Direct Message 01: A&C: DC Part Four

[Chad Nevett and I have written a lengthy discussion piece on the DC Comics Relaunch. Parts one, two and three are already available. Part four, the conclusion, follows ... ]

Alec Berry: I don’t know. O.M.A.C. was weak.

But yeah, Nevett, you missed out in the Justice League department because my boy Johns…Ok, maybe he’s not my boy, but I need to come clean. I’ve found somewhat of a liking for Geoff Johns as of late. Used to despise his work. Can’t say so anymore.

You know why? Because Flashpoint, which started all of this, did “event comic” right. Big. Dumb. No holds. Said something. Looked great. Flashpoint is the book in which Geoff Johns comes to terms with his role at DC and the projects he’s penned. The comic speaks toward a resistance to change, yet ultimately realizes change is necessary. It’s Johns dealing with his many silver age revival comics, and saying it’s time to stop because really it’s just selfish. He cannot preserve or channel the past. He cannot return everything to the good old days. Such attempts only place a small band aid on the huge, messy wound. No. Progress must happen. Time moves whether we wish it or not.

Flashpoint, as blogger Sean Witzke noted, allows Johns to let go and say, “you know what, we need to go somewhere else.” And then we get the DC New 52 and this very article we are typing.

This inspired my new respect for Geoff Johns. The dude managed to get personal in an event comic, and you know what, I’m sure what Johns went through to write it was very much the same sentimental feeling much of the hardcore DC audience experienced.

And, hey, the concept of change relates to many things. The story works as well as a comic book comment as anything else.

And then we arrive at Justice League #1. The comic may not break the medium as some may have hoped, but it certainly works as a commercial super hero book – which, is what it’s supposed to be. The book supplies the necessary punches, and Jim Lee draws it to look cool. Batman’s in it as well. Hey, brand name recognition!

What I really took away from JL though was how it chose to introduce the super-hero. Granted, super-heroes are not a lost or obscure archetype at this point in culture, but the comic book super hero, I think, seems a little lost. People now understand Iron Man as a film character more than they do a comic character. Super heroes will always be synonymous with comic books because super heroes automatically come packaged with the thoughts of flipping pages, but super heroes are more recognized for the film work nowadays. Films just draw more attention. It’s that simple.

So Justice League, and arguably the entire DC relaunch, exists to remind the general public of the comic book’s existence and that super heroes exist primary within them. But JL exposes people to heroes who are either egotistical jerks or armor clad, power plus gods not role models. There’s nothing really welcoming about the comic. Instead, it’s abrasive. Citizens of the DCU express fear when the term “super hero” drops. SWAT teams chase down Batman like he’s some criminal. The feeling even exists in Morrison’s Action. Superman’s feared, and the character runs around unchecked. Both books are just angry, but they’re, hypothetically, people’s first exposure to icons who are meant to be looked up to.

The JL also fall under a very human portrayal which is somewhat similar to Bendis’ approach on the Avengers. Bendis writes his characters with a lot of dialogue. No new observation there, but, at least for his Avenger’s work, I see the dialogue serving an interesting purpose. The dialogue gets in the way of the Avengers taking action. People like to complain about this when they speak of Bendis’ work, but really it serves an important role as establishing the cast as human and flawed. Rather than jumping to and getting the job done, the Avengers talk about it and discuss what they should do. Super heroes don’t do such a thing, but in the Marvel Universe, where everyone carries their own problem, the Avengers wouldn’t be the best super heroes. They’d be people with extra talents who sometimes get things done. The rest of the time they procrastinate. Like people.

Johns’ Justice League get right to work, but he humanizes them via their social skills. He writes Green Lantern as a self-centered jerk and Batman as an illtrusting, paranoid man. The abilities are there. The willingness and ease of getting things done is there. But the social collaboration? Weak.

So there’s this odd attempt to sell super heroes as these flawed beings. Maybe it’s an attempt to Marvelize DC’s characters?

The take my not be my ideal version, but I still find it interesting within its execution. I can’t hold anything against the book because of that. JL made me feel something or at least think of a larger picture outside of the comic book. Anything that can do such gets my respect. 

Chad Nevett: Justice League is kind of a tough comic to discuss, partly, because I haven’t read it, and, partly, because I’ve pretty much decided that the best way for me to engage with Geoff Johns’s writing is to not engage it at all. I don’t like his writing and, instead of beating that dead horse, I try to simply ignore its existence. So, by default, I’ve pretty much ignore Justice League #1 aside from a couple of points that struck me as noteworthy:

1. The idea that this is a group that needs an origin. This is a complaint that goes outside of this book to a degree, but I’m just tired of comics that feel the need to explain thing that don’t need explaining. It’s tedious and I’d rather just get on with it. Even if I didn’t have an embargo on Johns’s writing, I would have skipped this because I don’t care about how the Justice League formed. I really, really don’t. I hate the idea to a degree. It’s unnecessary for me to ever learn that, because the specifics don’t matter at all. More than any other superhero team, how the Justice League formed is completely useless knowledge. The team formed because there was a threat so big that it took them all to defeat it. Does it matter what the threat was or how they came to realize that they should work together? Not one bit. Therefore, any origin story threat can easily be shown threatening Earth when there’s an established Justice League. Even the character bits that people liked (the bickering mostly it seems) could still be there.

