Since the DC Comics relaunch – and frankly before that – DC Comics has been getting a reputation of darkening down its classic comic books. Meanwhile their comics intended to be darker were inappropriately lightened up. There has been a battle between the grim'n'gritty and the light'n'brighty crowd, but around five years ago, it seemed that the former had won.
But amidst this there were a couple of brighter lights. Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Amanda Conner working on Power Girl, and then transferring that playful, silly, occasionally sexual spirit to the mega hit comic Harley Quinn. Keith Giffen, with JM DeMatteis keeping the bwah-ha-ha of their Justice League alive. And sporadic bursts such as Batman '66, Jeff Smith's Captain Marvel and Mike Allred's influence continued to be felt.
But other books have been evolving as well. Whilst Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman run started as Grimdark Central, of late it has become a madcap psychedelic romp, as crazy as anything concocted by the Joker, with an upcoming bad guy sharing the same name as a CBeebies (children's) TV show and Bruce Wayne replaced by Jim Gordon in a robot bunny suit.
Then Batgirl happened. The series which, since the DC relaunch had been a definite key grimdark book saw a complete change with the departure of the writer Gail Simone and the editor Katie Kubert, as Mark Doyle began to make his mark on the Batbooks. Simone, bemoaning that she was never allowed to do anything like this with the title, nevertheless congratulated the bold new approach by Stewart, Fletcher and Tarr as Batgirl transformed into a bold, poppy, gender positive book, and saw attention and sales follow. This was the moment, and internally at DC Comics the word "Batgirling" was used, rejecting the house tone that had dominated the line and instead see creators try and follow their own unique visions. Some would work, some would not, but the standard house style would be abandoned in the process. Some would be very dark, some would be very light, but there would be more opportunity to explore a variety of styles, and target a variety of audiences. When DC Comics held Retailer Summits earlier this year, the word they couldn't stop using was "tonality".
Tomorrow that experiment begins in full with the first of the June DC You titles. As predicted, some will fail, but some will succeed. The line is a little backwards in that there is only one new lead character, in Doomed, but the whole line crackles with an attempt to do something new. Something built for social media. Something that asks the audience to be a part of the narrative.
Comics that are whimsical, stupid, hilarious and fresh – as well as those that plumb the depths of the human psyche and splatter black ink everywhere. You may not have Legion, but you have Justice League 3001 and Section 8. A recontextualised Starfire. Oh and Bizarro.
The Presence Of Joy. The Resurgence Of Joy. And Ode To Joy.
Come on everyone, put your Batmasks on tomorrow and get down with it. Because if it doesn't work, they'll just bring back the grimdark….