Comic Cancellations and the Comics Industry

Dec-08-08

While Jason and I may have been slow in posting the past few weeks due to other commitments, the comics world has continued to move forward. One of the big recent announcements made by the Big Two was DC’s decision to cancel their mid-tier Bat-Books, including Robin, Nightwing and Birds of Prey. This may have come as a surprise to some readers, but it’s not an unusual move. None of those books had a buzz about them and sales had been mediocre for some time.


This tactic, of culling the weak from a herd of related books, is not unusual. Marvel, when it introduced its “Brand New Day” storyline into Amazing Spider-Man, used that as an opportunity to cancel all of its other monthly Spidey titles, although they then began publishing Amazing Spider-Man every week, so that may have been a wash. Throughout the past decade, Marvel has also taken the hatchet to its bloated X-Men family of titles on a few occasions, although such cancellations never seem to trim the line for long, with new books and relaunched versions of older books soon appearing.


In fact, that’s one of the questions that one must ask when confronted with news of this sort: does it matter, in any conceivable way? It’s possible we won’t see Birds of Prey again, but does anyone truly believe that there won’t be another Robin series popping up down the line? All it would require would be a hot artist or writer being brought on board and that title could easily be relaunched, with a new number one issue, and if we’re really lucky, variant covers (perhaps with special metals used on them)! Cancellations like these, while frustrating to those fans who follow those series on a monthly basis, are normally just speedbumps in the road for these established characters, who will either guest star regularly in their parent title, or will be back soon enough in their own title. Cancellations are only a concern when you’re a relatively new, untested property, like say, Blue Beetle.


Yes, DC has also announced the cancellation of their Blue Beetle title, and sadly, the titular hero has no other place to call his home. Cancelling a title such as Blue Beetle or the critically acclaimed Manhunter (or, on the Marvel side, the oft-cancelled Spider-Girl) often means that the characters who have lost their book will disappear, rarely, if ever, to be seen again. If the writer of that title is writing other titles for the company, they may be able to move some characters over into their non-cancelled titles, but that’s not always the case (and for a character like Spider-Girl, who’s in a different continuity, it’s not really even possible). Many people have attacked and lambasted DC over its decision to cancel Blue Beetle, as the character had just appeared on their new cartoon show The Brave and the Bold, and the cancellation was seen as a poor marketing move, which it might well have been, had DC ever marketed its comics towards the viewers of the show in question.


In any case, the comics blogosphere has been all abuzz the past few weeks as numerous armchair quarterbacks discuss these cancellations, and what sort of an effect they will have on the industry as a whole. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to inject my opinion into a topic that other’s have milked dry, I am going to jump into this fray, as is the lovely and talented Jason. I think we bring a unique perspective to this debate, in that we are not armchair quarterbacks of any sort; I, for one, sit in an office chair, with no armchairs in sight.


So, let me outline what we’ll be discussing, and then I’ll turn this over to Jason, who’s been hoping to rant for many days now. We’ve mentioned the different types of cancellations: mid-tier books that will likely be back soon; mid-tier books which are absorbed into the parent books in their line; and the third stringers who may disappear altogether with no other title to call home. The question is: are these sorts of cancellations wise business decisions? Do they help or hurt the comics industry as a whole? Are they a shortsighted decision or one that looks to the future? To begin the discussion, I turn this over to Jason, but I’ll be back with my own thoughts on the subject soon enough.


To begin, I would like to point out that my chair does have arms, but it is also on wheels…so I think that technically rules out any sort of “armchairing” on my part. You’re right to relate that I have been waiting to rant about this topic for a while now. I kept starting and stopping my own version of this post because I had just too many thoughts and opinions to blurt out. I didn’t want to tax anyone’s reading comprehension abilities as I vacillated wildly from topic to topic. I’m sure this response will meander into the realms of economic concerns, buying habits, related cultural industries, the counterintuition of the industry and a bunch of other things. However, first I’m going to try to address John’s questions straight on.


John asks if “these sorts of cancellations are wise business decisions” to which I respond: ANY sort of cancellation is usually a wise business decision. And, quite honestly, I wish the Big Two would do more pruning of their overgrown product lines. It’s all about curb appeal…and right now, neither Marvel or DC has much of that when it comes to attracting new readership. The mentality of the last decade or two, to be filed under “Lessons NOT Learned From the Mid-90s,” is this: if readers love Mr. Super in one book, they’re sure to love him in eight books! If they are willing to fork over $3 for one comic featuring Mega-Dude, imagine how much we can squeeze from them if we have Mega-Dude appear in a dozen titles this month! On its face, that sounds like a great supply-and-demand model, right? Unfortunately, comics are a different sort of beast. Maybe I read the monthly Mighty Mr. Super title because I like the writer or the artist, whereas Awesome Mr. Super, Mr. Super Adventures, and Mr. Super Hangs Around Outside Elementary Schools employ creators who don’t twirl my baton. Or, and this seems to be the one the big boys can’t seem to understand, maybe I only have $3 this month! Maybe, I buy a bunch of other books (including, ironically, some from the same publisher) and don’t want to make that commitment or be faced with that choice. Or let’s say I do make that commitment, but now I have to drop one of their other titles in order to read more about Mr. Super.


Extrapolating that kind of effect can be difficult, but I’ll try to explain it in small numbers. DC launches Blue Beetle to some critical success. It begins to build an audience. DC faithful like it enough to add it to their regular buy lists. However, then DC decides to launch an event comic that is destined to “change the DC Universe FOREVER.” Well, being a DC fan, you feel like you need to see this. You stretch your budget a bit to include this overpriced piece of garbage, but that’s pushing it. You like Blue Beetle and don’t want to give up on it yet…I mean, they’re going to introduce this new character, build a world around him and let him enjoy some adventures on his own before trying to force decades of unrelated continuity into the title, right? AHAHAHAHA. Don’t hold your breath. But, for argument’s sake, let’s just assume that everything is going swimmingly over in Beetle-burg. Now, DC decides that Batman is going to die. Oh no! Not one of the major comic icons of my lifetime! I need to follow that story desperately! Um…bye-bye Blue Beetle or big event comic or DC in general just for forcing me to choose. In fact, maybe I’ll just give up completely on comics. Granted, that may be pushing this example to the extreme, but it’s possible. The goodwill that was going to be built by Blue Beetle or Secret Six or Birds of Prey or The All-New Atom or Shadowpact or anything else, is now dribbled away by DC trying to do too much at once.


