away from that stance and this is one of the many things I find exciting about the change in direction

Cosmo:  I think that you have hit on something which I thought would get a lot more attention than it actually has. Dan DiDio pretty much came right out and said that continuity was being downgraded:
“In this new era of storytelling, story will trump continuity as we continue to empower creators to tell the best stories in the industry.”

Personally, I believe that continuity is a tricky balance. I don’t feel as though creators should be completely hemmed in by it, but it shouldn’t be entirely ignored either. I love the soap opera nature of comic books, how creators build on what came before them. Brevoort has it right when he calls it a “tool.” It has its benefits, but you can’t overly rely on it either.

When DC first launched the New 52 it quickly became appearent that editorial was overly concerned about the continuity. It seemed that every book that came out every month needed to fit neatly into some sort of flow chart depicting where any character was at any particular time. The intentions behind this might have been good (strengthening the sense of a shared universe), but in the end everything appeared to be a jumbled mess. Then, we started hearing the creators complian about editorially imposed story elements. DC has been gradually pulling away from this model lately and I think that what we saw on Friday was further evidence of this change in policy.

Pat: Yes, if this is sincere then it’s very promising for DC. The timeline thing was one of what appeared to be lots of meaningless editorial interference on the part of DC on their books that creators have been vocally against both publicly & privately. Like you said, we’ve seen signs of that shifting but to me these books appear to be signaling a sea change in DC’s approach to creators working on their books. Now part of me questions how sincere this is based on the past three years, they are way behind Marvel in regards to finding & keeping new creative talent & for all the DC stans who are going to act like these are the best books ever while ignoring the Marvel, Valiant, Dark Horse or Image books that have done the same thing for years now, pleas chop your hands off so I don’t have to read any of the garbage you plan on writing. With all that said if this what they are presenting it as, that is a great thing

Cosmo:  I have the sense that DC is trying to gave a freer hand to their creators. We have seen little hints of it here and there with new titles like Gotham Academy. Yes it has the Bat-brand on it, but so far it has been able to operate as its own thing. DC has also seemed to have mostly lightened up on the constant crossovers that did so much to interfere with books doing their own thing. There are exceptions, like the Lantern titles which seem to be in one long perpetual crossover — really they should just turn those into a weekly rotating thing like the Superman series were in the 90s. Then again, the Lantern books seem to be getting a major overhaul, so we’ll see . . .

But, I digress. My feeling is that DC is still going to control some of the core titles pretty tightly.  Wonder Woman went from having a distinct voice to being another cog in the Justice League machine. What will be the fate of Yang’s Superman? Will he be free to do his own thing, ala Synder on Batman or will it be like Pak’s run on Action where the series goes months without it being able to tell its own story.? Like you, I’m optimistic that DC has heard the complaints from fans and creators, and is working to fix things.

Of course, DC, isn’t the only company guilty of some of these faults. How many times have we complained about Marvel constantly dragging titles into crossovers?

Pat: While yes DC isn’t the only company guilty of those faults they have been the worst with them over the past few years & I think at the very least, with these announcements they are acknowledging that on some level.  And yes there is still going to be DC “house-style” comics but I don’t think that is nessecarily a bad thing. It’s the entire line feeling like it’s in the “house style” that I find problematic. Like you’ve said, we’ve already seen books move in the opposite direction of that but these announcements feel like a definitive step in the direction that all of comics is going. So while the same type of DC books will always be here, New 52 or not, when you use talent like Garth Ennis, Riley Rossmo, Gene Luen Yang, Annie Wu or Steve Orlando that is a definitive step in making your comics more diverse and interesting

Cosmo: Yeah, I think that we’re going to see a mix of more house style comics at the core with more experimentation at the edges. We probably are not going to get any radically personalized take on Justice League in the same sense of Bendis and then Hickman’s Avergers. Then again, DC is a different situation. Justice League is written by Geoff Johns whose job description at DC is to help determine what house style is. The real test will come down the line whenever Johns steps down from Justice League and someone new takes over the reins. That is probably not happening anytime soon though.

