Axel-In-Charge: Facing the 'Divided' Marvel NOW! Future
We’ve certainly done our share of review-preview posts over the past several days, but I still have this last bit of business to address. This is the third year I’ve done a ten-and-ten list, so why stop now?
(Click here for last year’s post.)
1. The Watchmen movie. Last year I thought the movie could bring enough new readers to the book for a good, renewed, discussion about its merits. However, during its theatrical run the movie didn’t make much more than what it cost, so as far as I know, that didn’t happen. If anything, the movie confirmed that the book was (as we knew) far better by comparison. The movie’s dogged attempts at fidelity were pluses for its fans and drags for its detractors — but by and large, no one really criticized the book itself. From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen might now need some rehabilitation as a result of their film adaptations, but Watchmen remains untarnished.
2. The Blackest Night [which is what I called it originally]. Last year I saw BN as the SUV of the DC superhero line — namely, an outdated concept for a more bloated age. Apparently, though, that didn’t mean no one wanted to buy it. Indeed, while BN has tied more closely into the ongoing books than its predecessor Final Crisis did, DC has done a nice job keeping it from sprawling out over the whole superhero line. It still feels like the end of the Event Cycle, though.
3. Life with Geoff. Last year I said that DC should be “very happy” if any of Geoff Johns’ various ‘09 projects were a hit. Yay me for predicting Blackest Night’s success. However, Flash: Rebirth and Blackest Night: The Flash are both plagued by delays; Superman: Secret Origin is also getting off a regular schedule (and hasn’t been received as well as previous Johns projects); and the “Legion of Super-Heroes” feature is practically in limbo again pending new writer Paul Levitz. Still, BN counts for a lot, and Johns will get another at-bat with Batman: Earth One.
4. Life without Geoff. This one, sad to say, seems a little more on the money. Dan Jurgens will apparently leave Booster Gold, Action Comics will likewise lose Greg Rucka, and Justice Society is in the doldrums despite its franchise aspirations. It’s not entirely fair to tag Johns with those books’ fates, especially since we’re talking about the writers which succeeded him, but I think it speaks to the impression Johns leaves on a title. Definitely a hard act to follow.
5. Variety of genre. For this topic I note that The Spirit was cancelled in favor of a relaunch under the pulp-plus-pulpy-superheroes First Wave banner. The first FW book, the Batman/Doc Savage special, didn’t really sell me on the concept, but I am curious to see it start in earnest. First Wave also strikes me, for better or worse, as a good example of DC segregating genres into their own projects, and thereby making it that much harder for all the books to interact. However, DC is standing by Warlord, Jonah Hex, and REBELS, and the latter two are already part of the DCU proper.
6. The price-point polka. I thought DC would go bigger than it did, with 48 pages for $4.50. While it didn’t raise prices on its regular-sized single issues, but it did charge an extra dollar for 8 more pages of story, often in the form of a thematically-related “co-feature.” Although DC will be changing the co-feature lineup in a few months, it’s good that they’ll continue.
7. Franchise events. Last year I noted that except for Justice League, “[e]ach of DC’s foundational franchises except Justice League ha[d] its own sales-goosing event.” In fact, the big JLA shakeup started in the last half of ‘09, and ramped up with the Cry For Justice miniseries. That, in turn, will lead into both a new JLA lineup starting this month, as well as an angst-ridden Green Arrow/Red Arrow game-changer in the spring. Meanwhile, most of the other foundational franchises seem to be getting back to normal.
8. Aquaman. I wasn’t exactly predicting ‘09 as the Year of Aquaman, so in that respect I got this one right. Apart from his role as a Black Lantern, the original King of the Seven Seas was still missing in action. However, in something of a surprise, Geoff Johns gave Mera a significant role in Blackest Night, and has talked about using her again. Of course, he likes her in part because she’s not permanently tied to Aquaman….
9. The Milestone and Red Circle characters. Oh, I had such high hopes for the Milestone characters, and instead I may have cursed them. Last year I just knew there’d be a new ongoing Milestone title — and what’s more, I didn’t think the Red Circlers would get much further than their one-shots. Silly me. The Red Circle series seem to be doing acceptably well, while Milestone Forever will be wrapping up old plotlines and paving the way for (one hopes) more prominent places in the lineup.
10. “Batman: The Brave and the Bold.” I didn’t see as much of it last year as I would have liked, but I did see Neil Patrick Harris steal the show as the Music Meister. He sings the songs that the world longs to hear!
