Friday, January 27, 2006

Healing the Lame

I found this on a now-defunct blog:

Why DC Comics is Lame
1) The name. "DC Comics", but the "DC" stands for "Detective Comics", so they are calling themselves "Detective Comics Comics" on their own official website.
2) Superman being so superpowerful that only kryptonite and red suns can hurt him.
3) Superman's lame "no one can recognize me if I put on my glasses" secret identity.
4) Aquaman.
5) Anytime they hit upon a semi-popular hero, they run it into the ground with minor variations: Superman, Superboy (A younger the future???), Supergirl, SuperDog???!?; Batman, Batgirl, Robin (an obvious "Batboy"); Hawkman, Hawkgirl; Aquaman, Aqualad.
6) Nearly every superhero has a significant villain that is nothing more than an "opposite but equal", including the amazingly lame "Bizarro" treatment.
7) Why would it matter if Superman can leap over a tall building in a single bound if he can fly?
8) If Lex Luther (or whomever) can make our sun red so as to inconvenience Superman, everyone on earth would be burned to a crisp and life on earth would end. Somehow, that never seems to be an issue with DC
9) The Teen Titans may have had a short stretch of decency when they hired away Marvel writers, but for the most part, this was their best "supergroup", and it was still pretty lame for most of its existence. DC has nothing even half so cool as the Fantastic Four, much less the Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D., the X-Men, the Defenders...
10) Compare "rich, gadget-men": DC has Batman: weenie who suffers his parents' death, and so broods and beats up on villains; he comes up with gadgets only for himself. As if no one else has had his parents die tragically. Marvel has Tony Stark: an alcoholic with a bad heart, and comes up with Iron Man as a possible weapon for the defense industry. Which is more interesting, more relevant, more inspiring, cooler? If you say "DC's", there's no help for you.

My first instinct was to criticize this list and the ignorance behind it. But that would be unfair and cruel, the mental equivalent of drop-kicking a chihuahua.

Better instead to IMPROVE upon it with my own criticisms of DC. Without, of course, using the empty word "lame". I don't use the word "lame"; I'm an adult.

So, off the top of my head, here's my own version....

The Faults of DC Comics
1. Clumsy, wan, and wasteful marketing.
2. Creative incontinence, that is, proliferation of new characters while others languish.
3. Modesty.
4. Consistently poor dialogue.
5. Frequent creative team turnover on characters that need longterm myth-building.
6. Absence of a pre-Crisis style imprint (you know; what we thought we were going to get from All-Star)
7. Failure to push secondary characters toward iconic status.
8. Failure in creating and maintaining supporting casts.
9. Lack of editorial control toward an overall vision (this seems to have been mostly fixed!)
10. Tepidity in using the medium to address or even feature social and political issues.

I could go on about my list all day (and probably will at some point). But at the moment I'm more interested in what's on your list of DC's worst failings...


totaltoyz said...

1) The name. "DC Comics", but the "DC" stands for "Detective Comics", so they are calling themselves "Detective Comics Comics" on their own official website.

And how many of us say things like "ATM Machine" and "PIN Number" every day?

Steven said...

Not so much a problem with DC Comics itself, but Warner Bros. could do a much better job with the licensing:

For instance, they could do more stuff that doesn't feature Superman or Batman. While this is changing and things are getting better, I'd say 80% of movies, tv shows, games, roller coasters, books, etc... feature just those two characters.

I understand the thinking that says "why make a Martian Manhunter movie when I can make more money with yet another origin of Batman movie" but why can't you make both? Plus, more media exposure for the less well known characters should help sales of the less well known books.

For example, after her kick-ass turn as a featured hero in Teen Titans, I think a lot of people are looking forward to Pantha's next appearence in the comics... what was that?


Also, they could do a better job of driving interest in the characters from the movies and tv show back into the comics shop. At the end of every Smallville, they give a plug for the WB music used during the show. How about a once a month shout out to what's happening to Superman that month? Or have Christian Bale of Christopher Nolan mention to Jay Leno that a lot of the story for Batman Begins can be found in Batman: Year One, available in bookstores and a comic book store near you

totaltoyz said...

