How to Fix the DC Universe, part 1
Now is as good a time as any to talk about what’s wrong with comics today. It’s a subject near and dear to my heart given my already crazy super hero focus. Especially, in light of the recent news last week, concerning the creative team of Batwoman leaving over editorial interference (specifically nixing the gay marriage that the team had been planning for a while, as well as other last minute story changes) and the art contest for Harley Quinn that was in abysmally poor taste. It’s clear that DC editorial is stuck with no one left in the office who will say to them: “No, this is a bad idea.” I’d say someone needs to stop them before it’s too late, but…well….I kinda think we’re past that point honestly.
Let’s face it, comics from the big 2 suck. Marvel is trapped with this crappy Marvel Now stuff, relying on it’s perfected gimmick of crossover mania. Avengers vs X-men, Age of Ultron, and Infinity are three different company wide cross-overs to have come out in the last year alone. DC’s new 52 is complete and utter garbage. The comics industry has been broken for many years now. The reasons are many and varied, from a captive-aging audience, to comics being written as though they were stuck forever in the second act of a three act play. In addition, not catering to new readers, the aforementioned big book cross overs, produced comics that are just pure garbage, and stultifying all character growth per Stan Lee’s 1960’s decree to maintain the status quo. There are tiny bright spots here and there, for sure. Marvel’s Hawkeye, and Captain Marvel are fantastic books and I love them a ton. The new He-Man book is a fun read from DC, but wait. That’s not in the DC Universe’s continuity, so it doesn’t count. And of course, other companies are doing good stuff like Dark Horse, and IDW. So good comics are out there. Hell, good 4 color super hero comics are out there. But DC needs some huge help. HUGE. Marvel is in bad shape too, but that’s more a quality issue than a structural one. But DC. Where do you even begin?
I believe I know what to do, so here are my completely unsolicited recommendations to fix the DC comics universe. Let me remind you that I am a complete nobody, with zero experience in the comics industry outside of being a fan for as long as I could read. So consider this, a fan’s point of view. (Hooray internet, for once again elevating the opinions of a nobody out into the ether!)
With DC, you have to address the mess that is their continuity first.
Continuity seems to trip them up the most. They’ve spent more time over the years then anyone else trying to figure out how to deal with it. There was Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, then Infinite Crises, then the New 52, and I don’t even know anymore. It’s garbage. All of it. It imposes some ridiculous editorial constraints, and has hamstrung story telling for years. To fix it, you look at the history. Since comics first came to be, we have the benefit of various comic ages freely divided up for us. We start with the golden age of comics, then move to the silver, and bronze ages, before finally going to to the modern age we’re in now.
Point of reference. Referring to all comics after 1985 as the modern age is probably not a good idea. Perhaps it’s time to start a new modern age, while at the same time, designating the age of comics after the bronze as the dark age of comics or something similar. It was 1986, when we got the big heavy stuff, Watchmen and Dark Knight. That seems like a natural transition period to start the age, just not sure where to stop it right now.
But none of that really matters. DC can make an editorial decision. Define when your ages have started and stopped and declare by editorial fiat that the ages will never last more then 20 or 30 years or so. Once you’ve define your ages, you stick with them. At least until you want your most recent modern age to end. Then you stop, and declare it the age of tight pants and announce a new modern age. And if you want to do a huge continuity reboot, then that’s the time to do it.
You see, here’s the thing. Now that you’ve formally defined these ages, you declare them all within continuity. So you now have a Golden Age Continuity, and a Silver Age Continuity, etc. And once you’ve done that, you declare those continuities, living entities. And now every single story that comes across the editorial desk for approval, gets slapped with a sticker. Any writer that wants to come and play in these sandboxes can now do so. Any writer that wants to go back and write that Superman story where he’s bouncing planets around like marbles and solving all the world’s problems in one fell swoop, now has a continuity to do it in. Any writer that has a great Batman story set in the dark and gritty age, can now pen a script full of dead, paralyzed, and abandoned sidekicks, littered around him like the butts from a chain smoker. All of these stories are considered in continuity for the age of the comics that the writer wants to fall under.
And this is the key. Separate out your continuities based on the age in which the books were written. And then make them ALL canon. It solves every problem of continuity that you have. It allows you to build from your history, or ignore it completely if you wish. It gives you the ability to be topical, something that comics as an art form really should be anyway, no matter how desperately Stan Lee doesn’t ever want his characters to change. And now the crazy bit. Does this idea sound crazy? Does it sound like something DC would never do? DC is already doing this. Do you know what Batman ’66 is? A fantastic comic (web only) set in the old Adam West, Burt Ward 1960’s TV show universe. It’s brilliant. Just extend this philosophy to all your comics everywhere and suddenly, you don’t have the problem of old continuity constantly dragging you down. You’ve got completely different ages/universes to play in. Fans win, because the stories they grew up with still count. Writers win because they can now move i and out of continuity as they see fit. Editorial wins because they have ways to categorize books that correspond to sales better.
Next time, I’ll talk about how to work in the “modern” age of comics and apply my theory above to show how DC might be able to get around the problems that it creates for itself every time it does these continuity reboots of theirs. Stay tuned.