Responding to DC’s New 52 Survey

I had a discussion yesterday with a friend of mine, noted member of the Twitterati Silas Meek, about the state of DC Comics, their New 52 line in particular, and what we might say to Dan Didio if given the chance. As it turns out, DC are currently conducting a Nielsen survey on exactly this subject. There’s really only on question that allows you to express your opinion in depth (“Based on what you know so far, what is your overall impression of DC Comics – The New 52?”) and here’s my reply (worth noting that I came up with this on the fly, so other things might occur to me later):

The New 52 was a good idea, though one which was unevenly, sometimes even poorly executed. For a “new” line, there’s a lot which hasn’t changed (except for on-time shipping, which is excellent). That said, I’m happy with the standout titles, and I’m very much enjoying Batman, Action Comics, Wonder Woman, Demon Knights, Frankenstein, Batwoman, The Flash, and Animal Man (though the latter took me a few issues to “get into”; word-of-mouth definitely helped me stick with it). I tend to follow writers more than titles and so I’ve wavered on, say, Stormwatch since Cornell began writing the excellent Saucer Country for Vertigo.

On the downside, there are far too many mediocre titles (think Firestorm and Hawkman), along with the eternal problem of weak issues spoiling runs or arcs. I’m also concerned when I hear about editorial conflicts forcing writers out (the cases of Static Shock and Superman, to give two examples) and the result which that is having on the books themselves. I feel like there’s a growing problem with weak villains too, such as in the case of Mister Terrific. I really like the character, and I look forward to him prospering in the pages of Earth 2, but his rogue’s gallery was very poor. I fear the same thing happening with Worlds’ Finest, but I guess we’ll see.

With regard to the second wave titles:

  • First off, it’s brilliant to have Batman Inc. back.
  • I also love parallel universes, so Earth 2 and Worlds’ Finest are a welcome addition (though Earth 2 is clearly the stronger of the two). I like the inclusion of the flashbacks in Worlds’ Finest, and the dynamic between the protagonists, but – as I say – I find the first villain to be forgettable.
  • Dial H is a strong, strong title. I will be buying more.
  • GI Combat is dreadful. Terrible art, quite poor writing. I left it on the shelf.
  • I have no opinion on The Ravagers (I haven’t been following the “Young Justice” titles from which it spun-off), only I would comment on the cover to issue #1. They’re supposed to be in Alaska, yes? Then why is Fairchild wearing a glorified bikini? Put some clothes on the girl, would you?

Overall though, I’m going to continue reading DC books but I would be very interested in seeing the following:

  • More minority/female characters. Diversity is reality and comics help shape the imaginations and worldviews of the next generation. As one of the “Big Two” publishers, you have a moral responsibility in this department.
  • Ditto on more minority/female artists and writers.
  • Also make space for more new writers and artists.
  • Stronger villains.
  • More quality done-in-one issues (like Action Comics #9, which was terrific!). Perhaps they could be used as breathers or palate cleansers between more coherently-plotted arcs/stories?
  • More titles in “The Dark” section of the New 52.
  • More Science Fiction, please. It’s the 21st Century after all! You have already successfully reached out to writers like China Miéville; why not approach SF novelists such as Alastair Reynolds or TV writers such as Jane Espenson? Yes they’re busy people, and they may have no interest in writing comics, but it surely can’t hurt to ask. Equally, Nnedi Okorafor is an acclaimed SF novelist who recently contributed to Vertigo’s great Mystery in Space anthology. There’s plenty talent out there; you just have to let them into the clubhouse.
  • Less fighting-for-the-sake-of-fighting. Don’t be afraid to produce smart comic books! An intellectual tussle can often be as – if not more – thrilling than a punch-up.
  • Fewer back-up stories; why not give creators the full page-count to develop richer narratives? A back-up has never swayed me into buying a comic.
  • Less of the buckles/straps/pockets/90s-nonsense on the art front. They’re so fussy!
  • Less gratuitous T&A. You know what’s really attractive? Smart, strong characters.
  • Denser storytelling (more like Superman #1, say, than Justice League #1). Art without a script is just pretty pictures after all, and a higher word-count in issues is a great way to give more bang for the same page count. Plus it gives titles considerably more re-read value.
  • Please keep in mind that your customers’ money is limited and, as Mr Meek said to be yesterday (in relation to buying either the Mister Terrific TPB or Kieron Gillen’s Phonogram): “Why buy decent when you can buy outstanding?”

