Grumpy Old Fan | Ten from 2012, ten for 2013

If it’s the first Grumpy Old Fan of 2013, it must be time for "Ten From the Old Year, Ten For the New." For those who came in late, every January I evaluate 10 predictions/observations from the previous year, and present 10 for the next. Accordingly, first we have commentary on 2012's items.

1. The Dark Knight Rises. I had three rather superficial questions about the final Christopher Nolan Batman movie. First, “[c]an it make a skillion dollars?” Not quite -- while it did make over a billion dollars worldwide, it didn’t make as much as its predecessor domestically, and it came in second to The Avengers. Next was “[w]ill it have Robin?” Well ... [SPOILER ALERT] it depends on your definition of “Robin,” I suppose. And finally, referring to certain issues about Bane’s elocution, “[w]ill it have subtitles?” Nope -- as it turns out, they weren’t needed. Instead, Bane’s accent was perfectly suited to breaking not just Batman, but Alex Trebek as well.

2. The New 52, one year later. My big prediction here was that each of the New 52's initial lineup would get a full run of 12 issues. That was wrong, as Static Shock, OMAC, Blackhawks, Hawk & Dove, Men of War and Mister Terrific were canceled after eight issues. As for my ancillary claim that DC would say the canceled books got a chance to “tell their stories,” that’s harder to gauge. Many of the characters whose solo books were cancelled appeared (or will appear) elsewhere, including in the DC Universe Presents zero issue. OMAC then guest-starred in the eventually-canceled Justice League International (which still got 12 issues and an annual) and Mister Terrific has been promised for Earth 2.

3. The Next 52 (or however many). “Maybe a little more originality will work into the next batch of books,” I speculated, referring somewhat inappropriately to what turned out to be Earth 2. Hey, it was kind of original to have two parallel-world series, considering there hadn’t been one since 1986. However, more to my point were Sword of Sorcery, Dial H and G.I. Combat. Although the latter didn’t stick around long enough to make much of an impression, it still tried to extend the war-comics spot on the New 52's roster. Other additions to the New 52 included spinoffs like Talon and Team 7, and I suppose you could argue that they are appreciably different from the average superhero book.

4. Pandora’s playlist. “Part of the reason I think the initial New 52 books will all get their 12 issues,” I said last year, “is this notion that they’re all building to some line-wide event involving the Hooded Woman from the No. 1 issues.” That last part may still be true, but we didn’t learn much more about Pandora last year. More answers will probably come in this year’s Trinity War.

5. More Watchmen. Sadly, yes. The collections will be published this year, henceforth to take their places sitting on bookshelves alongside the original for all eternity.

6. More multimedia expansion. Cartoon Network's DC Nation started strong, with “Super Best Friends Forever!” among some well-received shorts -- but then it went on a mysterious hiatus which only facilitated conspiracy theories. Arrow has become a decent hit for The CW, and news emerged of a Young Wonder Woman series to be called Amazon. More immediately, though, next up is summer’s Man of Steel, which leads nicely into ...

7. Man of Steel and Green Lantern 2. Man of Steel's trailer debuted last fall, and based on my unscientific, uninformed observations, it seems to have been better-received than GL’s teaser. No sign of a GL sequel, although rumors place Ryan Reynolds’ Hal in the promised Justice League movie.

8. Market share. This was kind of a phantom issue, because while the first few months of the New 52 gave DC a big boost in the fall of 2011, Marvel reasserted its market dominance late in the year. That solidified in 2012 with events like Avengers vs. X-Men and the Marvel NOW! relaunches. Despite Marvel’s inherent advantage (because it publishes more books), last year I wondered whether DC’s short-lived time at the top would result in its “chasing” market share. I don’t think that ever really happened, because even with Before Watchmen and the digital-first books, I don’t get the sense that DC wanted to flood the market. That’s not to say it wasn’t comfortable putting out more titles, just that it stuck to a pretty conservative publishing schedule.

