Thursday, July 10, 2008

Final Crisis + Fan Dissatisfaction = Pile-On DC Comics????


(Who is the REAL villain of DC Comics’ Final Crisis? Is it the arch-criminal Libra, is it DC Management and the minds behind this most recent DC “event” or is it the grumpy, often complaining but still money-spending fanboy or girl????)


Has the dissatisfaction and perhaps even disgust at DC Comics’ most recent offerings among a (VERY) vocal contingent of fans (and FanBoyWonders) gotten so out of hand that it’s not only become counterproductive as a change agent but contrary to the readers’ ultimate desire for quality storytelling at DC Comics?

That in a nutshell is what Ryan from Film Fodder Comics www.filmfodder.com/comics/archives/2008/07/post_5.shtml is asking in his most excellent essay titled “Final Crisis—I Heart Continuity.”

Ryan—who also writes a cool blog called League of Melbotis http://www.leagueofmelbotis.com/ –posed some hard questions which we will attempt to address here.

While we strongly encourage any and all those interested to read Ryan’s essay for themselves at Film Fodder Comics—we will be excerpting relevant portions of his essay here as we attempt to address his points.

It’s not our intent to distort his point by omission so we do encourage you to read his essay in full, then come back here for our Two Dollar and 99 Cents.

Also a programming note—because we have also answered Ryan in his own forum--I’m suspending FanBoyWonder’s delightful little penchant of speaking in the third person for the duration of this post.

The Upshot of Ryan’s point comes in the early paragraphs:

To the casual observer (the non-superhero reading public) there's not much to distinguish Marvel from DC. In fact, it’s fairly routine that some press coverage botches who publishes what in fluff stories on Spider-Man, etc... But in the comic-concerned interwebs, those of us who watch these things know that the nation is not really split along party lines. We're really divided between Marvel and DC.

“And DC of 2008 is the the Democratic Party of 2004.

“What should be an appealing package of standard comic book ideas is being drowned out in a wicked combination of mediocre product and deafening internet chatter. The "John Kerry hates Freedom" of 2004 is DC's "DC's event comics should be able to be summarized in a single sentence" of 2008. Say it often enough and stay on message, and somehow it becomes true. Even when its not.”

The following below is a longer version of the abbreviated answer that I provided Ryan in his own forum. (Waste not want not when it comes to good blog material Mama FanBoyWonder always said.)


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Hey Ryan,

Great post. This is the first chance I’ve had to reply but I’ve had it on the brain since I read your essay yesterday.

I hear what you are saying and all of the public bitching and moaning (which I am a part—I fully admit it) perhaps isn’t helping and perhaps it’s even emboldening DC Management to get their back up and to press forward.

But other than complaining, the only alternative course of action for fans/customers to take is to sheath their wallets and stop buying comic books (or at least DC comic books)—something that once seemed inconceivable but not it’s….NOT impossible.

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This isn't to dismiss disgruntled fans when DC does make a mistake. Countdown was an egregious miscalculation, and I'm still waiting for a substantial apology. But picking on DC has become so commonplace, it’s a wonder if there's any signal to noise at this point that it’s a genuine question whether the hapless DC staffers who bother to read this stuff can actually glean any useful information.”
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Personally, I think it goes back even farther to Infinite Crisis and especially the final issue in which they released with UNFINISHED ART! But your main point stands. Emotion does factor a lot into this.

To me, I sense an undeniable undercurrent of smarmy-know-it-all-ism from DC Management that not only doesn’t acknowledge quality control issues, but insists on berating the “customer” for not wanting to buy what they are selling.

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The supposed failure of "Final Crisis" was chalked up not so much to sales figures, but to narrative problems. Online critics have bashed Final Crisis for a few reasons.

(a) the story is too complicated and should be summed up in a single sentence
(b) The story is steeped in continuity
(i) which I more or less followed, whether it was necessary to the plot or not, but I'd like to register my indignation, anyway
(ii) won't someone think of the children? This could be their very first comic, and they'd be so very, very confused.


“I confess to being a bit flabbergasted by the first criticism of "Final Crisis". It is true that Hollywood exists thanks to high-concept ideas, plus attractive women, plus explosions. The insistence that the reason "Secret Invasion" is selling so well, while "Final Crisis" is supposedly not (Secret Invasion outsold Final crisis by about 40,000 copies. Bully for Marvel on their success), is the one sentence concept.”


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The trouble is that Marvel took the trouble to SELL the reader on Secret Invasion by deploying the “one sentence concept.” DC by contrast, let us know a year ago that Final Crisis was coming but made no real effort to convince to read it—only that we had to read the main title and ALL of the companion titles.

