Monday, June 18, 2007

It's Not a Lie if You Believe It

(note: We hope to have a follow-up article later tonight and tomorrow discussing this topic with some noted comics creators. Stay tuned.)

When it is okay to lie? And, if not lie, how about engage in “Misdirection” and “Obfuscation?” Those are questions that comics fans should be asking themselves today in the wake of DC Comics announcing this past weekend that they had done some of those things regarding “The Flash.”

For those too busy with Fathers’ Day or the US Open to hear the news from Charlotte or Philadelphia, “The Flash” will be ending with issue 13 (shipping this week) and re-starting (again) with former “Flash” writer Mark Waid at the helm. Good news all around, right?

Well, it would be, except that DC Comics had already put out solicitations for issues 14 and 15, knowing that they would be cancelled, presumably as soon as they announced news about the book’s future this weekend at Heroes Con and Wizard World Philadelphia.

Okay, you say, comics companies have always played fast and loose with the solicitations, especially in this Era of Spoilers, when every Tom, Rich and Harry are trying to find out what the next crossover is going to be or who will die in this book or that book. Recently, Marvel did some of that with their Civil War and Fallen Son titles, but did they run a solicit for “Captain America” # 25 that lied about the ending?

It’s one thing to run no solicitation at all or just write “a surprise so shocking that we can’t say what will happen in this issue.” And that’s just what the solicits for “Flash” 14 and 15 say. Fourteen says “Fastest Man Alive's world changes forever!” and 15 says “Continuing the storyline so explosive we can't give anything away — and it's destined to be one of the most talked-about tales of 2007!” There’s nothing wrong with being vague, if those books were every going to come out, that is.

Admittedly, before this was announced, DC Comics had planned on making those issues returnable, provided retailers double their usual orders. But, since Waid’s first issue of “All-Flash” comes out in July and regular “Flash” series (back to the pre-reboot numbering) comes out in August, those issues are presumably going to be cancelled.

The bigger issue here would seem to be that current “Flash” writer Marc Guggenheim did a number of interviews when he took over the book and deliberately gave out false information about the future of the book, when he knew that he would only have a short tenure on the book. According to what DC head honcho Dan Didio said at Heroes Con this weekend, this plan has been in the works for over a year, which would predate Guggenheim’s entire run.

Maybe this is an inside baseball issue that would only concern people in the media, but there’s something very disheartening about an interview subject deliberately putting out false information. Play the “it’s only comics” card if you want, but that’s not really the point.

Didio apologized to fans for what they did, but that doesn’t really put the cat back in the bag. Many creators already have reservations about doing interviews about up-coming work, wanting things to be as spoiler-free as possible. And that’s completely understandable in this hyper-mediated world. But there now be a little tickle in the back of fans’ brains now, one that says “I hope this is true and not some fake-out.”

Popular culture critics love to talk about the similarities between superhero comics and professional wrestling – the gaudy costumes, the larger-than-life costumes, the knock-down brawls. It looks like we can add another to the list: those in control of the product willing to swerve the audience if it suits their needs. Wrestling is a business built on a lie. That is not something to which the comics industry should aspire.