Are you a longtime DC fan who’s been walking around under a cloud of angst, exhaustion and sadness lately? You’re not alone. It seems that every other week brings a fresh crop of commentary about the company’s WTF editorial decisions, rifts with creators, or questionable-to-terrible handling of characters. Scuttle a respected writer/artist team’s long-standing creative plans! Shoot Catwoman through the head just to make sure we’ve completely alienated the readers who were already disappointed by our treatment of prominent female characters! Give readers the impression that the new Superman/Wonder Woman book will be a sexytime romance comic with capes and lassos!
There’s a lot to keep track of, so the delightfully snarky and satirical site, The Outhouse, does all the work for you. In a masterful stroke of real-talk criticism, their crew launched a feature whose title says it all: Has DC Done Something Stupid Today?
Some recent entries really grabbed our attention. The Outhouse deconstructed the flabbergasting comments that Dan Didio made in a New York Times article about Vertigo’s “myopic” sales strategy, and their passionate response is spot-on. They’ve also expounded on morale-killing moves such as the decision to squelch a story plan that Batwoman writer J.H. Williams III and artist Haden Blackman had been working toward for, y’know, only two years.
G3 talked to Editor-In-Chief Christian Hoffer about the origin of Has DC Done Something Stupid Today?, why the company is a bigger and more deserving target for ongoing criticism than Marvel right now, and which publishers are getting it right. His answers were quite illuminating.
G3: Was there a final straw that led you create the feature, or was it a series of events?
CH: We thought it was a funny way to point out DC’s continuous bout of incompetency over these last few years. Since our site began focusing on covering the news with ample amounts of snark and satire, DC’s been a prime target, simply because they can’t seem to go a week without doing something stupid and aggravating to fans. After reading about DC turning one of its black superheroes, Bronze Tiger, into an actual tiger, Jude Terror (our webmaster) and I came up with the idea of a running gag site to point out just how often the company screws up.
An hour later, Jude had designed the site and we just needed an excuse to launch the site, which DC provided to us the next day when they spoiled the finale to Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern run by releasing the epilogue two weeks before Johns’ last issue hit stores.
G3: What stands out to you as some of the most egregious examples of editorial fumbling? We were both floored by Didio’s comments about Vertigo’s “myopic” strategy and the Batwoman situation cited by J.H. Williams III.
CH: I think hearing about all the creator dissatisfaction amongst former (and current) DC creators stands out as the worst example of editorial fumbling. When you have freelance creators (most of whom rely on DC as a large portion of their income) walking off books on a monthly basis, you know something’s gone wrong. On a related note, I think that DC’s over-reliance on sales gimmicks to help push sales instead of strong stories is starting come back to haunt DC, as it’s generally been losing market share on a monthly basis.
G3: What is the dominant theme that you see in these bad decisions? Disregard for creators and fans? Lack of innovation and creative vision? All of the above?
CH: It’s a combination of both. There’s been an overwhelming theme of arrogance in most of these stories. The higher-ups at DC seem to be convinced that if they keep producing these low-quality comics with editorially driven plot lines torn straight out of the 1990s, people will eventually start buying them. If creators have a different vision than the one put forward by editorial, they’re either shown the door or they walk off. If fans or journalists speak out about controversial business choices, their access is cut off and their voices muffled. It’s a poor way to do business, especially in an age in which your every move is criticized by the Internet.
G3: DC wasn’t perfect before, but to what extent has the relaunch worsened things?
CH: The relaunch affected DC in two major ways: First, a lot of the comics coming out of DC lost their creative spark. Instead of creators coming up with their own stories, a lot of writers became glorified dialogue writers for editorial-driven stories, and the quality suffered as a result. Secondly, they alienated a lot of their longtime fans and turned them into detractors. You used to see a lot more people defending DC’s comics on forums and in stores. Nowadays, many of those people are among the biggest voices complaining.
G3: Let’s talk about the Catwoman shooting. We were really bothered that a prominent female character was (maybe) killed so casually for what are probably ridiculous reasons. Your take was that this kind of thing is so common in the DCU, period – hello, Ted Kord – that it’s hard to muster a lot of outrage. However, how do you think DC compares to, say, Marvel in the way it has treated its female characters lately?
