Friendly Fired: DC Makes Last-Minute Writer Changes To Constantine, Birds of Prey

dc_comics_logo_2013What the fuck is going on over at DC Editorial?

Back in November, when Vertigo announced they were cancelling Hellblazer, they tried to lessen the blow by hyping up the new DC Universe-based book Constantine, with Robert Venditti as the announced writer. Just a few weeks later, when they announced that Duane Swierczynski would no longer be writing Birds of Prey, they made a big deal of the fact that they had brought in Skullkickers writer Jim Zub to take over, trotting the poor bastard out to do interviews where he espoused how excited he was to have the opportunity, and talked about all the ideas he couldn’t wait to bring to the book.

That, however, was then. Today, DC released their April solicitations, and yeah: neither of those guys are going to be writing those books.

Somewhere along the line, someone between DC Editor In Chief Bob Harras and the individual titles’ editors decided to replace those writers with pretty much no notice (at least to the reading public) until the solicitations dropped today, with those solicitations indicating that Constantine will be written by Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes (who was originally to replace Gail Simone after she was fired from Batgirl… you know, before she was rehired), and Birds of Prey to be taken over by Amethyst writer Christy Marx. Apparently. At least for now. At this point, my co-editor Amanda is frantically hitting F5 on her email, checking to see if perhaps she is the next writer of Birds of Prey.

Between these moves and the aborted firing of Gail Simone, I can’t personally remember a case where, at the editorial level, a bunch of last-minute creator changes were made on books where the replaced creators were reasonably well-publicized, and all before their first issues even came out. Sure, you see it with artists sometimes, but normally only after deadlines start to become an issue (hi, Mark Silvestri!). So what the hell is going on at 1700 Broadway, guys? Did Robert Venditti nail the wrong guy’s wife? Did Jim Zub leave an Upper Decker in the Editorial Department men’s room? Or the ladies’ room? Or maybe Geoff Johns’s Aquaman cap?

Well, Harras and DC Editorial Director Bobbie Chase did an interview with Comic Book Resources to try to explain some of the reasoning behind the sudden moves. So… what the hell, guys?

Harras: Robert [Venditti] came to us with a fantastic pitch for “Constantine;” we really loved what Robert’s doing — he’s working on “Demon Knights” now, and he’s also working on another project for us that I really can’t go into which is a big deal for us. But at the end of the day, Robert and Dan [DiDio] and I spoke, and “Constantine” was, for him, one book too many. It was the one thing that we had to go, “If we want you to focus on this one project, maybe we should make a change on ‘Constantine.'” Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes very professionally, very nicely stepped up to the challenge [of launching “Constantine”].

Chase: Very quickly, too. Those guys already had ideas because of what they were doing in “Justice League Dark.”

Harras: It was one of those things where we had to step back and say, “You know, Robert, we should concentrate you on these other projects right now.” And like we said, with Jeff and Ray stepping in on “Constantine,” weaving it closer to “Justice League Dark,” I think it was actually the best solution to — not a problem, but a challenge. We all sat down and said, how do we make this work?

This is… disappointing. Because while I like Lemire as a writer (I’m really not that familiar with Fawkes’s work), his latest issue of Justice League Dark features a sequence with John Constantine worrying that his teammates don’t like him, and saying that, boy howdy, he sure does care about them and not want anything bad happen to them. If that’s the direction Lemire is planning to go in Constantine, I’d almost rather dial up the Keanu Reeves version on streaming Netflix.

So how about the decisions regarding Birds of Prey?

Harras: Jim [Zub] had a great pitch for “Birds Of Prey,” but as things came together in discussion and the creative churn, we all saw what Christy [Marx] was doing on “Amethyst,” and we were looking at “Birds Of Prey” and internally and editorially we were thinking of taking it in a different direction. The decision was made that we were going to go in a different direction than what Jim had originally envisioned. We definitely, definitely want to continue working with Jim, but at this moment, we wanted to go in a particular direction. Bobbie started working with Jim months ago —

Chase: He’s a great writer. He’s a great idea guy, and I look forward to working with him again.

Harras: In the creative process, these things sometimes happen and he totally understood. Obviously, he was a bit disappointed, but he understood. We hope to work with him on another project.

And I’m guessing Zub is hoping to work with you on another project, because he didn’t tell you to fuck off. This one is also a disappointment, because I am a fan of Zub’s Skullkickers, and was really looking forward to seeing his take on a more mainstream superhero comic. And while I’m hoping that this decision doesn’t mean that Zub won’t get another bite at the apple at a Big Two publisher, it’s a good reminder to make sure that Skullkickers is on my pull list at my local comic store, where they know me by name and ask me to stop demanding that they “pull my Zub.”

This is all well and good, but let’s face reality: this is a public relations interview. These last-minute moves are weird no matter how you look at it, so the question is: how up-front is Harras being about the rationale behind the changes? Well, there’s no real way to tell; God knows here at Crisis On Infinite Midlives, we’re too low-level to be able to ask any of the players what happened behind the scenes (at least not and expect any kind of on-the-record answer), so all we can do is see what he said about something we actually know a little bit about: Gail Simone’s removal and reinstatement on Batgirl last month:

Harras: What we had was Ray [Fawkes] coming on for two months to help out, schedule-wise. We’re very happy Gail is back; she’s on the book moving forward, so to me, that was a moment in time where we were just looking for Gail’s next plot to come in and we’re moving forward.

Yes. Of course. DC Editorial was “just looking for Gail’s next plot to come in.” She was replaced “to help out, schedule-wise.” That’s exactly what happened. Just ask Simone.

So yeah, we might never find out what was actually behind these last-minute changes, but I do know this: if I’m a writer at DC Comics these days? I’m keeping my head down, I’m not talking to anybody, and I’m asking to be paid up front. In Kruggerands. And I’m biting them before I hand in my voucher.

(via Comic Book Resources)