Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Pre-partum look at Rebirth

Well, now, that Batman versus Superman is behind us, let's look at what's before us: Rebirth.

Before we get to any specifics let's address the overall tone of Rebirth.  DC -- more important, Dan Didio himself -- is admitting it screwed up.  Credit for that, then.  It's very rare for any company of any kind to simply say, "sorry, we made the wrong decisions and now we are going to try to fix things."  That alone is a huge change from DC's usual approach over the last twenty (thirty?) years, which has consistently been, "No, no, fans, you are mistaken and we know better than you do and you should shut up and trust us and buy whatever versions of our characters we deemed fit to dispense."  That kind of attitude is enough to make me wonder whether my friend Van Google is correct; maybe these IPs should not continue to be protected by copyright.  Maybe we would be better off if people were free to make their own versions of DC's iconic characters and let them all duke in out in the marketplace of ideas (or taste, at least). THAT would be a multiverse.

Similarly, they are not even branding it as a reboot.  They seems (finally) to realize that that well is dry.  They seem to be trying to kick their reboot addiction. Just fix stuff, DC.  Simply forget the stories that are in the way.  If you want Ted Kord back, just bring him back.  That doesn't require a universal reboot.

Dan Abnett on Aquaman is already a known awesomeness.  Putting him on Titans will make me pick that up too (and I can't imagine what else would)   Giffen on Blue Beetle(s) is a no-brainer; he created Jaime Reyes and essentially created what we now think of as Ted Kord.  Most creative assignments announced for Rebirth are neutral at worst, many are good, some are great.  Only a handful are head-slappingly stupid (e.g., letting Percy continue to write Green Arrow; slapping a goatee back on Ollie's face will NOT fix that situation, Mr. Johns).

Some people are critical of what they see as DC focusing on a handful of icons to the exclusion of edgier more outre characters.  I say those people are wrong.  Wrong, not because Icons Rule and Outliers Suck.  Wrong because what DC needs to do -- what it has ALWAYS needed to do -- is to solidify and stabilize the core characters and teams of its universe.  Having strong dynastic centerpieces as the pillars of the DCU doesn't squeeze out other characters.  Quite the contrary.  It creates a stable environment for such characters to be introduced.  If you are going to have diversity in your literary rainforest, you need a bunch of solid icons and related characters providing a canopy under which niche figures can thrive.  DC finally seems to abandoned its obsession with going against the grain of its own universe, force feeding us Black Orchid and Captain Atom and Voodoo and pretending that those characters are going to stand on their own.  Instead let them thrive in their own niches in the DCU; not all animals need to be elephants, you know.

DC has also announced that further plans for restoring their universe will come later, once they have their main lines back in order.  For example, the Legion will return (in the future, so to speak).  Many of DC's previous attempts at self-reinvention were too extreme, too much, too fast.  Editorial wasn't ready for it, individual titles evolved before an overall plan was formed, and readers would almost immediately perceive that the narrative problems solved were quickly being outmatched by the new problems being generate.  DC's approach this time seems to me much more deliberate.

The fact that they are being rather transparent about their pans is another good sign. Previous 'renewals' always seemed shrouded in mystery, almost as if DC were afraid to tell you the truth about what they were up to, because they KNEW you wouldn't like it.  This time, however, they seem...relieved.  Like they no longer have to make themselves into some they aren't just to be loved.  Perhaps the success of their characters in other media finally have given them the confidence in the in their own IPs, the confidence that many of us never lost.  They seem to be talking about the characters the same way we do, more as fans or caretakers and less as salesmen. That, of course, is the best way to wind up selling us....


Anonymous said...

Fingers crossed that DC finally gets it: just position the characters at a good workable point in their careers, like they usually do when creating a new cartoon ("Batman: The Brave and the Bold" comes to mind for the dozens of characters all at their peak usability).

I don't mind experimenting with characters, but not all experiments are equally well-advised. Percy (not Abner, unless that's a joke I missed) will still be writing "Green Arrow"; in Percy's hands Ollie became a werewolf to learn what it's like to be a minority, but rarely uses his bow. Oh, and he used bone claws a couple issues back. I have dim opinions of most of DC's editorial staff from the Bronze Age, but there's no way in hell they'd greenlight a script where Green Arrow and archery never intersected.

The Martian Womanhunter said...

As a fan of many minor characters (Jonah Hex, for example), I understand that's it is a far, far better financial decision for DC to publish more Superman, Batman, Justice League, Flash, Green Lantern, and so on titles that for minor characters. It's the same reason why Marvel publishes multiple Spider-Man, X-Men, and Wolverine titles.

I'm all for diversifying the line, but so many of the minor character books just don't sell enough to make them financially viable. Yes, some of those minor character's books will become minor hits (though very few of them), but in a marketplace where even great books with popular characters barely break 30k sales a month, fans can't expect DC (or Marvel for that matter) to keep trying books that struggle to sell 10k a month.

If Grant Morrison or another superstar creator comes in and wants to do a Prez book, then sales will probably justify it. But there's simply not enough superstar talent to justify publishing too many titles for minor characters in the current marketplace.

SallyP said...

I'm a huge fan of "B" and "C" characters, but I do understand that you have to have the Big Boys and Girls in the lineup. But going back to the very rich well of characters and actually USING them again, is welcome news to my ears.

So...so welcome.

Dan Preece said...

I am not as thrilled with rebirth. Isn't Superman going to have a son? That's not the pre-Flashpoint Superman I had in mind. To me, DC's still stuck in New52 mode... they're only trying to make enough adjustments to calm people down, not necessarily make them happy.

