Creators Describe Why Recent Comics History is Often Sugarcoated

 

There’s been a whole interview published by Polygon where some of the most PC staffers of the time allegedly tell what went wrong with the New 52 a decade back (and I should warn that ultra-leftist Graeme McMillan wrote it). First, I thought to present what Jim Zub, of all people, is saying about not just DC and this article, but also Marvel:

 

 

Well first, off, I’m afraid I’ll have to firmly disagree on “good overview”, considering most of the people interviewed are men like Dan DiDio, who can’t be expected to give any honest input. There’s only so much damage he caused to their reputation he’s unlikely to admit, if at all.

 

 

Coming from somebody who’s been something of an apologist or a sugarcoater himself (I can’t seem to remember him ever saying the recent mistreatment of Scarlet Witch for the sake of a publicity stunt was atrocious), that’s certainly surprising, suggesting he may be ready to jump ship from the Big Two, based on their terrible management, both artistically and business. I’ve read an article or two the past where so far, they’ll tell you what went wrong in the 70s and 80s, but by the time the 90s is done, they veer away from anything meaty, and keep to an extremely superficial level. If Sean Howe didn’t ask Joe Quesada whether he had any regrets over marginalizing Mary Jane Watson, to name but one example, that says quite a bit about what’s wrong with history coverage. One more reason why, if Quesada hasn’t apologized for wasting 20 years worth of Spider-Man stories on his narrow, slapdash visions, he likely never will.

 

With that told, let’s turn to the interview itself, which begins like this:

 

On Aug. 31, 2011, the comic book industry was supposed to change forever. The release of Justice League #1 wouldn’t just relaunch the premier superteam of DC Comics with a new origin story, but be the first of 52 new comic book series that would establish a fresh incarnation of the main DC universe. The initiative, launching throughout September 2011, was called “The New 52,” and it marked the company’s first attempt in more than two decades to hit the reset button on its sprawling continuity. Every superhero in the DC universe was in for a major update, with the hope of attracting a new generation of readers who could turn the publisher’s fortunes around.

 

IIRC, Green Lantern and Batman were exceptions to this reboot, which is surely one of the biggest problems with its whole mismanagement. Another would definitely be the changing of Silver Age Flash Barry Allen’s background to a more grisly origin, where his parents were murdered, and that already happened 2 years before the reboot. All just so they could make a famous Silver Age creation’s background pretty much the same as any other. And while Wally West may have since been restored as the main Flash star, till this day, it doesn’t look like Barry Allen’s far less grisly origin was ever restored as canon.

 

Debuting to impressive sales, the New 52 temporarily made DC Comics the dominant force in the industry. The event redefined the company’s reputation among fans and creators — for good and ill, with as many upset about the wholesale rejection of decades of stories as excited about the new beginning it offered. Outside of comics, meanwhile, Hollywood’s coinciding superhero boom came along just in time for the New 52’s updated origin stories to inform Warner Bros.’ Justice League, Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad, and Shazam! franchises, enshrining those changes in the minds of millions of moviegoers.

 

Without sales figures, there’s no use in telling us this. Many launches have seemingly begun strong, only to taper off later, because audiences are capable of realizing these aren’t really the big deal they’re made out by the press to be, and those really driving sales, if they do, are speculators. Not to mention that much of the sales figures actually stress what’s sold to a store, rather than a customer. But, it’s fully expected Polygon would be so otherwise dishonest and superficial. It’s also decidedly galling how they won’t take sides in the audience, though the bias in favor of the publishers pretty much says where they’re going with this. And it does make clear this whole reboot was all for the sake of giving Hollywood a platform on which to base their adaptations, most of which haven’t worked well, seeing how the Justice League movie may never get a sequel.

 

But the relaunch soon ran into trouble. Within months of its kickoff, sales of the New 52 fell on all but a handful of titles, leading to multiple cancellations and the creation of a number of replacement series that themselves would be brought to quick conclusions due to lack of sales. Behind the scenes, many creators were dealing with confusing and contradictory instructions given to them by editors and executives, or worrying about their job stability as the company tried to regain the momentum the New 52 had in its initial weeks. Of the many prominent participants Polygon contacted for this piece, many declined to speak on the subject, preferring to put a stressful period behind them.

