Over the weekend, DC Comics decided that dominating one subcategory of comic book news wasn’t enough. In addition to making every single breathing human weigh in on “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” DC also revealed the creative teams behind Rebirth, their line-wide relaunch. The continuity of the New 52 still stands, but every series will get a new start that both acknowledges more of the publisher’s past while also providing a (hopefully) convenient jumping-on point for new readers.
Between comics and movies, DC got all the attention — and I’m trying to figure out my reaction, because reactions are what I jam in your face via this column. And I’m specifically trying to figure out my reaction to Rebirth, because my gut reaction to “BvS” was hammered into my head for two and a half hours last Thursday night. Those movies aren’t for me. But the comics, the comics should be, or at least could be, and all the Rebirth hullabaloo has made me really analyze my lengthy non-relationship with the other big superhero comic publisher.
I’ll start by saying that I think all talk of Marvel vs. DC is infuriatingly boring. This is a surface-level fluffy debate that’s usually based on personal biases/preferences. They’re both superhero publishers, they both do good work, they both have great characters and hire amazing talent. I think their relationship with each other and how they react to and relate to each other is vastly more interesting than discussions based around “Wolverine would annihilate Batman, man” and “DC is just inherently better — that’s an objective fact!” Both companies are constantly evolving and how they’re viewed in public opinion is cyclical; they fall in and out of fashion on a near monthly basis. I say all this to point out that none of what I say should be interpreted as me thinking one of these publishers is inherently better than the other one. That’s simplistic.
I’m trying to untangle my complex emotion-thoughts about DC and why I have a hard time really caring about the company’s superhero universe. Obviously I care about it in the larger sense — in the sense that the more great, successful, progressive high-profile comics there are out there the better the entire industry is. But that’s the Comic Professional in me, and IN YOUR FACE JAM is where I sometimes let my full-heart/all-guts comic id loose. As a comic reader and comic fan, I’m ashamed to admit that it’s hard for me to dive into the deep end of DC and not end up struggling to even tread water.
I reiterate that this isn’t a sweeping statement about one publisher being objectively better than the other (remember, that’s simple-brain talk). I know DC does great work, but I’m now aware that I have a lot of Marvel-exclusive comic buying/reading habits that became ingrained in my brain as a kid. Yes, I’m a “Marvel guy,” which I admit while swatting away all the negative, immature connotations that come with declaring yourself “loyal” to one publisher over the other. Back, assumptions! Back!
What I mean by that is, I read nothing but Marvel comics from 1992 (when I first realized “G.I. Joe” was also a comic) to 2003 (when those X-Men creators I liked, Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee, started a popular “Batman” story). The first ten years of my comic buying and reading life was defined by Marvel, because it was exclusively Marvel. I really didn’t even branch out from the X-Men for the first half of that decade either. I was a very picky elementary/middle/high schooler. I became so used to Marvel and the way they produced comics that their superhero universe became my native tongue. I expected superheroes to interact with real locations, like New York City, and I devoted so much time to mapping out the history of X-Men on my own in the pre-Wikipedia age. Visiting Gotham felt, comparatively, more like reading fiction — which is an insane thing to say considering ’90s Marvel’s New York City rarely featured more details than “street,” “alley” and “sporadic tree.” But still, I lived in Marvel and DC felt like a foreign country.
Not only did I become accustomed to the Marvel superheroes, my eyes ‘n’ brain also became used to the way Marvel produced comics. The subtle changes in lettering and coloring between the two publishers always threw me off, and this extended to any Dark Horse or Image comics I would run across as well. If I’d been exposed to a smorgasbord of comics from multiple publishers at a young age, maybe I never would have pigeonholed comics as looking like the way Steve Buccellato, Glynis Oliver, Joe Rosas, Richard Starkings and Chris Eliopoulos made them. Those subtle things stuck with me — and middle school me laughed at DC because their books weren’t colored by Liquid! I was a simple brat, back then.