~

Thereafter, the survey follows with a great many questions about digital comics and about what books from DC’s competitors the respondent is purchasing. Lots of X-Men and Avengers titles on the set list, along with obvious contenders such as The Walking Dead and Saga. Worth noting that there was no facility to add titles here, so I couldn’t reiterate my love for, say, Saucer Country, gush about Daredevil or Journey into Mystery, or even mention that I’d just picked up the last volume of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century.

Anyway, be sure to take the survey yourself; this is your chance to communicate your opinions to The Powers That Be. Because griping about things online is one thing, but big companies like DC only ever respond to the kind of hard statistical data this survey is intended to gather.

___

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6 Responses to Responding to DC’s New 52 Survey

  1. wwayne says:

    I agree with a lot of what you said, and with 4 topics in particular:
    1) I love stand alone issues as well, so I agree that DC should publish them more often. Next month’s New 52 releases will all be done-in-one stories, and I’m going to order a lot of them.
    2) I hate comics where you find 100 % action and 0 % story as well: that’s a typical flaw of the series focused on a team, and that’s why I usually avoid them, unless there’s a writer who can handle them in a smart way, like Lobdell.
    3) I think that 90s gave us some wonderful comics, but generally speaking I agree that they had not been a good era. I could tell you the same for 00s and 10s. I admit it, I’m an 80s nostalgic. At those times colour wasn’t digitally added, superheroes did not look like a bunch of body builders and they did not hold ridiculously oversized weapons. The stories were better as well – of course we can find something good and something bad in each era, but at those times there was more irony, more deepness, and, most of all, more hugely talented authors. Nowadays, even if you find an ironic author, he’s ironic in a Tarantino way, like Garth Ennis. And even if he’s talented, he will never reach the level of authors like Frank Miller or Chris Claremont. Another thing I don’t like of 10s comics is their excessive violence: it’s ok if you put it in an adult series, like The Punisher, but you can’t put a cut off face in Detective Comics, because that page could be read by a 10 year old child. And don’t tell me that writing “Teen +” is the solution: parents take for granted that superhero comics are perfectly suitable for children, since the superhero is supposed to be a model figure for them, no matter what the cover says. If you wrote “Teen +” on a bicycle, this wouldn’t stop parents from buying it for their children, and it’s the same for comic books.
    4) I have been mostly satisfied with the New 52 as well. Series like Animal Man, Aquaman and Swamp Thing are having an enormous success; other ones, like I, Vampire and Suicide Squad, are doing far better than a C-list DC comic is supposed to do.
    I tried only 2 of the 5 series I mentioned: I bought the 6th issue of Suicide Squad (and I found it was good, but overrated) and the TP of Animal Man. I agree that Lemire series definitely is one of the best New 52 series. The detail I enjoyed more was the homelike atmosphere: I can’t tell you why, but it reminded me of Daria, an MTV cartoon I was deeply in love with when I was younger. And the decision of setting this series in a small town, instead of choosing a metropolis, is another detail that pushes Animal Man near to Daria (and to indie comics as well, since this is their typical setting – I bet this is not a coincidence). I’m not going to buy Animal Man regularly (I’m already doing this with Grifter and Nightwing, and I can’t afford to do it with a third series), but I will definitely buy the second TP when it comes out.
    As you can guess, Grifter and Nightwing are the New 52 series I am enjoying more. Nightwing was no surprise: the character is so interesting that it’s almost impossible not to do something good with him. I didn’t know Grifter before the New 52 had started, but I loved it from the very first issue. Do you remember the action movies in the 90s? There was a Rambo – like leading character (usually acted by Stallone himself, or by Schwarzenegger) forced to fight against innumerous enemies: any other man would have been doomed, but our hero, with his guns, muscles, fight techniques and (last but not least) brain, was always able to find a way out. Grifter has the same storyboard, it is the exact translation of those movies in the comic book language: no matter how many enemies he has to face and how complicated their plans are, you can be sure Grifter will find a solution to all his problems. The stories are easy but well written, and the art is simply explosive. Edmonson’s run was amazing, especially from the 4th issue on, and Liefeld’s one got off on the right foot, so I’m very satisfied with this series so far. It is definitely one of the best DC comics right now, so I can’t understand why it doesn’t sell: it should be at the top of the list of every comic book lover.