In the end, the industry didn’t change forever as a result of the New 52 — and, in fact, neither did the DC universe. Within years, 2016’s DC Universe Rebirth, 2017’s Doomsday Clock, and 2019’s Dark Knights: Death Metal undid the continuity changes of the reboot, piece by piece. Nonetheless, the New 52 proved to be a seismic event in comics, demonstrating that one of the two largest publishers in the industry was willing to bet everything — even its own history — for the potential of a larger fan base, and what doing so actually meant in practice.

 

But they never got that “bigger” fanbase, because even after the deed was done in 2011, it was clear they were only virtue-signaling, continuing to lay out early groundswork for SJW pandering, with the Golden Age Green Lantern one of the biggest victims, something that hasn’t changed so far, and under the current situation, there’s no chance they’ll let go of the LGBT angle they forced upon him. I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s discouraged some cosplayers from wearing party costumes based on the Golden Age design to conventions as a result, and assuming there’s any toy merchandise based on Alan, that could’ve suffered as a result.

 

 

Now here’s what some of the interviewees say, starting with who else but DiDio himself, and he’s predictably evasive:

 

The origin [of the New 52] comes from a couple of places. First things first: We had a change in management. We had Diane Nelson coming in [as DC’s new president]. And she really wanted to challenge us and really to make an impression and a statement. So we needed to make a statement. That’s part one.

Part two was the market was extraordinarily soft. Our numbers were off by double digits — I want to say 30 to 40 percent, some big number from what it was from the previous year — and trade sales were slowing down, and periodical sales were slowing down. It wasn’t just DC; it was the whole marketplace.

I used to joke with Jim [Lee, at the time DiDio’s partner as co-publisher, and current publisher at DC Comics], which is not a joke. I used to say, “I don’t want us to be co-publishers and watch it run into the ground. That’s not why we took the job.”

 

I don’t buy this. He took all sorts of steps that alienated readers, starting with the Identity Crisis monstrosity and the sexual violence it minimized through cheap sensationalism, extended to killing off and criminalizing characters like Spoiler, Sue Dibny, Jean Loring, Blue Beetle, Firestorm, Leslie Thompkins, and they kept repeatedly launching one company wide crossover after another every year, making it difficult to find a title that wasn’t connected in some way or other to a “major event”. And of course, the writers they hired became increasingly leftist, while conservatives Chuck Dixon were driven out, along with people whose viewpoints didn’t coincide with their extreme liberal bents. One of those liberals was Judd Winick, who gave input to this article, and brought up said crossovers:

 

The year prior to the New 52, we had a pretty big meeting at the DC offices in New York, where a bunch of us were discussing a whole mess of stuff, but the focus of it was coming up with stories that would stem from the Flashpoint crossover.

In that meeting, it was discussed that maybe it would be interesting/creative/cool if we utilize Flashpoint in the same way the original Crisis was utilized, or a number of crossovers: “Maybe we can use Flashpoint to have some substantial story carry over into the main continuity;” like, “Maybe we come out of Flashpoint and Lois and Clark are no longer married, and Lois Lane does not know he’s Superman,” something like that. And, within that, there was a lot of time bouncing around some ideas. Again, ideas of what would be the one or two or three things that will change coming out of Flashpoint. I think that was the creative spark.

 

 

 

What creativity are we talking about? He for one had none to offer but early social justice ideology, recalling he exploited Green Lantern for promoting LGBT ideology towards the end of the Kyle Rayner run. And if memory serves, Winick left DC shortly after, and hasn’t written much for comicdom since. In fairness, maybe he got tired of the directionless path they were taking. Even though he himself had blame to shoulder for where they went. And look at that, he had no issue with dissolving the marriage between Superman and Lois. Who says Marvel was the only one going out of their way to break up a notable marriage? Here’s another statement made by DiDio, and this is even more telling of how full he is of himself:

 

From the moment I started at DC […] I was always trying to get to that spot where we can sort of restart the wheel and really create this entry point for everybody to jump on, and contemporize our characters.

