“VLADIMIR Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! (Pause. Vehemently.) Let us do something, while we have the chance! …To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!….
VLADIMIR Well, shall we go?
ESTRAGON Yes, let’s go.
They do not move.”
-Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot
Beckett’s existentialist play Waiting for Godot, about two hapless chums waiting for a friend, God(ot), who never arrives, just as the audience waits haplessly for a meaning that fails to land squarely on our laps, is frustrating unless you embrace its absurdity. Maybe Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice is its own version of Waiting for Godot, two hapless chums waiting for a friend and savior to arrive. Maybe DC Comics seems poised in a similar status in which the words “existential” and “absurd” could be applied in hilariously different ways.
This Monday morning when I write this, after a weekend blitz of news, I sense that DC Comics is bursting at the seams with hopefulness, waiting to be loved, wishing to be saved.
I just wish it knew that it already is. The DC we love and hate is not likely to pop out of the phone booth unrecognizably transformed, and I’m here to say that’s alright with me.
This is my plea to DC Entertainment, that now is the time to rise up and live out its potential. But this is also my courageous consignment, my serenity prayer of acceptance, that the truth is, they aren’t going anywhere. And neither are we.
Good Friday Returns and Easter Rebirths
Batman V Superman has come and gone (I haven’t seen it yet), exploding onto the wider cultural landscape that doesn’t read comics anymore but pretty much thinks they’ve got them pegged. And at the same time, savvy to marketable moments, DC’s Trinity of Dan Didio, Jim Lee, and Geoff Johns ringleadered a WonderCon event announcing their new Rebirth line, hands-to-heart pledging that promise of all earnest superhero pitches, to keep the best of what you’ve always loved and to bring it all back.
This marketing tour-du-force, juxtaposing the BvS premiere with the WonderCon Rebirth announcements (check them out here!), tried to gather into one Easter weekend basket all the eggs of DC comics’ glories and hopes, past and future. In their media appearances, Zack Snyder and the Dawn of Justice cast seemed resolutely optimistic in the face of a critical lambasting, as though sheer box office enthusiasm could snap the neck of any skeptical bystanders or Zodlike naysayers wondering why men in tights should ever tempt an R-rating.
For its part, the DC Comics Rebirth announcement event (live-streamed on Youtube so lonely nerds like me could eagerly check off our Creative Team Ballot Cards like March Madness brackets or Oscars predictions) served to satisfy and annoy us all at the same time, judging by the response online. With bated breaths, we cover our eyes at the trainwrecks, yet we can’t resist peeking through with indelible hope… Please let this be good!
…And we feel so disappointed when it is not. It wasn’t the plunging Rotten Tomatoes ratings for a movie we already feared would veer too unmercifully bleak, too much Zack Snyder and not enough Scott Snyder, more Darwinian extinction than Darwyn Cookean exhilaration. It wasn’t the critics perched on Twitter and prepared to chew up the Rebirth editorial decisions (me), no matter how proven, how diverse, how established, how surprising their lineup of creators and characters, guffawing at this Has-Been or knitting brows at that Deviant Art darling. It wasn’t the curmudgeonly cultural commentators sounding the death knell for superheroes again. As if death could stop them!
For me, the empty feeling comes from seeing more similarities between superheroes in modern pop culture and the soulless optics and puppetry of political campaigns, or the creeping obsolescence and gadgetry of technological consumerism, rather than the inspiration of mythology or the illumination of literature.Continued below
That’s not because I’ve never been starry-eyed on a campaign trail (roughly nine years ago) or at a tech expo (*sigh*Pad Pro) but because the adrenal pleasures and furies they tap into have become utterly tapped out. I suspect that’s why Warner Brothers has leaned so heavily on the Dark Knight vision in their cinematic tentpoles, because cynical hope is a safer bet in a hard-nosed cultural fourth quarter than being caught with your aspirational pants down. Old Ben Batman, a Jeremy Ironic Alfred, a tech Lex Luthor who also founded Facebook, and a Superman as hapless as Jesus Christ Superstar are the only way to go when it’s 2016 and your foundation premise is already more decrepit than Eisenhower back when we were mortified by Reaganomics. In such environs, the sincerity of an S on your chest is… frighteningly earnest.
