Thursday, November 03, 2011

Direct Message 01: A&C: DC Part Three

[Continuing the first in a planned series of discussions between myself and Alec Berry. Parts one and two...]

Alec Berry:Along with Animal Man, Wonder Woman was the highlight of the entire relaunch. At least for me.

That said... I have little to say about the comic because all that really hits me is … damn, that was good.

Wonder Woman just does what a comic book should, I think. When you break it down, the actual plot is fairly simple - gods are planning something big and some mortal woman, through destiny or fate or whatever, has been thrown into the mix - but the execution and illustration brings everything home.

For one, Cliff Chiang captures motion so well and turns what could have been a routine fight into a few pages of fast, hard hitting fisticuffs. He manages to characterize Wonder Woman through her battlefield tactics, and the way he depicts the character completely brings home the whole aspect of “Amazon Warrior.” I mean, there’s a panel where she head-butts a fucking centaur! Talk about a great moment. I think I clapped.

And, I mean, the script in terms of events doesn’t contain much, but I do respect Brian Azzarello here because he takes what’s really like three scenes and makes the comic feel heavy with content. He makes your mind work, along with Chiang, even though its an issue of centaur pillaging, and a lot of that has to do with being thrown into the world without being baby fed information. Read over the comic once more. Azzarello never explains who Wonder Woman is, why mythic figures run amok in what seems to be a world similar to ours, or what our supposed villain wants or gains from his oracles. Yet the entire comic book makes sense, and I never felt lost reading it.

The story conveys excitement, a world existing beyond ours, and a real sense of threat. Plus, Chiang and Azzarello work in some nice moments of horror. Horse decapitation!

And, hey, the book looks fantastic and does it’s job by way of those looks. Like a comic should.

Chad Nevett: Azzarello never explains Wonder Woman. He shows, he doesn’t tell. That’s what sets him apart from pretty much every other writer of these new books. He just presents Wonder Woman and expects us to understand her by what she says and does. Direct and simple. So direct and simple that I honestly don’t have much to say about Wonder Woman #1. Then again, it’s hard to talk about single issues by Azzarello. If you’ve read at least one of his books, you know that a single issue is just a small piece of what’s there.

‘Funny’ story: when Wonder Woman #1 came out, the guy at my shop, Retailer Tim, mentioned that I was the first person he’d come across in the store who liked Cliff Chiang’s art. And this was Thursday. He likes Chiang’s art, too, and we were both amazed that many customers actively hate his art. Comics fans, people! We’re doomed!

I did find all the talk about this book being ‘appropriate’ for little girls fun. Is fun the right word? It’s like, what, little girls can’t enjoy horse mutilation like little boys? Tim Callahan’s son loved this comic. Then again, I have no idea what little girls like -- I have no idea if DC was right or wrong for not trying to target an audience that doesn’t seem to care at all about their product in the vague hopes that someone somewhere will begin forcing it upon that audience because DC is making comics they’d love. I dunno. I guess I’m left wondering how many little girls comics lost because of a horse getting chopped up in this comic... listen to the internet and their numbers are legion, but I imagine it’s a bit less.

Though, who was the audience for this relaunch? Was it you and I? The lapsed comic readers? Little boys and girls? All of the above?

AB: The internet zeitgeist is really just that. The internet. The dominate tweeters, bloggers and podcasters may shout from the mountain tops of how great Chiang is, but in reality the internet opinion holds the minority. Why that is … I don’t know. Maybe we’re just paying more attention? Or maybe everyone does like Chiang, and you just live in a sucky area of Canada.

Questions, questions...

As for target audience? Whoo, boy. That’s the big question, isn’t it? I’d say a mix between lapsed readers and fresh faces. The TV advertisements said a lot. I mean, they included terrible music, but the way they flowed said to me, “hey, there are still comic books, and DC possesses the characters you’ll care about.”

I’m sure someone has written an immense article on such question. I’ll save everyone the pain.

CN: I never actually saw the commercial, mostly because I don’t care. That’s where I seem to be out of line with most people. I don’t really care about the business side of things. Like when the sales figures began to leak right away. Good for DC... I don’t have a horse in this race.

The question of who the target audience is interests me to a degree, because I’ve gotten into the mode of not caring if comics target anyone but me. I think it was around Final Crisis that I realised that here was a big event completely meant for me and that’s fantastic. I love comics that are meant for me. I don’t know what other people actually want, so I can’t even speak about if a comic effectively targets another type of reader -- and why bother? And I have to agree with you that this feels like it was meant for people who aren’t me. I’ve liked a bunch of books, but haven’t really LOVED any. There hasn’t been that one book that just completely wows me, that becomes one of those books that I can’t wait to read every month. I think that’s what disappoints me.

AB: I’m moderately intrigued by the sales. Usually I try to ignore the numbers, but in a case of this magnitude (and, come on, the purpose of this was a sales boost) I’m paying attention because, well, did DC accomplish what it set out to do? Did this relaunch really attract anyone new or boost sales? I feel its partially necessary to account the sales because in a holistic sense they are a vital piece of the relaunch.