That’s an example of what can cause a new book to be cancelled, but what about a mid-tier book? Well, it’s a similar track. Companies forget that there is a limited audience out there and that that audience has a limited budget too. You can’t have the mentality that “everyone in the world wants to read every book I make” and hope to have great success in this business. I haven’t gone back and crunched years of data on the topic, but I can make a few educated guesses about those second-level titles. Let’s say The Supergroup sells 100,000 copies a month. The company decides this is a good time to take advantage of increased readership and introduce The Fabulous Supergroup as a companion title. For the sake of simplicity, readership on the first issue of Fabulous is also 100,000. Wow! Another hit on their hands! Of course, over the release of a few issues, the numbers adjust themselves to account for readers making a decision between the two titles or deciding the creators aren’t their favorites or the stories aren’t interesting or whatever. After issue #4 hits the stands, Fabulous is now attracting only 70,000 readers and the original title is down to about 90,000. In order to regain some flagging interest, the company decides to launch a solo title for their most popular character, Mega-Dude. Mega-Dude’s premiere issue flies off the racks at a pace of 120,000. Awesome! But now it’s decision time again. Do readers feel that Mega-Dude is better on his own (meaning an uptick in the solo series, but less interest in the team book)? The original series drops to 75,000…Fabulous now sits at 50,000 (and is on the bubble for cancellation now) and the solo series settles in around 80,000. Do they feel that three titles with Mega-Dude are way too many and decide to drop one or two of them? Do they get completely fed up with Mega-Dude’s overexposure and drop all the titles? Do they decide to stick with all three but now have to drop the Mr. Super title because of a limited budget? Or does a rival company take advantage of the diluted market and launch some new fan favorite title that attracts 150,000 purchases and shoots to number one on the sales chart?


Someone is going to lose.


And that’s just the economic semantics of the deal. Having the same character appear in a bunch of different books every month is a horrible way to keep characterization and tell fluid stories. Why can’t there be just one X-Men comic? You have great stories to tell? Perfect! Tell them in one book. Maybe increase the page count or put it out bi-weekly or something. Is there really any need to dilute the characters and their gravitas just to kill a few more trees and put more stress on your readers’ wallets? At the very least, combine the titles…if two books cost $6, you should be able to double the page count and produce a single title for $5. If every publisher would follow this model, readers could get more bang for their buck and the market would turn to one more similar to Japan’s booming market…with thicker monthly books that contain multiple stories. Less titles to fret over, but more stories in each book.


I’ll skip John’s second question and go right to the “shortsighted decision” inquiry. Yes, I believe all of these cancellations are shortsighted. It has nothing to do with the titles themselves, but with the overall mentality of the comic industry. Everything they do is shortsighted. Switching creative lineups. Launching assorted miniseries. Killing off established characters. You name it, it’s a blindfolded dartboard mission. Even the things they think they have planned out ahead of time end up being retrofitted at the last second. Look at all the stories about DC’s big event books for the past two years…Dan DiDio has lorded over the titles, making adjustments, removing key plot points, changing characters and generally mucking about in the creators’ realm all in the name of “executive editing.” And how has that worked out for them so far? I’ll tell you: confusing, self-referencing, continuity-laden stories featuring third and fourth-tier characters that the average literate person doesn’t recognize and could care less about. You’d think they’d learn after one debacle, but instead they keep trying to adjust for each event, making them go further and further off track until the Final Final Final Crisis will be a one-shot featuring Bwana Beast playing a game of battleship against the head of Toyman. And someone is bound to say, “Wasn’t that one dude on the Super Friends cartoon?”


Now for John’s last question: “Do cancellations help or hurt the industry as a whole?” Well, personally, I think there’s some good and some bad. There have been titles that have bled readers without outside influence, proving they probably didn’t deserve the attention they were granted. There have been titles launched that had great buzz before they hit the stands and then just fell flat, whether from overblown expectations or suck-o creative output. And then there are books that really could have been something, but were given no promotion, overpopulated with ill-conceived crossovers, or hastily tossed on the chopping block to save the 14th useless and watered-down Cool-Man title. As a whole, I wish the industry would think a little before they launch the titles, take better care of them once they’ve launched and look across their entire line before they start cutting off noses to spite their faces, so to speak.


I have a lot more to say on the topic, but I’ll give it back to John to digest my rant and reply appropriately.

Well, before I delve into what you wrote too extensively, I have to completely agree with you that these choices are short-sighted, and that all the choices the Big Two make fall into that category. Sadly, I feel that’s a problem with much of the world today; we tend to live in a very short-sighted society, which can’t look more than a few weeks or months into the future. The comics industry is obviously not as strong as it could be, as it has been in the past, and indeed, as strong as it is in other countries. While there are numerous reasons for this, I believe that, to change this and to really turn the industry around, the leaders of this industry are going to have to look to the future and make some difficult choices. They need to completely change the way they do business, because the current business model? Not working out so well.

I agree with much of what Jason says, although I feel that you don’t hit a wall of diminishing returns in a financial realm only, when you publish multiple titles featuring the same character; you hit that same wall in a creative realm as well. Put simply, Batman may be one of the most interesting characters in creative fiction, but he’s not interesting enough to feature predominantly in six books a month. If you insist on publishing six books a month featuring this character, you are going to start running out of ideas, and you’re going to either recycle old ideas (changing little) or you’re going to get some really bad stories.