In some ways, this is not that different from how DC originally launched the New 52. You had all the big name Bat-books, Green Lantern spin-offs and so on. But, you also had Jeff Lemire writing a Frankenstein series and Paul Cornell writing a Demon Knights a fantasy series based in the Medieval Period. Both were a roll of the dice on quirky projects, which turned out to be great reads. Neither of them are still around, but I don’t think that was because DC did not put enough push behind them. Will Prez fair any better in 2015? Is it the next Ms Marvel or the next Amethyst? I don’t know. Like you, though, I am glad that DC has not abandon such riskier concepts. If anyone is going to grow readership it is not with yet another Bat-book or Justice League team.

Pat: “But, you also had Jeff Lemire writing a Frankenstein series and Paul Cornell writing a Demon Knights a fantasy series based in the Medieval Period. Both were a roll of the dice on quirky projects, which turned out to be great reads. Neither of them are still around, but I don’t think that was because DC did not put enough push behind them.”

And I guess the question and the hope here is that if these series don’t work, then DC won’t be so quick to have the books replacing them regress towards the house style. With that said I don’t think that will be the case, in fact I think once we see some of these books get cancelled (which is inevitable) we might not be seeing replacements or at least not see immediate replacements the way we have the last few years, which again, I think is a very good thing in that it let’s them launch books according to quality not the need for the line to reach some arbitrary number of titles. Although the more I think about it the more I worry that I might be projecting more of what I hope this will be then what it actually is.

Cosmo: Yes, I think that another lesson DC has learned is that it’s OK to back away from that arbitrary number 52.

So, what in this line-up has you the most excited and/or curious?

Pat:  Quite a bit actually

I’m a big fan of what Annie Wu did on Hawkeye so her on a Black Canary series with the Gotham Academy co-writer is pretty exciting. The small press stuff that Gene Luen Yang has done in the past is great so him writing Superman could be something really special. I’m not as familiar with David Walker but everything I’ve heard about his Shaft has been positive and he’s working with Ivan Reis so I’m looking forward to Cyborg. Riley Rossmo drawing Hellblazer signals a return to form for the property which would be great. Steve Orlando’s Undertow was a really cool series and though I’m not entirely sure how that would translate to Midnighter it’s still intriguing. Bryan Hitch isn’t as unconventional a choice per say but the dude drew the Authority, The Ultimates & JLA which are the three of most important team Superhero comics of this century so I’m interested to see what he does on Justice League while also I just think it would be nice to read a Justice League comic again. But most importantly; Garth Ennis and John McCrea, Nuff Said!!!!!

Cosmo: Yeah, the more I’ve been thinking about the new Black Canary series, the more potential I think that it has. As I said above, Gotham Academy is one of the highlights of DC’s current output. A smart series with its own voice, which also happens to be centered on female protagonists. If Fletcher can bring that vibe (as opposed to the much less successful tone of his Batgirl work) to Black Canary, we should be good. Wu is a great artist and should be the right fit for for the series. The promo art was definitely striking.

For me, the most exciting part of these announcements is Yang taking over Superman. I know his small press work by reputation only (though it has been steadily moving up my reading list), however I think that he is a bold choice on DC’s part. It shows a real willingness to go to indies for fresh talent, instead of perpetually recycling the same old hands (more work for Scott Lobdell? Really?) and promoting artists to writers (can Patrick Gleason write a Bat-book better than David Finch? I guess we’re about to find out). And they’re not just giving him some second-tier title to cut his teeth on, but one of their most prestigious books teamed with one of their most popular artists. Clearly they have faith in him. Finally, as someone who has written extensively on the immigrant experience, he could bring a very intriguing perspective to the Man of Steel.

Pat: Yeah, and I mean in reality, sure they are doing some of the same things they’ve always done like employ Scott Lobdell or put artist into writing positions but you know what; fine, whatever, I’m sure there is a market for those books and that’s fine. It’s nice that those aren’t the only books they are doing. While I’m partially nervous for Yang having his first DC work be their second most popular character, I have faith based on the high quality of his writing in Boxers & Saints. What would you like to see more of in the future?

Cosmo:  Basically, I would like DC to follow through on the policy changes that we have been discussing: less reliance on crossovers and freedom for creators to tell their stories in their own voices. Also continuing to diversify the types of titles they put out. DC has a strong legacy of revitalizing lesser known characters, and it would be a shame if that fell aside. At the same time, DC needs to give these series the time and space to find an audience. Not everything is going to click in one sales cycle.

