By Matt D. Wilson
Each week, Matt Wilson, co-host of the War Rocket Ajax podcast and author of The Supervillain Handbook, examines at a major comic news item and picks a few winners and one loser among the week's comic book releases.
Last week, fellow Chicagoan Daniel Sinker, the creator of the great @MayorEmanuel Twitter feed, posted a thoughtful and well-reasoned critique of a comment DC Comics co-Publisher Dan DiDio made in a New York Times article about the exit of longtime Vertigo Executive Editor Karen Berger.
The brief rundown is DiDio said it'd be "myopic" to think "servicing a very small slice of our audience is the way to go ahead." He thinks DC should be trying to reach the biggest audiences possible. Sinker's response, and I'm not going to try to parrot it too much because he states it quite well and you should just read the whole thing, is that trying to please everyone is basically going to please no one. There is no average reader. They're all readers who want to feel like they're reading something special.
Here's what blows my mind, though: Apparently Dan DiDio believes the comics that DC is publishing right now have wide appeal. That's nuts. Wanting to make comics for everyone is pie-in-the-sky corporate naivete, but thinking "Red Hood and the Outlaws" is a book that anyone in the world would want to pick up and read is outright delusional.
Heck, even the good comics DC is putting out right now, like, say, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's "Batman," consistently the top-selling book DC publishes and often the number-one comic in a given month, is a comic that prominently featured a grotesque tapestry made out of people in a recent issue. That was also an issue that co-starred a faceless Joker, I'll remind you. I can't imagine anyone but a certain group of 140,000 or so comics readers really being in for that.
Or take Geoff Johns' just-ended run on Green Lantern. The final issue asked fans to plop down eight bucks for a run-through of Johns' greatest hits interspersed with pages full of quotes from Hollywood types and colleagues (or perhaps subordinates) patting DC's chief creative officer on the back. If you loved Johns' run on the book, and he really did add a lot to the Green Lantern mythos, you might feel a sense of closure. If you're anyone else, reading the issue feels like showing up at a party you weren't invited to, paying handsomely to get in, and then discovering everyone there speaks a different language.
Comics people like me like to wring our hands a lot and talk about mythical new readers, but maybe it's just time we came to grips with the idea that comics are a niche medium and embrace it. Publishing is a business, I am well aware, and companies such as DC have to make money. I get that.
But, if the leadership at one of the big two publishers thinks a good many of the mainstream comics being published today, with their rampant on-panel limb amputations and tendency to aim for accessibility by repackaging stories from 30 years ago with a more modern coat of paint, is for anyone but a handful of die-hards, I have to wonder what kind of fantasy world they're living in.
And now this week's comics!
(Vertigo Comics, by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson)
I don't often realize how much I miss "Astro City" when it's gone until it comes back and sweeps me up again. This issue is a particularly special return for the series, as it's Busiek's first issue since being knocked out from writing comics by illness for about a year. It seems he and Anderson haven't missed a step, though. There's a sense of Kirbyesque wonder that permeates the story from the very first page. It feels like I'm discovering something along with the characters as I read. There's something really special about reading an "Astro City" comic. It's a feeling I'd like to bottle up and keep.
(Marvel Comics, by Dan Slott, Christos Gage and Giuseppe Camuncoli)
I've been running hot and cold on this series ever since the end of issue #9 really bummed me out (I know the ramifications are very unlikely to be permanent, but it's still a downer). It's hard for me to dislike this one for a few reasons, though. One, it's got a heaping helping of J. Jonah Jameson at his feistiest, as he prepares to see the man who killed his wife Marla executed. It's got an escalating battle of wits between Spider-Ock and the Spider Slayer, the death row inmate I mentioned a second ago. And there's a pretty funny scene where Otto/Peter talks smack to his boss. My favorite stuff from this series has been when Doc Ock is simply taking on day-to-day tasks as Peter and standard-issue heroics, and this issue is all that stuff.
(Image Comics, by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta)
I have to admit that I feel a little lost reading this comic. Each issue has introduced whole new set of characters with new, somewhat mysterious motivations, and it can be a little hard to keep up. Hopefully someone will create a flowchart of all the characters in the near future and I won't have to do all the calculus by myself. But I'll say this: I like the way this comic sets a tone. There's a creeping finality to everything that's happening; every line of dialogue seems like a portent. The mix of cultures is fascinating. The intensity of some of the scenes, such as an interrogation scene here, is palpable. I don't have to get everything that's happening just yet to like it.
(DC Comics, by Robert Venditti and Billy Tan)
A lot of readers probably jumped off this book last issue, but they really should have hung around. Venditti's got a clear handle on the Green Lantern world, particularly the bullheaded Hal Jordan, that he demonstrates in this issue with aplomb. The threat that's introduced in the first few pages feels real and urgent. And Tan's turning in some of the best work of his career.
Action Comics #21
(DC Comics, by Andy Diggle and Tony Daniel)
Andy Diggle is credited as the plotter of this issue, with Daniel handling the script and the pencils. Daniel's art is, as it has been throughout the New 52, mostly really good, save for some postury, angry poses Superman strikes that don't really seem to ring true for the character to me. His script on the other hand shares many of the problems his run on "Detective Comics" had. For example, at one point Superman tries to put a spin on the old "What doesn't kill me only makes me stronger" cliche, but it ends up reading as trying too hard by far. Then Jimmy Olsen mentions Clark Kent being in "the friend zone" and I have to tap out.