Friday, March 13, 2015

The Silicon Age Theory

Has time sped up?

In the previous century there developed a fairly stable pattern to the DCU.  It wasn’t pre-planned but occurred as a natural outgrowth to the rhythms of society.  Roughly every 15 years, as generation of childhood readers “aged out” of comics’ readership, the DCU would be rebooted.

It wasn’t ever put that way, and there were always other ostensible reasons for the change.  The Silver Age started “when it was time to bring superheroes back” after their popularity fell during the post-War/Wertham  years. The Bronze Age started when “a more serious world needed less frivolous superheroes, ones more quote unquote relevant”.  The Iron Age started when “the DCU became too complicated for new readers”.  The subsequent Age (more on that later) started when “people wanted a brighter, larger universe”.  

Perhaps.  But more generally, DC comics move from one “Age” to another when:

  • the initial readership for the current Age has suffered enough attrition  to make a change a worthwhile or necessary risk; and/or
  • the zeitgeist has changed sufficiently that it demands a change in tone that’s difficult to accomplish in the current age.

In the Golden Age, heroes and villains shot and maimed and killed in Dick Tracy world of bright colored and wide-eyed corpses. Corpses EVERYWHERE, stinking up the streets like ginko fruit in the District of Columbia.  The Depression/War years were not for the squeamish, either in the real life or the comics.

Remember, kids; Captain Marvel fought zombies before your parents were born.

In the Silver Age, people had had enough of all that unpleasantness, and DC’s heroes and villains obligingly put down their guns and engaged in elaborate games of wits, one-up-manship, and thematic tomfoolery with an expanded cast of pets, pals, and gadgetry.  

Green Arrow and Speedy collect their wits? Jeez, how long IS this story?!

In the Bronze Age, faced with social unrest and societal self-doubt, readers found that all that ridiculous, so heroes and villains became relevant, disagreeable, and fallible.  Green Arrow’s heyday, for obvious reasons.

All sympathy, Bronze Age Batman lets you stay unconscious on the first date.

As a result, readers headed toward the Iron Age with a bunch of crabby, crappy heroes (I’m looking at you, Stupid Bronze Age Batman) who lived in a bizarre Silver Age wonderland of weirdness, and the tension between the two had grown laughable.  The time had come to clear the board completely, and the Iron Age eliminated all the previous piled up continuity for a total restart.  Except for Batman, really. Because he’s Batman.

But since then, readers have been hit with repeated reboots of the DCU. In DC’s first 47 years, it had, essentially two reboots; in the last 30 years it’s had at least five (depending on how you count them).  

Is time –and our comic book media cycle--speeding up?  Are reboots coming more frequently because readership is smaller and more volatile? Are attention spans shorter?  Has DC simply become addicted to reboots because, like a rat pushing a lever, they get the delicious cheese of a sales bump each time they do it? Are they just screwing up reboots because they've lost the ancient art of doing so correctly and comprehensively?

Well… all of those are true to at least some degree, no question.  And it does look bad if you look at it this way, assuming that each reboot heralds a new age:

But I currently look at it a different way.  One that is enabled by no longer equating a ‘reboot’ with a change of Age.  The shift from the Silver to the Bronze Age was dramatic; very dramatic.  But, technically, there was no ‘reboot’ (as they are now called) between the two.  In fact, though this will defy the expectations of many, I would make the case that, despite the huge change between the Golden and Silver Ages, there was no reboot between them either.  Yes, we got a new Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman; but they had all been discontinued for some time.  The characters that were still in print (Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow) pretty much continued their adventures without much of a hiccough. Were there a lot more gorillas and aliens on their dance cards? Of course.  But there was no clear break or repudiation with the past.  

If you think of it that way then the only changes of Age that really coincide with a reboot is pre/post-Crisis (from multiverse to universe) and pre/post-Infinite Crisis (from universe to multiverse).  The other ‘reboots’ are just continuity jiggering. And a lot of that is of the kind that used to be done without renumbering and fanfare (a new costume, a new status quo, a new city or supporting cast, or casually just forgetting stories that don’t fit any more).  This used to be done all the time (either out of necessity or apathy) and during the Hypertime period DC came out and said as much.  The DCU, they posited, was a Heraclitean river; you can’t step into the same version of it twice.  

I submit that the ‘real’ history of the DCU looks like this:

We are now approaching the second furniture-shuffling-style 'reboot' of what I now call the Silicon Age (characterized by the return of the multiverse and the rise of digital comics and superhero cinema) ... pretty much right on schedule.  I predict it will last for another 7 years, when the next real change of Age will come and comics will start to be written by and for people who don't remember a time before the internet.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Jeerings and Solicitations

Wonder Woman
Because X-23 is so enormously popular!


We finally remembered Superman used to be sexier in 1939!

Superman/Wonder Woman
They're back and they're bad-ass.  
They're angry and ready to have sex about it!

Superman/The Tick

Because this is effing HILARIOUS.

