Wednesday, December 9, 2009

DC's Earth One Graphic Novels: Haven't I Been Asking For This All Along?

Or something similar.

Anyway, I never thought I'd type this sentence but: Way to go, DC! Finally, bookstore-type books without the accumulated baggage of seventy-plus years of continuity. There's Superman: Earth One with J. Michael Straczynski writing and Shane Davis drawing. I haven't read any of Straczynski's comic book work but I occasionally enjoyed Babylon 5 while eating frozen pizza, which gives you a horrifying glimpse into the sparse nightmare that was my life in the mid-1990s. Shane Davis? Never heard of him at all. And then there's Batman: Earth One with Geoff Johns scripting and Gary Frank doodling away. I'm fairly familiar with Johns and I'm quite the fan of Frank.

Not that I'm taking credit for this idea in any way, but I believe I frequently begged, cajoled and threatened suicide over just such a project. In fact, when I asked for something similar on my old blog two or three years ago, someone on Live Journal called me an idiot. Or a moron. I can't remember which. And now it seems DC is fulfilling my wish and I couldn't be happier.

Depending on how the creative teams execute this concept. As Noel Murray of the Onion A/V Club writes:

The last thing the genre needs are more drawn-out revisitations of old mythology. ("Oh look, Krypto's back. Again. And here's how Clark Kent met Lex Luthor. Again.") Enough with the nods and winks to the fans. Here's hoping that if this series is really aimed at new readers, it'll actually be new.

Yeah, no cutesy, nostalgic stuff. Just get on with telling rock-solid stories with these characters. No cross-overs, no comic booky nonsense. While I want them to avoid nostalgia, I hope they do clean, iconic versions of Superman and Batman without pandering to the kind of nihilistic "the world is a nasty, horrible place so we want nasty, horrible anti-heroes" of the kind we've been getting via All-Star Batman and Robin and even a lot of the regular monthly books. Don't try to compete with Watchmen and don't try to rewrite The Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year One.

Don't pre-suppose our interest in Supes or Bats or their supporting casts and use that as an excuse to shorthand the character development or get lazy with the writing. Just treat these books exactly like you would if you were writing prose novels.

The only thing I'm not thrilled about is that these are series rather than stand-alone graphic novels. I'd prefer they allow creative teams to do one-offs free of all constraints save those imposed by real literary stylings. Especially free of the need to create a "tentpole" property and then fall into the same traps as the magazines have-- no real development of the protagonists, stories that never end and an ever more burdensome need to maintain universe-wide continuity as opposed to just story continuity.

Single books would be really revolutionary. Imagine how suspenseful a Batman story would be if you felt the Caped Crusader were actually in some kind of jeopardy because you had no idea if he would survive in the end.

Of course, no Frank Miller participation is immediately a good sign.

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