Newsletter #77: Event Comics 101
How to handle a DC 'Crisis'
Hey guys, it's Scott.
It is Wednesday, June 8, and I'm getting so excited for our class next week that we will do from 4th World Comics on all the kinds of mistakes you don't want to make in comics, so it should be fun! I'll try and invite some guests to also tell horror stories and so on. But we’ll take a lot of your questions about things that you might do wrong, things that you are worried have different etiquette than you might know within comics, industry foibles, like all kinds of stuff. So it'll be a lot of fun, I think. And then the month after, maybe we'll do endings, because people seem to really respond positively to that short post that I did about about endings:
It’s whatever you guys want, topic-wise. I have at least, like, 15 more topics I want to do that are really comic and craft-based, but I also want to do these ones for you because it seems like you're enjoying them.—the advice about pitching, things that make for good priorities to have going into the industry, all kinds of stuff like that. So this is really a no holds barred, wide-open discussion of things that, as pros, we've learned the hard way not to do when it comes to your editors, when it comes to other pros, when it comes to stuff on the page, all of that. So it should be a lot of fun. And yeah, I hope you'll check it out!
Again, if you don't have a paid subscription, it's just seven bucks. For seven bucks a month, you not only get that class live, but every class we've done so far, all nine or ten of them archived, plus all the other goodies and all that stuff too. And again, coming up, I'm doing Summer Con in just a couple of weeks, that's out in Washington, and then I'm going to be doing San Diego in a really big way. And as paid subscribers, you guys get your own line to get stuff signed and it will definitely reduce the hour plus wait that normally comes with waiting on line for me or for Greg or Donny or that kind of stuff, too. So anyway, I hope you'll check it out!
I read it a long time ago when Josh Williamson pitched it to me, but I wanted to talk a little bit about events. Tyler was saying that some of you had questions about events. And having done a couple of them in different scales, from Night of the Owls, which allowed a one-issue crossover with everything in the Bat universe…
…to slightly bigger ones with Death of the Family and Endgame into full blown events like Metal and then Death Metal even bigger.
So for me, I think events get a bad rap just because there seemed to be corporate-driven and all of that. But so many events were some of my favorite things growing up, from Secret Invasion, obviously Secret Wars changed my life, like I had all the toys, everything, all those figures, I still have them, actually…
They were the first and best superhero figures I could find. And then DC did that great Super Friends line as well for people of a certain age.
Now it's like you can't throw a rock without hitting an amazing superhero figure, so I'm very jealous of my kids’ options. But the idea with an event, it has a few priorities, like a few buckets. The first is personal. Like for me, for example, the first Metal was about looking around and suddenly seeing only the worst reflections of yourself. It's kind of how you feel when you get really low in life, when you have depression, which I've struggled with the times, or sometimes just the state of the world when you feel overwhelmed. And it was about the ways in which your friends can help pull you out of that pit. And I wanted Batman to go through that where he looks out and only sees terrible versions of himself, and is taught through Barbatos’ terrible preaching that he was always meant to be a bad guy and his whole life is just a joke and he's the one that's responsible for all of the doom and destruction coming and that's all he's ever been.
And I really wanted it to take Superman and his friends to pull him out of that mindset. And in a way it was about how superheroes in general can do that for us, the things that they've meant to me in times of great depression or hardship. So first is personal, right? Death Metal, on the other hand, was super personal about what I think we need in comics, it was about why comics need to change to both be progressive and exciting and daring in their story choices, but also respect and connect to the legacy of fantastic epics that have come before. It was sort of making everything matter where it's a welcome ocean of story, where everything that happened in the past happened, even if it contradicts in a way, and you can choose which things are important to you. Like I was sitting on a panel once with Frank Miller and he had the best comment where a little girl got up, it was in San Diego in front of like hundreds of people, and asked “which is the best version of Batman?” And Frank said to her, “whichever one is your favorite is the best” and I just thought it was such a great answer, because it's true. It's subjective in that regard.
So anyway, that was Death Metal, especially at a time when comics were struggling with the pandemic. That's why Sgt. Rock narrates it, all kinds of stuff. So there's the personal. Then there's the connective. It gives other books an opportunity in a way to tie in and show that they're part of a larger narrative and initiative. And that can be a very helpful thing, especially for books that are struggling or need more attention. Third, it's part of a giant directive. And this is the part that's tricky and that a couple times I ran into real issues with, where what you're trying to do with an event is revamp the line in a way that you believe in. So with the original Metal, I didn't have those big designs when I started it because I thought Doomsday Clock was going to do those things. But once it became clear that we were going to be tasked with that, it was about bringing a sense of fun and connectivity back to the DCU. Having things that were surprises, but mitigated risk where there would be some really fun, different books and there would also be the return of classic things that maybe had been forgotten about.