6) Nearly every superhero has a significant villain that is nothing more than an "opposite but equal", including the amazingly lame "Bizarro" treatment.

Yeah, that never happened at Marvel, did it? The Frightful Four, Venom, Red Guardian, Crimson Dynamo, Brotherhood of Evil Mutants...

josegeraldo said...

"comes up with Iron Man as a possible weapon for the defense industry."

That's not cooler. It is only more frightening.

And does the 90's Teen Titans count as a worst failing?

Bobby Flashpants said...

My God, he's right! Detecive Comics Comics are lame! Wha...What have I been doing with my life?

joncormier said...

I could try to be serious but all I can think of is "not enough animal themed arrows with supporting arrows that make the noise of said animal..."

More uppercuts. A story is always improved with someone getting their slobber knockered. Batman is good at the uppercut - how about there's an editorial mandate where Batman has to either uppercut someone or throw a batarang that misses, the villain is relieved, then the batarang blows up in every issue?

Jonah Hex is working. Take a hint.

Okay, that last one is not meant to be trite. Even though I can't think of another character with the lack of baggage JH brought to a new series so they could make single issues - guess that's why I'm not an editor at a comic company.

The Fortress Keeper said...

The main problem with DC is the main problem with all corporately owned comics and comic characters. Superman, Batman, et. al will never be seen by some as anything more than merchandising items, and as long as marketing has a say in how books are sold we'll always have 200 Batman and 400 Wolverine comics out there...

Other than that, I've been satisfied with the creative direction of the line under the current regime.

And if you want to get into lame, let's not forget the avalanche of inferior X books readers have been subjected to in recent years (Peter David's excellent Madrox and X-Factor X-cepted...)

Ken S. said...

As much as I am enjoying the main DCU these days, my problem with them is that there aren't enough isolated, side things that are creative and interestingpopping up from them these days.

Hard Time and Y the Last Man are about the only non-Universe thing that's really, really grabbed me in a while. This was the company that gave us all sorts of non-shared-universe stuff for so long, but lately it's been lacking. Unless I am missing something. Vertigo has become a bit of a ghetto.

Anonymous said...

Vertigo has become a bit of a ghetto.

The only time Vertigo was interesting was during the 90's

Oh, the comic book irony!

Jon said...

Damn,I used the word "lame" only yesterday. But it was to describe Black Mask, and I can't think of a word that better describes Black Mask than "lame."

Iron Lungfish said...

#5 and #7 are the biggest problems (going from Scipio's list; I didn't even bother to read all of the "DC SUXXORZ!" stuff). Not only are second-stringers frequently left undefined and denied "iconic" status, but the constant revamps encourage DC's greatest vice: the replacement heroes. DC editorial really does seem to think that just about anyone can be replaced by any new schmuck wearing a similar costume. Another Beetle, another Aquaman, another Catwoman, another Wonder Woman probably, and now another Flash? I mean really, at this point why not just rotate the costumes through a committee?

Absence of a pre-Crisis style imprint (you know; what we thought we were going to get from All-Star)

Morrison's All-Star Superman certainly is going for this, at least superficially - his is definitely the crazily overpowered, gadgeteering super-genius Superman of the 60s. Granted, there's plenty of gratuitously Morrisonian stuff in there, too, like the Wonka-cum-Frankenstein growing super-clones on the moon that understandably rubbed Scipio the wrong way, but however self-consciously hipper-than-thou the content is, the packaging is pretty pre-Crisis (for whatever that's worth).

Anonymous said...

I'll take issue with point 6. Justice League Unlimited represents some of the best of pre-Crisis style story telling.
BUt yeah, that's about it in the fun with a rich cast of characters type thing.

Scipio said...

" 6. Justice League Unlimited represents some of the best of pre-Crisis style story telling."

I agree wholeheartedly;that's how I know it's still possible. What I'm advocating is something additional like that drawn in a non-animated style. Rightly or not, the fact that JLU looks like it's for kids turns away many people.

I think we need something like that designed to catch the adult market that isn't already into comics.

Gary said...

1. Failure to experiment visually. I'd like to see a greater variety of art styles at DC, bolder layouts and sharper designs.