At the heart of DC ‘s non-selling selling point is “Trust us! This isn’t like all of the other times,” which for many fans is hard to swallow after Infinite Crisis, 52/World War III, Countdown and its many headed spin-offs that didn’t turn out to be count.

Add to that an economy that’s in a (in fact if not in name) inflation, and taking the leap of faith with DC Final Crisis seems more like walking off a cliff.

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A lot of these criticisms also appeared during the first issue of the series, which was more or less prologue to the main action of the series. Perhaps Morrison should have turned up the heat for the first issue, but this reader can't help buy wonder if those other reviewers were jumping to conclusions about a comic which they hadn't seen to even partial completion. How would any work in any other medium stand up to criticism if the reviewer wrote their review based upon the first few minutes?"
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I’m afraid I must totally disagree with you here Ryan. Yours would be a not unfair point except that the comics publisher demands money--$3.99—for each “chapter.” The moment money changes hands, it becomes fair game for criticism and it really isn’t unreasonable to expect each issue to stand alone—at least enough to be a satisfying read—while building to a greater whole.

Battlestar Galactica or Lost or some such may have an ultimate ending but if viewers are satisfied with individual episodes, they will stop watching and the show will be canceled in short order. And the only thing a television viewer is requires to spend per episode is time.

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By clamoring for one sentence plots, readers of super hero comics are selling themselves short. Not all stories need to be told like an 80's Simpson/ Bruckheimer movie, or fit neatly into packages that will do little but give the audience action-story comfort food with a plot they can recite from beginning to end without seeing a single page.”
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That is a definite danger. But I also think that it –at least in part—has been due to a self inflicted wound. Comic book storytelling got so grown up, so smart that we may have outsmarted ourselves.

Remember back in the day when there were “Editor’s notes” and/or one-or-two-or three panels of exposition bringing readers up to speed as to what happened previously? This used to be standard operating procedure at DC and especially Marvel.

Why no Editor’s notes? Perhaps because today’s editor has been rendered all but irrelevant by the writers star system where he wants to tell his story and his story alone regardless of what came before or after and publishers that publish not for the individual “floppy” reader but for the Barnes and Noble’s coffee sipping Trade Paper Back reader.

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To some degree, 'Final Crisis' is taking more than its fair share of lumps because of the horrendous transition between "Countdown", "Death of the New Gods" and "Final Crisis". And it seems that the dual edged sword of the Mega-Narrative of the DCU's Continuity is that Morrison's series must carry the albatross of the series which preceded it. And the appropriate levels of scorn heaped upon both."

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You are right. I’ve made no bones about the fact that I’m judging Final Crisis not just on its own merits but am I really at fault for that? DC is counting on Final Crisis (vainly I fear) to act as a counterweight to the plethora of failures occurred in a short period of time.

Face if, and the operative word is “if” Final Crisis does become a run away hit and win over skeptical fans (believe or not I’m still trying to keep and open mind—provided they can win me with my having to purchase nothing but the main FC title) all will, if not forgotten but at least forgiven.

Ryan you took the time to craft a well thought out essay. I agree with some and (as you can see) disagree elsewhere. The thing is I think you are right. But the hell of it is, I’m right too.

Maybe we should just reset the clock to January 1986 immediately following the Crisis on Infinite Earths and re-start the DC Universe all over again—again.

6 Comments:

Blogger The League said...

Hey! It's great to be over here. Glad to see some great discussion going.

I think a lot of these topics are important because its not just about Final Crisis. Its about how DC is operating, and how, in some ways, its pushing we, the readers, into a corner as to how we're going to deal with DC's marketing hype vs. how we actually consume the product/ process the story.

In discussing our options other than complaining when we're experiencing dissatisfaction: As I mentioned, sales were technically pretty good, if not blockbuster level for Final Crisis. So... that's the message DC is going to believe more than a chorus of voices.

Certainly the folks who keep Didio on aren't trolling on message boards, but they are seeing sales spikes. And even Countdown was moving 70K copies per week (and I'm just as much to blame).

I don't think that fan sites and commentary have no value, or I wouldn't blog. But unless people DO refuse to pay for a comic... its going to show up again and again.

DC absolutely needs to work on PR and use those convention forums to listen, to see what questions come up again and again. Right now they seem to be listening to an extent. Spoiler has returned, etc.. But as far as greater business practices... Fans who do ask questions need to quit asking when "Dead Character X" is coming back, and start asking questions like "How was the screw-up with Countdown addressed internally, and what is being done to ensure that my dollars will not cease flowing into your pockets."

