Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

things comickal

-- things comickal -- hello, darkness...

My, my. The New York Times doing its second substantive article about comic books in a year. Whoda thunk it?

Recalibrating DC Heroes for a Grittier Century - New York Times

Published: October 12, 2005

If there was ever a job for Superman, this is it.

DC Comics is in the midst of a major effort to revitalize the company's fabled superheroes for the 21st century and better connect with today's readers. The undertaking, which began in 2002, has involved a critical look at DC's characters - from Aquaman and Batman to Zatanna - and developing story lines that sometimes have heroes engage in decidedly unheroic deeds. [...] Toward the end of "Infinite Crisis," the characters will be catapulted a year into the future, some emerging with significantly new outlooks. To explain their transformation, next May DC will begin publishing "52," a yearlong weekly series set in "real" time chronicling the gap in the heroes' lives. By the end of the process, DC hopes to have recreated a universe of superheroes more in keeping with the times.

"Our audience is much smarter, much more sophisticated, and not necessarily because it's older," said Greg Rucka, a writer working on DC's plan. "A 12-year-old 20 years ago and a 12-year-old today are reading at very different levels. That's just the way it is." He added: "Everything has to evolve."

[...] DC's move to remake its superheroes has led to bold decisions:

¶Last year, the "Identity Crisis" mini-series, written by Brad Meltzer, a novelist, had the Justice League retaliating for the rape of a hero's wife by brainwashing the villain - a turn of events that drove some fans to the Internet to vent their concern over DC's direction. The series was one of the year's best-selling titles.

¶This past year, tension among Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, the pillars of the DC universe, has been running high and erupted in July when Wonder Woman resorted to killing a man to save the Man of Steel.

¶The one-year gap that results from the "Infinite Crisis" will allow a hard look at every DC title with the question "What works about this character for the 21st century?" Mr. Waid said. Some titles may end up being canceled. Others will get a change of editors or writers.

¶"52," the weekly series that begins in May, will be a story-telling and production challenge. A weekly series leaves little room for delays in writing, illustrating or printing, and the "real time" concept means no inventory story can be dropped in to fill a gap in the narrative.

The commitment of resources "scared a lot of departments," Mr. DiDio said, adding, "This is not just an editorial risk; it's a company risk."

If fans embrace the new DC superhero universe, the gamble will be worth it. Last year, the comic book industry generated nearly $500 million in sales. Milton Griepp, the publisher and founder of ICv2, an online trade publication that covers popular culture for retailers, estimated that monthly comics accounted for about $290 million of that sum. (The rest came from trade paperbacks.) Industry estimates for August's market share, in dollars, placed DC at 38 percent and Marvel at 41 percent.

What about fans who feel that DC is becoming too dark a place to visit?

Mr. DiDio and Mr. Levitz agreed that there would be opportunities for course correction. If one of the writers feels "we're off track, we'll regroup," Mr. DiDio said.

While some readers have posted complaints on the Internet that superheroes have become entangled in grimmer stories of late, DC creators note that even its most illustrious heroes' tales have dark roots. It was the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents that spawned Batman; the story of Superman began with the destruction of his home planet, Krypton.

"I think people feel it's dark because it's so compelling," Mr. DiDio said. "They don't know how our heroes are going to get out of the danger."

Mr. Rucka agreed: "When they're saying 'it's too dark,' they're saying, 'I'm scared.' "

He added, "It's not a crisis if they know they're going to win."


OK, here's the thing.

When I say that All Star Batman and Robin is too dark, I'm not saying, "Ohmigawd, I'm so scared! I don't know what's going to happen! I don't know if Batman's going to win this battle!" That's not what I mean at all, and it's not what anybody I know means by that.

When I say that All Star Batman and Robin is too dark, what I am in fact saying is: Guys, the thing is just too damn DARK. That Batman is usually -- perhaps frequently -- just the teensiest bit too tightly wound, that he has splinters in the windmills of his mind ... that's a given for the character. That's expected. However ... that Batman would take advantage of an opportunity provided by the senseless public murder of two people to kidnap their child, and to deliberately handle things in a way to connive at keeping the child griefstricken, to deliberately induce the same sort of near-psychosis in the child as he has apparently endured since the at least ten-years-past murder of his own parents ... THAT, I say, is too damn dark. THAT produces a hero with whom I cannot empathize, with whom I cannot sympathize, and with whom I would never EVER want to identify. THAT produces a title that I will abandon after only its second issue because I have no interest or desire to find out what happens next. A more sophisticated approach to storytelling to fit both an older and more sophisticated readership, certainly not a bad idea. An approach that results in characters with only passing resemblances to the comic book heroes that we grew up with, got used to ... perhaps not the best way to handle things. (And handing another Batman title to Miller ... well, it'll probably get them some sales, at least initially. Overall, getting Miller to rewrite the Batman/Robin story ... well.)

And also: If one of the writers feels "we're off track, we'll regroup," Mr. DiDio said. One of the writers. But what if the readership feels you're off track, and starts voting with their wallets, but the writers feel that what they're doing is good work and will ultimately have a good payoff? How do you negotiate that issue? If history is any guide, DC just lets the title collapse; that already seems to be happening with Robin and the other Batman titles, which seem to be having a rather spectacular collision between the writer's desires and the readers' preferences.

Posted by iain at 03:07 PM in category things comickal