From 2009 to 2015, Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman collaborated on year-in-review posts centered around DC and Marvel. Circumstances kept them apart for a while; but it turns out that being stuck in your house for months on end can also help you reconnect. Therefore, Smash Pages proudly presents the return of an annual tradition, as Tom & Carla lock down 2020!
[This conversation has been edited from an extended Slack chat that occurred in December.]
Carla: Okay, so main topics for the year I see right up front are production (company decisions, strategies, etc), story (what’s actually happening in the comics) and media (TV and movie stuff).
Anything else this doesn’t cover? What’s the most important of these do you think?
Tom: I would say the production side of things – shutting down Diamond for six weeks, plus all the DC layoffs and cancellations, and DC changing distributors twice (or at least 1 1/2 times). Didn’t Marvel have some cancellations as well? Feels like Marvel had a low-key year event-wise, although it went from Empyre to X Of Swords to King In Black.
What’s to discuss in terms of media? No Marvel movies, the end of the Agents of SHIELD show, Wonder Woman 1984 moved to streaming (basically), shakeups in the DC CW shows. Lots of behind-the-scenes stuff but not much on screen.
Oh! Dan DiDio left DC in February 2020! He took a lot of the 5G stuff with him, I think. So transitions all around in 2020.
Carla: Agreed, the production side of things for DC has been wild; if we set aside the capitalism, it could be described as a mid-life crisis. Broke up with everyone, got a new distribution system, met a new man in the online gaming world, tried on a bunch of fun outfits (Death Metal is just a phase).
Media has always been such a huge event for “comics” or at least the Big Two every year; this is of course the first year without a Marvel movie since Iron Man was released. Considering Endgame was the last big theater event (Spider-Man: Homecoming still feels tangential), I think missing a year feels pretty good. Like, we went out on a fairly satisfying big bang and can coast for a bit until … well, whatever happens, happens in blockbuster movies.
DC however had the terribly titled Birds of Prey, a Snyder Cut and The Batman announcements at least and, just in time for Christmas, Wonder Woman 1984 to keep their superheroes in the public eye. Do you think DC has maintained a lead in keeping in the general public’s perception via their media? As much as it would be nice if John and Jane Q. Public bought comics for their own sake, we both know that’s not true. You have to have mass media appeal…
Tom: To the extent that DC has a publicity advantage over Marvel in terms of movies, I would say that a) it’s new this year and b) it’s all the coverage of WW84 being moved. That, in turn, just reminds people that there’s a Wonder Woman movie waiting to be seen, along with Black Widow and No Time To Die. Plus, I think the general public may see all superhero movies as “Marvel movies.” I was listening to the Fake the Nation podcast when someone described the Trump cabinet as “the evil version of the Justice League” and the host said, “I don’t know that much about Marvel Comics.” That said, we’re starting to get some good early critical reaction to WW84 [this was before Christmas – TB], and we’ll definitely get more on its artistic merits as Dec. 25 approaches. The Snyder Cut is so much of a niche product that I doubt it will even register, except maybe in business analyses of how WB is spending on HBO Max.
Isn’t WandaVision supposed to be out early next year? Disney+ needs to take a cue from CBS All Access and have that seamless transition from one series to another, like Star Trek did with Lower Decks and Discovery. Maybe that’ll happen in time for WandaVision to lead into Falcon & Winter Soldier, or Hawkeye, or whatever.
Carla: And that’s what makes the Snyder Cut thing so important to comic fandom at large! Director’s Cuts of movie are for nerds, by which I mean hardcore fans or movie snobs or more increasingly both. Twenty, maybe 10 years ago, a niche market clamoring for something that didn’t even exist would be a laughable dream, but someone desperate for HBO Max subscribers gave Zack Snyder a yachtload of cash to do just that! That’s how much the Justice League as a property means to the company. That’s a lot of push for DC Comics to have on multimedia.
WandaVision is indeed slated for Jan. 15, along with a host of other shows you mentioned, but I feel they are more “Prelude to” movie events than anything important on their own. Fun to watch, they’ll be in the trade collection (DVD?), but sink your money into the big events, such as Marvel’s first slated movie to return to theaters… checks notes … Morbius. Yikes.
