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.


John C said...

I like this scheme--and honestly, I liked it a decade ago, when DC was trying to throw any excuse at the wall they could find about wasting everybody's money with Diamond and so wouldn't touch this model with a ten-foot moopsball hammer--but it's a little bit annoying that all the talk about "supporting the local shops" went right to charity (not that I don't have a ton of respect for Jim Lee for putting so much of himself into that project), as opposed to taking a cut of each sale and paying it as a commission to each customer's preferred (or nearest) shop.

It's been a long time since I've so much considered publishing, but I seem to recall that upwards of three-quarters of the cover price is split between Diamond and the shop, which means that DC (and the other companies) could spread some money around where it's needed to keep people excited.

But progress is progress.

Bryan L said...

The content is stellar -- it's some of the best superhero comics that DC has released since they cancelled their titles based on the DC Animated Universe (typically all done-in-one stories and much the better for it). And, in fact, one is based on Batman: The Animated series and it's great.

It would be wonderful if DC took a lesson from this, but I doubt they're going to abandon their event obsession. But I'll keep buying these as long as they're offered. And then I'll buy the trades when they're released.

cybrid said...

"Who was it that said "Every villain is the hero of their own story"?

Freshman English teachers? Except that they probably said it with correct grammar. ;-)

Scipio said...

Actually, it was Christopher Vogler in 1992, but the concept isn't new. Just read any Greek play; the person doing wrong always has a complete justification for it.

Anonymous said...

Now if we could just get a Green Arrow title in this set...


-- Jack of Spades