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If I Ran DC, part one: The Imprints - Showcase

By Michael David Sims
17 October 2007 — Exactly one year ago today I launched a four-part article entitled If I Ran Marvel. The idea for said article came from Mark Millar, who authored a similar article several years prior. Unlike his take on being publisher of DC, I aimed to focus on both companies: first Marvel, later DC. As it turns out, the DC portion of this "If I Ran..." series came much later than I ever expected, but here it is nonetheless.

Like last time, I'm going to start with the imprints before moving into the core DC Universe. However, here are several things to keep in mind, some of which I lifted from Millar's original article:
01. All books are monthly, unless otherwise noted.
02. Creators will be given a 12-month head start.
03. No writer can author more than four monthly comics at a time.*
04. No artist can illustrate more than one monthly and one mini at a time.*
05. No one will write and / or draw a comic they're currently working on.*
06. Exclusive contracts are void.
07. With but very few exceptions, no character can have more than one title.
* Creator-owned work excluded.

Despite its roots in the Golden Age, DC Comics has never been afraid to show its darker side. Both Superman and Wonder Woman have killed, Batman isn't prone to trust, spouses have been raped, heroes have been brutally beaten to death and so on. Under my control, that will stop in the proper DC Universe. Characters won't be sharing milk and cookies, but the rape and murder and mistrust stops. Now.

However, there are certain characters and certain corners of the DCU that won't fit that vision. Hence, the Showcase line of comics. Unlike Vertigo, these titles exist on the very fringe of the DCU, yet the characters will never cross into the light (and vise versa). DC can't afford to alienate readers who want mature superheroes, but at the same time they can't afford to have their icons running alongside hardcore killers. Showcase is the compromise.

Like the Vertigo line, comic books published under the Showcase banner will have sex, language, drugs and violence. Nothing is taboo. Punches won't be pulled (literally and figuratively). And no one is safe.

Writer: Andy Diggle
Artist: John Higgins
The general concept of Checkmate remains the same: humans and superhumans work together under a UN banner to ensure those with powers never get out of line. When they do, they're removed from the playing field — one way or another. However, the difference here is that this version of Checkmate isn't set now; it's set during the 1960s — during Vietnam, the Cold War and the "silver age of superheroes." Due to this fact, obscure and new heroes will take the places of Alan Scott, Mister Terrific, Amanda Waller, Sasha Bordeaux and so on. Attempting to reign in superheroes all while dealing with the Cold War and Vietnam is an intriguing concept, one which requires morally ambiguous characters — characters who could kill indiscriminately without staining their in-universe / modern counterparts would be needed. Andy Diggle is no stranger to characters of this ilk. His book, The Losers, saw a group of agents waging war on the CIA after a botched attempt on their lives. That right there is the very definition of "morally ambiguous characters." CIA operatives are not easy to write, not in a compelling manner, anyway. It's all too easy to write the cookie-cutter agent who's working for or against his government, but Diggle doesn't take the easy path. His characters many not be the nicest people in the world (which is what's needed here), but at least they're not caricatures of James Bond and suit-wearing spooks. John Higgins will be familiar to British readers or anyone who was buying Hellblazer between September 1998 and July 1999. The rest of you will have to trust me on this one. His thick lines are fluid and clean, but there's a clear Bernie Wrightson influence when they get down and dirty — and things will get "down and dirty" in Checkmate. The best part about Higgins' work is that it will convey the black-and-white attitude of the era, while hinting at shades of grey.

Etrigan: The Demon
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Stjepan Sejic
Six-issue limited series
Etrigan is one of those characters who only seems to work in the right hands. Anyone can write a Superman or Batman story, but it takes someone special to pen a book about an insufferable beast from the depths of Hell. Not only is Ennis a master at making bastard characters likeable (e.g. John Constantine, Tommy Monaghan, Cassidy), he's able to humanize the otherworldly: Preacher was a story about Heaven and Hell, but it was grounded by the fallible Jesse Custer. Jason Blood, Etrigan's bodily host, would be the grounding force in Etrigan: The Demon. Chances are you haven't seen Stjepan Sejic's artwork, which is a shame. As the artist behind Top Cow's First Born, Sejic has blown audiences away with his digital renderings. In First Born Stjepan Sejic was tasked with blending angels, demons, superpowered humans, mobsters, cops and normal people all into one cohesive universe, and he did it masterfully! There is no other artist right now that could handle Etrigan, Blood, Hell and the normal universe better than Sejic. Teamed with Ennis, we would surely have a new dynamic duo on our hands.

