Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Project 52: The Aftermath

It's been two weeks since we wrapped up Project 52's coverage of the DC Comics relaunch. It didn't take long for us to start jonesing for more, and so we all got together in a dark corner of the internet, and laid out our thoughts on the relaunch, the comics, and the process of reading and reviewing a hell of a lot of comics. The results, heavily cut down to make them faintly readable, are produced below.
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How many of your titles will you be picking up next month, now you’re not reviewing them?
Michael: Batman and Wonder Woman. Snyder has a good take on Batman and I really want to see how he writes Bruce Wayne some more. I'm a Greek Mythology nut so I like that they're playing that up in Wonder Woman.
Alex: In my case.... Action Comics, because Grant Morrison is Grant Morrison and I want to know where he's going with it all. Swamp Thing, because it was brilliant and the art was sumptuous.
Oh, and probably Wonder Woman and Batman, though I might wait for the digital copies to drop in price after a month. With the exception of Swamp Thing, though, they're all just out of curiosity of what they'll do with it.
Bret: Animal Man and the Green Lantern one that I’ve already forgotten the name of. The one with Kyle Rayner [New Guardians]. I would also like to pick up Action Comics #1 as I never actually read it.
Tim: I think the only thing I'm going back to in singles will be Frankenstein, but I'll definitely pick up some in trades. Probably Aquaman, Wonder Woman (I'm a myth nut too) and Birds of Prey.
Oh - I might do singles for Stormwatch too, but that's more for affection for the characters than on the strength of the first issue, which looking back was probably weaker than I originally thought. And I'll steal Bret's Animal Man and New Guardians.

Will you be buying anything when it comes out in collected trades?

Alex: I'll probably pick up the trade of Batwoman, and maybe Justice League Dark if it gets good reviews.
Bret: To be honest, now that I think about it I'm probably going to wait till they're all out in trades. I've just never been a fan of singles really. I wanna read the whole story at once, not in parts.
Tim: Writing for the trade is a real problem that this relaunch highlighted. It feels like few people know how to write a compelling single issue anymore.
Alex: My non-comics-reading friend Geoff was asking about that from reading the reviews, actually. He's looking for comics recommendations at the moment, but we totally put him off the idea of reading single issues.
Michael: I really think this relaunch would have been stronger if the first issues felt complete and managed to hook people.


Relatively speaking, we’re all non-DC readers: what preconceptions did you have about what makes DC comics different, and did this impact on your enjoyment?
Michael: I think DC is better known for their cosmic stuff now than some of the other companies. Marvel has the street-level characters and DC has the Gods, and those who live amongst the stars
Bret: DC for me is now summed up by the idea of great powers and some flimsy characters behind them, like we got back in the four-colour days.
Alex: My opinion of DC has always been tied up with the idea of convoluted continuity we mentioned in a lot of the reviews. For example, I’ve also been rereading Final Crisis, and while I enjoyed it, I still have no real idea what's going on or who half the characters are.
Tim: It varied from title to title. The two Legion titles were almost completely incomprehensible to a newbie, but I thought something like Aquaman did well by relying on general public perception of the character, rather than lots of continuity nods.
Michael: I actually think my very vague perception of Deadman hindered my reading of it in a different way. I was slightly aware of the character from his appearances in the animated DC Universe and yet I was still put off by the amount of time the book spent telling me the new status quo.
Tim: It was a tricky balancing act as far as status quo and continuity goes - trying to make things accessible to new readers without alienating old ones, and explaining how things sit in the new relaunch without turning issue one into a flood of exposition. That ties back into the whole 'done in one' first issue thing - if you give yourself one issue to hook people in, they're more likely to stay if Issue #2 is explaining the character's place in the new universe for all the continuity nerds out there.
[Ten minutes are spent grumbling about continuity, the minutiae of how everything fits together DC's new 'Five Years' timeline, and suggesting DC might already be writing themselves into another Crisis.]
Bret: ...Ultimately though (and I feel this is something DC just doesn't understand) story is more important in a comic than continuity. If you can tell a good tale, it shouldn't matter if it lines up with something that happened 30 years ago. That said, there is that weird woman in red. I take it you all spotted her? It looks like she appears in every issue.
Tim: Yeah. Maybe a year down the line, she'll have a miniseries just explaining how all the continuity lines up. I'm sure it will be riveting reading.
Michael: Seems like she might be there for DC to take this all back if they need to. An escape strategy.