Understand that I am quite cognizant that bad stories can happen in the books of characters that only have one title. My point would be that, in the case of a character like Batman or Superman or Spider-Man, you should easily be able to get the top creators in the business to chronicle their adventures. If you restrict their adventures to one main title, you can have the top creators in the business telling their stories, and you don’t have to worry about trying to find others to pad the pages of the many ancillary titles that feature them. You would have creators who would be building on many years worth of stories, yes, but those years would only be filled with twelve or twenty four issues worth of stories, not sixty or seventy two issues, as we have now.

I also see how budgets are limited, and multiple series featuring a favorite character can really hurt a buyer’s wallet. I’m sure that, if this was suggested to the Powers That Be that run DC and Marvel (and I’m sure it has) they would counter that, if they drop two Superman titles a month, the consumer who was purchasing them wouldn’t then start picking up Manhunter and Blue Beetle; they’d simply save the money, or use it on another form of entertainment. Unfortunately, the Powers That Be could be right, and consumers might react that way. Still, I believe that it’s a chance that must be taken. I believe that, if given more choices, not only might current readers try something different, but that new readers might be brought into comics, since there would now be a better chance that the Big Two were publishing something that might interest them. This wouldn’t be a quick process, as there are decades of preconceptions built into our culture, but going back to making far sighted decisions, those preconceptions will never be broken down if steps aren’t taken to do so.

Okay, intermission is over. The rant may continue.

Right. I’ve gotten my breath back and I’m ready to sound off again! I like the point you raised at the end. I think there’s a general fear within the industry that they’re competing against video games and movies and all the other related disposable entertainment. However, you can’t ever succeed if all you do is operate on a fear-based model. Don’t take chances! Don’t do something that may alter the sales patterns of the last four years! Don’t make any changes to characters or continuity that can’t be explained and changed back at a moment’s notice! Don’t try to attract new readers in a new way! Don’t put any effort into cross-promotion outside your sheltered little industry!

Look, how simple could this be? Instead of putting the onus on the retailer to sell your product, why don’t you do something that could help out everyone? Pundits like to draw conclusions about comic books from comic-based movies. The new Batman flick did gangbusters, that must mean the comics are selling millions too, right? Um…no. The person who watches a movie isn’t necessarily the same person who has spent a decade following the adventures of his favorite hero. Sadly, while most comic book readers will flock to comic-based movies, most comic-based movie watchers don’t flock to comic shops. They go home and watch TV or go see another movie or go out in the sunshine and engage in sports or social events. It’s not a two-way street by any means of the imagination. Readers need to be cultivated and, in a way, bred into existence. I can’t think of one person I know these days who just decided one morning to be a comic book reader. And the industry does little to help. I always believed there was potential to cross-promote a movie into a visit to the comic shop. That is, until I actually owned a comic book store. When someone wanders in looking for a recommendation, sometimes you’re at a loss. Sure, if they just saw From Hell or V For Vendetta, you can recommend the source material verbatim. However, X-Men: The Last Stand came out while I had my store. Someone who knows nothing about the X-Men, aside from what they’ve seen in the theater, comes in looking for an X-Men comic book. How do you explain to them that there are about a dozen titles to choose from? Or that you could recommend another dozen or so collections and trades, all with different characters, plots and creative teams? Which do you think they’d like? Which ones do you personally think are fabulous, but could lose the person you’re showing it to? And if you make one bad recommendation, you risk losing that customer forever (not that there’s a guarantee that they would come back anyway).

Maybe I was just a bad salesman…I’ve heard from both sides of that argument already. I know that not all superhero movies can pull a revered plotline straight from the pages and slap it up on screen. Concessions need to be made in terms of pacing and costumes and special-effects abilities and even for the translation to viewers who aren’t familiar with comics in general. But imagine how much easier things would be at the retail level if there were only one Batman title on the shelves. Someone walks in, says they just saw the film and now they want a Batman comic and BOOM, instant sale. You don’t need to spend an hour explaining the story or the crossover or the extraneous characters popping in and out of every other panel. Just, here’s the monthly Batman title. I would also like to believe, and maybe I’m just an eternal optimist, that one title would mean better stories. You have a built-in filter. Let the top creators pitch their stories and pick the ones you think are tops. Don’t just settle for whatever because you have 150 pages to fill in a month and you think consumers are mindless sheep. KISS…Keep It Simple Stupid!

I’m old enough to remember the DC Implosion of 1978. Twenty titles were cancelled and a handful of other planned books were nixed due to low sales attributed to a couple winter blizzards (which points to an obvious flaw in your business plan). Granted, none of the titles were anything to write home about…with the exception, in my little world, of Mister Miracle and Secret Society of Super-Villains. However, DC was also on the verge of eliminating their flagship title and namesake of the company, Detective Comics. Only a last minute merger with the better-selling Batman Family kept Detective in print. It goes to show that a bloated line can be dangerous for even your most historic titles. Maybe Detective should’ve been sent packing? Nostalgia can only sell so many books, the rest need to be sold on story and characters…unless you count that brief span in the 90s and early 00s where sales were artist-based, which always baffled me.

Of course, once you start talking about cancelling titles, the fanboys start to freak out about cuts across the board and people losing jobs and companies going out of business. I recently read a post on the new version of Blog@Newsarama (which is horribly amateurish and, at times, just plain awful, compared to what they had before), in which the author tries to make a connection between a film studio cutting back on its staff and the time of the successful comic-based movie coming to pass. This point is crowbarred in right after he points out that The Dark Knight just made a billion dollars and that comic-based movies are more successful than ever. If comic-based movies are so successful, why then, in any sense of the definition of logical, would film companies stop making them? Just because they lay off part of their office staff in order to reduce overhead, doesn’t mean they’re suddenly going to wipe their upcoming slate and devote all their resources to making documentaries about churches and playing chess. They’re not going to suddenly stop producing the one film genre that is bringing in demonstrable cash. And, even if they did, there’s absolutely no correlation between a reduction in comic-based movies and the sudden and complete collapse of the comic book industry. Popular comics have been produced since the 1930s or earlier, and the first successful comic book movie was…Superman back in the late 70s. With a glowing track record like that, I’m pretty sure the industry will survive.

