State of the Industry Part 3 - DC Comics

DC Comics is the big player in the American comics industry at this point. You need only to look at last week's Eisner Award nominations to see that. Almost half of the Best Short Story nominations (even if every single nomination is for a writer who has sworn never to work for DC again), all but one of the Best Single Issue, Best Continuing Series, Best Writer, Best Painter/Multimedia Artist, Best Cover Artist and Best New Series nominations belong to DC or one of their imprints. And they've got entries in most of the other categories as well.

Of course, as I kind of hinted there, one of the reasons they're the big player is because they're the big player. Not only is this one of the "Big Two" that has long dominated the comics market, in recent years they've branched out into different markets with their Vertigo and Paradox Press imprints, not to mention adding three imprints when they made the deal to purchase Wildstorm. They've got a spectrum of stuff that ranges from milk-drinking (No, really... look at the ads on the back of the books) all-American boy Superman to chain-smoking all-British man John Constantine to gun-toting all-silicon woman Abbey Chase. That's not to mention the Cartoon Network tie-ins thanks to Papa Warner or the upcoming Reinventing Comics from Scott McCloud. These guys have everything.

They've also got some of the most recognizable characters in existence. Superman, Batman and Spider-Man are the holy trinity of recognizable super-heroes to mainstream culture. And the first two are the ones more people know, thanks to celebrities like Jerry Seinfeld and Tim Burton (and, in one unfortunate cinematic misfire, Joel Schumacher.) They've also got a much more impressive back-catalog of continuity (even if it can get a little dicey thanks to Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour and countless retroactive continuity stories in between) in part due to a past history of buying other companies (Charlton, National, etc.)

What's most impressive about DC is that, while their characters are much more in the traditional mold of super-heroics, they weren't afraid to take steps to change that. Sometimes these steps were controversial (Killing off Barry Allen to make way for Wally West), sometimes they went so far beyond controversial you need a new word for the vehemence with which fandom reacted (Ask any DC fan what they think about Kyle Rayner and Hal Jordan and try to find one without an opinion, usually strongly held), but they always moved the characters forward. And while a larger library of comics means they have more comics which, in my humble opinion, stink on ice, it also means they've got more comics that are fantastic reads.

So, taking the same look at them I did at Marvel in the last two weeks, how do I think they're doing? Well:

  • Batman: Like many, I expected that "No Man's Land" was going to be a fiasco, a celebration of completely ludicrous story logic. Instead, it was a gripping narrative (with a few speed bumps, to be sure) that led to a creative resurgence. Rucka's Detective Comics, Grayson's Gotham Knights, Dixon's Birds of Prey, Nightwing and Robin and upcoming stints by Ed Brubaker and Brian K. Vaughan on Batman all speak well of the writing talent, and skilled artists like Dale Eaglesham, Walt McDaniel, Greg Land and Shawn Martinbrough make sure that the stories look terrific. Not to mention some nice format experimentation with the return of a backup feature in Detective (ala Manhunter) and the black-and-white backups by top talent in Gotham Knights.
  • JLA: I have high hopes for Mark Waid's stint on JLA, particularly paired with the art team from The Authority. Then there's Aquaman, being done very well by Dan Jurgens and Steve Epting, the much-improved Martian Manhunter by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake, and fresh faces on Green Lantern, Flash and Wonder Woman including Judd Winick (probably the most excited I've been about a major company's announcement all of last year), Jay Faerber, Brian K. Vaughan and Greg Rucka. And then there's the Superman titles... er, well... let's just say I thought the Batman revamp was more of a revamp and a far more pleasing result.
  • Other DC Heroes: There's too much to hit everything, but I should at least mention Hitman as continually entertaining and Orion as very promising based on black-and-white previews of the first two issues.
  • Wildstorm/Cliffhanger/ABC/Homage: Here we have some of the best non-traditional super-hero titles being done, whether they be aimed at an older audience or aimed more effectively at a younger one. Authority seems to have survived the loss of Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch with the impressive debut of Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, Tom Strong and Top 10 are fun takes on the super-hero genre and Planetary is a good read when it comes out. Which also applies to many of the other books in these lines, like Kurt Busiek's Astro City or, for some, Danger Girl and Crimson.
  • Vertigo: It's really hard to cover everything Vertigo does right. Their impressive trade paperback library includes Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Garth Ennis's Preacher and Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan, not to mention numerous successful horror or crime mini-series. Their current roster of ongoing series includes intriguing fantasy, science fiction, horror and crime with Lucifer, Deadenders, Swamp Thing, Hellblazer and 100 Bullets and there's always plenty going on with mini-series as well. While they do have the occasional miss, or something that doesn't appeal to a particular person's taste, for adult readers, Vertigo is a breath of fresh air in the mainstream.
I've always been more of a Marvel fan than DC. Marvel's characters resonate more with me, and I'm far more likely to buy a book because a certain character is in it from Marvel than DC, where I'm more likely to buy something mainly because a writer or artist I like is doing it. That said, DC still takes up more of my buying list each month, because they put out a whole lot more and they've got a lot more variety. I can count on them to provide me not just with super-heroes, but also with horror, crime, science fiction and even the occasional foray into humor or western. When I'm talking to fellow super-hero fans, I usually recommend Marvel work first. But when I'm talking to comics fans in general or people who don't read comics, my recommendations from the Big Two will inevitably lean more toward DC.

Randy W. Lander

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