9. Digital effects. One of the bigger controversies from the emergence of digital comics was the realization, late in the year, that DC’s books were going live online several hours before the typical comics shop opened -- instead of a few hours afterwards, as had previously been the case.  This worried Brian Hibbs, who saw the potential for disaster if the “wrong 10 percent” of customers decided to abandon their local shops. Although (thanks to a year’s worth of data) Hibbs views digital comics as an addition to print sales, that doesn’t mean his operating margins are any greater. Instead, to him DC’s digital rescheduling was a sign that the corporate overlords didn’t particularly care that much about the shops which actually sold their print comics.

Compare that, though, with the year-end figures from Diamond, which the distributor claimed showed a very good year for the direct market.  The two views can coexist -- say, if the market was sufficiently favorable to big comics retailers that it outweighed troubles for the smaller ones -- but I don’t know enough at this point to say any more about it. I suspect we’ll need to go further into 2013 before determining whether the digital marketplace is becoming harmful to the print one.

Oh, and last year I also talked about the collateral effects -- mostly tighter shipping schedules and more flexible formats -- digital could have on print comics. We’re seeing some of the latter in the digital-first books, particularly Legends of the Dark Knight; and I’m not sure the stricter schedule has forced creative-team changes any more than it would have without digital.

10. A return to storytelling. “Here’s hoping,” I declared last year, “that in 2012, the superhero line uses its still-new freedom wisely ... and that it cultivates an atmosphere of experimentation.” Well, I’m not sure that it has been as experimental as I’d hoped. The New 52 seems mostly to be variations on superheroes, with a handful of other genres sprinkled here and there. Dial H is probably the most unconventional New-52 book, but it’s still superheroes. Worlds’ Finest uses its shared-artist format pretty well, and it’s entertaining overall, but it’s a fairly straightforward superhero title. There’s artistic experimentation in Batwoman and The Flash, and consistently-good creative teams on books like Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Supergirl, but they too have been consistently good since the relaunch. That means a somewhat negative response to my hope from last January, but again, I enjoyed a lot of DC in 2012.

Now for 2013:

1. Man of Steel. Yes, again, some more -- and more about this as a philosophical matter below. For now, my questions are a) how well will it do with critics and moviegoers; and b) yes, of course, will it help set up Justice League?

2. Dark Universe. A Justice League movie might have to share a cinematic universe with Guillermo del Toro’s JL Dark-style team-up -- which could be an adaptation of Swamp Thing’s “American Gothic” storyline, which built up to Swampy, John Constantine, and a bunch of DC’s magic-based superheroes battling a shadow creature which wanted to destroy Heaven. It won’t come out during 2013, but one way or another, I think we’ll hear a lot more about it.

3. The Simone effect. Like I told Carla, I don’t see Gail Simone getting fired from DC ever again. If she leaves, it’ll be on her own terms; and the success of Leaving Megalopolis gives her a strong negotiating position. At this point DC needs her more than she needs it. However, I am curious to see how this affects other DC creative folk.

4. Life without Morrison. Speaking of people DC needs, Grant Morrison will be leaving Action Comics, Batman Incorporated, and superheroes in general, in 2013. DC won’t be without A-list writers and artists in 2013, but folks like Simone, Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder, and Andy Diggle can only do so much. More importantly, though, Morrison’s departure feels big to me because it means one less unique view of DC’s voluminous history. Not too long ago, Morrison, Johns, Mark Waid, and Greg Rucka were “the Architects,” writing 52 collectively and Batman, GL, JSA, and Action Comics, Flash and Brave and the Bold, and Detective Comics and Checkmate separately. Each of them, in various degrees, combined an appreciation for continuity with the practicalities of modern storytelling; and naturally their books were better for it. Once Morrison leaves, only Johns will be left from that group -- and no offense to him, but it’s a little unsettling to realize I’m getting older than most of the people writing DC’s superhero line. Again, I’m not saying DC is in the wrong hands, I guess I’m just noticing something of a generational shift.

