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Five Things I Think I Know (Week of 6/6)

Written by ElijahSnowFan on Monday, June 06 2011 and posted in Columns

ElijahSnowFan returns for another edition of "Five Things I Think I Know," focusing on the recent DC revamp!


The Loooooong Preamble

Reboot, reboot, reboot.

Just when you thought you were going to melt away, Wicked Witch-style, if you read that word just one more time, I felt compelled to hit "The Outhouse" with a reboot-themed edition of "FiveThings," for one simple reason: there are times when this industry does things that are significant -- and readers don't quite realize it when it's happening.

To be honest, sometimes, I'm not even certain creators and companies know when it's happening.

For example: for a really long time, back when I wrote really long threads/posts on the 'Rama, I meant to touch on Infinite Crisis and just how big a deal it actually was...and, because of this industry's continuous state of events and shocking endings and rampant death, not nearly as many people blinked as maybe DC wanted -- or needed.

Even with 52 and One Year Later, as someone who read much of DC's line at the time, the scope of what DC had done with Infinite Crisis seemed... understated. There were new books launched, new directions and characters and costumes. But at the same time, because of the near-constant focus on what's next in comics, it seemed that the new status quo simply wasn't that important.

Some of that was likely due to the relative lack of quality for a few books, such as Hawkgirl or Flash: Fastest Man Alive; or readers' discomfort -- or outright rejection -- of new status quos with regard to Aquaman, Captain Marvel, Cassandra Cain and Blue Beetle; or the inability to publish Wonder Woman, Action Comics and Superman on time.

All of those things combined to form an imperfect storm of sorts for DC: You clearly had a New Earth, and you clearly had one influential guy in Geoff Johns pushing his books forward -- for better or worse, depending on who you ask -- in collaboration with Brad Meltzer, with things like the introduction of Chris Kent, a new lineup in Teen Titans, the Sinestro Corps and that subsequent war in Green Lantern, the introduction of a new Mister America, Steel and Judomaster, as well as Cyclone, in Justice Society, as well as the restoration of the original Legion's timeline after almost twenty years. (Yeah, there are those who will argue semantics, but if they're referencing the Great Darkness Saga and characters like Tyr and Hunter are running around, then it's the original Legion's timeline, with slight adjustments to allow it to work in the modern age.)

But here's the big thing: while a number of DC's books were floundering, Johns' books were selling. Again, people can argue many things, but after Infinite Crisis, only a few people at that company were moving tons of product across multiple titles on the main line. When that's the case, no one should be surprised with how much "workplace capital" you begin to build, which leads to "workplace clout," which leads to "workplace corporate titles."

I have a management-based background in the real world, and here's something I know: if I was running DC Comics, I'd have made Geoff Johns my Chief Creative Officer, too. He earned that, because whether you agree with what he does with characters or not, you can't deny that he does use "logical progression" with them. They don't stand still. Yes, he brought back Hal Jordan, and some people will never forgive that. But I defy anyone to pick up Green Lantern: Rebirth, then read the 60-plus issues of Green Lantern that Johns has done, plus Blackest Night, and deny that he hasn't done a tangible job of "world building."

Again, you don't have to agree with it. But you can't ignore it, either -- Johns takes something, finds what he believes to be the core character, and then builds around it.

As someone who begs creators to do that, as much as I've gritted my teeth at times by what Johns has done, I always come back to his work because I know one thing: The characters actually DO something. For instance, I hated the ending of Brightest Day. But I can't argue the fact that Johns and Peter Tomasi did tremendous work in fleshing out Black Manta, Aquaman and Mera, as well as introduced Aqualad. They told a story with Deadman and gave him a needed boost of characterization. They tried their best to reconcile a tough situation with Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch -- and yes, DC brought that upon itself to begin with. But they also told a good story with the Martian Manhunter that allowed J'onn J'onzz to move forward, and even Hawkman and Hawkgirl finally finished off Hath-Set.

Here's the thing: barely six years after Infinite Crisis, DC realized that due to their failure in pushing New Earth, and in publishing enough books across their line that readers truly felt good about, they needed another reset. And the only guy who truly took advantage of the Superboy-Punch and New Earth after the last reset AND was still able to sell a lot of product was...Geoff Johns.

