The Grumpy Color: Tom & Carla dismantle 2011, Part 1

[Continuing their yearly tradition, Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman have joined forces to compare notes on the the relative fortunes of DC Comics and Marvel Comics.  Here is Part 1 of 2.]

Tom: Okay, old chum, if it’s late December it must be time to wrap up 2011 and usher in 2012. It’s the New 52 versus dozens of Avengers and Spider-Man titles! Christopher Nolan, David Goyer, and Christian Bale versus Joss Whedon, Andrew Garfield, and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes! High collars versus Point Ones! Judd Winick and Guillem March’s Catwoman versus ... who, exactly?

Carla: I read Catwoman #1 and stopped there so this analogy is lost on me. Don’t go where I can’t follow, Frodo.

Tom: That was a dig at Marvel’s lack of female-lead titles....

Carla: Oh! I thought it was about our underwear-clad heroines. She-Hulk and Emma Frost have been flashing their bras at people since the 80's! And don’t get me started on the Black Cat, how many female creative people we have, etc. etc. =D

Tom: Anyway, until September the Big Two were pretty much same-old, same-old. I suspect we’ll remember DC’s 2011 only for its 4th quarter, but in fairness we shouldn’t gloss over what led up to it. Therefore, I have to ask -- from your retail perspective, how was DC doing in the before-time? Has the new stuff really made that much of a difference? And how do you, as a merry Marvelite, see the House of Ideas responding?

Carla: Say a couple gals go out for a night on the town and one of them dresses for attention. Hair done up, make up on a little thicker than normally, high heels, short skirt, the works. She’s out to catch herself a man and the other friend sort of looks her over in that “wow, laying it on a little thick there, eh?” way while wondering how she herself got so frumpy all of a sudden.

It’s a little like that.

As for the before-time, I gotta tell you: Green Lantern was selling WAY better. Blackest Night was a huge hit and that mythology was really pushing local reading buttons, so we sold it well. Off the top of my head, we also sold more Wonder Woman and Flash (when we got an issue), but less Justice League... it was kind of all over the place. No. 1s and the idea that one could be there at the very-first-something-or-other has pulled attention to the right books for market capitalization. But now that people have figured out our game of having to buy a comic once every month, the idea of following a title is starting to lose its luster for the novice collector. Now pulls are lowering, lists are sorting themselves out and aside from the tried and true Batman and Action Comics, numbers are receding like the tide. Are people buying more Action Comics at my store? Yes. Are they buying more of everything? Not really. So it’s great for the long term marketability, probably needs more time for other characters to get in on all the fame and fortune.

On a fun personal note, all the titles that I’m totally into are books I would have read pre-52 if they’d just released them: Batwing, Batwoman, Animal Man and The Shade could easily have been around without the big tarty reboot, so seriously, DC! Put on a sweater! You’re making Marvel look sensible.

As for how Marvel’s going to respond to the Big Reboot and freshening up on DC’s characters that got them major media coverage, a renewed interest in their franchise and a boost in sales unseen since Blackest Night? Oh, don’t worry: we’re going Hollywood. Marvel put out THREE MOVIES this year, all of which got an amazing 75% or above approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

So ... Green Lantern. Yeah. How’s that working out for ya?

Tom: In fact, I have yet to watch Green Lantern on Blu-Ray, but I hear it’s much better with some made-for-home-video editing. Still, that’s the same kind of thing which got me more interested in Zack Snyder’s four-hour version of Watchmen. Now Warners have entrusted the Superman movies to Mr. Snyder, and even with Christopher Nolan looking over his shoulder, I have to say I’m a little concerned. That’s for 2013, though -- next year I suppose Warners will have to settle for another billion-dollar Batman flick. Maybe they can put that money in a nice savings account and live off the interest while they look for the next ideal pairing of filmmaker and superhero.

I am seriously conflicted about Avengers’ prospects. Doesn’t it need to be hugely successful -- like, three-movies-in-one successful -- to justify itself? I am not seeing much middle ground in terms of quality, either. If it’s not tremendously entertaining, something in me keeps saying it’ll be a colossal 3-D trainwreck. These are purely irrational thoughts, but I simply cannot shake them.

