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Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Post Dan Didio Era at DC Comics




I’ve moved on from DC Comics. And I’ve come to accept that there won’t be change as long as Dan Didio, Jim Lee, Bob Harras, and Diane Nelson are in charge. But I also understand that something’s gotta give. Evenutally.  


Publishing is a BUSINESS. And eventually executives at the top are going to get tired of hearing deflections, bullshit, and more bullshit from DC’s current editorial regime. Sooner or later the numbers on the spreadsheets are going to tell a story people like Dan Didio just can’t cover up with excuses and quick fixes like Convergence.


The Dan Didio era at DC Comics is eventually going to have to end. And the next editor in Chief who takes his place at DC Comics will have a HUGE MESS to clean up.


I’m a visionary and a forward thinker. And as an independent publisher I see a rough road ahead for DC Comics. The post Dan Didio era will be a TOUGH one for DC Comics fans and the publisher itself as it makes the efforts to correct its course and navigate itself through a changing publishing marketplace. But I believe the DC Comics brand can overcome the challenges put in front of it if that editor in chief has the vision to see a bigger picture, puts on their hip boots, rolls up their sleeves, and understands the hard work that needs to be done. There’s a lot of GARBAGE that’s going to need to be hauled out at DC Comics and it’s going to have to be cleared out by a fleet of dump trucks. So that next editor in chief better bring a shovel and a rolodex with the numbers of a couple of trash haulers with them on their first day of work.


DC Comics has suffered from over a decade and a half of dysfunction. And that dysfunction has damaged the DC Comics brand internationally. Sales of DC Comics have declined. Sales of merchandise to such as action figures have stalled. Warner Brothers executives have appeared completely clueless as it tries to compete with Marvel Studios in making movies for the DC Comics brand. Overall, the DC Comics brand has lost market share in almost every sector with the exception of its Television division.


Right now the DC Comics brand is in a state of confusion. Most of iconic comic book characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder woman are unrecognizable with customers young and old due a decade and a half of retcons, costume changes, and multiple reboots in the publishing division. The next editor will face a challenge trying to familiarize both old and new readers with DC’s characters and make their designs and stories memorable in their minds again. 


In the publishing division, the next editor-in-chief will also have to sort out the jumbled mess that is the DC Universe has become. DC’s Universe has gone from an easy to follow continuity to a confusing multiverse filled with enough plotholes and inconsistencies that would confuse a small child. Readers are told everything fits, but everything doesn’t when a reader follows a straight line. All of Didio’s mismanagement has led to a DC multiverse that has become completely Fucked Up Beyond All Repair.


I dare to say it, but to get to that straight line that makes the heroes accessible to new readers, the new Editor-in-Chief may have to hard reboot things in the publishing division. However, with an experienced publishing professional at the helm the DC new Universe would resemble something like it did before Didio was hired. One where The Golden Age is set in World War II, and there’s a clear line for legacy heroes leading to today. A universe where Superman wears red trunks and a cape, Diana Prince is Wonder Woman, Batman is Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson is Robin. Painful, but when you’re dealing with a decade and a half of dysfunction it requires a complete rebuild of a damaged brand. Again rebuilding a brand like DC Comics is a five to ten year plan, and several iconic DC franchises like Teen Titans and Wonder Woman are so systemically damaged by nearly two decades of bad storytelling they need a complete hard restart with brand new origins based on the original origins to get new readers and casuals back on board.


There has to be a plan to get readers to connect with and relate to the characters in the DC Universe. And reconnecting them with their stories. Again, that’s going to take five to ten years minimum, starting with the Trinity (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) and rolling out secondary titles like Green Lantern, Shazam! Flash, Aquaman, and Green Arrow six months afterward. Along with the trinity there should be a Justice Society book to show that the Golden Age left a legacy and that they’re still facing oldschool menaces  like Per Degaton and Solomon Grundy, but the first year of a DC relaunch should focus on building the worlds of the DC trinity and the secondary heroes and end with the formation of the Justice League and the launch of that title.


The second or third year should start with the introduction of other heroes like Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, and Firestorm and end with the formation of the original Teen Titans (new members like Cyborg, Starfire and Raven, coming in a year later). Again, this rebuilding of the DC Universe and the DC Comics brand will take five to ten years minimum, not be rushed together like DC’s new 52.


And in that time writers are going to be forced tell some great tales without the crutch of a gimmick or multi-line crossover event to carry them from issue to issue. Rebuilding is going to separate the hacks from the craftspeople, and when a creator doesn’t have the crutch of gimmicks and events to hold them up, they’ll be forced to get creative. The creators will have to focus on characters, their stories and making them interesting and compelling, using the original stories from classic DC adventures for inspiration, but taking them on modern twists.


