Sunday, July 31, 2011

Since Nobody Asked...

Part of what's exhausted me on most of the DC books that I once enjoyed so much is that they've all become so self-reflexive & insular. Their subtext, if they have any, is themselves. One of the last Teen Titans books I read (circa Infinite Crisis) involved a literal Revolving Door of Death! And of course, Watchmen and DKR were loaded commentaries on superhero comics (as is Grant Morrison's Batman saga), but they also had loads to say about REAL LIFE! Especially Cold War paranoia, the gift that kept on giving--superheroes as nuclear proliferation; Frank Miller had Sovietstate-sponsored Superman vs. quintessentially American capitalist rugged individualist Batman; Alan Moore gave us Dan Dreiberg's dithering liberalism and Adrien Veidt's aggressive interventionism on the left vs. the obviously psychopathic rightwing vigilantes Rorschach and the Comedian. These were comics about comics, yes, but they also spoke to world in which they were created.DC recently announced that in September, they will be relaunching all of their superhero titles from issue #1 with fresh, younger takes on all of their characters. I've suspected this was coming since just before 2005's Infinite Crisis, when DC started really ripping into its own past and undermining much of the history that gave its ongoing stories such fantastic emotional weight. Dead sidekicks were resurrected, unknowable secrests were revealed, Batman started wearing a yellow oval around his chest insignia again, a lot of stuff was just clean foolish.
But there was a clear attempt being made to clear out the cobwebs of history. At the respective ends of both Infinite Crisis and 2008's Final Crisis (echoing the events of 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths) the DC Universe was remade with mostly cosmetic changes. After Infinite Crisis, for example, it was revealed that the people of Superman's home planet Krypton had dressed in white flowing robes rather than the red tunics we saw them wearing in 1986. I'm actually not sure if there were any retroactive changes following Final Crisis. I don't think most of the people who write DC Comics even read that one.
And then there was the bizarre All Star line of comics. They sold like gangbusters and they were loaded with novel meditations on the Superhero's place in the modern world. But they were fraught with production issues, and DC didn't even try to spin the excitement over them into anything else.
Anyway, they've been tinkering around with the idea of of starting over for at least six years, and they're finally doing it. Sort of.
The information they've released about the new comics indicates that the continuity of their two best-selling lines of superhero comics, the Batman and Green Lantern titles, will remain fairly undisturbed. And I'm like, OH REALLY?
Because if you're going to go to the extreme of restarting Action Comics, the single most important comic book series in the history of comic books, from #1, but you're not actually starting at the beginning of the story of the DC Universe, that's pretty much total bullshit. Basically, it's the same thing DC did following Crisis on Infinite Earths 25 years ago. Some things (Superman, Wonder Woman) were totally different, some things (Green Lantern, the Flash) simply carried on. Some, like Batman, were a hodgepodge of new and old.
Here's how I would do a DC relaunch.
Start with just two titles, Action and Detective, and keep them fairly true to their historical significance. Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1, and that's where the story of superheroes should begin: The first public appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1. That's the Big Bang moment for your brand new fictional universe. Superman emerges, world in awe. After the first storyline is complete, you can launch Superman #1.
Batman is slightly more problematic. He didn't show up until the 27th issue of Detective Comics. So you launch Detective, but keep it Batman-free until #27. That gives you just over two years to build up Batman's mythos. Open the first issue as Batman: Year One opened, with Bruce Wayne returning to Gotham after his years abroad spent training to fight crime. Let him have costumeless adventures, let him fail and learn and grow into the Dark Knight. Give him 26 issues to figure it out. And then, on the last page of issue #26, let the bat fly through his window, ushering in his destiny. Think of the excitement you'd create by withholding Batman's first appearance. Comic fans would go nuts. Or you could even put Detective out weekly, if you don't want to wait two long years to sell Batman comics. Make it an anthology, showcase the street-level characters that will populate the new DC Universe.
Heck, make both Action and Detective weekly anthologies for their first two years, showcasing the flashy sci-fi heroes (Adam Strange, Green Lantern, etc.) in the former and the gritty urban heroes (the Question, Black Canary, etc.) in the latter. Have those be the only regular DC superhero comics on the shelves for at least the first year. That's a real commitment to your fresh start.
I, frankly, have no idea what to do with Wonder Woman. The tried and true method of bringing the character back to its roots that's worked so well for her male counterparts is problematic because, well, her roots are problematic.
Obviously, DC didn't ask me and they're going their own way on this. From what I've seen, I'm not hopeful. But I haven't really been following DC comics that closely the last three years anyway. Grant Morrison's Action Comics looks promising, especially since in his excellent and chatty new book Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human he repeatedly refers to early Superman as a socialist, and I can't wait to see how that plays out. Everything else, though, I don't know, not my thing.

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