J Michael Straczynski quits, what next for Superman and Wonder Woman?

Suffering Sappho, talk about faster than the proverbial speeding bullet …

8 March 2010: DC Comics announces that J Michael Straczynski is the new ongoing writer of Superman and Wonder Woman, aiming to bring them renewed popularity.

10 November 2010: DC lets us know that the writer generally known as JMS is stepping away from the titles after the bookshop success of last month’s Superman: Year One graphic novel – a second is being fast-tracked and DC want Straczynski re-teamed with artist Shane Davis as soon as possible.

Today’s announcement was unexpected, after just a handful of issues of Superman and Wonder Woman. Not that it came at all – Straczynski has some form where leaving books at short notice is concerned (Spider-Man, Thor. The Twelve). The only surprise is that he’s leaving quite so soon. 

Really, the move makes good business sense. DC has a rare mainstream hit in Superman: Earth One, and wants to get more product out there. Straczynski tells Bleeding Cool that a move to a couple of mini series/graphic novels a year will result in a 75% pay cut. Maybe initially, but I’m sure that as the creator of the massively successful TV franchise Babylon 5 he can afford to let his regular income drop while waiting for the graphic novels to become perennial sellers. That becomes more likely if he spends time on getting the scripts right. 

And he did say in March that while he was thrilled to be writing the two monthlies, then executive editor Dan DiDio had offered him the job writing ‘the first of potentially many Superman original graphic novels’. His hopes have become reality, and good luck to him and DC.

It’d be rich of me to express even vague annoyance at his speedy departure from Superman and Wonder Woman for a likely better-paying, higher-profile gig, given that his new directions for two of DC’s three most recognisable characters haven’t been to my taste (there’s a review or several to that effect on this very blog). I’m delighted at the news. Phil Hester is to write the ending to his story of a confused, hack-happy Wonder Woman, while Chris Roberson joins Superman for his gloomy walk across America. 

While both incoming writers will work from Straczynski’s notes and, he tells DC’s The Source blog, he’ll help out for ‘important story points’, we’re now informed that his runs were only meant to last 12 issues anyway (if anyone can say different, let me know; I was under the impression Straczynski’s tenure was open-ended). So one way or another, the Straczynski era for Superman and Wonder Woman is coming to an end.

As the new directions of the book haven’t been as warmly received as DC apparently expected, or translated into big sales, I can’t see them continuing without the publicity boost of full Straczynski scripts. I wouldn’t be surprised if Superman’s walk is, like the Earth One graphic novels, fast-tracked and the Man of Steel returned to Metropolis and more conventional stories within three months. The done-in-one tales of ‘Grounded’ allow for an abrupt ending.

The Wonder Woman ‘Odyssey’ saga will probably go on for the whole 12 issues, as it looks to be following a fully charted course. The biggest attention grabber of this story, which sees a younger Diana wandering through a world in which she isn’t yet a superhero, is the new costume. It procured an awful lot of publicity for DC and so is likely to be phased out slowly rather than taken away … but I’d wager that within three years we’ll have Diana back in the eagle bodice and star-spangled panties. And DC can publicise the heck out of it.

But before that, what? Should DC now be scrabbling around to bring in another big name writer? For various reasons, that hasn’t worked with Wonder Woman over the past five years (see TV writer Allan Heinberg, novelist Jodi Picoult and now Straczynski – all came and went, even taking publication delays into account, speedily). And while the Superman titles have tended to use big name comic writers (Kurt Busiek, James Robinson, both of whom produced nicely thought-out, enjoyable work), they get shuffled off when they don’t deliver the big sales, and plotlines are either speedily wrapped or left hanging.

So maybe it’s time for a third way. 

I say leave Superman and Wonder Woman in the hands of lesser-known names for two or three years – maybe Hester and Roberson, maybe someone else. I wouldn’t care if they were up and comers or old hands, just so long as they had plenty of ideas, a love of the characters and were allowed to build the readership over time, rather than being under pressure to get the Warner stock prices up. 

After all, the Superman and Wonder Woman comics aren’t going anywhere; DC will always have books with those titles on the stands, for historical, public relations and sentimental reasons. So why not look on them as loss leaders, treating them as places where the aim is simply to tell great stories, not change comics forever? And if a run becomes a big hit, bonus! Was anyone paying much attention to the New X-Men while Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and John Byrne were laying the foundations for decades of Marvel success? Did anyone expect artist Frank Miller to prove a knockout writer and take Daredevil monthly, and to the big screen?

