“Superheroes Vs. People with Powers”, and what exactly should DC Rebirth be?
In a recent conversation with one my best friends and co-host of the confirmed epic podcast: Andrew Stokes, we begin to get into to a discussion/debate over the differences of Marvel and DC, both in the comics and film mediums. A discussion ignited due to Zack Snyder’s Polarizing film: Batman V. Superman Dawn of Justice, and the recent DC Comic’s Rebirth line wide re-launch of their comics. In our recent Batman V. Superman review in episode #43 of the confirmed epic podcast, I stated, “My heart lies with DC, while my head lies with Marvel”. I also stated this in my conversation with Andrew. In our discussion we both agreed that DC has the greatest heroes in the world, but for whatever reason, it feels like regardless of the medium they just can’t seem to catch up to Marvel. Man of Steel or Batman V. Superman wasn’t critically or commercially as well received as any of the Avengers films. Marvel Comics constantly outsell DC Comics with DC only able to hold on to around 30% of the overall market share, and regardless of how much of a fan following the DC/CW television shows have, I don’t think anyone would argue that critically they don’t come close to either Daredevil or Jessica Jones.
If not for Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s recent historic and critically acclaimed run on Batman, DC would struggle to have a top ten selling comic month in and month out. In our discussion my dear friend Andrew Stokes made a brilliant point: “The DC Universe is a world of Superheroes, while the Marvel Universe is collection of people with powers trying to do the right thing”. After which I concurred with him, that while Batman has been and will forever be my favorite fictional character, Marvel always has been my favorite comic book universe. Honestly I want to like DC better than Marvel, but common sense just dictates to me that I can’t. The Marvel Universe as a whole just seems so much more livable and realistic, and not just because they use real city names and worldly locales, but rather the companies focus deep down is always on the person behind the mask or cape rather than the mask or capes itself. Something that outside of the Batman franchise DC has failed to do. Scott Snyder’s recent treatment on the caped crusader deconstructed the Bruce Wayne as well as the Batman character in a way it had never been done. Even more impressive he was able to do the same thing with Gotham City. For the first time ever the city itself felt like a character, and by tying both Batman and Bruce Wayne to that city emotionally, Snyder was able to scratch beneath the depth of a DC character liked never before. So it’s no coincidence that book was in the top five in sales since DC’s “New 52” began. Now the question becomes how can DC apply what Snyder did to all of their series?
Characters and Creators must matter:
So what exactly should “DC rebirth” be? Not what is it going to be? But rather what should avid DC fans like myself want it to be? The answer is character and creator driven. If the DC characters don’t feel like real people, if they feel too grandiose and archetypal to be relatable than just like the “New 52” and “DC You”, the results will be underwhelming. Here in lies the problem with DC’s stable of characters, while iconic they also feel larger than life often times making them less relatable, with Batman being the lone exception due to his classification as a mere man. How do you deconstruct God’s and Princesses? Marvel has had recent success doing this by transitioning roles such as Thor to Jane Foster, taking it a step further they diagnosed the character with cancer. While tragic it’s relatable, odds are we have all had someone we know or love affected by this terrible disease.
Willingness to shake things up:
To accomplish feats like this, the first step has to be the right writers, which has been a part of DC’s problem. You have to applaud DC for making course corrections in this area by locking down the few elite talents they have with exclusive contracts, securing people like Scott Snyder for the foreseeable future. As well as bringing legends of the industry such as: Greg Rucka and Marv Wolfman back to handle A-list characters like Wonder Woman and Cyborg respectively. But with every step forward in this area, DC takes two steps back. Such as trusting an artist and not a writer to write their flagship team book in the Justice League in the form of Bryan Hitch. Don’t get me wrong as an artist when he is on, Hitch is a phenomenal talent, look no further than his work on the Ultimate’s at Marvel, but as a writer he is unproven. Marvel would never ask someone like Mark Bagley to write The Avengers. Why? Because he is a legendary artist and his focus should remain there.