And after the next editor-in-chief establishes a structure for the new DC Universe, they’re going to have to establish standards for content with the DC brand. Right now DC Comics are just inappropriate for just about adults let alone children. Yes, comics have fights in them. But the violence has gotten to the point of excessive with gory mutilations, decapitations gratuitous depictions, of death. When it comes to depictions action sequences DC comics today has crossed the line between good taste and…filth. The new EIC has to get the standard back to good taste if they hope to win over new readers in the 21st century.


The standard for most blockbuster films today is PG-13. And I believe comics need to meet to that standard for content if they hope to compete with movies, TV, and the Internet. DC needs to become a family oriented brand just like Disney, and Superman needs to be treated with the same respect Disney gives Mickey Mouse and Disney’s Princesses.


The next editor-in-chief will also have to rebuild the brand for DC’s Super heroines. DC Comics has the best stable of recognizable female characters in comics. Supergirl, Batgirl, Wonder Woman, Starfire, Wonder Girl, Dr. Light, Catwoman and Harley Quinn. A gold mine for licensing and merchandising. But the way the DC’s heroines have been depicted pretty much alienate any female comic fan and casual and alienate most male comic fans. The cripplings, mutilations, and rapes of these characters are sickening and downright disgusting. The stigma from these depictions of violence against women have damaged the brand DC’s brand long-term with female readers.


With mothers, grandmothers and aunts giving kids money for comics, There’s no place for this kind of violence against women in comics. The new EIC will have to make a guarantee to readers that there will be no more women in refrigerators at DC. EVER.


And the next editor in chief at DC will have to extend an olive branch to all those creators out there. After the implementation of the New 52 most writers and artists have sworn off working for DC. A new EIC will have to be an ambassador of goodwill who reconnects artists and writers to the brand and gets them to understand the history of the characters they’re working with as they develop new adventures for them. They’ll have to diplomatically explain standards for quality and story. They’ll have to be open to working with creators and creating a team environment where everyone works together towards rebuilding the reputation of DC Comics.


There’s going to be a steep learning curve for some artists and writers as they learn that the excesses of the 1990’s are no longer the standard in a 21st Century publishing world and that the gimmicks and shock marketing that worked then don’t work now. People are indifferent to shock and writers and artists are going to have to learn how to get comic fans attention with something other than a death, a gory comic panel or some other overused plot device readers have grown tired of seeing.


DC will also have to be open to changing the way it compensates artists if it hopes to get new ideas flowing for its publications. There’s a lot of fresh young talent out there in the indies and the webcomics scene who have proven they deserve a job at one of the big two, but the archaic work-for-hire model is keeping them from even considering working with them. DC’s new editor in chief will have to be an advocate for them when they talk to WB Bosses about profit sharing with them on licensing and merchandising if they hope to get forward thinking creators on board and bring their new ideas and new characters to the brand.


DC’s new editor-in-chief will also have to be open to creating products that aren’t in 32-page comic formats. The serialized comic today costs too much and offers little entertainment value for the comic fans’ dollar compared to competing products. OGNs (Original graphic novels,) eBook exclusive series, and even limited series will have to be the part of the publishing catalog along with reprints of classic material. Even exclusive webcomics should be part of a catalog at a new DC Comics. 


And that new Editor-in-Chief will have to make an effort to reach out to comic fans across the globe. They’ll have to be the ambassador of goodwill to DC readers young and old. Instead of being an aloof jerk like Didio is sitting at a comic panel blowing off readers at a comicon they paid their good money to attend, they’ll have to actively listen to their customers and get creators to listen to them at book signings. As I see it, creators are going to have to get out and sell their work at the Barnes & Noble and the comic shops just like they do at the tables when they do commissions. They’re going to have to talk to the readers. And that feedback from these interactions hopefully will help them create better stories.


Finally, the next editor-in-chief needs to insist that DC recent logo needs to GO. It’s the symbol of Dan Didio. The symbol of a decade of FAILURE. It’s design is uninspired, and reflects the how dysfunctional and directionless the brand has become. The DC brand needs to be represented by its iconic four-star bullet again. That bullet was a standard for quality. It meant the reader was going to get comics readers of all ages would be able to enjoy and heroes any parent would be eager to share with their kids.


Many comic fans complain about the Dan Didio era at DC Comics. But Shawn James would like to focus on the post-Didio Era. Like a last place football team with a first-round draft pick DC Comics would be a rough place to be in the first few years. But with a solid Editor in Chief with a publishing background, leading the brand like a great head coach a plan can be put in place to rebuild the franchise and make it a rock-solid team of writers, artists and editors who would be focused on taking into first place and gaining the most market share in the comic book industry.

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