Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

What If … DC just went ahead and named me publisher?

So in case you’ve missed the news somehow, Dan DiDio is out at DC comics after 15 or so years co-running things with Jim Lee and, for a time, Geoff Johns. What will DC do now? Why, appoint me as publisher, of course! I like to do this every so often, so let’s play “What If”!

Obviously, this is all in fun. I mean, it’s clear that DC is in freefall and that AT&T will sell all of its properties to Marvel in the near future, as industry insider Jim MacQuarrie confirmed right here on this very blog (wait, isn’t that what that post is about? I don’t read this blog). But suppose, in a more just world, DC decided to fix things and picked a completely unproven comics nerd to do it? It all makes sense! So here’s what I’ll do!

First, Jim Lee has to go. I ain’t sharing my kingdom with anyone. I’d challenge him to draw a single 20-page comic in 30 days without Scott Williams’s help, and when he couldn’t, he’d be out of a job. Sorry, Jim, you seem like a nice guy, but I must rule alone!

Then I’ll turn to the publishing part. This is without knowing anything about numbers. DC doesn’t release numbers to the public, so I have to assume they don’t release numbers to their publisher either. It makes perfect sense, people! What stays, what goes, what about 5G? (Isn’t 5G a cell phone thing? Was DiDio deliberately trying to confuse weed-addled teens into clamoring for DC comics when they whined to their parents, “Get me 5G!” I don’t know, I don’t own a smartphone.) Let’s see what we can do.

Well, let’s put the kibosh on 5G. Nobody knows quite what it is yet, but DC seems to be leaning into the idea of Wonder Woman being the first superhero, thanks to Scott Snyder and Bryan Hitch’s brief vignette in Wonder Woman #750 and everything else we can suss out. I guess it’s going to be about bringing new heroes in? Replacing old heroes with new ones? Something like that? DC can’t get over the fact that Marvel “has” continuity as their go-to shiny thing, even though their continuity is, to be blunt, fucked. (Did you know Flash Thompson is a Vietnam vet? Did you know that Storm’s parents were killed during the Suez Crisis? Fuck your continuity, Marvel.) DC wants everything to fit seamlessly together, and they have for the past 35 years, but some of the wacky glory of DC is that it doesn’t. There’s no rhyme or reason to their history because when they were writing it, nobody cared. Yet for some reason, DC bigwigs since the early 1980s have been obsessed with Marvel’s continuity. It’s ridiculous, because it’s unnecessary. Great writers can force some semblance of order on DC’s history – Roy Thomas has, James Robinson has, Grant Morrison has to a lesser degree – but if you don’t want to pay attention to continuity, you don’t have to! Marvel doesn’t even force their writers to do it, and they have “continuity” as their watchword! This “5G” thing seemed to be the final straw with regard to DiDio. He did some nice things with DC, certainly, and apparently a lot of creators liked him, but from this fan’s perspective, he did some really stupid things. It began with Identity Crisis, which began … ok, I guess, and then turned into a huge clusterfuck. DiDio’s obsession with “Crises,” led him from one big event to another, each with diminishing returns. He didn’t seem to want to stick with anything he himself did, which is odd. The longest he’s stuck with a status quo is, what, the New 52? I get that sales can dictate things, but readers want some stability, surely?

Of course, DC has done this before, back in the 1990s. I’m not sure why the craze began, but it kind of started with the death of Superman, which didn’t replace him, exactly, but still set the template (Wally West came before, true, but he had been “Kid Flash” for a while, and Barry Allen’s death was a different set of circumstances, I think we can agree). Bruce Wayne got replaced, Hal Jordan got replaced, Oliver Queen got replaced, Diana Prince got replaced. None of these eventually stuck, but they gave the titles a bit of a jolt and gave us some good stories (I would argue the Azrael Batman stories – AzBats – were the worst of the lot). The important point was that DC didn’t have to have a “Big Event” to do it – each title had an event to replace them, but it wasn’t some line-wide initiative. They felt a bit more organic – even the ham-fisted way Hal Jordan’s exit was handled made some kind of sense. This “5G” nonsense seems forced, much like so much of what DC has done recently. I get that Wonder Woman is linked to World War II and introducing her then makes sense, plus the movie is coming out and it should be a big deal, plus DC and Marvel are committed to getting a more diverse audience and making Wonder Woman more prominent is part of that, but it still feels forced. I assume Wonder Woman is going to be the thread that holds it all together, because she’s functionally immortal, but DC is obsessed with having heroes be inspired by other heroes, and having Superman and Batman be inspired by Wonder Woman and the Justice Society (which I assume will be around in some kind of capacity) has always felt wrong to me. It felt wrong when DC tried to force it on readers in the 1980s, and it feels wrong now. Superman was special because he was first, and Batman was special because he was the first reaction to Superman. Superman didn’t need to be inspired by others to be a hero; he’s Superman. Batman didn’t need to be inspired by anything other than horrific tragedy and a flying rodent; he’s Batman. So I’m not sure what the plan is with this “5G” stuff – you’re not replacing those two, so are they just going to be functionally immortal as well?

