Comic-Con 2011 and controversy

Adam Hughes takes on the women of DC
Women of DC Comics

As I continue catching up after my trip to Chicago just over a week ago, here are some reflections on 2011’s San Diego Comic-Con. Since the largest genre entertainment convention in the U.S. now gets as many as 125,000 attendees, I’m probably better off watching coverage on G4 than trying to make the hajj myself.

As usual, much news coverage of the show focused on movies, television, and fans and “booth babes” in costume. Even as some observers have predicted that comic books and movies based on them have peaked, others have examined the various cycles of different subgenres and media. My impression from afar was that Comic-Con‘s popularity is still growing, even if the intellectual property that it’s based on is overshadowed by nonprint adaptations and tie-ins.

Speaking of comic books and graphic novels, there were still numerous announcements at Comic-Con. Marvel has held onto its position as market leader with the usual rounds of crossover storylines, resurrected characters, and literary adaptations. Independent publishers such as IDW and Dark Horse (as well as DC’s Vertigo imprint) continue to do well with fantasy, horror, and science fiction licenses.

DC Comics released more information about its renumbering, or “soft reboot,” this coming September. The backstories of most of its titles will be compressed to make its main superheroes younger. After Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, characters such as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have aged about one year for every two years of real time. Resetting more than 25 years of continuity to put them back in their late 20s or early 30s may cause more problems than it solves.

I hope to post my own ideas on how to balance forever-young vigilantes with evolving storylines and supporting casts, but DC’s editors faced numerous questions from skeptical fans. I’m not especially worried about costume redesigns or re-resurrections. I was disappointed, however, that DC’s management got defensive when questioned about diversity among its artists, writers, and characters. Marvel has had a slightly better track record lately of encouraging women and people of color to both create and read its comics.

DC eventually acknowledged people’s concerns and said it would keep trying. One blogger pointed out that major comic book characters are more of a corporate brand than an artistic vehicle, and I agree that our favorite franchises have taken on a life of their own, with profit often overcoming common sense or freedom of expression. For example, thanks to Chris Nolan and Christian Bale’s live-action movies, Batman is one of the biggest brands in the world right now, even as Warner Bros./DC is eclipsed by Disney/Marvel in most other areas.

On the other hand, I’m not quite ready to boycott DC and am giving the publisher the benefit of the doubt. I ran Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition for a year before switching to Pathfinder, and I’ve found that TV’s Star Wars: Clone Wars has made up for George Lucas’ stilted prequel films. If Dan Di Dio, Jim Lee, and company can learn from their early missteps, DC could yet increase its readership through refreshed storytelling, modern digital issues, and more timely comics (no pun intended).

In coming posts, I’ll look at other Comic-Con news, review Cowboys & Aliens, and describe my favorite superhero games!

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2 thoughts on “Comic-Con 2011 and controversy

  1. I like the link about DC responding to the controversy–the article points out… “So how could a Wonder Woman film NOT be a risk? Pander to teenage boys, Hollywood’s favorite audience.” One of the comments points out that Hollywood did get it “right” with Aliens.

    The article also reminded me to look up the fate of Jonah Hex :-) http://thepanelists.org/2011/07/jonah-hex-storytelling-ambiguity-and-the-dc-reboot/ (interesting idea I hadn’t realized–each issue is meant to be a starting point for any reader–what if the reboot took that approach…?)

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  2. Stan Lee used to take that approach at Marvel Comics, and that publisher still uses one-page character/story recaps at the start of each issue. Let’s hope that, despite any controversy or editorial missteps, DC makes its rich universe more accessible to newer fans.

    I still think that it’s possible to reboot characters such as Wonder Woman respectfully: http://www.genesworlds.com/2011/06/03/how-i-would-reboot-wonder-woman/

    I’m pretty sure that the Jonah Hex in the upcoming All-Star Western will be truer to the character than the recent live-action movie.

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