Marvel had such success with [Miles Morales and the Ultimate line], and I kept on pointing to that. I thought to myself, We needed that. I tried a couple of times — the All-Star line was supposed to be a shot at that, the Earth One books were supposed to be shot at that. They were good as stand-alone concepts, and we got some great work from that, but it didn’t drive a line. And ultimately, the only way it works is if you drive the cohesiveness of the line. We were doing it piecemeal, but to really make an impression, to really catch the attention of the marketplace, you had to do something dramatic. And ultimately, that’s what turned into the New 52.

 

He really believes Marvel had so much success with Morales, that he was prompted to continue pushing the diversity narrative he and his staff were early beginners of. In fact, he confirms it further on:

 

When I looked at the New 52, it wasn’t just about relaunching the books, but also diversifying the product and the characters. And everything was about diversification, before “diversification” became a buzzword.

We really wanted to make sure we were reaching out and trying different things and different types of stories. As much as people talk about Superman or Batman, or any one of the relaunches of the primary characters, I was more excited about the Men of Wars, or I, Vampires, and the other things that were part of that, because ultimately, that’s the part of comics that brings in the casual readers — people picking up books if they’re not superhero fans, but want to read the medium.

 

Straight from the mouth of somebody who successfully drove many casual readers out of the market through the advent of crossovers, which make it near impossible to find any self-contained storytelling, let alone plausibility. And while 3rd-tier titles and characters can have potential, it has to be based on merit, and DiDio’s very own lacking of the same is exactly why he wasn’t qualified for working on any of that. Nor, come to think of it, is Scott Snyder, who also spoke to Polygon:

 

There were a lot of people operating on good faith. A lot of editors working very hard to get great stories out there. Nobody edits comics who doesn’t love the characters, and love being a part of that world. There’s not a lot of glory in it. It was a strange environment, because there was so much excitement and enthusiasm from all of us, creators and editors; and from the top, from Dan and Jim. Their enthusiasm was infectious. They believed in all of it. And yet, because there wasn’t an underlying story, because there weren’t concretized rules, it kept changing all the time.

That sort of fluidity, that lack of rules, of blueprints, led to issues, because between different groups there were different ideas of what was DC history. So you’d do something and then you’d hear from a different group that one of the characters you mentioned [being] in the past wasn’t in the past anymore, because they had a new origin. Again, everyone was working out of love of story, trying to tell the best tales in their area. It was just difficult without more set rules.

 

He really believes that, doesn’t he? This despite the number of characters, minor or otherwise, who were subject to repellent abuse almost from the moment DiDio was in. The Silver Age Atom, lest I forget, was another one of those. Snyder has no business telling us the editors love the characters, regardless of whether they’re assigned or not. But pretty surprising he’d say there’s not much glory in it. Because that’s what you should really get into the profession for, not simply money. Next is more commentary by DiDio on the time they hired Grant Morrison to write Superman, and assigned Geoff Johns and Jim Lee to the Justice League:

 

We were trying to have our cake and eat it too, as the old expression goes. You’re trying to have that early point relaunch [and also] you’re trying to not to screw the pooch on your most popular franchises, because in order for Geoff and Jim’s book to work — a significant centerpiece of the line at that moment in time — all the other characters have to be established by that time to get on the team. [Also] we didn’t want to just have everybody’s origin told at the same time, because that gets tedious as well.

We loved Grant’s new ideas and takes on Superman, because there’s something really original and fresh going on there. I love that Superman so much. But the other side of the coin is, you want to have a Superman that plays alongside the Justice League book. The George and the Grant stories never really lined up and, in the end, for the fans that really follow the tight continuity, they had a hard time grasping how these two characters were the same one, or how that timeline worked.