The problem with replacing the heroes is, of course, that in today’s world, it doesn’t work. It worked for DC for a while, but then Geoff Johns took over and whined about how we were shitting all over his childhood and he needed to “fix” it. That was in 2004, when internet outrage culture was in its infancy. Today, everyone is Geoff Johns, and this kind of thing will not go over well. Again, I get that DC wants to court a new market, but as usual with stuff like this, I wonder how much market research they’ve done. I think it’s great that they get the artist of Blue is the Warmest Color to do an Aqualad story in which he’s gay and nobody knows he’s Aqualad, but will it sell? I know literally no one who shops at my comics store will get that comic. DC might be discounting brick-and-mortar more and more, but should they? Is the market for diverse YA stuff that big? I mean, I know it’s huge, but I’m talking about for DC product. Because while the market is shrinking, the actual comics sales still seem driven by Geoff Johns-types, in that they want their whitebread male heroes doing whitebread male hero things. I could be wrong. But I bet DC has no idea what their audience is, simply because they’re tried this shit before and it never works (hey, look at this great Minx line we have!).

So I’ve put the kibosh on “5G.” What next? Well, I’m going to have to cancel half our titles, probably. DC and Marvel publish far too many comics, and they get lost in the noise. I very much doubt if we need half our titles, and no, I don’t know which ones they are because I haven’t seen the sales charts. We’re going to rebuild the line with two (2) Batman titles (Batman* and Detective, obvs), two (2) Superman titles (Action and Superman), and one (1) Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Justice League book. Everything else is in flux. I always do this whenever DC hypothetically puts me in charge, because there are too many titles and there also have to be foundational comics. Bruce Wayne is Batman, Clark Kent is Superman (and yes, Bendis, his secret identity is intact), Princess Diana is Wonder Woman … and that’s where it ends, really. Yes, Hal Jordan will probably be Green Lantern and Oliver Queen will probably be Green Arrow, but not necessarily. We will add books, of course, but we probably shouldn’t publish more than 20-25 a month, which will cut down significantly on our shelf space but will, I think, increase our sales because readers won’t have to wade through so much to get to what they want. Yes, some people simply buy a comic because “Batman” is written on the cover, no matter what is inside, but I’m not counting on those people.

* I said this when it was being published, but I would make it a directive that Batman would skew a bit toward what Batman ’66 was like. With some very minor alterations (mostly to do with the way Jeff Parker and the artist tried to make it look like the television show), there’s very little in Batman ’66 that couldn’t work as a “mainstream” Batman comic. I would want Batman to be faaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrr less gritty and depressing than Detective, because two gloomy Batman comics is one more than there should be. I probably wouldn’t put a moratorium on killing in Batman, but I would tell whoever’s writing it to seriously emphasize the “adventure” part of it – that would be the book where Batman fights bad guys in the snow and dresses all in white or has to battle a giant robot. In Detective, I would encourage them to take the title seriously (come on, people, he’s a detective), but I would also allow more gloom ‘n’ doom. I mean, I dig depressing Batman as much as the next guy, but that’s not all he is, yo!

