A few weeks ago, back when I started talking about my favorite comics of 2012, I mentioned that I kinda stopped following DC Comics at some point late last year. I said that between the Avengers movie, the book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe and Marvel’s “Marvel NOW!” initiative, I just felt like it was more of a Marvel year for me. So I’d like to take a few minutes to really expand on that and elaborate on what that means. I’d like to explain why I have, for the time being, stopped reading DC Comics.
First of all, I’d like to clarify that I do not wish for this to be an article that exists solely to bash DC or to slam them for their editorial choices or whatever. I’m a lifelong DC reader just as I am a lifelong Marvel reader. It was Batman that brought me into comics, and then later it was Spider-Man and the X-Men that kept me there. And there have been times throughout my career as a comics fan that I have swung more DC than Marvel, and vice versa. So this is not an attempt to shill for Marvel or to persuade readers to leave DC. I just want to analyze the two companies’ different initiatives and figure out where DC went wrong, for me, and where Marvel went right.
Let’s start at the beginning. In August of 2011, DC released Justice League, the first book of it’s New 52 relaunch. The book was written by DC’s Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns, and pencilled by it’s Co-Publisher, Jim Lee. It starred a new Justice League lineup, featuring the core heroes of the DCU, including Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Flash, Green Lantern and Aquaman. The former Teen Titan Cyborg was added to the roster as well, presumably to add some ethnic diversity to the lineup. The series was a widescreen, summer blockbuster-style action comic that showed Batman and Green Lantern, not yet friends, on the trail of a parademon in Gotham City. The hunt lead them to crossing paths with the other superheroes and to eventually form a united front against the parademon’s master, Darkseid.
For me, this signaled the beginning of the end. Johns and Lee were taking point in the New 52, and I wasn’t convinced that was the direction I wanted to go in. To be sure, I’ve always liked Jim Lee’s art. One of the first comics I remember owning and really cherishing as a kid was X-Men #1. Growing up, he was the man. However, seeing his art on DC characters just doesn’t make sense to me for some reason. It’s like putting Curt Swan on the X-Men. Which isn’t to say his art was bad, it was top-notch, it just seemed like an awkward fit.
And I’ve just never been a fan of Geoff Johns for some reason. I kinda feel like he’s a writer who chooses to write comics about comics instead of using them to write about, like, us. Which is fine, I just don’t enjoy that stuff as much. I remember thinking that the first few issues of the new Justice League series felt a little bland and boring to me, and agreeing with another critic (I can’t remember who) who criticized Johns for continuously using the arrival of a new character as the cliffhanger for the next issue. Even though we knew these characters had to be in the book because they were on the cover of the first issue.
But probably what landed the worst with me were the costume redesigns. The spandex and red underwear that had survived for generations was now replaced with funny-looking matching collars and inelegant, fussy piping and like every square inch had to suggest some kind of unrealistic, kitschy, early-’90s cyborg armor. It pretty much looked dumb on every character except that one that is intended to look like a cyborg. Because his name is Cyborg. Everyone else looked like a bad action figure. So what you have is a team consisting of the most iconic members of the DCU pantheon, and none of them look iconic. None of them have the same grandeur and splendor that they once had because they look like they’re being drawn for Marvel in 1992. It’s obnoxious.
And those are, in a nutshell, my two main problems with the entire New 52. First of all, none of the characters feel like the real characters anymore. They feel like some kind of weird “What if… the Image Comics co-founders had created the DCU!” Elseworlds story. Like in trying to be new and edgy, and to shed the stigma of DC Comics being “your dad’s comics,” they accidentally went for what was new and edgy for Marvel in the early ‘90s. At least visually. And while I didn’t have a chance to read all of the New 52 titles (and there were some stellar titles that I did read, such as Wonder Woman and Batwoman), I kept seeing the same horrendous ‘90s design motifs and dull character choices popping up throughout the line.
And my second problem with it was that DC was throwing out the baby with the bathwater by trying to make their characters seem more grounded. It’s pretty well understood by now that DC comes across as a bit ashamed of itself for having the more fanciful superheroes of the Big Two. And while creators like Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely have shown them how they can take these larger-than-life characters and focus on what makes them inspiring and play those aspects up to make comics that are sophisticated and engaging while owning up to their own goofy nature, DC would rather not do that. They’d like to stick with what Frank Miller and Alan Moore did for them 30 years ago and reduce everything down to something that they can pass off as more realistic, which means, essentially giving Superman a suit of armor and taking away his briefs. Because that’s what they care about.
So while I really dug Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman for a while (The Court of Owls thing went on too long for me and got to be pretty soap opera-y by the end of it), and I was loving Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman, I just couldn’t stay with it. Not while Marvel was doing something far more interesting with their relaunch-y type thing.