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1. DC at 75. According to Mike’s Amazing World Of DC Comics, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson’s National Allied Publications (the company which would become DC) published New Fun Comics #1 on January 11, 1935. Accordingly, if you’re planning a party, I hope your invitations have all been sent. Of course, New Fun (renamed More Fun a year later, and eventually the home of characters like the Spectre, Dr. Fate, and Superboy) is no longer with us, and the characters which graced its first issue have been pretty much lost to the mists of time.
Still, the publisher apparently intends to celebrate its 75th anniversary with more fanfare than greeted Superman’s 70th birthday two years ago or Batman’s last year, and I appreciate the effort. As much as I criticize DC’s attempts to unify its superhero books, I do think that the occasion is an opportunity for the company to be on its best behavior, and I’ll be looking for signs of that throughout the year.
2. FOX’s “Human Target.” Actually the second series to feature Len Wein’s ace bodyguard (the first one featured Rick Springfield, but you knew that), it’s got a prime Wednesday spot right next to the “American Idol” results show. For its part, DC has commissioned a new miniseries and a collection of the Peter Milligan/Edvin Biucovic miniseries; and the few other HT Vertigo collections are still available. That may be about right in terms of cross-promotion, but it still seems a bit skimpy.
3. Wonder Woman #600. I tend to greet each new year with renewed hope that Wonder Woman will become enough of a hit that people stop asking why it doesn’t sell as well as they’d expect. Most of 2009 was taken up with the “Rise of the Olympian” arc, which DC promoted as something akin to the Batman and Superman mini-events. Instead, it turned out merely to be a gripping, intense tale which first tore down, and then restored, much of the character’s status quo. While that’s not exactly what readers might have expected in these days where an event’s repercussions tend to be ongoing, it does mean that Wonder Woman remains fairly accessible to those coveted new readers. Thus, if those new readers are intrigued sufficiently by the Blackest Night: Wonder Woman miniseries, they may decide to check out the regular title — and even if they don’t, WW #600 may itself be a big enough event to draw them in. Yes, it’s numerical semantics, but even on that superficial level it represents DC’s recognition of the character’s importance, and perhaps even a reminder of the respect she’s owed.
4. The new Justice League(s). James Robinson’s and Mark Bagley’s tenure on Justice League of America goes full-throttle this month, with the start of a storyline which brings together longtime Leaguers, ex-Titans, a couple of Super-friends, and Congorilla. Between Dwayne McDuffie’s frustrations and Robinson’s oh-so-serious Cry For Justice, 2009 was not a particularly smooth year for the League. While 2010 may be the year everything comes together, it’s in the service of a roster which practically screams “placeholder.” I’ve written at length about my expectations for any Justice League title, so the particular members tend not to bother me as long as the book delivers the kind of adventures worthy of the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes. Accordingly, I’m in no hurry to get Kal-El, Bruce Wayne, or Princess Diana back on the team; and in fact I’d like Mon-El, Dick Grayson, and Donna Troy to stick around as long as they can. Still, I fear that the new roster will be set, and I’ll be satisfied both with it and with the circumstances behind it, and the original Trinity will come knocking. (That may be where the much-rumored Geoff Johns/Jim Lee Justice League title comes in, but it still leaves the problem of the replacement Trinity.) Thus, Robinson and Bagley’s JLA has potential, but the clock is ticking.
5. Legacies, History of the DC Universe 2.0, and Who’s Who 2010-11. Indeed, perhaps speaking to this very concern, Dan DiDio noted in this week’s “DC Nation” that
… if we ever planned to take on [History and Who’s Who] again, we wanted to make sure we rolled them out at a time we felt that the universe was no longer in flux and [everything] would stay relevant for [a good long while]. The last thing we’d want to do is to build these books and have them outdated before their final issues hit the shelves.
To me, you do these kinds of valedictory projects under two basic circumstances: either everything has changed and you need quick summaries for the latecomers; or everything has gone back to nominal accessibility but you want to commemorate all the twists and turns along the way. Given DC’s trends over the past few years, I’m going with the latter. I expect to see a lot of “[Character X] died in [Method Y] but was brought back to life by [Method Z]” in the new Who’s Whos.
6. Co-features may be just the beginning. I approve heartily of the co-feature program. I read most of the books which picked up co-features, and thought they worked well with the lead story. I also liked how Green Arrow, Action Comics, and Booster Gold integrated their co-features into the lead stories’ plots. Furthermore, if the current round of reorganization is any clue, the co-features are being consolidated generally in books which don’t necessarily claim one character or concept. It might be nothing, but it could also test the waters for expanding those books’ page counts and (gasp!) turning them into anthologies.
