Friday, 23 July 2010

Watchmen 2 - and they said Rorschach was crazy!

Have you ever worked in an environment where, every once in a while, your boss would come up with the most ridiculous idea ever, but - because he's the boss - everyone else had to pretend they thought it was really great? Yeah. I'm guessing that's how most of the staff at DC must be feeling right now.

There's no doubt that Jim Lee ranks among the best artists ever to work in the super hero genre but, let's be honest, some of his ideas since he became the Big Stilton at DC stink like ... well, stilton. Can you imagine how many jaws must have hit the floor when he announced his idea for a sequel to Watchmen? No, nor can I. The sound must have been masked by the simultaneous clunking of heads hitting desks.

Not that any of that matters, because you don't have to imagine. The following is a transcript of the meeting between Lee and a group of his story editors at which Big Jim proposed Watchmen 2. (Well, okay, it's not. But it must have gone something like this, I'm sure!)

Lee: You know why super hero comics aren't as well regarded as they once were?

Editor 1: Er - because they've been around for seventy years and most of our writers just aren't good enough to do anything more than re-hash old plot lines?

Editor 2: I don't think it's entirely the writers' fault. The commissioning editors are at least partly to blame, because they only know how to commission stories that do re-hash old plot lines.

Lee: Hmmm - interesting theories, both of you. What you seem to be saying is, there's something wrong with the stories themselves; that we need something new and vibrant; something that really takes the genre back to its basics; that re-examines what a super hero story should be and tries to make it relevant to today's readers.

Editor 1: Exactly. Like Alan Moore and Frank Miller did back in the Eighties. The industry needs another DKR or another Watchmen.

Lee: Another Watchmen? That's a brilliant idea! I can see it now ... Watchmen 2: Revenge of the Squid!

Editor 1: Ah, no ... I didn't mean -

Lee: This will revolutionise the industry! An entirely new adventure starring Rorschach -

Editor 2: Umm - Rorschach's dead.

Lee: What?

Editor 2: He died. At the end of Watchmen, he ...

Lee: He died?! What kind of a clueless writer kills off one of his main protagonists?

Editor 2: Well, in a way, that was kind of the point of -

Lee: I've got it! We can resurrect him! Fanboys love it when we resurrect dead characters! Nite Owl can take Rorschach's mask to his lab, extract a single ginger hair and take that to a Lazarus Pit!

Editor 1: A what?

Lee: A Lazarus Pit. Lots of characters have been brought back from the dead by using a Lazarus Pit.

Editor 1: Yeah. I know what a Lazarus Pit is. I just meant ... don't Lazarus Pits only exist in the DCU?

Lee: So? What are you trying to say? That Watchmen doesn't take place in the DCU?

Editor 1: Well ... yeah. That's kind of the point of -

Lee: Hey, you know what? Nevermind. This would be a great chance to bring it into the DCU. We could call it Watchmen 2: Crisis on a Not Quite Infinite But Still Pretty Large Number of Parallel and Alternative Earths!

Editor 2: Well, we could. But -

Lee: Okay, okay. Forget the Lazarus Pit. What about that big blue guy. Doctor Manhattan. He said something about wanting to create life, didn't he? Maybe the first life he creates could be Rorschach's! Wow - that is fantastic!

Editor 1: Ah ... isn't that a little ... you know. Out of character? I mean, at the end of Watchmen, Manhattan is supposed to have become so powerful and his vision so all-encompassing that he really struggles to appreciate the value of human life at all, let alone any one single life. Why would he choose to reanimate someone? Especially someone as warped as Rorschach?

Lee: Well ... hey, here's an idea. Supposing Rorschach was never killed in the first place?

Editor 1: What?

Lee: Big Blue can teleport, right? Supposing he just teleported Rorschach somewhere else and - at the same time - teleported a bucket of offal to where he was standing? Nite Owl only thinks Rorschach is dead.

Editor 1: But what about Ozymandias and his grand plan? Rorschach's death is necessary otherwise -

Lee: Jeez, I can't believe you guys are being so unimaginative! Okay, so Rorschach's dead. Here's another idea. What about ... a legacy hero?!

Editor 2: You mean, like a Rorschach 2?

Lee: Exactly! Nite Owl and Silk Spectre were getting it on in Watchmen, right? Well, what if they have a son and that son grows up wanting to be a super hero too? He could find Rorschach's mask among Dan's old belongings and ... well, his parents were both legacy characters, so they'd be delighted if -

Editor 1: I - I'm not really feeling it, Jim.

Lee: Mr Lee.

Editor 1: Sorry. Mr Lee. You see, if you mess around with Rorschach's character, he -

Lee: Okay, okay. You're not crazy about resurrecting Rorschach. I get that. Let's park it for now and come back to it later. Let's talk about the Comedian instead. What do you think about him?

Editor 2: Umm - he's dead.

Lee: He's what? You mean the damn fool writer killed him off at the end of the book, too?

