Wednesday, June 25, 2008

HeroesCon Report, Part 4

Over on The ISB, Chris Sims did a good job covering the DC Nation panel we attended at HeroesCon, including the repeat of our request to Jann Jones for Showcase Presents Sugar & Spice. I think we could start a real grassroots effort if, at every con, Jann Jones and Dan DiDio received requests for this book. So, if you're going to WizardWorld Chicago, you have a project to work on.

Chris says a lot of the things I would say about the first panel, so go ahead over there and read his report before reading this one. One thing Chris didn't cover is that Dan DiDio was a jerk to Rachelle from Living Between Wednesdays when she asked a questions about Catwoman. Rachelle started by saying something about how she was sad to see Catwoman get cancelled, and DiDio cut her off with, "I just want to make sure fans know that when a book doesn't sell, it gets cancelled." Then Rachelle went on to ask her real question, which was about the continued presence of Catwoman in the DC Universe. DiDio responded to that by stating that Catwoman would be fighting Hush in Detective Comics, written by Paul Dini.

Now, I love Will Pfeifer's run on Catwoman: it's my favorite DC comic right now and I'm sad to see it go away. I also don't have that much interest in seeing someone other than Pfeifer writing Catwoman right now. But DiDio's semi-hostile response was curious. Obviously, he gets a lot of stupid questions, as Chris and I both observed, and he probably gets angry comments from fans of books that get cancelled. He seemed to be pre-empting or anticipating such a response when the subject of Catwoman came up. But I would be more curious to find out what the threshold for cancelling a Catwoman book is vs. that for other DC titles with weaker sales, like Jonah Hex, Blue Beetle, and Simon Dark.

One piece of news that was exciting came out when an audience member asked about the possibility of a Hawkman series done by Joe Kubert and his sons, Adam and Andy. DiDio responded with a quick "Yeah!" which drew cheers from the crowd.

Some of DiDio's defensiveness may have stemmed from the rampant rumors circulating throughout the con about the state of his employment with DC. Word was moving pretty fast on Friday about the possibility that Jimmy Palmiotti would be replacing him. That rumor was fueled even further when Jimmy responded with a "No Comment" after being asked--along with everyone on the panel--if he would want DiDio's job. Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, and other comics news sites covered this topic throughout the weekend, with Palmiotti admitting that his response was a joke. However, there were a lot of "No Comments" being bandied about throughout the panel, all done with a little wink to the audience. For example, artist Ethan Van Sciver responded that way when asked if he would be working on a Barry Allen Flash book, thus virtually confirming that as a fact. Therefore, those who took Palmiotti's "No Comment" seriously were not out of line in relation to the context of that particular panel.

In contrast, the Sunday panel, titled "A Conversation with Dan DiDio," was, at least for the first half, a loose, enjoyable discussion of comics in general with DiDio, Jann Jones, Mark Waid, Newsarama's Matt Brady, and the whole audience. DiDio walked around the room, asking people to name the first comic they remember reading, the one that got them hooked, the people that bought them their first comics, and so on.

Waid talked about the comic that almost got him to quit comics: Superman Salutes the Bicentennial, Limited Collectors' Edition C-47. I had this comic as a kid, too, and I was equally disappointed. Those who are familiar with the book know that, while the cover features Superman, the inside features a short Superman framing sequence introducing his favorite Tomahawk stories.

This panel was both fun and nostalgic while DiDio was asking questions about how fans got into comics. DiDio and Waid also talked about how they both find themselves competing for the same eBay auctions, though Waid always wins. Waid told the story of how he bought through eBay a stack of hundreds of in-house comic ads from the 40s, which had been cut out of the original comics. As he went through the stack, he realized that these were pages cut out of books like Batman 1 and Superman 1.


Later in the panel, however, when the discussion turned to the current state of comics, the mood in the room shifted to something closer to the DC Nation panel. When DiDio asked what people wanted to see more of in comics, the stuff people came up with was pretty lame. One fan explained that he liked Countdown better than Civil War because Civil War required you to read at least 70 books in order to follow it. That's a ridiculous comparison, as Countdown alone was 51 issues, and that doesn't include all the crossovers and tie-ins. In fact, I read only the 7-issue Civil War miniseries, and I understood the story just fine (though I didn't care for it).