Which is why, some may disagree, but I gauge the majority of the comics-conscious world (that means you, dear Multiversity reader) to feel similar to me about the moment we actually see Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman tumble onto the screen, re-define resoluteness, and cut an unwavering blade through our self-doubt and civil warring. We can’t wait to think, this is unequivocally good.
No Shame in the Game? (An Old Man Rant)
My analysis of why some of DC’s endeavors feel so far away from what’s unequivocally good? I meekly suggest it’s a Sinestro-style fear of our own success.
As comic fans, we ought to know that we have arrived, that this is our time, that we are firmly lodged in the mainstream. It’s true, we have transcended our huddled cloisters of the nerd mentality, now that affable Bat-actors and cavalier Super-celebrities wave around our stapled comics contraband like talismans of legitimacy, now that Frank Miller himself gets red-carpet treatment (albeit with a short mic), and I can watch a Supergirl show with my wife with only a modicum of geeksplanations. It sometimes feels as if your homegirls or your biker gang found your action figures stash… and actually wanted to play with them!
But I, for one, still react with that reflexive fear that the entire edifice of credibility is going to come crashing around us any minute, like a Man of Steel Metropolis. I share the paranoid fear of the powerful, that they’re all going to stop loving what I love. Of course, that’s partly my own issue, the product of approaching my latter 30s, old enough to be modestly embarrassed by Batman and Robin, ashamed to know more about Earth-247, mylar bags, and Oa than 401k’s, mortgage amortization, and OSHA.
I suspect DC’s captains might share some of this fear, that they’re all going to stop loving what we love. I’m just seven years younger than Geoff Johns. And just seven more than that from Zack Snyder. (And I’m guessing, I earn a decimal of their income.) So I feel to some extent the huge weight of responsibility that the myths and stories we pass on to our children should have the same quasi-religious significance and magnificence, the same sacerdotal wisdom, as the ones I scrounged up hungrily in the libraries and bookstores of my cherished, misspent youth. Far be it from me that I should ever withhold from our children’s generation the wondrous discovery that Batman can speak to your inner Peter Pan, your inner Holden Caulfield, your inner James Dean, AND your inner Dirty Harry or Jeffrey Lebowski or Roger Murtaugh or whoever.
So as we painstakingly fabricate a gritty fictive Hell’s Kitchen in Daredevil, even while we sip lattes in the sunny Midtown West that has long replaced that fiction, perhaps some of us still operate instinctively out of that reflexive fear of not being taken seriously. If that’s indeed why Warner Brothers saw fit to green-light a Justice League universe full of fire but devoid of warmth, then I cop to being guilty of that fear. Please don’t flay us if the version of our supergods we fretfully put forward is the one we were least embarrassed by, the most cynically self-protective against the Cold War era charge that our hopefulness was all hype and hypocrisy, the Frank Miller literary Ishmael, wandering through our self-created wastelands of doubt and disillusionment.Continued below
Batfleck’s crow’s feet is our defense mechanism against the fear that our daughters will ridicule our Superfriends pajamas.
Godot and Gadot
I’m not here to justify a film not worth defending, nor to explain the endless tic of relaunching that maintains the rickety edifice of the comics direct market. Instead, my best response to the existential dread and cynicism at the center of some of DC’s absurd decisions is a little story of my Good Friday:
On its opening day, I didn’t bear witness to the Dawn of Justice. Instead, my wife and I brought our daughter to the San Francisco Children’s Creativity Museum. We spent over an hour in a stop-motion animation studio, dirtying our hands in sculptors clay for kids, fashioning wire-framed versions of Robin, Beast Boy, Raven, and Starfire, posing them in front of a rigged-up iMac and a webcam so my five year old could produce a fifteen second movie (I’d show you if I wasn’t so afraid of those WB/DC lawyers) of Raven and Starfire making friends with Robin and Beast Boy before they flew off to save someone. I swear, despite my comics nerdery, I did nothing to push my kid to embrace these caped heroes. Another kid at school lent her a Tiny Titans trade, she found out this version of Raven looked like her and had cool powers, and off she went, as rapt as any Wolfman-Perez devotee in November 1980.
