Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"Ultimizing" The DCU?

The current debate raging in Casa Del Superheroine this morning:

I think DC will, for "Final Crisis," do some variation on "ultimizing"/rebooting/de-aging their characters. For the core characters, you will still have Bruce Wayne as Batman, Clark Kent as Superman, etc. But they will start at square one. "Streamlined." No characters appearing older than 25-30. No marriages, no steady girlfriends. So Superman is a free agent, romance-wise. You could even see the comics restarted at #1. For the more secondary characters, you choose the version that has been most popular. GL = Hal Jordan, Flash = Wally West, etc.

What would such an "ultimizing" accomplish?
It would make it easier for their characters to blend in with what is being done with the movies & TV shows.
You will get another spike in sales with all the reboots & #1s. Sure, fanboys & girls will complain at first. But you explain it away as a decision based on a "love & respect" for the characters -- to get at the "heart" of who they are really about.
You rewrite a lot of bulls**t.

So you have:
Action Comics #1! With this great all-star creative team! Superman up against Lex Luthor! Who will Clark choose, Lois or Lana?
Detective Comics #1! With this all-new kick-ass creative team! Batman meets Robin for the first time! Holy crap, Robin might even be Dick Grayson again! Dovetails perfectly into the new movies!
And look! Sue Dibny was never raped!

Now, from an integrity aspect this course of action might be a bit creatively bankrupt. And so the objection -- "DC wouldn't dare do this."

But --

This is the best course of action to take to satisfy two main needs:
1) Sharp short-term increase in sales
2) Streamlining characters to satisfy needs of corporate parents

Why not invest in the long-term?

1) The days of staying at the same comic book editorial job for 10+ years is, in my opinion, over. That emphemeral "job security" that lulled many a worker into contentment? Over. One's worth to the company is determined by the current month's sales figures. As such, you need to have as many gimmicks, crossovers, events, reboots as possible to boost sales on a continual basis. You can't have a second-tier book chug-chug-chugging along with fair-to-mediocre sales, giving it "time" to build a cult following. And so you have "52," "Countdown," "Post-Crisis," "Final Crisis," etc. So when your boss walks into your office with the sales numbers, you will know there will always be one sales spike or another. And if the fans get fatigue and don't "bite the carrot" anymore? You start planning to get another editorial job before they axe you. Short-term vs. long-term investment.

2) There is an assumption that the newest generation of potential comic book readers have the attention-span of a may fly. That the only way to lure them away from the bells & whistles of video games & their various internet pursuits is by constantly flashing "new cool s**t" in front of their face.

Now -- the above is NOT what I personally advocate as the best course of action to take.

What I would WANT to do is to invest in these books for the long-term with consistent stories and stable, top-notch talent. But, in the current business climate, this is the riskier choice. You might be labelled "old school" for such a mindset -- and God forbid you take on such a label.

That said, I think yesterday's "Final Crisis" teaser image was something hastily put together in response to "Countdown's" increasingly poor sales & in lieu of the San Diego Comic Con. I think if DC has a conception of "Final Crisis" at all, it is in its most youthful stages.

And I think fan response to the image -- how they interpret it, what they like or dislike about it -- will have a definite impact on what direction that particular event is taken. For all we know, tossing such images online without comment could be the company's way of conducting "snap" marketing research.

And to those who will counter with "DC already sort of rebooted half these characters 2 or 3 years ago! They wouldn't have the balls to pull a stunt like this!" -- I think they would.


  1. "The days of staying at the same comic book editorial job for 10+ years is, in my opinion, over. That emphemeral "job security" that lulled many a worker into contentment? Over."

    While he hasn't stayed at his job for 10 years yet, Joe Quesada seems to be pretty stable.
    Granted he does a lot of crossovers and hype and reboots, but I think he does a lot of "old school" consistent character development.

    Even if people take him to task for exhausting fans from "Disassembled" "House of M" "Civil War" "World War Hulk" "The Other" "One More Day" "Endangered Species" "Messiah Complex" and "Annihilation 1 & 2" there was at least a period from 2001 to 2004 where books did not cross over. They literally stripped everything away, even getting rid of the mask and super-hero identity in a bunch to get back to what made the characters special (this is all when Jemas was around, so I know he was an important part of that).

