Now that I’ve said my piece regarding DC Comics’ universally-loathed, split-screen advertising strategy, and now that said advertising strategy seems to be over (at least for the time being) it’s a lot easier to reflect on the actual content being put out under the publisher’s new DC You banner.
What DC’s books arguably lacked in the wake of their New 52 reboot at the end of 2011, and what Marvel has become prodigious in nailing down, is a sense of here and now. Where an issue of Marvel titles like All-New Captain America, Daredevil or Ms. Marvel often feels like a specific response to the cultural discourse of the day DC’s titles as of late have had a certain timelessness to them.
DC’s New 52 titles often felt like reactions to themselves, insular examinations of the decades old history of their stable of characters. I adore Geoff Johns’ Justice League and Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman and have zero hesitation strongly recommending them to any prospective reader, but aside from modern storytelling sensibilities nothing about either book screams of the world outside of your window.
DC You aims to fix that and as of the start of the new line’s second month the publisher is right on target, telling stories that feel like they’re unfolding as you read them, rather than in some chronal literary vacuum. Not only has DC diversified their roster with books like Black Canary, Cyborg and Midnighter, they’ve started to tell stories that look outward into our world.
This timeliness is particularly prominent in books like Action Comics, Green Arrow and Batman, all of which have entered into a conversation about authority and the role of law enforcement.
The last story arc in New 52 Action Comics was a zombie yarn examining Superman’s ties to his hometown in Kansas. Conversely, in last week’s Action Comics #42 Superman is literally a barricade between an enraged public on the verge of rioting and a heavily armed police force wielding batons and riot shields. Artist Aaron Kuder concocts thrilling, captivating imagery that makes the 75 year old character feel like he was born in 2015. Writer Greg Pak examines both sides of a community on the brink, illustrating just how volatile and multifaceted a situation the encounters between authority and citizenry we see on the nightly news can be. By the end of the issue my stomach hurt.
The last I read of Green Arrow was Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s fantastic run, which concluded last September and saw Oliver Queen trotting the globe to uncover the mysteries of The Outsiders, an age-old organization comprised of clans with ideologies surrounding various primitive weapons. An awesome adventure story, but one that again relies on interaction with the fictional world and mythology of the title character, rather than the world we the readers occupy. Now, under the stewardship of writer Ben Percy and artist Patrick Zircher, Oliver Queen is going up against racial profiling drones that are specifically targeting African American and low-income citizens. Worse still, Oliver has found out that through his own disinterested approach to managing his company he’s inadvertently supported the development and deployment of the drones and their systematic discrimination. So while a mysterious, white as the moon villain assaults a group of peaceful protestors Oliver grapples with the fact that he has unknowingly helped prop up a system that actively disenfranchises whole segments of his community. Green Arrow has gone from taking on the spear clan and Count Vertigo to battling white privilege and institutionalized oppression.
Even Batman, a book that has managed to often enough buck the New 52’s insular nature with threads exploring mental illness and modern cultural fears, has taken a further step into our world in its questioning of authority. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s latest arc, Superheavy, explores law enforcement and its relationship with citizens via a Batman who works inside the law enforcement system. Yesterday’s Batman #42 saw the new Dark Knight admit that there are segments of Gotham in the lowest economical bracket that are time and time again failed by the system that is supposed to protect and support them, acknowledge the injustice of that disparity and actively try to fix it.
The writers and artists at DC have spent the decade putting out some truly extraordinary books that will no doubt be remembered for years to come for their literary prowess and craftsmanship. But with stories like the ones now being told in Action Comics, Green Arrow and Batman, DC is also releasing material that readers will be able to return to as a window into the cultural landscape of 2015, much the way Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns can provide some insight into the cultural climate of 1986. The DC You banner is becoming synonymous with stories that are specifically not timeless. And that’s a good thing.