Harley Quin
We put our psychotic kewpie doll killer on every cover for no reasons other than to appeal to sex-starved fanboys...but that's not enough! Nor is just ONE Harley Quin, so we've xeroxed a fleet of them for everyone's possible fantasy.

If the sensational character find of 1940 can't make you read spy comics, NO ONE can!

Turns out no one likes Fish Mooney in COMICS either!  The leathery spandex is in the mail, boys.

Professor Zoom is back! Because Flash must fight nothing but anti-Flashes, fake-Flashes, evil-Flashes, etc. forever!

Green Arrow
After 70 years at about 20 attempts, we finally learned how to make Green Arrow work... from the CW!

Green Lantern
He's a rebel, Dottie; a loner!
Hoodie Hal with his bad-ass biker's glove of power.  Why didn't we ever think of making Hal a bad-ass hooded guy before...?!

We know you liked BTAS 20 years ago so we're teaming Bullock and Montoya for the first time. Again!

Because a Deathstroke who can only defeat entire Justice League is so LAME and 2000s, we'll give you one who's coming to kick the ASSES OF THE GODS, OMGXXX!

Because someone finally sent us a member saying metrosexuals are OUT and lumbersexuals are IN!

Secret Six
Because quirky people need SOMETHING to read and what the heck else would we do with Gail Simone!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Newer 49

So, today we finally got a clearer picture of just what DC is doing after the Big Stall (I'm sorry, I meant "Convergence"), from this interview with Dan Didio et al.:

When June arrives and DC Comics launches 24 new titles while shaking up the status quo on it biggest characters, there will be two major points of emphasis: A new weight on story, and a drive for different flavors.
“We’re updating the line, but selectively,” said co-publisher Jim Lee. “So rather than having 52 books all in the same continuity and keeping a universe that’s tightly connected with super-internal consistency and one flavor, we’ve broken it up. We’ll have a core line of about 25 books that will have that internal consistency and will consist of our best-selling books, but then the rest of the line of about 24 titles will be allowed to shake things up a bit.”
In short, you could call DC’s June (and July; as six of the 24 new titles — Cyborg, Dark Universe, Martian Manhunter, Mystik U, and Justice League United — will debut one month later) a “soft relaunch” of 2011’s 'New 52.'" The New 52 started 52 DC titles over with new #1 issues and a single universe.
Old guard titles such as Batman, Superman, and Justice League will continue—with major changes promised in all three, including an “all-new Batman” who appears armored—and be joined by standbys such as Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and more
And there is much excitement over new titles with different points of view such as We Are Robin (a “crowdsourcing” of Robin), Prez (about a teenage girl elected President of the United States), and Bizarro (a title dedicated to Superman’s highly imperfect double).
DC will give readers a massive free sample, with 8-page stories for all 49 books, ongoings and new #1s both, available in May titles. The 8-pagers will also be made available for free via DC’s website and digital partners such as comiXology. DC’s Free Comic Book Day, Divergence, will consist of three pivotal 8-page stories.
“The Batman 8-pager will change the status quo of Batman, the Superman 8-pager will change the status quo of Superman, and the Justice League 8-pager will set up the Darkseid War,” said DC Co-publisher Dan DiDio. “So each one of those will have ramifications, as people will expect.”
After the May 2 Free Comic Book Day, 8-pagers will continue in DC’s books throughout the month. “People [will] get a chance to read these books, see the different styles of art, read the different types of stories, and see how we plan to interpret our characters in a new way,” DiDio said. “And hopefully, in doing so, they’ll get excited about the new books when they come out in June. I think this is a necessary tool, and really so valuable to inform out what we have planned for all these books. It gives everyone a chance to sample them in advance before they hit the shelves.”
And when they do, Lee is confident people will see something different.
“We’re really asking the creators to put story and character first, and really focus is on canon, rather than continuity,” Lee said. “By focusing on canon, which is really the stories that matter, the best stories that we tell with these characters that have really got elevated, that’s the history we want to create around these characters. This is an attempt to re-focus the line, focus on story, and let the creators tell their stories without necessarily being confined by the restrictions of ‘continuity,’ which I put in quotation marks.”
DiDio clarified canon versus continuity.  “Perfect examples are if you look at something like Dark Knight Returns or Kingdom Come, which were outside the realm of our normal storytelling,” DiDio said. “Those stories became so powerful that they started to work their way into the continuity. We still have a shared universe, we still have a shared space where these characters can interact. But the main goal is to allow each of these characters to exist on their own, build their own sense of story, their own sense of direction, their own supporting casts, and their own audiences. And when you do that, you build a much stronger foundation for the DC Universe, and ultimately what happens is that as you start to see what works, you can bring audiences and concepts together to expand and cross-pollinate.”
DiDio said that some of that cross-pollination is built on recent DC successes. “You see a book like Black Canary coming out, which expands out of Batgirl,” he said. “There was a sensibility in Batgirl that people got excited about, so we expand that there. Same thing when we see the success of Harley Quinn, we bring that same team over to Starfire. We want to build on success and build outward.”
“Building outward” can sometimes involve building something that’s not right up your own alley.
“When you are overseeing a line like Dan and I do, you have to realize that not everything is going to appeal to your own personal taste,” Lee said. That’s a challenging part of the job. So you have to trust your editors. You hire your editors for their taste, their relationships, and their ability to curate content. And I think they’re done a masterful job for June.”
DiDio thinks the author’s voice is of greatest import.
“What I looked for in talking to [creators] was point of view, something to say,” he said. “I think that’s important these days. My greatest fear is that everything’s getting homogenized. These people have a hunger for these projects, a real passion. I go to Mark Russell on Prez, and he has a hunger for the story he wants to tell. And he feels he has the vehicle now to present what his concerns and interests are through these characters. And when I hear that passion, I get excited.”
“For every Bat-Mite and Bizarro, there’s going to be a Section 8 and an Omega Men, which are probably the hard-hitting side,” DiDio said. “And we’re going with every shade in between. We have to go out and sell every single title individually. Which is what we want, because each book is its own entity, with its own sensibility.”
“[Writer] Garth Ennis probably last worked at DC…10 or 12 years ago?” Lee said. “Him coming back with a book that is just a kind of dark, humorous take on the DC Universe is, well, Garth doing what you expect him to do. And it’s great to have that kind of tonality back in the lineup.”
And in today’s “synergy” world (Hello, Arrow and Flash TV shows!), DC says they’re guided by their own compass.“The material inspires the TV shows,” DiDio says. “The comics here, they set the tone. They don’t attract the same size audience that the shows or the movies do, and we’re aware of that. But what we do is we inspire the people who create those TV shows and movies to look at what we have and use the material that we create to fill their stories. We have to be the leaders. We can’t follow the other medium. We have to be ahead of everybody else.”
Lee sees a tangential link between the different branches of DC Comics and Warner Bros., but stresses that the tail can’t wag the dog.“When we have a character like Black Canary rising to prominence in the Arrow TV show, rather than trying to mirror what they’re doing there, we just want to produce the best version of that character possible,” he said. “I think most fans realize there are multiple versions of anything they’re watching. I mean, the movies get rebooted, there are different actors, different origins…the idea that there’s only one version of that character has really broken down.”
While so much of the focus is on 24 new titles, DiDio stressed to the ongoing creators that their imperative was to step their ongoing game up…and shake things up there as well.  “Every team was challenged, saying, ‘You’ve got to rise above all these new #1s. You’ve got to do something that makes your book stand out. You can’t sit back. Take this opportunity, and do something cool in the ongoing books right there,’” he said. “We’ve got some major storylines in place. The Batman story is going to play across the Batman books. The Superman story is going to play across the Superman books. The Justice League story is going to have little one-shots and things like that that build around it and support it.”
But DiDio also stressed that a line-wide crossover is not in the cards at this point.
“The last thing we want to do right now is cross over a bunch of books while we’re letting them form and shape and find their audience,” he said. “We spoke to the creators and we told everyone we’re giving them some running room to establish themselves and establish the books.”
For his part, Lee hopes the new establishment looks different from the old.
“June is about breaking down whatever perception people have of DC Comics and the DC universe and really just going for broke,” he said. “We should be doing all sorts of different, crazy ideas.”