2. I think the 8" by 10" page format is clumsy. I'd like to see comics at 7" x 7" and look visually striking, like a good album cover. Also, 22 pages is a little thin. I'd like to see the books padded out to forty eight pages, minimum.

3. Failure to recruit and cultivate new talent. An anthology book might seem a solution. If there's a reluctance stage an "amateur night" with mainstream DCU trademarks make it a Vertigo book.

4. Failure to exploit concepts to their full potential. There are a lot of languishing properties at DC.

5. A lot of writers and editorial policy seems to shun elements of DC characters. Fun, striking flourishes on characters do not have to be excised. Green Arrow's trick arrows, to choose one example, do not have to be explained away, they're fun, imaginative, add to the character's individuality and should be embraced.

6. Failure to expand distribution.

7. Too strict an emphasis on continuity.

8. Failure to diversify. DC has a lot of copyrights that could be "entry points" into comics. Weird War Tales, Mystery in Space, Super Sports Stories, Romance Comics, a few of these could be restarted and distributed effectively. If the content is good they will sell and make customers more likely to try other purchases.

9. Inappropriate directions for characters. Aquaman should not be a sword and sorcery book. Superman should not be about Clark Kent and Lois Lane's domestic issues.

10. Too often "success" seems to be determined by how well we're doing as compared to the other guy, namely Marvel. This is short sighted. DC has wide access to distribution through Warner Brothers. They have a viable, effective arsenal of concepts. I doubt that talent recruitment is a problem. There is no reason why DC should not have at least five titles per month that regularily sell five million copies or more.
There is a lot of wasted potential.

Scipio said...

Those are cogent and interesting points, Gary; thank you!

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how Marvel can publish multiple continuities of a character, but DC can't seem to keep straight one single continuity (for just about any character).

How hard is it to have two lines of comics: pre and post Crisis? Clearly, there is plenty of mileage left in DC's Golden and Silver Age characters. Why not let them live again--in their prime--in a separate continuity?

I loved the 1999 Brave and Bold with Barry and Hal. I'd love to buy that as a regular series. And I'd love another All-Star Squadron type Golden Age book, with stories set in the past.

I just don't think DC fully understands or acknowledges its fans. We're big boys, we can handle it.

Ian said...

Of the faults you listed I agree the most with number five. I think it's cool that Kurt Busiek and Paul Dini are going to write for Superman and Batman repsectively. Then I think of how short their runs might end up being. I'd love for Busiek's run on Superman to last as long as his run on Avengers. I want to see creators really leave their mark on a character over a number of years, like Wolfman and Perez did with The Teen Titans.

Also, I think DC needs to improve their trade program. The omissions in the Alan Moore book, the mixed-up pages in Archives and the firing of Bob Greenberger are not good signs.

Martin said...

A point that needs to be made with regards to cultivating supporting casts: Frequently, the addition of any supporting cast elements by the writer is seen as indulgence on their part, whether it is or is not - and most frequently, I would wager it is not.
I don't know if that perception would turn a writer away from the idea of making a strong supporting cast. Then again, I buy mostly team books, so I'm not going to be an excellent judge of that. I just remember people throwing a fit for some reason because of the character of "Cowgirl" when Green Lantern #1 came out.

Mike Loughlin said...

DC (and Marvel) have been throwing creative teams at readers without much thought. Writer X and artist Y for 6 issues! Writer from t.v. plus artist who was really popular 10 years ago for 12!


I have not read one storyline farmed out to a drive-by creative team has been as memorable or entertaining as the best of Morrison's JLA, Waid's Flash, Busiek's Avengers, David's Hulk, or Ostrander's Spectre, Hawkworld, & Suicide Squad.* "Hush," Azzarello's mainstream DC work, All-Star Batman, etc. may have sold well, but they've put off a lot of DC's fanbase, and engendered considerable badwill. DC needs to get some editors, writers, and artists with strong senses of direction for their characters to work together and create good stories.

* The Morrison & Quitely Superman may rate, but it's too early to tell.

Scipio said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Mike.

I grieve when the character becomes the tail and not the dog.

Creative teams come and go. On the other hand, well crafted and cared for characters remain and can develop fans across generations.

Anonymous said...

Four words: Lack of Killer Moth.