CH: I think Marvel’s at least cognizant that there needs to be a shift in the way female fans, characters and creators need to be treated by major comics publishers. Captain Marvel is a fantastic comic that has attracted a large female fanbase. Brian Wood’s X-Men is another comic that seems to be heading in the right direction. Plus, I think that while most of Marvel’s comics aren’t “geared towards” females, they at least don’t feature events or dialogue that turns them off from reading those books either. Obviously, both comic publishers have some work to do when it comes to accepting that comics are read by more than white males, but I think Marvel’s at least getting better. I’d like to think that’s in part by the hard work that bloggers like you, Sue from DC Women Kicking Ass, The Mary Sue and countless other bloggers have done in pointing out the poor treatment of female characters, creators and fans in the comic industry, which has led to a lot of eyes being opened, ours included.
DC, on the other hand, seems to be stuck in this mindset that fans want to read about half-naked girls that just exist as romantic foils and damsels in distress.
G3: Have you gotten any response from DC since the feature took off?
CH: Not really. The most interest DC ever showed us was when their PR rep invited one of our reporters to a private meeting at C2E2 and told him that he could not have access to DC creators for interviews unless we stopped making fun of them, which happened a few weeks before the launch of HasDCDoneSomethingStupidToday.com. Before that, they mostly ignored us, responding if they felt like it to approve interviews or send us some solicits.
DC doesn’t even really bother with small sites like us. They prefer, it seems, to deal with very “big” media outlets where there is an implicit understanding that the coverage will be generally positive, and, even then, we’ve seen them discontinue a column at CBR because they didn’t like the questions they were being asked.
So, while we were surprised to find they were even paying enough attention to us to know that we make fun of them, it’s clear that they are very sensitive to criticism. Not in a good way, where they listen to it and react where appropriate by improving their product and policies, but instead in a sort of defensive and petty way that just makes them appear ridiculous.
Honestly, it’s probably for the best that they haven’t responded. All they’d do is provide us with more ammunition for our site and make themselves look bad in the process. However, Mark Waid (who I personally hope will eventually be the head of DC after the current batch of execs clear out) said HasDCDoneSomethingStupidToday.com was brilliant. I count that as a win.
G3: The criticism obviously comes from a place of sincere fandom and frustration. Are you guys/gals reading any DC comics currently? If so, do you miss the old continuity and general hijinks as opposed to this gotta-make-a-film-franchise-fever?
CH: There are a few good comics that DC’s been publishing. I’m a big fan of Charles Soule’s Swamp Thing, and Jude loves All-Star Western. I’ve also been enjoying Batwoman and Earth 2, but we’ll see how long the quality of those two books keeps up. The Movement and Green Team also got off to great starts.
While I personally can’t say I miss the old continuity, I do think it was at least a step up from what we’re getting now. I used to think that a lot of DC’s books were bland but enjoyable superhero fare that largely spoke to longtime fans. Now, I think a lot of their books are bland and unenjoyable superhero fare that really doesn’t appeal to anyone except the hardcore fans who don’t care about quality.
G3: Are there publishers who are doing it right, so to speak?
CH: The “Medium 3″: IDW, Dark Horse and Image. Image is easily the top publisher publishing today, and Dark Horse and IDW are a close second and third. Both Dark Horse and IDW do fantastic jobs of managing their licensed properties (Star Wars, Transformers, Conan the Barbarian and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles just to name a few) and Image has become the go to publisher for top-tier comic books.
G3: We’ll beat the commenters to the punch: Why pick on DC? Doesn’t Marvel do dumb stuff, too?
CH: Sure they do, and we mock Marvel regularly on our regular site. Our coverage of Age of Ultron has been pretty scathing, for instance.
However, Marvel seems to understand how to spin negative stories so they don’t get out of hand and manage to keep most of their creators happy, whereas DC just seems clueless on how to keep things from getting out of hand on a weekly basis. A major comics journalist once told me “Reality has an anti-DC bias,” which sadly seems to be the case here.
G3: Any hope that you’ll be able to retire the feature one day and that DC will start doing better?
CH: While we love all the free hits that HasDCDoneSomethingStupidToday.com provides, our hope is that the joke will eventually get stale as DC turns the ship around and stops providing us with some easy material to work with. Since the Outhouse started our current approach of “Shock, Snark and Satire,” our goal has been that by pointing out the absurdity in the comic industry, we’d help encourage the type of changes that most of us feel need to happen in the comic industry. If we make people laugh while pushing for a better industry, even better!