Expansion of Talent:
All of DC’s writing problems cannot be explained by poor assignments, the honest truth is when it comes to talented comic writers the company leaves a lot to be desired. Scott Snyder and Geoff Johns may be the best two writers in all of comics, but after that DC’s drop off in talent is huge, leaving the company scattering to bring back older creators to make up for it. While Marvel on the other hand has a laundry list of A-list creators such as: Jason Aaron, Charles Soule, James Robertson, Jonathan Hickman, Dan Slott, Christopher Yost, and Kieron Gillen, while still having the legends like: Mark Waid, Brian Michael Bendis, and Ed Brubaker at the top. To comics fans the preceding writers are household names. Ask yourself this, before DC Rebirth how many household names outside of Snyder and Johns does DC have? Maybe James Tynion the IV? When it come’s to artist, I believe the companies are pretty evenly matched, but if the 90’s taught us anything in the comic book industry it’s that any great comic run’s foundation is a consistently great writer. You must give DC credit however when they take a risk by turning the Batman title over to someone like Tom King, who will give us a completely different take on the character in part because of his CIA background, just like he did with Dick Grayson in his Grayson series. After all no one knew whom Scott Snyder really was until he took over the main Batman title, unless you read the Black Mirror story in Detective Comics or Gates of Gotham.
To truly match Marvel, DC has to be willing to employee more talents that are willing to deconstruct their characters rather than simply portray them. With the Icon’s of DC, this becomes a herculean task, which even the average comic book writer is going to struggle with. This will only be done by a combination of methods like taking risk by putting talented but lesser known writers such as Tom King on Batman, poaching some of Marvel’s talent which will not come cheap, and by picking the best writers for each character regardless of circumstance. DC cannot pander any longer! It must go with the best talent on each book regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, experience, political ideology or loyalty to previous talent. If choosing an upcoming talent like Brandon Fletcher to write Justice League over Bryan Hitch alienates veterans like Hitch’s relationship with the company then so be it.
When you take my preceding points and apply them to the upcoming DC Rebirth it feels like DC is only half way were they need to be. New Publishing initiatives cannot be about costly risk taking or being overly cautious; instead they need to be about cerebral and meticulous creative and character decisions. While I have no proof of this, too often it feels that DC nonchalantly put’s writers on it’s books without truly explaining why, is someone like Bryan Hitch truly writing Justice League because he understands that team’s dynamic or rather because he is a recognizable name that can be slapped on the front of a comic or in an internet headline. While on the flip side Marvel seems constantly pair the right writers with the projects that fit their passion and writing style. Even more important than that, Marvel does an excellent job of communicating with it’s fans on a weekly basis their goals for long term events and the direction of their core characters. Ever week Marvel Editor and Chief: Axel Alonso sits down with comic book resources, and gives a weekly state of the Marvel union, and answers fan questions. While it feels like the only time DC’s chief creative officers: Jim Lee and Dan Didio communicate with comic book readers is when they are rolling out a big event or line wide re-launch.
Until DC figures out how to properly communicate with its fans, they are going to constantly fail to deliver the product that their fans desire. A product that takes the most grandiose mythological icons of our times and digs deep into their motivations and their effect on the world we live in. Sure Gotham and Metropolis might not be real cities, but that does not mean they can’t feel as real as New York City does in the Marvel universe. This is something that will not simply happen by new publishing initiatives or talent reshuffles, but something that is going to have to addressed and asked throughout DC from the top down. This is also not something that is going to happen with one set of moves, it is going to be a process. Which is what makes me hopeful about DC Rebirth. While I think the DC You publishing initiative was the first step on this long journey, the step that was more character focused. I believe DC Rebirth is the next step on the long and tumultuous journey, the one that is getting back to the core of our beloved DC icons, one that would have a trickle down affect across all entertainment mediums. Now we can only hope the DC continues to take the proper steps, and make the right creative decisions. That takes fans like me from wanting to like DC more than I do Marvel to actually doing so.
Please let me know your thoughts on the article and overall direction at DC Comics compared to Marvel in the comments below or tweet me @thereelbradbell. Also if you disagree with my assertions please tell me why, and let’s begin a dialogue that can unite comic book fandom rather than divide it! -Brad