Saturday, February 24, 2007

One Year Later almost One Year Later

Was DC's One Year Later a success of a failure?

The plan to reinvigorate the entire DC line by moving the entire universe a year forward in time opened up new and exciting ventures, put the characters through various changes of pace and gave newcomers a great jumping on point following the interest surrounding Infinite crisis (IC). It seemed the perfect time to be reading DC, or to start reading DC.

Being the objective optimist I am, I have to say it was one hell of a big failure. But it didn't have to be. Lets look at the titles individually, bear in mind these are the comics that I have read. Aquaman and Manhunter may very well be the best comics in the world but I haven't read them so I couldn't possibly comment.

Batman / Detective Comics: Failure
Why: All the 8 issue "Face the Face" story-arc did was put all the characters in the Batman Universe back in exactly the same place as they were before. The interesting story potential of Two-face being "cured" was rushed as quick as possible, as was the intriguing Hush story-thread of Riddler knowing who Batman was. The only thing sets this into the 1YL sphere is Batman is apparently a bit nicer than the Pre-IC Batman, but in this case it seems "a bit nicer" means "less monologue", and if people didn't like long meaningless exposition in caption form then both Wolverine and Chris Claremont would be on the street looking for jobs, because lets face it now, neither of them are the best there is at what they do.
I digress.
Anyway, Robin has been adopted, because we didn't see that coming and (for now), Riddler is a good guy, or at least an anti-hero merc detective.
Thanks to poor-planning, newcomers to the bat books had to commit to both books immediately after IC, instead of being able to select Detective or Batman. Which I guess would have been fine if they intended to keep the two books crossing over as an ongoing narrative, but straight after the 8 issues they split the books up again. *sighs*
Eventually, it got better. The excellent Paul Dini is crafting some fine, self-contained detective stories in the flagship Bat title, while Grant Morrison and Kubert #1 have taken the helm of Batman and run in an interesting direction, with the introduction of a supposed son and heir to the bat-mantle. Only to be plagued by late shipping and fill-in content (which still beats skip months, at least from a sales perspective).

Superman / Action Comics: Failure
We'll leave the Bat universe to examine the Supes core titles quickly. This is easy, cut and paste the above dissection of the bat books and change a few key words.
Again, the 8 issue story immediately following 1YL shipped in both Supes and Action before the books segregated into their own thing, confusing newcomers who may have wanted to pick up one or the other. When all is said and done, we are back pretty much where we left off pre-1YL, Superman has his powers back but now without much examination of what could have been an interesting chapter of Clarks life (largely skipped over in 52 as well), the only real difference being the public know that Luthor is a bit of a bastard really.
Eventually, it got better. With Kurt Busiek doing some fine stories with Carlos Pacheco in Superman (even if some of them have been a little fill-in feeling) and Richard Donner with Geoff Johns and Kubert #2 running in an interesting direction, with the introduction of a supposed son and heir to the supes-mantle. Only to be plagued by late shipping and fill-in content (which still beats skip months, at least from a sales perspective).

Nightwing: Failure.

What the fuck were they doing hiring Bruce Jones? He bored the fuck out of just about everyone on the Hulk and then they stick him on Nightwing. A fate quite literally worse than death for Dick Grayson. had they killed him in IC (as they were going to) at least it would have had meaning.
I felt consistently embarrassed at stocking this title, never mind selling it to customers whom I consider friends (who surely were only buying it as part of their run and not because they enjoyed it), and the fact that I have them sat in a box, bagged and boarded, in my house because I don't want a gap in my numbers disgusts me to my core. In fact, fuck it, time to sell them if I can.
It got better with the advent of Marv Wolfman (original Crisis writer and Beast Machines story editor), but it was a case of too little too late for the character no-one knew how to use.
While we're here, why the hell did Jason Todd survive IC? That was the perfect chance to un-punch his shitty rebirth.

