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DC Comics and Milestone

by  in Comic News Comment
DC Comics and Milestone

Disclaimer: These here opinions are solely the province of MarkAndrew, and do not reflect the views of Comic Book Resources or even Comics Should Be Good.

Let’s just get THAT out of the way.

DC Comics and Milestone.  Kind of a MESS, huh?

I’ve wracked my brains about this and I can only come up with two options: Bad planning bordering on incompetence, or someone or someone at DC comics… Excuse me, DC ENTERTAINMENT… are going out of their way to fuck with their creative talent for precious little benefit to themselves.

I’ll run through my thought process in detail down at the bottom, but that’s what all the options I’m seeing boil down to.

You guys got any other ideas?

Let’s recap. The Milestone Comics line (or Dakota Universe) was originally launched way back in the halcyon days of 1993. The objective was to up the profile of minority (not just black) characters in superhero comics. The line was, yes, published through DC comics and had a respectable – albeit not bestselling-  run before closing up shop in 1997.

Then, in 2000,  one of the Milestone characters broke out big; the Static Shock animated series enjoyed a four year run on the WB – and continues to be shown in syndication.

Simultaneously, based on general comic nerd word-‘o-mouth, I started following the defunct Milestone line.  Hooray for the fifty cent bins!

And they were GOOD.  I’ve read… I’ve read a lot of comics, people.  And the Milestone books are some of my favorite favorite superhero comics ever.  (Except for Blood Syndicate, which never did much for me.)

So, yes, I am biased here. I AM a fan of these properties.

Sidenote: In theory I’m all for diversity in comics. In practice this doesn’t affect my buying or reading habits in the slightest. I thought the Milestone comics were an engaging ‘an well-put-together line of books, especially good at slammin’ together some cool and unique character dynamics. (ESPECIALLY Icon. Man, I love Icon.)

Fast forward. At the ’08 San Diego comic convention, DC executive editor Dan Didio announced that DC comics has reacquired the license to the Milestone characters and will be publishing new comics featuring them. Didio is effusive in his praise for the line, all – “always a fan” and “great addition to our line.” The Milestone characters were coming back, albeit absorbed into the DC Universe.

As a fan of these properties, I’m excited and hopeful.

Then…. Not much.

Static ends up in the Teen Titans. There are a few guest appearances from Milestone characters in Justice League and Brave and the Bold. Static and Icon trades are re-printed, and a Hardware TPB is due on the schedule for March, 2010. Also, a Dakota-verse wrap-up mini-series is underway.

Then,  on August 24th, this.

SHIT!

In a fan-question based interview Dan Didio announces there are “No New projects” involving the Milestone stable  in the works.  The best he can offer is the possibility of a  Static-centric story in Teen Titans at an unconfirmed date in the future.

As a fan of the Milestone line, I’m pissed. Is DC SPECIFICALLY trying to jerk me around?

But I get over that.  And start thinking as a writer with a big ‘ol historical interest in the comics medium.

Now, I’m confused.

What’s the POINT of shepherding the deal through for such little returns? Is DC happy with this?   Milestone editor and Chief Dwayne McDuffie wasn’t, and publicly expressed frustration.

I KNOW that a decent amount of time, expense, and money was spent by the Milestone creators. I assume that a goodly amount of same was tossed around on the DC side of the fence.  All this for a POSSIBLE Static-related storyline?

What. The. Hell. Were. They. Thinking?

So in the interests of research I trundled around the net and came up with some possibilities.

I gotta tell you.  None of these make DC editorially look pretty good.  At best it feels like extraordinarily poor planning on DC’s part.  At worst, it feels like a downright malignant brush-off to the creators and fans of the Milestone properties.

Let’s head down the depressing list.

Possibility 1) Simple miscommunication.  Didio is wrong, and the door is, in fact, open for new Milestone-related comics project at DC. I’d *like* for this to be true, and – The Dakota wrap-up series – is in the pipeline.  And DC will probably release it.

Still, overall, this is unlikely, given the unhappiness on the Milestone side, this is extremely unlikely.  McDuffie certainly doesn’t think this is the case.   But maybe?  Please?

Possibility 2) DC HAD big plans for the Milestone characters.  These plans were changed due to the vagaries of corporate publishing..

(Which doesn’t ABSOLUTELY mean “bad or incompetent planning.”

Probably.

I guess.)

OR these plans were changed to “punish”Dwayne McDuffie for comments made on his message board regarding his work writing Justice League of America. Here’s a quote from McDuffie on the JLA firing, via his message board via the Beat:

Nope, it was my own doing. I was fired when “Lying in the Gutters” ran a compilation of two years or so of my answers to fans’ questions on the DC Comics discussion boards. I’m told my removal had nothing to with either the quality of my work or the level of sales, rather with my revelation of behind-the-scenes creative discussions.

Honestly, I don’t have much of an opinion on the above. DC can fire anyone for whatever reason they want, and I’m sure that all experienced freelancers understand the business and the risks.