Editor 2: Ah, no. At the beginning.

Lee: The beginning?

Editor 1: Yeah. The book opens with the death of the Comedian.

Lee: Jesus! What cheap, two-bit hack wrote this stuff?! Doesn't he know anything about writing for comics?! Hey, but you know what? We could let Death give all the characters a reprieve from death.

Editor 2: Death?

Lee: The character Death. From Sandman. She's going to be in the DCU from now on, right? So, as soon as the Watchmen's world is integrated, she can give a reprieve to Rorschach and the Comedian. It's perfect!

Editor 2: You want Death to be in Watchmen 2?

Lee: Absolutely. It all fits!

Editor 1: Look, I'm still not sold on this. The fact that two of the most popular characters are dead is obviously a big issue here, but it's about more than that.

Lee: Look, I know you think that, although I'm widely acknowledged as one of the best super hero artists alive today, my story ideas aren't always exactly top notch, but don't worry. I know what the fans' real concerns are and I'm determined to be very sensitive about how we deal with those.

Editor 1: You are?

Lee: Of course! We'll put some clothes on Doctor Manhattan and bam! Problem solved!

Editor 1: Clothes?

Lee: Sure. I'm thinking a short leather jacket with lots of straps and buckles; maybe even a pocket or two, and ... oh, I know - he could wear black leggings!

Editor 1: The problem isn't about leggings -

Lee: Of course it is! You can solve any problem with leggings!

Editor 1: No, the point I'm trying to make is that the reason Watchmen has become a classic is because it's a novel. Part of what makes it work is the fact that it has an ending. It sets out to make a point, progresses through a number of story twists and finally presents the reader with a conclusion. If you make a sequel, if you turn it into a continuing series, you don't just make an inferior follow-up, you weaken the ending of the original story and diminish that in the process.

Lee: Hmm - look I can see you're not convinced. Well, never let it be said I pushed through ideas even when everyone else was against them. I'll tell you what I'm prepared to do ... let's put it to a vote. If you all decide Watchmen 2 is the worst idea in comics history, then we won't do it, okay?

Editor 2: You mean that?

Lee: Absolutely. We'll scrap that and I'll greenlight DKR 3 instead!

Friday, 16 July 2010

Shades - five thousand years in the making!

If you've been reading this blog, you'll know by now that Shades is the graphic novel we've been working on for, oooh, simply ages! And, if you've been following Shades at any of the sites where it's been serialised, you'll also know that it's now finished. (Hooray!) This is a press release we've circulated to a number of comic news sites to spread the news!

Broken Voice Comics is pleased to announce that its graphic novel Shades is now complete and available to read online in its entirety, at the Broken Voice Comics website.

Written by David A J Berner and illustrated in full colour, Shades is a contemporary action/adventure fantasy, in which a small group of quasi-historical British heroes, struggle to find their sense of purpose in the modern world. The action takes place both in the physical and the spirit worlds as the story unfolds against a backdrop of five thousand years of British history.

“I’ve been working on Shades for around seven years now,” Berner told us. “We’ve had a great reaction to the individual instalments we’ve released online during that time, but this was always a graphic novel with the emphasis on the word “novel”. The story works on a number of levels and is therefore best appreciated when it’s read through from beginning to end in one sitting. Now readers are finally able to do that!”

Central to the story is retired tailor Stanley Miller. As he tries to repair his fractured relationship with his daughter, Miller is reluctantly drawn into a sequence of events that threatens to strike at the very soul of the nation. His allies in facing this threat will include the First Century warrior queen Boudicca, a WW2 fighter pilot and a prehistoric shaman.

It’s a very British collection of characters and, it seems, they’ve been responsible for much of the book’s appeal amongst its online fans. “Most of the characters are inevitably larger than life – part mythical and, in modern terms, even superheroic,” explains Berner. “My concern as the writer, therefore, was to make their individual personalities as credible as possible. I didn’t want them to be generic action heroes.”

The feedback from fans suggests that this approach has been appreciated. “Readers have said they’ve really been able to empathise and identify with the characters; that – even when the story is at its most fantastic – they still come across as real people. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the project’s artists have made them look pretty terrific too!”

Artwork on the first half of the book (up to and including Chapter 8) is by Harsho Mohan Chattoraj. Chapters 9 onwards were pencilled and inked by E.C. Nickel with colours by Muamal Khairi. “All the artists on Shades have done a brilliant job,” says Berner. “There can’t be many projects that require the artists to be equally proficient at drawing Spitfires engaged in aerial combat, prehistoric villages, cobbled Victorian streets and fantastical demon landscapes. But – whatever my scripts threw at them – these guys were always exceeding my expectations!”

So, now that it’s finished, is Shades ever going to appear in print? Berner says yes. “Some of our online fans have already expressed an interest in one, so we will be looking at ways to make that happen. Of course, given the very British nature of the story, we’d ideally like to find a UK publisher, but that remains to be seen.”

