Trouble with Comics, Guest Post: Kevin Pasquino Looks at Recent DC Comics Covers

Guest Post: Kevin Pasquino Looks at Recent DC Comics Covers

Sometimes I like to imagine that I’m a newcomer to the world of comic books. Sometimes I like to step back and try to look at the medium I love with new eyes. And whenever I do so I inevitably have to scratch my head and wonder if anyone who publishes comic books ever takes the time to examine what image they’re selling (and therefore sending) to the world.

And this becomes even more exasperating when DC Comics is publishing the adventures of a hero who is going to make his multi-million dollar debut on the big screen next year, because I would have thought that someone way high up the corporate ladder would say…

“Whoa, guys, are you really going to put out a cover that looks like that? How the hell are you expecting to sell that a year from now when the movie comes out? Don’t you want to have something on the shelf that people will enjoy reading and that they could share with other people? Y’know, like, maybe you guys could plan ahead and anticipate that there might be some interest in the character and the spin-offs and then maybe they could get interested in other books? I mean, is this really the best you guys can come up with? Seriously? Cuz has anyone looked at this crap?”

The character in question is Green Lantern.

Next summer he makes his big screen debut. And I’m sure that DC Comics and their corporate parent, the mega-corporation quaintly known as Warner Bros., are hoping that the film will be a huge hit and will inspire an amazing series of films and will perhaps boost the sales of the character’s adventures in mainstream bookstores. And if people enjoy Green Lantern then characters such as The Atom, Hawkman, Plastic Man and The Flash will begin to sound cool and interesting. And they will become major movie characters. And their success will inspire more movies. And so on. And so on.

Therefore I would think that it is important that Green Lantern be interesting, approachable and presentable. Corporately it would make sense because he’s going to be the poster boy for all of the great things that are to come. Because of the movie, Green Lantern becomes the flagship character for DC Comics in 2011.

This brings me to Exhibit A in The Case of Questionable Editorial Conduct: the cover to Green Lantern #57…

Carol Ferris, Green Lantern’s sometimes girl friend, is decked out in her Star Sapphire outfit and she appears to be the captive of some masked guy who is wearing some kind of shiny leather outfit. Background characters are also in chains, but none of them are at the feet of their captor and none of them have their basketball-sized breasts begging to fall out of their costume.

(I’m tempted to have my seven year old describe the cover. He’d probably say that the woman looks angry because she’s in chains and because she’s sitting on a cold floor wearing only a bathing suit and tall boots. I’d ask him if perhaps she looks both mad and excited. My son would then ask me how she could be both at the same time. I’d try to explain how sometimes people can be both angry and stimulated and there is a wonderful thing know as “make-up sex.”
I would then get in trouble with his mother for showing him the comic book.)

This isn’t to say that this is a horrible cover, but it certainly makes the series look like the tawdrier parts of a cheesy 1960s B-movie. It sort of looks like Barbarella but cheaper. It’s hardly the stuff of a modern, big budget summer action movie.

Moving on: just as CSI has its Miami and New York, and Law & Order has its SVU and LA, Green Lantern has its spin-offs as well. The most recent book to sprout under the Green Lantern umbrella is Emerald Warriors.

Once again, one would expect that a new spin-off would be very aware of the upcoming movie.  Interest in the main character should flow to the secondary books. All of these titles will be sitting side by side on a bookshelf display next summer.

This brings me to Exhibit B in The Mystery of Does Anyone Care What These Books Look Like: the cover to Emerald Warriors #2…

Guy Gardner, the man who could have been Green Lantern, now has his own series and the second issue has him pinned to the ground by some sort of super villain who is wearing tight leather. He seems to be doing his very best to push her away but he is being very, very, careful not to touch her breast as he’s doing so. She’s got a skeleton over her head. He looks angry. She is vomiting.

(Again, I imagine asking my son about the cover. He’d explain that he’s angry because he’s on the ground and it’s cold and she’s trying to choke him. He’d then ask me why she’s coughing up blood. I’d explain to him that she’s a Red Lantern. He’d ask if all of them puke blood. He’d ask why she has wings on her head. He’d ask why she’s wearing long boots. I wouldn’t have a good answer to any of his questions. I would then begin to explain the concept of “snowballing” and the education I got from watching Clerks but I would then think better of it and hold my tongue. Nevertheless, I still get in trouble with his mother.)

Like the first example, this isn’t an incredibly horrible cover because it at least gives some hint of conflict within the story. The blood-like vomit isn’t a great selling point, but there is the promise of some sort of sci-fi action contained within. But it would have been nice if the cover was something besides two characters wrestling. Perhaps some sense of cosmic adventure or a sci-fi setting would have been nice. Because, as is, this cover looks like it could take place in a very white gymnasium.

Which brings me to the final example: Exhibit C in The Secret of the Editors Who Don’t Care What It Looks Like Because Fanboys Will Buy It Anyway: the cover to Emerald Warriors #5…

To be blunt, this has simply got to be the worst superhero cover of the year. I look at it and wonder who would be enticed to purchase it. If someone has bought issues one through four, then I guess they’d buy it to ensure they haven’t missed an issue. But otherwise it’s worse than buying an issue of Playboy and reading it on a bus full of school children because at least then you could claim that you bought it for the articles and, look, there’s an interview with Philip Roth and short fiction by Tom Robbins. This cover, with the main character bleeding from his eyes and projectile vomiting towards something off-screen, is disgusting. It does not sell (or tell anything) about the comic. It is horrible beyond description.

(I imagine showing this book to my seven year old. He looks at me with confusion in his eyes. He starts crying. He has nightmares when he goes to bed. My wife asks what upset him, and, after I explain, she questions what sort of comic books I’m buying and then refuses to talk to me for a week.)

The only way I can possibly rationalize this cover is that it must have been some sort of dare. It’s as if all the editors where trying to see how far they could push it and were expecting for someone to step in and say, “You have got to be kidding. We can’t print this.” and they’d say “You’re right! April Fools! Here’s the real cover!” and someone would have to pay someone else five bucks because they lost the bet. It simply must be a joke that went too far.

Because if that’s not the case, with this issue of Emerald Warriors it’s obvious that DC simply does not care what is on any of their covers (let alone what’s on the cover of a book that will tie into a movie that will hopefully launch a mega-successful series of films and replace the soon-to-be disappearing Harry Potter series.)

And, to compare apples to apples, the covers for The Walking Dead -– a comic about zombies and the people threatened by them -– never feature zombies with their brains pouring out of their exploded skulls. There is a sense of humanity, menace and tragic loss in most of that series’ cover images. It’s as if the creators are aware that they have a zombie comic, but they don’t have to try to repulse their fans (and potential new readers) with lurid images.

It’s not that I expect comic books to be just for kids. But a comic book shouldn’t be something I’m embarrassed to be carrying. It shouldn’t make people cringe when they look at it. Or question what sort of person I am for reading it.

They say you can’t tell a book by its cover. But you can certainly tell whether a company has any interest in marketing to anyone other than a well-trained, whipped and obedient fanboy reader. DC obviously isn’t looking ahead to 2011 and the world-wide success of the Green Lantern movie. They are quite content playing in the disgusting little cesspool they’ve created.

Kevin Pasquino

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