The discussion took a strange turn when one fan asked for more Elseworlds titles because they require less work to understand than in-continuity DC Universe books. Others quickly chimed in their approval. Now, I can sympathize somewhat with those who feel that DC continuity is impenetrable, but it's sheer laziness to think that a reader can't catch up with necessary continuity just by effectively using the internet.

When I started reading comics back in the early 1970s, the series that hooked me more than any other was Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, which was probably the most continuity-heavy book that DC put out then. But I was fascinated with the possibility of learning the backstories to all these fun heroes, and I eagerly delved into a quest to find back issues that would help fill my knowledge gaps. In the end, that's the correct way to use continuity--to create a vibrant, exciting world that readers want to enter and enjoy the process building on their knowledge of it.

But back then, comics were delivered to our homes every week via pneumatic tubes, which is considerably different from the way things are today.

Late in the panel, another fan gave an impassioned speech about how DC had ruined the Charleton characters like Blue Beetle, The Question, and Captain Atom because they had removed the characters' "charm." Now, "charm" isn't the term I would use for Steve Ditko's Randian Objectivist fantasy in The Question, but maybe I'm missing something. To his credit, DiDio gave a straight-up answer that could be summed up as, "What you're calling 'charm' is really your own nostalgia for the time and place that you were in when those stories first came out." I think that's true for a lot of elements of fandom. I know I find a lot of 70s comics I loved as a kid to be painful today. In fact, the comic blogosphere has developed its own cottage industry out of this very phenomena. DiDio went on to tell about how, once he began working at DC, he read all the books published in the rare Cancelled Comics Cavalcade. Going into the reading, he hoped to find some lost treasures; instead, he found some not-very-good comics.

So, the two DC panels were a bit of a mixed bag, highlighting many of the problems DC faces in the nostalgia market of contemporary superhero comics. Though I think DC has made some missteps lately, especially with the endless run of event books and disappointing weekly series, I do find a lot to enjoy in their line. The average DC fan right now is probably a lifer--one who will buy Batman, Superman, and/or Justice League no matter who is writing and drawing it or how good it is. These fans cling to nostalgia like an island of refuge in an ocean of chaos, and they panic at the slightest hint of change. In this kind of environment, I don't know if DC can launch a successful new series that will last more than 12 issues if it isn't tied to Superman or Batman, except perhaps with a limited number of A-list creators. Brave and the Bold, for example, should be the average DC fan's perfect comic: a nostalgia-fest of relatively obscure characters mixed with pure, fun superhero stories and two of comics' top creators. However, the comic is failing to keep its audience. When Dan DiDio asked the audience what it wants to see more of in comics, Mark Waid interrupted by shouting, "And if you say 'fun, done-in-one stories,' you're a liar!"--pointing to the fact that his Brave and the Bold series offers just that yet can't find an audience.

3 comments:

Chris Sims said...

I figured I'd let Rachelle tell that story herself, but since it looks like she passed...

Teebore said...

Awesome:

"When I started reading comics back in the early 1970s, the series that hooked me more than any other was Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, which was probably the most continuity-heavy book that DC put out then. But I was fascinated with the possibility of learning the backstories to all these fun heroes, and I eagerly delved into a quest to find back issues that would help fill my knowledge gaps. In the end, that's the correct way to use continuity--to create a vibrant, exciting world that readers want to enter and enjoy the process building on their knowledge of it."

Substitute 1990s, X-Men and Marvel for 1970s, Legion and DC, and I've said almost the same thing (sometimes, even the same words!), especially in regards to questing after back issues, to describe my experiences and take on continuity and how it should be used.

*Sniff*

All this time, I thought I was alone...

Harvey Jerkwater said...

I suspect that "Catwoman" is cancelled for sales and "Jonah Hex," "Blue Beetle," and others are not is for a couple of reasons. Probably, they figure that "Catwoman" is a Bat-book, and those rise and fall regularly. Also, she's had and lost series before. I get the impression that "Blue Beetle" is a book DC is trying to keep alive, hoping that it'll get some traction if it hangs around long enough. "Jonah Hex" is probably more of the same. They want to diversify, and figure the market may come around to it someday, and figure that "Hex" is a start. Then again, I'm just guessing.

Through means I can't discuss, I have read the "Cancelled Comic Cavalcade" issue of "Firestorm." It was awful, even by "Firestorm" standards. Which is saying a lot.

DiDio's answer about "charm" was great. And, for what it's worth, the current Blue Beetle is a damn charming book.