"Countdown" To Change
After reading the Newsarama interview with Dan Didio, I have come to the conclusion that the situation at DC has become so dire that to continue to publically mock "Countdown" would be in bad taste.
Honestly, I do not see the current regime at the company lasting any more than 6-12 months tops. "Final Countdown" will indeed mark the end of an era, an era that started strongly -- if not controversially -- with "Identity Crisis," reached its peak with "52," and crashed and burned with "Countdown."
What were the mistakes?
1) DC is not Marvel.
I'm reminded of that skit Eddie Murphy did about Bill Cosby, where Bill calls Eddie up and tells him what is "wrong" with his act. Bill's sole interpretation of Eddie's work consists of "filth florin filth" -- that the secret of Eddie's appeal is that all he does is say dirty words. Marvel's secret to success was not that they had violence, or grit, or adult situations, or "filth florin flith." Marvel's secret to success is that their characters are, essentially, underdogs. Well-written underdogs, freaks, weirdos and outcasts. What better type of character to appeal to teenagers? Further, Marvel superheroes are not just flawed to be flawed, but have their flawedness organically built into their backstories and characterizations.
By contrast, the serious personality flaws imposed on some DC characters in Didio's regime -- such as sociopath/killer Max Lord, sociopath/killer Superboy, "bad girl" Supergirl, rapist Dr. Light, cruelly unethical Leslie Thompkins, and amoral JLA -- have been superimposed, artifically added, uneccessary. They are "filth florin filth," what DC thought Marvel did to attract readers.
Now, what Jenette Kahn & Paul Levitz understood 20 years ago was that DC was not Marvel. They didn't even want DC to be Marvel. Instead, they concentrated on how to make the company even more unique. And that produced "Watchmen," Vertigo Comics, "The Dark Knight Returns," and a lot more.
2) Failure to nurture Editors internally.
Of course, this point goes back to before Didio, back when DC let Axel Alonso get away.
But there has been a similar failure to make the extra effort to retain a good editor over the last few years that I think has directly impacted the company at present. I think the reasoning behind this poor decision and the motivating factor to do what was done instead was again DC trying to "be" Marvel.
Further, I would hazard to guess that this poor decision had a devastating eventual impact on "Countdown."
The irony is that it was exactly Alonso's contribution to Marvel -- Marvel Knights, Marvel MAX, and the whole line of more "adult" titles -- that Didio was, in my opinion, trying to emulate.
And then there is the separate set of rumors relating to how specifically Assistant and Associate Editors are nutured (or not) at DC. Eyebrow-raising, to be sure -- but since I have only heard this second-hand, I'm not getting into details.
However, I will say that assistants are the backbone of any editorial department. If they do not feel that they have a future with the company in terms of promotabilty, etc., how does that effect their morale?
And if their morale is low, if they are not rewarded for new ideas & innovation, how does it effect, at least unconsciously, their work? I mean, it's not like they get paid a crapload of money. The days of "doing it for the love of comics alone?" Over.
3) "Stephanie will never get a trophy case."
The Didio era at DC inadvertantly helped launch a renaissance in feminist activism in comic books.
Take for example "Girl Wonder Dot Org"
Perhaps at first DC considered this group of women who were so outraged by the untimely demise of "the female Robin" as somewhat of a joke -- obsessed fans, overly-sensitive wimmins, etc.
But they're not going anywhere. "GIrl Wonder" keeps growing and growing and attaining a higher and higher profile in both the fan community and among comics professionals.
And if they ever reach "Friends of Lulu" level and are considered an emblematic women-in-comics organization, remember that their namesake refers to a c**k-up done on Didio's watch. A c**k-up that the DC VP has been outspokenly defensive & dismissive of.
Actually, Stephanie Brown's grisly demise combined three general c**k-ups of the last six years all in one.
First, you have the "filth florin filth" aping of what Marvel is considered to be -- hardcore, violent, and amoral. So you have teenage girl tortured with power drill, and trusted nurse inexplicably allowing her to die.
Second, you have what I will explore later -- short-term investment in gimmicks rather than longterm investment in character and story. The "female Robin" was specifically introduced as a gimmick with a short life-span, a character that would provide a couple of interesting covers. There was a long-term investment in Stephanie Brown, whom many fans loved. This was pissed away (as was the Dibnys, as was the Giffen-era JLA characters, etc.) for a short-term bang-for-your-buck.
