Saturday, 21 June 2008

Insert Predictable DC Crisis Joke Here

If I had to make a choice of which comics company I liked the most, I'd probably, after much agonising (as I love them both), pick DC over Marvel (sorry Fantagraphics, Dark Horse, Oni Press, etc.), simply because I seemed to have more luck finding original DC comics and nifty paperback size reprints of Justice League comics when I was young than I did Marvel stuff. Yeah, Marvel did this thing where they would reprint their US comics in UK formats, such as Rampage or Star Wars Weekly, but those reprints would manage to drag the 22 pages of a normal comic out over two to four normal issues, mixed in with other stuff. With Rampage it took about two years to get from Giant Size X-Men #1 to Phoenix's birth, which wasn't good enough. With DC, I seemed to get a better idea of what was going on there. Plus, I was crazy about Green Lantern, and even perennial childhood favourite Spider-Man couldn't compete with someone flying around with a wish-fulfilling ring. Truth.

So it is with great sadness that I see DC getting its ass handed to it by Marvel, according to these comic sales figures. What's worse, the big DC event, Final Crisis #1, seems to have been outsold by the second issue of Secret Invasion, Marvel's summer "blockbuster", by about 41,000 issues. Much has been made of Final Crisis writer Grant Morrison's interview with Newsarama where he confirms that his grand plan for the title was partially ruined by other writers not seeding his plans properly, which has been seen to be a failure of nerve on the part of Dan DiDio, current DC editor-in-chief, but then Morrison has had this problem before, coming up with a revolutionary set of plot-threads for the troubled X-Men line when he was at Marvel, only for Joe Quesada to stick Chuck Austen on his titles and clumsily retcon a lot of it. I mean, what the hell was Xorn still doing around? Didn't he turn out to be the brother of a character that had never existed? Or was he a figment of the Scarlet Witch's imagination? Sorry, when Morrison left the title I kinda lost track of it all, because zzzzzzzzzzz.

So is the failure of Final Crisis attributable to what seems to be a weak editorial line from the top, which might have put readers off? Certainly Marvel's editors (and star writer Brian Michael Bendis) have been strongly pushing controversial storylines and sticking to their guns, which pissed a lot of people off, what with Iron Man became a fascist, Peter Parker signed a deal with the devil that saved his aunt and retconned his marriage, and Tigra got beaten up a lot while wearing very little or nothing at all. Even when J. Michael Straczynski spoke out about the One More Day/Brand New Day changes in Spider-Man, the editors didn't seem to care. Of course, this now seems to have been more about keeping the Marvel Universe going long enough to bring about Secret Invasion, which has already dealt with some of the recent poor choices (the return of Captain Marvel, who is actually a Skrull who has Mar-Vell's memories and heroism) and amusingly clouded others (is Tony Stark an asshole or not?!?!?). So perhaps the last couple of years of reader baiting was just Marvel plotting something all along and keeping readers in the dark with glib statements designed to provoke. Or Marvel is run by obnoxious bullies and this was seen as a way to retcon both the Marvel Universe and the actual universe all at the same time. "See? When we were being rude to you all, it was because we were planning a big story for ages! Now please stop calling us misogynist idiots."

That might be one of the reasons why Secret Invasion is a big hit, the other reason being that it is filled with fightypunchboom from the get-go. I've not yet had a chance to read Final Crisis yet, but knowing Morrison's need to tell a million stories at once, and considering how complicated DC continuity has become, it's bound to be a lot less appealing a prospect to the casual reader. Hell, I'm a DC fan, but even so I still read the odd issue of DC comics and get to the final page reveal of a bad guy, and go, "Who's this jerk in a hoodie?" To someone who is soaked in DC trivia, it's a big deal, but I often feel lost. To anyone else, and certainly to some of the DC haters I know, Final Crisis is just not a priority. In contrast, Secret Invasion is all splash pages of characters hitting Skrulls. There is a universal appeal in that, along with the mystery of who is a shape-changing alien and who is just now an asshole, according to Marvel editorial (please not Reed Richards! His encrappening really annoyed me).

Of course the irony of this is that I love complex continuity, but even so we're talking about decades of it, and even I have limits. That's not to say I won't read it. I love Grant Morrison (or perhaps the right word is "worship") and am looking forward to it. I'm just saying it was never going to be a big success. It's kind like the Bhagavad Gita, while Secret Invasion is more like an episode of 24. Both are great, but only one is going to have mass appeal. So even though Morrison's plans seem to have been tainted by loss of nerve and/or jealous tinkering from other writers (who have previously been annoyed with his plans, such as when he came up with the DC One Million event), it's good that DiDio still gave it the go-ahead long ago. And yet, even though this could just be a bad week for DC that will change over time, following John Nee's resignation from Wildstorm, rumours of DiDio's imminent resignation (perhaps really imminent) still abound. Guess we'll have to wait and see.

(Apologies for inaccuracies; I'm in a hurry and will go over this again later. Oh, the pressures of blogging!)


Jaredan said...

With Chuck Dixon's scathing and thinly-veiled attacks on DiDio this past week it does seem that things aren't rosy in DC editorial.
I have to say my interest in Final Crisis wained after reading #0, again I found myhself scratching my head about how these things were obviously of great importance but meant nothing to me whatsoever.
I love Morrison's work, but being a casual DC reader I just don't feel included in the big show.

Admiral Neck said...

Yeah, I don't think you're the only one. I used to think it was a good thing that DC were targeting their works to the hardcore fans, and when their comics were better I had hoped it would make people want to be a hardcore fan. Now that a lot of the titles seem to be idling or going awry, who wants to be that big a fan? Oh, and that criticism doesn't include Green Lantern, Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek on Action Comics and Superman, and a couple of others. There is some good stuff out there.

Oh, and I hope it didn't seem like I like all of Marvel's output. Just as much of their stuff is shaky, again with exceptions (especially anything by Ed Brubaker, who is their best writer). Less Bendis in the mainstream titles would help. He jumped the shark/nuked the fridge/made The Happening when he had Ka-Zar and Shanna talk about having the internet installed in the Savage Land. Dude, write for the character! Don't just write yourself into everyone's mouth. As the wise Ergo Nothing said this week, get Brubaker on Avengers. That should improve things at Marvel several thousand percent.