Twilight Of DC Comics?

The latest rumors percolating around the internet is about DC Comics and how it will cease publication. The reason behind this is low sales and loss of confidence by DC Comics’ owners, AT&T. While the comic book company is challenged by declining sales, it is too early to start writing obituaries for the company.

It’s been reported that AT&T does not have any interest in comic book publications and considers DC Comics to be a financial drain to the point that they want to sell DC. More dire is that if the upcoming DC Comics 5G revamp does not succeed then DC will fold. That is ludicrous and an exaggeration. First of all, even though DC comic book sales are down, the characters are still popular. Just look at the amount of money made in merchandising and from other media. Namely, TV shows, films and video games. The video game Batman: Arkham Knight and Batman: Arkham are some of the most revered video games ever released.

Sure, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is struggling right now, but the cinematic universe is rife with potential. Want proof? Look at the positive reaction generated by the clip introducing the new Batman in next year’s The Batman. It is too easy to pile on the DCEU because Shazam! underperformed last year and Birds of Prey was a box office failure. Too many are comparing the DCEU to the MCU, which is unfair since the MCU was a properly planned cinematic universe that is reaping the rewards now. But keep in mind, the MCU may not be the top dog going forward and this could coincide with the DCEU taking over as the top cinematic universe. Just greenlight a Man of Steel sequel and all should be fine. ūüėÄ

Then there is the high anticipation for new DC TV shows like Stargirl and Green Lantern. Also, many current TV shows are getting lots of attention like the ones streaming on the DC Universe app (Harley Quinn, Doom Patrol and Titans) or on The CW–the recent crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths earned tons of positive publicity as several versions of live-action DC superheroes made appearances and teamed up.

Getting back to the comics, the low sales DC is grappling with is shared with all the other comic book companies. There are many reasons for declining sales such as rising costs, other competing media, and so on. What can be done to deal with the sales? That is the million-dollar question and it is clear the current comic book model and distribution no longer works. A solution as innovative as direct sales was back in the late 70s is needed to allow the medium to survive. Whether this means going completely digital, lowering prices, or changing the print format (going directly to graphic novels or trade paperbacks) remains to be seen.

Of course, AT&T could license off their comic books and have another company create their comics. But that could lead to headaches down the road. What if a new character is introduced in the hypothetical licensed comic, does that character belong to DC? The best example is Marvel back in the 90s. The company canceled several comics and hired Rob Liefeld and other Image creators to relaunch core titles like Captain America into their own reboots. At the same time, Marvel sold the film and TV rights to film companies to raise cash and climb out of bankruptcy. The result was that the Liefeld books were poorly received and eventually killed, while to this date, Marvel is struggling with trying to regain the rights to all their characters. Hence the mess over Spider-Man’s film and TV rights, ditto for the Hulk. DC Comics is in a state of flux right now. This was evident with the recent dismissal of DC co-publisher Dan DiDio; and how 5G will fare is unknown. The comic books as we know will most likely change, but its too fluid to guess how, so we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, if any of you don’t want to see a twilight of DC comics then remember to keep buying them.

 

 

Spider-Man Co-Creator Steve Ditko (1927- 2018)

A short time ago, a comic book giant passed away. Not one of the MCU characters that got Thanos’s Death Snapture; this giant was a comic book artist. Not just any comic book artist. He was Steve Ditko.

Known to many as Spider-Man’s co-creator, Steve Ditko was also part of the first decade of the creation of Marvel Comics. His main character contributions and sequential issue work are Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, but during Marvel’s initial years, he also drew plenty of issues featuring Hulk, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Iron Man, along with issues of The Avengers, and all sorts of double feature issues.

Comic book creations and pop culture relevance is by now well ingrained in the minds of moviegoers and audiences worldwide. people now understand that many superheroes began as characters seen in published comic books. Newsprint paper, four-color separation and halftone color patterns were props behind the stage. Distributors and retail stores were their curtains and the hands and eyes of those who bought these issues were the audiences. Comic book fame spun off into animated and live-action TV shows, video games, movies and merchandise. The most profitable characters were the superheroes.

Among this web of inter-related media was the thread of the creator. Someone had to come up with the story Someone had to come up with the character design – the color and shape of the costume and character faces. Someone had to come up with their signature moves.