*****************************
Jumping on this point:
The trouble is that Marvel took the trouble to SELL the reader on Secret Invasion by deploying the “one sentence concept.” DC by contrast, let us know a year ago that Final Crisis was coming but made no real effort to convince to read it—only that we had to read the main title and ALL of the companion titles.

Well, DC DID have that 52 issue teaser called "Countdown". And the 8 issue trailer "Death of the New Gods". Unfortunately, unlike Marvel where Bendis has been building anticipation in Avengers, DC managed to completely drop the ball. Completely and utterly.

Add in DC's hype-press at Newsarama, in which we had some hint of what might happen, it was less than one sentence: "Evil wins".
Throw in the rumors about Bruce Wayne dying in RIP to ascend to the Fifth World as a New God, rumors that were quashed months ago, and you had an idea, at least, of who the players might be.

Sadly, all of that seemed to do the opposite of actually selling Final Crisis.

And I agree about your point that this is just one more major event for DC. Infinite Crisis wasn't that long ago, and already we're being dealt another universe changing blow that we suspect DC Management doesn't have the Editorial strength to actually push through in the way Marvel's post Civil War take on the Marvel U actually did change things a bit.

It's hard to get excited about an "event" that will split the universe asunder if its all going back to the previous form two months after the event is done.

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I see no logical argument to your point about the entry cost of a comic. TV is (for the time being, anyway) a mostly free commodity you get when you pay for cable. Its a very different cost model for a serial narrative.

At $4.00 a pop, I would hope readers have some sort of opinion of the comic they're reading.

I guess maybe what I'm looking for here is a compromise. Intellectually, the reader know there's more story to come, and to make blanket statements about any series after a single issue is doing it a disservice. Simultaneously, there's a reason there are so many issue #1's, and so few issue #100's. The reader doesn't owe it to the series to continue on, which relates back to the first point about how to register appropriate dissatisfaction.

The trick with the Direct market is, of course, that you are somewhat obligated to buy a comic if you pre-ordered it. Which is, often, the only way to guarantee you'll get a copy without having to run all over town.

So I like what you said: it really isn’t unreasonable to expect each issue to stand alone—at least enough to be a satisfying read—while building to a greater whole.

Unfortunately, not all stories are structured that way. And from your comments, certainly not Final Crisis.

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On your note about the Editor's Notes.

yes. 100 times yes. And if Marvel and DC don't see them as a marketing opportunity for reprinting their back catalog... man. I don't know where to start to help them.

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We'll see what happens with Final Crisis.

What has been somewhat lost in all of this is that if you DO read all the Morrison DCU stuff. And the Johns and Rucka stuff, its a compelling universe they've got going on there.

Perhaps they have gotten a little smart for their own good in some ways. At least in the monthly comic format. And I can appreciate the desire to read a self-contained story, but like Infinite Crisis, Crisis on Infinite Earths and other "events", its the wondrous, glorious mess of the DCU that's the playground for the story. I can't guarantee you it'll be self-contained. Its more likely to be considered just one more chapter in the evolving mega-narrative of the DCU.

Which, by the way, Grant Morrison has states he believes is alive and sentient in a very real sense. So... I would expect the difficulties to continue.

***************

Thanks for responding. It's a huge pleasure to discuss comics in this kind of forum.

10:50 PM, July 10, 2008  
Blogger FanBoyWonder said...

Hey Ryan,

Thanks again for the duel replies. They say that the true test of someone’s intelligence is how much one agrees with you. That being the case, you are very smart indeed my friend :).

Regarding “stand alone chapters”, I’m not asking for anything that hasn’t already been done before—look at the original CRISIS on Infinite Earths for example.

Writer Marv Wolfman dealt with literally every single character in the DC Universe at some point during the 12-issue series, yet it was completely accessible for me who was reading it as an 8th grader .

I may not have known a lot of the characters but it was explained well enough to follow the story. Each issue was self contained in that there was sufficient action and plot development to hold the reader’s interest until the next issue.

Is Marv Wolfman a better writer than Grant Morrison or has Morrison lost perspective with little to none push-back from an editor.

Thanks for stopping by. You’re welcome back anytime.

Cheers,
FBW

6:26 PM, July 11, 2008  
Anonymous John Micek said...

The League Said:
"Well, DC DID have that 52 issue teaser called "Countdown". And the 8 issue trailer "Death of the New Gods". Unfortunately, unlike Marvel where Bendis has been building anticipation in Avengers, DC managed to completely drop the ball. Completely and utterly."

