DC's Never-Ending Story

In the wake of Brightest Day and Justice League: Generation Lost, and as Flashpoint begins, there's been some Internet grumbling about the function of DC's never-ending stream of crossover events. Graig at Second Printing has questioned whether each series was worth us buying 24 issues if their only point was relaunching a few titles (JLI, Swamp Thing, Aquaman... although the latter could have been relaunched straight out of Blackest Night). I don't know if I agree with the premise of his argument, but I don't know that I exactly disagree either.

While I've been chomping at the bit for Aquaman's return, he hasn't been a consistent seller for DC Comics. Restarting him in a high profile crossover event may attract readers of that event to his new #1 issue, perhaps ensuring a healthier and longer run. Could not the same be true of the Flash or the Legion or Booster Gold, all spun out of similar events in the past four years? The comics we (and by we, I mean the blogging pundits) love often seem to flounder at the cash register - Blue Beetle, Manhunter, Tiny Titans, to name only a few from DC's stable - but what if a crossover event took the time to set them up properly and to a wider audience. Though I completely agree that both Brightest Day and Gen Lost often spun their wheels in the mud, and in BD's case ended on dull exposition, one thing they did well was allow us to know various characters in their new status quo and give us a glimpse of what their solo books might feel like. I expect more people to get into Aquaman thanks to BD than if they'd just launched his series cold.

Yes, it's been one damn thing after another since at least 52. And yes, all these series rarely offer closure, preferring instead to spin off its dangling plot threads into Aftermath mini-series or the next line wide event. They do offer a story however, and whether you like it (52) or hate it (Countdown), it's not like the point of them is launching the next event or random new books, any more than any other title's point is to get to its final issue. Continuing series are normally open-ended, and we don't grumble at that fact. And it's how I've come to think of DC's continuous stream of events. To me, despite the title changes, it's all one (usually weekly) comic that chronicles the big events of the DCU and the characters it most affects (as opposed to always the same character or team). It's DC Universe: The Series. (More accurately, it's a family of titles, like the Batman books or Superman books, because there are always side-minis and specials.) The book used to be called 52, then it was called Countdown and Final Crisis and Blackest Night, and soon it'll be called Flashpoint. If all these stories starred the Justice League of America and were published in the pages of their mag, we wouldn't bat an eyelid. Yes, of course there's a financial issue, but somehow, these series tend to sell way better than that isolated book you love.

If we're going to have a DCU series (and a corresponding Marvel U series as well, you know the one currently titled Fear Itself), I do want it to have good creators, interesting characters and to have an impact on the DCU (just as I expect a Superman book to have an impact on Superman's life). I want less shock and gore, and more characterization and humor. I want fewer gratuitous spin-off specials and minis that cash in, but don't add anything of value. I want a certain sense of closure to various arcs and don't want to feel like editorial mandates are in the way of common sense. And I want it to put less strain on readers' wallets so they CAN then get into those new launches rather than spend everything on "must-read" event books.

Sometimes they even get it right. And when they don't, I'm free to drop the book, just as I can any other book. Don't worry, I'm sure they'll recap the important bits in the books you do follow.


Anonymous said...

I guess I'm happiest with the big maxiseries when they expand upon the features of the DC Universe. For example, "52" gave us the multiverse again, "Blackest Night" brought back some dead characters, and "Brightest Day" prepped those characters for immediate use. Those are all good things.

The part I do not like is when the maxiseries destroy something to tell their story. Tempest, Dolphin, and Gehenna got killed off in "Blackest Night"; Martin Stein got killed off in "Brightest Day". (And don't get me started on "Crisis on Infinite Earths", which killed off Earth-2 and some of its more remarkable inhabitants, such as Helena Wayne.) People grouse about lame character resurrections, but there wouldn't be any need for resurrections if some short-sighted writer hadn't needlessly killed off those characters in the first place. If you don't like the new Atom, fine, don't write stories about him; killing him off is going too far.

Someone once suggested a "White Lantern" comic where, every month, creators can bring a character back, provided they can tell a good story in the process. For example, if Wonder Woman were to enlist Giganta's aid to get Ryan Choi back from the underworld, Orpheus style ... well, that's a story Gail Simone was born to write.

Siskoid said...

Back for good? Or is the deceased character brought back (as a White Lantern) for only the arc before going back to the after-life?

I like the idea, though I doubt DC would do something like this and risk outright saying certain characters are well and truly dead (then again, the Black Lanterns did exactly that AND they've ignored pretty definite deaths in the past). Still, amusing idea.

Anonymous said...

Back for good, for the most part. It could be decided on a case-by-case basis. But I can think of only a handful of character deaths that "should" be preserved:

- Characters whose very relevance is that they are dead (The Waynes, Uncle Ben, Abin Sur, Deadman)

- Ted Knight: his great wish was to have a legacy succeed him, and he died happy and secure in that knowledge. He earned his rest and I am good with not disturbing him.

- Mar-Vell: I go back and forth on this one, but comics have thrived for 30 years letting "The Death of Captain Marvel" stand, so maybe we should leave well enough alone.