    But while the internet complains that he "Marvel knights"-ize the characters with decompressed stories and gimmicky number ones, its led to reinvigorated characters. I mean "Moon Knight" now outsells most "Batman" books.

    And you know, he actually has cultivated lots of characters. Runaways stands the best chance of being the next generation of fan's "X-Men"-sized franchise. It doesn't sell much in the direct market, but books stores, libraries is a different story. And under his reign, even a character like Luke Cage has been elevated to "A-list" to the point that he has inherited the fighting spirit, lead the troops position of Captain America.

    Anyway, my post degenerated into a Quesada defense when he wasn't accused of anything, but... I do think stable world-building, and slow, progressive character development is still possible in the American mainstream market.

    I just think DC is screwing up huge these days.
    Then again, I think Time Warner is the most micro-managed of all gross, big corporations. Whether that's true or not, I just haven't seen any other company fumble established franchises, like the Looney Tunes or CNN or Superman.
    So I'm sure the higher-ups' higher-ups are making life hell for Didio, et al. because its somehow cheaper to print Superman backpacks made in South America, than new Superman books, so they need to protect their financial investment.

    But I think its just a matter of the right people getting control of the DC editorial direction. They'll stop making books about the nature of a multiple universe and just tell books about stories.
    "All Star Superman" and "Justice" did that and the sales are huge and never wavered.
    Even if DC is the "timeless" brand with "iconic" characters, as long as the shake-up is done well, people still like it.
    As much as fans argue over "Hal vs. Kyle" or "Barry vs. Wally vs. Bart" nobody cares that Roy Harper is not Speedy anymore because it was actually done well.

    ...whew... now I'm late for work.

  2. I'm glad I'm not the only one who has this suspicion about upcoming events in the DCU. And I think it's a shame, because DC has such an incredibly rich history to work with. This can be intimidating to non-DC fanatics, but it doesn't have to be. Not all uses of continuity have to amount to "continuity porn." Sinestro Corps seems to be a good example of this--everything you needed to know was in the special (with the identity of the Sinestro Corps' guardian being the lone exception).

    My fear is that the ultimization of the DCU will go the way of the ultimization of the Marvel U. I suppose you don't need to know the history of the 616 Universe to understand the Ultimate U, but it seems like almost everything that happens in the latter is a variation of what happened in the former (Ultimate Stryfe, Ultimate Zero, Ultimate Gah Lak Tus, and so on). It's almost become a game of where's Waldo (spot the 616 character that's been Ultimized this month). If we're going to wipe the slate clean, let's really wipe the slate clean. So: yes, Batman is Bruce Wayne, his nemesis is the Joker, Robin is Dick Grayson, etc. But there is no "Ultimate DC" version of Azrael. There is no Ultimate DC version of the KGBeast. There is no Ultimate version of COIE, or Zero Hour, or (God forbid) The Lightning Saga. (I will admit that I enjoyed the latter, but that certainly doesn't make it a good story.) And we tell new stories with these characters.

  3. "While he hasn't stayed at his job for 10 years yet, Joe Quesada seems to be pretty stable. "

    I'm referring more to DC. DC, much moreso than Marvel, had a history of people working very long-term at their company. We're talking 15, 20 years + in some cases. When I was working there, at least for the first couple of years, there was a real sense of (false?) job security among these long-term workers, a sense of comfortableness & a sense that they would never be fired because they were a "family." This attitude was both good and bad -- good, because it produced a pleasant work environment, bad because some people lost perspective or stopped trying. When Didio came on the scene, that completely changed.

    In the Didio model, he would come into your office every month and discuss the "numbers" with you. If the numbers were low, you felt the pressure. As opposed to before, you really felt the fear that you might possibly get laid off if your books continued to "suck."

    In principle, I see nothing horribly wrong with this model. In "old DC," there was a sense in some quarters of "entitlement," of not needing to go the extra mile & sticking with the same familliar talent, regardless of freshness, just because it was "comfortable." Didio came on the scene and the first thing he did was aggressively go after new talent, talent from other companies. This drove some "old DC" people crazy. Now they were being asked to replace friends with Hot Talent A & B & C. Now they had to fire people. There was a lot of tension in that first couple of years.

