Monday, May 18, 2015

Week of 05/18/2015



DC: You’re Still Doing It Wrong
Comic book creator Gerry Conway recently did something that not too many people would have the courage to do.
He actually apologized for something he said.
Conway had initially issued a scathing article about the policies of DC Entertainment when it came to royalties over the characters that Conway created.  Specifically the character Caitlin Snow, otherwise known as Killer Frost, who is currently seen on the CW series “The Flash”.  Although Conway’s version of the characters is not the same as currently seen in the comics, and certainly not the same as seen in the TV series, Conway believed that DC did owe him some money in royalties.  DC, however, said this was a “derivative” character, and thus not enough to justify paying royalties.  This was the same justification DC issued when it came to another one of his more famous creations, the fan-favorite (and mine) Power Girl.
Conway pointed out that DC has been on a tear of late turning long-established characters created by artists no longer associated with the major publisher into “derivative” characters, supposedly so they wouldn’t have to pay royalties to their creators anymore.
“According to DC, Sterling Gates and Derlis Santacruz didn’t create Caitlin Snow,” he said on his Tumbler account. “Don Newton and I didn’t create Jason Todd. Ric Estrada and I didn’t create Power Girl. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster didn’t create Superboy. Bob Kanigher and Carmine Infantino didn’t create Barry Allen.  These characters just appeared out of nowhere.  But the money for their exploitation goes directly into DC’s bank account.”
Since that scathing accusation, Conway has been in touch with DC brass, and apparently had a “Come to Jesus” meeting with them so now he’s saying that the DC people are supposedly trying to do right by him.
“While I stand by at least one of my basic points... I need to walk back pretty much everything else, especially my characterization of the motives of the men involved in developing, explaining and implementing DC’s creators equity program.”
Well I’m glad you had your “Come to Jesus” moment, Mister Conway.  But that still doesn’t fix the other problems that DC has with the people that have been reading and appreciating the comics over the years.
Let’s get brutally honest here... while DC Comics (and DC Entertainment) have been doing a bang-up job on TV when it comes to their newer live-action shows (except for “Constantine”, and that I blame directly on Comcast-owned NBC), their comics have been failing on so many levels.  They may try to do right by Conway, but they aren’t doing right by the readers that pay for the comics that they can then pay royalties to people like Conway, never mind generate the fan base that will then watch and support those TV shows.
This isn’t a recent fail, either.  This is something that has plagued DC like a cancer for years, slowly eating away at its readers, and causing them to smack their foreheads in frustration.  These are things that haven’t really been addressed, simply imposed on and told they need to “accept”.
Here are the key problems that need to be addressed.
Eternal Crisis Syndrome: Yes, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” was a ground-breaking and all-important storyline that allowed DC to hit the “reset” button and fix some problems that were decades in the making.
Unfortunately they have not stopped using the “crisis” storyline, nor have they stopped hitting that damn “reset” button.
In fact, it’s gotten worse.
Overlapping Crisis Storylines: First there was the “Fifth Week” problem, when a special “crisis” would manifest itself simply to fill a “fifth week” release schedule.  Then there was the “Fifty-Two Week Crisis” idea, spawned from the “52” miniseries, which told a little bit of the story every week over a 52-week period.  But while the original “52” was designed to fill in the gaps over a missing year, the “Fifty-Two Week Crisis” idea was transformed into a build-up to yet another “Eternal Crisis” story.  The first one of that idea was “Countdown”, which became “Countdown to Final Crisis” and led into “Final Crisis”. 
But one special build-up wasn’t enough.  There was also “Amazons Attack”, which led into “Countdown”.  And then there was “Death of the New Gods”, which was also very loosely connected to both “Countdown” and “Final Crisis”.  Oh, and let’s not forget “Countdown: Arena”, “Countdown to Adventure”, “Countdown to Mystery”, “Countdown Presents The Search for Ray Palmer”, and “Countdown Presents Lord Havoc and the Extremists”.  All of which tied into “Countdown” and led to “Final Crisis”.
Most recently there was “Future’s End”; a weekly mini-series that turned into a springboard for the current “Eternal Crisis” event, “Convergence”.  Not only that, but there was “Earth 2 – World’s End”, in which the very same Earth 2 that DC Comics re-imagined and defended was unceremoniously destroyed and some of their characters ended up being dumped into the main story arc of “Convergence”.  Why?  Apparently it’s “because shut up!”
Oh, but that Earth 2 is not the actual Earth-2 that readers remember.  Somehow that got saved as part of “Convergence”. 