Robin: Pending
the fact that I've fallen 4 issues behind on this book speaks volumes about its content. So he's got a new, more Bruce Timm-centric costume, okay. That's a change I suppose.
Having just read the newest issue (#159), it's not bad, and certainly not a failure. As well as having a new costume, Tim has also been adopted by Bruce, other than that he has not changed much as a character (seemingly back in Gotham after a stint in Bludhaven, a move which was probably okayed before the powers that be decreed Nightwing would survive IC)).
This lack of change is a good thing, as I wouldn't want to see Tim becoming a brooding bastard after the death of another parent / loved one. This guy has suffered more tragedy than Bruce has, but steadfast refuses to let himself be a victim - except in the contradictory Teen Titans. More on that later.
So all in all, this book can be judged a success, even though it doesn't seem to be on the same quality level as the Bill Willingham run and the sales figures reflect no new readership.

Catwoman: Failure.
Not terrible, but after months of waiting to find out if Bruce was the Father of Selinas child (the daughter in question is even named Helena, like in one of the Pre-crisis (1986 crisis) alternate universes), we find out the father was the now deceased son of slam Bradley. Who? What? Move along.
Yeah, exactly, if you weren't reading Catwoman before 1YL, you'll get nothing out of it now. Also, while I think of it, some of the villains in this book have been just awful, points for trying, but just awful.
The sales figures are worse than before 1YL, I think that's worth noting.

Forgive my excessive use of brackets, but some of this stuff is hard to decipher without footnotes.

Green Arrow: Break even
As with Catwoman, I returned to this title with 1YL. I haven't really clicked with Judd Winnick lately and dumped this book some time back, flitting in and out when the new Speedy turned out to be continuing Pedro's philanthropic AID's awareness legacy.
The allure of Oliver Queen as Mayor coupled with McDaniel artwork got me quite excited about this title...for about 3 issues.
It seems I much prefer Oliver Queen as a bit character, I like how he was used in ID Crisis and on the Justice League unlimited TV series, as I haven't enjoyed his solo book since the vastly underrated "Archers Quest" story-line by Brad Meltzer.
As with Batman, its seems Ollie spent his missing year going back to basics, and spent a year on an island re-honing his skills.
The quality of this title is fine, it certainly doesn't suck and is quite an enjoyable read, but it certainly doesn't warrant me continuing to collect it. The sales levels have held their course since pre-IC, so no harm no foul, it just isn't for me anymore.

Outsiders: failure
The book is, was and probably always will be as average as you can get. If anyone ever asks you to recommend a really average comic, give them Outsiders. Its never really hit a slump because its never had a peak, and you need one to occur for the other to be noticeable. This book had a huge amount of support surrounding IC, including high-scale crossovers with Teen Titans and being re-launched with a new team including a major player from ID Crisis, and still fails to impress.
And Nightwing ALWAYS acts like Batman in this title, not like Nightwing.

Green Lantern: failure
You know all those annoying bastards who'd never shut up about Hal Jordan after they'd killed him off? I'm the same but with Kyle Rayner.
Kyle got me into GL, I find it much easier to relate to a kid who likes NIN and Greenday than a "I know no fear" womanising test pilot. Still, this Geoff Johns title started off okay, certainly not as well as the miniseries that preceded it but solid enough.
The problem is the stories all feel too isolated from the DCU, I know you could say that about any book but this one almost feels off in a universe of its own. Which I suppose is an advantage as well as a disadvantage depending on your POV. The re-absorption of Hal seems a ltitle forced in places, with some characters trusting and forgiven his past transgressions far too quickly whilst other meaningless characters hold a grudge seemingly only to remind the reader about Parallax every few pages.
My other problem with this book is it seems to have an A-list shipping schedule, when the creators on it are far from A-list (and I like Geoff Johns).
Come to think of it did this book even get labelled as 1YL? It had only just got going when the jump occurred. Either way, this title is far from solid.

Supergirl: failure

Because quite simply, no one knows what to do with this book. The character was, as far as I can tell, introduced to serve as a showcase for Michael Turners artwork, and launched into her own title purely because the iron was hot and they wanted to strike.
This book has no aim or long term direction either as part of the DCU as a whole or as a singles title.

But she does wear an incredibly short skirt for a 15 year old, as sales figures reflect. Oh well.