Shades is available to read online now at the Broken Voice Comics website.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Wonder Woman - wardrobe malfunction

Wonder Woman's redesigned costumeIt's an odd thing about Wonder Woman. It seems no one wants to buy her comics (sales continue to fall, despite several changes of writer), but tamper with who or what she is in order to make her more "modern", "relevant" or "relatable" and it stirs up a level of fan outrage wholly disproportionate to her sales figures.

The image on the left is DC's recent redesign for the Amazon princess. As I'm sure DC hoped it would, it's caused a storm in the Worldwide Wonderweb's teacup. The vast majority, it seems, are against the new costume with bloggers, twitterers and forumites queueing up to heap derision upon Jim Lee (who designed the new look), JM Straczynski (writer of the story arc in which it's being debuted) and Dan Didio (for letting it happen at all).

Straczynski has been singled out for particular scorn. This is partly because he is held largely responsible for many of the least popular changes visited upon Marvel's character roster and partly because his attempt to explain why the changes were made is so laughably flawed.

Whether you like the costume or loathe it, it's difficult to call it 21st Century (as Straczynski did), and fans have been quick to make comparisons with Black Canary, Rogue and even Madonna. Overall, the general feeling seems to be that it's just sooo 1990s! He also described it as being more "armoured" as befits a warrior. Really? A cropped leather jacket and a pair of spray-on leggings constitute armour? Maybe we should send some out to our tragically under-equipped troops in the Gulf.

The worst of Straczynski's arguments in defence of the redesign, however, are not simply flawed, they demonstrate that DC is still suffering from a fundamental failure to understand either the appeal of its own properties or its fanbase. The costume needed a redesign apparently because "what woman only wears one outfit for 70 years?" Wow - that wasn't patronising at all, was it? For all the talk about the costume's suitability for a warrior, it seems it was really about ensuring the princess had an outfit to match her new Jimmy Choo's.

Hawkgirl with new and improved (well, bare) midriff!No doubt the next redesigns will be for Superman and Batman. Baggy jeans and a hoody should ensure they look contemporary, and with all those pockets ... well, you wouldn't even need a utility belt.

DC has also tried to play the feminist card. By covering up her legs and wrapping a jacket around her (gasp!) bare shoulders, it believes Wonder Woman's new look should at least appeal to her female fans who, we're told, have been wondering how she could possibly fight without her "bits falling out". And maybe it will. At least to the more Puritanically prudish of them anyway. But will they actually be more likely to buy Wonder Woman comics as a result? I have my doubts and, if the internet reaction is anything to go by, the small numbers that do will be more than offset by the number of existing readers who are now prepared to drop the title.

The real problem with trying to pander to a specific lobby group in this way, however, is that not all women and not even all ardent feminists believe that women should be covered up like a Victorian table-leg. Sure, there are very vocal prudes in the various feminist and fangirl groups, just as there are loud-mouthed reactionaries in any men's organisation. But prudishness and women's rights are not synonymous. The swim-suited Wonder Woman has been a flag-waver for the cause of women's rights ever since her creation in the 1940s, and it's a little ironic that - as ordinary women have become more comfortable wearing increasingly little in real life - so DC should have come to the conclusion that its flagship super heroine might somehow appeal to those women by wearing more.

In fact, it's not ironic, it's hypocritical. Does anyone really believe that DC genuinely thinks its female characters should be more modestly dressed? Really? The same DC which continues to exploit the cleavage-baring peep-hole in Powergirl's costume? The same DC which has, in recent years, removed the midriff section from the perfectly adequate costumes of Supergirl, Hawkgirl and Huntress? Whatever reason DC may have had for wanting to redesign Wonder Woman, it certainly had nothing to do with a belief in modesty.

Wonder Woman as she was (and no doubt soon will be again!)And that, surely, is part of what's fuelling the distaste that so many fans feel towards this costume - the dishonesty with which it's been presented. It's been trumpeted as a fundamental redesign, an approach that simply begs for a knee-jerk fan reaction, when in fact you only need to read the small print in the interviews with Dan Didio and Straczynski to realise that this is only a temporary costume.

Yes, it's uninspired; yes, it looks dated; and - worst of all - no, it's not Wonder Woman. But that hardly matters. By the time Straczynski's current story arc comes to a close, everyone's favourite Amazon will be back pummelling bad guys in her iconic swim-suit, the arguments for a redesign conveniently brushed aside and her "bits" as securely contained as they ever were.

The dramatic announcement of the new costume is just a cynical marketing ploy, up there with the deaths of Batman and Superman and Batwoman's sexual orientation.

Whether sales of Wonder Woman comics will be up or down at the end of that story arc remains to be seen. One thing's for sure, though. The backlash against the redesign has been almost universal and, to overcome it, Straczynski's story is going to have to be pretty damn good. Well, more convincing than the flimsy explanations he's given for changing her appearance, anyway!