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?