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On Trial: DC Comics

Welcome to Comical Musings.  We are excited to bring you the next entry in our “On Trial” column where each month, we will be taking a character or concept from comic books and putting it “On Trial.”  We will state who or what is on trial and why and then your favorite Writer’s Blok writers will weigh in with their opinions on the side of the prosecution or the defense.  Once you have finished reading the report, you will decide by voting on the poll and hashing out your feelings in the comments section.  Through all of this, we will establish if the accused is really guilty.  A little over 1 year ago, DC Comics rebooted their whole universe.  Sales went up and DC looked strong coming into 2012, but something seems to have happened.  Long-time contributors and executives are jumping ship.  New creators’ titles are getting cancelled before they even take control of them.  It seems as though Batman is still good, while many other properties languish.  Behind the scenes, editorial seems to be more powerful than story or vision.  All the while, Image Comics is putting out top of the line books and Marvel NOW! is successfully refining their brands by taking chances.  So, is DC Comics in a decline?  We are putting them On Trial for under-achieving in today’s market.




The Prosecution:


DC is ****ed. With the unsuccessful “hard reboot” of Nu52, the major publisher has put out piles and piles of crap. A lingering few of the company’s titles have delivered on the promise of fresh perspectives: Batman, though the recent “Death of the Family” arc has alienated a number of readers. Wonder Woman, which Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang have piloted in the direction of relevance. Batman, Incorporated, which survived the purging of the more continuity-heavy books through Grant Morrison’s awesome force of will.

In the meantime, few titles can maintain a singular artistic vision for any length of time. Writers chance. Illustrators rotate out. A billion Bat-Books muscle other, more ambitious titles out of the way. No more Frankenstein. No more I, Vampire.

A seemingly infinite number of editorial missteps seem to constantly put DC in the spotlight, and not in a good way: the hiring of Orson Scott Card, despite his notorious bigotry. The firing and re-hiring of Gail Simone over the course of what felt like six hours. The seemingly spurious (or at least superficial) re-tokening of alternate universe Green Lantern Alan Scott as homosexual, then the immediate shuffling-away from the topic. None of these look like DC doing the right thing.

Compare this to the highly successful Marvel Now! Initiative, in which fresh creators and established veterans create exciting works in titles that had become relatively stagnant. For further evidence, check out Mark Waid’s Daredevil or Indestructible Hulk. Or any number of X-Titles, including the new All-Female team. Or Jonathan Hickman’s ethnically and sexually diverse team of Avengers. These folks make it look easy.

Learn your lesson, DC. Be bold, but place priority on the people that create your product. Let them do their work, let them be ambitious, and the business will follow.

~ JK Leo ~



The Defense:


Is DC Comics under-achieving?  I don’t think so, but I guess it depends on how you measure, and what you expect them to achieve.  They’ve had a lot of turn-over recently, and they have made some questionable decisions, but they continue to release comic books on schedule, and their quality is fairly consistent.  This in itself is an achievement.  As an example, Geoff Johns recently left the Green Lantern creative team, and departed with a sweeping, swan-song, would-be finale issue.  Nevertheless, DC has been able to hand the title off to another writer and continue the story.  One could argue that DC is under-achieving in terms of storytelling, and I’ll admit, that they are not taking advantage of their recently rebooted universe as well as Marvel is currently.  But is Marvel the benchmark?  Marvel seems to be focusing on storytelling and management of their universe.  DC seems to be focusing on selling.  EVERYTHING.  They are positioned to have one of the highest-grossing movies of the summer (which may itself be an under-achievement, I haven’t seen it yet), they have two big video game titles dropping this summer, they have several TV shows, and merchandising out the wazoo.  And all of this (hopefully) generates interest in their comic brands.  So far, I haven’t seen any decline in the quality of DC’s product, but DC was never the pinnacle of the comics medium.  They may have missed some opportunities as the New52 has been rolled out, and it remains to be seen if their current shake-ups will have longer-term consequences, but they continue to shoot from the hip and crank out stories that kids want to buy.
PS:  They put Scorpion from Mortal Kombat into Injustice: Gods Among Us.  I’d call that an over-achievement.
What do you think?  Sound Off In The Comments Box Below!

About Scott Deaux

Favorite Comics: Lazarus, Essex County, Chew, Superior Foes Of Spider-Man, Age of Apocalypse stuff, The Nightly News, Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, Pax Romana, Avengers, NEXTWAVE: Agents Of Hate, Sweet Tooth, We3, others... Favorite Quote(s): "Journalism is just a gun. It's only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that's all you need. Aim it right, and you can blow a kneecap off the world." - Warren Ellis "People who hold signs go hold many other things" - Eddie Pepitone


  1. When the New 52 hit 2 years ago DC got what they wanted from me as a consumer because I did try out a decent amount of their new books just out of a willingness to see what they were doing to shake things up. My pull list at my local comic shop was almost entirely DC titles for the first few months. Now, 2 years later, I only have 2 DC books on my pull list, one of which because I have been consistently enjoying it since the New 52 began (Batman) and the other because I’m been consistently buying it since the New 52 began (Justice League) but if it wasn’t for the addition of Ivan Reis as the penciller on JL, I probably would have also dropped that title as well.

    Because of the reboot, my mind was more open to titles I normally wouldn’t have taken chances on, such as Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Frankenstein Agent of SHADE and others. And, honestly, those titles definitely brought their A game to the table to make me want to continue reading them for a while. I was sad to see Frankenstein get the boot. After the Rotworld crossover, I have to admit that I said farewell to Animal Man and Swamp Thing as well.