2. Was this the right comic to ‘launch’ the relaunch? When the first week came out, Action Comics #1 seemed like a possible better choice to kick things off. Grant Morrison’s name means more outside of comics these days and pretty much every opinion I’ve seen proffered said that Action Comics #1 was better than Justice League #1. More, to use your term, it wasn’t incredible – why the fuck not? Shouldn’t the lead book be the best comic DC can produce?

AB: Two solid points. I agree. As your launch book, yeah, you should work to make it the best it can possibly be, but also, I wouldn’t completely shun a book for being average. Which is what the internet seemed to do upon its initial release. I’m not saying Justice League is the best comic of the year. It’s not even great. But the book was solid enough. Maybe I should be harder as a critic, but I don’t see anything wrong with being solid. Not everything will blow away the world. If so, everything would be average anyway.

And I think JL was the better pick over Action as a launch book. Morrison may draw in an outside crowd, but those people will show up anyway when Action drops a week or two later in the relaunch. Plus, when the goal stands to grab attention and snatch up new readers, you need a striking visual look. People enjoy visual pleasure. It’s why we purchase certain sugary cereals over others. Rags Morales would have fucked that train up. Jim Lee, whether you find him a technically brilliant artist or not, makes the most sense. He won the 1990s by simple cool points, and hey, it can easily work this decade. Plus, Jim Lee still carries as much as a name as Morrison. The guy rarely draws comics, yet still sells big numbers. People crave Jim Lee, and if you want to bring up the whole “lets captured lapsed readers” point, Lee’s artwork, for someone who read during the 90s, may be artwork they fondly remember.

Origin? I’ll agree with you here. At this point, yeah, origin stories for these characters are unnecessary. We get it. Some dude gets powers, some alien crash lands, someone’s mom dies…a quest for justice is acquired…crime fight. All origins tend to hit the same buttons. You’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all. And as you put it, “the team formed because there was a threat so big that it took them all to defeat it,” the origin takes a one sentence blurb to explain.  

But, still, the choice serves a purpose. Not ideal execution, but I find it interesting. The execution goes back to the take I mentioned earlier. DC’s humanizing the Justice League, and they’re doing it via social interactions a.k.a. showing how the team meets.

Johns, to accomplish this, has to write the story this way. 

CN: Ah, but should that be the goal? DC has tried from time to time to ‘humanise’ their characters in a way that’s similar to Marvel and that works… for pretty much all of the characters that aren’t the ‘Big Seven,’ particularly guys like Superman and Batman. They’re so iconic and conceptual in this existence that they actively react against that approach. They’re not Marvel characters and a Marvel approach doesn’t work with them. It’s like DC trying to fight against what it is and that seems like a strange approach.

While the first issue was a disappointment, I’d have to say that Stormwatch got what DC is about. Even with the bickering, none of the characters felt human. They were more types. They were larger than humanisation, beyond it. You don’t need to think of them as people to follow their adventures. It’s an approach that definitely builds on Morrison’s JLA and Ellis’s The Authority where it was about the ‘mission’ and maybe two bits of dialogue that would hint that these people all had different personalities, but who actually cares… Humanising the characters grounds them in a specific reality, which goes against their staying power.

It’s like, if you want to read about a superhero who you care about and can relate to, you read Spider-Man. If you want to read about heroes being heroes and doing cool shit, you read a Superman or Batman comic. And I grew up in the era where Superman had the most ‘human’ alter ego with Clark Kent as an equal/bigger part of the equation. I still didn’t care about him the way I cared about Spider-Man. Trying to replicate Marvel’s approach is the wrong way to go.

AB:  Yeah. This is the point where I would bring in some of my personal tastes and criticise Justice League. Johns and DC present a defined take on the cast, but as you say, it ruins what’s so unique about these characters.

It’s funny we hit this point of the conversation right when we do because Tim O’Neil just posted his thoughts on DC’s new Superman last night, and he said something similar to what you just did. I’ll also echo those sentiments. What’s great about the DC roster of characters, or at least its main players, is that its beyond us and beyond our world. Not necessarily technologically or politically, but in some higher sense of humanity the DC Universe stands taller than ours. It’s the point Grant Morrison tries to make in Supergods. Super heroes are who we could be physically, mentally and morally, and Superman or Batman are the concrete cultural symbols of such ideas.