I’d also like to point out that comics more or less thrived during the Great Depression and, even though the popularity of superhero comics waned in the post-World War II world, other genres…crime, horror and romance…rose to outpace their flagging sales. Granted, comics back then were MUCH less expensive and usually appealed to a broader swath of the population, but the need for entertainment and an escape from reality are never stronger than in poor economic times. I don’t see this as a doom-and-gloom scenario. Rather, I see today’s market as a chance to correct problems, exploit opportunities and generally right a ship that has been lazily listing for the past decade, like a rowboat with only one oar…circling and circling until the rower can’t do it anymore and the boat just drifts off into the horizon. Build up a new readership! Limit your best characters to two titles AT MOST! Create some new, compelling characters that can stand the test of time (Marvel’s last wildly successful characters, Wolverine & Punisher, were both created 30 years ago)! Come up with stories that create a foundation for new worlds instead of just referring to things that happened 25 years ago in a book nobody remembers! Go forward! Stop looking back!

Whew. That’s enough for me right now. I’m going to slap my tag team partner’s hand and just slump down in the corner until I’m needed again.

Way to go Champ. You got ’em on the ropes. Now just take a swig of this water and take a minute to catch your breath.

It has become the sport du jour in the comics blogosphere to explain to all who will listen what the best way is to fix the current economic slump which has affected the comics field since the mid 90s. I don’t think either one of us claims to be experts, but honestly, it doesn’t take a genius to know that the current business model being used by Marvel and DC simply will not be effective in the long run. They may be able to squeeze out a few more dollars from loyal customers over the next decade, but after that? Unless they change the way they do business, I simply can’t imagine there will be much of a comics industry after that point in time.

The sad thing about this is that there are a LOT of truly good books being produced right now. Regrettably, not many of them are being produced by Marvel and DC for their flagship titles, but the well written and compelling stories, with strong artwork that serves the story well, are out there. Comics can be great, and we see evidence of that right now, but we need to communicate this information to the general public. It’s become quite common to have a newspaper, magazine or mainstream internet site do a story about how comics aren’t just for kids anymore, but that’s not true promotion, or at the very least, it shouldn’t be the beginning, middle and end of promotion. Events such as Free Comic Book Day is a grand idea, except that it begins and ends in the comic shop, a place that most people who aren’t comics fans already don’t visit. We need the comic shops to go out amongst the population and sell their wares, luring the unwary back to their place of business after distributing free samples of their wares.

I’ve come to the point where I simply don’t read the amount of mainstream superheroes that I used to, which I find rather depressing. I love superheroes. I understand that they can be considered gaudily dressed symbols of a stunted adolescence, or brightly colored avatars of a power fantasy, but I don’t care. They’re neat, and when done well, they can be as deep and meaningful as any other type of story. When done well, they can also just be a heck of a lot of fun, and there’s no shame in that either. Unfortunately, so many of them aren’t done well anymore, and while I still read scads of comics (and keep up with developments occurring in both DC and Marvel), more and more what I’m reading comes from DC’s Vertigo line, from Dark Horse, from IDW, from Oni or Fantagraphics or from various and sundry other independent publishers. I enjoy their books, and I enjoy the opportunity to explore their worlds, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really miss reading the adventures of my favorite superheroes, particularly the Avengers, Fantastic Four, JLA and Titans, all of which I’ve found all but unreadable lately.

Perhaps the best way to end this thought would be through the following story. I have been trying to trade my single issue comics in for trade paperbacks for years now, as I find the trades easier to read and easier to loan to people. I also regularly go through my trades and single issues, purging those where I have duplicates of the story in another format, or those where I realize that the story isn’t very good, or doesn’t appeal to me. I never sell my old trades or single issues, but instead I try to give them to people, and many of my friends who don’t regularly read comics, but know of them, are the recipients of many of these. Nine times out of ten, the trades that they love, and the ones that they remark on, are the older ones, from the 70s and 80s. Usually I’m told that these stories were easier to follow, that they made more sense, and that they weren’t as violent or profane, which some of them find offputting (particularly those with children). If my friends and their families are indicative of the general, non-comics reading public, might we not want to consider the ramifications of their opinion?

Well, we’ve wandered all over the field on this one. Are we ready to draw some conclusions and move on?

Wait a second, you’re giving away comics? Why wasn’t I told about this? What’s going on?!?!

I kid. John actually gave me an entire longbox full of comics once. He’s quite the generous sort and always eager to spread the comic gospel to the uninitiated. I guess my past ownership of a store and our continued blathering about comics on this here internet page qualify as missionary work too. We’re like Mormons, but without all that nonsense about finding gold plates buried in the woods (and the polygamy too). I’ve been to Utah. It’s nothing special. Go Team Comics!

I have no conclusions to draw about what we’ve said. I feel like, at times, we’ve argued both ends against the middle…with the middle being rational thought and the ends being “everything is fine” and “everything is falling apart.” The industry needs to change somehow. Everyone knows it. This “circle the wagons” mentality just further insulates an already shrinking fan base while doing nothing to attract new readership. The ones inside the fortified castle are either dying off or trying desperately to break out by pounding their heads on the walls. The ones outside our little fantasyland have no idea what’s going on and just go about their business with a faint recollection that Superman is Clark Kent…or something.

At the same time, the industry isn’t going anywhere. I don’t want to say comics are bulletproof when it comes to the economy, because we all know how the industry is so very capable of shooting itself in the foot on a regular basis, but being on the low end of the entertainment radar can sometimes be a boon. Ignorance is bliss, right?

