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Saturday 14 March 2015

DC's "Grimdark" Mental Problem, and How I'd Fix it With Extreme Prejudice

You know, from time to time you hear about some sports fan who is a hapless fan clinging with fidelity to some football team or baseball team that has lost every important game for decades.  He's the butt of jokes and the source of sympathy.  But at least generally, his sport team (however hopeless) at least tries.  Imagine if the stupid fuckers just constantly refused to learn or practice and repeatedly scored against themselves in every game; then and only then would you be approaching the level of sanity-crushing frustration that is the state of being a fan of DC's superheroes circa 2015.

The latest idiocy?  Check out the brilliant plan of DC, faced with plummeting sales and dismal results compared to Marvel, doubling-down for something like the 30th time on making their superheroes "dark" and "edgy", up to and including giving new costumes to their main trio (Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman).

Now, Wonder Woman's is not godawful, just vaguely dumb. Her wrist-cuffs and lariat is replaced by a pair of extra-violent spikes to stab people with.  Because obviously, the most important thing about Wonder Woman is her being all stabby.

Batman's, however, is full-bore idiotic.  He now has a mecha-suit and a gun, and barely even resembles batman:

(yes, that's Batman, in theory)

Because if there's one thing everyone wants to see from Batman is him relying on something other than his wit and natural physical skills.  Oh, and seeing him use guns, because Batman despising the weapon that killed his parents is totally not a significant feature of his character.

But by far, the image that makes the atrocious fucknut stupidity of DC's staff crystal-clear is Superman:

Yes, the Icon of Truth and Justice, the optimistic figure that is supposed to more than anything inspire us with hope for higher ideals, is now dressed in jeans and punk-boots, his hands soaked in the blood of someone he presumably just beat to a bloody pulp, and his "S" is now on a black background because black is so much "edgier".

Now, I know that these costumes won't last, they're due to some contrived special event, blah blah blah, but regardless, the underlying problem that DC's editorial staff has, and the reason why they keep sucking so very very badly, is inherently tied to the type of mental calculations that keep leading them back to bullshit like these costumes!

DC has had a fucking mental problem for the last decade-and-a-half or so where they think "grim and dark" somehow "mature", and not actually adolescent and stupid.  The only people on earth who think grim and dark is 'mature' are 15 year olds.

And DC is precisely the company that should NOT be doing 'grim and dark' (with its main heroes, anyways).  It shouldn't even be doing "REAL".  "Realism" was always Marvel's thing, DC's thing was always MYTH.
The DC heroes are ARCHETYPES.  They are meant to be mythic in scope in a way Peter Parker or Ben Grimm or even Thor could never be (the only Marvel hero that really approaches the level of Archetypal-Myth in that DC-style is Captain America, because he's a golden-age legacy).   The stories you should be telling with DC's heroes should be ultimately optimistic stories about the power of people to do great things if they are determined.
But no, these stupid motherfuckers want everything to be "dark".  They fucking made the Justice Society into a nightmare-world where the heroes always lose, for fuck's sake... the JSA!!!

How, how can these fuckheads not understand the reason why they suck so badly? How many more times are they going to double-down on "Darker"!?

I read that, at least as of a couple of years ago, it was official DC policy that no superhero was allowed to be happy. Also, no stable relationships for superheroes without stress. When you mistake that for some kind of sophistication, you really have to wonder if the people calling the shots at DC are not emotionally-stunted 13 year olds or something.

I've been saying for a few years now that they need to all be fired, yes.  No one over there but Grant Morrison seems to have the slightest clue what DC superheroes are meant to be about.

Recently, when I made some comments about the problem with DC's mentality over on G+, someone commented on how they'd pay good money to see me take over DC and personally throw each of these morons who run it today to the curb. Of course that'd be great, but the shitstorm that would be caused were I made director of DC would be unlike anything the internet has ever seen yet.  The pseudo-activist-gamer crowd would go insane.  Even so, and for the sake of speculating on what DC could be again (as indeed it once was), let's play a little thought exercise of  "What Would the Pundit Do if he Took Over DC Comics"?

