Thursday 31 December 2015

End of the Year Reflection, New Years Resolution Post

Here we are guys. We've made it! The last day of 2015! The end of the rope! And what a tough year it has been to be an Earth-2 fan hasn't it, comrades? We sat through the shitstorm of Earth-2: World's End and the sequel comic, Earth-2: Society, which continued the same problems with characterisation and lazy writing so many of us found off-putting with the first comic. The only difference was the second comic didn't have the accompanying disaster porn that made the first comic unbearable to read. Still, the year hasn't been all bad.

One thing I enjoyed this year was Convergence. Despite not performing as well as DC wanted, I still appreciated the fact that--for two very brief months--we did get the more recognisable Earth-2 characters back. Those two months were the months I bought the most DC comics in a long time, and they were also the happiest I've been in a long while. 

We also finally got the trade for America vs the Justice Society this year, which is one of my favourite stories of all time from the pre-Crisis era. Not only did I buy that book in both print and digital form, and had a great time reviewing it, but I also got my curious friends to buy it. I consider that my major accomplishment for the year! Hopefully we get the more recognisable Earth-2 characters back in some form. (Sooner rather than later as I am not optimistic about the future of Earth-2: Society right now with sales as they are).

Other positives? Well...that was very much it. These past four years have been very frustrating for me, not just as an Earth-2 fan, but especially as a Huntress and Power Girl fan. My blog entries throughout these past four years have made that clear. The ironic thing is when I originally created this blog four years ago, I did not anticipate how haphazardly this new DC Universe was going to be conceived, nor did I expect Earth-2 to be developed as this shitty Elseworlds universe right up there with Red Sun: Superman or Injustice: Gods Among Us--two narratives that offer radical but ultimately inauthentic reinterpretations of classic DC characters. 

When I originally created this blog, I was expecting a more modernised reboot of Earth-2 while preserving the original ideas and concepts that made this world fun to read about the first time. I loved the fact that Earth-2 was this world where heroes appeared decades before the Earth-1 Justice League, effectively establishing a sense of history and legacy. I loved that there were different generations of heroes that were members of the Justice Society, and I loved that there were other superhero teams like the All-Star Squadron, the Seven Soldiers of Victory, and Infinity Inc--the latter of which was the legacy of the Justice Society. 

I also loved that heroes aged and married in this universe, and that their children grew to adulthood to succeed them as Earth-2's modern heroes. That was part of the appeal of Huntress, Power Girl, Fury, and all of the Infinitors. They were the legacies of their parents, but they also did their own thing and established their own identities, which was really cool. I do genuinely think that a lot more could've been done with that original concept, it saddened me that the modern Earth-2 became this generic Batman-Superman-centric alternate universe, complete with an alternate Justice League full of young people and lacking in age diversity. So much of what made Earth-2 genuinely unique and interesting got scrapped in favour of a violent, generic Elseworlds narrative that culminated with the abysmal Earth-2: World's End event. That makes me sad. But I'm even more sad that this blog didn't turn out to be the space I wanted to be.

When I created this blog back in 2011, I was expecting to talk about how cool Earth-2 is as a concept, what I enjoy about the current comics as well as the old comics, compare and contrast the past with present, fun stuff like. Instead, I found myself feeling repeatedly offended by the overall direction of Earth-2 in the current continuity, which wasn't inviting to me as a female reader at all. It still isn't. I'm very put off by the constant war narrative, and I am especially offended by the constant use of violence against women as tools for male character development--a trope famously known as women in refrigerators.

The latter problem has been especially true of Lois Lane, Selina Kyle, Barbara Gordon, and even Helena Wayne, all of whom had violence committed against them as tools for progressing male story arcs. Lois was killed to progress Superman's story in Earth-2 #1, Selina was killed to give Helena a tragic origin story in World's Finest #0, Barbara Gordon was killed during Earth-2: World's End in order to give Dick Grayson a reason to become Batman, and Helena Wayne was subjected to torture and body horror in that same event in order to give her grandfather 'an important person' to rescue. It was wholly offensive storytelling for a character that exists to be a superhero, not a prop in a man's story. If that wasn't enough, Helena's face was also pointlessly mutilated and scarred in Earth-2: Society for no real reason than the idea sounding good in someone's head, and that is not acceptable. 

