Since 2004 the quality of DC Comics has been going downhill. The writing has changed from action packed and easy to read to convoluted and confusing. The art has gone from stylish to dreary and uninspired. What was once a fun escape for a dollar in the late 1980’s has become a depressing somber and disappointing reading experience for three dollars.
Looking at the product coming out of DC Comics, it’s clear to me that the current editorial regime headed by Dan Didio, Jim Lee, Bob Harras and Goeff Johns have no idea on how to produce comics with well-written stories and quality art. Since they came to power DC Comics have hit a steady decline creatively.
DC used to stand for Detective Comics back in the day.
Now it stands for Directionless Comics.
Or Didio’s Crap. The comics are that bad.
Since Didio has come to be Editor-in-Chief (or Co-publisher with Jim Lee) DC comics has had three universe reboots in less than six years. 2004’s Infinite Crisis 2008’s Final Crisis, and 2011’s Flashpoint
And before these big events the entire history of the DC Universe was changed because Superboy Prime punched air in his reality. The “retcon” punch has been infamous for what happens when a writer tries to explain things away that make no sense in a comic.
Some books like Wonder Woman, The Flash and Green Arrow have gone through three or four volumes with multiple number one issues in less than five years.
Several characters have gone through just about as many costume changes in as many years. Changes that make them hard for casual fans to recognize.
Several characters have gone under multiple secret identities. Batman has been Bruce Wayne, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Dick Grayson and now Bruce Wayne again.
The Flash has been Wally West, Bart Allen, and Because Goeff Johns wanted it…Barry Allen was brought back from the dead after 23 years to prop up sales on a dying Flash franchise.
Wonder Woman has been Diana and Donna Troy, and was given a new look that was ridiculed in the press.
Popular Characters like Firestorm, Blue Beetele and The Atom have been killed or replaced with new token characters in the name of diversity.
Many fan-favorite characters have had their histories taken into the gutter with some of the worst storytelling in the history of comics. Speedy/Red Arrow, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman and the Justice League are pale shadows of their former selves.
Superman went on a quest to find himself under Didio’s management.
All of these changes made DC Comics just that harder to read and harder to follow.
To fix his many editorial flubs, after multiple mistakes Didio and his regime just decided to blow up the DC Universe and start over with a new DC universe by relaunching every title with a new number one issue last September.
Many say the reboot was necessary to fix the many problems in the DC Universe.
I say that may of the problems in the DC Universe were caused by Didio’s mismanagement.
Even though the DC Universe had its issues with continuity, most people could follow it and its history. But thanks to Didio and company’s incompetence over the past few years the DC Universe has gone from a single universe to a confusing multiverse worse than the one from the 1970’s and the early 1980s.
It’s clear to me Dan Didio doesn’t have an understanding of the history of the DC Universe or the history of many characters. And because he doesn’t have an understanding of that history he can’t supervise the many writers and artists who tell stories in the DC Universe.
Which is why the product coming out of DC Comics has been such poor quality these days.
An editor-in-chief sets the tone for a publishing division. They establish the direction for the publisher’s products.
When they work on serialized characters like comic book superheroes, they have to have a clear understanding of all the characters and their missions before they go to work on any publications.
They have to be there for editors to establish a standard for the company and its mission.
They have to be there to provide support and guidance to writers and artists. They have to make sure they keep characters on model when they draw panels, make sure writers have a sense of a characters’ “voice” when they put fingers to keyboard to the story.
More importantly their job is to protect the catalog of characters from the excesses of writers and artists who would unintentionally do harm to a character and their brand. Maintaining the long-term integrity of a catalog is paramount to keeping titles in print and continuing demand for those titles in the future.
None of this supervision is happening with the current DC Comics editorial regime. Writers and artists creative excesses aren’t being reigned in to meet house standards. Stories are going to print that don’t meet a standard of excellence.
When mistakes are made they’re covered up with a retcon, a series reboot or they just blow up the entire universe and start all over again.
According to Didio, there’s supposed to be a reboot of a comic book universe every decade.
I find it funny that neither the Marvel or DC comic book universes didn’t need reboots back in the 1970’s when the industry was in a slump.
I also find it funny that Archie Comics or never needed a reboot in the six going on seven decades they’ve been publishing comic books. That’s a testament to how strong their editorial leadership is and how they stayed focused on their core mission.
Sorry, there’s no need to reboot an entire universe every decade. When an editor-in-chief provides competent supervision of writers and artists, there’s no need to tear everything up and start all over again.
As I stated in previous articles A reboot is a sign that there’s something wrong with the editorial leadership of a comic book company.
Sure some concepts are changed to reflect the times, and some concepts, settings and themes are slightly modified to make a character more accessible to new readers. But there’s never a need to tear up everything and start from scratch. The core mission and premise of a character do not need to be changed constantly.