First order of business:
1 Make Superman stories optimistic. Make MOST of the DC comics optimistic.  The idiots who have thought DC should mean 'dark' and 'grim' have it exactly backward.  Marvel is where you go for human stories on the ground floor, DC is where you go for the big ideas, for inspiration and Archetypes.   But especially Superman.  One of the reasons why DC doesn't do this now, other than sheer stupidity, is probably on account of the fact that it's a lot harder to write good stories that are also optimistic, and most of DC's writers these days just aren't very good.  But this has to be done, or else DC's superheroes just don't work.

2: Make the JLA not be constantly squabbling with each other, because the "gang of misfits that argue" thing is for Marvel; the JLA should, 90% of the time, consist of iconic heroes that work together, that are (dare I say it?) Super-friends.  The conflicts should come from outside dangers or sometimes from differences of opinion but not because every single one of them is an asshole.

3: Stop making every single DC hero an asshole, for that matter.  Or a gang of Emos.  DC heroes don't all need to be full of angst. In fact, I don't think almost any of them should be permanently full of angst and only a handful should have a even an irregular amount of angst. Even Batman shouldn't be full of angst; he should be full of determination.

4: Create a JSA that is a kick-ass golden-age adventure alternate-world group somewhat reminiscent of the first Captain America movie.  Have lots of history, have a really good writer who makes interesting stories that verge sometimes into pulp, sometimes into occult horror, sometimes into straight-up war stories.

5:  Wonder Woman and Hawkman would both be all about mythology.  Hawkman's would be tied into the Egyptian pantheon (like WW's is to the Greek) and would be a modern-pulp kind of feel to it; there should be a huge story-arc (preferably done by Morrison) that would culminate with him being the avatar of the reborn Horus, god of the New Aeon, Lord of Force and Fire. It would be all occulty and John Constatine could be involved somehow.

6: Yes, heroes could have stable relationships, some could even have marriages.

7: The one and only thing anyone would be allowed to try to rip off from Marvel would be for the Teen Titans; whoever was sent to write for them would have to first sit down and read all of Ms. Marvel and Young Avengers, and every single comic where Young Loki showed up.  Whoever wrote Teen Titans should ideally be young-ish, and capable of writing credible teenage characters, especially teenage female characters.  Everyone who was involved in any way with the New-52 Teen Titans up to now would be dragged out into the street and shot.

8: All of the above would apply to Supergirl too.

9: I'd try to get talent from the DC animated universe people, who actually seem to know what they're doing.  It's ironic that in all the areas where people are doing stuff with DC characters, the comic people are the ones who seem to LEAST understand how to do it right (the movies thus far being a close second, though).

10: Obviously, I wouldn't be allowed to give Watchmen back to Alan Moore, though I wish I could; but I would make it clear that for however long I was in charge, there would be NO attempts at Watchmen-related comics.  I would also try my damnedest to make sure anyone who worked on any of the "before watchmen" comics never get work in the industry again.

11. I would write the Legion of Superheroes myself. Because fuck you.  And it would be awesome.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Quiete + Dunhill 965


  1. DC's problem is that Marvel are more successful. "What do Marvel do that DC don't?" Well Marvel are all grim and gritty.

    So yeah you're 100% right. I'd pretty much do the same. Of course Constantine would have to stay in the grim and messy spectrum but isn't that what the Vertigo imprint is for?

    1. Except that Marvel is NOT grim and gritty, certainly not anymore. They have a much much bigger variety of stories and styles than DC, and it's that diversity which has given them the big advantage. It's true that Marvel has certain characters that are more naturally suitable to grim-and-gritty, but they're also smarter than DC that even with that, it's not their one-trick-pony, whereas DC has chosen it as their one and only trick, and they're not even suited for it.