What were your first impressions, and what do you think will be the lasting legacy of this relaunch?
Bret: When I heard about the New 52, I wasn't excited. I just rolled my eyes.
Michael: I honestly thought it could be a good idea in theory. If they stick to it. I think it's one of the best chances comics have ever had to bring in new readers, but after the first month it feels like business as usual.
Tim: We've been talking about a hard reboot, what with the Women in Red and all, but I think it's more likely that once the new sales shine is off, things will slowly slide back to how they've always been. For example, social crusade Superman will slowly turn back into regular old Superman.
Bret: The Superman I read (the non-Action Comics one) just felt like regular old Supes to me
Tim: It's a great example of how they've mussed up to me. You have a great opportunity to create an interesting new spin on the character, but you have to have another title just to keep the fans who don't want change happy.
Alex: I think this is just the nature of comics. It's prismatic. Ultimately, you've got two people simultaneously writing the same character. Maybe working off the same notes, but they can't respond. So a fresh start kind of can't work with two titles.

On a more positive note: What were your favourite things about the relaunch?
Tim: Frankenstein! And Aquaman!
Michael: I can be positive! We have a good Animal Man book. And Swamp Thing! I haven't read Frankenstein but it's great DC are publishing it, and I want to read it. And Demon Knights and Justice League Dark are books that I want to check out.
Alex: I'll say this. It all felt more like an 'event' than anything else I've experienced in comics. Much more than a summer crossover or whatever. (Though, at least partially because I did this with you guys...)
Bret: My favourite thing about the relaunch was doing these reviews. Because if it wasn't for this, I wouldn't have read a lot of the weirder titles that I did, like my man Ommy's for instance, and I probably would have skipped Blue Beetle, Aquaman and Animal Man.
Tim: Basically, the times when they took the opportunity to put a new spin on a character, or shine a light on an interesting corner of the universe. It's great that people like Swamp Thing and OMAC and Animal Man all get books, and that thanks to the relaunch, they have a much better chance of finding an audience. I definitely get the impression they are trying to produce something for everyone, which is admirable.
...Sorry - everyone who isn't a woman
Alex: ZING!
Bret: As funny as that is, I'm not sure it's fair. Batgirl and Supergirl (costume aside) had some very good titles.
Michael: Obviously everyone is different and people like having a character they can relate to and see themselves in. Hence why diversity in comics on all levels would be handy.
Alex: But ... does 'fiction for women' necessarily have to be 'fiction starring/featuring women' What DC had the opportunity to produce here was something like... Lost. Which was largely male-orientated in its cast, let's be honest, but appealed to both genders. My point is, it's not the gender of the character it features, it's the huge fat roadblack that is that horribly leery Red Hood comic Tim reviewed.
Tim: It does feel like the biggest story to come out of the relaunch (besides the fact they were relaunching) was the awfulness of Red Hood and Catwoman.
Michael: What? Aren't people annoyed that they got rid of Deadshot's moustache?
Tim: It doesn't create a good impression for women who are interesting in picking up new titles because of this relaun... THEY GOT RID OF DEADSHOT'S MOUSTACHE!?! SHUT DOWN EVERYTHING!
Bret: ...Deadshot?
Alex: (The story of the entire relaunch there, in four lines.)
Have you been buying the digital comics? Are day-and-date digital comics the future?
Michael: Yeah, on iPad. I've been too busy to get to the store and yet I've been able to buy those digital back issues and the new issue of Schism. I will say one thing about digital comics: they can't cope with a double page spread. Otherwise I am perfectly happy to read comics digitally.
Bret: I don't think I'm ever going to download comics. I just like owning the book. It's the smell, and the experience. It's why I like the cinema and don't just watch movies at home for half the price. You start taking away from that as an experience and you'll lose my custom.
Tim: I haven't really looked into digital comics because I prefer the physical object, be it floppy or trade, and I have access to a reasonable LCS, but I still recognise that it's an important step, and a whole new market to access. It's a lot easier to get people to pick up Batwing #1 when they don't have to venture into a grotty basement that smells of despair to get it.
Michael: I like collecting comics, I like flicking through comics and I love how trades look on my shelf. But I am running out of space. Those five books I downloaded last night are not taking up space.
Tim: I think it somewhat taps into the collector/fetishist aspect of geekdom, just like how some people still prefer vinyl.
Alex: The thing about single issues is, and I think it's what DC especially survives on, it's the soap opera element. Like, there's this world where stuff's constantly going on, and you want to keep up on a weekly basis.
Tim: Yeah - I think that's why I kept up with X-Men far into it getting sucky.
Alex: And digital comics give me a way of doing that without falling back on Wikipedia, or flicking through in a shop, or even more illegal methods...