In an era were comics are trying to be more inclusive of women, it's important that creators, editors, and publishers alike be more thoughtful of women's experiences and not develop narratives that perpetuate things like violent misogyny and sexism as tools for plot and character development. Not only do those types of narratives dehumanise women as a whole group, but they also help perpetuate attitudes and behaviours that harm women in real life as well. Since DC is in the business of making superhero comics and not slasher flicks, they should, perhaps, get reacquainted with the idea of superheroes being inspirational. 

Getting back to the main point, believe me when I say I am more than exhausted constantly drawing attention to the issue of misogyny and sexism in the Earth-2 comics because I do not read these books to get offended. I read these comics because I really love the characters and want to see them treated with more respect. Women in refrigerators is not a topic I enjoy talking about and I very much don't want to keep writing about it in 2016 and in the years that follow. 

Like Marjorie Liu's famous 'allergic to bad representation' speech at this year's NYCC, I have a strong allergic reaction to this trope. So much that I will tear apart anyone who uses it, and I will not be merciful towards anyone who defends it. It's indefensible. But that's the thing. I found myself doing more 'tearing apart' these past four years and less constructive criticism, which is not how I want to keep doing reviews.

I will admit that in a fandom culture where creators and other industry professionals are repeatedly abused by less thoughtful fans on social media that I definitely could've approached some of these creators about their storytelling issues better than I actually did. I especially think I could've approached Daniel H. Wilson better about the problems with misogyny in his storytelling than my initial 'yelling at him' for perpetuating tired, misogynistic tropes. I don't think that there is any excuse for bad storytelling, but I do think the problems with his writing could've been better addressed.

While I do think anger is a legitimate response to bad representation and I'm not in favour of tone policing, I also think that on social media, it absolutely does matter how we say things to other people, and that we don't get personal in our interactions with them. A lot of times, anger can easily facilitate the latter, which doesn't help things. I also think that we need to grant industry professionals the opportunities to learn from their mistakes and grow as individuals so that they can become better at what they do. But I also think that industry professionals also need to be better listeners as well. This is especially true when it's women, people of colour, and members of other marginalised groups addressing issues with their storytelling, and not the average fanboy losing their shit because Batman is wearing a RoboBunny suit or something. 

More often than not, the things that upset us are not petty, stupid things like changing a character's costume, or changing their eye colour, or anything like that. The things that upset us tend to be very personal and tend remind us of the inequalities that exist toward our respective groups. Things like trivialising violence against women, presenting women as sex objects on the cover, using women as tools for male agency, or characterising diverse characters in ways that perpetuate negative stereotypes about the groups they represent--stuff like that is what upsets us. 

Anything that happens to a white male character on the page is never the same for a member of a marginalised group, nor do they have 'things happen' to them for the same reasons those 'same things' happen to members of marginalised groups. A lot of that boils down to the lack of diverse representation for women and many other marginalised groups, whereas white men always have the luxury of diverse representation. 

With so much hurting clearly going on these past four years, what can we do in 2016 to start resolving our differences? We honestly need to help each other out. DC clearly needs money and I need comic books that I can actually enjoy reading and talking about. I don't expect perfect comics, but I do expect comics where the good outweighs the bad. So how can we achieve this?

  1. DC, you need to start regaining the trust of their readership again. One thing that could definitely help in your case is to revisit the conceptual originality of your intellectual properties. These characters endured for as long as they did because they represent something greater and that's something special your characters possess. I understand, DC, that you need to keep your characters modern for a constantly changing audience, and I don't fault you for trying something different in the New 52. The problem is you didn't make changes where they actually count, so...
  2. Hire more diverse editors. I appreciate that you hired more diverse creators this year (and that was a major improvement), but structural diversity needs to exist at the editorial level as well. One major problem I observed this year is that despite hiring diverse creators for Superman, Wonder Woman, and Earth-2, without diverse editors for them to work under, they took the flak for a lot of your editors' horrible ideas. That's not something they need. So please get new editors for Superman, Wonder Woman, and Earth-2. Specifically hire more women, people of colour, and LGBTQA as editors, and please make sure these editors prioritise good representation for your characters. This entails understanding issues that exist with diverse representation.
  3. Please market your lesser known properties more. I did my best this year to promote the hell out of Convergence to get people to buy them at their local shops, and I'll be more than happy to keep promoting your Earth-2 comics (provided that they are actually good), but you need to do your part as well. Those last couple of months I spent hearing about Frank Miller and Dark Knight III all over the press? You need to do that with your other properties as well, DC. Not just Batman, which frankly sells itself. Your DCYou and post-Convergence books needed more than just one or two months of marketing, promotion, and press to make more people aware of their existence.
  4. Tell better stories that actually fit your characters. This is one major area where having diverse editors and creators could really help make a difference. One of the things that I strongly feel hurt Earth-2 in the last three years was the lack of structural diversity leading to bad storytelling. Instead of preserving the original concept of Earth-2 as the Justice Society Earth, it became a mean-spirited Elseworlds comic right up there with Injustice: Gods Among Us, and that drove away many fans from Earth-2. At this point, Earth-2 needs a clean reboot to retcon Earth-2: World's End out of existence, but these characters need stories that actually honour their original concept and stay true to their spirit. Earth-2: Society is not doing that for these characters, even if the concepts explored in this title work well for an independent sci-fi comic.