I dig Black Label, so I’m keeping it. As this is a hypothetical reality, I don’t give a shit if people went nuts over Batman’s Penis and encourage creators in the Black Label books to lean even harder into the mature readers thing. Amanda Conner is currently drawing a book about Harley Quinn and her husband, writer Jimmy Palmiotti, has Harley say “fuck”? Yes, please, but more – Connor’s nekkid women would be nice to see, I would bet! The format is terrific, the books sound intriguing, and I would do more of them (the things I mention above are the ongoings – I will indulge in the public’s Batman mania by simply doing mini-series with him, because that’s a way around it!). I don’t love the creators whole-heartedly, though, but that’s neither here nor there. As for the other imprints – technically, DC shuttered Vertigo but the trades of the Sandman Universe stuff come with that imprint written on them, but I think it’s time to really kill it. We can always bring it back, right? I love Young Animal, but Gerard Way doesn’t seem to be all that good about curating it, so who knows – maybe I’ll keep it if I can put a bug in his butt, but maybe not. I don’t know how Joe Hill’s horror books are doing – they look great, and I suppose as long as we can get good talent on the books, we’ll keep them. So we’re still putting out comics, but not as many superhero titles as we used to.

I would, though, try to do more market research, as I always do when DC hypothetically puts me in charge. Who’s reading the monthly issues? Who’s reading superhero stuff, and who’s reading the other stuff? How are the YA-leaning graphic novels doing in bookstores and outside of comic stores? How are trades doing relative to monthly issues (I know they don’t sell nearly as much, but what are the percentages?). I would really want to move toward a trade-based schedule, even though I know, or think I know, that both DC and Marvel have thought about that. DC’s trades tend to be cheaper than their single issues, and while that might change if the single issues went away or moved to digital, it’s still a good deal. The reason single issues keep selling is because locked-in fans want to be up on the latest developments, so if they read something in the Justice League book that impacts Wonder Woman, they don’t have to wait six months to find out what it is. But I’m moving away from Big Events and even cross-continuity to an extent, so that won’t be that big a deal. If Batman is completely self-contained, it doesn’t matter what happens in Detective or Justice League or Action Comics, because it won’t touch Batman. So everyone can just buy trades. Another reason people buy single issues is in case they go up in value, but I’m going to ignore that, because if that’s why you’re buying comics, you’re an idiot. Yes, you’re an idiot who spends money, but you’re still an idiot. Now, I don’t definitely want to get rid of single issues, but I’d like to explore it. Maybe do it on an experimental basis, as Marvel has done a bit with Jessica Jones and Cloak and Dagger (which, of course, they then collected in a print trade, and now, perversely, are publishing as single issues, at least with regard to Jessica Jones). I don’t know if it would work, but I’m willing to try it!

For now, though, I’m stuck with single, printed issues. Okay. I will always try to lower their prices or raise the page counts, but I honestly don’t know how much control I have over that. I suspect that DC and Marvel are gouging consumers just a bit, despite the nice paper they use now and the fact that they pay talent a lot more. I don’t know how I could lower prices, but even a little would be a boon. Prices went from $2.99 to $3.99 with nothing in between, and I wonder if even lowering prices to $3.50 or letting books go to 22 pages would work. Two extra pages doesn’t sound like much, but good creators can make it work really well. I just don’t know how long the $3.99/20 pages thing can last. Print is dying, sure, but we don’t have to Kevorkian it, do we? So I’m not promising anything, but I’d really like to lower prices/lengthen books.

Of course, there’s the talent to consider. Why DC and Marvel can’t get top-of-the-line talent is a mystery to me. They get some of the best, sure, but there’s so much talent out there that’s not working for them, and I imagine it’s because of the whole rights thing. Why create characters for DC and Marvel when you don’t get any money out of them if they blow up? That’s a terrible business model, and it’s part of why the two companies are stuck in a rut – no creator wants to create new characters for them, so we get the same old toys in the same old sandbox. I know the sandbox always has to stay pretty much the same, as do the toys, but man, it gets boring. I want to bring in new readers, sure, but I think (without looking at the market research I’m going to commission) that the bulk of my readership is still middle-aged white dudes, and while they might say they get excited about yet another Joker story, I also think that they’ve read them all before, so why can’t we spice things up a bit? I willl push hard to give creators a better cut of the rights of characters, so when Martin Scorsese finally caves and jumps into superhero movies by making a Looker movie (I would see that ten times a day and a dozen times on Sundays!!!!!), Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo’s estate would get a decent chunk of money. We at DC shouldn’t be scared of sharing the wealth!

