Feature Article

DC Report Card 2017

Comics become king

DC made no shortage of promises to fans last year. Between the growing anxiety swirling around the release of the Wonder Woman film after her polarizing character debut in 2015's Batman vs. Superman and the launch of their new Rebirth line of comics, 2017 was the year for them to put their money where their proverbial mouth is. The pressure was on in a major way, not only to deliver the first ever mainstream female-focused superhero movie, but maintain the intense workload, price point, and quality standard they'd set for themselves back in 2016.

The bar was set pretty high. Were they able to deliver? Let's take a look back at some of the peaks and valleys of 2017 for DC Entertainment.

Film Franchises Get (A Little) Hopeful

2017 was a watershed year for the DCEU in some ways and a sticking point in others. The film franchises have had a tumultuous road to follow with no shortage of slack to pick up since 2013's Man of Steel--a rough ride that only got rougher with 2015's critically panned Batman vs. Superman and 2016's even more critically panned Suicide Squad.

But that's where the story begins to turn around. 2017 provided a surprise "rebirth" for the DCEU in the form of Wonder Woman, a film that dominated its opening month in the box office and garnered a massive amount of praise from both fans and critics alike, netting it a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Wonder Woman was a game changer and an impressive 180 from the tone and the mood of the DCEU's previous entries--but it wasn't exactly the magic bullet fans might have hoped for. Five months later, Justice League was released in theatres to a far less enthusiastic response. This makes sense, of course, considering Justice League had been in production long before Wonder Woman's release, but the team movie fizzled at the box office so intensely that fans began to question the future of the DCEU entirely.

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This concern couldn't come at a worse time: 2017 was filled to the brim with announcements of film projects from DC, including a Nightwing movie by Lego Batman director Chris McKay and confirmation (and casting announcements) of a Shazam feature, plus a release date for Aquaman. Vague confirmations that last year's announced projects of Gotham City Sirens and Harley Quinn were still happening also came rolling in.

At this point, it's anyone's guess as to whether or not Warner Bros. or DC Entertainment will take the right lessons from Justice League's failure or Wonder Woman's success, but, if nothing else, the future of the DCEU certainly looks busy, for better or worse.

DCTV Holds Steady

DC's fan favorite shared TV universe of CW shows Arrow, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, and The Flash earned specific notoriety this year with the success of the two-night, four-part crossover event Crisis On Earth X which was praised for its energy and heart by both critics and fans. The victory was punctuated by the dismissal of executive producer Andrew Kreisberg amid allegations of sexual harassment from cast and crew, the second culling of a high-profile harasser from a DC office this year (the first being Superman group-editor Eddie Berganza over on the comics side of the company).

This year also saw the announcement of a slate of new TV projects set to premiere next year: Black Lightning on the CW, as well as a Titans live action show, a third season of the animated classic Young Justice, and an original Harley Quinn cartoon all coming to an as-yet unnamed direct-to-consumer service DC also announced this year.

Not all of DC's TV efforts enjoyed the same success, however. NBC's Powerless, a workplace comedy set in the DC Universe, fizzled after its premier and was canceled after one short season.

Rebirth Finishes Strong

When Rebirth, the latest "era" in DC Comics, kicked off in 2016, there was a justifiable amount of pessimism in the air. No one was really sure exactly what the "not a reboot, not a relaunch" banner the company seemed to be flying under really meant, and confidence in the twice-a-month shipping deadline for tentpole books like Batman and Superman was low.

A lot has changed since then. We're closing out the second and quote-unquote final year of Rebirth and that pessimism has all but vaporized. Despite its slightly rocky start, Rebirth has proved to be DC's secret weapon, a slow and steady march towards a more hopeful and exciting future that fans can actually look forward to.

To cap off the year, DC announced that the Rebirth branding on their books would be replaced by new cover dressing and logo work, thus signaling the "end" of Rebirth--but that doesn't mean the spirit of the initiative is going anywhere. As far as we can tell through ongoing books solicited into 2018, the fire started by Rebirth is still burning, and the rebranding is just the next phase of things for the DCU. Twice monthly books are maintaining their twice monthly status and only two books have been pegged for cancellation: Superwoman and Blue Beetle. The rest of the line is pushing well into double digits on their issue counts; numbers that would have been virtually unheard of back in the days of the New 52.

In other words? The comics side of DC Entertainment had a refreshingly solid 2017.

Getting Cutthroat with the Competition

2017 was a massive year for DC in the realm of really upping the competitive ante between themselves and eternal rival Marvel. In April, DC announced a new comics line initiative originally titled "Dark Matter," later expanded on and rebranded to "The New Age Of DC Heroes" that was designed to be an artist-driven collaboration to bring new and reinvented characters into the post-Rebirth DC Universe.

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The New Age slate was--and continues to be--metered out, announced slowly and over time, but included some surprise returns to the DC creator stable, like former DC exclusive writer and artist Jeff Lemire, who had been working at Marvel for the past several years. More surprising yet, Lemire's New Age project was announced as The Terrifics, a four-person team made up of Mr. Terrific, Metamorpho, Plastic Man, and Phantom Girl--or, if you squint your eyes and tilt your head a little bit, a thinly veiled pastiche of Marvel's own long lost Fantastic Four, a team that's been out of publication over at Marvel since 2015. Shots fired.

Things only got more competitive from that point when long-time Marvel exclusive creator Brian Michael Bendis shockingly announced that he was switching teams and moving to work exclusively for DC this November. Bendis, having spent the last twenty years as one of Marvel's top tier creators, has yet to announce what projects he will be working on at DC, but leaves behind no less than four monthly ongoing books at Marvel in the transition.

Other Matters, In Brief

  • An as-yet unnamed direct-to-consumer digital platform was announced earlier in the year with the promise of original and classic content including comics, movies, and TV shows.

  • Comics superstar Grant Morrison announced he would be returning to DC to work on an event tie-in book called Batman: The Wild Hunt with Scott Snyder.

  • Long time Superman group editor Eddie Berganza was fired following an investigative piece on Buzzfeed detailing numerous sexual harassment accusations leveled at him over a period of close to ten years.

  • Controversy over the ethical implications of Watchmen's rights was re-ignited following the announcement of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's Doomsday Clock, a follow-up to 2016's DC Universe: Rebirth #1 set to blend the DCU with the Watchmen universe once and for all.

The Verdict

Despite the low points of the DCEU and the occasional controversy, DC spent the majority of 2017 with a strong forward momentum and a clear vision for the future. The publisher's high spirits have been made tangible in their newfound aggression toward the competition and willingness to experiment with new properties and ideas.

It may have taken them a while to get there, and they may have fumbled more than a few times along the way, but the goodwill sown by 2016's Rebirth is starting to blossom across the board. There's still plenty of slack to be picked up; it will be awhile before the comics really find a balance between the "newness" of Rebirth and the size and scale of the classic continuity, and the DCEU will likely be dwarfed by the MCU's shared universe juggernaut for years to come, but if things keep going the way they're going, DC's future looks bright.

The GoodThe Bad
Optimistic comics have set the stage for an optimistic fanbase.The DCEU still feels like fragmented parts of a disjointed whole.
Creative shake-ups have been a net positive for both page and screen.Controversies regarding employment of known harassers and the use of Watchmen rights have yet to be fully addressed
New lines, services, and projects kept things feeling fresh.
Rebirth's transition into the New Age of DC Heroes maintained the $2.99 price point and double shipping status of popular ongoing titles.
Wonder Woman's critical response and box office take were a major victory for female-led superhero films.
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