Then there is...
Disjointed Side-Stories: Again, this isn’t new.  “The Kingdom” had several side-stories that really had no connection to the main storyline but used characters from “The Kingdom”, which was based off the classic “Kingdom Come” miniseries. Basically anything that could be used to further develop a main story was split off into side-stories, which readers then have to buy to get the full story.
Wanted to know how Batman got Wonder Woman’s lasso needed to free the Justice League in “Forever Evil”?  Go buy “Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S.”.  What happened to the Teen Titans after confronting Johnny Quick in “Forever Evil”?  You have to read their comic series to find out.
“Convergence” has actually gone one further in coming up with multiple side-stories based off characters and settings from DC’s past – the very settings and characters that fans loved and wanted back – and then dropping them off on a strange world where they have to fight other characters from other past stories in order to survive.  And they don’t appear to be connected to the main story in “Convergence”.  A lot of these appear to be “fairy tale” sendoffs, giving readers a chance to say good-bye to their characters. 
Remember when Lois Lane was happily married to Superman?  Well say good-bye to that and congrats to their new baby and we’ll now return you to the dysfunctional barely-existing romance of Superman and Wonder Woman, and to Lois Lane’s eminent douchebag move of exposing Superman’s secret identity to the world.
That bring us to those...
Radical departures: Remember when Lois Lane was a professional journalist?  Kiss those days good-bye with her outing of Superman as being Clark Kent!  Oh, and he’s back to wearing jeans and a tee.  And he has a new power which expends all his energy so he’s human for twenty-four hours.  And he can’t fly anymore.
You want a flying Superman?  Well there’s Val-Zod... yes, a dark-skinned Kryptonian named Zod... or perhaps you’re looking for Calvin Elliot, President of the United States, who bears a striking resemblance to Barack Obama, and was the Superman from the “Multiversity” miniseries.  Or maybe you want the Hispanic-raised Superman also named Zod in the forthcoming “Justice League: Gods and Monsters” animated movie?
Remember when there was outrage over Wonder Woman wearing pants?  You’ll beg for those days as she’s now going to be wearing super-complex battle armor.  Or maybe you want the red-haired New God version of Wonder Woman from “Gods and Monsters”?
Bruce Wayne is dead, but Gotham has a new Batman... and it’s Commissioner Gordon in anime-style Gundam armor.  Or perhaps you want a vampire Man-Bat from “Gods and Monsters”?
Remember Wally West?  Well he’s not ginger-haired anymore.
Oh, and remember Power Girl?  Not the same busty blonde young woman that Conway created.  Now she’s a sassy teenager who is neither blonde nor busty.
It’s almost as if the DC hierarchy is saying “Okay, you want your favorite characters?  Well, we’ll bring them back, but on our terms only and we’ll pervert them so you’ll never be able to connect them to the characters that you remember!”
And that’s the part that still makes me wonder if this is all part of DC’s plan to not pay royalties to people like Conway.  It certainly explains the ongoing effort to redefine and remake old characters into completely different ones.  Conway may be content with what DC is doing, but I’m certainly not, and I suspect I’m not the only one either.
And then there’s one more thing that DC has been doing that they really need to stop.  And that is their...
“Hunger Games Fetish”: When DC re-launched their “New 52”, one of their first cross-title storylines was called “The Culling”.  It took three groups of DC characters and pitted them against each other in one-on-one battles for survival.
In other words, it was their first attempt at reenacting “The Hunger Games” series.  And it sucked.  It was a waste of time and money and it ultimately did nothing to help advance the characters involved.
Well that’s what the side-stories for “Convergence” are.  They’re all “Hunger Games” stories.  Each “city” that was preserved is told that their champions have to fight the champions from another “city” in order for that city to “survive”.  If they refuse, then their city is destroyed along with everyone there.  If they lose, then their city is destroyed along with everyone there.  In other words... “Hunger Games”, with Telos as President Coin.
Now it’s one thing to go to the “Hunger Games” plot once.  But to use that same plot again on an even larger scale when it failed the first time around, that’s just laziness. 
I get that DC Comics needs to make money.  They’re a big corporate entity and part of an even bigger corporate conglomerate.  But they’re not going to do that if they continue to alienate the very readers that have been supporting them all these years.  That’s precisely what they’re doing with these continual and overlapping “crisis” storylines, with radical departures that seem to have no reason behind them other than “because shut up”, and side-stories that seem to be nothing more than a naked grab at more revenue for people that look for answers to those already-confusing “crisis” storylines.
