Hello, readers, and welcome to the second installment of Continuity, Inc. In the first installment, I went over the influence on Marvel from their parent company Disney, and their juggernaut superhero movie machine. This week we will take a look at DC Comics, and in what ways the expectations of their parent Company Warner Bros. has on the way they are producing their comics.
Last week we saw how the situation with the movie rights to certain Marvel characters might be affecting the way Marvel goes about doing business in their printed works. DC, on the other hand, has no such problem. The rights to their characters are all in house and being produced through Warner Bros. So the moves at DC are not as obvious, and speculation about them is, well, a little more speculative. There is no denying, however, the recent train wreck that DC continuity has become. Before I get into my opinions on the matter, let’s take a look at some history at DC comics and events that have affected their continuity.
- Showcase #4, 1956: DC Comics kicks off the Silver Age with a revamp of one of their Golden Age characters, The Flash. This is done to reintroduce a modern version of the character. As a result of modernizing Golden Age favorites, DC creates the multiverse to explain the different versions; the “current” versions of the heroes are said to reside on Earth-1, while the classic characters hail from the alternate Earth-2; not a bad idea at the time. As the years march on and DC folds more characters from other publishers they acquired into their lineup, more and more alternate earths spring into existence. The end result is a casual fan’s nightmare, creating a multiverse where you need a chart to follow who did what, where, when, why, and on what earth.
- Crisis on Infinite Earths, 1986: DC decides to clean up their multi-mess with arguably one of the best and one of the first mega series ever created. When the dust settles from this storyline we have a single, streamlined continuity… well, sort of.
- Zero Hour, 1994: An attempt to iron out some of the left-over issues that were not resolved in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Somehow, at the end of this event, Hawkman and the Legion of Super Heroes are still a mess.
- The Kingdom, 1999: Mark Waid gives the guys at DC their ultimate out by positing a time stream theory that explains the small hiccups that still exist even after Zero Hour, and possibly accounting for future problems for continuity. This solution is rejected shortly after being implemented.
- Infinite Crisis, 2006: Released in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of the original Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline, this Crisis is meant to put to rest the issue of continuity once and for all, but really was little more than a lead-in to the next “great” idea…
- 52, 2007: This series limits the number of multiple earths to 52.
- Flashpoint, 2011: Okay, by this point I think it’s safe to say the original good intentions of streamlining things that we saw in the first few examples has been thrown out the window. On the pretext of forging a bigger and better continuity, this series only sets up a planned total reboot of the DC line, which, if it had been undertaken to actually solve continuity issues, might have been acceptable.
- The New 52, 2011: In the same year as Flashpoint we get the resulting reboot. Starting from scratch, the entire slate is wiped clean. One of the reasons given for this is that it allows them to take a fresh look at the characters from the beginning with all that troublesome backstory and confused history (history that had been supposedly fixed in the before mentioned events) out of the way. As a writer, I feel that this is a very lazy way to fix your lack of genuine creativity. Now they can tell you the same story with only a slight twist and present it as brand new. I should also point out that DC starts to slip into the Marvel habit of canceling titles, to simply relaunch them later, with new creative teams. Suicide Squad and Deathstroke are two examples. Also at this time, DC reintroduces new multiple universes—you know, the thing that DC has constantly been trying (and failing) to get straight since 1986. Even more importantly, the weekly title is firmly introduced with Earth 2: World’s End, and The New 52: Futures End, setting up the eventual coming of….
- Convergence, 2015: These books are not out yet, but there is plenty out there from DC about what it’s going to entail. Yup, you guessed it, the return of the healthy Multiverse, bringing back characters from all phases of the long history of DC Comics. They aren’t calling it that, but that’s what it is.
At this point I should probably admit that I’m a complete fan of alternate universes. I think it’s a great way to put new and unique spins onto existing characters. I support the existence of a multiverse, but I think it should be handled in a better way. The Ultimates line of books from Marvel is a perfect example, in my opinion, of how to do it right. Set up your alternate universe free and clear of existing continuity and play around in that universe separately. But that’s me, and if DC wants to do it in a way where things sometimes bleed over the lines, that’s their purview. I mean, I don’t own the company.
Ready for the rub? Here it is: what I don’t like is the simple fact that DC has become nothing more than a gimmick-generating machine. Following the trail of events you can see how, towards the end, they are always designed to unfold seamlessly into the next. Why do this? The simple answer is, to increase the sales of the comics by constantly reintroducing new #1 issues. Sales numbers don’t lie, and they clearly show that supposedly “new” titles have a distinct advantage. Instead of weathering the storm between great storylines and new creative teams, DC is taking the lazy route and simply repackaging and reselling the same stuff, with just the slightest of twists applied. This type of approach stifles the true creative nature that will get you really great and original stories that are organically evolved out of a character’s progression. Think of Daredevil, and the way that character progressed in the 1980s from the great run of Frank Miller to Ann Nocenti. In that span we actually saw Daredevil grow and develop as a character—that would have never happened if they had simply cut it off after Miller, because they were going to rebooting it.
I’ll give you a quote which comes from a Newsarama interview with DC Comics co-publisher Dan Didio from Newsarama on the 27th of February 2014.
“The move to weeklies, which DiDio called a coordination ‘challenge,’ is an attempt to generate enthusiasm for comics at a time, when the publisher said, excitement is ‘quieting down.’”
This might at first glance seem like a completely harmless thing to say, but it shows the publisher’s intentions. They intend to hit you with a gimmick in order to part you from your money. Now I’m not saying that they don’t intend to get some good writers and artists together to present to you a good product. But it shows that they do intend to try gimmicks to boost sales too. Of course they will deny this, because no marketing agent will ever admit they are using tricks to get your money.
What I would love to see out of my beloved DC Comics is this: a corporate commitment to bring in the best writers and artists to stretch the potential of the product they are giving to the reader. Too often these gimmicks cut the potential they create for new stories short, when all they do is relaunch, repackage, and redevelop existing ideas. It’s exactly the same theory that is used when a sports club redesigns a uniform to increase lagging merchandise sales. While that’s fine for a jersey, it’s not okay when we’re talking about the quality of a creative work that builds off of existing material.
Now, before you all start calling me a Negative Nelly, I want to say that in the final installment, I will be taking a look at the Indie and second-tier publishers, and some positive effects that have come from relationships with big business in comics.