Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Modern Post Modern – The Sequel.

This time it’s genres! Um, sort of.

So I don’t have much more to add to my tirade of last week other than this. When DC had its last big major universe crushing event it did so in a new manner. Shocking, yes, but true. Unlike Marel’s current event and previous DC events, the lead up to Infinite Crisis was split into genres rather than a build up in all the titles. Yes there was still a build up in all the titles, there always is and always will be but DC went beyond that and tried to approach its own universe not only through its characters and proven titles but through four corners of the DCU which more or less match up to genres.

This is not a new approach for a commercial print house. Any publisher markets books under different genres but the big two comic companies tend to shy away from this. The four lead up mini-series focused almost directly on them. There was the magic section, the space section, the spy thriller section (aka crappy Omacs) and the villainous or noir section. I don’t think these series are the paragons of genre storytelling but other than their lead up to Infinite Crisis they serve little other purpose than to show that these corners of the DCU exist, and they have writers who can handle it.

Now the end success of each mini-series is not what I’m questioning. If you want to make fun of their quality or value go right ahead it doesn’t insult me. What I find interesting is that it’s not so much about the characters but the genres here. DC staked its claim to this during a big crossover instead of letting it happen naturally. I think it was their attempt to see if they could divvy up the company into a genre publisher. Let’s face it they have westerns, war stories, sword and sorcery and any number of other genre fictions happening and doing well right now. This is growth in the right direction.

The focus isn’t on, you like hero X, buy more books where hero X shows up or is the star. Marvel has cornered the market on that and does it better than anyone else. I’m glad DC didn’t try to go toe-to-toe with Marvel on that. Last time I said Marvel focuses on one thing first and foremost (mostly art) like big poses or moments. What they also do very well is focus on characters. Look at their current event comics. There’s Annihilation which is their exploration of Marvel’s Sci-fi stock of characters. They don’t focus on different genres or story telling techniques found in sci-fi but on their own characters interacting and reacting to an overarching story. Their lead ups to the event all focus on individual characters instead of different corners of the bookshelf.

DC’s approach to this type of character based storytelling can be seen in their dollarama specials. The most recent was Brave New World. It’s one dollar and introduces their next generation of new and improved old fashioned characters. It’s quick and dirty so you can make up your own mind to invest your time and money in an unknown property. It can work or it can backfire horribly. How many great trailers ended up being terrible movies, and how many great movies have crap trailers? If you’re interested in the character and ready to invest the time and money into one of them, the Marvel approach works fine. If you want to know the story is good before you plug in, then you’re hoping the Marvel trade paperback program is cranking them out. Honestly I have no idea what the state of the tpb program is for any publisher since my buying habits are, well, sort of random.

I seem to recall Marvel having those introduction books for their crossover events. Can someone let me know if they did one for Annihilation and what the cost was? I’m hoping they did the four intros for a buck thing, I think it’s a solid idea that wins over a skeptical fanbase that is inherently skeptical of everything nowadays.

So this isn’t very coherent or anything but I just wanted to say that DC appears to be exploring genre storytelling a bit more overtly than Marvel. Marvel continues to focus on characters first and foremost and connecting its characters to a larger universe wide story. DC shows its universe and presents that first, event through its characters. DC shows a universe where a hard drinking, hard smoking chimp dressed like Sherlock Holmes lives down the street from The Creeper. Marvel shows us Nova and unmasked Spider-Man and forces them to occupy a shared space, or tries to make them take part in a shared universe because Wolverine shows up in both. Sorry that was a low blow.

I’m not saying DC doesn’t do characters as well as Marvel or that Marvel doesn’t do genre as well as DC. I’m seeing DC working on their foundations first, and once they are solid you can forget out them and move on to great stories that don’t really need to connect to anything else. Marvel is looking at looser story ideas that can simply involve all their characters and tell that larger story through all its characters.

Its subtle but it’s different. Both work.

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