As for getting people to work on comics … that’s a bit more difficult, but I’m still not sure why so many dudes who happen to be a bit older aren’t working either in comics or for DC/Marvel anymore. Walt Simonson is still out there, and maybe he’s perfectly happy not working for DC, but I’d still give him a call. Alan Davis isn’t doing too much anymore. Howard Chaykin is still cranking things out. Maybe a lot of creators have been burned by DC in the past, and that’s fair, but there’s a new sheriff in town! I’d also tell these people that if they can’t do monthly books, that’s cool too, because we’re going to be doing some other stuff besides the monthly books, like the Black Label stuff. I will publish more graphic novels – I’m still stunned more people didn’t vote for Simonson’s The Judas Coin in the CBR “Best of the Decade” thing from a few months ago, because it was awesome. Some artists can handle monthly stuff, and I’ll bring them in. Some can’t, and we’ll figure it out. I’m also still stunned that neither DC nor Marvel followed up with James Stokoe after he did that Avengers issue a while back, because I would call James Stokoe and ask him to do four books a year, on pretty much any DC character he wanted to do (James Stokoe does a Jonah Hex book! James Stokoe does a Wonder Woman-in-a-white-pantsuit book! James Stokoe does an Adam Strange book! James Stokoe does a Cornelius Stirk book!). This is why I’m canceling so many monthly books – because we’re still going to have a lot of product, it just won’t be something you feel you have to buy just to keep up, even if the quality goes down. If you like Bryan Talbot and want to see him do a Slam Bradley comic, hop on for a few months and don’t worry about the quality going down, because it will all be over either with that one comic (if it’s a graphic novel) or after a few issues! If you’ve really wanted to see Guy Davis write and draw a horror book, he’s doing one bi-monthly with original creations that he owns a significant portion of! Yes, these things cost money. But as I often said when I just read comics, if the comics are really good, I’ll pay for them. It’s just that too many comics aren’t any good. I will try to change that.

I know this is all a pipe dream, beginning with the fact that I have not yet been contacted by DC about the publisher position. It’s very disappointing, I know. I just like thinking about this kind of stuff every once in a while. DC was once a very good company – for almost 20 years after Crisis on Infinite Earths, they published a lot of great comics, made bold moves, apparently had a good program about paying their creators (which they balked at in hindsight, which is apparently why it’s taken so long to collect a lot of that stuff), and basically took the lead on the creative side from Marvel (I don’t know about sales; Marvel was still printing money with the X-Franchise). When DiDio and Geoff Johns came on board, they lost that a bit. Obviously, they still publish good stuff, but it seems like they became obsessed with Marvel, both in the comics world and the larger entertainment world. Perhaps they’re coming out of that, perhaps not – as long as Bob Harras is around, I’m not sure they will – but I would love to see them take more chances. I don’t think “5G” is that chance, but maybe it will be. It just seemed like from about 1987-2004, they knew that the talent was the thing that got people invested, not the events. Now, they seem to think the opposite. I certainly know which I prefer, but I’m probably in the minority!


  1. tomfitz1

    How completely and utterly despotic of you, Mr. Burgas!

    If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that you’re aping the POTUS in his political tyranny and manner. lol

    Beware the Ides of March, Mr. Burgas, beware being absolutely corrupt.

  2. Eric van Schaik

    Hail Burgas

    I would start buying DC trades of you where in charge (never single issues again for me).

    Totally agree about the prices. One of the reasons I only buy trades these days (Savage Dragon and Stray Bullets are the onlusten exceptions). Cheaper most of the times and no adds

    I still hope that some DC hotshot reads this and see the light.
    Thanks die another interesting column.

    Hail Burgas

    1. Greg Burgas

      Eric: I really dig buying single issues, but I’ve moved almost exclusively to trades for the pricing and the heft of them. But I would love to buy single issues. I just can’t justify spending the money on them!