My point is that, while Batman and Superman are over there kvetching about when, why, and how they will act heroically, and over here I bite my nails to see if Batman writer Tom King will seem like a jerk (he doesn’t) or Supergirl writer Steve Orlando will appear excited about his new gig (he does), my fears that our superhero flame will wither in the embers of our greenhouse-choked futures are proving totally unfounded. Our title tells us we’re waiting for Godot, but meanwhile Wonder Woman is the one to save us in Act Three.
Because we sense that while we were huffing and puffing like postmodern Bruce Wayne by the time we read Dark Knight Returns, while we were contemplating the quandaries of wielding and yielding power and the folly of human enterprise like Diogenes or Denny O’Neill, the kid brothers and young daughters we’re now responsible to, the ones we actually want to share our superhero hearts with, don’t feel any need for their guilt expunged or their wizened cynicism assuaged.
They want to be wide-eyed like a Patrick Gleason character or to vibrate with joy like a Carmine DiGiandomenico character, but they don’t have any predispositions about either Patrick Gleason or Carmine DiGiandomenico. They won’t be able to weigh in on whether Aquaman’s Rebirth merits the good name Green Lantern’s established, but they’re ready to be swept off their feet by a Grant Gustin-type breath of air, a flash of fun, if we can only deliver it to them in the mirth of a page flip.
That’s why they don’t need to be impressed, as I am unimpressed at places, with Rebirth. I recognize that Warner’s little brother DC Comics will perpetually and compulsively fidget and fulminate about their lineup to try to maintain market viability, especially as Disney/Marvel rattles its lightsabers and thwips around its Spider-Men. And I’m attentive to these stories and their creative origins, crises, and culminations because I believe they do matter.
But like Vladimir and Estragon in Beckett’s play, we have to watch these corporate fits and starts with a little perspective that all these cries that the skies are falling won’t change the condition that we are, unerringly, still always waiting for gods.
So whatever I feel about Zack Snyder, Scott Snyder, or Rob Schneider (that last one had nothing to do with anything), I will be here for the future of DC. So will my daughter, apparently. So will millions of kids who, BvS or not, will find their icons in Young Justice or Arrow or, let’s hope, Hope Larson and Rafael Albuquerque’s Batgirl. It may not happen in June sales figures, but DC superheroes will witness rebirth.Continued below
Anyone who has witnessed a birth knows how caked in muck and awkwardness an actual birth is, how choreographically unpleasing and sequentially stuttered. How unslick, like a car raised above a short-legged man’s head, like an over-angular black cape swinging on an improbable twine. It’s not the husksterism of a Stan or Jim Lee, not even the hipsterism of a Burnside or a Hellblazer, that will bring DC comics back from the dead. But something purer and simpler, mature enough to embrace being childlike.
It’s the gall of a nervy trained soldier, Amazonian or Israeli, fearless and fierce before doom. It’s the perfect reckless lines of a JRJR Batman colliding with the perfect reckless lines of an Afua Richardson Batman, generating new sparks with old fires. It’s the awe of a Shanghainese Superman, a Cyborg reanimated by imagination, a Titans team with teen-sized anxieties, and did you see that gorgeous Phil Jimenez Superwoman art?!?
Whatever the ultimate returns, DC continues to peddle hope and strength, whether better or worse for wear. We have every right and reason to be cynical about that.
Or we can choose to exhale in Wonder.