One Fan's Trials: Dan DiDio & DC's Familiarity Cur$e

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One Fan’s Trials

My debut column added to the ongoing analysis of DC Comics by several columnists here at the Comics Nexus because quite frankly DC is the far more interesting company of the Big Two nowadays. Today’s column continues my chronicling of my love-hate relationship with Dan DiDio’s DC with the Great Ten and other efforts DC has made to be innovative and why that may not be successful for mainstream superhero comics.

Where, Oh Where, Have the New Ideas Gone?

Comics Nexus columnist Pulse Glazer in his recent East of Gotham columns and my friend Mathan Erhardt’s Wednesday Comments columns look at the decisions DC Comics has made and add their thoughts on the state of the company.

Despite their musings, the fact is that DC and Marvel in terms of their super-hero comics are both retreating to their “core characters” and their classic or iconic interpretations that have stood the test of time. Afterall today’s Superman and Spider-Man should be the same conceptually as they were in the Golden and Silver Ages respectively, shouldn’t they? One person’s creative stagnation is another’s creative consistency. Why rob today’s generation of a single Peter Parker or an invulnerable Superman with a flying dog?

Geoff John’s Green Lantern plan seems to be a profitable template for DC’s new creative gold (uh, silver) rush. The formula looks like the following:

Step 1 – Redeem classic Gold/Silver/Bronze Age character (the Silver Age’s Hal Jordan)

Step 2 – Have that classic character reassume mantle (Hal Jordan as the main Green Lantern in the DC Universe)

Step 3 – Have that character’s mates reassume their old classic mantles (Guy Gardner as a Green Lantern again, etc. Its 1985 all over again – it was a good year afterall)

Step 4 – Bring back that Gold/Silver/Bronze Age character’s main foils (the Silver Age’s Sinestro and the rest of Hal’s rogues)

Step 5 – Make the character’s key foil a doppelganger of sorts so they are flipsides of the same coin (Sinestro essentially becomes a Yellow Lantern with a Yellow Lantern Corps, Black Hand becomes a Black Lantern in a Black Lantern Corps, etc.)

Step 6 – Find another role for character’s successor in team book (Kyle Rayner stays as “a” Green Lantern and anchors a Green Lantern Corps ongoing book with other Green Lanterns)

Step 7 – Raise the stakes by building to a mini-event that showcases how integral your revitalized character and the cast around him/her are to the DC Universe (Sinestro Corps War)

Step 8 – Find ways to use these repopularized character(s) to bring back other characters that have no real connection to them, but are “classic” characters (Cyborg Superman as the Grand Master for the Manhunters, Anti-Monitor as a Sinestro Corps big bad and later as Black Lantern power source, etc.)

Step 9 – Go back and repeat any previous steps until you bring back to the old status quo all of the classic character’s mates (is there anyone left of Hal’s old pals to comeback?) and rogues (Predator now a Purple Lantern Entity, etc.), build to bigger events (Blackest Night), and launch more new books (Emerald Wariors).

Step 10 – Get your character an animated movie (Straight to DVD Green Lantern cartoon movie) and on the Silver Screen (live action Green Lantern movie on the way).

Now, I’m glad that Hal and Barry are back in the DC Universe, but what that means for Kyle and Wally who succeeded them is what infuriates some fans. They will never be the same again. They’ll either be relegated to team books or be killed off at some point.

The Tent Poles

For those keeping score, here are the most evident DC tent pole DC books:

– Superman Family books

– Batman Family books

– Green Lantern Family books

– Flash Family books (in progress, Kid Flash on the way)

– Wonder Woman Family (not on anyone’s radar, I just threw this in to see if you were paying attention)

– Green Arrow Family (in progress, although Arsenal seems to be tied to both Green Arrow and the Justice League of America based on the branding of his current mini-series)

– Justice Society of America Family (down to 2 core books with JSA & All Stars with Magog canceled and Power Girl moving to JLI Family)

– Justice League of America Family (in progress and will be for a while)

– Justice League International Family (this was a surprise Family built around Generation Lost bi-weekly tent pole with Booster Gold and Power Girl in tow)

– Legion of Super-Heroes Family (the characters went from no ongoing books to 2)

Am I missing any?