Carla: Or could The Avengers be, at this point, too big to fail? Remember, Hollywood has been very very good to Marvel and even if Avengers turns out to be a Daredevil, there is so much involved in the production (big name actors, fan favorite director, a history of awesome movies catching the viewers up to the storyline) that it’s going to put butts in seats. It’s going to make people remember the names of the characters and if they want more, well, let me show you to the shelves! Here’s hoping.

Tom: Since we are talking nominally about comics, in what condition will I find the Avengers line come May? The last time I read an Avengers title regularly, Kurt Busiek and George Pérez were putting out the only one. If the Council of Cross-Time Toms plucked me from 1998 and dropped me into next summer, would I recognize any of the Avengers books?

Carla: Busiek and Pérez. Hee hee, you’re old. =)

No, sir, I can’t say you would recognize the Avengers anymore from the hey-days of yesteryear. Since Bendis disassembled the crew, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are missing an intangible something from the era of the grand super-opera. The team has remained inert, a lot of their peril is personal rather than the saving-the-Earth variety and often times, there’s a lot of sitting around and talking. A lot. Then again, the new Bendis Avengers are popular. The snarky tone used for everything goes over well with chart topping sales and a steady following. When the Avengers movie hits, people won’t look back to the older eras of Avengers, they’ll look for Bendis’ work because Dear Lord he’s been on the book since 2006! That’s like... forever! It may not be my favorite stuff, but I will tip my hat to the man who really worked hard to put his own personal style into the public eye on the now highest profile book Marvel’s got.

And that’s the thing: sure we all love the printed page, but I am totally ready to cop to the fact that comics have to reach other media outlets in order to remain current. There is no way that I’d dump all my eggs in a Marvel Studios basket and leave my monthlies high and dry (I’d be out of a job!) but it does help keep Thor and Iron Man and Captain America and the Hulk and Ghost Rider in the public eye with big budget blockbusters.

If anything, DC should be thankful that Batman: Arkham City keeps us all well aware of Batman’s ... Batmanitude. Credit where credit is due: those video games are HUGE. Not to mention the great work done in animation, with Young Justice and Batman: Brave and the Bold being fan potlucks of fun, and the upcoming DC Nation. Man, I wish we had thought of it first!

Tom: I wonder if post-Harry Potter, post-Nolan Batman, Warners considers either the GL movie or the upcoming Man of Steel to be too big to fail.

Carla: Probably. Superman is Superman is Superman and Returns wasn’t so much a mistake that people won’t turn up just to see what happens next (but that’s probably why we haven’t had a Daredevil movie). Superman is a wonderfully safe property to launch a film series with, but Hal Jordan? Well, he’s kind of the least interesting thing about the Green Lanterns. Maybe they thought the genre as a whole could invest into guys they’d never heard of automatically? Maybe they forgot that what made Blackest Night so popular and the Green Lantern books so huge was the vast operatic tale of planets and emotions and everyone united under their own beacons so that no evil would escape their sight ... not Van Wilder in a Mo-Cap suit.

P.S.: he should have been Deadpool.

Ooh, here’s something I can ask: with The Dark Knight Rises officially billed as the Final Chapter of the saga that Mr. Nolan laid out for us, do you think a World’s Finest motion picture might be up next? Depending on how the combiner-mecha gestalt of Avengers does as far as big movies leading up to an even bigger movie, will we see the Justice League in our lifetime? And will Wonder Woman wear pants??!?!

Tom: It seems pretty definite that Christian Bale isn’t suiting up again, whether it’s for World’s Finest or JLA. Regardless, though, I don’t see either of those movies getting made. Remember, Warners tried ‘em both a few years back. Superman Vs. Batman got as far as a script (which is kind of dire and fanfic-y -- Bruce gets married, but Superman ruins it somehow), and Justice League’s cast was full of young whippersnappers. Avengers would have to make the kind of money Scrooge McDuck swims in, and Man of Steel would have to be at least okay, in order for Justice League to even have a chance.

Carla: Ah, but that was then; this is now! Sure, Warner Brothers is going to have to find the happy median between dire and dark philosophical dramas and silly goofy guys in tights, but they could do it. Avengers could really make the McDuck cash that might force one of the largest motion picture making studios in Hollywood, an institution of classic films, to compete with ... well, you know who.

