Friday, November 21, 2008

Babble for the Cowl

There's a new interview with DC Comics editor Dan DiDio at IGN.com. In brief, it just keeps getting weirder. Again, there's no mention of is-he-still-or-not Superman writer James Robinson, and DiDio is awkwardly prancing around the question whether Grant Morrison will return to write Batman next year, which suddenly does not seem to be a certainty anymore.

And then there's this bit, when DiDio's asked about the bizarre decision to have Tony Daniel write Batman: Battle for the Cowl.
Well, when we… let's start with this at the beginning. When we first hired Tony to do Batman, it was on the strength of his work on The Tenth. He was known as a star writer and artist, but at this particular point he wanted the opportunity to work with Grant Morrison, and he's been having a great time doing it.
Um. My comprehensional faculties must be in decline. DiDio seems to be implying that they originally wanted Daniel to write Batman, but then Daniel asked to work with Morrison instead. Or, if that's not what he's saying, what is he saying? Help!

And what's with the odd phrasing, anyway:
During this time [Daniel] seemed like the perfect person to bridge the conclusion of [Morrison's] "Last Rites" issues to what's coming in June.
Why the past tense? Does Daniel not "seem like the perfect person" to write Battle for the Cowl anymore now?

DiDio also addresses his publishing philosophy with regard to the DC Universe line he is overseeing.
I think what we need to do is produce smartly. I've used this expression before – we're not just going to create comics to create a bucket. We're not going to produce 60 to 65 titles, regardless of what they are, and just put them out there. You can't do that.
For your interest, the monthly number of new DC Universe periodicals over the last twelve months has ranged from 48 to 69, with an average of 56.

He goes on:
What we need to do is be smart about what we're creating and make books that people want. If people can't buy everything, I at least want them to consider everything very highly. I don't want it to be discounted from the moment it's introduced, it has to be something they want to pick up – they'll feel bad if they don't. For the most part. –laughs-
Mr. DiDio is laughing, of course, because he knows he's publishing books like, among others, El Diablo, The War That Time Forgot, DC Special: Cyborg, DC Universe: Raven, DC Universe: Decisions, Hawkman Special, Adam Strange Special, Halloween Special, Vixen: Return of the Lion, Tangent: Superman's Reign and, wait for it, Superman & Batman vs. Vampires & Werewolves.

DiDio also says that there will be "a unified version of the Joker" across the DC Universe after Final Crisis. Whether or not that version will be soliciting anal sex, like the one in Kevin Smith's Batman: Cacophony is right now, DiDio doesn't say. I, for one, would much applaud it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bottom Line

Quick note as I'm diving into the October sales figures: Jonah Hex and Simon Dark are now the only ongoing DC Universe books below 24,000 units (we're talking ICv2.com estimates) that haven't been canceled yet. Given that both titles are selling significantly below that marker, there's probably not much rope left for them, either.

Looks like someone's trying to raise their bottom line.

DC Comics had previously announced the cancellation of Legion of Super-Heroes, Birds of Prey, Manhunter, Blue Beetle and Checkmate.

Monday, November 17, 2008

No Direction Home

Over in the latest edition of "Lying in the Gutters," Rich Johnston has two big rumors relating to DC Comics editor Dan DiDio's management of the company's DC Universe line:

o Rumor No. 1: There are further delays for Final Crisis #7 looming, because DiDio has asked Grant Morrison for massive last-minute rewrites of the series' ending. As a result, a disenchanted Morrison may cut back on his future work for the DC Universe line, and work-in-progress on numerous spin-off and tie-in books was put on hold.

This one seems rather odd, given that DiDio emphasized in a recent Newsarama piece that "it’s essential for us to have the last issue of Final Crisis come out in the month of January. Therefore, we are moving heaven and earth to make the book come out in the month of January, because so much follows." That doesn't sound like DiDio's particularly open to the notion of meddling with the story's outcome, at this stage.

But then again, who knows. It's not exactly like DiDio's line has been characterized by stability or reliability in the last two years. And, of course, Morrison, against all expectations, is not writing Batman: Battle for the Cowl, a supposed major miniseries following up on the writer's successful "Batman RIP" event - and, evidently, meant to be written by Judd Winick at one point.

o Rumor No. 2: Writer James Robinson, who only recently took over Superman and has in interviews seemed enthusiastic about reviving the flagging franchise along with Action Comics writer Geoff Johns, is no longer working on the book - or on any other DC Universe titles - after an argument with DiDio. Well, I'll say this: DiDio didn't talk about much about the Superman line - or mention Robinson, for that matter - in either one of his two recent interviews at Newsarama and Hero Complex. That certainly seems odd.

Needless to say, neither of the two rumors is the kind of thing DC should want to be dealing with right now. But both would fit into the pattern established over the last two years: hideously late major books; talent and supposedly "regular" creative teams coming and going on a range of titles like through a revolving door or even leaving in a public huff (like Chuck Dixon and Jim Shooter, most recently); repeatedly botching a whole number of high-profile relaunches; getting hold of J. Michael Straczynski, one of the industry's few superstar writers, and asking him to work on a commercial lame duck like The Brave and the Bold; giving a major event like Battle for the Cowl to a completely unknown quantity like Tony Daniel; as well as an ongoing string of last-minute editorial changes, sometimes long after books have been solicited in Previews, like in the cases of Batman and the Outsiders or Titans.

