Shiny Shelf

DC comics in August

By Bruce Kent on 20 May 2009

I love DC Comics, I’ve always been a DC man over Marvel, and DC have always been ahead of the pack. August sees Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s ‘Batman and Robin’, and it looks fantastic. It sees ‘Wednesday Comics’, an honest-to-god brilliant way of making a weekly trip to the comic shop something to look forward to, with a heady brew of top creators and great characters.

And then there’s the howling, screaming void that makes up the rest of the DC schedule. I’ll confine my wrath to the DC Universe stuff. Wildstorm and Vertigo probably do have a role in today’s comic landscape … but whatever it is, that’s a secret lost aeons ago to both man and time… it’s certainly not ‘to sell some comics to people’.

The DC Universe, home of Superman and Batman, then. What wonders await us in August?

Roll up, roll up for a comic about the Golden Age Superman, who is now evil, digging up the still-warm corpse of Pa Kent. Because you demanded it! Fun for the kiddies!

What of the regular Superman? This time last year, Morrison and Quitely were proving just how great Superman was, showing us all how it was done in ‘All Star Superman’. So, building on that, this year DC have Superman as you’ve always wanted to see him… in a grey jumpsuit on some alien planet with no powers. Not content to knee you in the groin with that once, in August that story runs across six titles.

Batman. Good old Batman. It’s impossible to mess up Batman. Faced with that problem, DC have simply removed Batman from the Bat-books. So there are eleven books featuring characters like Red Robin and the new Batwoman… in exciting stories all about them? No… moping about how they’re not as good as the real Batman and how much they miss Batman.

It sounds inept. How inept? This much:

‘”The Grail” part 3 of 4! “Batman Reborn” continues, but is Red Robin’s quest to find Bruce Wayne at an end?’

The clue’s in the question, really, isn’t it?

Then there’s ‘Blackest Night’. I quote:

‘The Black Lanterns descend on all the Corps throughout the universe! Sinestro’s assault on the Star Sapphires’ homeworld of Zamaron is interrupted by another Sinestro Corps – one made up of those who died during the Sinestro Corps War! John Stewart comes face-to-face with his deceased wife! Just when things couldn’t look any darker after the death and chaos of the Sciencell riot, Blackest Night descends on Oa! The black rings tear into the planet and the Lantern Crypt causing all the dead Corps members to rise and wreak havoc.’

And now I’ll translate – ‘There will be page after page of crowds of Green Lanterns floating in orbit above [some random boring DC planet] pointing their rings at hordes of evil or dead or evil and dead Green Lanterns – five separate enemy armies, no less – hovering in space pointing their rings at them. With lots of speech bubbles about how they can’t hold the line, how [some random boring DC planet] is going to fall. Again.’

Let’s leave aside the abomination that is ‘Flash: Rebirth’, a comic about one of the four DC characters called Flash who can run really fast… the current featured Flash is the one who died in 1985, who was chosen to die in 1985 because, y’know, all he could really do was run really fast, so it was no great loss. It’s now 2009, he’s alive again, and all he does is sit around (!) saying he has no idea why he was brought back, like the writer doesn’t realise he’s typing what he’s thinking into the script.

In ‘Teen Titans’, which has recently felt like some sort of funded study into how bad a comic can possibly get, they’ve gone from metaphorically f-ing the corpse of the classic Wolfman/Perez run to literally doing it – the cover of the August issue has Gar snogging Terra and the copy reads ‘can Gar resist the charms of Black Lantern Terra?’. Here’s my answer: YES, FOR THE SIMPLE REASON THAT SHE DIED IN 1984 AND YOU CAN SEE SHE’S GONE ALL MOULDY.

As well as ‘Blackest Night’, there’s another event in the DCU in August. It’s called ‘Things It’s Actually Physically Impossible To Give A Toss About’, and, as the name suggests, the concept is that a whole bunch of things happen in the DC Universe that contain no possible suspense, interest or entertainment value for anyone, at all, even the most die-hard DC loyalist:

1. Who is the new Batgirl? The only possible way you could care is if it was Barbara Gordon, and that would only be notable because it would be so crass.

2. Spin Offs from characters from ‘Final Crisis’. Which one of the following is a reason toread a comic: Grant Morrison, the Human Flame, those Japanese superheroes from ‘Final Crisis’, The Tattooed Man. Which one of those four is missing from those comics? Hmmmm.

3. Starfire was shagging someone, now she’s not. That’s in two different comics, and it’s two different blokes, completely unconnected.

4. The Red Circle characters are coming to the DCU! Yes… contain yourself. Or, if you can’t wait and want to do something just as exciting, microwave a slice of cheese pizza. (Four titles).

5. ‘The Doom Patrol’ is back!

6. ‘Booster Gold’ hasn’t been cancelled yet!

7. There are four books set on random boring DC alien planets!

8. The Spectre is in Dakota!

9. The JLA fight the All New Royal Flush Gang!

10. The JSA ‘is forced to make a compromise in order to chase their fleeing enemies or return to the mansion to find out why Mister Terrific’s communications have suddenly stopped!’ (the surreally inappropriate exclamation mark and weird grammar are both quoted verbatim from the solicitation copy).

Rumour has it that in September, we’ll learn that it was all a plot by Monarch, and he’s sapped all the energy and originality from the DC Universe in order to… well, that would be telling.

DC need to turn this around. They’re in a horrible place right now, and that’s despite the fact they have loads of great characters and loads of great talent. It would be lovely and easy if this was all one person’s fault, or because of some corporate directive. It’s not. There’s a general malaise here, a complete lack of focus on what makes the characters so iconic, and an almost pathological need to find the path of least entertainment.

The publishing industry generally is in trouble. Comics are insulated from the worst of it, because readers are also collectors, and cling to the idea that the issues retain some intrinsic value. Comics, though, are stuck between the rock of rising cover prices ($4 an issue, now) and the discount online retailers (buy a trade collection of six issues for $11). Comics distribution and the wider industry is in a huge mess. The fifth bestselling DC book in April sold 50,000 copies.

DC need to get their act together.

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By Bruce Kent

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