Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | Six degrees of Superman

I, Reverse-Vampire

Here is what you need to know going into this week’s post: I sat down with a list of DC’s current and upcoming superhero-universe comics, and rearranged it into a big chart. Now I have to make that little factoid exciting. Join me, won’t you?

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The watchword of any shared universe is “consistency.” Superman’s adventures in Superman and Action Comics may be produced by two different creative teams, and they may even take place in different timeframes, but they be must at least coexist peacefully both with each other and with the rest of DC’s superhero line. That’s part and parcel of corporately-controlled superhero comics, regardless of any tension with a professional’s creative freedom.

And make no mistake — that tension helps those comics remain vital. There is a certain satisfaction in reading a well-crafted, well-executed, otherwise-unremarkable superhero comic, but the real thrill comes when a creative team is able to coax the new and unexpected out of the familiar and established.

A shared universe imposes a framework on all those disparate, distinct interpretations. That framework can be loose or confining, connective or ad hoc, or some combination thereof. In theory, though, its existence allows those interpretations to meet and bounce off each other, perhaps even creating something entirely new as a result. DC has been field-testing this concept from the Justice Society forward, so it’s not going away anytime soon.

Naturally, there is also marketing value not just in such all-star teams, but in the shared-universe model itself. Accordingly, the New-52 relaunch gave DC the opportunity both to rebuild its shared universe and to rework its creative lineups. None of this is new information. I continue to be frustrated at DC’s apparent preference for top-down control over a more organic approach which favors creative freedom. Still, I have been intrigued by the ways in which DC has connected the New 52 titles.

Thus, the chart:

Why did I do this? Not because I was bored — I do an eBay search for the too-expensive Target Exclusive Wedge Antilles X-Wing Fighter when I’m bored — but because I wanted to see just how interconnected the New-52-verse has become. In making these connections, I was pretty liberal, counting spinoffs, crossovers, and past and future guest appearances. If it seemed calculated to generate interest in another title (that maybe a reader wasn’t already getting), I was inclined to count it. Accordingly, I have probably missed some connections, and/or made too much of others, but by and large I think the chart is fairly defensible.

BATMAN

Not surprisingly, the book with the most direct connections was Batman. For purposes of this exercise, we can probably treat Batman and Detective Comics as the same title, but just to be difficult, I did not do that. Instead, I considered Batman as the hub of the Bat-family, with Detective connecting to it. Basically, I figured that the New-52′s hypothetical new readers would start with Batman first and branch out to the book for which DC was named.

Accordingly, Batman connects directly to seventeen ongoing titles, which means the greater Bat-realm reaches into over one-third of the New 52. Detective, Batman And Robin, Batman: The Dark Knight and Batman Incorporated star the Darknight Detective, and he is a major influence in Batwing, Batgirl and Batwoman. Members of the extended supporting cast star in Birds Of Prey, Catwoman, Nightwing, Red Hood, Teen Titans and Suicide Squad; and 19th-Century Gotham City features prominently in All Star Western. Batman is also a regular member of Justice League and may well continue in Justice League International; and he just wrapped up a two-part guest appearance in I, Vampire and another in Hawk & Dove. If you buy DC’s comics hoping to catch a glimpse of Batman, odds are good you won’t have to look very far.

JUSTICE LEAGUE

Somewhat surprisingly, the next-most-connected title is Justice League, with nine direct connections: Justice League International, Justice League Dark, Aquaman, Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Flash, Wonder Woman and Green Arrow. Most of these are pretty obvious, except perhaps for Green Arrow, which gets the connection because he guest-stars (and possibly joins) in an upcoming JL.

More interesting, though, is the extended JL family. JLI connects to Batman (and soon to Batwing, although the chart doesn’t reflect that), to Green Lantern Corps through Guy Gardner, and to Blackhawks through, well, the United Nations. In May, OMAC will appear in JLI, and JLI crosses over with Firestorm. JL Dark connects to DC Universe Presents and Hawk & Dove through Deadman; to I, Vampire via their upcoming crossover; and to Animal Man through May’s guest-appearance by John Constantine.

Thus, both of the ancillary Justice League titles are working hard to connect themselves with the larger superhero line. In terms of world-building, Justice League International may be the more “important” book, because only it is currently telling Justice League stories set in the present. Justice League just wrapped up its introductory five-years-ago arc yesterday, and the putative members of Justice League Dark still haven’t come together fully. In other words, the present-day DC Universe has a Justice League, and we have a good idea who’s in it, but so far it’s been defined in a roundabout way by the debuts of Justice League International and the team no one’s yet calling JL Dark. In fact, the JLI has the official sanction which still eludes the original League.