For example, Action Comics is now $3.99 for 40 pages, which includes a 22-page lead and 8-page co-feature. Again, last year I thought the price points would go up to 48 pages for $4.50. If readers grow accustomed to the current $3.99 format, such an expansion might not be that hard to sell, especially if it means two 8-page co-features. It’s basically the duplexed format of the recent Tales of the Unexpected or Countdown to Mystery, each of which featured a 22-page lead and 16-page backup for, ahem, $3.99. (Admittedly, those were pre-economic-collapse dollars….)
7. The Jonah Hex movie is set for June 18. While much of what I said about the “Human Target” show also applies to Hex, a movie offers a bigger platform — yes, bigger even than “American Idol.” Unfortunately, everyone’s favorite bug-eyed bounty hunter is in an opening-weekend showdown with Sheriff Woody, so Hex and the Footloose remake (who asked for that?) will be competing for second place. Also in the mix will be the A-Team remake in its second week of release. Now, there’s certainly no shame in losing to Toy Story 3. Heck, it’ll probably be my first choice, and I don’t say that lightly. Still, I dearly hope Hex guns down Footloose.
8. The Legion of Super-Heroes. Perhaps as early as this spring, once-and-future Legion writer Paul Levitz will return to the group with which he is so intimately associated. The question is, how many new readers will care? I am hardly a Legion scholar, but I have followed the team long enough to see it go through familiar periods alternating reinvention and reverence. The Keith Giffen/Tom & Mary Bierbaum “Five Years Later” relaunch was followed by the post-Zero Hour team’s retro stylings. After that got old, writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning instituted some radical changes; and that was followed by the Mark Waid/Barry Kitson “threeboot.” When Geoff Johns subsequently used the Legion’s relationship to Superman to reintroduce the “original” team, he ended up reconciling all three versions with each other — and, understandably enough, focused on his own. Johns’ popularity, and the Legion’s status as Superboy’s co-feature, might have been enough to bring new fans into the fold, but with Adventure yielding to the Superman titles’ macro-plot, and the Legion itself becoming part of said plot, it sounds like the team might get lost in all the confusion. Heck, I read the Superman books, and I’m not entirely sure about the Legion’s involvement. DC has done this before, with Jim Shooter returning to the threeboot title after Waid left (actually, after an arc guest-written by Tony Bedard), but this time the degree of difficulty seems a lot greater.
9. The Flash family. That two-page spread in Flash: Rebirth #5, with all the speedsters made over according to their secret hearts’ desires, indicated that there was room for more than one currently-active Flash. Indeed, the issue included three Flashes, plus Jesse Quick, Max Mercury, Bart “Kid Flash” Allen, and Iris “Impulse” West. Since both the Kid Flash title (to be written by Sterling Gates) and the “Wally West” co-feature have been put on hold, though, they may all have to fight for space in the Barry-Allen-centric Flash. And that’s assuming the new Flash title starts on schedule. The last issue of Rebirth is some twenty-one weeks late and the second issue of Blackest Night: Flash has already been pushed back a week. For the most part DC has overcome the problems with delays which plagued the publisher a few years ago — but to have these same kinds of problems on a much-anticipated book is never a good sign, to say nothing of the ire the “on hold” announcement has generated.
10. The return of the artist. I may be going out on a limb here, and/or I might sound completely stupid, but I think 2010 may renew DC fans’ focus on artists. By this I mean that writers have been more marketable than artists, both at DC and Marvel, over the past several years; and I think that is changing. DC’s most prominent example of this trend is Detective Comics, where J.H. Williams III’s artwork gets more attention than Greg Rucka’s script. (Williams’ replacement will be Jock, who naturally is no slouch.) Similarly, Batman And Robin’s fortunes rose and fell with its artists, from the acclaim for Frank Quitely’s work to the ho-hum reception for Philip Tan’s and the excitement over Cameron Stewart’s. It happens in the lower-profile books and features too: Milestone Forever will feature many original Milestone artists, but “Metal Men” won’t continue without Kevin Maguire and Secret Six doesn’t feel the same without Nicola Scott. Naturally, DC praises all of its books’ artists, including the newly-exclusive David Finch. However, sometimes I get the feeling that they’re treated as interchangeable, when the attention paid to Williams, Quitely, et al., clearly shows otherwise.
It’s not everything, I know; but again, that’s what the other 51 weeks are for. Until next time–!