52 reasons to be cheerful.A column article by: Regie Rigby
I’m not going to mention being late. That’s become such a shamefully frequent occurrence that it no longer warrants comment.
What does merit some comment however, is the fact that I appear to have made an error. I know, I can scarcely believe it myself, but after due consideration I am forced to the conclusion that it’s true.
You see, I am on record as being rather cynical about DC’s New 52. It was, I opined, nothing more than a cheap, tawdry marketing stunt that rode roughshod over decades of tradition, thumbing its nose at the fans in the process. I’m not sure I ever wrote it down, but I certainly remarked in conversation that re-starting long running titles like Action and Detective Comics from issue #1 was even a little disrespectful. After all, books like that go back decades, right to the very start of the modern American industry. The current DC management are surely no more than custodians, people who stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before. Who are they to turn their backs on so much heritage?
It turns out that they were the people who were right.
There can be no argument but that DC had gotten a little stagnant in recent times – heaven knows I’ve complained about it here myself often enough. Back when I started reading comics in the late eighties DC’s star was in the ascendency and their books were receiving both critical and fan acclaim.* Since those heady days they had become a bit staid, a bit, well, a bit lacklustre all around really. The sheer weight of their history was crushing the creativity and the energy out of the stories. There was a feeling amongst some new readers that all the back continuity made the characters impenetrable. For many the whole thing always ended up being filed under “too much like hard work”.
Something radical was definately needed. Something that would capitalise on the history and recognition that DC’s properties bring with them, but would not make a intimate knowledge of all of that history a pre-requisite for the understanding of the story. It was always going to be a tough ask of course.
Comics companies – especially the well established ones** are a strange beast. Given the simplicity of the medium you’d expect publishers to be pretty nimble. When your medium allows you to destroy a planet in one frame and reassemble it in the next for no more time than it takes to doodle it, and for no ore cost than a sheet of paper and a drop of ink***, surely rapidly implementing change should be easy.
Unlike movies you don’t need actors, sound recordists, camera operators, Winnebago Trailers, security, or any of the paraphenallia that makes Hollywood such an unwieldy leviathan. Just somebody to write the stuff, somebody to draw the stuff, and somebody to publish the stuff*****.
How hard can it be?
And yet in many ways comics companies are in fact slightly less agile than your proverbial oil tanker.
The problem, if you’ll forgive me, is basically us. The fans. I’m sorry, but it’s true.
In many – if not most - ways we’re a nice problem to have. The hardcore comics fan is a pretty reliable source of income because we’re terribly terribly loyal. I’m so loyal to Batman, for example, that I bought the batbooks all the way through the Death of Bruce Wayne stuff, all the way through Dick Grayson wearing the cape and cowl, even though I hated it, even though I didn’t believe it would last******, even though there is still a pile of unread issues stretching back six months on my living room floor. I stuck with it. There was never any question that I’d stop buying it, even if I wasn’t sure I’d read it.
Madness, to be sure, but I’m not the only person out there like that.
Brand loyalty like that is something that most companies would sell their children for.
But our obsessive loyalty comes at a price – and it’s a very high price indeed.
First of all, we are astonishingly resistant to change. For many of us continuity carries the weight of holy scripture – something that is not to be contradicted. Even when the continuity makes no sense******* we cling to it as a drowning man clings to a lifebelt, and woe betide anyone who steps outside of it.******** The wrath of the fanboys is a terrifying thing to behold.
And yet, however annoying and limiting we are, because we are a secure source of income********* it’s a brave editor that does anything to piss us off. We are, in many ways, a millstone around their necks.
Like I said – executing a radical shake up of DC against that background is a big, big ask, and one that on my past experience of their marketing exercises I wasn’t at all convinced they could pull off.
Well, from what I’ve seen so far, I have to eat a little humble pie because they really, really have. While I still find it jarring that Commissioner Gordon seems to have rejuvenated into a redhead, I’m more than happy to accept that this is merely more evidence of my lamentable fanboy tendencies. What DC has done is a pretty comprehensive re-boot of its entire universe which takes the best bits of the old, ditches the unnecessary baggage and comes up with something that is familiar and yet refreshing.
I can’t claim to have read everything, but what I have read has blown me away. Particular highlights would include the new Animal Man #1, which took me right back to (what I, at least consider to be) the character’s heyday in the early nineties, the astonishing final page of Detective Comics #1********** and, perhaps most crucially, BARBARA GORDON IS BATGIRL AGAIN! Those of you who have been reading this column for a while will perhaps have an idea of how happy that makes me. “Very” doesn’t even begin to cover it!
The art is brilliant. The writing is brilliant. The characters are well drawn and plausible. My fear was that they would reboot their universe in a half arsed way, producing the same old, same old, changing nothing but the numbering. New readers might well pick up some issue #1s because they’re “new”, but be uninspired and not bother coming back for #2.
Instead we’ve got smart, pacy, shocking storytelling. I for one am desperate to read Detective Comics #2 - and I’ve not been able to say that about a Batbook for a long, long, while.
So. Thank you DC. Thank you for proving me wrong. More to the point, thank you doe giving me back the comics I wanted, and that I hadn’t really understood I was missing.
In short, thank you for giving me what I needed, not what I wanted. That’s a brave thing for a media company to do, and you did it brilliantly.
Now. Keep it up!
*Indeed, so exciting were they, DC was often referred to as “the largest independent publisher”. It was always hyperbole of course, but it says a lot that people bought into it.
**And they really don’t come any more established than DC. It’s a long time since Detective and Action first hit the stands.
***This is literally true, by the way. It is said**** that Simon Bisley’s first published work on 2000AD’s The ABC WARRIORS - which I hold to be amongst the best work he ever did – was drawn using a standard Bic Biro worth less than ten pence.
****And since it is said by him I’m inclined to believe it.
*****And they can even all be the same person, if you want.
******See, I told you I’m normally right…
*******Like, why was Barbara Gordon in a wheelchair for two decades when Bruce Wayne knew somebody who could heal spinal damage? I’ve mentioned this before, and I am of course still rather over protective of Barbara, but really – for an alleged “hero” Wayne is a bigger bastard than Doctor Who, which is really saying something.
********I didn’t think that I fell into this category, but my initial reaction to the New 52 suggests that I must.
*********Because as my mate Budgie always says, we need to remember that Comics companies are not in business to make comics, they’re in business to make money.
**********Now there’s a title I never expected to own…