In the course of talking to comic creators this year, I started to think about their unique talents and what I think they would be best suited to. Inspired by all kinds of wonderful ideas I’ve seen online and heard from creators, I’ve put together my New 52. These are the 52 books I would publish if DC’s offerings were up to me and, as my friends and I have had a good time discussing them, I thought I would share them with you.

I tried to consider the actual feasibility of these titles, not only in the sense of immediate sales but in their ability to expand DC’s brand long-term. I also recognize that this is a dramatically simplified version of what DC actually has to do. As such, I made a couple of rules for myself. First, as I don’t have the same knowledge of the creators’ availability and timeliness as an actual editor, I decided that I would allow myself access to any writer currently working in comics, but that I could only assign a creator to one book. Second, I tried not to put a writer on the same book that they’ve already worked on, though some were moved to similar concepts or allowed to expand short work they’ve already done. Finally, while an actual relaunch might do well to include some new books, I limited myself to preexisting titles and IPs for this project.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, on why I’m right, why I clearly screwed up, who should be illustrating the series, etc. But, regardless, I hope you enjoy.

While he wasn’t originally one of their properties, Captain Marvel has carved out a special place at DC. I think we can do something to reflect that with his New Year’s 52 series.

 

SHAZAM! BY SHOLLY FISCH

It’s not hard to see why Captain Marvel was once the most popular superhero in the world. Similar enough to Superman to be sued for it, the Big Red Cheese was also a young boy (around the same age as his readership) with a semi-phenomenal nearly cosmically powerful protector, a sad backstory that never got in the way of his having awesome adventures, a host of wonderful friends and family, and a flippin’ tiger: a tiger who could talk! Who wouldn’t want to be Billy Batson?

Unfortunately DC was none too pleased with someone else beating them at their own game, hence the aforementioned lawsuit. But what DC taketh away it can also giveth and now that Fawcett Comics is long gone, the good Captain has become a beloved part of the DC Universe, starring in such gems as Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil, “Clash”, and Kingdom Come.

While Captain Marvel has had no shortage of fans and champions, he’s hovered just below the level of interest to support a long running series more or less since his reintroduction. While, as a fan, I would welcome a brilliant Captain Marvel reboot that managed to turn the character back into a tier one character, in the model of Superman or even Green Lantern, that’s not quite the direction I’ve chosen for this project.

In trying to connect to some element of what made the original Captain Marvel comics so popular, it occurred to me that the ability to provide wish fulfillment in a way beyond any character of his day was fairly important to Captain Marvel’s success. Many of the most interesting Captain Marvel stories of recent years have examined his duality, the mixture or separation (depending on what version you’re working with) of Captain Marvel and Billy Batson and the mingling of youth and adulthood therein. It seems only fitting that form should follow function in this regard and, thus, I’ve decided to present Shazam! as one of the New Year’s 52’s All-Ages titles.

All Ages comics are a risky proposition. The industry at large accepts two major principles about them. One: that they are financially unsustainable. And two: that they are of immense importance to the future of comics. Admittedly they hold the first one a bit closer, but these two conflicting ideas have held the industry in a kind of stalemate for a long, long time now.

I fully admit that a more experienced editor reading these articles may look at them for all of a second and say ‘that would never work’, but since I set the challenge before myself, I’m going to tell you my thought on how to make this book work. The first thing of note is that these New Year’s 52 titles would not be the full expression of DC as a publisher. DC currently publishes, and in this hypothetical world would continue to publish, several All-Ages comics, often listed as Rated E. The difference between this book and those would be that this one would count.

I think that one thing that hinders many All-Ages comics is that they’re often adaptations of television programs. I support that – Young Justice, for instance, was great and I love the idea that there’s more of that world for a fan to explore – but if you manage to get a kid into the comic store, there’s a degree to which they’re going to want the ‘real’ comics. And before you, not incorrectly, point out that those are real comics, I suspect that they feel don’t feel that way to many kids, who walk over to their little corner of the store and pick them up. Children are aspirational readers and some will always resent being marketed to separately. Likewise, adults are trained to distance themselves from childish things, decreasing the likelihood that they’ll pick up such a title themselves. We’d need to do a good job branding and advertising which books are appropriate for kids, but having a subline of in-continuity books that are appropriate for children seems like a gamble that could pay off in a big way.

