East of Gotham- Replies to the DC Hate Column

Last week’s East of Gotham caused a huge debate about the merits or lack thereof of DC’s current direction. Let’s go over some of the replies:

From our own Grey Scherl:

“I’d rather not read how to fix DC from someone who bashes more books then they read. Or better yet, someone who didn’t need to be informed after reading War of the Supermen #1, and complaining about it, that Nightwing was not Mon El.”

So, I have to read every book and know every nuance before I can complain? I didn’t read Action Comics starring Nightwing and Flamebird, so, perhaps, given that, DC might have wanted to refresh me on their status at some point during the New Krypton trilogy? Why assume I’m reading every book? And Mon El and Chris Kent are both guys with Kryptonian powers who hang out in the Negative Zone. I’d say that’s a reasonable reason to get them confused.

More from Grey:

Or from someone who is talking about how great Daniel Way’s Deadpool is when I personally have to tell them WHY they should read it every month and always get a “Meh, Deadpool sucks”.
I don’t like Deadpool as a series. That wasn’t the point of the Marvel list. The point was that Marvel have taken a new writer in Daniel Way and turned him into a star. He can sell books now, as both his style and quality are known. Compare that to many of DC’s young writers, who do not get the same push to establish an identity and so aren’t able to create top sellers.

Continuing on Grey’s post:

“And if anything, the list of Marvel writers you showed tells me one thing: Marvel writers love putting over their buddies. Fraction’s career took off after he co-wrote Uncanny and Iron Fist with Brubaker. Hickman took off after Bendis slapped his name on a book Hickman wrote. Jason Aaron was given the guaranteed seller known as Wolverine.

Should DC maybe give some big name properties to some unknown talents and hope that they make them great? Maybe, but at the same time, we readers are an incredibly fickle bunch. We aren’t going to buy Superman because they’re giving it to some guy we’ve never heard of, in fact, that’s more likely to keep readers away from it.”

So, don’t give them to unknown writers alone. Instead of just handing a book over, let the more well-known creator co-write at first to establish a sales base. DC is absolutely doing this right on the New Krypton stuff. James Robinson is a star who will sell, while Sterling Gates gains exposure and notoriety co-writing. It’s win-win. Marvel does it. Why can’t DC?

The final bit from Grey:

“You in particular, I remember I had to spend several weeks convincing you to pick up Batgirl. Not because it was DC, or Batgirl, or Stephanie Brown. But because you had never heard of the brand new up and coming writer and didn’t want to spend money on someone you’d never heard of. And then when you finally did? You loved it.

Could DC do a better job building talent? Sure. So could Marvel, because Hickman, Fraction, and Aaron balance out with Tomasi, Gates, and Bedard.”

Exactly. You wouldn’t have had to convince me to try Batgirl if the launch were better handled. A nice easy way would be the same writer on a character more people have heard of or care for like the new Robin. How much more, to borrow a wrestling term, over would Brian Q Miller be if he wrote a stellar Damian book tying in to Morrison’s high selling stuff?

And really, you can’t compare Tomasi, Gates and Bedard with Hickman, Fraction, and Aaron. Gates writes a mildly good seller in Supergirl. Hickman handles the Fantastic Four following Mark Millar. Bedard writes Rebels and while his GLC should be a success, it isn’t already. Aaron had a character defining arc on Ghost Rider, is taking over and succeeding after Ennis on Punisher and gets the most popular character in Marvel, Wolverine. And as much as I love Tomasi, GLC is his only major success. Nightwing was cancelled and Outsiders went nowhere. Fraction writes Iron Man and Uncanny X-Men. It’s a different league (he’s the most successful of the new writers by far). And that also ignores the sheer quantity of new writers in Marvel, which is what that earlier list was to show. Even going with only guys who already made it big- Way has a best-seller, Remender has his FrankenCastle hit, Parker is getting Thunderbolts, Van Lente and Pak have best sellers with Hercules, Spidey and Hulk… it’s a whole different ballgame at Marvel where the new talent is leading the way.

John Babos weighs in with:

“I don’t buy the argument that their talent is totally wasted. And, to be honest, you started to undercut the validity and genuineness (sp?) of your position when the column ended as a Marvel love-in.”

The thing is I’m not saying I love those Marvel books or writers. While I absolutely am a fan of Hickman, Fraction, Parker, Aaron, DNA, Pak and Van Lente… the others I go from mildly fond of (Liu) to indifferent (Kyle and Yost) to outright dislike (Way). That wasn’t the point. The point was that these guys all get to handle major projects and they’re put on them in a way that doesn’t guarantee failure. JT Krul might be really good, but he’s getting killed by editorial as much as McDuffie did. Miller is a rising star, but he’s starting on a book nearly no one reads with no psuh. Marvel has their entire company in the hands of new talent and they have gotten guys over to the point where they can do that without tanking sales.

And to further my point, Joel La Puma:

“The handling of the Superman franchise has not been the only poor set of editorial decisions on DC’s part in the past few years.
-They mishandled the Flash franchise so badly that it required the resurrection of a character dead 25 years to reestablish that brand.
-They failed to properly market Blue Beetle, and canceled the book on the very same week that the character debuted on a major network television show.
-They acquired the rights to one of the only successful new superhero franchises in decades, Static Shock, and consigned Static to an extremely low-selling and poorly regarded title rather than giving him his own book. In addition, they acquired the rights to the well-liked Milestone universe, did nothing of significance with it despite a number of popular writers being interested in working with it, and then alienated its creator.”

Are we not seeing a problem here? Editors, like school administrators and most managers of workers, have a simple job: to get the most out of their talent. Marvel is getting a ton out of a lot of new writers. DC is putting their talent in a position to fail.