    But I don't see Didio as a long-term investor in these characters. Not because he is a bad person, not because he "hates" continuity, but because he comes from a corporate background & as much as he professes to love comics he knows he was specifically hired to make more money for Time Warner. And there is nothing wrong with that. Right before he arrived at DC, we were in such a dire condition that rumors about being "absorbed" by Time Warner publishing or selling off some of the characters were rampant. So in that sense, he saved the company.

    But all of that "Old DC" was cleaned out. And "Old DC," though it had some shortcomings, was all about long-term investment in the characters. What we have now is short-term investment via non-stop "events" with high returns. And they can't go any further with it.

    So if they do a "Crisis" style reboot and invest and have stable narratives again I can think of worse things. I think it might work.

    As a postscript, looking over the last few months' worth of solicitations, I see DC falling into the "comfortable" pattern again in terms of using the same talent over and over again. I don't see the same "hotness" and vigor that peaked with "52." Which further leads me to believe that they will reboot and live 1984-2000 all over again -- again, there are worse things.

  4. JSA and Batgirl were still selling well past their break-even point when their cancellations were announced, which suggests to me that the editors are willing to take risks on a long-term plan for the books.
    As for short-term sales - the movie houses are full of films using snuff-porn to sell tickets, and Flash getting beaten to death over several pages is just a natural bit of bandwagon-jumping. This is what kids want to see, after all, and they'll buy the books if they're given what they want.

  5. "This is what kids want to see, after all, and they'll buy the books if they're given what they want."

    you bring up an interesting point.

    Wouldn't the success of the Harry Potter books indicate that perhaps teens have a larger capacity and attention span to appreciate continuity and long-term investment stories than anybody thought previously?

    That maybe they want more than just snuff?

    Also -- as teenagers, they might have more time on their hands to appreciate such longform works.

  6. What I'd like to see is a reboot less in the spirit of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and more in the spirit of DC's Silver Age. Strip the core concepts down to their essentials and relaunch them (essentials being larger in the case of truly established pop culture icons like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman)

    Superman-Can Fly and Has Super Strength, Is Kal-El, the last son of Krypton, Raised on Earth as Clark Kent, Works at the Daily Planet.

    Batman-Is playboy millionaire Bruce Wayne, dedicated life to fighting crime after his parents were murdered.

    Wonder Woman-Is an Amazon Princess, is named Diana, comes from Paradise Island.

    Green Lantern-Has a ring that makes constructs of green light

    Flash-Can run at super-speed.

    Aquaman-Can breath underwater and commune with aquatic life, comes from Atlantis.

    Hawkman-Has wings

    Atom-Can shrink

    Green Arrow-Modern Day Robin Hood

    Justice League-A team of the world's greatest heroes.

    Just give sketches like these to some top talent and let them do what they like, with editorial control to maintain continuity. Continue the All-Star and Declassified line of books with some new additions to allow anyone who wants to to tell old continuity stories. The stories that could come out of that with some of the talent DC has available could be genuinely exciting, not 'event' exciting.

  7. As you say, comics can be a long-term investment for the reader, but books and novels are a one-off. Comics are more decompressed these days, while novels offer more meat to a story - but still for a one-off purchase compared to the continual purchases necessitated by following a comic book.

    My personal take is that comics could do well to 'compress' a lot more into one issue, and tell more self-contained stories that can be enjoyed in single-issue form while still contributing to a larger arc for the inevitable trade reprints - where the rewards of attentive readership would become more apparent.

  8. Comics from the eighties had "single issue" stories and moved more copies than comic books with "multiple issue" story arcs. All the exposition in a Byrne/Claremont X-Men comic book can be tedious when you are thirty but are invaluable if you are thirteen and have substantial gaps in your collection.

    If you look at the sales figures for comic books during the eighties, it's shocking to realize how drastic the decline in readership has been, despite the synergy you see between comic books and other media now.

  9. Here's my concern about possibly Ultimizing/revamping/starting over the DC universe.

    Even if Didio sees it as the next profitable step, from a corporate perspective, would Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, Greg Rucka, Grant Morrison, Judd Winnick, Gail Simone, and Alex Ross stand for it?

    Those people seem to be the bread and butter of DC creative, and while they relish in the Silver Age, have any of them had the mentality of "wholesale start-over"?