Still, these are two completely separate projects, with different editors, creators, and fan-bases.  If this is true we’re assuming that DC is capable of screwing over EVERYONE involved with Milestone to punish one guy.    If so – and remember, this is all absolutely hypothetical –  this is both incredibly petty, and potentially damaging to the quality of future DC projects:

“Dear freelances. If you tell the truth about your experiences working at DC, we will do EVERYTHING in our power to fuck with your life” is not a corporate attitude that results in a happy, productive work environment.

Possibility 3) DC REALLY, REALLY, REALLY wanted Static in the Teen Titans and didn’t care about the rest of the line at all.

If so… Well, mission accomplished, in an extremely inefficient and  round-a-bout way.  McDuffie considered this possibility on his forum.

Based on their actions, they never really wanted to publish the Milestone stuff, they wasted my time. We could have done a little deal for them to use Static without me having to spend so much money on lawyers.

Of all the likely possibilities, this is the one that casts DC in the best light.  It makes them seem silly and muddled, but not actively out to screw with people’s lives.

Sidenote, for what it’s worth: I just read both the Terror Titans mini-series and the most recent Titans TPB. Writer Sean McKeever and artist Joe Bennett are doing a fine job with Static. No complaints.

Possibility 4) DC’s publishing strategy is “Let’s throw crap at the wall and see what sticks.” (Granted this is, to some extent, EVERYONE’S publishing strategy.)  DC was hoping for a huge sales/publicity bump on the first few Milestone appearances. When this failed to happen, they decided to shelve all plans and pool their resources into more potentially profitable venues.

Like a Magog series. Or relaunching the Doom Patrol for the 16th time this year.

(OK, I bought both of these.  But still….)

In other words:  Poor planning and bad faith lying.

Possibility 5) Was, I believe, originally floated by Tony Isabella over on Dwayne McDuffie’s message board.

Call me cynical, but I still think the main reason DC makes deals to publish characters like the Milestone characters, the Archie super-heroes, Doc Savage, etc. is to keep someone else from publishing them. They already get their butts kicked by the Marvel super-heroes and they don’t want any more competition.

So. DC management is saying, here “WE don’t want to play with these toys, but we damn sure don’t want anyone else to play with them, either.” This would obviously make them assholes, but worse…

STUPID, too.

(A) By screwing the Milestone guys over, DC has clearly and obviously reduced it’s chances at this kind of future publishing deal. DC, unsurprisingly, seems much more concerned with the profitability and visibility of the characters that they own than the characters that they don’t. Which is, on a corporate-greed level sensible enough, BUT it doesn’t make them a particularly inviting home for folks who want their active characters to appear in actual comic books. The DC/Milestone alliance was an epic failure. The DC/Wildstorm alliance certainly wasn’t a success – Among other things, editorial meddling from DC led to Alan Moore seeking employment elsewhere.  At this point it seems like the height of idiocy for any outside company to want to function as a DC imprint.l

You keep this up, nobody’s gonna want to work with you.

(B) I don’t, honestly, see any other superhero universe posing much of a threat to DC and Marvel in the near future. DC HAS to know this too. Given the near-impossibility of selling non DC/Marvel superhero titles in the current direct market, all of this seems like wasted effort. In the last ten years there’s been, what? Invincible? And…. Yeah. I’m tapped.

Possibility 6) DC Comics is actively trying to alienate minority readers/hates black people/has an actively racist agenda. I’ve seen this one tossed around on message boards a decent amount.

I’m not seeing any corroborating evidence, so let’s let this one go.

Possibility 7)   (Suggested by Rob Tevis below.)

McDuffie changed the deal after getting fired and DC’s hands are tied. He is big on creative control. If he felt like he wouldn’t get that after being let go, he could have decided to change things at the last minute. Dan D. probably ran his mouth too soon on the news before things were officially set up.

Possibility 8) Some combination of the above.

So.  That’s what I came up with.

I fully realize that even if DC had given the Milestone line it’s full support it could have crashed and burned creatively. (I’m all-sorts of unsure about the creative potential of mixing the Milestone and DC universes together.) And the odds strongly favor that it would crash and burn and explode and salt the earth commercially – It’s incredibly rare for Marvel or DC to successfully launch ANY new in universe title, and the few that do succeed tend to be re-brandings of existing titles. (See: Dark Avengers.) Most fans prefer to stick with their favorite characters, and even modestly successful re-launches like Outsiders and She-Hulk are rare.

Of course, DC could have just avoided the whole deal in the first place.

And the Milestone line seems to be designed to target y an audience DC feels they don’t understand or have no real chance of reaching in decent numbers.

And, really, I’m not sure the REASON matters as much as the result:  A lot of people –  Creators and fans, including yours truly, – feels jerked around, fucked with, and angry.

So that’s my spiel.  Let me end with four questions:

1) Is there ANY way that DC could have dealt with the Milestone characters like they did that isn’t stupid or shady?

2) Can McDuffie and the other Milestoners pull out and work with a company that actually seems to like and WANT to produce Milestone comics?

3) Who has the merchandising rights to the Milestone characters now? Is DC in any position to make money off Static Shock lunchboxes?

4) Am I missing anything that might possibly result in new Milestone products? Throw me a bone here!

I am genuinelly curious here.  If anyone at DC or Milestone wants to respond with comments or clarification, please e-mail me at MarkAndrewCSBG at gmail.com.  Thanks.