We could make a list of things the industry should at least TRY to do, but no one would listen anyway. And we’ll just keep reading whatever they put out, in one format or another. Who’s worse…the executives and editors or the readers themselves? During the recent presidential campaign, Barack Obama often used a quote by Albert Einstein to explain the need for change and I think it’s appropriate here too: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

Maybe it’s all our fault.


Casting Call: Justice League

Oct-27-08

I know we just did our Dream Team for the Justice League last week, but it got me to thinking about how there aren’t a lot of DC movies being made and the ones that have been made are a mix of ups and downs…the reinvigorated Batman franchise has made huge gains both financially and credibly, but the latest Superman relaunch was a bit of a disappointment. And that supposed younger Justice League film never got off the ground in light of last winter’s writers’ strike. So, I thought it would be fun for John and I to fill out our version of the Justice League cast…

Wonder Woman: This is probably the toughest decision to make. The right actress has to have a certain age and wisdom to them, yet still be young and look good in the costume. She also can’t be one of those lithesome types so popular these days…WW is big and strong. That’s a tough description to fill. My first reaction would be to go with Kate Beckinsale, but that just seems so obvious. Plus, she might actually be too pretty for the job. If I knew she could act (aside from her role on the new incarnation of American Gladiators), I’d pick the tough and beautiful Gina Carano. Instead, I’m going to have to go with one of the early rumors: Charisma Carpenter.

Green Lantern: I know I’m going to have a hard time coming up with some young, dark-haired guys to fill some of these roles…guys that aren’t generic and one-dimensional (*cough*BrandonRouth*cough*). However, Kyle Rayner has a certain earnestness to him that I think one particular person can conjure up. As a matter of fact, he was also rumored to be up for this role recently: Friday Night LightsScott Porter.

Flash: In my mind, Wally West could only be played by one person, and that’s the person who has long been attached to the role in a supposed solo movie that may or may not ever get made: Ryan Reynolds.

Plastic Man: Wow. This is a tough one. He has to have a good sense of humor and even have a sort of goofy looking face. Yet he has to be a believable actor in order to pull it all off. Whoever plays Plastic Man should be a bit taller and on the thin side. I thought I had this thought wrapped up, but then I got hit with a weird epiphany and now I can’t decide between two good actors. One is a bit younger and definitely embodies the actual “look” of Plastic Man. The other is a couple years older and would need to dye his hair, but I think has a stronger personality for the character. The two choices are: Jesse Bradford or Neil Patrick Harris.

Animal Man: Buddy Baker is just a normal guy. There’s nothing special about him. He’s a family man who just happened upon something wonderful. This position is ripe for an established character actor, one of those types that you’ve seen in a bunch of movies and has pulled off his acting so well that you can never remember his real name. I have the perfect name: Alan Tudyk.

Mister Miracle: This one was probably the toughest for me solely because you see Scott Free out of costume maybe once every fourteen years. What does he look like? What sort of person is he out of his superhero role? I dunno. I found one panel with his actual face and I just thought he looked a bit like Casey Affleck.

Black Lightning: Jefferson Pierce is obviously a bit older than some of the heroes. He’s been around the block a few times, has a certain roughness to him, but could also come across as a quiet leader if need be. He has a teaching background, has two daughters and is definitely an established professional. My first impulse was to pick LL Cool J, but then I thought he looked too nice and easygoing. Black Lightning has more of a burning intensity to him. To that end, I selected someone who has seen a lot of screen time lately and someone who was actually cast to play John Stewart in the now-stalled Justice League film: Common.

That’s my cast of seven. I’m sure John has his own opinions. Hopefully we can come to a jovial consensus.

I’m a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. I think the casts are good and don’t often get enough credit. That being said, I simply can not see Charisma Carpenter as Wonder Woman. I’m not saying that she’s a bad actress, as much as I’m saying that she simply doesn’t have the gravity and weight (and I’m not talking pounds) that she would need to portray the Amazon princess. That may not be a fair assessment from me, but that’s how I see it.

Unfortunately, finding someone to fill the role is difficult, since so many women in Hollywood are reed-like stick figures. I’d be tempted to throw out the name of Lucy Lawless, another early rumor for this role, but I already secured her a role as Black Widow, so I won’t push my luck. Instead, I’m going to look to Sci-Fi Channel’s late, lamented Farscape, and nominate Claudia Black, who has the look, the strength and the gravity to portray Princess Diana.

I don’t have a problem with Scott Porter, and certainly some poor actor from that underrated show should get a break in the big time. I say, let’s use him!

Love Ryan Reynolds! Perfect!

As for Plastic Man, I don’t think there’s any choice here. I like Jesse Bradford, but there’s no one better than Neil Patrick Harris for this role. The problem with Plastic Man is that, if you take his humor out of context, he can come across as simply obnoxious. You need someone who can be in your face and over the top, yet still likable and come across as real. That’s what Neil Patrick Harris does every week on How I Met Your Mother. He’s the clear choice.

I really hate to agree with you so much, but I think Alan Tudyk would make a great Animal Man. I need to find someone here I can argue, besides Wonder Woman.

Well, I can argue with you about Scott Free! Actually, I think Casey Affleck is a great actor; his recent turns in The Assassination of Jesse James…I’m Not Typing the Rest and Gone Baby Gone were amazing, and I’ve enjoyed him in other roles as well. However…..ugh. No, I can’t really argue with you on this one either. He wouldn’t be my first choice, but there’s absolutely no reason why he couldn’t do a fantastic job in the role.

I can’t really argue about Common either; he’d be great in the role.

Well, I could try and pick a false argument with some of your choices, but that seems pointless. You made some really great picks. I just need you to agree on Neil Patrick Harris, and then we can fight about Wonder Woman, although I don’t know how you could possibly disagree on Claudia Black.