Gotham Underground
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Renee Montoya has gone undercover. So deep, her friends and colleagues believe her to be dead. Only a handful of cops know her whereabouts, and they're not talking. If she's to survive her trip to the darker side of Gotham City, she'll have to fuck, snort and kill anything put in front of her, all while attempting to expose the most powerful mob boss in Gotham. Turning a much loved character into a bastard all while making sure readers stay connected to her is a task right up Ed Brubaker's alley. In his creator-owned series, Criminal, no one is likeable — yet they're compelling. Humans aren't black and white creatures. We're filled with shades of grey, and Brubaker knows this. Hell, he excels at reminding us of this every month in Daredevil, Captain America, The Immortal Iron Fist and the previously mentioned Criminal. Gotham Underground would be no different in that regard, however, it would diverge from those other comics in this way: Brubaker wouldn't be penning a character who's seeking atonement for crimes she's already committed, he would be writing a book about a character seeking penance for crimes she must commit. What happens to that character when she becomes numb to the sex, drugs and murder? Examining the human condition, that's Brubaker's specialty. Sean Phillips, Brubaker's Criminal collaborator, does dark and gritty in a very real world sort of way. It isn't stylized like Eduardo Risso, Michael Avon Oeming, Marcelo Frusin or even R. M. Guιra. Phillips' artwork on Criminal is rooted deeply in our world. These characters we're reading about aren't limited to the page; thanks to his pencils and inks, they live and breathe and could bump into you around the corner — though you better pray they don't. That's exactly the world I'm looking for in Gotham Underground, a world in which one wrong turn here can lead you there.

Jonah Hex
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: various
Currently Jonah Hex is akin to an anthology series: the stories aren't told chronologically, the artists rotate and, for the most part, each issue is self-contained. This format allows DC to pocket issues for rainy days; if an artist falls behind on his deadline, the company can simply use another story in its place. Though the format wouldn't work for in-continuity superhero comic books, it works with a Western like Hex. Keen on this idea, the format would remain the same. Helming Jonah Hex would be Scalped writer Jason Aaron. No, not because he writes Native America characters so well (Scalped, Ripclaw: Pilot Season), because he can write dusty, violent tales that are anything but black and white. Aaron's characters aren't necessarily likeable, but they are compelling — no one wears a white hat, so to speak. Art chores, as mentioned above, would be handled by a rotating crew of artists who can deftly depict filth and depravity without going overboard: Mark Texeira, Doug Mahnke, R. M. Guιra, Jock, Sam Keith, Michael Lark and Lee Weeks are just some of the artists you'd see on Jonah Hex.

Lois Lane
Writer: Allan Heinberg
Artist: Terry and Rachel Dodson
Six-issue limited series
Lois Lane is as much an icon as Superman, yet too often she's seen as Superman's love interest / girlfriend / wife. Relegated to that role, her stance as the best journalist in the world has taken a backseat to her love for the Man of Steel. This series would change that. Set before Superman's first heroic act in the City of Tomorrow, Lois Lane follows, well, Lois Lane as she rises to the top of the journalistic food chain. Readers and DC editorial seem to forget that Lois Lane is an unscrupulous reporter who used to sleep with Lex Luthor. Lois Lane would remind us all of those facts in a Sex and the City kind of way — which is why SatC writer Allan Heinberg will lead this project. Say what you will about his inability to meet deadlines, he knows how to write strong, sexy female characters without going overboard. The same goes for Terry and Rachel Dodson, except replace "write" with "illustrate" and you get the idea. Their grasp on the female anatomy is perfect; women are real and curvy, not sticks with Supersized busts. Together they breathe life into characters through facial expressions, body language, sex appeal and overall design. Lois Lane needs to feel fast-paced, yet be emotionally charged. This creative team would hit it on all cylinders.