5. Multiversity or Wonder Woman: Earth One? Grant Morrison’s Multiversity has been promised for a few years now, with the end of 2013 the most recent publication date. Also on Morrison’s plate is Wonder Woman: Earth One, in which he has promised to bring sexy back to the Amazon Princess. DC has a long and storied history of forever-in-progress comics, so I’m not holding my breath for either -- but 2013 may see one, and might see both. If the latter, maybe I can buy them with my lottery winnings.

6. Who gets Wonder Woman? Regardless of her Earth One incarnation, the New-52 Wonder Woman may face a crossroads in 2013. In her own book, Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, and Tony Akins have taken advantage of the relaunch to make Diana and her adventures dramatically different from both her previous portrayals and the New 52 generally. However, in Justice League and the Superman books, her embryonic romance with the Metropolis Marvel threatens to pull her in a new direction. Surely all involved realize that Wonder Woman’s appearances must be harmonized, but I hope that where there’s conflict, Azzarello and company have veto power. Wonder Woman’s relationship with Superman developed into something special under the old regime, and there’s still a chance the New-52 version can do the same.

7. Trinity War. The New 52's first line-wide crossover finally arrives this year, bringing with it more information on the mysterious Pandora (and perhaps some clues about the pre-Flashpoint DCU). To me this is interesting primarily as a structural exercise: can it credibly present these 52 books as a coherent shared universe? If Trinity War can make the New 52 feel lived-in, after almost two years, I think it’ll be a success.

8. Justice League, post-preliminaries. The one DC book which absolutely requires that lived-in feel is Justice League. Hindsight might show me to have been too eager, but I am ready to say a corner has been turned with “Throne of Atlantis,” such that Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis can finally relax and start telling widescreen adventure stories worthy of the League. This year Johns and David Finch will also launch Justice League of America, which I have to think will affect the main book profoundly, if only because of its title. It would be a very “Marvel” thing to do, but DC could be planning to make JLofA the main League series after all ...

9. Digital effects, continued. It may be something of a cheat, but I’m putting this one back on the list for 2013, for the reasons outlined above.

And finally...

10. The Year of the Snyder. From Detective Comics and American Vampire to Batman and Swamp Thing, I’ve read and enjoyed just about everything Scott Snyder has written for DC and Vertigo. (Ironically, that kept Batman and Vampire off my faves-of-2012 list, because a) I couldn’t choose between them and b) I wanted to be fair to some other favorites.) Although Vampire is going on hiatus for most of 2013, this year still looks pretty good for him. Batman will feature “Death of the Family’s” big finish and a Riddler story with similarly-definitive aspirations. His Swamp Thing run comes to an end with “Rotworld’s” conclusion. He and Sean Murphy will bring readers deep-sea horror in The Wake, coming from Vertigo; and with Jim Lee, he’ll be launching a new ongoing Superman series.

As part of his year-end interview, I asked Scott Snyder to compare his plans for Superman with the Man of Steel movie trailer, largely because those two-and-a-half minutes of impressionistic scenes seemed to establish a certain hopeful tone -- not just that the movie would be entertaining, but that it seemed to promise a Superman that people would “get.” Clearly, Zack Snyder’s movie has the chance to reach a lot more people than Scott Snyder’s comic. Of course, that’s no slight to the latter; it’s just the way the world works these days. Moreover, even a successful MOS can’t guarantee more sales of Superman’s comics, regardless of creative teams.

I’m making this out to be a competition (and a one-sided one at that), but it isn’t. Basically, I think the odds of Scott Snyder getting Superman right are a lot better than they are for Zack Snyder. However, Zack Snyder has the bigger platform and, based on that new trailer, he might actually be headed in the right direction. For Superman’s 75th anniversary (and, incidentally, the 35th anniversary of Richard Donner’s pretty-influential Superman movie), it’d be great to have a faithful big-budget blockbuster and a top-selling comic book. (It’d also be great if the estates of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster could share meaningfully in their profits, but I’m hardly the one to make predictions about that.) However, the safe bet is for a good comic out of Scott Snyder and Jim Lee, and a movie from Zack Snyder that does no harm.

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