Pipeline: DC's Television Synergy & Classic McFarlane Art

Tue, July 22nd, 2014 at 2:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist
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MARVEL:MOVIES :: DC:TELEVISION

It's possible -- and, in fact, likely -- that the recently announced directions for "Gotham Academy" and "Batgirl" are coincidental. The fact that they happened at the same time is a quirk of timing. Dumb luck.

On the other hand, it could be the beginning of DC's new direction. The books might be a tentative toe in the water towards a new angle for DC Comics, as a whole, to take.

DC is moving to Hollywood next year. Lock, stock, barrel and a ridiculous archive, I'm sure. As Marvel is guided these days in ways by its movie success (team make-ups, characters' appearances, resurrections, etc.), perhaps DC is about to take cues from its television success. Its popular shows are a cornerstone of programming on The CW now, bringing in an audience that's greater than just the typical comic book demographic. This might be based on anecdotal evidence, but it seems like those shows -- "Smallville," "Arrow," and even the excitement for the upcoming "Gotham" and "Flash" series -- have large audiences of women watching. The interest in the relationship aspects of the show -- perhaps pushed harder on TV where budgets are more limited than in the movies, where spectacle can be enough -- brings in a more diverse viewership.

How can DC-the-comics-publisher cash in on those viewers? Corporate synergy. The comics need to follow the TV shows.

If there's one thing The New 52 has taught us, it's that DC can't out-Marvel Marvel. The major changes to their characters aren't bringing in the publicity that they did in that first month, and the audience for the books seems to have shrunk, judging by market share and sales figures. The New 52 was a bold move, bringing an even darker edge to DC with an attempt to modernize many of the titles.

It doesn't stick as well as Marvel just throwing a new character into a familiar costume from a different background, though. DC went all-in on a gambit that their pride won't let them reverse, whereas Marvel can back away from any change they make fairly quickly by ending the storyline and resetting everything. And, given the nature of comics in the modern age, moving things back will give the book as big a sales boost as changing it up did in the first place.

Lesson to take from this: People don't ever like the change they get. They only like the idea of change. But they'll complain about it both ways, anyway. Don't believe me? Follow Tom Brevoort on Tumblr someday...

While Marvel times their events out to coincide with movie releases, DC might be moving towards aiming their line at the younger, hipper, more diverse fans they have from the TV shows. Give the Tumblr fans something to squee over. Give the Instagram fans choice panels to share. Go quirky. Go funny. Go in the direction that "those kids today" live. Give them selfies and duck faces and text messages and a more modern fashion sense. Restrain the bombast and spectacle, rely on the relationships and the character.

The new "Batgirl" and "Gotham Academy" are right up that alley.

They also might fit well with the current generation who've been raised on a steady diet of televised animated series from DC. Those "Teen Titans" fans have to graduate to something, right? I hope.

Is this the dry run for an upcoming shift in DC's direction? Not that DC would ever completely turn its back on the type of fan that lives in the Direct Market and shows up on Wednesdays, but those aren't all the comic readers that can be reached. Keep Snyder and Capullo on "Batman" for the old guard, but shift the rest of the line in different directions aimed at all sorts of demographics. Ads sell better to targeted demographics. And be sure to push this all hard on the usual social media and other internet angles. Get this material in everyone's faces so they know it exists. Then try to transfer them to print or paid digital materials.

Let's see if DC starts moving its line of comic titles to match the tenor and the expectations of the audience that eat up their television series. Will The Flash suddenly have a new costume that looks suspiciously like the TV show's version? Will there be a new "Constantine" book announced in San Diego to complement the upcoming TV series?

San Diego might show us if I'm anywhere close to being on track here. Place your bets!

PIPELINKS

  • Mark Evanier writes a great article about his first letter that saw print in a comic book letters column. Thirty years after Evanier, I had my stint as a letterhack, though I fared much better. I can't recall having any edits to my letters. A couple got combined once in a "Maxx" letters column, and one got hacked up a bit to save space in a Marvel letters column. But my negative letters never got turned into positive ones, or anything like what was happening in the earlier days. Maybe I was lucky? Maybe things changed in the industry? Maybe I chose the right letters columns? Or maybe I just wrote more positive letters? I don't know.

  • It sounds like IDW will be doing a "Corto Maltese" reprint the series the way it ought to be done: at full size and without the edits that the last horrific reprinting saw. Even more exciting is that this is the first in a line of European reprints they're planning. I hope we hear more about it from the show this week.

  • Tweet of the week from Cameron Stewart:

  • The new Batgirl costume inspired a wave of fan art last week. I couldn't help myself and took a swing at it, too:

  • More of my art can be found in this Elixir language programming tutorial. I drew the cute purple guy.