GREEN LANTERN

Even moreso than the Batman titles, the four Green Lantern titles are pretty much carryovers from the pre-relaunch lineup. GL: New Guardians and Red Lanterns are new titles featuring the recently-established “Rainbow Corps,” while Green Lantern picks up where the pre-relaunch book left off and GL Corps swaps out Kyle Rayner for Guy Gardner. As mentioned above, the latter two also connect to their respective Justice League books, while New Guardians gets a crossover with Blue Beetle and a Red Lantern is set to appear in Stormwatch.

TEEN BRIGADE

May’s crop of new titles includes Ravagers, a book set to spin out of the “Culling” crossover involving Legion Lost, Superboy and Teen Titans. Of course, Superboy and Teen Titans were already somewhat interconnected, thanks to Superboy writer Scott Lobdell using the Boy of Steel in Titans. From what I understand, Static is also set to join the Titans, although it may not happen until after his own book ends its run.

SUPERMAN, ET AL.

Superman has at least five direct connections: Action Comics, Supergirl, Superboy, Justice League, a guest appearance in Swamp Thing #1, and a common (if somewhat obtuse) plot thread with Stormwatch. However, those connections then lead into quite a few other titles. Action connects to Legion of Super-Heroes via the Legion’s recent guest-shots. Legion connects to Legion Lost (as does Superboy, above), and from there to the aforementioned teen-hero titles. Moreover, Swamp Thing connects to Animal Man, which is set to cross over with Frankenstein, which just crossed over with OMAC. Frank will also appear in the final issue of Men Of War, which will basically give way to G.I. Combat.

Additionally, Superman will be fighting the Daemonites, ex-WildStorm bad guys who are currently causing problems in Grifter and Voodoo. Not sure where Voodoo may lead, but Green Arrow appeared in a recent issue of Grifter, which puts Cole Cash two degrees from the Justice League.

STRAGGLERS

Resurrection Man is set to cross over with Suicide Squad. The Flash appeared in Captain Atom #3. The current Challengers of the Unknown story in DCU Presents actually connects to the previous Deadman story through Nanda Parbat, the mystical locale from Deadman’s origin. Thanks to the once-and-future Power Girl’s supporting role, Mister Terrific connects to PG’s upcoming Worlds’ Finest. Naturally, the current Huntress miniseries also leads into WF, and both connect to the upcoming Earth 2 (which seems to have been teased in yesterday’s Justice League).

Demon Knights has also had some clever connections to other New 52 books. The title (not referenced in the book as far as I remember) sounds like “Daemonite,” and in issue #4, Merlin describes himself as a “Bird of Prey” and a “Black Hawk.”  Considering its explicit connection to Stormwatch, it is not unreasonable to see other present-day links.

That leaves Deathstroke, The Savage Hawkman and the upcoming Dial H as the only ongoing series not connected somehow to another New-52 title. With Rob Liefeld contributing to both Deathstroke and Hawkman, I expect there’ll be some connections, and we’ll see how integrated Dial H becomes.

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Still, what does this all mean? Such connections are nothing new, even for the New 52 relaunch. Remember, Pandora (also spotlighted in yesterday’s Justice League) made cameos in each of the New 52 first issues, so on one level they’ve been connected from the very beginning. There’s no reason to think Pandora won’t be involved in the inevitable line-wide crossover, either. It could all be smoke and mirrors designed solely to gin up interest in every title, regardless of one’s actual influence on another.

Conversely, it’s tempting to speculate that there really is one macro-story going on behind the scenes and in the margins of the relaunched titles. (Such a scenario would help justify that thousand-page New-52 hardcover. …) If so, it’d be pretty ambitious, along the lines — and I do not make this comparison lightly — of the infamous Countdown experiment from a few years back. For those who came in late, DC sought to leverage whatever momentum and goodwill it had generated from the well-received weekly miniseries 52 into another year-long weekly miniseries. Countdown (later subtitled To Final Crisis) aspired to be the “spine” of the DC Universe, telling its story of parallel worlds and the New Gods in and around events in the ongoing series. However, Countdown turned out to be a mess, and I don’t think DC will try anything like it again.