  2. I haven’t tried out Grifter, but your enthusiasm for it is almost enough to sell it for me! I’ll check out the TPB when it’s published. That’s actually my plan with Nightwing too. While I haven’t read any of it, I’ve been seeing a lot of great reviews and I’m very interested in how it ties into Snyder’s Batman.

    I also think you’re onto something when you talk about “atmosphere” in relation to Animal Man. Atmosphere is really what separates all the success stories of the New 52 from the second tier material. Animal Man give us that small-town vibe; Snyder’s Batman *feels* like a Twenty-First Century detective; Cornell’s Demon Knights exudes all the fun of a writer in love with his story and his characters and his larger-than-life world… The weaker titles are very bland by comparison, and it’s a big disappointment that, in a relaunch predicated on new and exciting things, so many of the properties are vulnerable to such a criticism.

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  5. Have you been keeping up with Dial H? I just grabbed’em all this weekend, but haven’t sat down with them yet. Love to hear what you think.

    • It’s definitely a Vertigo book trapped in the DC Universe, that’s for sure, but it’s one of the best things they’re putting out at the moment (which I’m sure means it’s bound to get cancelled sometimes soon, ha!).

      As I think you know, I’m not really a China Miéville fan. I’ve tried some of his novels, they didn’t work for me, but it’s nothing more serious than a personal taste thing (not everything is for everyone, right? Though, that said, we had kind of a Miéville amnesty in the office a few months back, where were piled up the novels by him which we didn’t like and donated them to someone who’d actually enjoy them). Dial H though… This is the first Miéville I’ve really liked!

      Off the top of my head, they’re a couple of things I really specifically enjoy:

      1.) It’s *bonkers*! Especially that first issue (“Boy Chimney”, WTF?!). It calms down a bit after that for a few issues (well, “calms”) but that threat of insanity from Miéville is always there in the background, peeking around every story beat and giving everything a genuine energy. It only rarely veers into the realm of weird-for-the-sake-of-weird.

      2.) The fact that it’s really a book about Nelson, a completely ordinary bloke. The wacky, out-there transformation stuff – while thematically connected, and obviously the “hook” of the series – is secondary to him and his journey towards understanding himself and the mystery of the Dial.

      3.) Leading on from that, the book has a “mythology” but not a “MYTHOLOGY!!!” The larger story is there (the “entire secret history of telephony as a cover for stranger research”, etc.), but it’s being rolled out with a care and attention (yes, a novelistic care and attention) largely missing across the rest of the increasingly mishandled DC line.

      4.) There have been a couple of issues I’ve had to re-read a few times to really *get*. Which I find is a particular and rare pleasure when it comes comic books. Too many of them are throwaway stories without any meat to them, but Dial H has had a few great, almost Morrisonian moments to it .

      5.) It’s a *fun* book, man! And the art doesn’t hurt either.

      Looking forward to your thoughts on it.

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