Last week J.H. Williams announced he and his Batwoman co-writer Haden Blackman are leaving the book due to repeated, last minute editorial changes to their stories – the final straw being a DC ban on the wedding of Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer, to which the creators had long been building.
The news prompted fan Rab Townsend to transform a beautiful piece of Williams art into this very succinct and on-point commentary, which I think is well worth sharing.
Funny if the truth of it wasn’t so frustrating.
Townsend also wrote an interesting essay making the case that, as Dan DiDio has since confirmed at Baltimore Comic-Con, DC’s about-face on the Batwoman wedding is actually about a company-wide stance against their characters getting married, rather than having anything to do with it being a gay wedding - though that is clearly an unfortunate piece of collateral damage, helping DC to look bigoted when in fact they’re just being creatively small-minded.
It’s a headscratching contradiction – and just another unsurprising reinforcement of how insular, mis-marketed and stultified commercial comics have become – that in an era when DC abandon the child audience to focus on adult readers, they simultaneously take off the table for their characters one of the most significant dreams and milestones in adult life.
Of course, DC are not the only ones guilty of this. Most notoriously Marvel erased the Spider marriage a few years ago. But DC’s line-wide rule against marriage is unprecedented.
In television it’s a truism that once a lead couple get together, their show usually dies – because the unresolved sexual tension (we call it “urst” in the trade) is immediately killed. But that’s because the identity of those shows is usually based around the “will they or won’t they?” sexual tension. In a story that is not driven by such tension (like, say, almost every book being published by Marvel and DC) that argument is a fallacy. It’s an excuse for lazy storytelling.
Because there’s no reason you can’t tell great stories about married characters. Just look at 3-time Eisner Award & 6-time Harvey Award winning, critical and commercial hit Saga, which seems to be struggling on just fine despite the fact Marko and Alana are married.
Dan DiDio says DC’s characters can’t be married because they “shouldn’t have happy personal lives” and they should “sacrifice their personal instincts”. He says the rule at DC is: “It’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives but it’s also just as equally important that they put it aside because they know what they are accomplishing as the hero takes precedence over everything else.”
But here’s the thing. These characters under the new rule are still going to have boyfriends and girlfriends and fall in and out of love. We’ve seen love interests in the New 52 books, and I assume this is what DiDio means when he says the characters should “try to establish personal lives”. So if they can have love and friendships which they have to juggle with their duties, and usually put second, why can’t any characters be doing the same with a marriage? That would just make their dilemma even bigger, and I don’t understand a creative world where you want to avoid more conflict for your characters. That’s just a recipe for boring stories.
Moreover, since the Batwoman news broke we’ve discovered that DC have been playing a sleight of hand trick with Aquaman in the New 52, presenting he and Mera as if they’re married (going so far as Aquaman referring to her as his “Queen”) but never actually saying they’re married. And in fact DC are now indicating it will soon be made clear that Aquaman and Mera are not married. Surprise guys!
But if DC can deliver stories in Aquaman about a relationship that is a marriage in everything but name, what’s the difference if they actually are married? Nothing.
In fact, banning marriage is a creative net loss. You have all the same stories you can still tell even if a character does tie the knot – stories of love, loss, sacrifice, betrayal – but you can no longer tell all those additional stories of how life changes once you make a permanent commitment to someone. Plus we all now know that, no matter where a love affair seems to be going, DC characters will never take that final step to marriage. Your characters didn’t just get less predictable, DC. They got more predictable.
But the biggest problem with having any sort of rule like this is that DC now have 52 books where every character is required to have exactly the same reaction to a major part of their lives. And sameness is a big problem in DC books in the New 52 era. It’s what drove me away. Too many books look the same, have plots structured in the same way, and characters who talk the same. And now the characters can all act the same too. Hurray.
This bland uniformity does not reflect emotional reality in any way. It reduces once beloved characters from people with differing views and hopes and fears, to two dimensional IP machines.
If you want to know why your books seem boring, if you want to know why readers don’t relate to your characters so deeply anymore, there’s a pretty good answer for you.