Sage's Stray Thoughts 20: The Struggle of Comic Fans

This one kinda got away from me.

Convergence nearly broke me. There was something about its clusterfuck way of referencing every major DC crossover that altered the core DC universe in the past thirty years or so without actually bothering to explain to new readers what happened or who the major players were in those crossovers that got under my skin.  And that was bad enough, but the above ending?  Where they retconned all your favorite characters away in favor of not only a New 52 universe, but a New 52 "multiverse"?   Let's just say the original version of this article is far less coherent and far more Comic Book Guy-like grousing.

I’m not exactly a “fan” of what’s been going on over at the offices of Detective Comics lately.  From The New 52 to the DC You marketing, so much of what I see just doesn’t click.

All the constant "diversity" talk rings hollow when POC and LGBT characters like Renee Montoya (the Question), Grace Choi, Black Lightning’s kids Anissa and Jennifer, Ryan Choi, Jakeem Thunder, Maxine Hunkel, and others were all basically retconned out of existence, and other POCs like Jason Rusch and Jaime Reyes are sidelined and are used only for major crossovers or random origin stories.   DC's universe was pretty diverse already, they just weren't given their new characters the same shot they gave their older, more "iconic" ones.  ...And then they wiped out just about everyone who wasn't "iconic", or who hinted at some sort of legacy.

More than that, when you look at the “legacy” characters that are still there—Wally West (Flash), Donna Troy (Wonder Girl), Dick Grayson (Nightwing), Roy Harper (Arsenal/Red Arrow)—their histories are broken.  They’re “new” characters that aren’t new at all—a sort of creative laziness that can only come from a company whose solution to every problem is to just “reset” until things work for them, or at least look like they work.   To a long-time fan, it’s almost as if DC gave up on its own comic book universe and decided to tell stories about a television version of the DCU, where things have to be significantly dumbed-down and/or simplified in order to introduce fan-favorite characters.  

The Justice Society went from this....
What might be most irritating though, is the uniformity.   DC You is working to get rid of some of that, but it remains on a lot of levels.  They brought back the multiverse—but rather than make use of Earth-2’s well-known status as a “World War II”-focused Earth, they set it during the modern era, making the only difference between it and Earth-0….well, there’s fewer heroes?    That’s a bit reductionist, but it also isn’t too far from the truth.   The “legacy” that DC built on consistently from the re-introduction of the Justice Society in the late 90’s until they finally “reset” the universe with Flashpoint has been thrown out altogether for the sake of keeping things “iconic”.

To this.  What happened?
 The argument could be made that as a comic book fan I just hate change.  I certainly wouldn’t refute it.  But to some extent, EVERYONE hates change.  That’s why so many people were pissed when they changed Batman’s actor to someone not-Christian Bale.  That’s why people don’t want a new Ghostbusters.   But allow me to make this argument: is what you’re getting “really” change?   Let’s set aside everything else for a moment and let me make this point: DC Comics looks a lot like the 90’s, lately.

  • Batman’s “incapacitated”, so someone not-Dick Grayson (the real successor) takes over in his place.
  • Superman’s got a new haircut, been powered down, and has had a major change to his status quo that should be impossible to undo, but eventually will anyway
  • Though the idea behind it makes zero sense, Hal Jordan’s an “outlaw” again

We’re a couple of leather jackets away from where we were twenty years ago, but without the same sense of progression since at least then those stories were new.   To take it a step further, let me point out how many origin stories we’ve gotten.  Again.  And how many there are left to tell.   The characters have all been made single so they can re-tell the stories of how they fell in love and got married.  A lot of villains at the start of the New 52 had yet to be re-introduced and so they did those stories over.   None of this is “new” anymore than the Andrew Garfield rendition of Spider-Man was.   There’s certainly room to like one version better than the other, though.

And on that note, none of this is to say The New 52/DC You is publishing bad comics.  A lot of people like them, so I can’t call them that.   And some of them even work for me—for instance, even though I would rather have Bryan Q Miller writing Stephanie Brown again, I think the team doing Batgirl right now is doing a GREAT job.   Amanda Conner and Emanuela Luppachino on Starfire is a match so perfect someone should have thought of it ages ago, and while Bat-Mite is another character ripped from the Silver Age, it was both an adorable and refreshing read.

When I think of the fatigue I currently feel towards DC’s line of comics, I think of post-Avengers: Disassembled-era Marvel.   The genesis of a new era of Marvel Comics storytelling, it was another wildly popular period for a Big Two company that I never clicked with me. The plot twists felt nonsensical, all the characters felt out of character, and by the end I was looking at a line-up of Avengers that included Wolverine and Spider-Man and my teenaged fanboy brain kind of exploded. From there it was a downward spiral into Civil War and World War Hulk and the Illuminati and all these stories that just seemed to find new ways to annoy me more than the last.   So instead of being a balanced fan I started to gravitate more towards DC.  

Of course, Marvel gradually won me back.  It started with PAD’s excellent standalone X-Factor series, then eventually my interest was piqued in the other X-books, as they started freeing themselves from the mire of late-80’s and 90’s era continuity and tell more interesting stories featuring characters from one of my favorite cartoons as a boy.  By the time the mega X-crossover Messiah Complex had hit, I was reading every X-comic I could get my hands on.  (Except for Wolverine.  Fuck that guy.)

I tried to go back to the rest of their line, but it always seemed like the more appealing a series was, the more short-lived it was destined to be—from Dan Slott’s science-fiction focused Mighty Avengers to the to the military cyberpunk stories of Greg Pak’s War Machine.  I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel with Marvel’s Siege, and eventually a more Sage-friendly Marvel emerged with their Marvel Now initiative.  And a few missteps aside, they’ve been on fire ever since then. 

Counting it up, my not-really-an-exile from Marvel lasted from January 2005 to about October 2012—a little over seven and a half years.  Right around the time I was starting to tire of the New 52’s antics.  That’s quite the chunk of time to be sure, but in that period I was never without cape comics—whether it was the few Marvel Comics I read or the countless DC books that piled up.  

I’ve always tried to make an effort as a comic book fan to be “different”, and try to seek out the bright side of any given situation.  If my favorite characters are being written in a way I conceive to be poor (or written out of existence altogether)—I seek out new ones.  If my favorite company isn’t really telling the stories I want to read, I go see what other companies are doing.   And there’s a lot to love.  Whether it’s Marvel’s Secret Wars stuff, Image’s upcoming Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl, IDW’s Transformers series, the new Archie series, Kurt Busiek's astoundingly brilliant Astro City, or even the “Worlds Collide” stuff being done with Mega Man and Sonic—it was hard for me to admit at first, but comics have seldom been in a better condition than they are right now.   The "diversity" in terms of creators as well as books in general certainly isn't a lie--you just have to look in the right places.

This article started out as my way of saying goodbye to DC Comics, but I’m not really wired to do that.  DC’s going in a direction that’s different from what I’m interested in right now, and that’s okay.   The question I always pose to people is: how much do you need to read?    I’m thinking I’ll still have 20+ comics a week to fill my time up, and considering how things have been lately, even that might be killing my free time.   

So yeah, I’ll just be pulling back a bit, and maybe doing some stuff on JiH that focuses on DC’s Silver and Bronze Ages, along with the so-called “Modern” era of the 90’s until DC's current line-up appeals to me more.  It's just a matter of time.


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