Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Not so thankful to loyal readers

Legion of Super-Heroes No. 50 (DC)
Writer – Justin Thyme; Penciller – Ramon Bachs; Inker - John Livesay
Written by Jim Shooter; Art and cover by Francis Manapul and Livesay. It's the final issue! The climactic conclusion of the Universal Annihilation War is here and every Legionnaire, every reservist and even the United Planets' Young Heroes battle to save existence. Also featuring the return of Cosmic Boy, the death of a longtime Legionnaire and a gorgeous wraparound cover!
As you may have noticed in the solicitation for this issue, it was supposed to have been written by Jim Shooter (who started writing this incarnation of the series with issue 37) and pencilled by Francis Manapul (who also started working on the series with issue 37). Also noted is the return of Cosmic Boy and the death of a Legionnaire. As evidenced by my identification of the creative team, it was not Jim Shooter who wrote this issue nor was it Francis Manapul who pencilled it. In addition to that, Cosmic Boy was nowhere to be seen in the issue, and a longtime Legionnaire did not die (at least certainly not on panel --- there was a war going on so it is possible some generic Legionnaire may have perished in the skirmish but it wasn’t anyone who was brought to the reader’s attention.
What does match the solicitation is that this issue contains the conclusion of the Universal Annihilation War. Unfortunately, it is a very rushed and uninspired conclusion. That isn’t surprising considering a completely different creative team had to pick up the story started by Shooter and bring it to a close. Yet while the Universal Annihilation War was ‘wrapped up’, there was another significant plot thread that was left completely dangling, and given that this is the final issue of this incarnation of the Legion of Super-Heroes, we’ll never get to see the resolution of the situation. What is even more unfortunate is the fact that it should have never come to this.
According to Rich Johnson in his weekly column Lying in the Gutters, Jim Shooter and Francis Manapul both chose to leave and not complete the final issue, each for their own individual reasons. I can only speculate as to Jim Shooter’s reason, but I would imagine it had a lot to do with his original story arc having been planned to run through issue 54 of the series and then having to completely rework the entire thing when Dan Didio abruptly decided to cancel the series with issue 50. Shooter noted in an interview that he had planned to feature the wedding of Brainiac and Dream Girl in a two part story. With the sudden change in the number of issues remaining for the series, he had to completely abandon the wedding and wrap up what he could of the story in a single issue. In addition, he would have to tie up two different major plots (the Universal Annihilation War and the situation with Princess Projectra betraying the Legion) in four fewer issues. Obviously it became a mission of frustration and impossibility because only the Universal Annihilation War was concluded (the Princess Projectra plot wasn’t even touched on at all in the final issue).
I’m not what you would call a Jim Shooter fan in specific. I don’t have a dislike of his work, but he isn’t someone I would consider to be in my list of favorite comic writers either. Truth be told, I wasn’t very thrilled with the changes that were made in the direction of this title when he came aboard. There were character changes, some more drastic than others, and it was definitely not the same book that had been a big favorite of mine during the Waid and Kitson run. Even so, there were enough interesting plot elements in what Shooter was doing that I was convinced to stick around beyond just his first few issues. Even though it was different, it was entertaining enough to keep me around for the long haul. Of course, had I known at that time the title was in for a turbulent and shortened future, I would have left it along with Waid and Kitson.
On the surface, a reader might want to blame Jim Shooter for the way this final issue was presented, but he was definitely not at fault for the way it all played out. I can’t criticize him at all for walking away from it at the end. He was put in a very unenviable position. His work was severely compromised by Didio’s decision. One might say this sort of thing isn’t exactly uncommon – a creative team is given the news that their title is being cancelled and they have to wrap things up in a quick fashion. That is true, but generally when those things occur, a title is being cancelled because of poor sales. That wasn’t the overriding factor with this series. This particular series was cancelled out of what I consider sheer spite. Didio and Shooter butted heads numerous times over the course of Shooter’s time on the title. In fact, Didio actually fired him at one point. The firing was announced on several comic news web-sites. But then it was announced many days later that Shooter was back on the title. Sales on the title have been declining monthly since Mark Waid and Barry Kitson left the title (though in truth they had dropped off somewhat even prior to their leaving). When the announcement was made in October that Legion of Super-Heroes would be ending with issue 50, sales numbers were still reasonable. Estimated sales for September were just under 25K. October sales were just under 24K (you can find those figures and more here). So yes, the series was clearly shedding readers (though at 24K it was still above the usual cut line and doing better than a number of titles that have hung around for a good while with much lower numbers), but how much of that was due to reader uncertainty about the future of the title? The book had only recently undergone a creative team change (with Shooter and Manapul coming in) and a shift in direction. Then Shooter was announced as having been fired and then almost as quickly it was announced he was back. It wasn’t a secret that Didio and Shooter were fueding at that point, and given that Didio had already pulled the trigger once, readers couldn’t feel too comfortable about the long-term prospects of the book. So yes, it stands to reason that there might be more defections than usual. But again, this wouldn’t have occurred if Didio hadn’t ‘fired’ Shooter in the first place.
The fact is this horrendous final issue and lack of resolution on the Princess Projectra plot is the fault of Dan Didio. He could have allowed the book to continue on through the 54th issue and let Shooter complete the arc he had planned before pulling the plug. Instead, he chose to end the series with the 50th issue and cut the story short without any regard to whether the running plots could be adequately resolved. In essence, he shafted the dedicated readers. On the very final page of this issue (the DC Nation page) it says ‘We greatly appreciate the support of our loyal readers’. Really? I don’t feel appreciated. I feel like Dan Didio didn’t give a crap about the readers. If he did, he wouldn’t have cut the series to begin with. Even with that, he wouldn’t have allowed this issue to go out as it did (with a badly rushed and incomplete resolution and very disappointing art) and with nary an announcement to fans AND retailers about the change in creative teams. It isn’t as though this issue was pulled together in a week. DC knew well in advance of the shipping date that this issue wasn’t what was solicited. Yet they never said a thing about it (the original soliciation with the Shooter and Manapul credits is STILL listed on their web-site). And I’m supposed to believe they appreciate me as a reader? Had I known Shooter and Manapul had no involvement with this issue and that the Princess Projectra plot wasn’t going to be resolved, I would have never bought the issue in the first place. So no, I don’t feel at all appreciated. I don’t feel like a valued reader. I don’t feel like Dan Didio has any respect at all for the people who have been with this title since issue number 1. All I feel right now is ticked off and ripped off.

1 comment:

Amy Reads said...

Hello, Friend :)
The absence from blogging is Entirely Due to Work, and the fact that I have very little time to read comics any more, which is breaking my little Victorian heart. But I have resolved to be a better comics reader, and thus a better blogger for Lent. We shall see, no?
Thank you for checking in on me! Hope you are well.