Third, you have cluelessness/insensitivity to female issues which are interpreted by some (though not all) as misogyny.
Or you can consider the whole "Supergirl" c**k-up. Or "Identity Crisis." Etc.
I mean, geez -- my name is footnoted on the "Identity Crisis" Wiki entry.
And then there is the mere fact that...well, that I even have a Wiki entry at all. But let's not go there.
4) One-Trick Pony
All the major DC events for the last four years have been riffs off of -- "THEY WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AND EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS FALSE WITH THE MUTIPLE EARTHS AND THE STUFF LIKE THAT."
It is inexplicable to me that DC kept running the "New Crisis" thing into the ground after "Infinite Crisis." Whose idea was this? Who said "let's keep running this into the ground?"
At least "52" had Morrison and offered something new to the table. But "Countdown" ???
Was it simple greed that spawned "Countdown," or was there truly not an original idea left to be had?
Was Didio so in love with his big success -- Crisis/52 -- that he couldn't see the flaws?
Or was he merely being cynical?
Of course, Marvel had "Civil War." But that event at least led into storylines and events that were unique enough to stand on their own. "World War Hulk," "The Death of Cap," and "The Initiative" do not smack of cheap "Civil War" tie-ins. But howlers like "Amazons Attack" and "Countdown"?
Looking at a recent solicitation for DC, I noted that the majority of the titles are "Countdown" related. Oh my God! That's like if Marvel decided to make 75 percent of their books "House of M" spin-off series.
And whose brilliant idea was it to have each issue be drawn & written by different creative teams? It looks like crap. It's like those late books with 15 different inkers working on it at the same time.
But another aspect of "Countdown" that irks me is the sheer *preciousness* of it. It is a project that reeks of being too in love with *precious* concepts like Pied Piper & Trickster as "Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern" and Jimmy Olsen as the key to the DC Universe. These are precious, fan-fictiony sorts of plotlines that even hard-core DC continuity fans have a hard time swallowing.
5) Dan Didio is not Joe Quesada.
And he shouldn't have to be.
I mean, God -- Levitz sure as hell wasn't Quesada. There was a study in contrasts. And if Levitz tried to "be" Quesada he would have looked like a fool. Because Levitz is Levitz and Quesada is Quesada and that's the way it is.
Didio doesn't "pull off" a Quesada particularly effectively. And that's enough on that.
6) Alpha Dog
Didio is an "alpha" -- an aggressive male used to full-on attack and victory.
Compare this to the layout of power at DC pre-Didio.
You had Levitz who was clearly feared/respected but was not an "alpha" personality -- not outwardly aggressive. He clearly radiated a male "Yin" energy but that was balanced with Jenette Kahn's equally respected but softer "Yang" energy. Within the DCU editorial itself you had Mike Carlin, who assumed the role of "alpha." But since power was spread more evenly between Levitz & Kahn, this aggressive energy could only run roughshod so far.
With Kahn out of the picture and Didio possessing more power than Carlin ever had, you have the "alpha" type running amok with little interference or feminine balance.
This becomes a problem because you essentially have something akin to a dictatorship.
Who can stand up to the uber-powerful "alpha" figure and successfully argue their point of view?
Balance is always better. That is how future "Countdowns" can be avoided.
8) Raising the "red flag" at Time Warner
Paul Levitz pulled off a quite amazing thing pre-Didio, for the last 15-20 years or so.
While Marvel underwent one traumatizing "bloodletting" and buy-out after another, DC maintained a relatively stable relationship with its corporate parent.
This stable relationship was facilitated, in large part, by the "travelling under the radar" strategy.
"Travelling under the radar" meant, essentially, no c**k-ups to attract the attention of Time Warner and piss them off.
And when the inevitable c**k-up happened, Levitz swiftly dove in and dealt with it using an iron hand.
The result was almost two decades of stability.
But now -- at least if my statistics monitor is any indication -- it seems as if DC is on Time Warner's radar.
Didio has mentioned in a recent interview that he doesn't care about what people on the Internet say.
But think of this:
You have a magazine like "Mother Jones" basically calling DC out on the carpet for their portrayal of Supergirl and dispatchment of the Stephanie Brown Robin. It is like a big advertisement for DC/Time Warner that says: "DC hates women."
