Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September Q & A: Bob Harras

Jason has another question (and one easier to answer than yesterday’s) with, “Will Bob Harras (newly announced Editor-in-Chief of DC Comics) be better than Dan DiDio?”

Glad you asked! The promotion of Harras to being DC EiC was kind of a surprising one for two reasons: for starters, when Dan DiDio and Jim Lee got promoted to co-publishers, no mention was made of the need for an editor in chief at DC, and it was just kind of assumed by everyone (or at least everyone outside the company) that the two of them would be handling EiC duties as part of their new job. The second reason this is so surprising is that Bob Harras was arguably the single worst EiC in Marvel Comics history, so he doesn’t exactly have the proudest possible history to work with.

Harras’ first major effort as editor was in the early 90s, when he was EiC of all the X-titles (this was at a time when Marvel had five EiCs, each one controlling a different section of their comics). For those that weren’t reading Marvel Comics at the time, this was the time when the mutant titles first began getting completely bogged down in yearly crossovers like X-Cutioner’s Song, the Phalanx Covenant, and the Age of Apocalypse, and writers of Uncanny X-Men and its sister title X-Men started going through writers at a pretty rapid clip due to editorial interference. In 1995, when he took over as EiC of the entire company, he expanded that practice (the crossover practice, not the rapid turnaround of writers, though that did continue on the X-Men until Grant Morrison was hired after Harras’ ouster) throughout the entire company, beginning with stretching out the Spider-Clone Saga for more than a year longer than originally intended, along with Onslaught, which fed into Heroes Reborn and Zero Tolerance, which fed into Heroes Return, etc. until we get to the present day when Joe Quesada and Dan DiDio have both decided to announce that their exciting events after Siege and Blackest Night were that both companies were going to take a year off from the company-wide crossovers.

This crossover obsession that Harras largely spearheaded has been deeply poisonous to the comics industry, leaving us with two major companies that are now caught in the situation where they have to keep doing these major crossovers to keep readership up, even though those very crossovers leave their core audience increasingly burned out and bitter. He also presided over Marvel during its bankruptcy and near-breakup (before Toy Biz stepped in and bought the company), but that wasn’t really his fault. He became EiC right when the company was busy collapsing around him due to the disastrous business decision of former owner Ronald Perelman, and while Harras certainly didn’t do anything to help save the company, he didn’t really have the opportunity to do any substantial harm financially.

Of course, now that we’ve established that he was a pretty disastrous EiC, we can move on to the more pertinent question: will he still be better than Dan DiDio was? DiDio became Executive Editor of DC in 2004, replacing Mike Carlin, and his reign was largely marked by controversy as well. While it had been planned well before he became head editor, it’s not out of place to mark the beginning of his tenure with the release of Identity Crisis, a seven issue miniseries that helped bring the DC Universe into a more “mature” environment, that environment being one filled with rape, excessive character deaths, and heroes frequently behaving like villains (such as the numerous brainwashings). Of course, it’s also been marked by quite a few good developments as well, such as a willingness to launch numerous new titles and characters in the hopes of expanding the business, such as Shadowpact, Blue Beetle, All-New Atom, and R.E.B.E.L.S., and while most were eventually cancelled due to poor sales (the new Atom, in fact, wound up being killed), he showed a willingness to experiment that is pretty healthy for an EiC. He also gave Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns free rein to reshape the company however they saw fit, and while that helped result in the rejection of all DC’s innovations of the 80s and 90s in favor of more Silver Age-oriented stories, it also led to the two of them making franchises like Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Superman exciting again (indeed, I for one would argue that Morrison’s Batman and Johns’ Green Lantern and Flash are the best any of those franchises have ever been, however lame Blackest Night may have been).

So I guess what I’m saying is that DiDio was a very mixed bag as Executive Editor, Harras was pretty much a disaster. I mean, perhaps I’m being a little too hard on him -- I can indeed recall some good runs during his tenure, like Kurt Busiek’s fantastic run on Avengers that has yet to be topped, and he was the one that gave the go-ahead for Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo’s completely awesome comic Generation X(though he did later help drive Lobdell away from Marvel entirely), but the good parts of his tenure were pretty few and far between. This is admittedly coming from someone that’s never worked in the industry and has never had a single interaction with the man, and it seems that quite a lot of industry vets seem to feel that he will be a great benefit to the company, so I may well be talking completely out of my ass here. I do like DC quite a bit, and I hope he works out well for them, but I have serious doubts that he’ll even be as good as DiDio was, let alone that he’ll be able to turn the company around sales- and creative-wise. Still, I also thought Quesada was doing a terrible job when he first started, so I have been wrong about this sort of thing before.

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