Robot 6

The Grumpy Color: Carla and Tom bury 2009 (part 2)

Over the course of New Year’s weekend, by way of dissecting the past year in DC and Marvel superhero comics, Robot 6 columnists Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman traded e-mail messages. This is part 2 of the result. Part 1 is here.

Batman and Robin #1

Batman and Robin #1

Carla: So, after Infinite Crisis, DC was like “Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman leave!” and then proceeded to skip the time that they had left, probably because it would be boring not to see their star characters not in their books. 2009 only had Wonder Woman keep her post as Bruce Wayne and Superman have sort of ditched their titles. How’s that workin’ out for you? Excited to see “Bruce Wayne Reborn?” Think Superman even needs to be accessible to the new reader anymore?

Tom: We’ve talked before about the Dick Grayson Batman, and on the whole I’ve liked both the idea and the execution, but it is a weird balancing act. It can’t be too different, or it’ll be the ‘90s and Jean-Paul all over again — but it can’t be too much the same, because then what’s the point? Obviously Morrison has pulled it off most effectively in Batman And Robin, but I liked the Winick/Bagley issues of Batman too. I’m eager to see how Dick/Batman fits into the new Justice League.

As for the Superman books, they also remind me of the ‘90s, and particularly the days of the “weekly” Superman comics where the supporting cast was so huge that Superman was practically an afterthought. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, because I do think Superman can be unnecessarily complicated. I mean, to me the basic Superman image is Clark ripping open his dress shirt and muttering “this looks like a job for Superman!” If Nightwing and Flamebird and Mon-El had been able to capture some of that over the past year, I think the books would have been better-received. Instead there’s this whole “the world hates the S-shield” plot wrapped around a pretty familiar government conspiracy. Parts of it have been good, but sometimes I hope it satisfies everyone’s need for big convoluted storylines. [CH: Good call!] And I am looking forward to the “Batman Vs. History” miniseries, because how can you not want to see Grant Morrison writing Pirate Batman?

CH: Two words: Final Crisis. Grant Morrison is a great drunken uncle; fun to be around when he’s on his game, just not a guy I’d trust to drive me to the hospital on time.

Do you think the comic reader is going to satisfied with a lack of Big Event books? Sure, we complain about the tie-in cost, the confusion over what happens when and the release schedule, but comic fans love to complain. Have we so lost the monthly serial that comics have to be written for the trade now, the “seven years in the making” ÜberPlot, the big convoluted storylines?

TB: See, I don’t think that a big convoluted storyline (or “BCS,” as it were) really works that well in trades. Invariably the main story is augmented with all these side stories and subplots, and some matter and some don’t. The problem is that when all the issues are collected, they tend to be lumped with their original series. Thus, of the seven Blackest Night collections, two are for the Green Lantern and GL Corps issues, although Green Lantern and Blackest Night have been pretty much sharing the same plotline and GL Corps may dovetail in eventually. I’d rather have one big omnibus (or series of books) which collects everything and therefore forces the editors to figure out how it all fits together.

CH: Can you imagine? A big Omnibus in reading order to make the story seem like a larger sweeping arc than a bunch of … well, tentacles on an octopus of a story? DARE TO DREAM, TOM!

secretinvasion-08-cover

But you’re right, sometimes the BCS turns into the kind of pacing an original comic should have and suddenly you’re buying a collection of TPs to get the whole story. And worse, you’ll sometimes buy a collection and find out it barely had that “banner” event label tacked on there! Don’t get me wrong, it made sense to have a Runaways/Young Avengers Secret Invasion tie-in but if you didn’t read it, you hurt nothing. But what actually makes the BCS work in trades, at least for me out on the comics selling floor, is that people will have heard of the Event and want to know what it’s about. I hand them a copy of the main Civil War TP, they like it and want more. Well, then we can go and look at the other trades, pick a character or thread of a storyline they liked and slowly, we take off the training wheels and they’ll be reading the regular titles in no time. It’s a good entryway drug and the more complicated the story, the more different facets of the general universe you can offer someone to later go out and learn about on their own.

Again, this may be just me.

TB: To me, when you read Blackest Night or Secret Invasion in single-issue form, you’re putting together the sequence yourself. More importantly, you’re accumulating information gradually, as opposed to reconciling big infodumps from a couple of collected editions. It’s arguably a more manageable way to learn, and it feels more interactive too.

