Anghus Houvouras on a lack of direction at DC Comics…
Four years ago when DC Comics announced their ‘New 52 lineup’, the company seemed to be on the precipice of a new age. Once again the company was making a bold step in revamping their lineup of iconic characters and updating them for a new age of comic fans. Old continuities would be abandoned. Titles would be reworked to be more inclusive for new readers. Decade old ideologies would be abandoned in favor of bold creative choices.
The New 52 was a decisive event for comic fans. Lifelong readers were irritated by the changes. Casual fans seemed intrigued by the new direction. The launch was successful with DC grabbing more market share than they had in years. However, the New 52 quickly lost it’s luster. Within two years any gains had been erased. Within three years DC was already scrambling to rethink their strategy. Now the New 52 has been dissected, the body parts harvested and reassembled for their newest DC YOU initiative.
There are so many problems at DC. Even the most casual observer can see the exposed wounds and poorly stitched seams. There have been reports of financial problems and reorganization has streamlined the employees down to the lowest level in decades.
DC Comics is in trouble. It doesn’t take a genius to see that.
To me, the problem seems so obvious: There’s no direction at DC, which right now seems to stand for ‘Directionless Comics’. There has been much talk of the DC You strategy, which one again features radical departures in previous continuities and rolling out wild new takes on classic characters. EIC Dan Didio has a plan: throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. However, that it not a creative strategy, it’s a numbers game. It’s the move of an organization without a clearly defined path.
Basically DC Comics Editorial’s strategy is akin to having a thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters hoping one of them churns out the next Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns.
Now, there are some very talented monkeys at those typewriters, but the strategy is still flawed at a molecular level. DC Comics has abandoned the idea of a cohesive creative direction in favor of creative anarchy.
I won’t lie: the lack of a cohesive direction has resulted in some entertaining titles. Earth 2, Action Comics, Batman, Doctor Fate, Midnighter, and Grayson have all been solid, entertaining titles that are diverse in story and style. Much like the New 52, DC You has produced some interesting titles at launch that are both unique and engaging. Unfortunately, it won’t last.
The inevitability is that sales will falter on second tier books and cancellations will lead to reboots and relaunches. The problem with throwing everything at the wall is that whatever doesn’t stick ends up in a disgusting pile on the floor. Whatever does stick is emulated and copied in an attempt to bolster poor sales. Eventually the bold creative direction of a title is tweaked and reworked to right the sinking ship.
The challenge of mainstream comic publishing are epic. You are dealing with a world where the characters are evolving from the printed page and becoming mainstays of television and movies. Do you emulate the elements that make the movies and TV shows so popular? Do you adhere to the continuity of the characters that has spanned 75 years? How do you gracefully deal with a rabid, vocal fan base who is constantly feeling rubbed raw by the abandonment/changes to their favorite characters?
These are questions I can’t answer. However, its clear that DC Comics is suffering an identity crisis. There is no clear creative direction and they are hitting the reset button a little too frequently. At this rate, DC YOU will exhaust it’s novelty within a couple of years (or less) and we’ll be right back where we started sometime in 2017 when DC announces their next major initiative to keep fans interested.
It was novel when DC retooled their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths. The novelty being that it was the first major renovation since they introduced characters back in 1939. It seemed less novel when they attempted to do the same thing with Zero Hour… then Infinite Crisis… then Final Crisis… then Flashpoint… then Convergence. Eventually retooling your characters and continuity becomes a necessity because of the mess you’ve made.
DC can’t even make it five years without requiring a janitorial event like Crisis/Flashpoint/Convergence to clean up the mess. And that, my friends, is because they don’t have a clear idea of where they’re going.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker and the co-host of Across the Pondcast. Follow him on Twitter.