I don't know who's responsible for those decisions - I certainly don't expect it's DiDio alone, from what little I've heard about how DC works. But regardless of who's to blame, I find it quite remarkable how erratic and directionless, and how riddled with bafflingly bad judgments the management of the DC Universe line has been.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ball, Dropped

There's a new 20-question piece with DC Comics editor Dan DiDio at Newsarama.

Generally, DiDio's assessment of what went wrong with his line in the last couple of years seems fair and frank. Discussing plans for the Batman franchise after the commercially very successful "Batman RIP" crossover, however, he says this:
[...] Battle for the Cowl will be written and drawn by Tony Daniel, which we’re very excited about.
Wait. Stop. What? Surely, I misread, or Newsarama misprinted, that comment. Surely, what he means is "Battle for the Cowl will be written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Tony Daniel." Right?

Wrong. The next sentence confirms that, evidently, DiDio means precisely what it says in the article:
[...] Battle for the Cowl will be written and drawn by Tony Daniel, which we’re very excited about. This is the first time Tony’s written in a while, and he’s just champing at the bit to be able to do this, and we’re excited that he’s on the series.
Consider me baffled.

So you've got a mega-popular event storyline by Grant Morrison, who apparently even intends to stick around on Batman after "Batman RIP." And you're going to do a big sequel series to that, now that everybody's watching. And the writer you choose for that project is... Tony Daniel?

So far, Daniel is mainly known as a penciler - he's drawing Morrison's Batman right now, after all. He has written comics before, it seems, but mostly - if not exclusively - his own creations, such as The Tenth, F5, Adrenalynn and HumanKind. Don't get me wrong: Daniel may be a perfectly capable writer, for all I know. But he has to be downright fabulous to justify DC taking this sort of bet on him, doesn't he? Because he's certainly not someone who sells books with his name alone, or has received critical accolades for his writing in the past.

To make a long story short: What on earth are they thinking? Is this what DiDio is talking about when he says, later on in the piece, that "I looked at my budget for 2009, and I understood what the challenges are going to be"?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Shoe Shine

If you're in the mood for myth-building, Jonah Weiland has an interview on the creation of the Ultimate Marvel line of books with then-and now editor Joe Quesada and former Marvel executive Bill "Mad as a Hatter" Jemas, the dynamic duo that made superhero comics fun again starting in 2000, over at Comic Book Resources.

Take this anecdote by Bill Jemas on getting a shipload of free sample issues of Ultimate Spider-Man out there, for instance:
The first thing we did was had [sic] a shoe company, Buster Brown shoes, that was filled with these very irrational Spider-Man fans. We spent a fortune to create a great pair of shoes. Joe, remember the red shoes with the webs?

I’ll get back to the shoes in a second, but Joe gives me more credit than I deserve — I brought Joe into every high-end sales and creative meeting I could find because I’m not an enthusiastic person really, but Joe would come in and start beating the drums! Big sponsors and newspapers and companies — you know how Joe gets the comic industry to follow the drum, well, Joe did a lot of that with people from the electronic game companies to the shoe companies.

Okay, so back to the shoe company. They bought 500,000 copies of Ultimate Spider-Man and stuck them in the shoes and sold those shoes like crazy! So, really, what we were doing was getting the comic books out there way in advance of the movie and that spurred the graphic novel program. Then people saw the success of the graphic novels and the shoes and wanted to do some t-shirts and we forced them — and this is horrible to say — but we forced the sample comics down everybody’s throats at first, but then they really liked them. I think the sampling number ended up being around 8 million units.
Also fun are Jemas's comments on his early experiences with the Internet in part two:
I remember walking into Marvel and not really understanding the Internet at the time, saying things to reporters like, “Well, the comic books sucked.” I didn’t realize at the time that that line would be all over the Web for weeks! “Well, I didn’t mean sucked like they were bad, I just meant sucked like I couldn’t give the books to a twelve-year-old who would enjoy it!”
During the course of the interview, oddly, Quesada suggests that Mark Bagley, the artist who ended up drawing the first hundred-and-then-some issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, was not around at Marvel in 2000, and was "brought back" by Jemas.

Erm, no. Bagley had been drawing Marvel's Thunderbolts since 1997, and continued to do so until well into his tenure on Ultimate Spider-Man, in fact.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Welcome Back

Run-Off Election

Behold. From the makers of "What's Better: The Book or the Movie?," "Who's Stronger: Hulk or Thor?" and "What's Colder: Pepsi or Coke?" now comes another great moment in the history of critical analysis:

"Politics and Comic Books: Should the Two Mix?"

Comics industry veteran and current Papercutz editor-in-chief Jim Salicrup about nails it in his reply:
Would anyone ask if film and politics should mix? Or literature and politics? Comics as an artform can be anything, and there's no reason to impose limits. One can also argue that politics exists in all fiction -- comics, prose, film, etc. -- and it's virtually impossible to exclude.
Everyone else polled for the article kinda sorta seems to agree*, but the author, Benjamin Ong Pang Kean, still gets it wrong when he takes a stab at summarizing his findings: "So, yeah, the general consensus is that comics and politics should mix."

Well, no, it's not. The "general consensus" among the, erm, three people quoted in the piece up to that point, if anything, is that comics and politics, do, in fact, mix all the time, and, as Salicrup points out later on in the article, have probably been doing so for as long as there have been comics to begin with, and so the question is really a little bit behind the times.

*) Everyone but Bluwater Productions boss Darren G. Davis, that is, who not only agrees, but also seizes the opportunity to stress, in many words, that he is, as a matter of fact, just doing it for the children.