Saturday 23 January 2016

DC Comics Rebirth: What Does It Mean?

Late Friday night, DC co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee tweeted an image with the hashtag #Rebirth teasing a big event for 2016. Naturally--as what always happens on social media--the tease got everyone talking.

For many veteran DC fans like myself, we're hoping #Rebirth will result in a clean reboot of the current continuity and a reinstating of the more iconic status quos for various DC characters, even if we don't get any of the previous continuities back. Considering the tough year 2015 was for both DC Comics and DC fans alike, bringing the characters back to a more recognisable place seems like the more logical approach. After all, despite Convergence not selling at the sales numbers DC wanted, it was still the highest number of sales they saw in ALL of 2015!

Obviously, I don't know what to expect with the initiative, but I do know what I want to see happen in the months to come for me to fully invest in DC Comics again. Most of this I've talked about already.

01. The Return of Earth-2 Classic

I don't expect DC Comics to bring back the pre-Crisis Earth-2, but I would like to see a modern revision of the original concept of Earth-2 as the Golden Age Justice Society Earth with decades worth of history. Without superheroes appearing on this world decades before the Justice League did on their Earth, the new Earth-2 lost a huge part of its original appeal. The decision to turn this world into the Apokolips story complete with disaster porn and persistent abuse of the Earth-2 characters on top of that especially killed the franchise for many fans. 

In my experience reading Earth-2 and Justice Society comics, fans love the fact that Earth-2 was a world full of optimism, history, and legacy. They were especially drawn to the concept of the Justice Society being a team that comprised of both young and old heroes, which in a way, created a sense of family. People also loved the fact that Batman and Superman did not dominate these narratives, and were quite content with Huntress and Power Girl occupying their places on the team. On that note, I find that people love Helena Wayne better when she is characterised as the woman who was raised by Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle to carry on their legacy, and not used as a tool for progressing the narratives of usurper Batmen, or replacing another fan favourite character like Helena Bertinelli. In short, people respond to Helena Wayne better as the daughter of Batman and Catwoman who is a lawyer by day and the Huntress by night on Earth-2. 

Another character people loved better than the New 52 version was the pre-Flashpoint Power Girl. With the Earth-2 Kara Zor-L, fans were drawn to the fact that she was a doppelgänger of the mainstream Kara, but was not herself the Supergirl of Earth-2. She was a character with a personality and identity that were uniquely her own. She had a leader-type personality that allowed her to function as the head of the Justice Society at one point, and she was the CEO of her own successful company, Starrware. She was a self-made woman who carved her own place in the world without basking in the shadow of her cousin (Superman), and carried herself perfectly fine without the assistance of any man. People also love the close friendship that she shares with Helena Wayne, but not at the expense of her own character. I find that people respond to their partnership better when both women are written with respect, and not when one character is reduced to service the other. (Geoff Johns understood this perfectly well in the JSA Annual #1 from 2008). 

Other characters people loved? The version of Jay Garrick who wore the silver helmet, was married to Joan Williams, had a career in science, and was actually OLDER than Barry Allen. People also love Alan Scott as the older Green Lantern who is also the father of Jade and Obsidian. A young, brooding Alan Scott with Doctor Manhattan's personality who is only gay for visibility has had very little appeal, as has the version of Jay Garrick who got turned into a selfish teenager who runs away from responsibility. 

The point that I'm trying to make here is people love Earth-2 and the Justice Society characters for their conceptual originality, and not for what corporate Hollywood thinks sells better. The sooner the characters start reading like the characters we know and love on a version of Earth-2 that actually honours it's original history and concept, the sooner fans will flock back to these characters. Obviously it's going to require a clean reboot to reinstate the original status quo of these characters, but I also take comfort in knowing the new Earth-2 created by Michael Cotton and Daniel H. Wilson won't be missed by most people. 

02. Stop Putting Batman in Everything

This one pretty much speaks for itself. While there is no doubt Batman has a huge and passionate fan following, he is also not the character every DC fan wants to read about in every DC title. Batman is already the protagonist of various DC titles and other media as is, and certainly doesn't need more exposure. Fans also do not want to see other DC characters reduced or written as incompetent to make Batman look like the only good superhero amongst them. Superman fans, for example, do actually want to read about Clark Kent as the gentle young man who grew up in Smallville, works as a journalist in Metropolis, has a loving relationship with Lois Lane, and protects his new home from danger because he actually wants to make a difference as Superman. No Superman fan wants a 'Batmanisation' of his story to cater to a group of fans who don't actually respect his character or narrative. 

Earth-2 and Justice Society fans are equally not interested in having a replacement Batman either in the form of Thomas Wayne, or some random usurper with the name 'Dick Grayson' slapped on for name recognition. The only Batman Earth-2 and Justice Society fans care about is the one who fathered the Huntress with Selina Kyle, Bruce Wayne. Beyond that, Justice Society fans have no interest in Batman being in the front and centre of Earth-2 narratives, and only care about his character as it is relevant to the narrative of his daughter, Helena Wayne. On that note, few people care about Dick Grayson taking over the Bat narrative if his original history with Bruce and Helena isn't actually intact. The Earth-2 Grayson is a fan favourite character, but only as the circus acrobat Bruce Wayne mentored and raised like a son, and had an existing relationship with Bruce's daughter Helena. Few people are interested in the generic white guy who became a superhero because his wife got stuffed in the fridge, especially since unoriginal narratives such as these are a penny a dozen. 