So: it's 6 months ago. The four of us are put in charge of DC. What do we do differently with this relaunch?
Bret: Actually, can I stop you there? First off: why would we even want a relaunch?
Alex: Okay, going on what we've said earlier:
-it gives us publicity
-it gives us a reason to make a big thing of going digital
-we can launch some more 'out there' titles, genrewise
-some people are stunned when faced with part 543 of a story
-my girlfriend didn't know they still made new superhero comics
Tim: I think a relaunch done well can do all the things Alex mentioned and more. It's a risk worth taking, and a ballsy move on DC's part.
Michael: And, you don't need to undo everything. As we have seen, we'd get to pick and choose. And most importantly, those comics still exist.
Bret: How about this? We do what DC actually did. We have a story staggered through time and tell flash backs but we sit down first and we work out EXACTLY when everything is meant to happen. And then, for the readers who really care about continuity we produce a timeline, or a book only dealing with where everything fits in over all, like a reader's guide to the new universe.
Tim: I think that approach would work, as long as you don't make the new timeline the focus of the first issues. You make the Issue #1s one-offs to hook people in: done-in-one stories that explain who the characters are and why they matter. Then you explore your past as you tell further stories.

Was the relaunch a success? Did the titles feel like the start of a new universe? Did it take advantage of all the opportunities it had?
Michael: They certainly sold those comic books.
Bret: As an opportunity to attract new readers to some titles they maybe previously wouldn't have read, I feel it's been a success. Also, DC really does feel like they've brought out a book for everyone. However, as a relaunch and a chance to retell their main stories it's failed and will fall back on it's old ways sooner rather than later. I just hope it'll be at least 10 years before they feel the need to rewrite this new universe they've created... again. But I don't think that'll be the case as even after the first issues there are already continuity and timeline problems.
Alex: For me personally, I feel like this relaunch has been a qualified success. My DC reading list generally consists of however many titles Grant Morrison is writing at that moment, but with this I've finally picked up some stuff I've been hearing buzz on forever - J.H. Williams on Batwoman, Scott Snyder's work. I even read a Geoff Johns comic.
On top of that, I've been reading a lot of comics journalism on the relaunch and I've been picking up trades of older DC stuff (aforementioned Final Crisis, the original Justice League International). But I think I'm being optimistic because of how much of a pleasure Project 52 has been. Even through bad issues (and there have been a few), I've been fascinated by the shape of the thing as a whole, and the way it feels like a potential game-changer. But ... in six months... who knows?
Tim: DC had a great opportunity here, to tell new interesting stories and make a big inroads into gaining new readers. But the relaunch overall feels rushed and lacking organisation, so the success came down to the individual titles and their creative teams, which is always going to be varied. What we need is CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN.
Michael: Like Harvey Dent?
Tim: Exactly.
Michael: We wanted Harvey Dent but the relaunch we got was more like Two Face. Or something.
Tim: We got the hero we need, not the hero we deserve. Or something. Then again, it's only comics. Why so serious?
Bret: Who wants to see DC do a magic trick? They can make 70 years worth of continuity disappear! TA-DA!
Tim: The Second Law of Comics Thermodynamics: Any critical discussion of the art form will eventually devolve into Batman puns.
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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.