Friday, September 06, 2013

The De-evolution of DC Comics

The parting of ways between DC and the Batwoman creative team of W. Haden Blackman and J.H. Williams is yet another sign that all is not well at one of comics biggest houses. Since the launch of New 52, it seems that there's always a writer or artist leaving because editorial is overbearing. We barely get any creator leaving because their story is finished. It's nearly always their editor wouldn't even let them tell it.

This time the Batwoman duo had their leading lesbian propose to her girlfriend, and were then told that they could never have the two women actually marry. The news of their departure led to another outcry from fans wondering just what is wrong with DC? What are the editors thinking? And more shouts that they were done with the publisher.

Now people are wondering just how much longer can Azzarello's interesting, but quite different, take on Wonder Woman can last, and while he's running hot right now, will Scott Snyder stay on the main Bat title? A lot of fingers are pointing to Bob Harras, current Editor-Chief who, rather tellingly, was also in charge over at Marvel when they had a similar dirth of stories in the nineties. It's also that he seems to relying on many of the same writers as Marvel did during that period such as Scott Lobdell. But for me, the question we're asking maybe shouldn't be “When will DC sort itself out?” but “Will there be a DC left to even try?”

This whole Batwoman debacle, far more worrying for the comapny's stance on gay marriage – which I personally think is WB/DC trying to not offend the more conservative people, which in a book about lesbians who are engaged is just a little to late, and stupid – follows quickly on the furore over the Lobo redesign, the third since the New 52 relaunch. Here they've taken a character who is meant to be big, mean, boisterous and turned him into a young, slim, attractive character that is totally at odds with people expect from The Main Man. Removing Superman's underpants is one thing, completely ignoring what a character is meant to be is another.

Every departure from DC has been followed by blaming editorial. Even Williams and Blackman are clear to point out “All of these editorial decisions came at the last minute, and always after a year or more of planning and plotting on our end. We’ve always understood that, as much as we love the character, Batwoman ultimately belongs to DC. However, the eleventh-hour nature of these changes left us frustrated and angry - because they prevent us from telling the best stories we can. So, after a lot of soul-searching, we’ve decided to leave the book after Issue 26.”

Marvel on the other hand seem to be putting more and more power into their creators hands. As a result we get books like Matt Fraction's Hawkeye, Mark Waid's Daredevil and Keiron Gillen's Young Avengers. Two of which, despite me living in the middle of nowhere without a comic shop in sight, led me back to monthly comics both via mail order and digital.

Going back to the Marvel example of the nineties. Marvel had to pull themselves out of the dirge of their story telling in order to bring the company back from bankruptcy. If it didn't Marvel would cease to exist. DC doesn't have that hanging sword over them. It has to answer to Warner Bros. Warner Bros might not have the patience for them to turn it around and just cut their loses.

But Marvel's a subsidiary of Disney now, how is it any different? It's very different. Marvel and Disney have just hooked up. We're still in the first generation of this new family. The Disney Execs that signed the documents are still there and are quite happy to Marvel to go nuts and test waters at a much lower expense then it would for TV or movies to do. DC Comics has been part of Warner Bros since 1969. And not a particularly profitable one any more. The execs now all inherited it. They probably just look at the numbers. They've forgotten what a test bed the comics can be. If all these creator departures translate into lost readership – certainly the way it looks from the vocal minority – then it won't take a huge amount of time before Warner Bros figure it's time to shrink the output. Boil away some of the fat and slim it down to something more sustainable.

This may sound like the perfect time for a DC resurge to happen, but if it's being done from a money perspective, the doors could just close. At the very least they'd shrink it down to the comics that will always sell. The Batmans, the Supermans and the Justice Leagues. It would be a very sad day indeed for DC if that happened. But it might also be its best hope. With only a few books to concentrate on, someone might actually start turning out some solid stuff in a coherent universe.

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