So Bleeding Cool ran this headline over the weekend:
Now, this isn’t really the kind of news I normally feel a great need to write about. It’s funnybook business as usual, after all, as the Big Two comics publishers become more and more adept at manipulating their fans into spending too much money. There’ll be some lip service paid to how they’re repositioning the line with exciting new directions that warrant all these new #1s. They’ll move some creative teams around. Launch a few new series (some of which will really just be rejiggerings of existing books). And then business will continue as usual. Nothing worth real in-depth thought.
But something in that Bleeding Cool headline caught my eye this time. It’s the bit about “a film and TV bent.”
What that means, if Rich has his rumors facts straight, is that they’ll be focusing much more on characters with movies and TV shows developed around them. And I suppose that plan makes sense from the perspective of the people who own DC Comics. As the recent cancellation of Fantastic Four has taught us, after all, corporate spandex comics are now primarily seen as advertising by their Evil Overlords in the film industry. So of course they’re going to focus the publishing line on things they’re also putting in front of the cameras.
That means you can count on lots of Superman and Batman, some Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn, a smattering of Justice League and Suicide Squad, and of course plenty of Flash and Green Arrow. And, one would imagine, a bit of Supergirl, too.
I mean, they may have utterly failed to plan anything to capitalize on that character’s TV success, but you’d think they’d put something together by summer, wouldn’t you? Something more than the TV show adaptation they launched today?
But Supergirl gets me closer to my point here, and what I initially thought that headline meant: that they were going to completely reboot the DC Universe again, with an eye toward making the characters feel more like their screen counterparts. That’s what really caught my eye, because the first thing that popped into my head when I read it was…
“They could do a lot worse.”
Seriously. Think about it for a minute.
A female-friendly Supergirl comic? One that establishes her as a character in her own right, with a tone of youthful hope and possibility?
Or a Flash comic that’s all about a fun 21st-Century remix of Silver Age craziness?
Or even a Teen Titans comic using the Wolfman / Perez team, but done with a splash of retro-mod style that hearkens back to the team’s Sixties roots?
So, yeah. Seriously. They could do a lot worse.
There would be pitfalls to it, of course. There’s always the danger that they’d wind up being perceived as second-rate versions of the television shows. So they’d have be careful to take inspiration from the screen while maintaining enough differences that the comics remain their own thing. And they’d have to remember to sometimes do things that are bigger and wilder than what you can get away with on camera, too. But it’s not an idea I’d disregard out of hand.
I’d even be all for making Superman hew a bit closer to Man of Steel. Now, I know what the knee-jerk fanboy reaction to that would be: we’d be getting a Superman who’s willing to let thousands of people die while he makes out with his girlfriend and blah blah blah.
But screw those guys. Man of Steel is hardly a perfect film, but making the death toll the sole thing you take away from it is just bad reading. Yes, lots of people die in the battle with Zod’s army. But I’m okay with that, as a plot point. It speaks to Pa Kent’s fears, and the need for self-control he instills in the young Clark. It underscores the cost of combat, and the need for Superman to be careful with the fragile human world he’s decided to make himself part of.
So what I see in Man of Steel is a modern take on Superman built around themes of trust, heroism, and responsibility. It’s a movie about growing up, making hard choices (some of them wrong), and learning how to be a hero. It’s a Superman origin that humanizes him while laying a solid new foundation for the character everyone knows.
You couldn’t ask for a better template for relaunch than that. It offers opportunities for learning, opportunities for conflict, and for more sticky moral issues to be raised in stories going forward. Sounds like the stuff of gripping drama to me, especially for a character you have to attack emotionally rather than physically. Superman’s invulnerability makes it difficult at best to offer him credible physical threats month after month, so you attack him mentally and morally. Stab him in the heart, and you’ve got the audience’s attention.
Now, I know I’m not going to convince anyone who already hates Man of Steel, and that’s okay. I don’t like all the DC screen adaptations, either. I’ve never been much on Arrow, for instance, and don’t get me started on how much I hated Constantine. And though we can’t really judge Suicide Squad until it’s actually been released, it does seem to be perpetuating the “psycho sex-pot” masturbation fantasy version of Harley Quinn, and that’s just not something I can get behind. I’m neither a purist nor a prude, but when you’ve got a character who’s both wildly popular and not off-putting to women, there’s no need to suddenly start dressing her up like a hooker.
To be fair, Amanda Conner has worked hard to back off the hooker fashion, slowly changing things until it looks a bit more like athletic gear…
…but come on! The Joker still mostly dresses like a riverboat gambler for one reason: it’s an iconic look. So it’s hard to justify jettisoning a genuinely classic costume like Bruce Timm’s original Harley design, just to show some skin. But now I’m fighting the “sexism in comics” battle, and that’s not what I’m here to do. So let’s move on.
Now that I’ve talked this out a bit more, I think the real appeal of following in the footsteps of the screen adaptations is that they have the advantage of being able to draw on 75 years worth of stories for inspiration. They can cherry-pick the best characters and stories, avoid the things that didn’t work, and even mix and match things, putting together pieces that fit even if they weren’t originally part of the puzzle (such as making Martian Manhunter part of Supergirl). Every one of those adaptations can be a “greatest hits” version of the character, because they’re willing to start from scratch every time.
That’s something mainstream super hero comics seldom do. The reboots always feel kind of half-assed and ill-conceived. They either leave too much old stuff hanging around so as not to alienate long-time readers (as they did after Crisis on Infinite Earths), or they go with all-new takes that are less than inspired.
Which brings us back to my initial reaction: They could do worse. And in point of fact, they have been doing worse. Not across the board, certainly. But overall, I’d argue that DC’s screen adaptations in recent years have been generally better than their comics. I mean, even Gotham has given us the first version of the Penguin that’s worked since 1966. So if they were to start doing things more like the movies and TV, it might not be such a bad thing.
Much as that pains me to say.