Allow me to interpret....

DC now perceives some of the mistakes it made in its New52 relaunch and wants to recover from them (without saying "that was mistake").

DC recognizes crossover burnout among readers.

DC recognizes crossovers have been hampering their writers too much.

DC admits that it's not really good at maintaining continuity and that it's probably not that important since readers only care about the stories they really like.

DC realizes that an environment of constant crossovers requires being good at maintaining continuity.

DC recognizes that, on the whole, readers are more interested in good stories than in continuity. Or at least, readers and potential new readers who are not aging fanboys.

DC can't help but notice that its teevee shows are knocking it out of the park for both new readers and long time fans

DC's embarrassed by that, or realizes that it should be.

DC is therefore trying to wake up and stark leading the pack on interpretation of their IPs, rather than just being a farm team for Warner Brothers.

DC comics do NOT set the tone for their characters, but they really need to at least look like they do.

DC realizes that they were wrong to have focused in the New52 on simply producing a variety of genres--all of which had the same tone and style.

DC realizes that they were enforcing that tone and style for the sake of a continuity, which people don't care as much about as they thought.

DC, having watched Arrow and Flash, now recognizes just how easy it is to vary the tone of similar source material and how that variation can be a source of Art that is both more interesting and accessible.

DC realizes that, on the whole, it has too many eggs to put in one basket and that a diverse portfolio is a healthy portfolio.

DC realizes that, some 70 years later, the Golden Age writers were correct in giving each characters its own 'world' to inhabit, creating a shared world for them to interact in only when necessary.

How much they UNDERSTAND all these things remains to be seen....
DC, I will see you on the other side of the Convergence.