So for me, that meant doing Justice League with a different configuration that they had been pushing for a long time. It meant making it bigger, remembering the Hall of Justice, and it meant creating the Legion of Doom again. It was about bringing back that Saturday morning cartoon fun, but doing it in a big elevated way and creating outcroppings for other books as well that could be really fun and different at that time.
So with Death Metal, it was much more tied into a whole line-wide initiative, and that initiative kept changing, unfortunately. At first, on the other side of death metal, we were thinking of doing a kind of Ultimate universe for DC, then we were thinking of doing a single continuity. But for me, the only thing that mattered, and I didn't have any say in this because I'm just a writer, was for the message of Death Metal to carry into whatever it was we created on the other side, because the message of Death Metal was what we're all tying into, which was everything you love matters. Every action, every story. And on the other side of it, we're going to have something that honors our classic heroes and sets them up in big robust ways, but also try some new cool stuff. And it has that measured design and it's something that gives somebody everything.
So in that way, that was the goal and I think that's where we kept missing the mark at DC over the years. We would swing a little too far in one direction or another. The New 52, I loved a lot about it, but it also got rid of all the history in a way that was difficult that we tried to resist on Batman and Swamp Thing. Then, on the other side, their corrective with Rebirth was good, but it sort of did away with some of the better things that had been done that were more progressive and successful as well in favor of just going really classic, and then that was unsustainable and that began to drop in sales because you need to be able to do things that surprise people and push things forward. As long as you're doing in a way that honors the core of the heroes and the villains, you have to take some risks. You can't just give comfort food, as much as people say, “that's what we want! We want to go back to He-Man in the 80s!” It doesn't work and it dies quickly. You might be like, “yay, I like seeing something that makes me feel nostalgic!” And then two minutes in, nobody's buying it. You need to do things to take these characters and icons to a new place while still honoring the core elements that make them who they are, without breaking those. That's always the trick. That's what we tried to do on Batman, what I tried to deal with events, all the time.
So in that way that's that's the job of an event—to have a coherent ideology for what the line is going to be on the other side, and with Death Metal, we definitely did. I think the problem was just with all the volatility with AT&T and then Discovery+ coming in. There was just a lot of different opinions about what we should do on the other side, from the 5G stuff that Dan DiDio landed on that sort of did away with too much of what we wanted, to couple other ideas that were a little bit scattered. Ultimately, what happened with Marie Javins, the Infinite Universe and the Omniverse idea was perfect. I'm so glad where it landed, but it went through a lot of bumpy skies before we landed there.
And one thing I want to say is when you have people tie in, you've got to give them enough room to do things that make their stories the best they can be. So if I give them the Joker in Endgame, I say “do whatever you want that makes the Joker terrifying and awesome for your character” and not “you have to use them exactly this way.” When I say “make up your own Talon” it’s to make up whatever Talon works best for your character. Like whatever era you want to use, you make your Talon. That's why I think Gail was so successful with Strix was she brought a tremendous amount of creative energy and power to it, and that character became something really special because of her talent and its specificity to what she was doing at that time.
So that's really it. It's the personal, it's the connective and then it's the connection to something that says we have a coherent purpose. We know what we're doing on the other side of this, so this has been a plan for a while and it is a plan on the other side. And I think that was the hardest part of DC over the years. It's just because there was so much up and down internally in different ways. But I'm really glad with how we wound up and where we landed with it. And I can tell you that I know Josh has huge plans for exactly where the line is going. All this kind of stuff and it's years in the making. So I really hope you'll check out Dark Crisis. Him and Daniel Sampere, they're just fantastic and I know their story is going to really blow you away. And Josh, nobody loves the DC Universe more than him.
All right, thanks, you guys! And remember, sign up for the paid subscription if you're not already so that you can get all of our classes and you can come to the con, skip the line, the whole shebang. Thanks!
P.S. I had so much fun talking Batman last week with Chip Zdarsky, who’s gonna be doing some great stuff not only on the main Batman title, but on his creator-owned book Public Domain, which is amazing and you should make sure you get it when Image releases it later this month. Until then, check out our full Bat Chat!