Even if you take away the philosophical aspect, I still just like reading comic books where super heroes aren’t necessarily relateable. Like, why would they be relateable? Spider-Man makes sense because he is the teenage super hero (today, I’m not sure what he is, unless we’re talking Ultimate), but not every guy or girl with super powers will be someone we know or get. They’re post-human after all.

Plus, when super heroes are written to go out and get shit done, it’s usually much more entertaining than the JMS approach of overwriting or drawing out emotional moments.

So, yeah, I would enjoy it if Johns made Superman the character of solid core and composure rather than this angry, angst ridden take we’re seeing. The approach moves away from what I really love about DC Comics. Oddly enough, though, the take works for me in Morrison’s book because Morrison seems to base his Superman from an acceptable place. Action Comics Superman ties back to what Siegel and Shuster did as well as bounces off of the current cultural touchstone of Occupy protests and other zeitgeist beliefs. There’s an actual reason for what he’s doing while Johns and crew write the character as if, “hey, angry Superman may sell a lot of books because don’t people hate perfect Superman?”

The entire thing just feels like a dumb attempt to bury what makes DC unique in order to cater to a mass audience who enjoys grit and grime.

I will say though that Justice League hasn’t touched a level of crying capes. Yet. The first issue still depicts fast moving characters, and while they’re human in the social setting, Johns writes them to be above the ordinary human. The cast is separated by the costumes but also by a sense of fear felt by the DCU citizens. The Justice League stills presents an element of godliness. Just not the nice kind. I haven’t read The Authority, but do you feel Johns is looking to mix in that influence? If so, isn’t it a bit late? Also, I know Stormwatch was a weak first issue. I kind of hated it. Have you continued on to #2, and if so, has it improved? 

CN: The difference (from what I can tell) between Morrison and Johns in their approach to this Superman is that Morrison’s Superman is just as compassionate and caring as always, but directs his action towards different targets than we’re used to, while Johns’s Superman is just a dick. Actually, from what I’ve heard, Johns’s entire Justice League roster is filled with the biggest bunch of assholes you could ever find. Hell, Ellis is known for writing ‘bastards’ and the Authority was a cheerier, more cooperative bunch!

Stormwatch did improve with the second issue. I was glad I stuck around for that.

Is there anything left to say? I know we skipped a bunch of books, but I don’t think we need to do a rundown on everything we read. Also, it’s almost November as I write this sentence and September seems so long ago. What the hell did I read then? I will say that Aquaman #1 sounded like the perfect one-shot that needed a cover with the Justice League all laughing at Aquaman as he shouts “My writer says I’m cool!” Except he’s not. DC really missed the boat by not recruiting Craig Ferguson to write that comic.

AB: We’ve definitely gone farther with this than I thought we would, and no, we don’t really need to cover every single book because frankly we’ve already covered all the interesting ones. Besides Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. It wasn’t as great as Animal Man #1, but Lemire still impressed me.

But yeah. Not a whole lot of the DC 52 really cries for discussion. Now, I’m totally talking out of my ass as I say that because I have not even come close to reading everything, but when I look at the remainder of the line up I see very little that shouts “interesting” or “worth the time.” Most of the line just says “property advertisement.” The DC 52 is a collection of pamphlets that celebrates Time Warner’s intellectual properties, and these books exist as a new attempt to generate awareness out in the general population. Most of these stories appear to be formula super hero tales that exist to fulfill a job. Overall, I’d say the whole relaunch was kind of disappointing, and you know what, 52 comics are way too many. 30 books would be more reasonable. Most of these characters do not require their own series, and the talent behind them doesn’t really have anything to say.

We did manage to find a few worthwhile comics in the bunch, though. If anything, that’s a positive, and it shows that a handful of creators are trying to make super hero comics interesting and meaningful. Azzarello, Chiang, Morrison, Lemire, Manapul, Williams, Ponticelli, Foreman, Capullo … I salute you.

So, Chad, any final thoughts? Do we care anymore? I mean, it is Month 3. Month 1 was so two months ago. 

CN: I’m buying more DCU comics now than I was in August. So, I guess DC won. But, my excitement heading into November isn’t high. It isn’t low. It’s more that there are comics coming out from DC that I buy and that’s a reality. Is that a win? I don’t know. Then again, I doubt DC is looking at the two of us as a sample audience to listen to. It’s been fun, sir. We need to do this again.

AB: I agree. Let’s just try to not go over 11,000 words next time.

[So, yeah. That's it. If you read all 4 parts, well, I fucking love you. It's 4am. Peace, yo.]

1 Comment

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One response to “Direct Message 01: A&C: DC Part Four

  1. Pingback: Random Thoughts! (November 8, 2011) | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources

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