As far as Wonder Woman goes, I was looking for someone who was slightly older and had some ethnicity to them, but wasn’t an everyday name that would have previous recognition attached to them. I mean, you look at Lynda Carter from back in the day and she was just the perfect embodiment for Diana Prince. I think Susan Sarandon would’ve had a similar resonance too. And I was toying with the idea of selecting Rhona Mitra, but I wasn’t sure she was “beefy” enough for the role. To that end, I don’t mind the selection of Claudia Black. I’ve certainly never heard of her before. She’s older and rather tall. Plus, she’s like a fanboy dream, with appearances in Hercules, Xena, Farscape, Stargate, Beastmaster, Moonlight and Pitch Black and videogame voiceover work with God of War, Conan, Lords of Everquest and Crysis. I say she’s in!

And, of course, I have no problems with NPH as Plastic Man. He’s hilarious AND a good actor.

Wow. That was much quicker and easier than I had anticipated. Here’s our heroic lineup for the “Meanwhile…Comics!” version of a Justice League movie:


Dream Team: Justice League

Oct-20-08

I believe that Jason and I will both admit that we do more Marvel posts than DC posts. That being said, I do enjoy the DC Universe (even if it’s current direction leaves me cold) and so, along those lines, we want to explore those characters more often. So, we thought we’d start by using the most famous DC team of all time for one of our infamous Dream Team posts: the Justice League!

Many people might consider the Dream Team of the Justice League to be pretty self-explanatory; it’s the big seven, the founding (pre-Crisis) members, and the ones that Grant Morrison used during his run. That august assemblage included Superman, Batman, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Flash. I have to disagree, however. I think that there are a lot of really interesting characters that serve better on the league than many of the big names. However, I do want to steal the number of heroes, and cap our team off at seven members. For those familiar with the Justice League, let’s start a little wager: how many of my team members will be from the Detroit era of the JLA? Place your bets now folks!

First, I’d choose the one character who I feel is an indispensable member of the league: The Martian Manhunter. Yes, he’s currently dead in the DCU, but really, how long can that be expected to last? I think the Martian Manhunter is the heart of the JLA, much like Captain America is the heart of the Avengers, and I feel the team is always stronger when he’s a part of it. He’s in.

I also am going to keep one other member of the classic group, and that’s The Flash. Yes, Wally West does well as a member of the Teen Titans, but he’s been a member of both groups in the past, and can be again. He’s actually one of the few characters in comics who, I think, works equally well in more than one supergroup, and can actually be considered a vital part of both.

Next up is a personal favorite of mine, Mr. Miracle. He was a member during the Giffen/DeMatteis days, and I thought that he managed to make it through their run with his dignity intact, which was not always an easy task. He is far and away my favorite of Kirby’s Fourth World characters, and I think he brings a hefty dose of skill into the League, a group that normally subsists more on raw power. If you’re not including Batman in the League (and I’m not), then you truly need someone who understands subtlety and finesse. Mr. Miracle fits the bill.

My fourth choice is a character who, for years, I had no respect for. I considered him largely useless and somewhat silly. However, over the past few years The Atom has begun to really grow on me. I think some of that may be his strong showing in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, or perhaps I’m growing up, and I’m beginning to realize that, as with Mr. Miracle, raw power isn’t everything. The Atom also supplies the League with a scientist, which is rare in the League. Every third Avenger seems to be a scientist of some sort, but not so with the JLA, and that makes the Atom that much more unique.

Fifth I choose The Red Tornado. I’ve always liked his look, I think his powers are neat and different, and I enjoy the element of the synthetic man trying to fit into a team of flesh and blood heroes. Hey, I’m a fan of the Vision too; what can I say? Someone who is on the outside looking in resonates with me.

I’m going to throw in a young rookie; when we discussed the Avengers, Jason suggested that every team needs a young hero for the other heroes to mentor. I’m not sure if I agree with that (I pooh-poohed the idea at the time), but there certainly can be an interesting dynamic between an inexperienced hero and those who have been saving people their entire lives. I choose The Ray for that honor. I’ve always enjoyed the character, I think he has an amazing look, and he’s certainly powerful enough for the JLA. He worked with the Martian Manhunter quite a bit as a member of the Justice League Task Force, but he still has a lot to learn.

Finally, for my last choice, I’m going to pick someone from near obscurity: Animal Man. He was a member of the Justice League Europe team, but only lasted about ten issues, since Grant Morrison was turning his life upside down in his own comic at the time. I’ve always enjoyed the character, and I’d like to see what he could do on the team if he was actually given the chance.

So, I have Martian Manhunter, Mr. Miracle, Flash, the Atom, Red Tornado, the Ray and Animal Man. I’d love to have Atom as the leader; I think he’d do a good job, and it would make for a more interesting team dynamic then using Martian Manhunter, the next logical choice.

How many member did I choose from the Detroit era? Just one: the Martian Manhunter. I really tried to fit Vibe into the group, but sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.

It’s tough for me to rationalize throwing a dead guy into the mix, but to each their own I guess. Did Vibe have any superpowers beyond being stereotypical and annoying?

And what’s with shunning all the females?

Look, as much as I praise Marvel for pretty much shaping my childhood imagination, I have to give some of the credit to the Justice League as well. With the exception of a few issues, I have a run of Justice League of America comics that starts around issue #40 and goes straight through to the end of the Detroit years. Add to that a hefty run of Giffen’s Justice League revamp (later renamed Justice League International and then Justice League America), a complete collection of Justice League Europe (which, correct me if I’m wrong, was also then renamed Justice League International? That’s confusing) and a substantial portion of the later JLA series and you could easily conclude that I’m a HUGE JL fan.

I agree that the original seven members of the JL were probably considered the Dream Team at the time, since they consisted of all of DC’s major characters, including several well-received Silver Age revamps (Flash and Green Lantern, specifically). However, I also agree that just because they were big names didn’t necessarily mean that they should play together on a team. I find the iconic status of the “Big Three” to be rather daunting when it comes to building an effective network of heroes. Really, why do you need anyone else, aside from the sheer numbers perspective? A team like that doesn’t lend itself to creative storytelling.

