Wednesday, May 06, 2020

This may be the best thing that's happened to DC in my lifetime

Is it possible that the coronavirus shutdown is the best thing to happen to DC in my memory?  

That may seem like an insane assertion.  The quarantine has wrecked production of the films, shows, and periodicals that star, and therefore keep popular, the DCU's intellectual properties--their characters and the worlds they inhabit.  The distribution system is in ruins, the direct market collapsing, and brick and mortar stores in ICU.  The situation is so bad that Newsarama, with little of substance to report on, has resorted to publishing its own fan-fic about its fever fantasy of a DC-Marvel crossover event.  It's like watching someone hallucinate in a sensory -deprivation tank. It's hard to imagine a worse situation for comics to be, other than perhaps being directly outlawed or so severely censored as to be gelded (and comics already survived that quite nimbly during the Comics Code Authority Era).

And yet. 

DC is now engaging directly with its readers, finally liberating itself from its shotgun marriage to Diamond Distributors in 1995.  

It's unheard of! At least to any 35 or under.

In that process, DC has resorted to publishing online through its "Digital Firsts" format some comics that were written not for the direct market but for the general public.

And the difference is striking. In a good way.

I have bought these 'new' Digital Firsts and they make me feel like a drowning man finally getting air.  

A good feeling, as Green Arrow has recently taught us.

Why do I enjoy them?  Because they aren't slivers of some year(s)-long arc by some auteur determined to leave the character "as you never seen them before" in some narrative experiment.  Because, although the stories make reference to and take elements from the DCU's long history, they don't rely on the reader's knowledge of it.  Because the heroes are recognizably on model.  Because their adversaries, while definitely villainous, are shown not to be gratuitously so, but to have worldviews and motives that are made evident, consistent, and the cause of their behavior.  Because the heroes are in interested in finding out whether they can defeat the villain by winning the war of ideas, by getting them to change their worldview to mitigate their misbehavior, and failing that, to punch the crap out of them.  

But even sympathetic Batman....

... is still Batman.


Because they are short comics but complete stories. Because they only cost 99 cents and feel worth their cost, for a change.

Because I am buying them; and reading them; and enjoying them; and talking with my friends about them.  Because if someone asked me for something to read to help them get into comics, I could give them these, rather than ones 50 years old or expressly written for children with juvenile art-styles.

Because in one Aquaman story, they reintroduced and modernized the Sea Devils and had them wind up becoming part of Aquaman's larger dynasty of justice-seekers.   In another, they introduced Black Manta with his backstory completely synopsized, brought the Mermazons into continuity as a throwaway, and set a battle at the hilariously named Museum of Unnatural History.

Because they have been fun, and funny, and wise, and exciting, and witty, and sad. Passionate without being overdramatic, instructive without being didactic, action-packed without being incomprehensible.

In short, they are being written in the way comics were when popular cultural adopted them are as our common mythology, as if every comic might be someone's first and therefore making it possible a person to START reading comics at any point and feel welcome.

It is my fervent hope that through the cold turkey of quarantine, DC will have been able to kick its addictions to non-stop crossovers, reboots, epics, and character deconstructions.  All they have to do is keep writing comics like these, comics like I thought people had forgotten how to make, and they will have my devoted readership again.  And just maybe some new readers, too.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Superman No. 36: Inscrutable

I understand many things. Quantum physics.  Greek plays.  Modern art. The works of Bach.

You know what I don't understand? This cover:

I'm sure Grant Morrison has planned an unpublished mini-series based on it.

I've been contemplating this cover for 50 years and it remains inscrutable and semiotically inaccessible.  Not even a bursting shell can penetrate its meaning.  I even stared at an original copy in person to make sure there wasn't some foil-based double-imagery built in that I couldn't perceive that had news-stand owners and seven-year-old boys laughing their heads off.  Nada.

Why is Lois Aunt Fritzie?  Why is she holding a tiny hammer like Dr. Maxwell?  Why is Superman dirty-sanchezing an icemaker?  Why does Lois keep bananas in the refrigerator? And on the floor?  Did she label those jars herself? Does ace investigative reporter Lois Lane put up preserves?  Why is Superman in her kitchen? What is he laughing about? Why is Lois angry?  Is that a ham, or part of Lois' latest victim?  Did old-timey fridges even HAVE icemakers?  Why is Superman letting ice cubes spit out and melt on the floor?  Why is there an apple on the floor? Is the apple a surrealist inclusion? Is the entire cover a surrealistic exercise? Doesn't Superman have anything better to do? And how can Lois not realize the man one yard from her nose is her closest co-worker?

If you can explain, you 50 years smarter than I.