We're still not going to have the REAL Barry Allen who returned in his own rebirth. Nor will we have the REAL Wally West. This alone tells me "rebirth" is less than a half-measure. (And no, I don't care what the tv show is doing; I read and care about comics--tv shows come and go.)

This is no rebirth, it's an AFTERBIRTH. Just more crud ejecting from the same New52 womb.

Hal Jordan at least gets to share a GL title, but the prominent GLs--those in the JLA and ads--going forward are more of the same 'diversity agenda' that hurts franchises but doesn't boost sales. Baz had his shot; nobody cared (not sales-wise). And isn't Venditti--the guy who turned the act of ringslinging into an exercise in universal extinction--still at the helm of GL? Johns's GL sold 90k+. Venditti's sell 35k. 'Nuff said.

Is Aquaman going to be married again? Be the guy whose son was murdered by Black Manta? No? Then rebirth doesn't mean much. (Honestly, I can't even remember what's true about DC's characters anymore.) I hear Mera will be "Aquawoman" or something like that. Is that going to fix Aquaman?

Scipio puts a nice spin on things, but I'm not buying DC's reawakening. Whatever is "fixed" this summer will get thrown away the moment Warner Bros sends another threatening memo about lagging sales.

Anonymous said...

Part of the beauty of "the Multiverse" is that we get to remember the old stories, and imagine that they happened somewhere, without necessarily being bogged down by them.

It was wonderful to read that Aquaman and Mera had an "Aquababy." Not so wonderful to read about Aquababy's being killed off... Aquaman and Mera separating... Justice League Detroit... and so on.

Recent issues of Aquaman bring back a wonderful pair of characters, and their wonderful relationship. Without quite of a bit of the baggage that I would just as soon forget.

And, of course, "Aquawoman"'s costume, feelings about the name, and press conference. Yes, I enjoyed the latest issue and recommend it.

"Rebirth" strikes me as an attempt to do not only what the "Green Lantern, Rebirth" and "Flash Rebirth" stories did, but also to do what "Batman Adventures" accomplieshed: Resurrect the wonderful things about characters that allow new stories to be more effectively told.

Mike said...

Scipio, it is good to have you back. I hope you are right about DC's rebirth of the classic characters. Superman and Batman were surrogate father-figures for me in the 50's, and Flash, Green Lantern and Adam Strange were big brothers that taught me more morality than nearly any other source. DC acknowledged this in the 70's and 80's with Superman becoming the moral center of the DC universe whom every other character tried to emulate while Batman becoming the spirit of justice fighting his internal rage. Every one else went down the Marvel pathway - flaws, angst and enough alienation until the characters were not idols but clay-footed everymen with powers.

Fie on that! Give me heroes to follow! Give me morality plays in four colors and tights! And give me your commentary, Scipio. I love your analysis of the old back-up stories.

Daniel Preece said...

As for "allowing new stories," THAT was the #1 justification for New52--for dumping old characters and continuity! And somehow going back to (some or all of) it is the best way to "allow new stories"??? Isn't that thinking just a teensy bit CONFUSED?

Daniel Preece said...

"""Part of the beauty of "the Multiverse" is that we get to remember the old stories, and imagine that they happened somewhere, without necessarily being bogged down by them.""""

That is NOT a multiverse.

That's Elseworlds.

Scipio said...

We are not children any more. We need to accepted that the 'continuity' we grew up with simply cannot continue indefinitely.

Do I like that fact that DC seems to have had trouble recently with establishing a workable longer-term approach to storytelling and worldbuilding? No.

But am I glad that DC is willing to try to fix things rather than stick with things that are broken? Yes.

'They got rid of a story / version of a character I liked' just seems rather naive to me. Retcons and reboots have been part of serial comics since their beginning (long before we had the words to label them as such). If you can't deal with that, then you are reading the wrong artform. The 'real' version of the DCU that you came to love growing up, sprung from the corpse of a previous version of the DCU that died so yours could be born. Did you think that would never happen to your version?

Anonymous said...

I am still happiest dealing with various continuities by treating comics like Arthurian legends: there are various traditions that emerge, some I will like and some I will not, so I treat them like stories rather than a reality/continuity and focus on the stories I like.

John said...

'They got rid of a story / version of a character I liked' just seems rather naive to me.

I'd go a step further, that it's outright blind to imagine that altering fictional history is the same as altering real-world history, and that the only possible way to make the change legitimate (I'm looking at you, Star Trek) is to give the audience a lifeline to the things they loved.

The old stories are still there. They always will be. To say that they're not is to say that you need to be constantly reassured that the speaker needs to be part of the "inside crowd," preferences fully endorsed by the "cool kids" in charge. Anybody who isn't sure about this should read the letter column of Green Lantern #143 (I think), where editor Marv Wolfman rants about how the problem with DC is the lack of clarity over what is canon, because someone dared ask about Binky and His Buddies.

If anything--and I realize I've probably said this before--DC's problem has been that they're too conservative in their changes, taking no risks with a property until it's no longer commercially viable...and then they slowly push the property back to what wasn't selling to appease noisy fans, anyway.

Which is all to say that Rebirth sounds like a far better move than "just like 1959, but angrier and more New Gods," but the DCU still needs to start moving forward. Hopefully, this is a platform to do so, rather than just another regression to the same old "Year One" Spider-Man stories.

On the copyright issue, I've often been tempted to collect the various public domain stories inspiring major heroes (and adding stories slipping through the copyright cracks) to create a solid world to be licensed under a Creative Commons license. Maybe one day...