There has been much discussion in the past as to what degree of involvement Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had in creating Spider-Man. How much of Spidey was adapted from Jack Kirby‚Äôs initial design? How much of Spidey was in Lee‚Äôs brief written synopsis? What was Ditko’s actual contribution in regard to the amount of content – character designs, costumes designs, characterizations, signature moves, etc. ? It‚Äôs a discussion that may never be resolved.

For a character who is arguably the world‚Äôs favorite Marvel Comic character, his origin is still unclear even though he was introduced in Amazing Fantasy #15. Back in 1961, Marvel Comics Publishing Group was such a loose and flowing House of Ideas, that any iteration which lead to the creation of the Spider-Man look we all know and was only loosely documented. Some of it was Kirby. Most of it was Ditko and approved by Lee. But there‚Äôs no doubt, the look that Ditko presented is a handmade costume, big eyes, a webbing motif on the red portions of the costume, and mechanical web shooters. Ditko had a penchant for quirky action poses and Spider-Man‚Äôs signature poses no doubt came from Ditko. None of Kirby‚Äôs characters moved like that. All of Ditko‚Äôs characters moved kind of quirky and not quite natural. His landscapes ranged from urbanely gritty to fantastical. The distinctive realms he drew for the Dr. Strange stories have been compared to Salvador Dali paintings. The characters‚Äô look for both hero and villain were all Ditko. Even the ‚Äúsurfer dude hand sign‚ÄĚ which is used by both Spidey and Dr. Strange is a signature Ditko design.

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Superman & Batman Should Be In The Arrowverse

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While I really enjoyed some of the most recent episodes of the shows in the so-called Arrowverse (Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow), there’s this nagging notion that has grown with me. It has to do with the fact that in the shared universe of these shows (leaving out Supergirl for now since that show takes place in another reality) Superman and Batman don’t seem to exist.

I¬†understand the reasons why DC Entertainment/Warner Brothers don’t want their two most popular superheroes in the Arrowverse. Early on when it was just Arrow, the show’s flahs and GAcreators/producers wanted a superhero show that was grounded in reality without any connections to the just-concluded Smallville. So that meant no characters with superpowers and Arrow had to appear as if what happened was kind of plausible. But superpowers started to creep its way into Arrow by its second season when a drug was introduced that can grant people superhuman strength and when Barry Allen made his debut appearance, which ended with him getting struck by lightning. Not only that, but other elements of the DC Universe started appearing such as the Suicide Squad and Amanda Waller.

The following season of Arrow¬†had the¬†title superhero battling with¬†the Batman villain Ra’s al Ghul and The Flash premiered with an explanation as to what caused people to suddenly develop superpowers. It seemed like a good starting point to jumpstart a DC Universe. The producers even took things a step further by introducing magic in Arrow with the Lazarus Pit and an appearance by sorcerer John Constantine, as well as the supernatural heroine Vixen. It didn’t end there, both shows served also featured the superheroes Hawkman and Hawkwoman, which were then spun off to co-star in Legends of Tomorrow.

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All this is going on in the Arrowverse so why not have Superman and Batman be a part of it? To me, this Arrowverse feels a bit off since neither of those characters are in it and the Flash is probably the most powerful superhero in it. The obvious answer to the question is that Warner Bros. and DC don’t want their two big guns appearing on the show. They’re being held for the big leagues, IOW the movies. That’s fine, leave the epic heroes for the silver screen with the big budgets, but what is baffling is this idea that TPTB have that they don’t want audiences confused or have their product diluted. The average fan wouldn’t expect to see Ben Affleck or some other big shot actor appearing as Batman or Superman in The Flash. Nor would they be confused if they saw someone else portraying the Man of Steel. We’re not stupid.