Very little is gained by killing characters off. There is shock value, but shock has depreciated considerably over the past 25 years. Mostly I think character deaths occur because a given writer can't figure out how to use a given character, but that says more about the writer than the character. And when all is said and done, character death reduces the number of good stories that can be told.

Siskoid said...

Remember when Barry Allen was considered in that "untouchables" list?

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

@Anon, don't forget Kendra Saunders.

In regards to the weekly series, and all the multiple minis for Flashpoint coming up, if they don't look interesting, I don't buy them. I don't have the budget. I did buy the trades for 52 after having each individual issue and I love the way it reads in that format. (Never bought any other trades, though I might pick up Trinity one day.)

But Siskoid's main point was getting a bunch of new readers to even be aware of Aquaman. Man, I hope they don't try another Hawkman series. Same with Swamp Thing, since he was at Vertigo for so long, does the newer generation even know him from his original concept?

Anonymous said...

Yep, I remember a time when Barry was considered deader than dead. But the signs were there all along that he needed to return. His protege took on his name, his costume, his city, and his old enemies. The protege even followed a similar relationship trajectory (married a reporter), and never stopped mourning his lost mentor. Barry was there all along in every way except flesh; eventually even that last detail was corrected.

But Barry's an example of why there's no point in killing anyone off. After 10+ years of really crappy writing, Barry Allen was considered irredeemably broken, so CoIE disposed of him to make room for Wally. But it turns out there was nothing wrong with Barry Allen himself, just as he could have been shelved without the need to kill him off and then resurrect him later.

Martin Gray said...

Great piece, Siskoid. I do think, though, that as DC sells each event under a separate title, the main plot strands should be tied up in that, rather than go on to feed another sales beast - usually imediately.

Anon, I do think you're underseling Wally as a character. There are the superficial sismilarities you list, but fundamentally he's a different character. Barry was fully formed, whereas Wally went on a real journey in the first several years of his title. Along the way he learned to do things Barry never did with his powers, and the student surpassed the master.

And now Barry is back, it's he who is following in Wally's tracks, by suddenly being the master of the Speed Force, whwile Wally is unconvincingly shunted off-panel.

Siskoid said...

While I haven't disliked the new Barry Allen book, I do agree with Martin that Wally was his own character, with his own arc, and his own particular take on superspeed. It wasn't the same book or character at all despite the name and (very basic) premise. And if THAT book proved anything, it's that characters with the same powers and even names can co-exist in the shared universe. And for that book, Barry was very much an "Uncle Ben" figure. Spider-Man mentions his uncle often, but that doesn't mean he might as well have been around.

As for your own point about closure, Martin, I think the best way to deal with the "continuing story" is to give us closure within the arc (title), but that closure then sends us off into a new story, perhaps with a cliffhanger of an epilogue. Brightest Day and Gen Lost kinda did that, with varying degrees of success.

It's also how you'd deal with any normal continuing series.

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to sell Wally short, but his role, if nothing else, was defined by Barry's absence. And Barry's return actually could be good for Wally (assuming anyone will give him some exposure), in that it allows him to find a role defined outside of Barry. Barry is here and can be Barry now, which leaves Wally to be ... well, what exactly? I have my opinions, but I'll leave it to some talented writer or other to flesh it out.

It's kind of like Kyle and Hal ... for the longest time, Kyle was defined in terms of Hal (not as fearless as Hal, makes more complex constructs than Hal, more down-to-earth than Hal, less experienced than Hal, etc.). Now that Hal is back, Kyle is being defined on his own terms, and not via comparison/contrast with Hal or anyone else. And I think Kyle is being written exceptionally well as a result.

Siskoid said...

I understand your point, and Wally can move forward (and has... taking time off to take care of his family is something a LOT of people do).

But being defined by another person's absence (or presence) is a completely legitimate take on a character. Batman is defined by an absence, and so is Spider-Man. We don't want or need to see these characters "move on".

After Crisis, Barry became a legend, the epic sacrifice that elevated him to saint hood among the superheroes. That was an important role, and showed how character death could be used as a story telling tool. It's not always a failure of the imagination or a waste of resources. Often or even usually, yes, but not always.

Martin Gray said...

Anon, I can't agree that Kyle's story has been improved by the return of Hal. Like Wally, he spent a good while defining himself in terms of Hal (though on a less personal level, having never met the guy). And like Wally, he became his own hero and spent years as THE Green Lantern, the Justice Leaguer respected and liked by the heroes of the DCU.

Since Hal's return he's mainly been just another GL from Earth - I can't remember the last time he even appeared outside of a GL book (and I've dropped 'em all, due to the interminable stories, always centring on Oan lore, with villains retooled to have more direct connections to Hal - oops, ranting). I miss Kyle, and hope that - along with Wally - he one day becomes a focus of DC attention.

Anonymous said...

I think you may be confusing prominence with quality. I will gladly take one story where Kyle is one of many GLs, but he is well-written as the guy everyone else turns to as the heart of the Green Lantern Corps, over ten stories where Kyle overcomes his doubts and saves the day, starts to feel like he's no longer in Hal's shadow, and yet all of Hal's old friends condescendingly tell him "you're starting to get the hang of this, kid".

The Mutt said...

This, friends, is why I rarely buy comics anymore.


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