  • Buddy Scalera's "Comic Book School Newsletter" is a great occasional email with links to interesting tutorials and an interview with a working pro. The latest one came out a couple of weeks ago, featuring an interview with lettering workhorse, Rus Wooton. You can sign up for it here.
"THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" #312: "The Goblin War"

"The Green Goblin returns to protect his family from the Hobgoblin, while Inferno makes New York City even weirder than Austin, Texas."

Without a doubt, this is the best drawn issue of the "Amazing Spider-Man by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane Omnibus" so far. It is everything you want in a superhero book drawn by Todd McFarlane. You have Spider-Man slinging around the city with his webs. You have a dramatic cityscape or three. You have capes. Pointy-fingered hands. Monsters. More capes that are tattered and long and perfectly folded. Slouchy boots with lots of surface area and pointed upturned toes, like a Don Martin drawing made into a supervillain. Aerial fighting.

I can't get enough of it.

But before we lose track of the story: Harry Osborn is forced to become The Green Goblin again to protect his family from The Hobgoblin. From a different Spider-Man title at the time (thanks, footnotes!), we know that the Hobgoblin wanted to know "where it is" from Harry. To protect his wife and new son, Harry lied that "it" was at his office. With the time that bought him, he went up to the attic to pull down the Green Goblin costume that once threatened to drive him mad. There, a fight ensues.

There's a hidden message in this page. Look in the bottom left corner of the first panel, where "Phil" and "Laura" are spelled out on the rooftop. I wonder who they are?

It's a classic thin plot for a superhero comic: Throw in a MacGuffin, have a man protecting his family, with the slightest bit of rage over his wife and/or kid being threatened. With his back against the wall, Harry does the unthinkable and returns to his superpowered past self. Even crazier is the ending where -- spoiler warning -- Harry founds out the Hobgoblin was looking for something that no longer exists.

So his family is safe now, right? Nobody in their right mind would assume that, but Spider-Man and the Green Goblin do and walk away happy. Why? Because there aren't enough pages left in the issue, maybe?

The issue is just packed with cool images like this one. Great city backgrounds, great smoke, great characters. Can't go wrong.

The plot is thin because it's not the star of the issue. By this point, Michelinie clearly realized what was selling the series. That's McFarlane's art. Half this book is between the two Goblins. Why waste this chance? Throw some angst in there and give some sort of reason for this fight to happen. Making it personal jeopardy just makes it more intense. Give it a whiff of desperation and heroism and you have all the trappings of a roller coaster superhero comic.

Those fights crowd out the rest of the issue, but there's not much else going on there, either. The Lizard is set up to come to the fore next month. Mary Jane has a photo shoot that goes wrong due to Inferno. Mary Jane, as it turns out, is the one who's most affected by the vents of Inferno, thanks to some jewelry on a photoshoot she was doing coming alive. And attacking. But of course. And J. Jonah Jameson is obsessed with the entire city being the story right now and Peter should go shoot that.

David Michelinie puts "Inferno" into the background, for the most part, with Mary Jane's moment excepted. Everything else just happens to be going on while other more important things are keeping Spider-Man busy. Would it have been more fun for Spider-Man to have been directly involved with the events of Inferno? I don't know about that, though the idea of seeing McFarlane drawing the Silvestri-era X-Men is drool worthy. We'll have to settle for his "Spider-Man Team Up" covers that featured the mutants. (Good news: They're reprinted in the back of the Omnibus.)

More cool art, and an image that got reused for a t-shirt or something, as I recall.

The point of this issue, though, is that half of it is filled with two similar flying dudes fighting it out over the city. Visually, it's awesome. McFarlane uses lots of different angles. He fills background with speedlines, but also tosses in a couple of high angle looks down the concrete canyons of Manhattan. The panel layouts are fairly restrained once the fight hits, but there's still some interesting overlapping going on, such as the little pumpkin bombs and the Hobgoblin's razor-bat things. He breaks the 180 degree rule once or twice, but you'll forgive it because it just looks cool.

As a reminder, these are scans from the original issues. The Omnibus reprint has been adjusted in its coloring, using bolder and brighter colors.

While there are one or two simpler panels during the civilian scenes, I don't see anything else in this issue that looks remotely rushed or simplified. Even Rick Parker does a good job when given the chance to shine with sound effects or special dialogue moments.

Felix Watch: He's right there on the opening splash page. Can't miss him in Harry Osborn's attic!

Next issue: Issue #313 is where Inferno runs completely off the rails for a few pages. Here's a preview:

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