Marvel is kinda becoming the Q-Tip of superhero cinema, but there’s one thing you can’t take away from DC and that’s BATMAN. Why? Because EVERYTHING IS BATMAN. Detective Comics Comics really lived up to the name as anything huge coming to shelves or theaters was dependent on Gotham’s greatest detective.
Tom: That’s a good segue into Death Metal, the year’s “Yes All Batmen” blockbuster. Ever since it started I’ve hoped that it represents Scott Snyder, if not all of DC, engaging in a cleansing purge of every last bit of Bat-sploitation. For years DC looked at its superhero stable and asked itself, “How could they be more Batman?” That gave the world everything from Zack Snyder’s Superman (which had Christopher Nolan and David Goyer as producers) to Geoff Johns’ Barry Allen (dad framed for murdering mom) and even Grant Morrison’s Damian Wayne (a Robin more hardcore than either his dad or Dick Grayson). Now that Death Metal has spewed forth multitudes of malevolent Dark Multiversal mash-ups, maybe that’ll make DC think twice about, say, making the Atom more edgy. I mean, I tend to be optimistic about DC’s opportunities in the wake of these kinds of reboots, and often end up disappointed. Still, if you can’t be optimistic about 2021, when can you?
Carla: (nice alliteration, man)
Considering 2020 has been the year of radical change (awesome change? badical change? extreme change? What crazy ’90s term can we use?) at DC Comics, do you think the new year is going to bring yet more universe shifting, editorial jettisoning, take my ball and go home publishing, complete restructuring of everything? I would have thought that wishes for 2021 would have included things like “calm the heck down” or “maybe find a quiet status quo”…
Tom: Honestly, I don’t know what DC 2021 will look like. Death Metal‘s mantra has been “everything matters,” but a lot of “everything” is contradictory. On a macro level, I guess they’re setting up a new Multiverse big enough for all the old continuities, but don’t they still have to sort out the current continuity? The only thing I know for sure is that Wonder Woman now dates back to the ’40s and inspired the Justice Society.
That’s a reasonable tweak which accommodates people who love Gal Gadot’s World War I Diana and still separates the comics from the movies. If DC were really targeting us lifers, they’d relaunch the JSA on a revamped Roy Thomas-style Earth-Two — but I think that time has passed. Geoff Johns tried that in the wake of 52, while he was also relaunching the ’80s Legion of Super-Heroes in Action Comics; and as shocking as it may sound, the Geoff Johns era at DC may also have ended. (Gasp!) Bendis has the Legion now, and I don’t know who to predict for the JSA. Heck, I don’t know who will be setting the tone for DC next year. Every big Scott Snyder project seems to be his swan song, Tom King didn’t do himself any favors with Heroes in Crisis, and Bendis’ workload is decreasing all the time. It’s not necessarily bad, but the corporate superhero comics business doesn’t really thrive on uncertainty.
What do you think the House of Ideas will look like in 2021? Everything in good hands so far?
Carla: Isn’t it weird that “Oh man, who knows what the rules will be after this crossover mega event?” feels like such a quaint idea?
Marvel 2021 will be a juggernaut, and not just the new Fabian Nicieza title! As I write this, Disney+ just overloaded everyone’s brain with drops for streaming shows and movies and kitchen sinks, oh my. Marvel media took a bit of an L this year due to COVID, so the ever churning House of Ideas multimedia machine slowed to a halt in front of fans but apparently it’s been working overtime behind the scenes. Movies are still on track, sizzle reels popping for investors … I think the feared exhaustion after Endgame might have been a undue fear.
But oh yeah! They make comics too! Silly me …
Marvel Comics has done the very smart thing and played it cool for 2020, no “this changes EVERYTHING” this year aside from the continued revelations behind Hickman’s X-Men that started last year (crazy, right?). This has been a rather smart maneuver because the slow and steady course has given some comic fans more security; sure, we’ve had Empyre and King in Black out this year, but both series were pretty avoidable so far if they didn’t interest you. I’d say Marvel missed the “Gotta catch’em all” aspect of event crossovers this year.
However, this means you had to be satisfied with what you had; personally, Nick Spencer has worn out his welcome on Amazing Spider-Man this year, but if you want to read Spider-Man this is what you got. Shoring up books for easy reading is great and all, but we’ve been trained as fans to expect writing teams like the weather, changing with the seasons or unexpectedly.