    Wonder Woman and Aquaman were two other titles that normally I didn’t take too much notice of (though I did pick up Wonder Woman when Alan Heinberg and Terry Dodson took it over a few years back). Wonder Woman, while being criticized for it’s view of the Amazons, was an excellent read and a good example of how to shake things up and redefine a character to make them relevant for adult readers, but it’s sadly a book that young readers, boys and girls alike, shouldn’t be given to read because of how dark and adult the subject matter can be. As the father of a young daughter who already gets excited at the images of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, etc., it does make it frustrating that I can’t allow my daughter to enjoy such an iconic female character. As for Aquaman, I was amazed by how cool that book was in it’s first 5-6 issues but once the whole The Others story arc began I have to admit my interest was waning, though, once again because of Ivan Reis’s art, I still continued to purchase on principle.

    If there’s a true casualty to the whole New 52 reboot, for me, it was Superman. And I’m a Superman fan over Batman any day. Yet here I am reading Batman consistently month after month while Superman I gave up a few issues into his title’s opening story arc. Sure, there’s Superman Unchained, but Action Comics and Superman have done nothing for me (though Action did manage to keep my interest much longer than Superman was able to). While Superman Unchained has superstar talent to headline the book, Snyder’s take on Batman still intrigues me more than his work on Superman while Jim Lee’s art just feels like Jim Lee’s art… nothing more. And while Jim Lee was the artist to get me back into comics in the 90s, most of his newer work, including Justice League, hasn’t felt as fun to look at as his X-Men and Wildcats work from back in the day.

    DC isn’t the only one, though. I was following quite a few of the Marvel NOW books until it felt like I couldn’t keep up with the schedule these books were coming out on. I’m down from 8-10 of their books to a few, just like DC’s purging. All-New X-Men managed to win me over through the concept and the creative team (I’m a HUGE Stuart Immonen fan), but there’s not a lot of others that I NEED to keep up with now. Though I will admit that Avengers was a damn consistent and interesting read and the revolving artist teams on the book complimented themselves in good ways. X-Men was a cool three issue read, but when I saw the artist changed from Olivier Coipel after only 3 issues, my frustration set in because the main reason I wanted that title was to see Coipel’s artwork on a monthly title again since he left Thor.

    Yes, Image is putting out some great quality work. I’ve been reading Saga since issue 1 and am enjoying that book both for story and for art and I love the fact that there’s never a fill in artist ever on that title. It only adds to the respect I have for Fiona Staples and her talents on that book. Another company that is really blowing me away right now is Valiant. I read a few of the Valiant titles back in the 90s but I guess it’s just a right place, right time case for them because I’ve picked up Shadowman, X-O Manowar and Archer and Armstrong in trades and have enjoyed them more than most books I’m trying to keep up with from the big 2. And even though creative teams get shaken up on Valiant books, too, I never feel there’s a disconnect in the choices of talent they’ve made to keep stories moving forward. And speaking of stories, I found that each of those books have a solid and genuinely immersing story to look forward to. It’s not about tie ins to movies or merchandising compared to trying to tell a good solid story and in this day and age with so many things vying for my money, attention and free time, just having a good story to be excited about sometimes is a better option than reboots that only prove that Batman still is more interesting than Superman.

    And remember, that’s coming from a Superman fan.

  2. Another observation that I forgot to mention in my previous comment is I felt the New 52 felt like it was half figured out on execution. “When did this happen?” “How did that fit into the overall scheme of things?” It never felt like there was a clear idea of how all the pieces fall into place and only recently did it feel like there was some sort of long game playing out in any way shape or form through the whole Forever Evil deal that hit last month. It felt like one hand didn’t know what the other was doing at times, though, and the more titles I read the more I felt there wasn’t so much a DC Universe as much as just corners of that universe that either could or couldn’t fire on all cylinders.

    The five year rule wasn’t the smartest of options for how to reboot a universe, in my opinion. If you want to reboot, just go for it with gusto and don’t cherry pick the hell out of what is still in play in the new continuity and what was thrown out the window. That bugged the hell out of me, especially when I was hoping for fresh, new opportunities to tell different stories using characters I’ve known for years and years.

    And for titles that I was actually getting really excited to see debuting again after years away, like Firestorm for instance, I was sad to discover that the New 52 version of one of my favorite DC characters felt like DC Comics amateur hour with art that felt rushed and uninteresting and a story that felt like it was written by committee rather than someone with something interesting to say. Green Arrow was also another example of an underwhelming creative team giving readers what they might have wanted in the 90s but isn’t really working for me as a reader in 2011. Thankfully, putting Jeff Lemire on that title has managed to save it and turn it into a better read.

    While I understand from a company standpoint that having 52 titles debut is a good thing financially, I never did understand exactly why certain titles needed to debut as part of the initial line of the New 52. Granted, I only know my own personal tastes when it comes to what I’d like to read, but I didn’t see a point to having titles like Red Lanterns, Deathstroke, and Savage Hawkman for instance. Justice League wasn’t a bad idea for a starting point but I think it would have been a better idea to test the waters for what characters fans wanted to see rather than be forced some of these titles. In some cases when you look at the list of new titles that were coming out in the beginning of the New 52, it was easy to see which wouldn’t last the first round of cancelations. It’s almost like they built in cannon fodder.

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