DC EVENT COMICS & THE NEW 52: PART ONE
I’m a consummate failed library student. I love to lend my media out to anyone around me. I enjoy being able to expose people to new media, be it book, tv, film, or comic.
In recent years, I’ve felt more of DC fan than a Marvel. I still remain an X-addict because that’s difficult to wash away, even in the eras of the worst writers and silliest plots. I still remain a Brian Michael Bendis addict as he’s the comic writer I want to be and one of the best craftsmen there is. But aside from that, I love Green Lantern, I love Flash, I love Batman and Superman, I love the Legion of Super-Heroes more than anything aside from the X. But that’s another article for later.
DC are doing a big relaunch and I’ll get to that shortly (spoilers: so far, it’s good). Until this relaunch, it was really difficult to explain anything to friends. I could lend them the books but questions would start about what’s gone on with the DC Universe as it was almost too tightly-connected. “Yeah, the second Robin came back when Superboy Prime punched reality.” “Who’s Superboy Prime? He’s a Superboy from an Earth which is basically our Earth, but the Crisis on Infinite Earths, it got destroyed and…” Yeah, this Jenga tower of continuity can get tiring, and it’s an addiction. I like these events, I’ve been an apologist for these events, but it’s the cigarette smoker defending the habit that’s bad for them. They can’t stop. They’re hooked.
Recent attitudes with DC stories has been that you need to get the whole story, and that doesn’t happen without the big events, the tie-ins leading up to it, the tie-ins closing it down, the aftermaths and so on. It’s not mandatory, but for a big fan, it feels that way.
So why am I talking about this? Well the DC Universe has ended all of its’ comics, only to start it again from this week onwards. Some old DC Comics happened, some didn’t, but basically it’s a new starting point that doesn’t seem to care too much about what’s gone before, at least, it’s not dependent on it. And that’s a good thing.
The 1960’s-1970’s Marvel was great as far as crossovers. People appeared in each others’ books and in Fantastic Four you might see Spider-Man swing past as they were both in New York, but there wasn’t a feeling of the fan’s dependency on getting both comics to ‘get the story’. In the new DCU, from what I’ve seen in the solicitations, Batman will appear in Catwoman in a couple of issues, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner will guest in Voodoo, but it’ll just be things like that. An appearance, not a 12-part story leading into a massive summer blockbuster event. This is how it seems to be, and I hope that’s the case for as long as possible.
Some of my friends are buying these new DC Comics instead of borrowing mine, and that’s a good thing. With a comic audience dying off, with the increasing prevalence of digital over hard copy, this is a good thing. The Direct Market has helped keep this hobby exclusive, and that’s bad. That hobbles us. People have been trained to want the cat-piss smelling dark comic shops where women are a distant myth or a pin-up by J Scott Campbell, where children fear to tread. Diamond Comic Distributors seem to have a choke-hold on the comic-buying audience and are helping to slowly kill the hobby. By keeping comics in limited locations, they cannot be viewed by a mass market. Book stores like Borders were great for a temporary upswing as we saw a boom in manga, we saw people buying graphic novels, but physical book stores are dying out, too. We’re in a time when the high street is suffering, so how can a small comic shop in a small town survive? Some, like my alma mater, Dave’s Comics, seem to be surviving by looking more like Waterstone’s than the seedy dens of years past.
Event comics have been part of the fun and part of the problem. Rather than being a door to open things for the comic-buying audience, they seemed more and more exclusive in scope. When I first bought comics it was Secret Wars, a simple story involving everyone’s favourite heroes, a simple, marketable rival to DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. And it worked. The child version of me was happy with this crossover and teenage me revisited it, then looked for X-Men comics because of this series. It wasn’t a great story, but it was inclusive, it hooked me.
So why did DC get to this point? I don’t know, but I think it was the well-intentioned idea of trying to create a new Silver Age. The Silver Age was when comics were more complex than the one-dimensional strongmen punching goons in the Golden Age, and they weren’t as masturbatory and glum as the Bronze or Dark Age.
The problem with recreating old elements of the comic universe is that it appealed mainly to lost sales, not new sales. The old audience were happy that the 60’s Green Lantern was back, but then the 90’s audience had theirs, and the animated series audience had theirs, so they ALL had to be in on the party. I’ve had to explain too many times who the Flash is and why there have been four of them.
If the New DC Universe is fine with acknowledging but not being dependent on the past, then I’m fine with that. The New DC Universe has already stated that super-heroes didn’t exist before five years ago. Suddenly there’s no need to say about the old Green Lantern, the old Flash, all of those things. They aren’t based on the strongmen of the 1930’s. Comic book movies don’t use the old costumes because they’re totally implausible in the present. They try to make things which fit in with our design aesthetics, our practicalities. So why shouldn’t comic heroes do the same if they’ve only been around for five years? Head of funky redesigns, Jim Lee, stated the high collars are supposed to be classical, regal. And the first reaction from one of my friends was, “That’s what people were flipping out about?” when they saw Superman’s collar. He was more surprised that Aquaman was still allowed on the team, but don’t worry non-fan, we all ask that question every day.
So DC’s eschewing its old continuity (mostly) and making sure everything’s a jumping on point? Good. Good for them. I know it’s not the thing to lend support to any media on the internet, to display optimism or hope, but I reckon that this can only be a good thing.
In Part 2 I want to look at Flashpoint, the recent DC crossover, and some of the previous crossovers. In Part 3 I’ll look at the new Justice League #1. After that I might try and catch up with the rest of the New DCU.