Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Okay, I kind of can’t believe I’m going to stick my neck out here and say this. (ahem) So here’s what I’m into lately: DC Comics’ audio books on tape. WAIT, WAIT, don’t go! Let me explain…

I’m as surprised as you are. But they’re pretty good! Seriously! Like so many things in the world of comics, I always feel like the people manning Warner Bros. just don’t quite seem to steer DC with the same killer business plan that the guys at Marvel have dreamed up. With DC, you get one good video game a year (lately). With Marvel? You get a legacy that extends back to the Commodore 64.

With DC you get script rewrites and production changeovers that doom projects to development hell. With Marvel you get an Avengers movie with Joss Whedon at the helm. Marvel will give you access to what can only be like a third of their entire comic LIBRARY online for something like ten bucks a month. DC: download individual issues. You get the drift. (Sidenote- DC animated work? Superb. Bruce Timm is the man. But I’ve said this before.)

With DC and Marvel scrambling to break in on new and interesting ways to hoist their product, we’ve had some interesting things come up these last few years. I do sort of dig Marvel’s motion comics. And part of what I dig about them is just that- they ARE Marvel comics. It isn’t some limited, forgettable online series that somebody cooked up that no one is going to ever reference in any comic on the rack for the rest of your life (or at least, not all the motion comics are). It really IS Astonishing X-Men, done animated movie style- with some voice-acting that isn’t TOO shabby and a few neat effects that bring the panels to life. It’s cool.

So how can DC follow suit and not be copycats? I mean, that’s the problem really: every time Marvel breaks into something like this, faster than fast, DC execs probably sit around scratching their heads, wondering how they can do the same thing only in a way that somehow distinguishes them from the competition. So? Audiobooks.

I’ve never really been into comic book novels, but I admit when done right, I see a certain appeal. Again this works best, for me, when the novel is an adaptation and retelling of an actual comic book story- I remember that the ‘Death and Return of Superman’ corresponding novel actually sold pretty well at the time. I mean it makes sense, right? You’ve got a bunch of people who see on the news that DC is going to kill off Superman.

They all run out and by the comic, hoping it’s going to be some massive collector’s item eighty years from now (alas, the supply and demand of comic books like this just aren’t what they used to be- Superman’s Death is hardly Amazing Fantasy #15 is it?). The thing is? The actual comic probably confused the hell out of these people. I mean at the time that Superman ‘died’, Lex was running around in a cloned body masquerading as his own son (complete with a whole set of hair), Supergirl was frickin’ alien (no not a Kryptonian- just don’t ask), and I’m sure the Eradicator and Mongul weren’t exactly the most well known superman characters around.

When done right a novel can give a story two things that I like. The first? Even campy, over-the-top comic book characters and plot lines can take a sort of adult sensibility when you read the exchanges in print, rather than in comic. There’s something about the pacing, the narration- it slows things down, makes you feel like things are progressing step by step rather than at a breakneck, four panel a page pace. It helps that authors tend to embellish a little bit too, providing their own take on what it might feel or be like to talk to or speak to the Batman or Wonder Woman, etc. Everything can seem a little more human somehow. No matter what absurd realms of science fiction we’re diving into.

The second? A novelization of a comic book story is practically an annotation of the story. Whereas it may be assumed that your average comic book reader is going to look at a panel, view such and such superhero, and immediately identify that character, their methods, and their motivations...authors tend to write under the assumption that the audience will not have a damn clue what, or who, they’re talking about unless they take the time to explain it. This can save countless hours of scouring the internet to understand how character A fits into the grand scheme of mega-crisis-crossover X and the like (…not that I’d do that. Ahem).

Now- novels filled with original content? I’m skeptical. Oh, I am skeptical. Partly because I have been burned bad. Marvel seemed (for once!) to take a wrong turn here in the mid nineties. I remember a slew of Spider-man and X-Men novels hitting the rack- all non-canonical, original stories. They were all pretty bad. BUT it paled in comparison to the day when strolling through Barnes and Noble brought the penultimate fan-fiction-ish indulgence of this era to my attention: I swear to GOD there is an X-MEN/ STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION CROSSOVER NOVEL. This EXISTS. Someone WROTE this. …words fail. I shutter to think what terrible, terrible literary atrocities lie within.

Anyway, DC audiobooks. They’re sort of like radio shows. With voice acting, and a few special effects thrown in here and there…and they aren’t bad! Seriously! It’s like listening to a TV show. And really, I mean- the sky is kind of the limit with these, aren’t they? There’s probably hardly much production cost. It’s doesn’t take hours of filming or animators toiling away to make. There isn’t a limit to the length that they can run, either- no preset number of episodes commissioned for a season. It’s like a book; it can be as long as it needs to be to tell a story.

Consequently, adapting lengthy (and I mean lengthy) and complex comic book crossovers is not out of the question by any means. On this note I’ve got to hand it Gregg Cox! It seems like he has painstakingly taken the time to adapt the entire DC universe ‘meta plot’ that has emerged over the last DECADE! I mean seriously this guy has written an adaptation to Infinite Crisis, 52, Countdown AND Final Crisis, which I can only suspect wasn’t exactly a walk through the park. I mean, this is really out there stuff we’re talking about, with Alexander Luthor and Superboy Prime running around, Mr. Mind and 52 parallel earths, the Anti-Life equation...

Okay, these big titles are the ones everyone buys every summer. But at their core, they are confusing as &%$#. Admit it half the time you don’t even know what the hell is going on! You just know that Blackest Night is the comic to go buy THAT summer. And the art is pretty. And some stuff blows up. But only the hardcore are really keeping score as to how the crises are forming and re-shaping the DC timeline. You can actually plug in and listen to everything that’s gone down these last few years, online, if you’re up for it. I swear, the production value isn’t bad at all.

I’m actually a big fan of hearing Final Crisis play out, sort of live. Don’t get me wrong, I think Morrison’s got style, but sometimes I think his ironic dialogue can actually belie the very thing he’s trying to invoke thematically. At its heart, Final Crisis is some scary &%$#, apocalyptic in nature. If you want, you can read it as the book of Revelations, done DC Universe style. The audio book really captures this I think. I don’t know if Cox is out there but if he’s up for any more of these, I would be dorking out if he took a pass at the Sinestro Corps War, Blackest Night and Brightest Day. And corresponding ‘radio dramas’ would be cool I think.