Teen Titans: failure

And I really, really wanted this title to carry on its greatness. I loved this book pre-IC. I loved this books predecessor.
When I got into comics circa '95/'96, Superboy, Impluse and Tim Drake Robin all caught my attention at a time when I was only reading Marvel (and Gen 13 - I was a geek), I loved the interaction between the three and the fact that there was very little back story to any of them. When Young Justice was launched it was one of my favourite titles, and despite the darker turn Titans made I still enjoyed the title as the characters were still written true to form.
Where are they now?
Superboy is dead.
Bart Allen is deader.
Tim Drake is dead on the inside - at least in this title if not in his own.
I'm all for character progression and things changing, but the soul of this book is missing. I will stick with it for a while longer but the new writer after Johns has his work cut out for him if he wants to keep me coming back every month.
Worst of all, this comic was more assessable pre-crisis, now even seasoned DC vet's scratch their heads asking "who's Kid Devil"?

It also seems to have missed a few shipping deadlines. Not good Johns, just because Blade paid you more doesn't mean you can ignore your bread and butter. Or are you the only one of the supposed four writing 52 as I suspect?

Superman / Batman: failure

It was never great but it was always kind of fun, quirky and easy. What the hell is going on it nowadays? Verheiden's run on Superman made me anticipate his arrival on this book, now I am very close to cancelling it. I have also notice a steep drop in sales, this book now sells less units than it did pre-1YL. Bravo DC, bravo.

Birds of Prey: Pass

You know what, thinking about it I haven't read this book since issue #70 which is why I cancelled it last month on issue #100. Anyone reading it got anything to say, good or bad?


Non 1YL post-crisis books
So what about the books that didn't carry the 1YL gimmick tag? Books which were re-launched, not just repackaged, how have they fared in the new DCU landscape?

Shadowpact / Checkmate / OMAC / Secret Six / Trials of shazam: failures
I haven't bothered reading every issue of these titles. They were all launched on the back of Countdowns success, but the only reason countdown worked was because it was leading somewhere. After IC was all said and done, these books didn't feel like they needed a place in my comic reading pile. The 80 page Brave New World promo from DC was an excellent book, because for just $1 it showed why you didn't need to spend $13 a month.

Ion / GL Corps: failures

Quite simply, I don't need three Green Lantern books a month. Everyone has done their best to turn Kyle Rayner into a whiny cunt since the return of Hal, obviously trying to make Hal look good on a curve. Despite the foreshadowing of the return of the multiverse in 52, Ion has completely failed to keep my attention.
GL Corps was easy maths for me: I didn't enjoy the miniseries + I don't like any of the characters = I don't spend $3 a month on it.

Blue Beetle: failure
Not for me. If I thought the Hispanic lead was done for the sake of storytelling and not to fill a racial quota it would have been a bit better, but as it was it didn't do anything for me that I hadn't seen done before, and it didn't attempt to do anything better.

JLA: Success
Despite the annoying incentive variant ordering scheme, this comic has been most enjoyable. It has its problems: I don't really like the fact that 4 issues in, after we already knew the team roster, we were still being shown flashbacks of the roster meeting between Bats, Supes and Wonder Woman - talk about perfunctory.
Also, for the sake of newcomers it might have made more sense to focus less on a character building story line like with the Red Tornado, it might have been better to hit the ground running with lots of JLAction.
Despite those flaws, its still one of the first comics I read every month so it's doing something right for me.

JSA: Double-success.

Probably the star of the line for me.
I've never read JSA consistently, I read the autopsy issue tying into ID Crisis and most of the key issues tying into IC and decided to check out the re-launch.
Despite not knowing much about any of the characters, I was immediately drawn into the story in the first two issues, and whilst the third issue was a bit slower and wildcats son seemed a little forced, I think great things are in store for this title. Currently our 5th highest selling DC book in store. Not bad for a bunch of octogenarians.

Bats / Supes Confidential: Failure, but only to me.
I don't get it. Diggle and Portacio are hardly the stars you need to launch a new Bats book, and whilst the team of Cooke and Sale intrigues the hell out of me (and a great 2nd issues of Supes Confidential) nothing screams "wait for the HC" more than that creative team. Setting these books on the fringes of continuity are a great way of telling me they are not really needed.
However, sales are fairly strong and response seems positive. So it might just be me trying to save money.