Tom: And as you say, DC may have to be content with its regular Cartoon Network exposure.

Carla: Can I just take a minute and say how exciting that is? Sure, Marvel may have set their sights on Hollywood, but DC is kicking out the jams as far as the small screen animation. They’re unique, fun, surely everyone in production seems to love the characters and the history they came from. When I finally sat down to watch Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Young Justice, I found myself compelled to love them despite preconceived notions. I mean, if there’s not going to be a Justice League movie, we will still have the finest show of all time representing DC’s best and brightest in animated form.

Honesty time: was the majority of 2011 just a waste for DC? Did Brightest Day really matter? Why was Flashpoint? Like, at all? I want to ask about how Geoff Johns’ great space opera that started in Green Lantern: Rebirth and continued all the way through the Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night and this year’s Brightest Day might have continuing momentum through the DC universe; or how seeing a different side to Aquaman and Wonder Woman in Flashpoint might affect their characters in the regular Earth-Whatever and play into future stories -- but man. Brightest Day feels like it happened in another time, another place. An Age of Geoff-ocalypse, if you will.

Tom: Phrases like “Age of Geoff-ocalypse” are exactly the reason I look forward to our team-ups. Who says this isn’t the Marvel Age of clever inter-company wordplay?

Brightest Day seems to be the latest example that DC’s high sheriffs really don’t have much in the way of long-term plans for the superhero line. It’s like you’re driving southbound I-75 on the way to Disneyworld -- you’ve been there a dozen times before and it’s always fun, but maybe it’s still getting a little old -- and just after you get through Atlanta you decide to chuck the whole thing and go bar-crawling in New Orleans. If Blackest Night capped off a lot of big-event subplots (mostly involving untimely deaths), Brightest Day was a decent transitional series, helping fine-tune the status quo. Along with the JMS-driven Superman and Wonder Woman storylines, the Batman Incorporated makeover, the James Robinson JLA, Justice League: Generation Lost, and whatever Geoff Johns had planned for the Flash, it looked like DC was settling into a comfortable (if not entirely innovative) post-event atmosphere. I mean, when Flashpoint came along my whole take on it was “great, an event which can stand on its own and not have to worry about long-term continuity effects.” And sure, that makes me look like a chump -- but really, I think I can be forgiven for supposing that, having spent at least the past year on the aforementioned tweaks and relaunches, DC wouldn’t want to restart its superhero books with a completely different basis.

Carla: It’s okay. Sometimes love makes us look like chumps. That’s why Peter Parker is single. Wait-- what?

Tom: And yeah, Flashpoint itself now looks pretty irrelevant to the New-52 -- except for the hooded woman from all the #1 issues who is probably the harbinger of next summer’s Big Event. I may be deep in denial over the loss of my precious pre-September continuity, but I still don’t think DC has let go of it either. Since you brought up “too big to fail,” that sure seems to apply to the New-52, especially since it has made such an initial splash.

Carla: Ehnnnnnnnn, maybe. All I can say is that from my side of the counter, there are books being put back. Customers are looking for a payoff and some of the issues drag on just a little too long and have sparse content from a world essentially having to detach itself from the years of foundation it had before. Four issues in and it seems like some books are concentrating far too hard to flesh out what should be a simple yellow text box at the start of every issue. The new 52 could fail, life happens, peoples’ tastes change, what is super-popular right now could be next week’s quarter bin. Remember the ‘90s and beware.

Tom: Duly noted, but I do think DC will try to leverage its current success into a new focus on the pre-September stuff. Make no mistake -- while that might not be the smartest thing to do, I can totally see DC trying it, in part because they did pour so much into 2011's pre-relaunch books.

Now, in light of the New 52, do I think the bulk of 2011 was a waste for DC? No, because it still yielded some fine comics, including the still-relevant GL and Batman books. Even Superman and Wonder Woman perked up once JMS left. (Just sayin’.) I like continuity and the joys of a coherent shared universe, but I can’t unread those pre-September stories, you know?

And speaking of line-wide relaunches, I’m skeptical that Marvel will pull a New-52 of its own, but I was spectacularly wrong about DC. Are these “Season One” and Point-One projects (along with the movies) enough to simplify things for new readers, or could Marvel actually feel the need to do something big and drastic?

[The answer -- tomorrow!]

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