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August 6, 2013

Go, Read: Tim O'Neil On DC Comics Right Now Vis-A-Vis A Review Of Their Trinity War Storyline

imageThere's a lengthy and really good post here from the writer-about-comics Tim O'Neil on the current "Trinity War" plotline at DC Comics, and how this serves as a distillation of what's going on at the company a couple of years into its relaunch from late 2011. I think I agree with the general thrust of his reading -- I've maybe read about 15-20 percent of those comics, usually in heaping gulps from the dollar bins, so I may not have a sensible, informed take on things. O'Neil also places this era in the context of superhero comics of the last 25 years, which is completely freaking beyond me. I remember some of those titles from the late 1990s being okay, but I also remember a lot of bland nonsense that to me is indistinguishable from the new stuff save for the height of the collars.

I think O'Neil's strongest points come when he talks about a "Trinity War" side project featuring the characters John Constantine and Captain Marvel (now bearing the goofy name "Shazam") and notes that they are completely able to share space without any difficulty because their comics actually feature the same general tone now, and that this tone manages to smooth over all the interesting edges of each character. I haven't read a ton of the new Captain Marvel stuff, but the John Constantine character in the current DC Universe is sort of strangely hilarious to me whenever I see him, like running into Blair Underwood doing a recurring as playboy robin hood Omar Little on Rizolli And Isles. I'm not the biggest fan of John Constantine, but I feel a bit sorry for him, like I keep hoping that he'll escape.

imageI think the surprising factor of the whole DC relaunch 24 months in, at least for me, is that the characters haven't been developed in a way I thought would be a greater priority for the company. There are very few characters that seem to have caught the attention of that fan base as characters, and I might even be able to argue that for as many characters that have gained in terms of fan attention, there are others that have lost some ground. Appealing to the fanbase isn't always the primary goal, but a company's readers excited about a character or set of characters in a way that those characters are the focus of discussion is one measurement that there's some movement in that area. I just haven't seen as much of that as I thought I would. I'm not sure I buy O'Neil's reasoning that "DC Entertainment" has become more important in terms of branding than developing individual properties; I think they may have just whiffed on this.

imageThe degree of difficulty in doing something like rehabilitating an entire library of comics characters is brutal, just a shade below the "create an entire new universe" task which comics companies also tend to think is relatively easy and which ends up being an endeavor that usually comes back to haunt them. Marvel got to where they are at this moment creator-wise and books-wise by a sort of bonsai-like pruning and slow development/deployment played out over a dozen or so years now. That's benefited their character library: Luke Cage, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, the Winter Soldier and Captain Marvel are all characters that have moved to a better place due in part to this slow-simmering approach. You could argue that simply by bringing Mark Waid onto Daredevil, Marvel did more to change fans' view of a longtime character in a positive way than DC did with its entire New 52 initiative. DC jump-started their current direction by editorial fiat, and one hears rumors of a creative climate that is a difficult one in which to operate. Few of the new versions of these characters have caught fire.

There aren't a lot of think-pieces this massive on superhero comics, so if that kind of comics-making interests you at all, you should pay that post a visit.
posted 5:10 am PST | Permalink

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