JSA / JLA Calssified: Failures
See above.
I'm still not over the shitty Ellis JLA story either, as far as I know he was contracted to do it and didn't really want to, so I can excuse his failings on this one. I nearly went a column without mentioning Ellis. The last time these books had anything important to say was the four issue Power Girl run that launched the JSA series, because at least that built towards IC.

Flash: Biggest re-launch failure since the clone saga...or maybe Electric powers Superman.

Although the storytelling picked up towards the end of the first arc, I don't think anyone wanted to see Bart Allen used in this way.
Bart was formerly Impulse, and a slight increase in maturity and a bullet wound from Deathstroke caused him to rethink his place in the Flash mythology and repackage himself as Kid Flash. It was a nice advancement for an interesting character which could have led towards years of interesting series, but DC went and pulled the trigger on this re-launch and ruined everything.
The fact is, there were still more Wally West stories to tell, DC knew this and by not killing him off that only made it worse , as its made the entire series seem incredibly transient.
There were plenty more Kid Flash stories to tell, and by prematurely ageing him four years seemed a cheap insult to the people who have watched his progress since his first appearance in the good 'ol Mark Waid Flash run.

The set up for the Flash family at the end of IC was epic. The speed force gone, Wally lost in the future, no-one knew what the future held. If only people knew it was this.

At this point no-one knows if it would be worse if DC carried on and tried to make this work, or if they bit the bullet and admitted this sucked and pulled the plug. I smell a retcon coming.


Summary: One Year Later = failure

The entire line failed to hold peoples interest and more importantly, dollars and pounds.
Where did One Year Later go wrong?

Its biggest failure is indicative off the times: The problem was quite simply that of not enough lead time.
It's the same thing that has led to delays in Civil War, Astonishing X-men, Ultimates, ASBARTBW, WildCATS, Authority etc...etc...
If the powers that be had organised it so that the core Supes and Bats books had skipped their 8 issue reintroduction arcs and gone straight to the good stuff, with no delays and A-list creators we'd be looking at four very solid titles, both in sales and quality. If DC had the luxury of times to spend the man hours restructuring all the DC books we'd be looking at a line that would outclass Marvel.
As it was, very little lead time and a little weekly event scheduled to begin as soon as IC ended - no doubt to counter Marvels juggernaut Civil War (whom interestingly enough rushed the CW project with very little lead time to compete against DC, go figure) - ended up draining all the vast resources of the DC editors.


That's not to say that it was a complete failure, sometimes something good can come from a bad situation. If it wasn't for the nazi's then we wouldn't have fuel efficient cars. The biggest success, arguably of the year was, of course 52.
52 was an excellent experiment of form: Could a weekly comic, which featured no Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman (as a dubious selling point!?!) and no regular art-team, find a foothold in this market of special events, re-launch's and variant covers?

52 was by no means the first weekly comic. Action Comics was weekly for a long time, but struggled to hold its place. Superman was essentially weekly for years, when they had a continual story running through all four monthlies and the quarterly, which meant that 52 issues of Superman comics shipped, 1 a week all year round. Thanks to a numbering triangle it wasn't too difficult to keep track of, but in the long run it led to terrible attrition as newcomers couldn't find an entrance point into the series.
So what made 52 different?
The unique selling point was its allure of "the missing year of DC", which is why One year Later had to happen, but the thing that separated 52 from other weekly series, and the reason why I think it has held its readership so long, was that the end was always in sight. Think about it - it's 42 issues in now, if the next 5 were shit I'd almost certainly stick it out to the end.

So 52 was a blinding success...or was it?

The question with 52 is can the same success be repeated?
Marvel say no, through their lack of competition. Whereas DC say yes with a very clever marketing strategy.
After 52 ends - in fact the week after - countdown starts at issue 51, counting down each week to a somewhat ambiguous "event" at #0. And with the arrival of the name Countdown comes a $3 price tag, gone is the attractive $2.50 price point.
One other thing, DC have changed the goal posts a little in the process, in order to get the full story of 52 you need to buy a four part miniseries entitled World War 3 (obviously discounting the Morrison penned WW3 arc in JLA).

So now we have a new question. Has 52 stumbled at the last hurdle? Or will this 2nd Countdown prove that lightning can strike twice?

-Sid Beckett - thinking that was far too long and someone really should start paying him for this stuff or he'll stop doing it again.