It’s strange that the comics are failing the fans when DC’s live-action TV ventures are doing so well.  If they keep this up, maybe the TV writers will end up working for the comic publishers. Then at least there would be something that the fans could come back for.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Week of 05/11/2015



We Make Our Own Enemies
In the world of comics, a very common theory is that superheroes create their own supervillains.  If there are no heroes, then there would be no villains.
Superman supposedly created Lex Luthor.  Batman supposedly created The Joker.  The Flash supposedly inspired simple criminals to become super-villains.  Spider-Man’s appearance supposedly led to the creation of the Green Goblin and the Sinister Six.  Without the X-Men, there would be no Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.  The creation of Captain America would lead to the Red Skull.  And so on and so forth.
It’s about balance.  The yin-and-yang of fiction.  Good cannot be so powerful that it tramples over evil, so evil needs its own champion.
The one thing I’ve noticed of late is that this idea of “heroes and villains” is not just limited to fiction.
Seventy years ago this month - May 8th to be precise - we ended some real-live “villains” in Europe.  Nazi Germany fell with a whimper to the steamrolling surge of Soviet troops from the East and the Americans and Allied nations from the West.  Their supposed “thousand-year reign” barely lasted over a decade.
To commemorate this time of history, the various cable channels have been running specials on Nazi Germany.  How they came about.  How they came to power.  How they manipulated the masses.  Depending on who presented the documentary, the German people were seen as either suckers, manipulated by slick opportunists, or else victims of systemic bullying from both the European community after World War I and from brutish thugs who somehow got political power. 
But no matter the presenter, the picture that they painted was clear: Nazis were every bit the evil villains that could come out of fiction.  No exaggerations would be needed.
I find these specials enlightening because they show just how manipulative a group of people could be.  It wasn’t just a whole country waking up one morning and supporting a certain party because they looked nice in their uniforms.  It was a gradual process of manipulation and packaging combined with a little foresight about certain events like the Great Depression.
But then I looked at what happened after we won in Europe and later in Japan.  We “won”, but we didn’t.  We simply changed villains.  Soviets instead of Nazis.  And this time we didn’t fight them.  We simply “prepared” to fight them.  That way we could keep the “game” going indefinitely.  And we made deals with people we supposedly would be against in order to keep this new villain at bay.
And once the Soviets collapsed, a certain political faction in America started scrambling for other villains to fight.  The deals we made to fight one enemy created other enemies.  We propped up dictators and despots because they would supposedly be on “our side”.  In doing so, we made their enemies... the very people that we would otherwise support... our enemies.  And then we would make more deals to fight those enemies.  And the “game” would continue on and on, with new enemies to face and new deals to broker.
So I have to ask... when will it end?
How can it end, when we continue to play these games of “heroes and villains”, where we make deals with groups that we otherwise would fight against, and in doing so we set the stage for the next villains to face?
The sad part is that same political faction here in America can’t seem to turn it off.  If they’re not focused on the enemy “out there”, then they’re coming up with ones in this country.
Look at how that same political faction deals with the poor and those that are considered “different”.  They’re quickly demonized, blamed for all the ills of society.  We’re told our society’s prosperity and security are at risk because of these groups.  There’s talk of punishing these groups, restricting their activities, even banishing them to certain parts of the country.  All of this sound familiar?  It should.
Look at all of the people that are leaving this country to side with terrorists.  We ask “why”, but we really don’t want to hear the answer to that question.  We just say “they shouldn’t be doing that”.  Yes, they’re being “seduced”.  The problem is we’ve provided the ammunition for it.
Let’s get brutally honest here... we make our own enemies.
Every time we continue to define ourselves through conflict, we make instinctively create enemies.  Every time we make deals with those we would otherwise not be associated with, we not only make their enemies our own, but we also betray what we believe in.  No amount of self-centered delusion of being “exceptional” can hide our hypocrisy either.  We’re not “exceptional” when we prop-up and support tyrants.  We’re not Superman or Batman when we do that.  We’re Lex Luthor or the Joker.
We need to see more of those specials of Germany seventy and eighty years ago.  Not just of how they fell, but how they got into power in the first place.  We need to remember how a nation was manipulated and maneuvered into accepting the mechanizations of tyrants.  How they were convinced they could be prosperous if they simply gave up those they deemed “different”.
Then comes the hard part... we need to ask ourselves where we are today compared to the Germans of that time.  If the only real difference is geography, language, and a calendar, then we also need to accept that somewhere along the line, we’re doing it wrong.