So, yeah, he's gonna have a huge say in how this goes this time around. For better or worse -- and from my viewpoint as someone in management, rightfully so. His ideas, Jim Lee's ideas -- he's earned the right to shape a new DC Universe.

Readers will have the opportunity to judge what comes after, and that's as it should be: succeed, or fail, by trying.

So, what the hell are the "Five Things I Think I Know" this week? Well, they have to do with how I feel creators can successfully launch THEIR book when DC's dropping 52 first-issues on the market -- when theirs doesn't have Batman or Superman on the cover.

5 Things I Think I Know (Relaunching A Comic Book in 2011 Edition)

5. Decompression sucks, so get to the point. Yeah, I ramble a lot in this column. So what I'm about to say might sound hypocritical -- that is, until you realize that no one's paying $2.99 to read this, and as far as I know, there aren't 51 other columns appearing this month with the same theme I'm using. See what I'm getting at? Only a fool thinks, in this marketplace, that all 52 of DC's relaunched books will see 15 issues. Conversely, only those same fools would have trouble figuring out which books are guaranteed to make it: Grant Morrison's Superman, Johns' GL stuff and Justice League, whatever Batman stuff Morrison might be doing.

Every other book? Well, you better hit the ground running. I'm not exaggerating at all. The first books that will get dropped coming out of this relaunch will be the boring ones -- the ones where the creators will write for a trade that, because their relaunched books are so boring, they're never going to see.

Let's put it this way: How much room are you giving a Captain Atom relaunch -- if you're picking it up at all? If a reader does pick it up, the creative team had better make it memorable in a good way, with action AND intrigue AND subplots AND surprises. If a creator wants to make it to Mister Terrific #6 or The Savage Hawkman #8, they're a hell of a lot better off channeling Mark Millar than Brian Michael Bendis. As someone who can be convinced to buy as many as 40 books per month, don't say I didn't put that out there...

4. Rein in horrific storytelling. Creators and companies have always wanted to have their cake and eat it, too. They want you to care enough about the characters to reach into your wallet month after month and pull out tons of cash, but they want you to shut the hell up while you're doing it.

For instance: "Don't like the fact that Roy Harper hasn't won a fight since the Golden Age? Well, screw you, 'Loudmouth Customer Who Just-So-Happens to Help Pay the Freight for the Monthly Industry.' We're gonna have Roy Harper win a fight, just for you -- but we're gonna make him a drug-addicted, cat-swinging douchebag when he does it. What do you have to say now, 'Loudmouth Customer Who Just So Happens to Help Pay the Freight for the Monthly Industry?'"

How about this: "Well, we couldn't stop you from publishing that story, true. You guys jacked up Roy Harper, but good. Bet you guys laughed and laughed at the old watercooler about it. Joke's on us on that one, huh? But before you laugh yourselves to death, make sure you live long enough to check out the sales numbers for J.T. Krul's Captain Atom #1-6. Because guess what? That's gonna be pretty funny, too -- because Loudmouth Customers have LONG MEMORIES."

Now, how does a company avoid that unpleasant conversation and keep their relaunched books going as long as possible? Tell stories that "make sense." No one's saying Roy Harper can't face adversity and grow as a character because of it. But for God's sake, creators and companies need to respect the characters they are using -- because when you don't, people remember it. Respect for a character is like watching pornography: People know it when they see it.

3. It's OK to be a Mainstream Superhero. Hey, I respect cerebral storytelling in comic books. Many people do, and there are many, many examples out there to support that. But you know what? If DC and creative teams want, for instance, Green Arrow to hit his Double-Sized 25th Issue Spectacular, then their creative teams need to embrace the fact that the guy punches people in order to solve the world's problems. He shoots arrows when the other guys use guns and blasters. They miss, he doesn't.

Again: Embrace that.

Take a deep breath. Now take another one. Mainstream Green Arrow solves the world's problems by punching people and shooting arrows at guys who use guns. They miss. He doesn't. AGAIN: EMBRACE THAT.

When creators start trying to reinvent the wheel with mainstream characters -- especially in a relaunched comic book -- you might as well print "Yeah, we expect to be cancelled by the 10th issue" right underneath the title.