03. Establish a More Diverse Editorial Structure

This is undoubtedly the most important change that needs to happen at DC. Aside from the fact that Eddie Berganza should've been fired a long time ago for things like sexual harassment and consistent ruination of many DC properties over the years, there is no reason properties like Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Justice Society shouldn't have their own offices. Considering how diverse these intellectual properties are (both on the front of characters and narrative), they need an equally diverse structure behind them. Without women, people of colour, and queer people working behind the scenes to develop stories fronted by characters who are members of these groups, they're not always going to be well represented. This has been the persistent problem with having an all white male editorial structure behind Superman, Wonder Woman, and Earth-2 in particular. 

Misogyny, for example, has no place in either a Superman, Wonder Woman, or Justice Society narrative. These are three intellectual properties that have a history of challenging this issue by presenting its female characters with respect, and as nuanced heroines with equally complex narratives. Any regression from this status quo is harmful to all three franchises, and alienates a good portion of DC's audience. We're already seeing the consequences of this actually, with the rock-bottom sales all three properties saw over the course of 2015, without any indication of improvement. This is never a good sign for any of DC's flagship titles, but it does nonetheless make a case for why a new editorial structure is needed. If DC doesn't have editors who understand Wonder Woman, Superman, or the Justice Society (let alone their appeal to fans), they are never going hire the right creators to develop stories for these properties. This is literally the pattern that we saw with all three of these franchises over the course of five years. 

If Michael Cotton and Eddie Berganza do not understand Wonder Woman as an individual who was raised in an all female society to be wise, compassionate, and a fighter for justice, they will never think to hire someone like Renae De Liz (who clearly loves and understands the character) to develop her story for the mainstream audience. If they similarly do not understand Superman as an alien who embraces his humanity and protects the world he is a part of through his love for humanity--and want to develop him as a dudebro who embodies toxic masculinity--they will never allow progressive writers like Greg Pak to develop the character as the beacon of hope we know him for. If these men similarly do not think of the Justice Society characters as mainstream DC Universe characters who happen to exist on a parallel Earth, and want to use their 'alternate universe' status to abuse them through mean-spirited narratives like Earth-2: World's End, that right there is grounds for termination.

I can't emphasise enough how important it is for DC Comics to have competent editors behind their three best selling properties, as well as their lesser known properties. A competent editor is themselves a fan of DC Comics characters and wants to develop modern stories with them in ways that honour the creative vision of their original creators. A competent editor will actually understand the characters they are in charge of, and isn't going to try to 'fix' their foundations with ideas that don't actually fit them. They will instead allow the characters to evolve in ways that make them more accessible to new diverse readers, but without missing the point of their characters. A competent editor will value the thoughts of women and other diverse readers and won't find new ways to remind these groups of their 'unwelcome' status to their clubs. This is, in fact, a big part of why DC needs more women and diverse groups of people working as editors on their books. 

As much as there are white male editors who value the existence of diverse readers and want to develop comics that are inclusive of these groups, they are also not the only group of people DC should be looking for when hiring new editors. Women, people of colour, and queer people who are DC Comics fans and value good representation do exist. (I'm in all of these groups, for example). They also shouldn't resort to scraping the bottom of the barrel when they can't find enough progressive white men to edit their books, or give jobs to their friends who happen to be editors in other places, but don't really bring the right set of skills, insight, or qualifications to the table. The point is DC needs diverse voices to truly diversify their line, and they need to get rid of anything that gets in the way of that.

I realise the likelihood of getting my ideal DC Universe with the editorial structure I want is about a realistic as me booking a trip to the Gliese 667 star system under the current environment. But I still hope the #Rebirth initiative will at least acknowledge the problems addressed above, and will take the necessary steps to restoring quality to all of DC's intellectual properties. DC literally can no longer afford to continue the problems that have been hurting their various titles without further digging themselves into the commercial grave they've dug themselves into in recent times. Fans like myself also want to be able to talk about the stories and characters we enjoy without having to constantly address problems with their corporate structure. Contrary to popular opinion, fans do not actually like complaining about the things they love, and doing so exhausts more energy than it should warrant.

1 comment:

  1. You read my mind. I am obsessed with Huntress, in all her forms, but most of all as Helena Wayne, and her Earth 2 stories. When I heard of the rebirth, this was the first question I asked. You know what never fails? When I finally except something I don't like, and even transform my energy to learn to like it, it changes. I haven't been able to stand Earth 2 since Thomas Wayne came in and usurped Helena's place, and the torture porn that was the mini series, but I read it all anyway, because it was the only way to see Helena. I've been with her through bad, good, and hopefully better. I learned to accept Thomas because at least they were exploring her relationship with her grandfather. I'll tell you something. At least with Thomas they had something to work with, an older drug addict story is almost never told, and they could work with her helping him recover and focus on his doctor skill, but then he blew up for no reason and then we have Dick Grayson, who spent a day or two with Thomas and is wearing his costume? They refrigerate grandpa AND an earth 2 Barbara Gordon for this Johnny come even more lately? You explored this in a brilliant article I read. Now when Dan Abnett was poised to somehow make this all work and was being written by someone I KNEW understood the characters, and now another reboot? Before when it was written terribly I couldn't wait for change, but now I wonder what you do? Where will Helena (and Kara) end up? Do they just jettison all these characters instead of say, just moving the original ones to W.W. II? Alan Scott will he be straight again? Will Jade and Obsidian and all of Infinity return? These questions are torture, but once I see one picture of Helena and the creative team, I will calm down, hopefully. I hope they learned their lesson this time. Competence is key, like you say, or this will all have been for naught.