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The Grumpy Color | Tom and Carla dig into the DC relaunch, Part 1

by  in Comic News Comment

[After three solid weeks of coverage, you’d think we here at Robot 6 would have run out of things to say about September’s all-new, mostly-different DC Universe.

[Okay, maybe we have — but when fearless leader JK Parkin suggested that DC blogger Tom Bondurant and retailer/Marvel blogger Carla Hoffman could do a back-and-forth about it, we were happy to oblige. The following was conducted via email from June 17 through June 22.]

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Tom: When the relaunch became official, one of the first things it reminded me of was “Heroes Reborn.” Superficially it seems pretty similar, because you have some books virtually unchanged, some big names almost starting from scratch, and the whole superhero line affected. Now, I will admit to buying every issue of the “Reborn” books when they first came out, but that was partly out of curiosity and partly because I was already reading Fantastic Four and Captain America. Afterwards, I bought all four of the post-“Heroes Return” books, again because I had been getting FF and Cap, and because I wanted to read Busiek and Perez’s Avengers and Busiek and Chen’s Iron Man. Today we seem to remember “Heroes Reborn” for Cap’s mighty bosoms and those steampipes on Iron Man’s back, but I still bought ‘em. So the first question is, how much of this is “Heroes Reborn” for the whole DC superhero line, and is that necessarily a bad thing?

Carla: I was going to try and sidestep the whole SIMPSONS DID IT argument with how many Marvel revamps I’ve seen but…

Anything you can do…

Heroes Reborn I think is an entirely different animal than the nuDC. For one, Heroes Reborn was a Hail Mary pass to dig Marvel out of dire financial straits. If I can crib a little from AvengersAssembled!.us, Marvel was desperate to pull up out of a bankruptcy crash and just sort of handed the reigns of their most popular comics to the hot shot comic artist rock stars who wanted more money and control anyway because it was the ‘90s. “Here, take this! You’re with it! What do the kids want?” And yes, we all read it; I actually still really like the Heroes Reborn: Iron Man storyline because it was the first time my tiny little brain could see Iron Man and the Hulk with a shared history. Yay for me!

However, DC isn’t in financial ruin as far as I see, so the only reason I can think of for the re… re… re-whatever is just because they do it every so often, much to the consternation of the fans. “Post-Crisis” is an age demarcation, right? Doesn’t the Silver Age turn on who the Flash is at any given time? It’s just The Way of Things(tm) and it’s certainly terrifying, but not necessarily a “Heroes Reborn” style attempt to show how hip we are to the kids.

Speaking of which, Heroes Reborn books look really really ‘90s. Everyone’s hair is over-moussed, they all have tons of teeth and muscles, it’s a great groan-worthy and nostalgic look back at what we all used to think was cool. Do YOU think (ha ha, tables turned Bondurant!) that people will look back at the new DC line and go “Man, remember when we thought all super-heroines should wear pants? What were we thinking!” Will Jim Lee define yet another modern era of comics?

Tom: You know, I don’t have a problem with the pants edict. I think the new designs tend to be a bit busy, like the little bits of ornamentation on the Superman and Supergirl costumes or that McFarlane-Toys-esque Harley Quinn. (The new Supergirl costume is still an improvement.) If you want to bring in new readers, don’t you want the characters to sport more simple, classically-influenced looks? I mean, for the most part, the Scarlet Witch has looked the same since the ‘60s, and the exception was that weird period in the mid-‘90s when the Avengers had those dopey jackets. What’s more, I only remember those costumes because they were in Mark Waid’s first issue of Captain America, and I remember thinking a) yikes, what happened here? and b) I’m not sure I want to read an Avengers that looks like this. So yeah, even if Jim Lee redefines DC for the next few years, I don’t think it’ll last much beyond that. (Just look at the old-school Wonder Woman costume in the Justice League of Subway Football ads!)

I do think that the costumes and the new #1s are part of DC’s bid for more attention. While the company’s not as bad off as ‘90s Marvel, it is always in second place. Therefore, this to me looks like the company’s big move, trying to take one giant leap forward in the existing market while establishing itself firmly in the digital realm. Unfortunately, as you just reiterated, DC has this perception of trying constantly (and, apparently, without lasting success) to reinvent itself, which really undermines this new move. On the other hand, DC is perceived as this boring old stable of characters, propped up by Batman and (for now) Green Lantern, and if it didn’t do something new it’d just languish in obscurity. Joe Quesada taunted DC for not being able to sell the heck out of Superman, but from what I can tell, a good bit of fans don’t want to read about Superman anyway, because they think he’s dull. In that respect, the Wally West Flash and the Dick and Damien Batman and Robin really hit the sweet spot — familiar costumes and abilities, but more accessible characters (who, in both cases, were consciously aware of the A-listers they replaced).

That brings me to the next question: when the time comes to sell these 52 new issues, what will you emphasize to Metro’s customers? Is it easier to sell the A-listers like the Flash, or characters like Blue Beetle who don’t have so much historical baggage?

Carla: …. I really liked Scarlet Witch’s ‘90s outfit with the Clea-influenced leggings. The belly dancing outfit from the Perez era? Now that had to go.

I’m not sure the costumes really needed that much retooling and “simplification” considering people have been using them as Halloween costumes for years. I don’t think anyone was [avoiding] picking up Superman because ‘Har har, he has his underwear on the outside of his clothes’. A lot of these don’t look classic enough and might have been used better on BRAND NEW HEROES rather than classic heroes with the same names and possibly different histories.

Just sayin’.

I mean, look at who your examples were: Dick and Damien and Wally West. Sure, two sidekicks are there, but they are the ones taking over the legacy of their respective heroes. Take that further (dream with me Tom!) and imagine if we really did set all our classic heroes aside in DC and made Donna Troy Wonder Woman (I MEAN FOR REALS, ALLAN HEINBERG!) and Connor Kent became Superman, second bananas who finally got their shots at the big time and filled their parents’ shoes. I would be interested in an all-new Batgirl more than Barbara Gordon Batgirl. This is a very dangerous leap, my friend, but with a cushion of new characters, the old standards stay safe for future publication. Otherwise, we’re looking at another Red/Blue Superman.

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[Read Part 2, which includes more thoughts on new characters, whither a DCU-ified WildStorm, steering customers to the right books for them, and the one relaunched-universe-comic Tom and Carla are sure to love!]