This doesn’t mean that Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow have to feature the actual appearances of Superman or Batman, just allude to them like they do in Supergirl. We don’t see Superman on that show, but he is mentioned and has a presence. Would it hurt to just name drop the city of Gotham or Lex Luthor? No. It would make the Arrowverse feel more complete and richer. Instead we keep wondering why Ra’s al Ghul exists but not Bruce Wayne.

supergil flashSeriously, I think the Arrowverse shows should be allowed to refer to both superheroes. And on a personal note, I think they do exist in the Arrowverse. In one episode of Legends of Tomorrow the time traveler Rip Hunter said that he saw Men of Steel die and Dark Knights fall. That couldn’t be any more clear who he was alluding to. The fact that Ra’s al Ghul exists implies that the world of Batman also exists in the Arrowverse. Ditto goes for Superman when you throw in¬†Supergirl. In that already famous Supergirl episode “Worlds Finest” the Flash visits her dimension and he states that he doesn’t know of any aliens on his world. That implies that Superman may exist in the Arrowverse, but has not revealed himself to the general public. The same can go for Batman, who is probably operating deeper in the shadows than Green Arrow and may be considered an urban legend at this point.

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Maybe after some time, we’ll see some kind of reference to the two superstars of DC Comics. It won’t be the end of the world if this never happens, but it would make watching the Arrowverse shows much more fulfilling.

T. Rod Jones

All Good Things Come To A Marvelous End

Today, it was announced at Midtown Comics in New York City by Marvel Comics’ Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso and Executive Editor Tom Brevoort that the Marvel Universe will come to an end this May with the new Secret Wars mini-series.

secret warsIn Secret Wars, segments of different Marvel realities, including the Marvel Universe 616 or the main universe that has been in existence for 75 years will be combined into a new planet called Battleworld. The Marvel editors claimed that from now on this Battleworld will be the new Marvel Universe. Fans of the regular Marvel Comics know that for some time the Marvel superheroes have been dealing with the “Incursion” events, that is where parallel worlds/realities¬†have been colliding with each other. Now it’s the turn of Marvel 616 and the one from the Ultimate comic books as the two realities will smash into one another. The remains of these universes will join other universe segments on Battleworld.

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This event can best be described as Marvel’s version of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the famous DC Comics mini-series that sought to eliminate the confusing amount of alternate realities into one single universe. All fans know that the Crisis event was the springboard for DC to revamp their superheroes and titles, which included John Byrne’s updating of Superman, among others.

Guide-to-the-DC-New-52

We can only hope that Marvel has better luck in producing a more coherent universe than DC did. While the event was good on paper, there were many inconsistencies with many DC titles, which led to more mini-series events that tried to rectify this to no avail. Ultimately, DC was able to correct this and present a clean ending to their comics universe and start over completely with the Flashpoint mini-series and The New 52 reboot.

With the main Marvel Universe ending, this is undoubtedly a sad turn for fans of the Marvel comic books, but it’s a terrific way of starting over and clearing the plate. For some time, the Marvel Universe had become convoluted with too many characters and realities. Let’s look at the X-Men for example. There are so many different characters, many of which come from alternate futures and dimensions, that it’s daunting for non-regular readers to keep up with. How many storylines have there been in the X-Men comics where someone comes from the future? All these futures are different from one another! How can the future seen in “Days of Futures Past” be reconciled with¬†a future seen in Wolverine: Old Man Logan? Simple, it’s impossible!

Then there is the mess Marvel made renew with Spider-Man in undoing his marriage to Mary Jane. Instead of just having the couple get a divorce, a convoluted story was made up (“One More Day”) where Spider-Man went completely out of character and made a deal with the Marvel equivalent of the Devil to save his aunt’s life. This led to a time-travel quirk where he never married Mary Jane and reality in the regular Marvel Universe was altered. The upcoming event “Renew Your Vows” is a good way to rectify this mistake as seen with¬†the preview image of Spider-Man, Mary Jane and their daughter.

Speaking of Spider-Man, the recent Spider-Verse story illustrates how convoluted and crowded the Marvel multiverses have become with the many different versions of Spider-Man.

That is why the end of the Marvel Universe is a good way to streamline things and provide a jumping on point for new readers and lapsed fans who couldn’t keep up with the vast myriad of timelines. As with Spider-Man’s marriage, the clean slate allows for mistakes to be undone and to approach characters and stories with a new, fresh perspective. Then again, how long before alternate reality or future stories begin to come back? Let’s hope it will be a while.

For this year’s Free Comic Book Day event on May 3, Marvel will release free copies of Secret Wars #0 that will bring readers up to speed to the shattering event.