In addition to his poor approach to management of the DC Comics catalog writers and artists Dan Didio is has no idea on how to supervise a story from concept to execution.
The primary of how ineffective his leadership is was the DC comics event Identity Crisis. The miniseries was being written by New York Times bestselling mystery writer Brad Meltzer. To make the story controversial, Didio stated “We need a rape”.
Not we need a plot. Not we need a premise. Not we need a new villain. Not we need a character to go through something that go through a major change from hero to villain or even just retire from the superhero game permanently. Stuff that would get readers interested. Stuff that would make readers think. Stuff that would make the readers care.
“We need a rape.”
I’d have to say that was one of the worst editorial decisions in comic book history. A clear sign of his incompetence.
In the panels of the Identity Crisis murder mystery, Sue Dibney, wife of the superhero the Elongated Man is murdered, and her body is burned. In a flashback, sequence from the 1970’s readers see Dr. Light sneaking onto the Justice League satellite and raping Sue Dibney.
What do the heroes do when they find out in this flasback? Go comfort a close friend? Give someone they’re close to support in the face of a traumatic event? No, they vote to blank memories and cover it up. Totally out of character from what readers experienced in the 1970's Satellite Era Justice League.
If this were the Marvel universe an editor could probably get away with this because some of the characters are shades of grey. But these DC superheroes. Beacons of idealism. Icons of right and wrong. Morally and ethically Black and white. Didio compromised their commercial image of the DC catalog by suggesting that a rape was needed. And he further tarnished the entire DC brand by letting this story go to print.
The rape of Sue Dibney was tasteless, and unnecessary to the plot of Identity Crisis. It added nothing to a story with convoluted premise and a contrived storyline.
I’d have to say Identity Crisis derailed the DC Universe creatively and sent it on a tailspin. It’s a story that should have never been published. Creatively it was that bad for the brand long-term.
From there, DC stopped focusing on stories where individual characters stood out in their own books and instead focused on events. Infinite Crisis. Countdown. 52. Death of the New Gods. Final Crisis. Blackest Night. Batman R.I.P. Flashpoint.
Events with a focus on graphic violence, gore, death, death and more death. Popular characters like Aquaman, Martian Manhunter Superboy The Question, and Firestorm were killed off under Didio’s auspices. Didio even had a “death list” of characters he wanted to kill off in his events.
He would have even killed off DC’s Nightwing at the end of Infinite Crisis if it weren’t for Batman fans protesting.
Sorry, but this isn’t creative. It’s not how an editor leads their creative team. It’s not how a publisher supervises story concepts from implementation to execution. It’s not how a publisher reaches new readership.
It’s what a hack does to deflect from their lack of talent. Hack editors tell their writers and artists to use shock plot devices like gory murders and mutilations to keep readers from seeing their inability to know what elements work in an entertaining story. It’s what they do to cover up their lack of understanding of a character’s history. It’s flash over substance.
And when editors who can’t lead paint themselves into a corner creatively they direct their writers to blow up the universe in an event and start all over again.
Like Didio did with Flashpoint and the new 52.
Sure it was shocking to relaunch the entire DC Universe with a series of new #1 issues but the end result are more characters being creatively mishandled by editorial mismanagement.
Like the relaunched Static Shock. A poplular character from a hit animated television series, Static’s previous Milestone series had a small cult following. DC had an opportunity to sell at least 100,000 copies. All they had to do was pick up where the popular animated series left off. An animated series that was top rated on Kids WB! and had over 4 million viewers a few years ago.
But Didio insisted that Static be moved to New York City. (Taken straight from writer John Rozum’s site) He didn’t understand the character or the characters’ history. He didn’t understand that Dakota was to Static what New York City is to Spider-Man. That the city of Dakota itself was a major character in his stories.
Moreover, he and his editors overruled Rozum and refused to let him write the character the way the late Dwayne McDuffie envisioned him and most people new him. Instead they insisted on going in their own direction for the New 52. DC’s editors arrogantly thought they knew better than Rozum, a seasoned writer who had written Static in an appearance of an issue of Kobalt when he worked at Milestone.
And thanks to their lack concern for the characters’ history, and not caring about what the casual readers wanted, Static Shock part of DC’s new 52 was cancelled after only eight issues. Again, this was a title which could have easily sold over 100K copies with the right editorial management. A book with a ready-made audience and a cult following of readers from the old series ready to pick up off where the animated series left off. A book with an opportunity to pick up thousands of casual readers who would have recognized him from the old TV series.
Looking at Static, it was Didio’s decision to move the character to New York that derailed the new series and kept it from reaching an audience of new readers.