But therein lies the problem:

"52," was intended to fill in the blanks in the "Lost Year," when the Trinity were off on their Visionquest. It failed in this regard. On the other hand, we were provided some interesting characters in Renee Montoya and Kate Kane's "Batwoman." But that was barely enough to sustain my interest in the story.

The less said about the utterly useless "World War 3," the better.

And if anyone can tell me what the heck "Countdown" was about, and how it led us to the event of "Final Crisis," I will happily buy them a beer and let them tell me all about it.

I'm sure I probably should have read "Death of the New Gods," but by the time the series debuted, I felt like my trust had been betrayed so many times that I didn't want to take the risk again.

But I'll pause here to add that, in the midst of all this angst over "MEGA-EVENTS," I was reading a handful of books that I actually love and look forward to every month.

They include "Birds of Prey," "Detective Comics," "Justice Society," "The Spirit," and now, Vertigo's "Vinyl Underground."

So, I suppose, if I were to get a few minutes alone with Mr. DiDio, I'd take him aside and politely ask if, just for a few minutes, he'd give us a damn break for the "MEGA-EVENT," that's entirely designed to drum up sales and cause us addicted fanboys to buy more books than we actually have time to read.

I'd ask him to concentrate on the core titles and concentrate on just telling great stories. And, I'd make the radical proposition that it's OK for books to be self-contained or, at maximum, run for four to six-issue arcs. All this meta-narrative stuff can get a little exhausting.

Cheers,
John

7:40 PM, July 12, 2008  
Blogger The League said...

In a lot of ways, "Countdown" reminds me of the spin-off mini-series you'd get in the 80's and 90's, when DC or Marvel decided that, say, Rogue needed a mini-series because she was popular in the X-Books. But when handled by a writer who wasn't Claremont, it sort of felt so unnecessary and as if the character weren't really Rogue, anyway.

And I think that's what happened with Countdown. The 52 Universes were being cooked up by Rucka, Johns, Waid and Morrison, but Countdown was handled by a completely different team (a team that thought Captain Atom as Monarch was a groovy idea). They tried to take Johns' Trickster and Piper, and told a head-ache inducing tale that went absolutely nowhere.

It all was so ancillary and useless, that handing the universe back to Morrison afterward must have felt a bit to Morrison like someone had taken his Porsche for a spin, drove it into a few trees, then left it in his driveway with teh keys in the ignition and no note.

Fortunately, I do think the main titles at DC are actually pretty good. Both main Bat-titles, both main Superman books. Both main team Books. Green Lantern. Wonder Woman is righted. And then other books, depending upon taste, aren't bad either. I'm more of a Blue Beetle guy than a few other titles (I need to dip back into Birds of Prey and see how it recovered after Simone left).

And I don't disagree that mini-series are a good way to go. It's just a little rough to place pre-order for up to 3 issues' worth in advance before you've ever read a single page.

I can see an event like Final Crisis coming out every four to five years, but its been one long ride since Countdown to Infinite Crisis. And I'm starting to think of retreating back to my hero-titled books after Final Crisis.

2:32 PM, July 13, 2008  
Blogger FanBoyWonder said...

Hey fellas,
Thanks for your comments.

John,
I understand your meaning when picturing a few minutes alone with DD...but if it were me...I'd be more tempted to ask... "What? You're still here?"

Ditto on JSA but Birds of Prey is up in the air...but the good news is that Simone and Scott are teaming back up for the new Secret Six series.

League:
I'm pretty sure the market has reached its saturation point on big events but I'm just about done with the weekly comic book.

As John noted, 52, while not terrible, fell woefully short of its stated goal--hence the need for the slap dash WWIII.

Countdown was just plain awful and Trinity is just plain boring. I"m on the verge of dropping it and frankly the only reason I got it in the first place was I was a fan of Mark Bagley and wanted to see him draw the DCU.

This is not to say that a competent weekly comic book is not possible--Team Superman did it with 4 Superman titles flowing seamlessly into one monthly story for years.

But DC can't seem to get their act together after the third year. Enough is enough already.

Cheers,
FBW

4:59 PM, July 13, 2008  
Blogger The League said...

You know something? I've only read the first four Trinity issues and... yeah... there's something distinctly not exciting about the series so far. And adding in 90's-styled villains like "Konvikt" (or whatever the name is) doesn't help.

i've gone 4 issues into the series, and feel like I've gotten about 1/2 a comic's worth of story.

I'm giving it another month, but after that...

3:32 PM, July 14, 2008  

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