Of course no company wants to hear that they’re taking a gamble, so we have to stack the deck a little. When I say All-Ages most people think ‘kids comics’, but that’s really not what I’m advocating for. While there is definitely a market for children’s comics and definitely an older reader base that’s willing to pick them up, what I’m talking about is taking the term ‘All-Ages’ back to what it logically should be. I want more books like Ms. Marvel.

Obviously we all feel that way for a lot of reasons, but what I mean is that Ms. Marvel is ostensibly written for teens and adults, but the only thing keeping it from younger readers is their reading level and the vocabulary used. I want to see an ongoing Shazam! title that’s accessible enough that you could hand it to anyone and they’d understand it but interesting enough that you could hand it to anyone and they’d enjoy it. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but I think Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil is an excellent example of how it can be done, with the same character no less. But that book is in the past now. I think getting Jeff Smith to come back and write more would be a great idea, but since he’s already written a full miniseries, I decided to invoke my rules and challenge myself to find someone else. It didn’t take that much doing.

One of the reasons I suspect things like this aren’t attempted more often is that it would put a lot of strain on the writer and editors. Figuring out what’s appropriate, making sure the stories retain value into the childhood-fearing teen years, finding ways to make the book feel connected to the larger universe without dangling the books for older readers in front of kids’ noses, it’s asking a lot. I think you’d need someone who really understands kids: what appeals to them, what goes over their heads, and how much more they can handle than you think. That’s why I picked Sholly Fisch.

Mr. Fisch is a developmental psychologist who works with content creators to make better children’s media. He worked on Sesame Street for a long time and, having fallen into writing some stories himself, currently writes a large percentage of DC’s rated E comics including both their Scooby Doo comics, Loony Toons, and Teen Titans Go! He also wrote the DC Superfriends series from a couple years back and All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold, as well as a number of comics for companies like Marvel and IDW. It’s hard to look at the Justice League letting a little girl in a wheelchair fly or a Crisis of Infinite Robins and not see that this man writes some lovely comics. But that still doesn’t cover the demographics between children and their parents, DC’s current focus.

Fisch’s Action Comics: Future’s End captures a lot about of what Superman is all about.

For that, we’ll have to turn to Action Comics. You see, when the New 52 hit, Grant Morrison hand-picked Fisch to write the back ups on his reinvention of Action Comics. Fisch supplied a number of surprisingly affecting shorts for the title, including one of the best looks at the pre-Clark John and Martha Kent I’ve ever read and a tale of the new 52 Krypto that will make burly men cry. Perhaps most interesting is his contribution to the ‘Future’s End: Five Years Later’ event (not a statement you’ll hear me make often). Fisch’s story hit the sweet spot of science fiction speculation, ethical inquiry, and superhero inspiration to encourage almost any reader to dream bigger than they are. It was a great mixture of the kind of stories he’s used to telling with the tone of the mainline DCnU. It’s not a perfect example of what I’d hope for in a Fisch-written Shazam! series, but it shows how much potential he has to write stories that those too immature to appreciate children’s fiction can get behind.

I would consider giving Fisch a co-writer, especially if his schedule demanded or he requested it, as he’s still relatively inexperienced at writing traditional superhero stories, most of his mainline work has been shorts or atypical one-shots, however I’m not sure that it will be necessary. While experience is an important thing, storytelling can always trump that.

Shazam!’s mythology is rich, Fisch has as much experience as anyone in these matters, and our culture is coming to a place where ‘kid lit’ is appreciated and accepted almost more than ever before, especially in comic shops. I think a new, strongly supported All-Ages Shazam! book could be wonderful. I chose this book and this writer because it answers two important desires of mine. I’d like to read this book and I’d like to give it to the kids I know, the cousins and students and friends.

Oh! But if we have to stop calling him Captain Marvel, we’d have to come up with something better than Shazam.

Tomorrow… 臥虎藏龍

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