    2. Makes you wonder how their top creative staff hold their jobs, especially this "Geoff" Johns character I keep seeing listed as something like "chief creative officer." Seems like he should be banned from darkening their doorstep forevermore.

  2. Nailed it! Great dissection of the DC dilemma. My biggest disappointment about this latest apparent debacle is dragging Batman into it - his main title has been one of the strongest of the "New 52" (mainly cos Snyder just got on with it and seemed to ignore everything else that was going on so he could tell good crime stories).

  3. Everything you wrote is correct except the last point: I want to write Legion of Superheroes, though I suppose we can be co-authors.

    Just out of curiosity, as you're a long time DC fan, did you ever get into the Milestone imprint? They included some very good comics.

    1. I saw some Milestone comics in the dollar bin but had no idea what might be worthwhile. Any suggestions on which ones would be worth $1?

    2. The best would be the entire run of Static, especially the early issues. Great story and awesome, if slightly dark art by JP Leon.

      Any Icon & Rocket or Shadow Cabinet issues will be great reads, and while hit or miss, Hardware had some great issues. If nothing else get the issue where he's battling a woman in similar powered armor- that issue is a standout.

      I was a huge fan of Blood Syndicate. It got really good starting in issue 5, and continued to be great up till the mid 20s, when it started getting a little off track. The conclusion was really rushed due to abrupt cancellation, and left things hanging. (I've actually got a panel from issue 8 tattooed on me.)

      Never got into Xombi or any of the later titles, but the launch lineup was very strong.

    3. Thanks, next time I go to that store I'll check if any of those are still in the dollar bin. If I remember right that was a black-focused line; were there any Latino characters? I'm still waiting on something better than Vibe.

    4. I can't say that I ever saw much of Milestone, no.

    5. I really enjoyed Milestone, and some of the same qualities I liked most in the 5 Year Gap Legion stories-- the mature subject matter, the diverse characters, the soap-opera intricacy all that stuff popped up in Blood Syndicate and Shadow Cabinet especially.

      As for Latino characters, Matt, of the launch titles, Blood Syndicate as a team book was your best bet; about half the squad was some flavor of Latino: Brick, Aquamaria, Tech, Fade, and a few later additions to the team. They were also different breeds of Latino, different nationalities and and birthplaces.

      If you're looking for Hispanic supers, also check out the second year of Runaways and later Blue Beetle stuff, both those books seem to get things right, just little details in the story that feel like growing up in a mostly Hispanic part of Texas. Definitely better than Vibe.

  4. It's like you're reading my mind sometimes. I have been saying this for years. Haven't bought a new DC comic book aside from Batman '66 in 25 years because they are so crappy and so into this adolescent perception of what it means to be mature.

    But # 5 must be stricken from the list vis-a-vis Hawkman as I like my Silver Age sci-fi Hawkman and don't feel we need yet another hero declared an incarnation of some mystical mumbo jumbo as when Red Tornado and Firestorm were declared air and fire elemental a, respectively. No thanks. red is a friggin robot with the Tornado Champion inside him and Firestorm is just a teenager who got mixed up in a fusion accident or whatever it was.

    Off topic, but let's also stop pretending the Martian Manhunter doesn't suck. He's not "the heart and soul of the JLa." He's a poor man's Superman knockoff and his finest hour was when they wrote him out of the JLa and he disappeared from comics. Best way to ignore the whole "life on Mars?" Problem anyway.

    1. Red Tornado and Firestorm are not really good choices to be mystical heroes, but Hawkman totally is.

    2. Golden Age Hawkman, maybe, but the whole JSA sucks. The Silver Age versions were so much better in every way possible.

    3. You are profoundly, intensely wrong about this. The Golden-Age supers, many of them anyways, were absolutely amazing. And often have more depth, or can have more depth read into them:

      GA Hawkman: Archeologist who comes to believe that he is the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian Warrior-Pharoah and chosen champion of Horus the Hawk Headed Lord. Uncovers ancient alchemical formula for a metal that allows him to fly. Meets a girl he is immediately drawn to and feels she is the reincarnation of his ancient bride. Fights supernatural horrors with nothing more than the power of flight, his fighting strength, and his knowledge of archeology/mythology.

