Funnybook Babylon

December 7, 2008

This Blog is Cancelled!

Torches? Check. Pitchforks? Check. Two-gallon drum of Haterade? Check. Looks like it’s time for Internet rage about comics getting cancelled again.

What’s up on the chopping block this time? One Marvel book (She-Hulk) and a whole lotta DC books (Nightwing, Robin, Birds of Prey, Manhunter and Blue Beetle). Why are they cancelled? Well, that’s a bit more complicated.

Conventional wisdom might tell you that these cancellations are due to today’s harsh economic realities. Other sectors might tell you that it’s about sexism, or subtle racism against minority characters, or a general unwillingness on the part of the publishers to give these books a shot. I’ve seen blame passed around, from the nature of the periodical medium to the willingness of the reader base to accept new characters, a lot of arguments from people who either weren’t reading the books or admitted they didn’t like them. What’s up with that?

Blue Beetle had an astounding 25-issue run that was a slow-starter and is forever kind of hurt by the fact that the opening stages are greatly affected by, and have to refer to, the events of Infinite Crisis where Jaime made his first appearance. As much as I hate to say it, this’ll always hurt its ability to sell in trades. Once you hit issue seven (which is, ironically enough, the most Infinite Crisis-linked of all the issues), it really kicks off, though, and Rogers turned it into what was probably one of DC’s strongest books during the time it was coming out. I’m sure somebody will comment about how that’s damning with faint praise, but this was during 52 and the start of Morrison’s Batman and back when Busiek/Pacheco Superman was cool and it looked like DC might actually keep its momentum.

Once you hit #26, though, you started getting that same sense of stagnation you did once Mike Carlin turned JLAh into what was essentially JLA Classified and threw different (not rotating, just different) teams on each arc: A oneshot by Jai Nitz and Mike Norton largely sold on the premise that it would lure the legions of potential fans who live near a Direct Market outlet and are uniquely intrigued by comics in Spanish, two cute Will Pfeifer fill-in one-shots, and then an arc dealing with immigration by Matthew Sturges that, although definitely serviceable, he admits was largely informed by editorial’s desire to get attention with a topical issue before the election:

MS: You know, when we first started talking about doing that story, immigration was a much bigger deal in the country. But as the election year proceeded, it seemed like the electorate cared less and less about immigration and more and more about other things. So I think in that sense, it was a bit of a misfire in that it was supposed to be this very topical, relevant story which turned out to be less relevant than we believed.

I don’t mean to pick on Sturges, who I know I lambasted for Salvation Run, and I’d like to mention that he did as good a job as anyone could do with being picked for writing duties on a comic with a rabid but small cult following that wasn’t exactly selling in the first place and had already practically ended on a perfect note. But he didn’t set himself apart and go in a new direction, he didn’t get the benefit of a sweet pass-off cliffhanger like Bendis and Brubaker on Daredevil or Fraction and Swierczynski on Immortal Iron Fist. So why is it all that surprising that the book’s getting cancelled? Yeah, it’s unfortunate, but a lot of the book’s appeal was John Rogers, and once he left a lot of people bailed. I don’t think it’s the market refusing to accept a minority hero, or hating Blue Beetle, it’s just the fact that books that aren’t tied into the fabric of the shared universe usually only succeed when they have a strong creator-led vision. Starman was all James Robinson’s baby, and people went for James Robinson. People read Immortal Iron Fist for Brubaker and Fraction, and now Swierczynski, who’s got his own clear direction and take while building on everything his predecessors did. Nobody read Gotham Central for Montoya and Cris Allen, they read it for Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka. And people read Blue Beetle for John Rogers. The dude left, it’s frankly impressive that it lasted eleven issues after that, and I’m pretty sure that after being in some shitty Teen Titans issues for a while someone will come along with a killer story for him, either in a team book or on his own, who knows. He’s a strong character. But I’d rather wait for the real next story than have something out there spinning wheels just to represent a character.

Manhunter is a different situation; despite the book’s vocal supporters, it simply can’t sell. It’s certainly not for lack of trying on DC’s part, at least by their standards since they barely promote anything, but they brought this book back twice. It’s currently rocking Michael Gaydos and Jose Villarrubia, no slouches in the art department. I don’t know if it’s the slow pace of the book’s subplots, the fact that the arcs are relatively self-contained, or if people just don’t care about D-list superheroes who are lawyers – it’s a good book, but it just didn’t take off. Kate Spencer, like Jaime Reyes, is popular among other creators, though, so it’s again very possible that the right story could come around, but at the moment this book is unfortunately just bleeding money.