While DC was trying to take their characters more seriously, Marvel was having a blast with theirs. Rick Remender and John Romita Jr. shot Captain America into space. Matt Fraction and Mike Allred switched the Fantastic Four out with a bunch of b- and c-listers in hip, retro costumes. Dan Slott and Ryan Stegman had Spider-Man and Doc Ock switch brains. Even the dialogue is more fun at Marvel than at DC, with guys Kieron Gillen and Jason Aaron writing characters who talk the way I talk and emote the way I emote and kick ass the way I… wish I kicked ass. Marvel NOW! feels more comic book-y and yet it feels more believable at the same time. Ultimately, it’s just more fresh, more forward-thinking, and more fun.
Anyway, that’s where I’m coming from when I say that I’ve stopped caring entirely about what happens in the DCU. When I say that I’ve walked away from those comics and have become, for the time being a fulltime Marvel man. I don’t expect this change to be permanent, just as no change in comic books is ever permanent. And I am aware that this is just one person’s opinion, and there are probably those of you out there who have the exact polar opposite viewpoint as me, and that’s totally fine. I’m just adding to the discussion here. I want to read DC again, I want those characters to woo me back to their stories, but in its current iteration I find that universe to be even more pretentious and insulated and “uncool” than it’s ever been before. I guess it just comes down to me and my personal tastes. I’m a guy who likes fun. I don’t like taking things too seriously. I just wish the DCU could take itself a lot less seriously. I just wish it could have more fun. I mean, these are still comic books, right?
Mike, I’m happy to read this essay and I plan to exploit the hell out of it. You see, I’m a 56-year-old comics fan (they were 12 cents each when I started reading, gang) and for the half-century that I’ve been reading them I’ve fluctuated between allegiance to DC and to Marvel. Currently I would consider myself more of a DC fan, although I do consider the Marvel Studios run of blockbusters the Perfect Storm of superhero presentation. I agree with everything you say about the New 52 in this essay, and hereafter, whenever I get into a discussion with someone about the New 52, I’m simply going to point them toward this essay and say, “What he said.” Because even though I agree with you point by point, if I were to say it myself, most folks would say, “Oh, the old guy just longs for the good old days.” Not to be ageist, but coming from someone of your age, these same opinions carry just a little more credence.
I’ve been following the New 52 titles for the most part, but basically I’m sitting this particular iteration cycle out. DC reinvents itself so often now, they could just store the “Look, We’re New!” press releases with the Christmas decorations. Eventually Johns and Lee will move along and some other creators (perhaps you?) will come in, look at all the V-necks and piping, exclaim, “Gimme a break,” blow the whole thing up (again) and bring DC back to the red tights and fun it used to have.
I am new to the world of collecting comics, although I’m not a complete novice since my uncle did hand down over a hundred Amazing Spider-man comics from decades ago when I was about ten or so. I am buying comics from Image, Dark Horse, and DC, however, I am purposely avoiding Marvel. Why? For one, the amount of mythology contained in a single comic book uni(multi)verse is simply overwhelming, especially for a new reader. Secondly, collecting comics gets to be surprisingly expensive. For those two reasons, I pledged allegiance to DC. Plus, I was won over in my teen years with Cartoon Network’s animated Justice League. Another benefit DC offers is a friendliness to new readers with the New 52 that wasn’t communicated by Marvel.
“For one, the amount of mythology contained in a single comic book uni(multi)verse is simply overwhelming, especially for a new reader.”
I always have a problem whenever I see this used as an excuse or “reason” for someone not reading a certain company’s product…no matter how good it is. It’s complete BS:
As someone who has read on and off for most of his life, when I come back from those “breaks” getting back into a storyline or coming into a new storyline has never been an issue…even when I missed five years worth of material. Most of the time the “knowledge” you seem to be frightened of isn’t actually required to understand or enjoy a current storyline and even if it is the information is readily available, especially in today’s world thanks to this little invention called the Internet. Years ago it was a valid excuse, as you had to hope the material you required or desired was available in TPB (and again, in today’s marketplace EVERYTHING is, where as years ago the TPB format was used sparingly) in order to save oneself from searching through long box after long box of stores back issues as you hunted for what you missed. Of course, some would say (myself included) that little aspect of this medium which is vanishing (because of attitudes such as yours, a symptom of an instant gratification society) was enjoyable, unique and kept retailers in business.