How about you?

Pat: I would say just honestly follow through on what they are selling to us. Let your creators tell their stories. Keep the lineup diverse & interesting, bring in new talent & don’t let arbitrary editorial guide lines dictate the story. Just because it’s a corporate comic doesn’t mean all the comics have to feel that way

Cosmo: Speaking of arbitrary editorial guide lines, we’ve been talking around the 500 pound gorilla in the room: Divergence/Darkseid Wars. Any thoughts on how this plays into anything else current (for example Mutliversity) or upcoming?

Pat: I plan to mostly ignore whatever that ends up being so it doesn’t mean much to me. I can’t see a lot of the books I’m currently reading crossover into those events & if they do then I’ll just skip out on them for the time being. Now I would love to see some cool 4th world books come out of that but in all honesty, I don’t think anybody short of Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely will do those characters justice anyway so if they end up being fodder for another forgettable event it’s whatever.

Cosmo: Yeah, I’m not really that excited about it either. When it comes to their big events (Flashpoint, Forever Evil), DC does seem to prefer the mini-series tie-in approach, which means that fewer stories in the ongoing titles get interrupted. Also makes it easier to ignore if you have little interest in the event.

New Gods stuff is tricky to pull off. Given how lackluster Darkseid was in John’s initial Justice League arc, I have little enthusiasm for his further use of the character. (Also, I really hate the New 52 redesign. I mean, why ^^^^ with something as simple & iconic as Darkseid?). Morrison tried his hand at the New Gods with Final Crisis and the results were less than satisfactory. Then again, some of that was editorial bungling (how many times can I see Darkseid die in a year’s time? Apparently the answer is thrice). Perhaps Morrison will improve on that showing with whatever role the New Gods end up playing in Multiversity?

Honestly, post-Kirby, the New Gods seem to work best when dealt with separately.. For example, DeMatteis/Giffen’s use of Mister Miracle and Big Barda in their Justice League run. More recently, Brian Azzarello made good use of Orion in the the pages of Wonder Woman. I’m trying to think who I would love to see tackle them, but I’m actually drawing blanks. On the other hand, I’m sure that Jonathan Hickman doing the New Gods would be one of your dream projects . . .

Pat: Hickman would actually be my first choice for that, Justice League or Legion of Superhero’s but we are a long way from that reality at this point. You make a good point about 4th world characters in that outside of a having them pop up in different books nobody has really done anything cool with them as a whole outside of Jack Kirby

Cosmo: How about Cosmic Odyssey? I believe you’re a fan of that series? It’s on my to-read list.

Pat: Fucking amazing but that series is as much about Batman, Superman & Green Lantern as it is about the New Gods, but I digress. I would love to see the Prophet team do a 4th world related book but that will probably never happen. I mean look, if it was Divergent/Darksied war with all the other typical New 52 fuckery that’s become the norm with the publisher I’d be rolling my eyes into the back of my head but when you do a comic written by Garth Ennis, a Superman book by Gene Luen Yang or a Black Canary book drawn by Annie Wu, I’m alright with another garbage event as long as they make cool comics in addition to that.

Cosmo: And I think that’s the right attitude to have. As you said, DC is part of a huge corporate conglomerate and nothing’s going to change that. Like any major record label, movie studio or Television station they’re going to put out different products appealing to different audiences. That’s a good thing; it’s another aspect of having a diversified line. Right now Marvel has a better balance, but hopefully DC is moving closer in that direction as well

Pat: Yeah, and at the end of the day, Marvel and DC having a diversified line is better for comics. Now at this point you could ask the question of does comics need that? Maybe not but having creators dictate the direction of comics at it’s two largest companies is only a good thing.

Cosmo: I would say yes, it’s a good thing for comics to have as wide a variety of well-told stories as possible. Not every style of comic, regardless of quality, is going to be for every reader. A greater variety of stories equals a greater variety of readers. Vital to it all, though, is having creators free to decide what those stories well be and how they will unfold.

Pat: Yeah and that’s what DC Comics is claiming this is all about. As long as they follow through I’ll be a happy camper

Cosmo: More quality comics is a win-win for everyone