J Michael Straczynski quits, what next for Superman and Wonder Woman?
Suffering Sappho, talk about faster than the proverbial speeding bullet ...
8 March 2010: DC Comics announces that J Michael Straczynski is the new ongoing writer of Superman and Wonder Woman, aiming to bring them renewed popularity.
10 November 2010: DC lets us know that the writer generally known as JMS is stepping away from the titles after the bookshop success of last month's Superman: Year One graphic novel - a second is being fast-tracked and DC want Straczynski re-teamed with artist Shane Davis as soon as possible.
Today's announcement was unexpected, after just a handful of issues of Superman and Wonder Woman. Not that it came at all - Straczynski has some form where leaving books at short notice is concerned (Spider-Man, Thor. The Twelve). The only surprise is that he's leaving quite so soon.
Really, the move makes good business sense. DC has a rare mainstream hit in Superman: Earth One, and wants to get more product out there. Straczynski tells Bleeding Cool that a move to a couple of mini series/graphic novels a year will result in a 75% pay cut. Maybe initially, but I'm sure that as the creator of the massively successful TV franchise Babylon 5 he can afford to let his regular income drop while waiting for the graphic novels to become perennial sellers. That becomes more likely if he spends time on getting the scripts right.
And he did say in March that while he was thrilled to be writing the two monthlies, then executive editor Dan DiDio had offered him the job writing 'the first of potentially many Superman original graphic novels'. His hopes have become reality, and good luck to him and DC.
It'd be rich of me to express even vague annoyance at his speedy departure from Superman and Wonder Woman for a likely better-paying, higher-profile gig, given that his new directions for two of DC's three most recognisable characters haven't been to my taste (there's a review or several to that effect on this very blog). I'm delighted at the news. Phil Hester is to write the ending to his story of a confused, hack-happy Wonder Woman, while Chris Roberson joins Superman for his gloomy walk across America.
While both incoming writers will work from Straczynski's notes and, he tells DC's The Source blog, he'll help out for 'important story points', we're now informed that his runs were only meant to last 12 issues anyway (if anyone can say different, let me know; I was under the impression Straczynski's tenure was open-ended). So one way or another, the Straczynski era for Superman and Wonder Woman is coming to an end.
As the new directions of the book haven't been as warmly received as DC apparently expected, or translated into big sales, I can't see them continuing without the publicity boost of full Straczynski scripts. I wouldn't be surprised if Superman's walk is, like the Earth One graphic novels, fast-tracked and the Man of Steel returned to Metropolis and more conventional stories within three months. The done-in-one tales of 'Grounded' allow for an abrupt ending.
The Wonder Woman 'Odyssey' saga will probably go on for the whole 12 issues, as it looks to be following a fully charted course. The biggest attention grabber of this story, which sees a younger Diana wandering through a world in which she isn't yet a superhero, is the new costume. It procured an awful lot of publicity for DC and so is likely to be phased out slowly rather than taken away ... but I'd wager that within three years we'll have Diana back in the eagle bodice and star-spangled panties. And DC can publicise the heck out of it.
But before that, what? Should DC now be scrabbling around to bring in another big name writer? For various reasons, that hasn't worked with Wonder Woman over the past five years (see TV writer Allan Heinberg, novelist Jodi Picoult and now Straczynski - all came and went, even taking publication delaysinto account, speedily). And while the Superman titles have tended to use big name comic writers (Kurt Busiek, James Robinson, both of whom produced nicely thought-out, enjoyable work), they get shuffled off when they don't deliver the big sales, and plotlines are either speedily wrapped or left hanging.
So maybe it's time for a third way.
I say leave Superman and Wonder Woman in the hands of lesser-known names for two or three years - maybe Hester and Roberson, maybe someone else. I wouldn't care if they were up and comers or old hands, just so long as they had plenty of ideas, a love of the characters and were allowed to build the readership over time, rather than being under pressure to get the Warner stock prices up.
After all, the Superman and Wonder Woman comics aren't going anywhere; DC will always have books with those titles on the stands, for historical, public relations and sentimental reasons. So why not look on them as loss leaders, treating them as places where the aim is simply to tell great stories, not change comics forever? And if a run becomes a big hit, bonus! Was anyone paying much attention to the New X-Men while Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and John Byrne were laying the foundations for decades of Marvel success? Did anyone expect artist Frank Miller to prove a knockout writer and take Daredevil monthly, and to the big screen?
So why not simply assign some enthusiastic creators, refrain from issuing press releases to the world's media, and see what the talent can do? So far as writers are concerned, Hester and Roberson might be given a chance for helping DC out of a hole. Neither probably ever thought they'd get a shot at Wonder Woman or Superman, so let's see what they can do when not joining the dots of someone else's story.
Sterling Gates, just off a wonderful Supergirl run, might fancy a crack at her cousin, and bring his partner in Kara, penciller Jamal Igle, along with him. Karl Kesel, former Superman writer and author of a wonderful, unjustly ignored Daredevil run, has never - to my knowledge - written a Wonder Woman story ... I can't believe he hasn't got a few Diana adventures in him.
Or turn her book over to Ben Caldwell, writer-artist of the Wonder Woman feature in Wednesday Comics - I found his illustrations too cramped in the half-page slots there, but his art looks fantastic when allowed to breathe, and it's known that he has a few non-traditional ideas for the Amazing Amazon.
I'm sure you can come up with a few dozen names of your own for one book, the other, or both.
And then, when someone proves to be on fire, that's when you release a media statement. I'm certainly sick of hearing about the Next Big Thing, only to find it's the Next Quick Thing, gone and best forgotten. Let's see creators earn their press releases, with passion and craft. Superman and Wonder Woman deserve no less.