I would guess that my biggest influences, when it comes to who I believe deserves to be in the ultimate JL lineup, are the “satellite years” and the team that launched out of the Legends miniseries. These were some of my favorite 70s and 80s characters and, to this day, some of them are still woefully underused.

That said, let me follow protocol and trash your lineup while also revealing why mine is so much better thought-out and worthwhile…

John said Martian Manhunter: Really? THAT’S your marquee selection? Blah. Aside from the running joke of him being obsessed with Oreos, I just never really related to J’onn. I’ve always felt that he was a good teammate, but whenever the focus is on him I can’t grasp a connection to him. I know that he’s been repeatedly set up as team leader, but the subordinate relationships away from him were always more interesting. He’s also become one of those characters whose powers continue to evolve and change to the point of being ridiculous. Thankfully, he’s dead (for now) and I think that really takes him off the table. My pick for the “legacy” position would be Green Lantern (Hal Jordan). He has the military/tactical background to be a true leader for the team, his fearlessness has been tested, and the visual potential for his powers really lends itself to a good creative team.

John said Flash: Agreed 100%. Wally West has consistently been one of my favorite DC characters. I think his powers are essential to a strong team. Plus, Flash lends a mix of youth and experience that few other DC heroes possess.

John said Mister Miracle: Also agreed, as long as it’s Scott Free in the costume and not the recently relaunched urban Shilo Norman version from Grant Morrison. Mister Miracle always struck me as one of those reluctant types who was a hero out of necessity instead of virtue. I like that dynamic.

John said The Atom: I’m sorry, I just never got a good feel for Ray Palmer and the new guy in the costume hasn’t done much for me either. I like the unique powers of Atom, but he has no resonance for a major hero team…kind of like how Ant-Man doesn’t really fit well in an ultimate Avengers lineup. If we want some unique powers with a personality, I think we could do worse than to look at Plastic Man. Eel O’Brien is an old school member who has sort of come and gone under the radar. He has a dark past but a lighthearted persona, and I feel that that dichotomy is worth exploring.

John said Red Tornado: Again, I have no real feeling for this character. He looks cool and the concept of a synthezoid hero is intriguing, but the “woe is me” emotion-based, Pinocchio-like storyline that Brad Meltzer recently rolled out left me cold. I would rather replace this choice with a female, just for contrast. I was leaning towards Wonder Woman, partially for the iconic feel but also for leadership reasons. However, I think the softer Zatanna would be more appropriate. The self-doubt she has recently demonstrated adds a certain vulnerability to a character who was never completely strong to begin with. And she has pretty nebulous powers that could be exploited nicely.

John said Animal Man: Curious. He was on a short list I scribbled down and, by process of elimination, ended up being in my top seven too. With Captain Atom and Doctor Fate both being out of commission right now and Firestorm not the same character he used to be, Animal Man is my default choice for this position. I think by assembling the widest range of powers possible, we show a true cross-section of the “global reach” of the team.

(As an aside, I really liked the idea of the Justice League setting up embassies or charters instead of being a global police force stationed in America.)

John said The Ray: Yeah, I could see this pick working out nicely. He’s got a bit of the legacy going on and he’s a pretty powerful hero when he can stay focused. It’s a good selection for a young, mentor-able character. However, I would like to throw out a more controversial name: Resurrection Man. Very interesting powers and an underdeveloped history lead to broader interactions and plot possibilities. I could almost see the team sort of “finding” him somewhere and bringing him along as a pet project, like cleaning up a homeless guy on one of those makeover shows. There’s a lot of potential in the character.

So, to sum up, my Justice League Dream Team would have Green Lantern leading a group comprised of Flash, Mister Miracle, Plastic Man, Zatanna, Animal Man and Resurrection Man. I worked a woman into the team. There’s one character that can definitely fly, one that can hover on special gizmos and one who can fly if the appropriate animal is nearby. I’ve got magic powers, speed powers and stretchy powers (two if you count GL’s shape-making ability). About the only thing not covered is a true strength-based character, but I’m okay with it…and Resurrection Man could cover that area depending on the circumstances.

The biggest problem I can find is that I have three heroes with the word “Man” in their names…someone feeling insecure with their sexuality?

I anxiously await your almost certain rebuttal.

I can not believe that I neglected to include any women in the group. Huge oversight.

Wait. Hal Jordan? Hal freakin’ Jordan? The most boring character in the DC Universe, in any time period? I’m one of those people who agreed 100% with DC removing Hal from his position as Green Lantern, although I disagreed 100% with the way they did it. Making him a mass murderer and psycho did not make him interesting; it made him an ugly plot device. I have no problem with there being a Green Lantern on the team, and can even partially agree that a Green Lantern on the team is necessary and iconic, but Hal Jordan? Please God no. Pick another GL. Goodness knows there are tons of them. John Stewart or Guy Gardner would be fine, although my choice would be Kyle Rayner. I won’t bother to argue the Martian Manhunter point, except to note that he’s been involved with every incarnation of the JLA except for the current one, and Green Lantern has not.

Yay to Wally West! Might I point out that he has a very good relationship with Kyle Rayner?

Yay to Mr. Miracle. While I don’t hate Shilo Norman, I agree that Scott Free is the one, true Mr. Miracle, and my choice for the costume.

I like Plastic Man. I think that, in losing Atom, we lose our most intelligent and scientific member, but I can deal with that, since that’s never been integral to the JLA anyway. If you get a good artist, Plastic Man can be one of the most visually fascinating characters on the page (as a side note, another visually fascinating character for a good artist? Kyle Rayner).

I can lose Red Tornado. However, I hesitate to replace him with Zatanna. I normally love magic based heroes, and the group does need a female, but I have never liked Zatanna. First of all, considering your feelings about magic evinced in our Dr. Strange entry, I can’t believe you’d be ok with her powers, which are even less defined than Dr. Strange’s. She seriously has no structure or limits to what she can do. Second, as a character I find her rather dull and difficult to relate to. Her recent self-doubt stems from her making that absolutely atrocious decision in Identity Crisis, a decision which makes her one of the more loathsome characters in the DC Universe, and with the current competition for that title, that’s saying a lot. No, there must be a better female character for the series.