CH: Or you work behind the counter at a comic shop and are diagramming what issue came out when and how that issue fits with a completely different title that actually takes place in a previous storyline that’s tying together with the current one and oy. For people who don’t pick up their comics on a weekly basis, it can get overwhelming to try and put those issues together on their own.

TB: That [interactivity] is part of the BCS’s appeal, although I’ve gotten tired of its dominance over the past few years. My sense of “event fatigue” is that it’s a style which has gotten played out, and fans are now ready for smaller storylines, or at least character-specific events.

CH: High five, man. I, too, am exhausted. I hope fans are ready to pick up an old fashioned done-in-one/three issue comic because that’s… well, correct me if I’m wrong, that’s how we got started. It’s familiar and endearing and I love sharing a copy of Amazing Spider-Man with new readers because it’s the closest thing I have to what I used to read when I first got into comics.

Amazing Spider-Man #583

Amazing Spider-Man #583

Well, that and IDW’s fine selection of Star Trek comics.

TB: Okay, I think we are in the home stretch here, so time to start wrapping up. Do we need to say anything more about the Big Two’s big corporate dealings, or is it a situation where we readers won’t notice much of a difference? And because I’m sure we haven’t covered everything significant from the past year, what still needs addressing?

CH: Look up; we just got done talking about how the Green Lantern movie is being made on the credit of marketing and “the power of Geoff Johns.” I think corporate dealings are super important! Because Disney and Marvel still have a couple more hoops to jump through doesn’t mean the internet didn’t break in half when they announced it. By now, hopefully we’ve all regained our composure, realized a business dealing of that magnitude won’t really take any major effect for at least another year or so, it’s still a big pink elephant for 2009. It’s there, we can all see it but no one can really say anything for now.

Kind of feels like we covered everything, doesn’t it? Was 2009 not that big of a year? No new movies, no new video games or other outer media (aside from a huge gaffe by announcing that Steve Rogers would be returning as some sort of revolutionary event back in June), there was a lot of transitional stuff (Brother Voodoo becoming the new Sorcerer Supreme, X-Men settling out west, etc.), a lot of unresolved issues (Norman in charge of US superhuman security), a lot of change no one noticed all that much (Hey! Black Panther is T’Challa’s sister!), nothing seems all that settled or complete. We’re in a moment of flux that 2010′s going to blow the lid off of, so just wait. This has been seven years in the making (dear lord does that make me feel old!), so I can guess we’ll wait a little while longer.

How’s about you? Looking forward more than looking backwards? 2010 going to treat the DC fan better than 2009?

[... and later that night, in a separate e-mail ... --TCB]

*smacks her forehead* Watchmen! How could we miss Watchmen, Tom?

"Detective Comics" #857, by J.H. Williams III

"Detective Comics" #857, by J.H. Williams III

TB: Oh sure, Watchmen was still selling like blue omnipotent hotcakes early in ‘09 — thus its place on our (shameless plug alert) Most Important Books Of The Decade list!

One last thing I wanted to mention (which we kind of touched on but not in detail) was DC’s experimentation with different formats. By and large I liked the co-features wherever I found them (in Streets Of Gotham, Booster Gold, Detective Comics, and Doom Patrol) and I’m glad to see they’ll continue, albeit shuffled around. I was also very glad to see Wednesday Comics do well enough to warrant talk of a sequel. I’m not anti-single-issue by any means, but I’m always glad to see one of the Big Two trying something out of the ordinary.

As for 2010 … well, I’ve been in wait-‘til-next-year mode for the past few years, so it may be too early to color me optimistic. There’s a good bit to anticipate, including Earth One, more Morrison Batman (and perhaps the Multiversity project), more Batwoman, the Robinson/Bagley JLA lineup, and Lord willing the new Flash series; but there’s still a good bit that seems seriously screwed up (the Milestone characters, Red Arrow, the Old New Teen Titans). Still, this year is DC’s 75th anniversary, and for once I think they’re in a commemorative mood. Maybe that means no one gets an arm blown off until next January.

So on that note, anything else before we jump into this shiny new year?

CH: I got a good feeling about 2010 too, so I’m just facing front, Tom. Excelsior!

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Thanks, Carla and Tom. Good discussion, and plenty to think about.

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