Sunday, September 02, 2007

DC: Work On The Small Stuff First

There's lots of talk these days about how DC Comics is on the ropes, both commercially - Marvel has been kicking their ass in terms of sales for quite awhile - and creatively - Countdown is floundering compared to its predecessor, 52; many of the company's biggest line-ups have been chronically late to an outright embarrassing degree; and the recent announcement of yet another Crisis series, this one misleadingly titled Final Crisis, was for the most part met with equal measures of disgust and indifference.

I think this current rut will really only end with the removal of Dan DiDio from his position as Executive Editor. But I can see some other things that DC could do that are less political and more directed at winning the fans back. I call them "small stuff" but that doesn't mean I think they're easy. Just that they're not universe-spanning events or things warranting big, high-profile announcements.

1) Get some consistency within your own continuity. I'm not looking for lock-step strangleholds between all titles, but the DCU should feel like it's actually one universe! The company's actually made a few small strides in this area recently, with Amazons Attack! being reflected in Teen Titans, for example. But I'm looking for the less overt uses, where it's not emblazoned across the covers. Marvel in the 60s and 70s was incredible at this, where some offhand remark made by a character in one book would reflect an incident occurring somewhere else, and remind you that they're all playing in the same sandbox. This sort of atmosphere also sends the message, loud and clear, that there's an overall plan at work... not tying writers' hands, but simply tying the various storylines together in a loose fashion.

2) On titles where the writer or artist has a reputation for lateness, let them get well ahead before you start publishing their run. I'm sure there are financial implications to this that I'm glossing over, but we're talking about saving your franchise here! You know who the tardy ones are - it always seems to be the same people! - so simply make it perfectly clear when they pick up the assignment that you're going to queue up several issue before soliciting the first one. I suspect you've done this with the (still unofficial) Neal Adams Batman story, but Neal's only the most extreme case. It certainly seems like the Kubert brothers have fallen into this pattern, and Jim Lee's meltdown on the most recent WildC.A.T.s series - after one issue! - should've been the final straw.

3) Get your core DCU books in working order and use them to gauge the popularity of other superhero titles, instead of starting series up just to cancel them. Your focus over the next couple years should be on Action, Batman, Brave and the Bold, Detective, Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League of America, Justice Society of America, Teen Titans, Superman, Wonder Woman, and if you must, some sort of weekly title. That's a dozen different places to focus your best talent, and maybe even that's too many. But look at how the competition has methodically addressed their core competencies, with the latest announcement being the addition of Millar and Bryan Hitch to Fantastic Four. If each of your franchise titles was somewhere between really good and awesome, then you could begin to grow the line based on what talent you have available and who's proven popular as spin-off characters.

4) Stop doing E-V-E-N-T-S and start doing good comic stories (again). Implied in that is that you stop chasing away the best writers. You've already driven away Alan Moore, probably forever, and apparently you recently turned down Neil Gaiman's idea of doing a new Sandman mini-series... What are you, mentally retarded? These are the guys who know how to tell compelling tales that'll have your characters being talked about long after you're dead! Those ships have already sailed, but before the next set leaves your port, it's time to get your eyes back on the prize. If you can't at least tell a good story every issue, what's the point?

It's unlikely that we'll see any of these changes anytime soon, but at least I got them off my chest. Now I can go back to reading the latest drek that's coming out of DiDio's hands.

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