Red Hood
Writer: Judd Winick
Artist: Doug Mahnke
Jason Todd was never one for going easy on criminals. His approach to crime-fighting drove a wedge between himself (as Robin) and Batman, one that grew even wider after his resurrection. Calling himself Red Hood, Jason had a Punisher-like attitude towards crime: take no prisoners. However, recently his character has shifted away from that. No longer is he portrayed as a gun-packing vigilante, but rather as a slightly rougher Peter Parker — complete with lame jokes and goofy attitude. To correct this wrong, I would assign Judd Winick to write Todd's solo series: Red Hood. As the man who controversially brought Todd back from the grave, Winick seems to be the only writer with a handle on the character's attitude. He isn't happy. He will kill. He's pissed at Batman. His wants Joker dead. And despite his willingness to go against everything Batman taught him, Jason wants to clean up crime. His intentions are just. His actions, however, are covered with blood. Doug Mahnke would be brought on as the artist of this new series because he knows grim and gritty action, yet can capture very real human moments. It also helps that he was one of the artists on "Under the Hood" — the Winick-penned story that returned Jason Todd to the DC Universe. There Mahnke perfectly captured Todd's gruff, violent attitude, and he'd do it again on this series.

The Question
Writer: Christopher Priest
Artist: Joe Quesada
When Marvel Knights launched in 1998, the two books that garnered the most positive coverage were Black Panther (written by Christopher Priest) and Daredevil (illustrated by Joe Quesada). Seeing as how Showcase is essentially DC's version of Marvel Knights, it only makes sense to pair Priest with Quesada to make The Question the line's premier title. A master at crafting short, yet intertwined stories which span dozens of issues, Christopher Priest would infuse The Question with intrigue, drama, action, comedy and characterization. His characters and stories are rich with depth, leaving you both satisfied and craving more. As an artist, Joe Quesada is a little too stylized for some people; his linework is a blend of hyper superheroics, striking faces and classical embellishments — but that's exactly what I want here. The Question is very much like Batman, in that you don't know where he's going to come from — making smoke, fog and shadows very important. There should be a certain alien air to his otherwise all too human body — his featureless mask is one of the creepiest in all of comics. Furthermore, his book needs to feel not like a comic, but rather a noir serial picture — with sleek dames, powerful cars, cliffhangers, smoky rooms, quiet moments of reflection, danger and shocks. Quesada would skillfully hit all those nails on the head, making The Question one of the most visually stunning books on the market.

Resurrection Man
Writers: Andy Lanning and Dan Abnett
Artist: Jackson Guice
Imagine you're a normal man living a normal life, when all of a sudden you're abducted and experimented on. Afterwards, you come to realize, you can't die. Well, you can, but you (almost instantly) resurrect — with a superpower. The next time you die, you come back with a new power — the old one erased. The only constant is that you can't stay dead. That's Resurrection Man, the obscure comic originally created by Andy Lanning, Dan Abnett and Jackson Guice in 1997. It might seem like cheating to put the original creative team back together, but I feel they weren't given a chance the first time around. Yes, the series lasted 27 issues (plus the "DC One Million" tie-in), but it never should have been part of the main DC Universe to begin with. This time, set on the very edge of continuity, the creative team will be allowed to explore adult themes without Supergirl, Batman and the Justice League getting in the way (RE: toning it down).

Suicide Squad
Writer: Andy Diggle
Artist: C.P. Smith
Unlike previous incarnations of this series, I don't see the team working with the government. In fact, this "Suicide Squad" is actually working against the United States government, the United Nations and Checkmate. This team of superpowered "terrorists" deeply opposes the UN's desire to control and monitor them, and will stop at nothing to bring Checkmate to its knees — even if that means allying themselves with Communist nations. Much like Brian Michael Bendis writes both Mighty and New Avengers — allowing readers to see both sides of the pro- / anti-Superhuman Registration Act in a very coherent / cohesive manner — Andy Diggle would balance DC's Cold War-era version of the SRA by penning Checkmate and Suicide Squad. Neither team is fully good or bad: they simply believe in their causes and are willing to die for them. C.P. Smith's work on The Programme is stark and often minimalist, but his faces are expressive and you can't help but marvel at the environments he chooses to render. There's something to be said about artistic minimalism; when used correctly, it focuses all of the reader's attention on what the artist wants them to see, however, when said artist takes the time to place details in the background, the pages pop and readers come to understand that there's something special about that scene — so they better pay attention. That exactly what's needed in a Cold War-era Suicide Squad: stark lines that convey a deep, dark, deadly world.

: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : :

Part One: The Imprints - Showcase
Part Two: The Imprints - Vertigo & Wildstorm
Part Three: Action Comics through Green Lantern Corps
Part Four: Justice League through World's Finest

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