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Your Friendly Neighborhood Comic Shop: How the Batwoman Fallout Impacts Retailers

Written by Matt Johnson on Monday, September 09 2013 and posted in Columns

Your Friendly Neighborhood Comic Shop: How the Batwoman Fallout Impacts Retailers

Matt Johnson provides his views on the Batwoman controversy and how it impacts retailers.

If you missed this weekend's coverage, co-writer W. Haden Blackman and artist/co-writer JH Williams are leaving Batwoman.  Announced late Wednesday night, the departure is due to… editorial meddling and creative differences.  It's a common theme with creator departures at DC.  It seems that nearly every one of the throngs of creators who left the company in the last two years has said, “We can’t deal with the late changes.”  

As much as it is being downplayed, the departure was due to the creators being told that their lead character, who happens to be a lesbian, couldn't get married.  When Batwoman asked her partner to marry her last year, DC and the creators won awards from gay advocacy groups.  It was part of the creative team's long term plans and was set to end with the character's marriage. 

It's important to point out that fences are being somewhat mended in the sense that both DC and the former creative team has said that DC didn't change the storyline due to the gay aspect of the marriage.  It's widely believed that it is the institution of marriage – NOT gay marriage – that DC took issue with, and not just Kate Kane but for any character.  But if a story is plotted out, with a quite obvious end result, don’t you think you should have these discussions with the creators just a tad sooner than AFTER you do the deed of proposing?

DC has, over its recent history (read: the last decade or two), been a somewhat progressive company – editorially and creatively – when it comes to homosexual issues and characters.  DC has multiple times been honored for advancing homosexual characters' storylines and actions while pushing the boundaries of comics. 

So why not move to the inevitable next step?  Is it because DC was beaten by Marvel when Northstar was married to his partner last year, robbing them of the ability to slap “First comic with a gay marriage” on the issue?  Is it because they just didn’t want to do it anymore?  Mind you, this comes only a few months after an admitted homophobe and bigot was hired to write one of comic’s most beloved characters and was reluctantly shelved after the public backlash.  In the public view, this is two black eyes for DC concerning gay rights in recent months, even if is NOT the issue.

The underlying issue is that DC is an unacceptable place to work right now.  Despite putting up Eisner Award quality work, at DC you can be treated – editorially – like dirt no matter who you are.  It's due to the fact that either the editors (and Editor in Chief) at the company are incompetent and no longer able to do their jobs or the hierarchy of the company is incompetent and creates a systemic and cascading downward spiral of problems exists because of upper managements in ability to understand how to do their jobs.  (The correct answer is both, by the way!)

I think one of the obvious problems at DC is lack of lead time, but if you plot your book out for years in advance and STILL you are plagued with last minute editorial changes, there is bigger problems at work here.  I know several artists in the industry and I know how the game works.  When you look at the regular complaints of editorial medaling, forced rewrites and even redrawing of work it points to the fact that the many hands do not know what the other hands are doing or want to do.  There is NO plan and the company is being run by the proverbial seat of their pants.

If you look at the chaotic nature of the stories, changes to the stories and overall storytelling since the New 52 was started, it is pretty plain as day this is the case.  Now, with so many name worthy creators leaving the company for greener – and less chaotic – pastures, this is only made worse.

It was also announced this week that there is a talent search for artists to work on Harley Quinn.  I can’t see why a major company would need to do a talent search, but it might point at a problem in finding talent, don’t you think?  Has DC become such a toxic workplace in the industry that the company is actually having a tough time finding artists?  I can’t believe that, but it is possible. [Editor's Note: More likely, the contest was designed as a fun way to draw new talent to DC while generating creator goodwill.]

So, what does this mean for retailers and more importantly consumers of DC?  Well, with even more talk of “I’m boycotting DC” or  “I’m done with them forever until a regime change happens,” well, it makes me nervous.  I, for one, have stated as a comic reader, I don’t read DC.  I’m done, I’ve been done for some time and I can’t see how anyone reads their books.  I, however, feel everyone needs to make up their own mind.

If your favorite character is Flash or Batman or even Superman, then read them.  I was NOT a fan of the Jemas/Quesada era at Marvel, but I have always loved Captain America, The Avengers, Hulk and the Fantastic Four.  During that era, I started reading Daredevil and can now say he is one of my all time favorite characters.  I picked what I felt was worth reading and what was not.  You should do the same. 

Make your money speak, but do so with respect to your retailer.  It is NOT our fault that the powers that be at DC are idiots that couldn’t edit their way out of a wet paper bag.  Drop the books with enough time for the retailers to adjust them on their orders (usually one month is a solid enough warning.)  Then consider new, independent titles.  ASK!!!  One of a retailer's jobs it to understand the product they are selling.  If you ask the question, “what is good” or “what do think I should give a try since I’m not going to be reading [insert book where fan favorite award winning creators just left]” they better be able to help.  If they can’t, find a new shop.

I pride myself on being able to lead anyone to a good book they will enjoy.  Yes, I am regularly called a crack dealer.  That, to me, is a compliment.  Yes, in many ways, I do deal in paper drugs.  Comics can become highly addictive.  Hopefully, I can at the very least help move people to what they will enjoy… even if it is books that I personally do not or would not read or enjoy.

For further reading on this topic though here are a couple specific links.  For more on the actually event of the creators leaving check this out and for the terrible reaction from DC executive Dan Didio you MUST check out this link.  I think it probably says a lot about what happens behind the scenes in how he responds to criticism.

So, in closing… what is to be done?  I have called for the firing of Editor in Chief Bob Harras on numerous occasions, now it is time for a complete overhaul of the DC chain of command.  You need to make your voices heard. You need to take to public comic book forums, post your voice on the comments section of news and direct specific notes to DC directly via the many ways you can contact them.  Call for a serious review of those that are in control of editorial at DC to either be fired or at the very least shook up.  I assure you, they do listen.  Corporations listen when it comes to money and, when it is load enough, they listen to public outcry.  Remember Orson Scott Card and how long it took for him to be removed from Adventures of Superman number one, right about two weeks.  It is way past time for change at DC, tell them so.


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