I’d also like to point out that your defense of DC and their supposed “readily accessible to new readers” description is misleading and a simplification. Huge parts of old continuity are still intact (particularly in the case of Batman and Green Lantern), so it’s not exactly a clean slate- in fact, that condition of the “New 52″ reality is especially confusing and complicated. I think trying to understand that and asking readers to accept that particular conceit is gross, outrageous, disingenuous, and requires an amount of thought and understanding far beyond anything now published by Marvel.
Having started another “in” period of comic book reading starting with Flashpoint and the introduction of the “New 52″ (and because of them, the news of it is what drew me into a comic book shop once again) I find DC’s output not only boring and a rehash of old concepts, but completely confusing and ludicrous.
I couldn’t agree more. DC has become and poor man’s 1990′s version of Marvel. I suppose with the success of Smallville and the Nolan Batman movies it was inevitable, but in doing so the DC powers that be have moved away from what made DC DC.
Someone once wrote that many Marvel characters were who we are and that DC characters were who we aspired to be. Of course there’s some of both in each, but now DC has little in the way of characters I’d aspire to be.
With regards to the costumes, for the most part the nu52 has taken classics designs that have lasts decades, are instantly recognizable and identifiable around the world and made them look dated and out of style and derivative. I’ve given up on Superman altogether and am looking forward to seeing him when he gets his trunks back.
It’s a pity that the Snyder Superman movie looks to have made so many the same mistakes as the nu52.
I can see your perspective on all of your points except for the issue of the trunks. You left superman comics because the costume was too different? And you’ll come back once he starts wearing his underwear on the outside again? Characters will stagnate as will their stories if authors are not allowed to present the character from a new, fresh perspective. Their costumes and art follow the same logic. How can the industry and stories progress without change? They can’t. Costume and personality changes are necessary to the growth of the industry. And the same is true for the real world. We, humans, society, culture, technology, music, art, literature, medicine, cannot and will not grow or progress if we stagnate. Growth is absolutely impossible in an unchanging medium.
The thing is, they’ve drastically tried changing Superman’s look before and every time they’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and I kinda feel like this time is no exception. Updating your brand is fine, but killing your brand’s identity in the process is no bueno.
(There has also consistently been subtle tweaks to his costume over the years, little nips and tucks that eventually lead us to the iconic Superman look, just like with Batman and Micky Mouse and the Coca-Cola logo. Those seem to work best and are overall less jarring and feel more organic.)
Plus, I mean, give the guy his underwear back. The core concept of Superman is much more powerful than whether or not he has little red trunks on over his costume. “All-Star Superman” has proven that. Plus it’s all a pretty silly idea in the first place. He might as well be dressed like a 1930s circus strongman. Why the hell not? He looks awesome that way. This new guy looks like a tool.
As you’ve stated, you’re new to comic books. So the ignorance shown with this statement, “Characters will stagnate as will their stories if authors are not allowed to present the character from a new, fresh perspective.”, is forgivable.
The problem with it is that the ideas behind the revamping of the heroes of the DC Universe aren’t fresh or new. They are retreads and re-visitations to ideas explored a decade or two ago. The “New 52″ isn’t progress, it is a Regression.
You seem opposed to buying back issues and older material, but if you wish to experience and learn what it is that I am saying (and other “old timers” who seem to have the same complaints) just read anything published by Marvel in the 90′s, the original books from the Image launch, and Frank Miller, Alan Moore superhero stories.
I am in complete agreement with this essay about the current status of the big two. DC has turned its back on the the rich tapestry of history that made DC so great and reduced it to fan fiction. Marvel embraces what makes a comic work and continue to run with the foundation that makes the characters great.
I used to be DC only when it came to the DC/Marvel divide before this restart. Now, I’ve cancelled over half the titles that I would pick up on a regular basis from DC and considering cutting out even more. Meanwhile, I’ve jumped onto the Marvel side of the fence by picking up the Avengers book and the solo titles. The reason is simple… DC feels like they are the derivative characters that the inspired instead of living up to the legacy. Marvel are the heroes that they are supposed to be.
I can’t even blame the 90′s because there are a large number of books during that time that I love from DC. Starman, JLA, Hourman, Resurrection Man, and technically JSA because it came in during 1999.
If things continue on this course, I’ll only be picking up Astro City when that relaunches under the DC brand… Hopefully they will pull back soon and get back to a head space that can embrace the dynamic storytelling without destroying the history… but they are going to need to clear out some of the upper management to do that.
The fact that DC used this quote in a comic book magazine to try to get me to read Superman: Earth 1 proves they have no idea who they are marketing to and that I will now never, ever consider reading this Superman.
“What do you get when you combine Twilight and a classic superhero? The new Superman.”
I am reading Batman and Batgirl, but that’s all of the New52. I read a lot of Image and Dark Horse, as well as Marvel stuff like Daredevil.