 

Of course they’d love Morrison’s ideas. He’s such a leftist in his own way, what else could they see in him but perfect for their viewpoints? At least DiDio’s honest in one aspect: they were trying to have and eat their cake simultaneously, just to virtue-signal. Why does he think readers could have difficulty getting into both takes in 2 different titles? It goes without saying Johns’ take on the League was just one of their most pretentious entries, and IIRC, he went a cheap route drawing up a love affair between Superman and Wonder Woman, as though superhero comics couldn’t get more insular.

 

 

They also got input from animator Christy Marx, who’d been hired a decade ago to write a new take on Amethyst that never went anywhere:

 

I worked with editor Rachel Gluckstern, and I thoroughly enjoyed working with her. She’s a sharp, perceptive, and supportive editor. There were times when she had to come to me with last-minute, pain-in-the-ass requirements from the higher-ups, like having to suddenly insert an issue in Amethyst where she comes back to the DC universe world, even though this is right in the middle of a storyline I had going on in the [alternate dimension of] Gemworld. Or at the end, where I suddenly had to introduce [Justice League foe] Eclipso because they wanted more crossover with the larger DC universe.

Rachel did her best to come up with suggestions and helpful ideas to soften the impact of those requests. It made it tough to create a cohesive storyline, though, with sudden interruptions like that.

 

At least she’s more honest than most of the other interviewees here, that crossovers and editorial interference hurt storytelling, to the point where you don’t have a natural flow. They also got input from Robert Vendetti, who said:

 

Happy with what I’d done on Demon Knights, DC invited me to pitch for the main Green Lantern title, taking over with issue #21 after the departure of Geoff Johns. Beyond saying that there’d be a villains-themed month across the line that September, they wanted a Green Lantern event within the group to connect the titles under all the new creative teams. That was where Relic and the “Lights Out” storyline came from. I think at that point in my career I’d written less than 12 superhero comic books, so it was definitely a trial by fire.

 

Anybody willing to engage in a storyline emphasizing villains, one of the biggest insults to the intellect in modern event-storytelling, is only leaving a big stain on his record, and if Vendetti did that, it’s a mistake.

I also notice, coming from the interviewer, the following nonsensical fluff about the Batgirl title at the time:

 

Batgirl was a significant critical success for DC, described soon after its launch as “one of the pioneers of a new movement towards mainstream comics for a progressive young female audience” by Comics Alliance, an outlet that just a handful of years earlier had been leading the charge against DC for sexist creative choices.

The combination of critical and commercial success for Batgirl and Gotham Academy, along with the anarchic attitude of Harley Quinn — a title that offered DC its own Deadpool in spirit and sales power — allowed them to be the anchor of the year-long DCYOU brand. While the other series in the line didn’t attempt to reproduce the style of any of those three titles in a direct way, the three books had identified a new audience for DC properties that had been underserved by the New 52 as-was.

 

That Alliance article accuses the title of transphobia, so I’m pretty confused what’s going on here. Besides, was it truly a financial success? I know that since the time it was written artist Cameron Stewart, quite a leftist himself, was claimed by cancel culture over allegations of sexual misconduct, and may have mostly vanished since. Based on his ideological pursuits, it’s hard to feel sorry if he’s left the scene, having experienced the wrath of an ideology he himself upheld. And no sales figures provided, I see, to back up their questionable statements. What are they trying to prove anyway? That they can pander to ideologues, I guess, just as badly as Marvel has.

 

Dan DiDio (L) and Jim Lee from DC Publishers pose for a portrait in the Getty Images Portrait Studio

 

Here’s one more statement by DiDio:

 

There are a lot of really valid complaints, but not the ones you think.

 

If he’s implying his past publicity stunts and disrespect for the characters wasn’t reprehensible, nor the social justice pandering that came soon after, that’s no shock either. Of course, he’s clearly not going to admit to moral failure any more than serious artistic failure. That’s why, in the end, it’s all otherwise a pointless exercise in what went wrong, getting input from people least likely to admit the serious mistakes they made, rather than do some objective research of their own and write up a commentary to determine what errors resulted from all this poor management and judgement over the past 20 years. No wonder Polygon is such a useless entertainment site.

 

 

Originally published here.

Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1

JUST KEEPING THE LIGHTS ON