Dear DC, RE: My Broken Heart

To whom it may concern in the bloated, monstrous tower of money DC Comics has become,

I used to pick you over Marvel. Did you know that? Before I got common sense and realised liking certain comics was not like backing a winning football team, I exclusively read your publications. For no better reason than jumping on a ridiculous bandwagon, I was on your team in the utterly pointless “Marvel or DC?” debate. The fact that you owned Batman, my favourite superhero and a symbol of personal significance to me, just made it automatic. My friends from back then will tell you I avoided Marvel’s work like each volume was laden with smallpox and written by the staff of Grey’s Anatomy.

Then, I started reading both. Books like Captain America and Grant Morrison’s X-Men got me intrigued in Marvel’s multiple bodies of work, and over time I struck an equilibrium between reading from both publishers. But still, even as my comfort zone evolved and I tried new and exciting stories laid out by the future inheritors of the comic book film kingdom, I stayed loyal to DC. I still ranked Batman as miles above his competitors, through thick and thin, through long and short, through good writers and creatively-devoid scribblers. I trusted you guys with Bats, knew you’d continue to write him (mostly) to the high standard I’d come to expect after years of eagerly anticipating each new volume.

Now, that trust has been trampled.

When your relaunch occurred, I was sceptical. You were going to effectively reboot (but, in the end, not really) every single one of your franchises, bring them almost back to square one in an effort to try and dominate the increasingly Marvel-slanted field in the wake of their successful cinematic universe. You attempted to pander to new readers by making it all accessible, despite the fact you were flip-floppy about what was still canon and what was now nothing but expensive bookshelf padding. In the end, I got suckered in by many of the relaunched titles – most notably Superman, with whom I’ve had an aversion exceeding my previous disdain for Marvel – and thought they were, on the whole, ok. Not great, but ok.

I see now how wrong I was.

I thought you guys had the best company, even when I started getting into Marvel. I had the pleasure of meeting Geoff Johns (Green Lantern‘s contemporary architect, and a god among writers) at Comic-Con 2010, and my positive experience with him, coupled with the camaraderie between DC writers and artists that I saw on con panels and in news reports afterwards, made me think you guys had the best job in the world. You didn’t seem like a company so much as a community, a great place where intellectual and creative writers with talent exceeding some of the best literary novelists out there could congregate and really shape something stellar.

Obviously, all that gloss was just shallow coating by PR teams.

You not only grabbed me with your superhero titles; in later years I would discover your Vertigo imprint, catering to a wide variety of comedic, supernatural and off-kilter works that were no less welcome on my shelf beside Batman and The Flash. I was transported into the heart of literary history juxtaposed with urban fantasy in The Unwritten. I rediscovered the better qualities of the blood-sucking genre in American Vampire. And let’s not forget The Sandman, quite possibly my favourite comic book story in the history of graphic literature. All of it drew me in like a warm and inviting fire, full of life and spark.

I’m now waiting for you to douse that fire with a water tanker.

DC Comics, you’ve lost your way. I’ve stuck through your ridiculously assonance-contrived reboot title “The New 52”, I’ve explored works I wouldn’t normally have touched with a branding iron had they been in the old continuity, and I’ve enjoyed a few of them. I put up with your lackluster works, I stuck through your delay of Grant Morrison’s Batman continuation almost a year after the previous issue, and I even muddled through your hollow reinterpretation of Aquaman just to see if there was something good in it. At the time I thought “No harm, no foul…everyone writes bad stories sometimes, just means they need to try a new direction”.

It seems “new direction” is code in your language for “MONEY”.

Enough is enough. I’m sick of you, I’m sick of most of your stories, and I am utterly appalled at the atrocious reputation you’re earning yourselves in the comic book world. First there was the reboot itself, hyped to high heaven and delivering on very little of what it touted to possess in terms of creative innovation and fresh approaches, with inanely staggered graphic novel releases in its wake leaving die-hard Batman fans like me waiting almost an entire year for the next Snyder volume. Then you had the utter gall to slap Before on the start of Watchmen and make a franchise of prequels that are wholly and irrevocably ridiculous, pointless and a waste of money, time and creative effort, doing nothing meaningful besides tarnishing and polluting the happy memories of the original magnum opus. Were you really so creatively bankrupt that you felt exhuming Watchmen from its peaceful sleep was the only option?

Following that was this interview nearly a year later, where your VPs of Sales and Marketing (who, incidentally, cannot directly answer a question to save their lives, in a way that’d make Mitt Romney look honest) not only chastised fan reaction to elements of the reboot but also avoided conclusively commenting about (and, possibly, obliquely hinting at) further ruining already-established franchises – most egregiously Sandman – by folding them into the main DC continuity and tearing them to shreds with new ongoing series’, probably utilising talent on par with the usual imagination-deficient penny pinchers you’ve got working for you at the moment.

I was already angry at your narratives, your marketing team and your creative practices at that point, but then this happened. Now, while I’m not personally a fan of Gail Simone’s work (and I did rate her first Batgirl volume as my third-worst comic of 2012), I am a huge fan of fair work practices. I’m not about to take up the anti-feminist argument that others have made in regards to why Simone was unfairly axed, but I will say that cutting off one of your most prominent writers – who, if I understand correctly, has a not-inconsiderably-sized fanbase – through such a laissez faire method as sending an email is completely and inexcusably unprofessional. You may have only lost the dominant market share of comic books for 2012 to Marvel by a hair’s-breadth, and are still a titanic money-machine within the industry, but you’re also feckless, cowardly, creatively bankrupt, incorrigible and more merchandise-driven than ever before. Roughly 80% of your current titles are either immensely uninspired or just entirely regurgitated from older plotlines that are so well-worn you can see the crease marks, and the few exemplary titles and creative teams within your stable of accomplished creativity are but sparkling emeralds within the cart of coal you’re currently selling from.

Here’s an idea, DC – take the best writers you’ve still got contracts with (namely Scott Snyder, Geoff Johns, Jeff Lemire, Grant Morrison, Peter Tomasi and Kyle Higgins), pinch the greatest artists still under obligation to work for you, and split their collaborative efforts into a separate continuity under a different DC imprint. You can title it “DCE – Detective Comics Entertainment”, since that’s what it will actually contain. Then, all your other bland scribes can use their glossy, full-coloured, overpriced toilet paper to form “DCPTB – Detective Comics: Pays The Bills”. It’ll be what you can use to sucker in casual readers for a quick buck, while the actual talent spends time making comics worth reading.

Despite my vitriolic outburst at what I perceive you’ve become, I’ll still buy some of your books. As I said, you still possess genuine talent and some truly innovative and engrossing stories, and as long as that continues to be the case I’ll keep exploring your legitimately excellent titles. But you’ve backed yourself into a corner, and I know I’m not the only person perceiving your recent activities as foolish, derivative and despicable. Pick up your game, or you risk losing the people you should really be pandering to – dedicated, long-term fans like myself, who love your characters and your stories with a passion exceeding countless other media endeavours. Remember, your newcomers aren’t the only people picking up your books.

And to return to my first paragraph, Batman may still be my favourite superhero from either of the Big Two companies, and Snyder may be doing some actually entertaining stories with him, but the fact that I ranked one of Batman’s books as the worst graphic literature of 2012, while most of the rest of his bloated range wallowed in either mediocrity or similarly distasteful status, just puts one more nail into the coffin for me. You may have a product that earns money and is popular with the current market, but just remember where that popularity came from.

Sincerely,

Christopher Comerford

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