  3. “It began with Identity Crisis, which began … ok, I guess, and then turned into a huge clusterfuck. ”

    Rereading Identity Crisis what blew me away was how much of it was a looong recap of DC continuity: Pre-crisis, COIE, post-crisis. It was almost like a Poe (“See, this is the kind of continuity-obsessed bullshit we broke away from with Crisis!”) but … it wasn’t.

    “but DC is obsessed with having heroes be inspired by other heroes, and having Superman and Batman be inspired by Wonder Woman and the Justice Society (which I assume will be around in some kind of capacity) has always felt wrong to me.”

    I don’t mind Supes and Batman having predecessors but they don’t need inspiration, agreed.
    The worst example, though, was a John Ostrander story in one of the Secret Files that tried to have Crimson Avenger inspired by Superman in the future, so that Superman really is the inspiration for DC’s first Golden Age hero. It was incredibly tortured.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Fraser: I don’t even love Superman and Batman having predecessors, to be honest. I get that they kind of need to these days, but it still bugs me a bit.

      I missed that Ostrander story. Sounds … weird.

  4. Peter

    If I was in charge, I’d take the easy way out and just re-hire Mark Chiarello, name him my successor, and retire. Not every project he touched was beyond reproach creatively or commercially, but he must have shepherded more evergreens for DC than just about anyone else in the 2000s.

    If we did get a Burgas regime, I would be a huge fan of the Batman/Detective tone delineation. I also would support a much better royalty or ownership program – if Warner’s wants to keep DC publishing around as an IP farm, they’re not going to get great IP without paying for it.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Peter: Good hire, there. I wonder what happened with DC and Chiarello. Maybe it came out at some point and I missed it. But yeah, he’s a good editor.

      I don’t know why all Batman books have to be tonally the same. I mean, he’s a freakin’ billionaire with the world’s greatest toy box – he can have some fun, damn it!

      1. Louis Bright-Raven

        Mark Chiarello was just the fall guy for Didio and Lee’s failures in leadership that year. Since Lee wanted all his buddies and Chiarello would rather be more diverse in art styles and was kind of bucking their system, and he was ‘redundant’ and he was closing in on enough time to be given a lifetime pension (26 years – he would have had to say until 2023 for his full 30 like Berger did), it was an easy call to cull him from the herd.

  5. jccalhoun

    Lots of people have came out to say that Dido was a good guy but that doesn’t make him a good leader. I agree that he seemed most interested in change than simply telling good stories. I hope that the YA books are working – some of them look like they would be fun – but all these continuity changes just aren’t working.

    I think they should put a moratorium on revamps of existing characters that inevitably mess up continuity. No more new origins of existing characters. If you want to bring back a Blue Beetle series you don’t need to retell and update the origin yet again so it invalidates his previous appearances. You don’t need to make a shocking change in Batman’s life every few months.

    Tell good stories. There is a time and place for big events but every story doesn’t need to upend everything about the character.

      1. Greg Burgas

        I would put the kibosh on origins for … let’s say five years, even if someone creates a new character! Just throw them into the deep end, people! It’s ridiculous to add stuff to characters’ origins, I agree, but origins themselves are a bit boring (there are exceptions, of course, but not many). So we’re ditching those for a while!

  6. fit2print

    Couldn’t agree more on the idea of giving big names like Stokoe and Simonson carte blanche to do pretty much anything they want. I haven’t been what you’d call a die-hard fan of superhero comics since pretty much forever but I will read them when there’s something special or different about them or when a marquee name (or names) is at the helm.

    Lo and behold, it’s often when the big two go the route you’re suggesting (rather than rebooting for the umpteenth time) that something memorable comes of it. Think: Batman 100, Batman Black & White, Brubaker’s Gotham Noir, Loeb and Sale’s Batman runs, Gaiman’s Caped Crusader, Sean Murphy’s Batman White Knight, Lemire’s Joker, Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier and Catwoman (and Ed Brubaker’s), Kyle Baker’s Plastic Man, Morrison’s All-Star Superman, Max Landis’ Superman American Alien and Gene Yang’s Superman Smashes the Klan. There are plenty of others, though for me these are the ones that spring immediately to mind.

