Op/Ed: Image Influence: How Indie Sensibility is Invading DC and Marvel Comics
Batgirl #35 Cover
CREDIT: DC Comics
The New 52 may have rebooted and redefined DC Comics’ core superhero line, but a group of creators and upcoming titles are doing something even more radical: shattering DC’s house style to pieces. Recently, DC announced the debut of two new Bat-books: Gotham Academy and Arkham Manor, both being helmed by the new generation of superstars. Yesterday, the internet erupted with praise for the new Batgirl team featuring indie favorite Babs Tarr, who in the past worked for BOOM! and Hasbro and is now making her big time debut. While in-continuity, the announcement of these new books breaks away from DC's usual fare of YA-oriented being strictly tied to their Johnny DC line. In turn, they’re offering something new for the teen crowd that might dismiss something like Tiny Titans too juvenile. And really? It's about time.
Since the company-wide relaunch with the New 52, fans have decried the 90's aesthetics and the presence of “grim and gritty” over “heroic and fun.” However, with these books coming out, DC seems to be cutting some slack on their current house style. That’s what these creators are teasing, especially with Tarr stating how she'd like to bring some "flirt, fun, and fashion" to Batgirl's world. Let’s face it, these are things Babs (the crime-fighting one) was in desperate need of. Outside of Ed Benes, I can't really tell you any other artists who worked on the title because they were primarily Benes clones, visually speaking – while capable, they weren’t doing much different from the other artists in the DCU. With DC showing faith in Tarr, it hopefully shows they're ready to branch out and give some of these titles some distinctive flair. Even her costume redesign looks to speak to a contemporary audience. It's as if Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher walked into DC and announced, "You know that new sound you're looking for? Well listen to this!" Enter Tarr nailing a monster rock guitar solo and dropping the mic, leaving some at DC with their jaws in awe. It just feels that fresh and revitalizing.
It's odd though, really, that DC Comics putting more traditionally “indie” talent on their mainstream titles is so shocking, when the digital team has been doing that for several years with digital-first anthologies like Legends of the Dark Knight, Adventures of Superman, and now Sensational Wonder Woman. What's even more interesting is that Marvel has seemed to have taking a shining to some of these creators and push them to the center stage. Tradd Moore is a good example here; bursting on the scene with the Luther Strode series over at Image almost four years ago, he did one Batman Legends of the Dark Knight story with Paul Tobin, but was soon elevated to his first ongoing on Ghost Rider at Marvel alongside cover work for Secret Avengers.
Speaking of Secret Avengers, the tone over at Marvel right now has also gone through significant changes. With titles like Superior Foes, Hawkeye, the aforementioned Secret Avengers, and the recently debuted Rocket Raccoon (which earned near-perfect marks across the board from Newsarama’s own Best Shots team), which are brilliantly-written, have a top notch art team, and are hailed as plain fun and accessible, the focus shifts from “keeping people who have read comics for 50 years interested” to instead “letting creators create,” which in turn opens things up to both readers new and old. It’s what smaller publishers and creator-owned imprints like Image Comics, Dark Horse, Valiant, and BOOM! have been preaching (and practicing) for years. Even the more "mature" books like Elektra and Black Widow are artistically driven; they almost seem like they should be stamped with an Image logo instead. This is a step in the right direction, as allowing more creativity should make for more varied and frankly better stories. There seems to be a trend of indie sensibilities invading the Big Two, giving decade-old characters a breath of fresh air, and I for one welcome our new quirky and visionary overlords.
Going back to Gotham Academy, another book that probably would not have made the original cut for the New 52, which is disappointing in a way. Something made for a youthful audience in mind not being at their disposal hurt DC and led to the criticism that the “New” 52 was just the same old in important ways. Even titles like Batgirl that featured a youth-centric cast and progressive story angles, nothing really separated it from the rest of the Batfamily visually. From what we've seen, Gotham Academy is definitely something DC doesn't already have in their repertoire, something, say, fans of Harry Potter or Marvel's new Ms. Marvel series can latch onto who might be hesitant to try a DC book otherwise. The art that's been shown so far is exciting, if only on the notion of it being so different and fun-looking.
The books that launched the New 52 were pretty much straight up capes, cowls, and grit. Three years later, it seems that DC is catching up to the "Tumblr generation" of comic readers with the hiring of artists like Tarr (whose punk Sailor Moon piece became a cosplay phenomenon, and now her Batgirl has already been the subject of fan art and cosplay planning posts across Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr) that look nothing like the rest of what DC has to offer right now. With YA-type submissions getting turned down by DC in the past (Dean Trippe's Lois Lane, Girl Reporter comes to mind), could they start accepting more down the line? Is this a start of something fresher to revitalize DC for a younger generation? Comics should be fun, but they should also evolve and the industry should prep itself for new readers every so often.