Here’s a pondering question: is it worth trying to divine what will come next for the new year anymore? December was always when some event or another was delayed and whatever cataclysmic ending sure to shake the foundations of our very existence and comic books as a medium and this year…. I’m just not feeling it. Marvel ran silent, ran deep in 2020, and while I’m sure there are plans in the works in the mighty Marvel manner, right now it feels like the real world is weighing too heavily on us all right now to unravel the next multi-arc plotline. In a way, it’s kind of refreshing! Just knowing that every major book on the line right now is trying to shape their own worlds before knocking everything down and saying, “This time Kang changes everything!”
Is Future State a clear destination ahead or is it just another facet of the ever changing kaleidoscope of DC Comics?
Tom: I think Future State is a couple months’ worth of palate cleanser. However, considering that some of its creative teams will be sticking around afterwards, it may be more influential than we think. I honestly don’t know what DC’s cosmology will look like after Death Metal, but “kaleidoscope” is as good a word as any. Ironically, Bendis’ Legion of Super-Heroes lead-in was supposed to establish a consistent thousand-year timeline from now until the 31st Century. It incorporated all the alt-futures — OMAC, Kamandi, the Space Museum, Booster Gold, etc. — in contrast to the multiple-choice future to which DC seems to default.
But yeah, predicting the actual future gets harder and harder. Who had “DiDio leaves, then six weeks of lockdown” in the pool?
Carla: Right? Holy cats, DiDio survived for so long! Take that for good or ill as you please…
Also not sure it fits in with everything so far but HA HA YOU GOT STUCK WITH BENDIS ON JUSTICE LEAGUE!? BETTER GET READY TO LOVE PEOPLE EATING BREAKFAST AND NO ENDING TO YOUR PLOT EVENTS!
I had to put up with him for years on Avengers so I both had to gloat and commiserate.
Tom: You are not the first person to tell me what a chore Bendis is on a team book. He seems to be doing pretty well with Legion of Super-Heroes, but they’re not all-stars like the Leaguers (or Avengers). The new League lineup does have some folks with no solo titles, so I’m guessing they’ll get most of the breakfast orders.
Part of me is excited about DC putting out oversized issues of regular series, and stuffing them with multiple features, because it reminds me of the old Dollar Comics of my 1970s childhood. However, part of me is a little worried that DC is trimming its output too much. And there’s still a third part that’s like, “Actually I would get most of these anyway, and I may end up saving money while still buying 80% of the main superhero books.”
One nice thing about 2020 was being able to slow down and really enjoy a big stack of comics. During Diamond’s hiatus I caught up on a lot of ongoing series and re-read some old favorites. Under normal circumstances there’s such a flood of new material that it can be hard to give each week’s issues the attention they deserve – you just read ’em when you can and move on. I hate to sound like Captain Holistic, but I feel like I got more enjoyment out of comics in 2020, especially once they started up again.
That may be as good a place as any to put a bow on the past year. When it wasn’t just an endurance test, it was an opportunity to find your own fun. How about you?
Carla: 2020 was the year I learned to love again as well. Not comics themselves, per se, but enjoying being a comic fan. It’s a hard task to do in the cutthroat non-stop hype machine that is the Marvel Comics/Studios/TV/Floor Wax/Dessert Topping; every three months, there’s a movie to speculate about or a new event coming down the line that it’s hard to stop and just look around to see how far we’ve come. I too dove head first into the back issue bin and my own comic supply, but I also learned, to the best of my ability, what everyone else was into as well. I listened to impassioned creators talk plainly about their struggles in email newsletters, I hung out in a DC FanDome and laughed at their terrible music act with Twitter followers, contributed to a bunch of Kickstarters and charity T-shirts to meet new artists and writers, diversified my reading list to a degree on the recommendations of others, and started back up writing here on this very website. I even learned what a “Boostle” is.
It’s an incredible feeling to know that comic books are as mainstream as they are in the modern era, that it’s not only cool to know who Spider-Man is, but who Miles Morales is. This industry moves fast now, branching out into all sorts of things unheard of just 10 years ago. 2020, for all its horrifying faults and terror-inducing dread of what’s to come, forced us to leave the hype machine in ruins and look around at where all the hoopla had taken us. 2021 will most certainly start that hype machine up again, and we’ll all be back to marching forward into a new flurry of what’s to come, but everyone got a chance in the worst circumstances imaginable to stop and smell the back issues.