T. Rod Jones

DC Wins The TV War…For Now, Part Two

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The rivalry between DC Comics and Marvel Comics has many fronts in media like toys, films, video games, etc. But as it stands right now, DC Entertainment dominates the television medium with its current slate of TV shows on the air and their plans for additional programs coming in the near future.

DC’s Television Summit

Once Smallville ended in 2011, a void needed to be filled by DC Entertainment in terms of having a superhero presence in the TV landscape. Rather than mining the Superman/Batman lore, the decision was made to showcase DC’s proto justice leagueother heroes and it was a wise choice. For some time, DC and Warner Bros. fell into a crutch and relied too much on Superman and Batman to represent DC in other media. This was understandable since those were the company’s two biggest heroes. It makes perfect business sense to take advantage of the popularity of those heroes. The problem, though, is that with all the marketing and attention focused on Batman and Superman, DC’s other heroes were left out and helped give the impression that the rest of the DC roster consisted of second stringers. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The DC universe is populated by many captivating heroes and villains and the problem was that the company wasn’t taking full advantage of that notion. Marvel, and specifically Marvel Studios, faced a similar problem but for different reasons. They didn’t have the film rights to Spider-Man or the X-Men, so they had to rely on their lesser known properties. It turned out for the best, otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten live-action adaptations of Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor.

In DC’s case, they too were forced to look elsewhere since the Superman well had run dry with Smallville and Batman was considered off limits because of the Dark Knight films. Thus, DC Entertainment looked to an urban vigilante that had many of Batman’s characteristics ‚Äď Green Arrow.

Arrow aimsAll things considered, he is a solid alternative for Batman when it came to being featured in a live-action TV show. After all, both are urban crimefighters without superpowers and use specialized weapons. When Arrow premiered in 2012, it presented a more grounded, realistic world for the superhero. In the first season, the main character, who wasn’t even called Green Arrow (in one episode his alter ego, played by Stephen Amell, thought that name Green Arrow was “lame”), wore a practical uniform with only a hoodie and grease paint to conceal his identity. Moving away from fanciful superhumans allowed Arrow to concentrate more on character development and street-level fight scenes. This meant that it was more inviting and relatable for casual viewers.

What the producers of Arrow did correctly is that they embraced the DC universe. They weren’t afraid to name drop places like S.T.A.R. Labs and Bl√ľdhaven. Likewise, the series featured recognizable DC characters like Amanda Waller (head of the Suicide Squad), Slade Wilson and even the Batman villain Ra’s al Ghul and his League of Assassins. It was enough bones thrown to DC fans to keep them glued to their TVs. Arrow then took a step further and introduced superpowered characters in its second season thanks to this strength-enhancing drug called Mirakuru and the introduction of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), whose Flash origin occurred at the end of one of the Arrow episodes.

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This naturally led to The Flash spinoff that premiered recently. Taking a lighter tone than Arrow, The Flash is more of a throwback to the fast-moving comic books with outlandish supervillains, while utilizing the same kind of engrossing subplots that Arrow uses. What’s more is that both shows are definitely in the same universe. Although the concept of a shared universe isn’t new in TV shows, this was the first time this was done for superhero shows (not counting The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman) and it’s exciting to watch characters appearing in both programs with even more allusions to a wider world.

Both Arrow and The Flash are huge hits on The CW network and should be around for the long haul. Gotham, a show set in the title city and taking place after the killing of Bruce Wayne’s parents, is a hit on Fox. In fact, it pulls in more ratings than The CW superhero shows but that is due to the wider audience that Fox has compared gordonto The CW. Even though Gotham is a hit, there should be some caution because it’s on Fox, so there isn’t any guarantee that it will last as long as if it was on The CW. That is a problem that DC and Warner Bros. faces. Sure they can put anything on The CW, a fledging network, but it won’t reach as large an audience as in the major networks. But on the big networks, there is more pressure to succeed. Already, Constantine airs on NBC and has dismal ratings‚Äďit was recently announced that the show won’t go beyond initial 13 episodes and its fate is unknown. Constantine’s rating woes are due to its time slot: Fridays at 10 pm. How can any show succeed on that slot? It probably would’ve been better if it aired on a cable network where it could’ve thrived and be allowed to be darker like its comic book counterpart.

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