If you want to tell a stream-of-consciousness story, go to Vertigo. Do something creator-owned for Image. Self-publish, even. But don't keep hammering away at the square peg, trying to fit it into the round hole, then act surprised when surprisingly few people want to pay for a book where Superman is walking across America when the guy can fly fast enough to hit escape velocity.

2. The superhero needs to be better at his job than I am at mine. Hey, I'm a pretty-close-to-middle-age senior manager. I like what I do. I haven't been fired yet, so I assume that I'm OK at it. Even more so, I don't go home at night and cry about whatever the hell I might've screwed up that day. Because guess what? That which doesn't kill me -- or get me fired -- makes me stronger. I take responsibility for what I do, what I'm supposed to. I fix what I can. I don't worry about what I'm not responsible for, or about the messes that are created that I didn't make.

So, if I'm actually competent at my job, is it really too much to ask that if I'm reading about a guy or girl who's running toward guys with machine guns, that they might actually be competent at theirs? Considering that, well, you know, nobody's making them do it? That it's actually a choice they made, and that they actually would have taken into consideration that "innocent bystanders might get hurt" or the character might be a, gasp, metahuman?

DC and its creative teams have been more guilty of this over the last decade than every other company combined. Nobody likes to read about incompetent superheroes who lose all the time. Seriously. So if you're relaunching 52 books, of which only 5-7 are guaranteed to keep going for 15 issues no matter what's in them, don't you want to be the creative team who has your character kicking such a serious amount of ass that readers fly to their computers, hit the message boards and say, "WHOA! Mister Terrific just jumped through a skylight and kicked Kobra so hard, he went halfway through a freaking drywall!"

Seriously. Don't you want to be that creative team? Don't you?

1. It's OK for the superhero to be smarter than the supervillain. Because, you know, they have to be, considering the supervillain's trying to, you know, kill them. You know, the version of Batman I like best has rarely been seen in comics that I've read -- sadly. Unfortunately. But the Batman I believe in most is the one that Bruce Timm and company put out for, what, 15 years, in the DC Animated Universe.

Why? Because that guy was SMART. Smart enough to adapt to situations, figure things out, and save the day. He might not have known what the Joker was up to instantly, but he analyzed clues and figured it out, before there was too much death/destruction -- including his.

One of my favorite episodes featuring this version of Batman was the Justice League Unlimited episode, For the Man Who Has Everything. Obviously, it was the adaptation of the Alan Moore-Dave Gibbons comic book story where Superman is placed into a dream state by Mongul and a Black Mercy plant. Wonder Woman's about to attempt to tear Mongul a new one, but Batman holds her back so Mongul can explain what the Black Mercy is. Then, when Wonder Woman and Mongul begin to fight, Batman doesn't join her -- because he knows that not only can she not beat Mongul, that he can't beat him either, and neither can the both of them.

See, that's INTELLIGENCE. And it's how comic book characters can have depth, and how comic book creators can show contrast: By having a character THINK. Batman knew that the only way they were going to survive is by getting that Black Mercy off Superman, even saying something to the effect of, "Snap out of it, Kent! He'll kill her! He'll kill us all!"

Those are the kinds of characters I'm going to be looking for when this relaunch starts: creative teams who don't make their characters idiots. Characters who understand that depth comes from their intelligence and resourcefulness and their will to win and save the day -- in other words, the very thing that makes them heroes in the first place.

I am hopeful that the majority of this fall reboot features books that follow the five things I just listed -- because I'm not necessarily horrified by a reboot, and I've always been willing to put my money where my mouth is. I am willing to buy multiple books per month...but the ones I'm going to buy are going to feature those aspects that I find most compelling.

Simple enough, right?

Written or Contributed by: ElijahSnowFan

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About the Author - Christian Hoffer


Christian Hoffer is the exasperated Abbott to the Outhouse's Costello. When he's not yelling at the Newsroom for upsetting readers or complaining to his wife about why the Internet is stupid, he sits in his dingy business office trying to find new ways to make the site earn money. Hoffer is also the only person in history stupid enough to moderate two comic book forums at once.

 


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