    I know most of them are stuck in exclusive contracts, but would the writers be in favor of such and idea?

    And if they went against it, would that tip off Didio, editorial, and corporate that plans must be changed (if the top-selling talent won't work on it)?

  10. well here's another thing --

    originally, the "All-Star" Superman & Batman lines were conceived as a pseudo-Ultimate type line. Not strictly "Ultimates," but something comparable. Because of the talent involved, this was not to be, because Morrison's Superman & Miller's Batman didn't mesh. Also, Miller's Batman is insane. So it turned out more as a "prestige" book featuring core DCU characters.

    Would the current DC stable of talent go for this? Maybe, maybe not. It would be kind of flattering for some to be given the keys and told: "it's yours to do right now."

    Only, in this scenario, they would not necessarily have that freedom. Any reboot would have to be tightly coordinated & editorially driven. Or else you get the "All-Star" books again.

    There is talk about Mark Waid and what he might be doing for the DCU in the future. Waid, I would think, is exactly the type of person who could shepherd such a project. That, in my mind, is what the future of DC will be -- that type of vision.

  11. I don't have a lot to say...just that, I don't think Final Crisis is gonna end up as a full hard reboot, complete with #1's all over the place (though there will be the obligatory spin-offs, etc.).

    With Action Comics #1000 relatively not all that far off, I can't see DC doing a complete universe restart until then, or until the DCU reaches 100 years old (much like COIE was the 50th anniversary milestone)...I'm not sure which ones would come first.

    I'm sure some sort of Ultimatization will come down the pipes eventually though, though probably as a parallel earth of some sort.

  12. You see, here's the thing from my perspective. DC said, we're not going to do an Ultimate line, and they want to do their own thing. That's cool. But when they announced their All Star books I was excited, because I thought it would be a way for them to go back to basics, to have books with characters in their prime (Batman in his Year 2 era, Clark as a reporter chasing Lois etc), whilst at the same time, the ongoing regular books would be for fans who have managed to wade through the 40 years of continuity and understand it all. I think DC missed a trick, and if this Final Final FINAL Crisis is something like that, they're 5 years too late.

    Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, as I just don't know, but do DC have any adventure books like Marvel? There again, all ages books, back to basics, fun comics (wow, a new concept!!!) where you can pick it up and just read it and not have to worry about continuity. Does such an animal exist at DC?

    Events. Meh. I'm fatigued. DC did something amazing with 52, but doing it again and again, and a billion tie-in books. It was never going to work. Marvel's events are short and although they too have endless tie-ins, the main book is only 7 or 8 issues.

    I'm not sure where I was going with this other than to say DC have lost their way. The reason Marvel are dominating the market by an even wider margin than a few years back isn't that DC has weak characters, weak writers and artists - far from it in fact, the talent and icons they own are the some of the most famous - it's because they're choking fans with continuity, the stories and tying everything up into one huge jumbled mess. The best books they have are those not connected to the big event, but the fringe books like Detective, Green Lantern, etc. Dini's Detective is some of the best self contained Batman comics I've read in a long time.

  13. "Dini's Detective is some of the best self contained Batman comics I've read in a long time"

    true, that two-parter w/Zatanna was excellent

  14. And look! Sue Dibny was never raped!

    You forgot to mention: and Jean Loring was never a one-dimensional killer either.

    Speaking of which: is there any chance you might write something up discussing Jean's horrific demonization? I think it does deserve discussion.

    And, out of curiosity, do you own, or will you be buying, Sword of the Atom in trade paperback? It's supposed to come out next month as a trade, and I'm hoping to make buying it for myself a priority.

  15. Avi writes:
    "is there any chance you might write something up discussing Jean's horrific demonization?"

    I think it's a worthwhile subject and I do have a few words written up on it for a side-project I'm working on. But I think to really get at the heart of it I'd need to really read a good selection of her past appearances. I think the key is that she's known as the independent "superhero's girlfriend" who ultimately didn't need the superhero and went off on her own. For that act, and the act of writing a tell-all book on Palmer, she is considered "disloyal" and suspect -- demonized.

    "And, out of curiosity, do you own, or will you be buying, Sword of the Atom in trade paperback?"

    there's a lot of Jean character development in that one, yes? If that's the one I've read about, I might pick it up.