So Marvel became my default, and the fact that not a month has gone by in almost 25 years that I haven’t bought and read a new Marvel comic only makes my predicament more… thorough. I’ve branched out a lot for sure; more often than not, the creators on a certain book — not the characters or publisher — determine whether or not I’ll buy it. Those things are also related; my love for Jeff Parker’s “Thunderbolts” run led me to buy both Dynamite’s “Flash Gordon” and DC’s “Aquaman.” Loving Gabriel Hardman’s run on “Secret Avengers” led me to track down the stellar “Planet of the Apes” books he did with Corinna Bechko for BOOM! Studios, and now I read everything they do (Image’s “Invisible Republic” is my jam). Loving Kelly Sue DeConnick’s “Captain Marvel” got me to “Bitch Planet,” loving Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire’s teamwork got me to “Injection,” loving Ming Doyle’s art got me to “Mara,” rave reviews led me to Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag’s “Strong Female Protagonist” — my comic book life is vastly better than it was in the ’90s when every book I read starred pouch-wearing mutants (and I say that as someone that loves pouch-wearing mutants).
But I do feel different with DC, perhaps because it’s the other shared superhero universe. Casual observers can’t tell the difference between the two, and I do see why; there are nuanced and fundamental tonal differences between the two that I feel in my vibe-receptors every time I read a book from either universe, but they’re both superhero universes made up of secret identities and action and world-saving and retcons and teamwork and etc. I think that for the past decade of my more inclusive habits, I’ve been trying to play catch-up with DC, trying to make myself feel as attached to it as I do to Marvel — and then feeling pretty darn guilty when I can’t (brains are weird).
There are runs I love. The Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis/Kevin Maguire “Justice League International” is fantastic. “Doom Patrol” and “Animal Man” are my favorite Grant Morrison works. Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams’ Batwoman arc of “Detective Comics” made me extremely emotional. Rucka, Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark’s “Gotham Central” is one of the greatest series I’ve ever read, ever. And the New 52, which brought me deeper into DC waters than ever before before I got out, gave me Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Batman,” Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder’s “Action Comics,” and Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman’s “Animal Man.” I’ve read a lot more DC, more consistently, since the New 52 launched than ever before.
But I always, eventually, fall off the DC books, no matter how great they are. Why?
No matter how many thousands of DC superhero comics I’ve read over the past decade, I still haven’t been able to forge that deep, all-in connection that I have with Marvel — and that makes sense, considering that relationship goes back to the heyday of grunge. I don’t think it’s shameful to admit that there are Marvel characters that I will try out, regardless of who’s on the creative team. It sometimes feels like that level of dedication to a fictional character is scorned, treated like fanboy-blindness. I get that, but I only think it’s detrimental if that’s the sole way you seek out comics — which is what I did for the first 10 years of my secluded fandom. My devotion to the X-Men, which means I will give every book with “X-Men” in the title a shot no matter what for forever, introduced me to Ed Brubaker and Kieron Gillen among many others — and I’ve followed their careers ever since then, regardless of character or company. If Marvel puts out a Daredevil or She-Hulk or Black Widow or Captain Marvel book, I’m there, no questions asked. I’ve been waiting for that with DC, but… I haven’t found that specific type of attachment to any of their characters yet. And maybe it’s time I stop expecting fervent devotion to DC characters to form and just start enjoying good comics for being good comics.
With another big ol’ jumping-on point coming in Rebirth, I’m ready to accept this relationship difference that I have with Marvel and DC and move forward. I don’t think it’s fair for me to expect to be able to force a specific style of attachment (one that I now realize was formed because I was this many [holds up eight fingers] years old) on DC. The kind of attachment I have with Marvel is equal parts personal continuity stretching back decades as well as the stories they tell. Unless I get a time machine, I’m not going to be able to make third-grade-me become a big fan of Mark Waid’s “Flash” run. All I can really do going forward is keep an open mind and active interest in what all publishers are doing — and then read what piques my interest.
So in addition to relaunching the DC line, Rebirth will give me another shot at getting in on the beginning of a bunch of new books, ones with creators and/or concepts that I find intriguing. And, this time around, I’m going to enjoy them for what they are and ditch all my old mental hang-ups of how I should feel.
Brett White is a writer and comedian living in New York City. He made videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).