I would be tempted to nominate Wonder Woman, as I truly like the character, and think that she’s more interesting when she’s not around Superman and Batman. Free to interact with the other members of the team without the two main guns of the DCU horning in and trying to dominate her time on-screen, I think she could add an interesting element to the mix of characters in any team. However, she’s still one of the trinity of holy characters at DC and you’ll never be free to do as much with her in a team setting, since the constraints of her own book tie her down. Plus, we have two members of the Big Seven already, so I’m not sure how necessary she is.

As I work through the female options for the team, I’d like to point out how few females have been members of the JLA. Seriously, compared to the Avengers or the X-Men, there aren’t a whole heck of a lot of them; I don’t think any incarnation of the team has had more than one or two on the team at a time. I have a few that I’m thinking of for membership, but I’m going to start by suggesting Dr. Light. I always liked her, although I preferred her as the somewhat short tempered and angry Dr. Light that she started as, rather than the rather weak milksop she was by the time Justice League International ended. Still, she has a great power, and I think she could work.

Yay Animal Man!

Hmmm. I expected the Ray to be shunted, and he actually did better with you than expected. Resurrection Man comes out of left field, for sure. I loved the character and his series. My biggest problem with him is whether or not you’re breaking the rules of Dream Team entries by introducing a character who’s never been a member. Aren’t there enough Leaguers around to choose from without dragging in a new character to add to the roster? I’m going to wait to see what your thoughts are, and we can go from there.

So, as Round Two comes to an end, we have some confirmed team members: Flash, Mr. Miracle, Animal Man and Plastic Man. We’re over halfway there! Now we need you to pick a Green Lantern who doesn’t make me fall into a coma everytime I read his adventures, decide whether you like Dr. Light and give me a ruling on whether Resurrection Man is a fair pick.

Wow. We don’t usually agree this easily, huh? You must be coming around to my superior way of thinking. I am an enlightened human being. Please, keep your praise to a minimum. I’ll wait.

All done clapping and fawning? Okay then, let’s get this wrapped up.

I’m going to make a group of decisions all related to one another right here and right now. I think this will make sense in the end. First of all, I concede the GL pick to you. Kyle Rayner is in. He has a great relationship with Flash and gives us that extra firepower. My only problem with him is that he’s all wrapped up in the GL Corps as their version of Neo from The Matrix. That’s both annoying and troubling when it comes to his availability. But I can live with it and he makes the most sense.

If we remove Hal Jordan, then we’ve lost the senior leadership of the team. To that end, and to bring in a female character (because I don’t feel that Dr. Light plays nice here considering the implications of her villainous male counterpart), I suggest we do add Wonder Woman to the team. She’s a strong leader and, quite honestly, her solo series always seems to be written in a different universe anyway. I have a feeling that any team we would end up assembling would focus more on the relationships of the younger characters and Wonder Woman will be there as more of an advisor and extra hand in battle.

Now, to your final point, I could make an argument to include Resurrection Man. A little more than two-thirds of the way through his eponymous series, he was offered probationary status in the JL. It’s also been said that he and Vandal Savage have been fighting each other for generations…which would make for a pretty cool storyline involving the Justice League. However, the more I think about it, I’m not sure he’s up for teamwork. Sure, his power would be fascinating to investigate and develop in the heat of battle, and he could probably tell some great stories, but he’s not really grounded in the mythology.

So here’s where I argue with myself over the necessity of including a “rookie” character. We all know that the Marvel and DC Universes are inherently different. Marvel is all about “real” characters with flaws and weaknesses. DC has always portrayed an iconic status in its heroes. You could get away with putting a young turk on the Avengers…making them prove themselves, showing the team helping to develop the next era of hero. But the Justice League is about being the best immediately. People rely on them. It’s no place to toss a greenhorn.

That’s why I’m going to voluntarily withdraw Resurrection Man. However, I don’t want to automatically bring back in your suggestion either. The Ray is, technically, part of the Freedom Fighters and they probably need him more. No, I’m going to nominate someone who has been around for a long time, has a somewhat similar power to The Ray, is a current member of the JLA and definitely ups the diversity factor of the team: Black Lightning.

I think that explanation came together nicely. So, my round two decisions: Wonder Woman leads a team composed of Green Lantern, Flash, Mister Miracle, Animal Man, Plastic Man and Black Lightning. Strange. Just looking at the names, it has the feel of two different teams being stitched together, but not in a bad way.

I argued with myself about whether or not to bring in Wonder Woman, and while I decided no at the time, I’m fine with her being included now.  I also love the idea of her being the team leader.  Theoritically, she led the team one other time, but it was a rather lame team, and she didn’t do much actual leading (until the awful crossover where Ice died, and then she acted like a moron, just like almost everyone in the League at the time).  She’s definitely in.

Black Lightning.  It is something of a slam dunk, isn’t it?  He’s smart, he’s got great powers, he’s adds some diversity and he has an interesting personality.  I think he’d make an excellent addition.  In the real universe, I’d want to ask his creator, Tony Isabella, for his blessing, since I understand there has been some….let’s call them disagreements between Isabella and DC Comics on who actually owns the character (DC claims Black Lightning was created under a work for hire agreement, which Isabella stridently claims was not the case) and while I don’t have facts on which side is correct, we certainly can look at historical precedent to see what sort of track record DC has with playing fair with creators.  That being said, this is a dream team, and hopefully Tony Isabella would give the okay, so let’s include him.

Wonder Woman.  Green Lantern.  Flash.  Mr. Miracle.  Animal Man.  Black Lightning.  Plastic Man.  I really like that group.  You have skilled superheroes who’ve been doing this for years and legacy heroes who have come into their own; you have heroes with tremendous power, and some who trade more in skill; you have heroes who come from a regal background and some from an urban environment and one from another planet.  It works for me.