Didio may have passion for comic books and superheroes, but his lack of craft and lack of business experience as relates to publishing is hampering the DC comics brand and tarnishing its catalog of characters. His editorial decisions have made DC comic books harder to access and harder to follow than they were before 1986.
For all the shock and controversy Didio’s events have brought to DC they haven’t brought that many new readers. Before the New 52 sales were actually dropping due to all the reboots, retcons, series cancellations and restarts.
Worse, for all the millions spent promoting DC’s new 52 the impact on new readers has been minimal. For all the fanfare only five percent of the readers of DC’s new 52 are new customers. And most of them are over 18-24 White males. That’s the audience Didio and company want to target.
That’s not going to help sustain the comic book industry for the next twenty years. It won’t even sustain it for the next five.
With the comic book industry in crisis, this is not the direction DC Comics needs to be going in. The industry will not be able to survive by selling to a demographic of readers that small.
Sure events like the new 52 will have a temporary surge, but sales will eventually drop back to the old levels because the industry is targeting the wrong audience of readers with comic book products. With the average age of a comic fan being over 35 these days, the market is still headed for further contraction instead of expansion.
DC Comics needs to be focused on a larger, much younger audience with products targeting Independent readers, tweens and teens. These are the readers who will sustain and stabilize the industry for the next decade or so.
Dan Didio and the current DC Comics regime have run one of the biggest publishing houses of comic books into the ground with their numerous bad editorial decisions and mismanagement. It’s time for them ALL to GO. Time Warner needs to clean house from top to bottom.
DC Comics needs a new editorial direction. A publisher with the vision to take them into the 21st Century. Someone who will publish Comic books that are easy to read and easy to follow.
DC needs an editor-in-chief who understands the history of the characters and will treat them with dignity and respect. Someone who understands the craft of storytelling and will establish standards for quality.
Someone who understands that in supervising this catalog of over three thousand characters and their variations they are building a relationship with readers for years. That brand recognition is important in maintaining that relationship with readers as they pass these characters on to their sons and daughters.
Someone who understands that comics books have to be accessible to readers under the age of eighteen and sold in places they frequent like Wal-Mart, Target, Mom and pop stores and supermarkets. That the comic shop alone isn’t effective venue for reaching the larger audience of younger tween teen readers and causal readers growing up today.
Someone who understands that the current distribution system run by Diamond Comics will not allow them to access that larger marketplace of twenty million younger readers. Comic books have to be seen by the customer in order for them to buy them. Not enough people see comic books in comic shops for them to sell at significant numbers. No, in order for comics to sell customers need to see them at Wal-Mart, Target, drugstores and Supermarkets.
Someone who understands that a small catalog of titles is better. DC Comics doesn’t need 52 titles, it needs 12-16 core titles featuring its essential characters. A catalog this small is easier for new and casual readers to access. It’s a catalog that allows new customers to sample one or two books, or buy all the titles without breaking their wallet. A good comic book catalog allows customer to buy every title in a publishers’ line for under a $50 bill.
A smaller catalog makes DC Comics products stand out in the marketplace. It makes the books distinct and have a value to the reader.
Someone who understands that comics need to have a higher entertainment value. Right now the comic book has the lowest entertainment value per dollar because the content is such poor quality. It takes hundreds of dollars just to complete a storyline. That doesn’t give new readers an incentive to buy books or veteran comic fans to recommend books to friends or give them to their children. Compared to other forms of media, such as movies, TV, the internet, and video games The comic book is the most expensive hobby to enjoy but provides the least enjoyment for the cost.
Increasing the entertainment value per dollar in comics is paramount to helping the medium survive in print and digital format. Because if the content supplied has no entertainment value to the consumer, there is no reason for the customer to demand the product in the marketplace.
DC comics needs an editor who understands diversity isn’t just about race. That true diversity is about making a character interesting and multidimensional. That stories focus on the content of a character not the color of their skin.
DC Comics also needs someone who understands the growing digital marketplace for e-publications. Someone who understands digital comic books must be priced to compete with other digital products. Songs on itunes, TV shows apps and games. Stuff tweens and teens buy up without thinking about. Currently $2.99 is just too much money for a 32-page digital comic when a person can get a full novel for 99 cents or less in venues like Amazon’s Kindle or Smashwords.
In addition, digital comic book content must be DRM free if the digital comic book is to survive. Readers being able to take their comics from tablet to desktop, laptop or other devices is key to getting comics in the hands of new readers, especially those under the age of eighteen. Readers need to be able to swap and trade comics with each other so they can try new titles and experience new characters. This is what’s going to lead to future sales long-term.
If the DC Comics brand is to survive it needs new management. Management with vision and creativity that has the vision to chart a course for comic books in the 21st century and is focused on reaching a new generation of younger readers.