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Friday, October 26, 2018 

Marv Wolfman may have given a clue to the precursors of social justice advocacy

Last month, 13th Dimension ran an interview with veteran Marv Wolfman, where he revealed, interestingly enough, that he wasn't happy with the ending for Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC's idea of how to follow up on Marvel's Secret Wars, which, by sharp contrast, didn't emphasize killing off major or minor characters, allegedly to provide motivation for the successors. More to the point, what's eyebrow raising is just who DC was hoping would try out their books following the changes they intended to bring about:
That Monday, I went into Dick Giordano’s office and pitched it to them. It was under the title, History of the DC Universe then. Dick loved it, brought us in to Jenette Kahn, who was the publisher, and she loved it. DC’s sales at that point, except for the Teen Titans and the Legion of Super-Heroes, were very bad. … Marvel’s sales were huge, as was Titans, but DC’s sales (overall) were very poor because DC sort of still thought they were dealing with a kid audience and most of the people now were at least in their teenage years or early 20s by that point.

So, this would be something that would change the DC Universe, that would make it more interesting to the Marvel fans to come over and I spent a couple years working up the plot in detail to make sure that everything made sense. This was gonna be so large and so difficult to do that you couldn’t just make it up as you went along. Everything had to make sense from Day One and there had to be a reason why everything was there.

After the first issue came out, Alan Moore wrote a fan letter to me — personally so I didn’t publish it — but he’s the only person who ever got why the story begins with the death of the villain Earth DC had with Ultraman and Power Ring and a whole bunch of other characters. But they were the superheroes who were villains. But they were Superman; they were Batman; they were Green Lantern. They were just evil. Got rid of them in four pages and the reason was I had made a decision right from Day One that the real Superman, the real Batman, the real Wonder Woman—they would not appear in the book for five or six issues.

My feeling was that if the Marvel fans did not like DC, it’s probably because they tried Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman at the time and didn’t like the characters and they didn’t know all these other characters that DC had. They just made a decision based on what everybody knew. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman. So, they wouldn’t appear and I wanted to show how powerful the villain was because in four pages he got rid of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman instantly! Without even, really, a struggle! And that was purely psychological because I knew the fans would not piece that together but they’d suddenly realize, “This is a really powerful villain because he just destroyed Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman!” even if that wasn’t quite their names.
IMO, this was surely the mistake Wolfman and company made when they set out to develop Crisis - they were hoping to appeal to Marvel-exclusive fans and persuade them to try out DC's as well. But if the specific readers they speak of wouldn't read DC's output yesterday, there's almost no chance they'd read their ongoing books today or tomorrow. Much like how today, we see various companies trying to appeal to social justice advocates despite the forgone conclusion none will buy their products, if at all.

Still, Wolfman's right in a sense that there's certain alleged audience members out there who dislike fictional creations instead of how they're written, and today it's pretty obvious COIE failed long term in their goal of drawing in tons of Marvel readers. He likely didn't consider that these same alleged Marvelites didn't read indie products like Nexus, Badger or American Flagg either, and indeed, the chances are very high quite a few never did. Whether at the grocery store or the specialty shop, plenty of varied titles would surely have been stocked at many, noticeable to one and all, though I do realize there's some stores that would just buy what titles they thought sold well as compared to what didn't. Nevertheless, it's not like any DC hero who wasn't the Trinity was virtually invisible, not even Swamp Thing, which was well regarded when Moore wrote it in the mid-80s. Personally, I don't think all Marvelites of the time were that selfish and only willing to read Marvel products, yet there seemingly was a subset that dissed DC's products, giving a poor image to fandom in the process. Or, it could be Wolfman and company were taken for a ride, and got fooled big time by phony fans. If the alleged Marvel fans he speaks of didn't read DC before, why would they be in such a hurry now? It's not always as simple as it looks. Not to mention that all those "fans" who asked at conventions, whether in jest or not, if Barry Allen was coming back, obviously aren't reading the Flash en masse today.

What DC should've done was better their marketing and promotion to anybody who likes sci-fi adventures in general, show guts to advertise in more than just specialty publications and periodicals, and that's how even Marvel would've succeeded in reaching out to more audiences, along with countless other publishers. As I've been aware, by the 1990s, comics were being advertised in less and less venues, and periodicals like Wizard did little to help boost their reputation with their biased, sugarcoated and crude approach to news coverage.

In my opinion, the end goal of COIE faintly echoes the mentality seen today with all the social justice pandering. Either they're trying to talk a subset of fandom into reading something they never will, or, they're pandering to a phantom audience that doesn't even read Marvel, let alone indie products. If they want to sacrifice veteran characters like Barry Allen to serve as motivation for their successors like Wally West as Flash, that's one thing, but to do it out of a flawed goal to usher in a segment of the audience that's unlikely to stick around, if at all, is the wrong way to go, and it's sickening to think of all the jerks out there who shunned the Trinity, after all the hard work their original creators did to bring Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman about. On which note, if they read COIE because they thought the sight of seeing the Trinity being assassinated was cool and awesome, I find that even more atrocious, because it's not. I know it was only some otherworldly doppelgangers originally introduced by Gardner Fox in the mid-60s in the Justice League pages who got wiped out, but still...

And then of course, you now have mainstream superhero comics consumed by company wide crossovers, one of the biggest fallouts from their wobbly idea of how to bring in tons and tons of readers, which they obviously didn't, and only ensured there'd be less and less to come about. If company wide crossovers aren't abandoned altogether, they can't be surprised if less will want to buy their books.

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The Crisis series does seem to have succeeded in bringing a lot of Marvel fans to DC, generally increasing circulation. Part of it was that Marvel's top talent migrated to DC around this time, and part of it was that DC titles became more interesting and experimental, with more of a willingness to try new ideas and genres and formats.

"...its sickening to think of all the jerks out there who shunned the [Holy?] Trinity after all the hard work their original creators did...."
Makes it sound like we are reading the books out of duty.

IIUC, Crisis On Infinite Earths was at least in its planning stages before Secret Wars was published, and was intended as a major event to coincide with DC's 50th anniversary. So it was not just a "follow up on Secret Wars." If anything, it was Marvel that stole DC's thunder.

And, although I hated COIE, at least it really was a big event at the time, with lasting consequences throughout the DC universe. As opposed to Marvel's line-wide event, which hyped big changes, but then mostly restored the status quo before long.

Both series were the harbingers of what is now SOP: a line-wide Big Event crossover series, making changes and then deleting them a few months later. (e.g., a much-hyped Big Event killing off major characters, then another Big Event reviving them later the same year.)

It's not like Wolfman is entirely without faults, he's made some blunders in the past like Danny Chase.

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