As the entire comics reading world knows by now, Greg Rucka has decided to leave DC.
Before I start point by pointing this for myself, let me first offer congratulations to Mr. Rucka for doing what he wants, what he feels is right, and what he believes will reward him most (in a myriad of ways). I couldn't wish success on any writer more (not that he needs it) and I'm thankful for his sake, and ours, that he has the freedom to go and do exactly what he wants to do whether that be prose novels, screenplays, comics, and everything in-between.
On a selfish level I'm delighted. Stumptown is probably my favorite book right now, and we're only on issue two. And while we're talking about issue #2...it's April 2010, and we've only had two issues since the book debuted in November 2009. So hopefully this move away from doing a million books for DC will solve that problem (according to Rucka's interview we can expect #3 in May and #4 in June before a little hiatus). So in a way, I couldn't be happier. I haven't tried any of Rucka's Queen & Country prose novels yet (though it's on my list) but if he's also going to return to the comic series that he promised to one day return to, which is sounds like he eventually will, then even better. I look forward with great excitement to more Stumptown, more Queen & Country, and more whatever else Mr. Rucka has up his sleeve - which if the interview is any indication is a TON of amazing stuff.
On a selfish level I'm also worried like hell. I can't think of a book I was looking forward to more than Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III's anticipated Batwoman series, and to learn that this isn't happening? Heartbreaking. Am I interested in Kate Kane even if she's not under the powerful pens of Rucka and Williams? Of course. But I'll be honest and admit that I just don't trust anyone with her right now. It's true that Rucka has set her up with a pitch perfect origin and a strong focus that you'd like to expect any writer could step into and carry on, but we all know it's just not a given. It takes a pretty amazing writer to NOT screw up even the best laid plans...er...characters. Prior to Rucka's Batwoman/Detective Comics run Batwoman had ALREADY had a bit of a difficult run...so, it's hard to believe that DC isn't going to bungle this as they try to follow Rucka's lead without Rucka, no matter what condition he has left her in. Assurances from Williams that DC remains committed to the character, are nice to hear, but without the other half of that team I'm skeptical. Not to mention that Williams' quote:
"I was afraid something like this was going to occur but held out hope that it wouldn't happen. That DC and Greg could come to some sort of agreement, apparently not going to happen."
Suggests a much larger problem - a problem that both Marvel and DC need to find a way to deal with - because it's just going to keep coming up. A problem much larger than one of the big two losing a mega talent like Rucka. Williams quote suggests that Rucka did want to stay on and do Batwoman (who wouldn't with Williams on board and a character Rucka has been so involved with and obviously loves?); but that they were not able to come to an agreement. The fine print of Rucka's statement about why he's leaving reinforces Williams' statement, and goes beyond it in a way, suggesting the REAL problem here and perhaps with the industry in general:
"I need to start telling the stories I want to tell."
This tells me unequivocally (though respectfully, as Rucka is nothing but a class act) that at DC he's not able to tell
the stories he wants to. THAT is a problem. When the best of the best are leaving the big two because they can't tell the stories they want to - whether that be because of editorial mandate and interference or because creators just aren't willing to hand over their original creations to the property ownership machine of DC/Marvel - it doesn't matter. It still means that talented people are going to keep jumping ship for either more lucrative or more personally fulfilling pastures.
As some of you may know, I wrote a novel and have an agent, and as someone that has learned a little bit about the process of publishing a novel, there’s no question in my mind as to why Rucka would return to this generally more lucrative and highly rewarding profession. In addition to advance money and royalties (as opposed to page rates), he owns his characters, owns his material, and he's in control of what is put on the page - and as an already established author he has near complete control. He can do infinite spin offs, control everything that ever occurs in the worlds he creates, and he can option the rights to his material into films, graphic novels, or lifetime movies of the week if he so desires (I hope he'd opt no on the latter). And no matter how much he loves Batwoman or Wonder Woman or any other character he has worked on for the big two, he’ll never have that with them and he’ll constantly have to answer to someone (or many someones) in the meantime.
In truth, even as an unpublished newbie author that has no clout or celebrity, I have to admit that while I would love to write some comics, and there are certainly big established characters that I would like to take a crack at, I can completely see why someone like Rucka would move on. In fact, it would seem like insanity not to. Not unlike a talented lady hitting the glass ceiling back in the olden days (or you know, yesterday, depending on where you're sitting) Rucka has hit the glass ceiling. He couldn't be more respected and beloved for the work he's done, and yet still he's hamstrung by all sorts of things like any other artist working with pre-owned and well-guarded properties.
But this isn’t intended to be some rant about how Marvel and DC are big bad corporate entities that must be stopped...it's intended to be an open dialogue...what can change in the industry to keep real talent like Rucka around? As readers we're already buckling under the inflated prices of comics, so I doubt comics will ever be able to be much more lucrative for writers and artists. Certainly it’s unlikely comics can compete with things like selling a screenplay or having a hit novel or becoming huge in the art world (see: James Jean). So we assume that creators stay around for a love of the medium, for the chance to work with other great creators and to tell the stories they dream of, in a medium they adore. But if they can't tell those stories with the big two? If they have to go running to the independents to do that - then how are the big two supposed to hold onto anyone? How are we supposed to hope that we can demand better mainstream books when most writers worth their salt eventually go off to do other things? I will say that in all of this I'm reminded how very grateful I am for all the wonderful independent comics publishers out there. It's a wonderful thing that there IS somewhere for Rucka to run to. A place where he can tell the stories he wants to tell, but still in the medium that we all love.
But beyond Rucka, and perhaps more important considering the nature of this column, how can we hold out hope that the Batwoman character - a book I just a few months ago called - THE Superhero Comic I've Been Waiting For - will be given the respect she deserves? When DC has only managed to see her through one perfect arc (and a not so great follow up arc) - how can we even hope that she's going to continue to get the kind of attention that she needs as a growing character and property? In a comic world of constantly flailing female characters, and so few of them leading strong books, I was holding out hope that Batwoman would a beacon leading us into a new and different world. Now? Her future and possibly that of other female characters that I hoped could follow in her footsteps seems in question.