Monday, May 08, 2006

Why DC Roxxor My Soxxor

Well, I had hoped to have some comic reviews up today, but since the post office has decided to be unbearably slow delivering this week's haul (including IC #7, dagnabit) I figured I'd go ahead and follow Tate's lead from last week; who knows, maybe we can start a Substitute Order of the Rolling Head of Pantha or something, to illustrate that, while we may not focus on them exclusively, it's DC comics that we hold nearest and dearest to our hearts.

Now, much like my compatriot, my younger self held very closely to the idea that Marvel = l33t, and DC=teh suxxor. . . or at least he would have, if the Internet had been around at the time. Of course, I was never a total Marvel Zed-word like Tate; even at the height of my Marvel fanaticism, I still followed several DC titles like Legion of Super-Heroes, New Teen Titans and All-Star Squadron. But, being from a small town in northern Oklahoma, I was at a bit of a loss when those series I loved made the move to direct market only, leaving me only those comics which could be perused at the local grocery store or gas station magazine rack. After moving off to college, I suddenly had a much better access to the full range of titles available, first through the local comic shop, and then later through the diabolical World Wide Web (the “e” in “eBay” stands for “evil”; just ask my checking account). And, as Marvel floundered, first sinking beneath the waves of its Imagization (Rob Liefeld has much to answer for), and later drowning in its own hyperbole (insert obligatory “crack the internet in half” comment here), I found myself drawn more and more to the house that Superman built.

Looking over Tate’s reasons for loving DC, I find one of them resonating with me more than any of the others: the concept of legacy. But for me, it’s more than just legacy that draws me to today’s DC: it’s the concept of history, the concept of a shared universe, the concept that nothing gets thrown away; yes, I’m talking about that dirty, dirty word “continuity.”

Since Joey Q has taken over the reigns at Marvel, he’s made several moves which I’ve applauded, and several that I’ve condemned, but probably the thing that bothers me most about “Nu-Marvel” is the way they treat “continuity” as something to be ashamed of. “No more footnotes referring to old stories,” they’ve proclaimed, “they take you out of the story and make people feel like they’ve missed something!” Y’know, there might be a nugget of truth to that, but in my experience, those footnotes didn’t make me go “Man, I missed something, guess I should just give up”; no, they made me go “Man, I missed something, guess I should go hunt it down!” Now, I realize that Marvel isn’t alone in this; DC has also become gun-shy about the footnote issue. But at the same time, they have once again embraced the idea of a shared universe, and are now seeking to do something with it that doesn’t spit all over the history of the characters . . .

Um, excuse me for a moment.
(I will not go off on a Disassembled or House of M rant, I will not go off on a Disassembled or House of M rant, I will not go off on a Disassembled or House of M rant . . .)

Okay, all better now.

Before I have to deal with all the “What about all the crap DC’s pulled with Blue Beetle and Max Lord and Dr. Light and Sue Dibney and Jean Loring, etc.? How is that not spitting on history?” questions, let me just say that yes, I realize that DC’s efforts have not been perfect. There have been stumbles along the way, but I haven’t seen anything that rivals the intense queasiness that most of Marvel’s recent “big events” have generated inside me. Say what you will about the JLA-mindwipe controversy, but I still feel like there was a lot better foundation for that than there was the “Wanda’s a psycho killer” story Bendis whipped up; and while what I’ve read about the “Illuminati” storylines makes me groan (Namor and Reed Richards secretly in cahoots for years and years?), not having read anything past the Sentry TBP of New Avengers, I can’t fully comment on that . . . yet.

So, yeah, history plays a big part of my love of DC; probably my favorite DC writer right now is Geoff Johns, who shows a similar love of DC’s long history, setting himself the task of untangling the convoluted histories of characters and concepts without arbitrarily throwing portions on the scrap heap. Instead, Johns looks for ways to make these “radioactive” characters viable again while still acknowledging what has gone before. I know some people take the “if you don’t like what someone else has done, just ignore it” track but honestly, just because you might hate a storyline doesn’t mean it isn’t someone else’s favorite; I give you Giffen's loved-by-me, maligned-by-many-others "Five Year Gap" Legion as evidence. Having respect for the past while moving towards the future; that’s one of the reasons I’m loving DC more than Marvel right now.

Which isn’t to say that Marvel doesn’t have some of that at play; in fact, my favorite Marvel titles tend to be the ones with writers who like to play around with all of the toys available to them. I think Dan Slott is a perfect example of this; not only does his She-Hulk treat all of her previous adventures with respect while still forging its own path, it’s also rife with characters and concepts long forgotten by most; so far the first few issues of his The Thing series seem to following her lead. I mean, how can I not love a book which manages to work in Murderworld, Constrictor, Iron Man, and Nighthawk into a single issue without seeming overly contrived? Along similar lines, Thunderbolts has long been a book which looks to Marvel’s history for inspiration; although the book has never been the same since Busiek left, Nicieza does well at finding new potential in old characters and concepts. But these titles seem to be the exception, rather than the rule.

Another thing that I like about today’s DC is that it features a little bit of something for everyone: the recent spate of Infinite Crisis prologues and OYL spin-offs have helped reintroduce variety to the DC universe. I’m a big fan of DC’s espionage-tinged titles from the days when Ostrander was king, Captain Atom was a mole, and you couldn’t cough without Amanda Waller popping up to tell you to cover your danged mouth; I don’t know if Checkmate will fully capture the feeling of those days, but it’s a start. Similarly, the reintroduction of non-Vertigo magic to the DCU makes me smile, as does the return to intergalactic adventures.

But I think the thing that has me feeling the most optimistic about DC right now is their idea for establishing character bibles, so that when you see Batman in one book, he’s the exact same Batman you see in every other book. There should be some leeway here (Giffen and DeMattis’ Justice League never would have thrived in a strict by-the-book universe), but overall, I like the idea that they’re putting down some more rigid guidelines for their more established characters; after wincing throughout the out-of-character portrayals of Superman by Chuck Austen and Batman by Brian Azzarello, I see these guidelines as a healthy, healthy thing. Of course, there’s no telling how well this approach is going to work (I give you the warring Dick Graysons in Nightwing and The Outsiders as evidence), but I appreciate the effort; it shows that the PTB at DC have some grander plan in mind, something that I just don’t feel when I look at the Marvel books.

Or, maybe I’m just bitter because I wasted all that money on six issues of House of M that could have just as effectively been told in half that space. Time will tell

1 comment:

Vincent J. Murphy said...

I always felt like Marvel was always trying to ride DC's coattails, at least in terms of crossovers. DC would try something, then Marvel would copy it about 3-4 times, but never really manage to do anything original.

Of course, I was mainly a DC Comics groupie most of my life: I dabbled in the occasional Marvel Comic, but usually found the universe a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.