This, as well as the coverage on "Identity Crisis," the "Countdown" fiasco, and -- what the hell -- the "Goodbye To Comics" fiasco, has put a gigantic red flag over DC. A cascade of c**k-ups.
How could all of this have been avoided?
9) Lack of innovation.
Yes, "Minx" is an innovation -- not a Didio project.
Yes, "Zuda" is an innovation -- not a Didio project.
What are the innovations of the Didio regime?
a) "Taking the smile out of comics" with the "innovative" "Identity Crisis"
b) Aping the successful "Crisis on Infinite Earths" of twenty-five years ago with "Infinite Crisis"
c) Aping the successful "Crisis on Infinite Earths" of twenty-five years ago with "52"
d) Aping the successful "Crisis on Infinite Earths" of twenty-five years ago with "Countdown"
e) Aping the successful "Crisis on Infinite Earths" of twenty-five years ago with "Final Crisis"
And now we have the highly-innovative "Countdown" spin-off "Arena," which, by Didio's own admission, is on the level of "fan-fiction."
Yes, "Arena" is another trashy, ultra-high-concept fanboy wet dream like "Marvel Zombies."
But Marvel didn't *need* to put out "Marvel Zombies" as a desperate measure to bring up sales. "Marvel Zombies" was a happy accident, whereas "Arena" is a lifeboat.
Then I remember projects like Allred's "Teen Titans" special and the Rob Haynes-drawn "Kid Amazo" arc that is now being serialized in "JLA Classified" using a different artist. Both nixed by Didio because they were "too weird."
The popular wisdom is that if you want innovation, try Vertigo. But I think that's DC's failing. Because Marvel has more successfully blended the innovative/"weird" with their mainstream.
You need a VP of editorial who has that range of vision, who "gets" both the mainstream and the innovative. That was Axel Alonso's gift.
DC has basically invested their whole superhero line on a series that sucks.
"Countdown" is an industry joke, and Didio's repeated attempts to justify it sounds eerily familar to GW Bush trying to justify Iraq.
"Countdown" is, as they say, a quagmire. Giggity-giggity-goo!
But with this corny and retro series, DC is right where it started before Didio arrived -- except along the way they've managed to piss off long-time readers, women, and, one would assume, some of the company's corporate overseers.
Marvel sells almost twice as many books as DC. Marvel does this by being Marvel.
11) Editorial disintegration.
From what I observe in the news and what I've garnered second-hand, DC has never been in such a disorganized state regarding book schedules, resulting in an unheard-of number of late books.
Why is this? Is it merely the creators' fault?
Where is the direction? Where is the motivation? How is morale?
Why does there have to be editorials in DC Nation basically admitting that Editorial is f**ked and asking *the readers* if they have any input as to how to make the books come in on time?
If you have to ask the readers that question, you are *done.* How was that DC Nation editorial even approved?
12) Investment in the short-term as opposed to the long-term.
Gimmicks like "Female Robin," "Identity Crisis," "the great Giffen JLA massacre," "All-Star Batman," etc alienate long-time readers, drive parents away from the titles, and scoop up great short-term dividends.
The question is, what strategy is best for DC? Short-term "slash and burn" or longterm investment in old & new readers?
Yes, killing off Kirby's New Gods in a much-hyped series will give you initial high sales. But then, you've slashed-and-burned your history. What do you do when your short-term is up?
The whole Identity-Crisis/Infinite Crisis/52/Countdown complex is a short-term enterprise that started out cool and interesting and went on too damn long.
The fatal flaw with "Countdown" was that Didio did not realize his own short-term strategy, that he mistook it for something longterm.
The first two years of the Didio reign was a time filled with optimism and dreams of a new DCU.
But the DCU is back where it started before Dan.
Actually, it is back somewhere in 1992.
Who would -- theoretically, of course -- replace Dan?
My personal pick would be Dwayne McDuffie. He has the experience running a comic book company, he has Hollywood experience, he's a great writer, and sounds like a good egg.
I've heard Axel Alonso's name bounced around since I was at DC. As far as I know, he wished to remain with Marvel.
Mark Waid's name had been bandied about as well as of late, which made his gig at Boom Studios all the more shocking.
Finally, a friend of mine suggested that Jann Jones take on the role. Maybe too early for her to be a VP. But maybe DC can make the effort and home-grow another Jenette Kahn.
Whatever the case, I sense the change along the horizon.