If you’re not part of these Families OR not part of Brightest Day for real or by banner, your ongoing success will only be assured if you’re written by Gail Simone. Everyone else? Find a Family quick!

Why? Because OUR Money Talks

It seems that money talks and we get more of what we buy as a collective.

What the last few years have shown is that WE don’t support new super-hero concepts from the Big Two. Everything that has proven successful for these companies recently has been based on cleaning up their key franchises or shall I say “brands”?

Great Ten was an interesting twist on tried and true super-hero concept, but has proven unsuccessful in large part because there is no familiar or classic DC character at its core. WE didn’t buy a team book about China’s state-sponsored Justice League, so DC cut its mini-series by 1 issue. I wonder if it would have sold more as Justice League China? I imagine if DC tried this again, a Rocket Red mini-series would be more tied to Justice League (America or International) folklore than The Great Ten was. Justice League Russia anyone?

What the failure of Great Ten proved was that attempts at fresh twists on even tried and true super-hero concepts aren’t profitable at the Big Two. That’s why DC’s answer is to all this is to retreat to core tent poles and give you “a Family” of interrelated books. More of the same with subtle twists.

And under Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada’s watch at Marvel, that’s why they have several Spider-Man books for example and many different universes of the same characters published, e.g. Ultimate Spider-Man, Astonishing Spider-Man, Noir Spider-Man, Manga Spider-Man, etc. So not only do you have an ongoing Amazing Spider-Man published 3 times a month, plus main universe mini-series and other Spider-Man books, you get heaps of “alternate” Spider-Men too. We get more of what we pay for. And THIS is what sells.

The Big Two Houses of Icons not Ideas

Hey, Marvel doesn’t even pretend that this isn’t true. They call themselves the “House of Ideas” afterall. Did you notice how the word “new” isn’t anywhere in their tagline let alone preceding “Ideas”?

It seems that what fans want from DC and Marvel are their iconic super-hero characters. I guess that means that they have strong brand recognition and profitable franchises, but what does that mean for originality or having a plurality of voices being published? Even in this kind of an environment, a Western book like Jonah Hex hangs on because its a different kind of book for DC, but since its not a super-hero book, perhaps that helps it stay published…. well, until after the Jonah Hex movie anyway.

However, books like Nemesis at DC seem to be bucking the trend. No hype. No fanfare. Not directly tied to a “Family”, although it does have your icon drop-bys with Batman, etc. Great stories + decent art = a series of mini-series. I’m not sure on how it’s doing sales-wise, but I imagine its not lighting the charts on fire. That said, I’m really not sure why it continues to get published, but I’m happy about it. It is a fresh take on the super-espionage genre at DC. However, I wonder if DC considers it a “Batman Family” book? Perhaps that explains its persistence? Also, Nemesis is the exception and not the rule. For every Nemesis, we have quite a bit more not-so-successful “fresh” books like Simon Dark, The Great Ten, etc.

In short, we don’t get many new ideas on the super-hero front from the Big Two because we don’t buy them in large enough numbers when they attempt to. So, the states of DC, and Marvel for that matter, today is directly OUR fault. How can we really blame Dan Didio and Jim Lee at DC and Joe Q at Marvel for producing more of what fans are buying?

I may not be happy about books like Great Ten being canceled, but I do feel that I did my part in supporting something relatively fresh in terms of super-heroics from DC. Did you? Put down your Superman or Spider-Man book before you answer.

Thank you modern fandom! You have contributed to the Familiarity Cur$e at DC and Marvel. You proved that: Familiarity = Sales, and that Originality = Cancellation.

Cheers and thanks for reading.

John is a long-time pop culture fan, comics historian, and blogger. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief at Comics Nexus. Prior to being EIC he has produced several column series including DEMYTHIFY, NEAR MINT MEMORIES and the ONE FAN'S TRIALS at the Nexus plus a stint at Bleeding Cool producing the COMICS REALISM column. As BabosScribe, John is active on his twitter account, his facebook page, his instagram feed and welcomes any and all feedback. Bring it on!