So why not simply assign some enthusiastic creators, refrain from issuing press releases to the world’s media, and see what the talent can do? So far as writers are concerned, Hester and Roberson might be given a chance for helping DC out of a hole. Neither probably ever thought they’d get a shot at Wonder Woman or Superman, so let’s see what they can do when not joining the dots of someone else’s story. 

Sterling Gates, just off a wonderful Supergirl run, might fancy a crack at her cousin, and bring his partner in Kara, penciller Jamal Igle, along with him.  Karl Kesel, former Superman writer and author of a wonderful, unjustly ignored Daredevil run, has never – to my knowledge – written a Wonder Woman story … I can’t believe he hasn’t got a few Diana adventures in him.

Or turn her book over to Ben Caldwell, writer-artist of the Wonder Woman feature in Wednesday Comics – I found his illustrations too cramped in the half-page slots there, but his art looks fantastic when allowed to breathe, and it’s known that he has a few non-traditional ideas for the Amazing Amazon.

I’m sure you can come up with a few dozen names of your own for one book, the other, or both.

And then, when someone proves to be on fire, that’s when you release a media statement. I’m certainly sick of hearing about the Next Big Thing, only to find it’s the Next Quick Thing, gone and best forgotten. Let’s see creators earn their press releases, with passion and craft. Superman and Wonder Woman deserve no less.

18 thoughts on “J Michael Straczynski quits, what next for Superman and Wonder Woman?

  1. I agree that maybe they should go with an unknown on Superman. I wonder if Hester will want to continue WW after or if the agreement is just to script. I have to say that JMS's WW would have been better as a WW: Earth One. I don't really know what is best for WW.

    Then there is the topic of the JLA. Robinson got to move the Titans up because the Big 3 were out of the picture. Does this mean Kal and Diana will be back there soon?

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  2. You're likely spot-on … after all, James R has been allowed to have a stable JLA membership for at least two months.

    I'm convinced the current JMS Wondy is an adaptation of what he'd have done with a WW Earth One.

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  3. Agreed about leaving the books in the hands of some smaller-name creators for a bit. Most of my favorite Superman stories in the past several years have been from the people who weren't writing for some big smash-hit trade.

    I think it's kind of sad that both Superman and Wonder Woman have so few titles to their names right now. When you have only one or two books, any kind of stunt or experimental storytelling derails everything else that was coming before. Meanwhile, Batman's trucking along with three titles, allowing Grant Morrison to spend several years building one of the best runs in comic history, while Tony Daniel and Paul Dini tell more conventional stories. If Superman and Wonder Woman carried another title or two each, I think DC would feel a little more open to letting people do some longer-term work, because they'd still have a book or two for those big names to work on.

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  4. I'm with you, Mart, in the idea of letting the books sit in the hands of some less-well known creators. With the exception of a few British readers, no-one could've been obscure than Alan Moore on Swamp Thing, for example, and Bendis came entirely out the left-field of USM.

    But there's a great deal of corporate prestige attached to who writes what these days. It's not just bragging rights, or the presence of names which always drag an audience behind them. Editors need to show that they're in control of the product, need to show evidence of their “vision” and their long term plans. And Superman and Wonder Woman are such big properties; I'd find it hard to believe that making them as prominent a presence in the press and the market place isn't a given and a rather extreme pressure in the bi-coastal halls of DC comics. I'm absolutely happy to be proven wrong, but I very much doubt that the next few weeks won't see a scrambling of sorts to nail down some long-term contracts for some names the press and fans will chatter about; of course, the scramble to nail down every creator of any prestige to longterm contracts and specific projects means that most automatic-sales-generators are off of the table.

    Perhaps, given recent DC trends, the folks given the job after the JMS “notes” – boy that's going to sell! – have played out will be artists who may or may not be able to write. If I were a betting man, I'd suggest that's where the two franchises will go. Or perhaps Geoff Johns will be parachuted in as line-manager of sorts.

    Hey. I've an idea for how to make sense of that walk across America. In fact, so has pretty much everyone else who read that and thought “huh?”, this can only make sense IF ….

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  5. Paul Cornell.

    For either title or both. He's already in the Superman office writing the heck out of Action Comics, and I believe he stepped in on that at the last minute (wasn't Marc Guggenheim originally lined up?).

    Which raises another question – will this news mean a curtailed run for Lex Luthor's Action Comics? If so, that would be a shame; the one unexpected blessing of the JMS takeover has been in making Action Comics into a brilliant Lex-led title. I picked up Superman, Wonder Woman and Action with this relaunch but it's only Action – the one I was most dubious about – that's still with me.