But, hey, we’re here to discuss the quality of the actual content, and I think I can agree with you in your “nothing really wowed me” assessment. Although, I would give such ranking to Wonder Woman. I can’t wait to read the next issue. Besides it though, yeah, DC’s 52 is really just a collection of character spotlights with some moderate aesthetic pleasure. Then again, I never expected anything different. DC is all about property awareness with this push. They want people to know of their brands, and they would like those people to read and follow those brands. I believe there’s plenty of room for creators to still be creative in such an environment, but not much of what I read shouted creative shock to me. There were, however, plenty of solid super hero comics published in the 52. I mean, of what we’ve covered thus far, I’ve been fairly positive about most of it.
But back to my point of “aesthetic pleasure” … Honestly, I feel DC has enough skilled artists to make me buy some of their books. We’ve mentioned Travel Foreman and Greg Capullo. I would also say Jim Lee, Doug Mahnke, Francis Manapul, J.H. Williams, Alberto Ponticelli, Ivan Reis, and Freddie Williams fit the bill. While all the scripts these artists draw from may not light the world on fire, DC is still publishing some sharp looking comics, and that’s kind of enough for me at this point. You make a super hero comic look cool, and as long as the script is decent, I’ll purchase more than one issue.

Great examples are Flash and Batwoman #1. If you took away the artwork from these comics, they would read like any ordinary thing because the substance belongs to the visuals. Williams and Manapul both show their skills as visual storytellers via these first issues. Certain scenes in Batwoman - like the soap opera max father/daughter confrontation - come off as overplayed and forced, but Williams depicts them as Williams does and they feel exciting and new. Manapul takes his expected Flash chase scene and bumps it up to pure eye candy.

Both comics are complete examples of how great artwork can improve mediocre writing. It’s oddly refreshing because it leans the entire success of the comic book on, well, the panels. How odd is that for this writer driven age we inhabit? Kind of why I agree with Grant Morrison when he says the writer age is over.

CN: Is it weird that I still don’t really think of Batwoman as a NEW comic in the same way as the rest of the relaunch? It’s been so long coming that I almost see it as a carryover from before. I mean, it was on my pull list before the relaunch was announced -- it’s like considering Green Lantern by the exact same creative team a new entity in any way at all.

And the writer age isn’t over. What, because there are a few artist-driven books? I should damn well hope that, out of 52 books, many would have good art and a few would have great art. I expect the same of the writing. I think Action Comics is a fairly strong writer-driven book. Take away Morrison and you’re left with Rags Morales. The other side of that is something like Detective Comics, which is totally artist-driven... and lacking in both quality writing and art. I still don’t know why that final page is supposed to be cool or awesome or... even interesting. It baffles me completely.

But, you’re right, take away the art from a book like Batwoman and you’re left with a fairly middle-of-the-road comic. It makes me wonder how well the comic will function when Williams isn’t doing the art. I know a lot of people love Amy Reeder’s art... but she’s not in the same league as Williams. The zero issue was almost painful in its demonstration of that. And that’s a concern that spreads across much of the line. With word of short lead times, how long before some of these stacked creative line-ups are replaced with less-than-stellar replacements? I guess this relates to the question of sales as well: it’s all well and good to look at the first month, but is that a good indication about the relaunch and its impact? Or, should we return to the question in nine months and see where things are at?

AB: Nine months will say a lot about this entire move. About sales. About impact. About longevity. And, yes, about the creative teams.

I believe we’re already seeing a few of the cracks in the art consistency. Action Comics looks to be in a visual tailspin for the next few issues - until Andy Kubert steps in. Marco Rudy was supposed to pencil Suicide Squad, but that didn’t happen. Leading the book away from a solid visual look. David Finch seems to do whatever he can on each issue of his Batman title. Completely squashing the original intent of the comic.

The books to really make an impact will be the comics that maintain their creative teams - especially on the art side. It seems the smart books of the industry switch artists between arcs. Daredevil is the perfect, current example. If DC could work to the DD model, hiring a pair of similarly styled artists to go back and forth, the comics could come out monthly and still carry a consistency while looking nice.

But, hey, even though plenty of great illustrators remain unemployed, DC will stick to their usual stable of talent. Gotta maintain that house style!

Strict deadlines could be good, though. Artists may experiment with different styles in order to produce faster. Kirby did that. Kirby’s good.

I mean, if artists want to keep the job, they’ll actually need to sit down and hammer out the work. Job on the line … artists may adapt in interesting ways.

The interesting story is Jim Lee. Man of the company. Can he keep up? What happens if he doesn’t? Looks bad when boss man misses deadlines.

So, shall I drop thoughts on Justice League?

CN: I just want the end of All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder. Who chooses Geoff Johns over Frank Miller? What the fuck? And, yeah, talk about Justice League while I lay back and think of O.M.A.C. until it’s all over...

[The conclusion is up on Alec's blog...]