More from Joel:

“But even that argument is missing out on a couple major issues. The first is this: comics companies have become a culture of writers. Writers are expendable, and just ask Chuck Dixon or Dwayne McDuffie about that if you don’t believe it from me. DC in particular has marketed Johns and Morrison to the detriment of their intellectual property, which is where the real money comes from.”
Writers are expendable sure… if they’ve made enough new writers people care about to not be missed. Johns and Morrison go, then DC has no one with enough cache to sell a new idea. Bendis’s name launced Secret Warriors and made it a success. Johns did the same for Booster Gold and Adventure Comics, but without the successor being someone new enough to capitalize on it or keep the same voice, it doesn’t create anything new.

“The second is this: the advancement of writers has thrown off balance the entire hierarchies of these companies. DC in particular has gotten more insular, and this is apparent in the promotion of Geoff Johns to Chief Creative Officer, a title of which the jurisdiction is unclear to me. It sounds editorial, doesn’t it? Allowing editorial and writing staff to miscengenate like this is a dangerous thing. It leads to lax rules, favoritism, and lower standards.”

In fairness, this is a huge issue at Marvel too. How long has it been since someone edited a Bendis story? 3-years? Five? He doesn’t even pretend to do plots half the time anymore. Millar is much the same way. As long as they sell, the editors feel like they’re doing their jobs, even when they aren’t.
Back to Grey:

“Or better yet, when Mark Guggenheim was announced as taking over Action Comics after War of the Supermen, I was prepared to head out. It didn’t matter that Superman was going to be in the book, I found out the intended writer and backed out. Now that Cornell is doing it, yeah, I’m hanging around, but I wouldn’t have for Guggenheim.”

And there’s the point. Cornell, from his Marvel work, has a great buzz. Guggenheim has none. So, you stick around for one and leave the book for the other. That works… but DC doesn’t create new writers or promote them well-enough right now to make people stick around.
“DC is elevating writers in much the same fashion that Marvel is. Sure, you can tell me that it’s all Johns and Morrison, and I can tell you that Marvel is all Bendis and Brubaker. DC has their new crop of writers that is starting to rise (if they aren’t already there); people like Tony Daniel, J.T. Krul, Gail Simone, Bryan Q. Miller, Tony Bedard, Peter Tomasi, and if I’m correct they also have an exclusive deal with a former Marvel go-to guy in JMS.”

Let’s go over the list. Daniel is primarily an artist, and despite you’re caring for the title, it’s reviews are terrible, particularly because DC unwisely has it stacked up against Morrison’s Batman and Robin. Krul is going to end up nearly as hated as Chuck Austin at this rate, deservedly or so. Simone has been around for a decade. If you’re counting her, compare her to Slott, I suppose, but even Slott has found greater commercial success with Spidey and his own Avengers book. Simone is great in her own playground. Miller is on a book constantly in danger of being cancelled. Bedard fine, but Tomasi was an editor for over a decade. They also didn’t make JMS, they just took him from Marvel. They aren’t elevating writers. The only person on that list being elevated in a successful manner is Bedard.

“You mention McDuffie and Dixon as reasons why DC ignores their better writers to the point where they leave, but didn’t JMS bail on Marvel after a triple whammy known as Sins Past, One More Day, and Interrupt-your-Thor-run-for-a-crossover? Writers are going to have fallings out on both sides of the table, it’s a fact of life when you work in jobs like those.”

Marvel clearly dropped the ball with JMS… but this isn’t a Marvel vs. DC issue, no matter how hard you try and make it one. It’s a DC isn’t doing what’s best for them issue. And they aren’t. Can they learn things from Marvel? Yes, and I’m saying specifically about the utilizing of new talent in important roles. Does that mean they should emulate everything Marvel does? Lord no, don’t create straw men to argue with.
Back to Joel, and I love this point:

“Let’s talk Batman. New Bats. Sales decent. Why? Well, Morrison #1. Morrison’s not just a Robinson-sized Major Writer, he’s a Star Writer. Big difference, and people are willing to see where he wants to go. That’s something they afford very few writers. It’s really just two! Morrison. Johns.
Superman and Action Comics, two of DC’s flagship titles, been around since the Big Bang, sold worse in February 2010 than such huge hits as Red Robin, Secret Six, JSA, Green Arrow/Black Canary, and Adventure Comics. They also sold worse than World of New Krypton and Superman/Batman, which had SUPERMAN IN THEM. I cannot stress that enough. They managed to make their most enduring property a midlist title. That’s almost impressive.”

Brian Bendis, Jeph Loeb, Ed Brubaker, and Mark Millar are probably the only star writers at Marvel right now. So, with that the case, Marvel is making new star writers. All of them are, after some fashion, working with the next group to help create new stars. Fraction is damn near there at this point, already. DC isn’t doing this.

Next, Superman should outsell nearly anything else at DC. Taking out the star character is ridiculous, agreed, but so is the absolute wall of crap they have writing Superman as a general rule. DC refuses to push the brand with a consistent, top notch voice, so there’s a spell where Superman isn’t in it, a spell where Lex is the star, a span where nothing happens and he’s irrelevant to the DCU. And what new writer is ready to make Superman must-read? Who’s name would keep fans that DC created? Tomasi and maybe Bedard. Maybe. This is the difference- Thor, Iron Man, X-Men, Wolverine, Deadpool, Fantastic Four- all core properties, all selling with new talent writing. Create a writer using a star. Take a brand. Give the writer, who now has momentum, the brand to keep a consistent voice. Make money.

Or steal one of Marvel’s top writers and do this as Joel says:

On JMS…So you steal a Spider-Man writer away from Marvel, who had a huge thing with a well-liked Thor run, and you put him on Brave and the Bold rehabilitating Red Circle characters. Way. To. Go.

Next week, I try and fix what I see as wrong with DC.

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