I do my best not to talk about publishers around here. I just don’t get the fascination comics fans have with them. Nobody cares who publishes the new Stephen King novel, after all. So why should I care who publishes the new Alan Moore? Just because it’s comics? That’s a terrible reason. It’s the writers and artists who make the things worth reading, so it’s the writers and artists that I focus on.
Every once in a while, though, a publisher does something that’s actually worth talking about. A change in philosophy, or a new line of books with an interesting perspective. Something that gets my attention. DC Comics is in the midst of something like that now, with their “DC YOU” campaign. It’s a terrible name, I’ll admit. The worst kind of smarmy marketing-speak, aimed (I assume) at a Millennial readership they may or may not have. It’s an easy thing to be cynical about, and an even easier thing to mock.
The idea behind DC YOU, though, is something I’m all for: fresh perspectives and creative freedom. Shocking the things a company will try when they’re desperate.
Now, not everything under the “DC YOU” banner is fresh and exciting, of course. It’s giving us the single worst Batman costume in history, for instance:
Plus, it’s written and drawn by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, the same guys who’ve been turning out all those Batman comics I haven’t wanted to read over the last few years. So, bleah.
But, hey! At least they’re finally letting Wonder Woman put some pants on.
And I’m all for the direction Gene Yang’s going in with Superman. Not necessarily the revealing of the secret identity; I’m not inherently offended by that, but I also don’t really care about it one way or the other. It’s the gimmick, the flashy attention-getter they’re using to get people in the door. But I’m a lot more interested in some of the other stuff he’s delving into. Because it looks like he’s actually going to pick up the ball from Grant Morrison’s Action Comics and deal with the idea of Superman as a hero to the common man. That tension between his desire to help on the small scale, while having a responsibility to focus instead on the large, is a great dramatic hook. Can’t believe they haven’t done more with it before now. Add in the “alien among us” paranoia (which is admittedly cribbed from the current film series), and it sounds like a potent starting point for a fresh take on the original super hero. I might even give this a try for an issue or two, once the digital price drops to something I’m willing to pay.
But we’re still talking about the funnybooks-as-usual stuff here. The big, splashy, headline-grabbing comics that obviously have a bit of editorial dictate behind them. What’s far more interesting to me are the smaller books. The second and third tier books, where DC’s actually taking some chances, and doing some things that are *gasp* kind of interesting. This is where the “fresh take” and “creative freedom” come in. I’m seeing a lot of series announcements that look fun. Smart. And maybe most importantly, things that feel like they might have been created in the current century.
Not all of it appeals to me as a reader, of course, but that’s okay. I’m a 46-year-old white male with rather rarified tastes. But DC’s putting out books with appeal for women, teenagers, and mainstream dork fiction fans. The kind of people who’ve made Joss Whedon a major Hollywood player, and who keep shows like Supernatural and its ilk on the air. That’s a big audience, and one that I’m really happy to see a major comics publisher trying to attract.
I’m also happy that a lot of this stuff, even the stuff I’m not personally interested in, looks like it’s really well done. Take Heath Corson and Gustavo Duarte’s Bizarro, for instance:
Heh. Looks like fun. The book as a whole (or, rather, the preview story that panel’s taken from) was a little cute for my taste (Dork Farm Rule Numba One: Can’t Abide Cute). But it’s well-done. Some nice cartooning, and a few moments like the one above that made me laugh. This is another one I might pick up when the digital price drops a bit.
But I’m still talking about books I like the idea of, rather than books I actually decided to spend money on. Of those, there are two I thought worth a proper review…
by Mark Russell, Ben Caldwell, and John Lucas
For my money, the best of the lot. This is a revival of an early-70s Joe Simon series, about the first teen president. That one was well-intentioned, but felt a like something written by an out-of-touch old guy. This one feels a bit more of its time. But it’s also not trying to tap into youth culture so much as it’s offering up social satire.
Set in a near-future world of holographic interwebs and a society even more steeped in electronic culture, it’s about the major parties’ cynical attempts to find an electable candidate…
…and how an Anonymous-backed joke candidate winds up taking the election. It’s funny, if not especially dangerous, satire. It’s nothing that’s going to have John Oliver looking back over his shoulder, at any rate. But it made me laugh, and had a few surprisingly dark moments.
All in all, a pleasant way to blow three dollars on digital ephemera. The jury’s still out on whether I’ll pay that much for the rest, or wait for the price to drop. But one way or another, I will be coming back for more.
Black Canary 1
by Brenden Fletcher and Annie Wu
A sorta-kinda spin-off of the revamped Batgirl. That book’s success is what sparked DC’s willingness to offer these fresher, lighter takes on things, and this one is written by its co-writer, Brenden Fletcher. As such, I wasn’t surprised to find that it had some of that book’s shortcomings: it’s a little too glib, a little too cute, and it has a preposterous plot element or two that we’re supposed to take at least somewhat seriously. It puts me in mind of a certain brand of serio-comic anime, mixed with some of the sensibilities of Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye. Except not as sharp.
This is not to say that it’s terrible, however. I like the premise quite a bit: Black Canary fronts a band, in hope of making enough money to get her geared up and back in the super hero game. Trouble follows her around, though, and she’s starting to get a reputation:
As an old punk rocker, I really appreciate the way they captured the feel of the music zine there. That’s not the best drawing Annie Wu turns in for the issue, I’ll grant you. But the stiff angularity of it fits the design aesthetic perfectly. And Wu gets to shine on other pages. That kick-ass cover up above is one example of that. But with her later pitch-perfect look at Canary’s band…
…or in the dynamic, pop-art-flavored fight scenes…
…Annie Wu is the business. Delicate and rough-edged, all at the same time. Capable of pulling off both the comedy and the drama. She’s gotten better since her issues of Fraction’s (previously-mentioned) Hawkeye. And I liked her on that quite a bit, especially by the end of her tenure. It feels like she’s really cutting loose here, though, and that’s fun to see. She’s pretty great.
So great that I wish I liked the story more. It’s not bad, per se. I really, REALLY want to like it, and there is a lot to like in it. There’s just maybe not enough to like that I’m going to find it worth the money in the long run. But, man. I dig the visual aesthetic Wu’s creating here, so we’ll see. Between that, and the story beats I do like, that might be enough to bring me back once the price drops. Time will tell.
So! DC YOU! Not the most ringing endorsement, I suppose. But like I said, I don’t think all these comics are aimed at me. They’re aimed at a younger, more female, more mainstream audience. We need that kind of diversity in comics, so I hope they find their readership. But even if they don’t, it’ll be a refreshing change while it lasts.