      SA Hawkman: Alien

      See also: Dr. Mid-Nite, Starman, Hourman, Sandman, and so many others.

  5. Yes yes a thousand times yes. If I might add one rule though. The words "Superman" and "relatable" need to have restraining orders against each other, and should never under any circumstances be allowed within a thousand yards of each other. Every time I hear anyone from DC talk about Superman, it's about how they have FINALLY found a way to once an for all make Superman relatable to the masses. This demonstrates such a profound lack of understanding the character I can't even process it. Superman is not, never has, and never will be "relatable", and that is the point. You aren't ever supposed to "relate" to Supes. He is supposed to be the pillar we aspire to!

    1. You're utterly wrong, of course, because we relate to his all-American upbringing and values. Superman is a paternal or avuncular figure (or was for about 45 years) that we all related to in that way.

  6. I think Marvel is not too far behind if they keep supporting the social justice crowd. I heard that feminist Thor is losing a lot of sales as of late. Then again from what I seen at issue 5 this is one of the rare times I was rooting for the big bad "man" villain because he actually had a point. The punch that took him out had feminist Thor thinking like a passive aggressive bitch.

    Though the most stupidest thing came right after it. After beating up the man villain his female partner in crime gave up for "girl power" reasons. Even telling feminist Thor that she would go in peacefully and gave some dialog that might be leading to a touching moment. Then feminist Thor punch that woman right in the face like a fucking idiot. Thus telling all women of crime that they should forget about women rights and focus on killing feminist Thor. Though seriously I can't tell who is dumbest one at this bit. The super villain that gave up, or feminist Thor who proved herself to be a passive aggressive idiot bitch brute.

    1. By "supporting the social justice crowd" do you really mean "having the temerity to publish stories about characters that don't look exactly like my lily-white dick-slinging self?"

      Were you drunk when you typed that?

    2. Yeah! Except that, you know, "Feminist Thor" is actually selling better that Thor God of Thunder did, still selling at a fairly high level industry wide, and going into 2nd and 3rd printings on some issues.

      And ignoring the sales=goodness argument, the book is well written, funny and has great art as well.

    3. Chris A. Field* how about you stick to what I said instead of projecting your fuck up beliefs on other people? There is a reason I said social justice crowd because they are the only ones that like this pile of shit. Women who enjoy the comic books and actually give a shit about the comic book characters fucking HATE feminist Thor. She is nothing more than a token character gender swap meant to fill out a quota while doing the least amount of work to get the result Marvel wants.

  7. @Chris A. Field: No he meant what he said Chris, don't mistake the social justice warrior crowd for being a synonym for female, because they aren't.

    LevyK is right in that people have accurately called our Thor for being a feminist strawman of masculinity depicting anyone who points out that its pandering as a mouth breathing knee jerk reactionary troglodyte, which in its self is the worst kind of pandering.

    To conflate that with ""having the temerity to publish stories about characters that don't look exactly like my lily-white dick-slinging self" is just silly. There are any number of books that fit that description that weren't trying to suck up to the SJW crowd so hard you could repurpose the book as a vacuum cleaner.

    The fact is that this new Thor book has been interminably bad & nothing short of a complete creative team exchange is going to change that fact. Because the problem isn't the character being female, the problem is the character being a pandering cliché to a self terminating demographic, who will applaud marvel for creating this, then won't purchase it & then will complain about sexism when the book none of them purchased is inevitably cancelled due to plummeting sales.

    Or worse yet Marvel doesn't cancel it, continues to keep the book around even though no one is reading it & it puts of future readers of female friendly material because past attempts have sucked so hard, ala Captain Marvel: A book whose sales figures are well below marvels cancellation line, but has been re/launched twice with the same creative team & is going for a third time, purely on the basis of the characters sex.