As for me?

  1. Do more constructive criticism, and less tearing apart. One thing I noticed from all of my previous reviews was a tendency to tear down creators for bad storytelling and even for ideas that probably weren't even their own. I can't say that I've been proud of that, and admittedly, it is hard for me to be objective with Earth-2 since this is the franchise I am most passionate about. But reiterating what I said earlier in this post, creators and industry professionals also need the opportunity to learn and grow, and that's where constructive criticism comes into play. Discuss what works and what doesn't work in a more constructive way, and save the snark and sarcasm for posts that are, in fact, meant to be humorous discussions about things that happen in comics like my Lapses in Logic posts.
  2. Be more tactful when writing about and contacting industry professionals on social media. This is definitely an area I could definitely improve upon. I don't think I've gotten to the point of building a reputation for being combative online just yet, though I sometimes feel like I'm getting there. One thing I definitely didn't anticipate in the last four years was acquire a huge fan following in such a short timeframe, most notably on Tumblr than on Twitter. (I'm 218 followers away from 2000 on Tumblr). I'm not used to having a large audience, but then again, I didn't actually actively blog about comics until four years ago. Sometimes I feel naked when writing posts for this blog, but that makes it more important for me to choose my words carefully and to address problems in a way that doesn't come off as a personal attack on someone. (I sure as hell don't want to be famous for that). I can't control how others perceive my tone, but I can try to not come off as that dog barking up a tree.
  3. Contact industry professionals on social media when they actually do something right. One thing that DC probably gets a lot of is more negative response than positive. At least it seems that way everywhere I go that there is a DC Comics discussion. That's how many people are frustrated right now. While a lot of the criticism DC received in the last four years was unfortunately earned, I do think they want to do good business even if they've made too many mistakes. I do think that industry professionals need to know when they're actually doing something right so that they can be encouraged to continue in those directions and not give up.

    Right now, I do think the concept behind DCYou being more character and story-driven is a great one, I do think DC hiring more diverse creators is moving in the right direction, and I like that they are utilising the Digital First comics platform more. Digital First comics in particular has been a great outlet for diverse storytelling, and it's definitely been a great way for diverse creators and editors to tell the stories they want. I think this is a great way to build an audience and I think these digital comics can be a great way to influence change for the mainstream comics. I'm definitely buying and enjoying Legend of Wonder Woman, and I loved Sensation Comics and Wonder Woman 77. I know I definitely would like to see digital comics with the Earth-2 characters, especially Huntress and Power Girl since they're my jam. (Maybe try relaunching a new World's Finest comic with these two ladies for digital? I think there's strong potential there considering that female readers responded positively to the friendship between Kara and Helena.)
  4. Promote the Earth-2 comics more on social media. I realise how very far-fetched this one is at the moment considering where this franchise is right now, but at least Dan Abnett is writing Earth-2: Society at this time, so that gives me hope. I have never been letdown by him before, so I do trust the comic will at least be readable and the characters will be better written. I do plan on doing official reviews for this title once his first issue comes out in two weeks, so fingers crossed that I have more good things to say than bad. Maybe I should even revisit Worlds' Finest and do different discussions for this series that are better than my actual reviews for it. Maybe in revisiting this series with a 'fresh pair of eyes' may result in more constructive discussion of the series. I'm pretty sure it's still going to be difficult to read Power Girl's characterisation in that series, but I'll try. I definitely plan on continuing my discussions and reviews for the pre-Crisis comics for fans who are curious about the previous versions of the Earth-2 characters and want to know where they can hunt down these older comics. So far, it appears I'm generating interest at at least!
So there we have it, guys. My reflection of the past year and new years resolution. I suddenly feel better having written all of this!

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