She-Hulk is a weird book, and it certainly got greatly undercut by Jeph Loeb throwing her into his Hulk comic with no heads-up to She-Hulk writer Peter David. The fact of the matter, though, is that much like Blue Beetle was associated with John Rogers and Manhunter would really die without Marc Andreyko, this iteration of the comic has really always been highly identified with Dan Slott. Peter David seemed like an inspired idea to take over at the time; he’s got a huge streak of geek humor, and he’s certainly familiar with the Hulk mythos. But what made Slott’s run so popular wasn’t Jen Walters’s identity crisis, it was the supporting cast; Pug, Mallory, Awesome Andy. It was also the lawyer setting and the situations that would arise therefrom; a big highlight for me, and I think a lot of people, was the Spider-Man Sues JJJ issue. When David jettisoned all that to turn her into Dog the Bounty Hunter with an immortal Skrull partner who lives in a trailer park, the book lost its charm and David’s incredibly long-term plotting (seriously, the intergalactic Cyttorak thing has been incredibly slow-moving) burned a lot of the momentum and goodwill the book had coming off of the end of Slott’s run. Despite Secret Invasion tie-ins which temporarily boosted sales, the book just wasn’t selling (Side note: Wow, Eternals isn’t doing very well at all, that’s a shame. They must be letting it go to twelve issues just to let the Knaufs finish their arc; no wonder the book lost Acuna), I wasn’t seeing a lot of people talking about it, and despite Peter David clearly giving it a serious try the new direction just wasn’t clicking. This happens; I loved Mark Waid’s family take on The Flash and Tom Peyer’s followup as well, but the market didn’t, so Rebirth here we come. I’m hoping that the cancellation of this iteration of She-Hulk is because they have something in mind for the character, but regardless I don’t think it’s ridiculous if they consider her radioactive for a while. It’s an approach that worked with Thor and Moon Knight, and much like with Blue Beetle I don’t see any reason to keep publishing stories that aren’t connecting with the audience just because she’s a good character who deserves to have a good ongoing book – if what you got ain’t that book, then wait until you have it.

Nightwing and Robin are clearly being “cancelled” in anticipation of replacements, and the creators are moving on to books in the same line (Tomasi to Outsiders, Nicieza to… not sure? But he’s hinted at something). It’s to fit in with whatever the master plan for the Bat-characters are, the author of which is no longer at all clear since the level of Grant Morrison’s future involvement with the franchise appears to be best represented in the form of a question mark. Maybe this change won’t work and we’ll see Dick Grayson with a new Nightwing #1 in a few years, but this is hardly like DC is abandoning the characters or creators, especially since both Nicieza and Tomasi have remarked that they’d known what was coming going in.

Finally, Birds of Prey is in a similar position as She-Hulk and Blue Beetle in that it had first Chuck Dixon as the creator identity who kept the book afloat, and then Gail Simone, who this book launched to mainstream success. She was to be replaced by Sean McKeever in his big DC debut, but he had a four-issue lead-up by Tony Bedard, and then only lasted five issues himself to be picked up by Bedard, and the book was never really cohesive because you have subplots by Bedard, McKeever and Simone all still hanging around getting passed around like hot potatoes. With all due respect to everybody involved, I’d have to tag this one as a mercy kill, and hopefully the various characters involved will go on to new projects and not die on the vine like so many cast-off characters from excellent but quirky ensemble books.

The one thing I don’t really see in any of these cancellations is malice. None of these are successful books that are getting canned by a vengeful editor, they’re just comics that lost their authorial voice or have to go in service of some greater plan that involves the creators of those books themselves. None of these, excepting maybe Manhunter, could be classified as symptoms of a dying market or a readership unwilling to try new titles, and I’m happy that despite not posting incredible sales itself, DC kept Blue Beetle alive long enough for John Rogers to finish out his run. Books start, books get cancelled, books get rebooted, books get renumbered, books get merged – that’s just the way the market works.

8 Comments »

  1. Great, now is my opportunity to pitch Marvel my “Faster She-Hulk, Kill Kill” story featuring Tigra, Dazzler, Titania, & Volcana.

    Comment by seth hurley — December 7, 2008 @ 10:54 pm

  2. Blue Beetle really ended with the Reach arc, which was spectacular. I actually like the current Birds of Prey, though it’s of course missing the trademark Simone wit.

    Comment by RocketPunch — December 8, 2008 @ 12:10 am

  3. Great, now is my opportunity to pitch Marvel my “Faster She-Hulk, Kill Kill” story featuring Tigra, Dazzler, Titania, & Volcana.

    This sounds very much like the current plotline in Loeb’s Hulk.

    Comment by Syrg — December 8, 2008 @ 1:45 am

  4. BoP’s cancellation may also be in part because of the general shake-ups throughout the Bat-family of books. There’s an Oracle mini in the works that I think will run more or less parallel with Battle for the Cowl.

    Comment by HitTheTargets — December 8, 2008 @ 12:41 pm

  5. It is hard to believe the cancellations of the Batbooks are anything but a promotion for the upcoming stories. If the theories about Bruce returning to be Batman for Morrison’s next run on the book are true, we’ll probably have Nightwing back by the end of next year.

    Comment by burt — December 8, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

  6. But isn’t Nightwing going to be the new star (with Flamebird) of Action Comics, written by Rucka? Sure it’s the Kryptonian version and not the Grayson, but that makes me wonder about how long it will be before Dick Grayson gets a solo title again.

    Comment by Garrie — December 9, 2008 @ 12:14 pm

  7. Totally thought this was going to be about Blog@Newsarama.

    Comment by Squashua — December 10, 2008 @ 11:12 am

  8. Well, I have loved the Batman run and have loved Nightwing. Birds Of Prey — painful. The latest issues was horrible. The comic lost focus. It was the epic battle between Barbra and the Joker. I’ve been waiting years for that. It was handled as a side story — terrible.
    I want Bruce Wayne back. I miss the character.

    Comment by dave Fernandes — December 10, 2008 @ 12:04 pm

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