That doesn’t mean DC’s creative folk can’t try pulling together various New 52 elements into some kind of semi-coherent storyline. Already we know (or can make educated guesses) about

– Darkseid’s aborted invasion of Earth, five years ago (Justice League, perhaps Earth 2);
– secret superhuman-centric agencies (Superboy, Teen Titans, Frankenstein, OMAC);
– Daemonite infiltrations (Voodoo, Grifter);
– potential vampire apocalypse (I, Vampire);
– tensions between the Reach and the Green Lantern Corps (Blue Beetle, GL: New Guardians);
– mysteries from times past (Aquaman, All-Star Western, Demon Knights); and
– quasi-mystical forces at war with each other (Swamp Thing, Animal Man).

Now, I’m not suggesting that DC is going the “Prelude to Infinite Crisis” route, where the seemingly-unrelated threats the bad guys orchestrated were covered in four different prefatory miniseries. Instead, it seems like the New-52 books have each come up with their own set of threats, any one of which could spill over into the rest of the line. Pandora’s presence tells me the inevitable line-wide crossover will probably be bigger than any single danger, big enough to change the way you look at yadda yadda yadda. (And it may lead to another cosmic housecleaning and/or the return of certain familiar characters, elements, whatever — you’ve heard this song before, I know.)

See, I would like to think that DC really is letting its creative people go nuts within the New-52 framework, so that it develops at its own pace and in its own unexpected directions, and the connections which are made (like Animal Man and Swamp Thing, Frankenstein and Men Of War, Demon Knights and Blackhawks) can be justified on grounds other than goosing sales. I don’t believe that’s true across the board, simply because of Pandora; and I don’t think the New-52 as a whole represents DC at its height of creativity. The chart tells me it would be easy to get sucked into buying a good bit of DC’s superhero books, just to catch all the continuity details. However, the practicalities of reading all those comics are something else entirely.

In the end, I think there is a larger macro-story being told in the margins and behind the scenes. It could be the basis for that inevitable line-wide crossover. It may emerge accidentally, unbeknownst even to the books’ editors, writers, and artists. In that respect it may be the kind of thing only an extremely dedicated and/or persistent reader could derive.

Or it could be the kind of thing you only see after you stare at a chart for too long. …

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Comments

34 Comments

I’ll agree. After Justice Leage #6 the possibility of a Crisis-level event being put together without anyone clearly looking for it is possible.

Jake Earlewine

March 1, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Wouldn’t it be great if everything made sense? Wouldn’t it be great if there was a Master Plan? To believe someone is driving this bus!

Intriguing article and chart, Tom.

Imagine all the additional connections if Richard Belzer’s Munch character appeared in a New 52 book…..

“We’re through the looking glass, people.”

RegularSyzedMike

March 1, 2012 at 5:39 pm

It would make everyone’s heads explode if it turned out that the “macro-story” mentioned above was written and orchestrated by Alan Moore.

Such a good chart! I find it interesting though that you don’t mention the word “continuity” until the end of your post. Isn’t this continuity? Maybe everyone’s hesitation to say “look how much continuity there is in the DC New 52″ is because of the extent to which DC railed against continuity when they relaunched — “years of continuity is holding our creators back” was a constant explanation for the relaunch. And yet even aside from what you point out in your (great) chart, the fact that Pandora appeared in all the first issues set up the fact that DC is heading, straight and intentionally, toward a big crossover not too long in the future. The DC New 52 universe, it seems to me, is perhaps even more continuity-heavy right out of the gate than the DC Universe we left behind, and yet by all accounts its successful — maybe the concept of “continuity” has been rebooted in the New 52 universe such that it’s not a bad word any more.

I am a bit disappointed with how quickly books are connecting to one another. Not even a year.

netforceequalsma

March 1, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Deathstroke appeared in issue 5 or 6 of Resurrection Man and OMAC alter Ego Kevin Kho’s girlfriend is the sister of the blonde woman in Challengers of the Unknown according to the issue of 5 or 6 of OMAC. Sorry I don’t have the issues in front of me. Deathstroke also appeared in Shade although I know that is not one of the new 52.

As a DC fan who has been burned many times in the last 7 years, I’ll give a friendly, generalized warning about expecting that a) there is a master plan, and b) that master plan will actually be realized.

Kelvin’s girlfriend’s cousin is June Robbins who’s appearing in Challengers. As for DC, there is a plan, but not a master plan. Everything is subject to change at any moment. That’s why you’ll never get a strict timeline. There are too many variables and sometimes stuff happens.

Martian Manhunter showed up in GL Corps and Legion Lost, so those connect to Stormwatch.

Why isn’t Flash connected to Captain Atom on the chart?

Didn’t Deathstroke also appear in The Dark Knight?