    Going further afield (and with no real evidence to point to), I can see Jim McCann (Hawkeye & Mockingbird) doing a really good Wonder Woman run. Possibly a conflict of interest with his being Marvel's traffic or account manager, of course, but still…

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  6. Tom, I'd love to see Diana get a second title. I realise DC says the main book has to sell more first, but WW fans are a dedicated lot … they'd certainly makes a second book more of a hit than some of the elderly properties DC keeps buying.

    Ah Colin, I'd read your take. I'm not sure that the big bods at Warner would know a big name comics writer if they fell on 'em. But yeah, I see why the novelists and screenwriters keep coming in. (And if anyone is looking for a great blog to read, try Colin's Too Busy Thinking About My Comics!)

    Krusty, I may have read a recent comment by Paul Cornell incorrectly (I think it was a Twitter) but I took it as meaning he'd be writing Superman in Action soon … after #900, I'd guess. If I got that wrong, my apologies to Paul – I twittered my cheer at the news but didn't get a response.

    As for Jim McCann, I could see him having a decent crack – he'd certainly make the relationships interesting.

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  7. Aw, Mart, you’re very kind. It was just bad writing on my part to seem to be suggesting that I thought I should be writing Superman. Oh, dear, dear. I just meant that most of us will have come up with our own explanations of events in the JMS Superman run because the books themselves don’t make sense. Please order in the fanboy neutralisation squad if I ever suggest to you that I’ve a comic book epic in me, Mart.

    Oh, but Paul Cornell. Now, I’d love to see Paul Cornell writing Superman. Having sniffled at Human Nature just yesterday, I must admit to being a huge Mr Cornell fan.

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  8. I take it that now Superman will step up to a jog in his journey across America?

    As for Wondie, more and more I'm of the opinion that she should get several graphic novels a year instead of a monthly book. A graphic novel would allow her to have stories whose plot threads are actually tied up at some point, that have lively pacing, and whose internal continuity holds together, at least for the space of a graphic novel. A GN would allow the same creative staff to handle the entire story.

    If those GNs could be structured so their stories read like they were part of a linear timeline (like regular comics), so much the better.

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  9. You know, Carol, that might just work. I'd miss not having Diana every month, but we're not getting that now. If we got a great Wonder Woman story ever three months, with the non-WW months filled by other GNs, it could be wonderful.

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  10. I think getting creators, unknown or known, who have an understanding of the characters is key right now.

    There really hasn't been a Superman title since Johns left the book. And those issues were great.

    I thought Simone understood Diana but it felt like the Manazons story was forced on her.

    I don't want walks across America, new timelines, etc etc. I want good Superman and Wonder Woman stories.

    As for JMS, it is unbelievable that he would cause such an upheaval on both titles and then walk away in the middle. That is wrong.

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  11. I agree with Anj. I too want good solid WW and Superman stories, not another “bold new direction”. (Of course, with Wondie it would be great to have her appear at all, rather than this unlikable imposter that's taken over her book.)Maybe an unknown would be a good idea, but whoever he or she is, let them develop their ideas rather than having a company-wide crossover forced down their throats. (See Ms. Marvel for a textbook example of how that can ruin a book.)

    As for JMS, his walking away may ruin the sales of both books. I know a lot of new readers were buying the books only because his name was on them.

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  12. Anj, Sheldon, thanks for the comments – I've nothing to add, as I agree with you.

    I see the new DC solicitations mention appearances by versions of Silver Swan and Cheetah in February's WW#608 – immediately, I'm intrigued … it's at least recognisably sounding Diana fare.

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  13. Mart, Did you also notice that Superman meets the new Diana in the Feb-listed issue of Superman (JMS's first plot-only effort)? “And he's sure there's something familiar about her…” I think the listing said.

    So, has the classic WW been deleted from history? Was any of this established anywhere?

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  14. JMS off Wonder Woman…finally. Only four issues into this Oddysey [snicker] and Im already tired of his sulky, pouty Diana. Things must be bad for this book when even the resident bigots and homophobes on her CBR forum cant agree on what they hate most. Latest news is that the preplacement writer will continue JMSs unfinished trash-telling until 615…oh Joy. Not. At least Hester will try and imbue our lady with some semblance of integrity in his writing.
    Its reassuring OUR Diana [the REAL Diana] is still being used, KlownKrusty. She was in Donnas nightmare dream in the recent JLA and the classic WW can be seen in the DC Halloween special fighting Felix Faust and the Cheetah.

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