Most of the time, I secretly suspect that none of us have any idea what’s actually going on.
It seems like we would have our finger on the pulse of Comic Books, doesn’t it? We’re reading sites like this one, for one thing. Some of us are even reading the press releases that are sent to sites like this one, even if we have no idea how we got on some of those mailing lists and would cheerfully fake our own deaths to get that one guy to leave our inbox alone. We scan the comment threads to get some sense of the zeitgeist. We follow dozens of comic book readers, sites, and creators on Twitter. We spend our commutes listening to comic book podcasts. We talk to people at our local shops.
Somehow, in the face of all of this, publishers rarely go a month without doing something that makes us all go, and I quote, “Schwuhhh?”
The most universally reviled artist in the industry will get promoted to a flagship book, which will then proceed to sell like gangbusters. A series that even the writer’s mother does not buy somehow seems to escape cancellation for years at a time, as if it is a part of some kind of underground market/money laundering operation. Editors will spend years doing a flamenco on the grave of that one Batgirl even though everyone liked her, dancing with abandon as if Batgirl used to give them swirlies in junior high. The fan-favorite writer is always, always getting fired, after being constantly rewritten by The Man.
They must know what they’re doing, though, right? They work there. Every day. And these aren’t guys flying by the seats of their pants in the bullpen; a couple of these publishers are divisions of multinational corporations. There must be a method to even the most bewildering madness.
Just about everyone in the game has taken their turn being bewildering (remember that summer when it seemed like Marvel was going through a terrible breakup? Ladies were getting molested by tentacles on the covers, and suddenly there was a female version of every villain?) but DC Comics is the company that’s made me think about these things the most often, especially lately. Popular creators get fired and rehired from their books. People are replaced by fresh new faces who themselves are replaced before their first issues ever come out. Interesting New 52 books continue to die in the crib. All the while, the murmuring about Editorial (which I imagine as that shadowy cabal on the screens in Marvel’s The Avengers) not letting writers write has continued to grow into a steady din that’s hard to ignore.
Whenever one of these stories surface– and the wait is never too long these days– I think the same thing: “They have got to realize how bad all this looks, right?”
I can only surmise that they know exactly how bad all this looks; they just don’t think anyone’s looking. Not anyone they care about, anyway.
Trying to put myself in DC’s collective shoes, it seems to me that the type of fan who follows the creators and the business moves and the behind-the-scenes shenanigans is kind of a headache to keep around. That fan thinks he’s The Voice of the People and that DC works for him, when truth is only 15% of Americans who are online use Twitter; one in five adults in this country still aren’t online at all. At all. Why should we kiss that guy’s butt, they must think, when we could be going after the guy who doesn’t even know who wrote the book he just bought?
If you’re DC, maybe you’d rather have customers who like Batman and Batgirl, not Scott Snyder and Gail Simone. If your customer starts thinking of Batgirl as Gail Simone’s character, Gail Simone has you by the balls just a little bit, and that will not do. Batgirl, on the other hand, is your property. Ideally, you want a Batgirl who’ll do whatever you say, and a reader that’ll read whatever Batgirl does regardless of who’s pulling the strings. Even the illusion in a fan’s imagination of creator ownership means nothing but Maalox for you.
You miss the way comics were when you were nine? Maybe they miss the way readers were when they were nine. I bought that Transformers comic because it had Dinobots on the cover, not because I had Bob Budiansky fever. I bet it’d be pretty sweet to get back there.
DC has become the go-to destination for the most odious kind of crossover, the one where you buy one of your monthly books only to discover that it is Part II of a story that began in a book you don’t read. This kind of hooey doesn’t make me go back and pick up Animal Man or Superboy regardless of who’s writing them; it makes me drop Swamp Thing and Supergirl in spite of who’s writing them. If I were that guy who follows Swamp Thing wherever he happens to be, though, this kind of crossover would be money in the bank. “They won’t be getting my three dollars anymore,” I sniff as I drop another series. “Their funeral.” But what if they’re up in the office thinking, “Ugh, thank God he’s gone”? Maybe guys like me are just holding them back. They know what they’re doing.
Jim Mroczkowski would like to remind anyone tempted to settle his hash in the comments that he began by saying he probably had no idea what he was talking about.