    Meanwhile if the resource being utilized by that book were repurposed we could actually potentially get a new female solo book people would actually want to read about.

    Because that's SJW's MO in a nut shell: Instead of appealing to the free market, they try to lecture the free market on why everyone else is wrong to like the things they like.

    @StevenWarble: Actually Steven the sales have been plummeting. They over estimated how many books they would need when the first issue did well, primarily due to the controversy. Since then the sales numbers have been plummeting because its a pretty terrible book both from a creative stand point, a pacing stand point & a technical quality stand point.

    It's been a rather poorly written book that has done less in five issues than the new spider-man spin off solo book Silk did in the first 5 pages of her first issue.

    1. Well, you have your sales numbers and I have mine. ICV2 shows Thor #5 as the #11 comic for February, and sell thru is good at the three comic stores I deal with. And you may feel the book is terrible, but I think it is very good, and there are a number of reviewers that agree with me... and I'm sure that you have reviewers that agree with you.

    2. Thank you for two things. One for backing me up because feminist Thor is nothing more than token character to fill out a made up quota with the least amount of work needed. She is pretty much a insult to all women super heroes out there. Hell she is a grave insult to feminists. At least to the reasonable ones that think logically instead of doing as much damage as they can to the so called "patriarchy".

      The other thank you is for pointing out that feminist Thor is doomed to fail because the target audience don't buy comic books. It is the same demographic that doesn't buy video games and table top role playing games. Look at the storygame market and compare that to just dungeons and dragons alone. D&D is kicking their collective asses and storygame makers are hating this fact.

    3. Thinking about it now. Why didn't they do Freyja who is the goddess of war and all things woman? Seriously she owns half of the norse heaven where warriors who die in battle go to her heavenly field while the other half go to Odin's hall. If I am right she also survived ragnarok which is pretty amazing considering that war killed most of the gods. Seriously that is a bad ass goddess and is just begging for comic book version of her.

  8. I was recently thinking about what stories I would want to see from the big 3 at DC. For Superman, I really want him to be Jesus. I want him to bring a message that a few followers (those he helps) understand but that the system (and the bad guys) don't. And then he must die and come back to life.

    For Batman, I want him to be Sherlock Holmes. I want him solving the mysteries that the police just can't handle with the help of his sidekick and resorting to fisticuffs when the time comes.

    Finally, I want Wonder Woman stories that are like James Bond. Instead of her Majesty's Secret Service she is working with an American Intelligence Agency, her gadgets come from Hephaestus instead of Q, and she travels the world engaging in witty banter with the baddies.

  9. I agree with your overall take on the subject. However, I think that the New 52 has actually been pretty good with a lot of the sideline characters in DC--the Animal Man and Phantom Stranger books are pretty cool, and the Etrigan series is straight-up badass DnD style medieval fantasy. But they have managed to butcher the core characters, even to the point of giving Superman a flippin' COLLAR.

    I find this strange, since only a decade ago the DC Animated Universe was going strong, and that was a pretty excellent set of stories that managed to preserve the iconic, upbeat characters while still giving them layers and placing them in meaningful conflicts that didn't degenerate into pointless angst. Also, they frequently ventured into outer space and other dimensions and even the Hollow Earth at one point, giving the whole series the pulp-tastic "big crazy comic book world" feeling.

    I think that the solution might be to actually "suspend" the shared DCU for a while. Farm out the properties, let a few other writers and companies pay rent and do what they want with the characters, collaborating on crossover issues if they want, but otherwise left to their own devices for a couple of years. There is no reason why every comic book brand needs to constantly play the "big picture" game and try to develop some big earth-shattering Crisis storyline in order to tie as much together as possible. Just let some properties float on their own for a while, then reel them back in in a few years and see which ideas have stuck. You can always start world building collectively again, so why not give the characters some time in a universe to themselves for a bit?