    Admittedly, not every one is a masterwork – some of them are — but all were reasonably fresh takes on the tried and true, free of the constraints of continuity and, at bottom, simply interesting stories, well-told, by creative teams who clearly knew what they were doing and (I suspect) enjoyed comparative freedom from editorial interference. I think it’s pretty safe to say that just about every big name out there beyond this group has, at the very least, a Batman or Superman story in them that they’d love to get out to the masses.

    So if it’s a key plank of your campaign platform to invite major talents like, as you mentioned, Bryan Talbot, along with, say, Blacksad’s Canales and Guarnido, Fabien Nury, Paul Grist, Paul Chadwick, Peter Kuper, Kyle Starks and Jeff Smith to do whatever the hell they want with whichever characters they choose, then I heartily endorse your candidacy for the position of Dictator-in-Chief.

    1. Greg Burgas

      fit2print: That’s why I wouldn’t think it would be too big a stretch for DC to do it, because they do it so often already (Marvel far less so)! I wonder if the special stuff doesn’t sell as well because of the choked market of “regular” books, which is why I would cancel so many of them. That would also make the survivors better, because I could get better talent even on the monthly stuff. I also think it has to do with “reading what counts,” but I’d make it clear that nothing “counts” because we’re not working toward a big event or anything, so feel free to sample that out-of-continuity story!

      Those are some good choice. Canales and Guarnido doing a Batman story is something I never knew I needed until I read your comment!!!!

  7. Andrew Collins

    I’m glad you also named Identity Crisis as the turning point for you, because that’s what it is for me. I read it at the time, and was absorbed in the mystery. Which turned out to be a dud. But Didio saw the sales success and he and Johns decided to not only make “rapey Dr. Light” canon but decided to make rape, death, and maiming regular parts of their other books. Because somehow that was their takeaway from the book. I remember a Judd Winick written issue of Green Arrow in which almost literally every other word out of Dr. Light’s mouth is the word “rape.” Ugh…

    What worked even less was the attempt at combining things like the killing of Sue Dibney, and darkening the bad guys into murderous psychopaths, with ‘rolling back’ the comics to the ones they grew up with in the 70’s. It all just sort of felt like a gutshot to me as a reader who started reading in the late 80’s and grew up with things like Wally as my Flash and Max Lord as the rascally leader of the JLI. Barry Allen’s death was iconic and truly meant something not only to Wally but to the whole notion of what being a superhero is supposed to be about. Barbara Gordon’s crippling was supposed to be tragic but also inspiring in how she overcame it to make a new life for herself and find a new role. But Johns and Didio said “Nope, we need our Flash and Batgirl back” and out the window went the last 20 years of character growth and development.

    I guess my point is that the last 15-odd years have felt like this entirely ham fisted attempt at combining two disparate elements (classic versions of the DC characters with 90’s Marvel story telling) and the results have been awful. I’m not shedding any tears for Didio’s departure, but I also don’t think DC is going to get any better, or be any more palatable for me, any time soon…

    1. Yeah, nothing says “love letter to the Silver Age” like making Sue Dibney a rape/murder victim. Heck, Meltzer fridged her: her rape is all about how Ralph suffers, her murder ditto. And the little detail that she was pregnant — like losing her wasn’t enough by itself, she has to be a mom?
      And the damn plot makes no sense. No way do I believe that Jean with a flamethrower is going to have the same effect on Sue’s body as Dr. Light flash-frying her would have. But somehow the world’s greatest detective misses it.

    2. Greg Burgas

      Andrew: It’s weird that these guys want the characters to be the same as when they were kids, but they want the stories to be “mature.” It’s as if they love the characters but are embarrassed about the stories they were in. Frustrating. I didn’t read Crisis when it came out, but Barry’s death is a great moment, mainly because of the circumstances but also because it felt like it meant something. So to bring him back is just silly.

      As for Identity Crisis, so much of it was both a man reacting to a woman’s death and flashbacks that claimed the heroes had been douchebags for a while, and that’s just horrible. I don’t mind necessarily if they kill Sue, but man, the way it played out was just so wrong.

      1. The great thing about Crisis was that at the time, it was unique (Secret Wars didn’t come close). They weren’t following an established template, they forged ahead and pushed the envelope until it broke. By Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis, they were just churning ’em out, as cliched and copycat as you could get.

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