“We’re through the looking glass, people.”

So.DC Co-Publishers Jim Lee and Dan Didio and DC E-I-C Bob Harras…. are REVERSE VAMPIRES?!?

My family all the time say that I am wasting my time here at web, except I know I am getting familiarity everyday by reading thes pleasant articles.

Missed one: Kyle Rayner showed up in Voodoo #2-3 so she should be connected to GL Corps.

Deathstroke can also be connected to Stormwatch, since it seems to be that Midnighter killed his son Grant

Stormwatch can be connected to Green Lantern Corps, since Martian Manhunter guest starred.

Additionally, Batman Inc should connect to Batwoman since Batman offered Kate a place in the organization. Suicide Squad should connect to Detective Comics do to the “Joker’s Face” storyline.

Awesome chart! But I would add a key connection between Legion Lost and Stormwatch, where MM turned up last ish and seems to have made off with (for now) the threat the Legionnaires pursued to our time. I highlight this because it’s a good example, I think, of your thesis (wish?) of natural, creator driven crossovers. Stormwatch’s reason for being is secretly protecting Earth from alien threats. The Legion Lost baddie is a serious alien threat, albeit from the future. I would have been very disappointed if Stormwatch HADN’T shown up. I get that good feeling from alot of the New 52 connections so far. It reminds me of the later 60s/70s Marvel, after the need to hype the novelty of a shared universe had worn off, the books had a strong common editorial direction, with a handful of creators familiar with the whole line, where characters could bounce off each other naturally. It is one of the things I like best so far in the New 52, that logical, almost casual sense of cross pollination.

dorn- i totally disagree. im already expecting a major crossover in the next yr- 18 mos. because of the pre-spoiler variant cover to earth-2 issue 1, where u clearly see darkseid’s parademons fighting the big 3, and that story also takes place in that world’s past is what it looks like. i also got it confirmed from dan didio himself at this year’s Megacon in orlando fla. that darkseid is poised to be come the “New 52″ ‘s new multiversal baddie is what it looks like, and given the spoiler………..

Darkseid is searching for his daughter, whoever she is……

It seems like darkseid’s gonna be making more than one visit around the ‘new 52′ multiverse in this search. and dont forget grant morrison’s Multiveristy series is still being wokred on to be released possibly later this, if nnot early next year based on how far this ‘pandora’ storyline goes….

“I do an eBay search for the too-expensive Target Exclusive Wedge Antilles X-Wing Fighter when I’m bored”

I just wanted to say that I approve.

And you can probably connect Deathstroke to Superboy and Ravagers, since those books have Rose Wilson. Their New52 relationship has not been confirmed in-comic, but a meeting has been hinted at in interviews.

A fairly anonymous member of the Blackhawks appeared in a recent issue of Deathstroke.

That chart isn’t complete. You forgot books like Stormwatch. Batwing and Firestorm will both also have a connection with the JLI and technically Green Arrow has a connection to the JLI because he was mentioned to almost be a part of the team. etc etc

from early interviews with kyle higgens there was going to be a link between Deathstroke and Nightwing via the whole mercenary-for-hire underworld.
Thats probably moot point now that liefeld has hijacked the show.

Great Article. My first thought after reading JL #6 was:” Uh oh! They’re going to change things again.”. Especially after the Stranger mentions reality being changed. I read all of the New 52 titles and quite enjoy the interconectivity of it all. I hope they do allow this to just develop naturally and not do another retcon any time soon. It’s no easy task keeping up with all the DC titles, another change would probably finish me.

I dont get how guest appearance connects the books tgt. its true that there is a certain amount of editorial mandate but majority of the books connect to each other because writer wants them to.

I can second the Deathstroke / Resurrection Man connection; Slade was working for Resurrection Man before R-Man lost his memory and gained his powers. It is explicitly shown to be in the issue whose number I cannot recall.

Wasn’t the Flash and Superman in Batman: The Dark Knight?

With the arrival of Darkseid’s at the advent of the new Justice League, and the images of Parademons on the recently revealed alternate cover to Earth 2, it seems almost certain that a line wide Darkseid multiversal invasion plot is underway. Superman as much as said so in JL #6, and Robinson’s ominous character descriptions of the new Earth 2 Superman & Wonder Woman pretty much seal it. I think it makes a lot of sense, especially given the elimination of the Anti-Monitor from the DCU now that all the Crisis events have been officially written out of continuity.

It seems that instead of being the home of the Golden Age heroes, Earth 2 is now the Earth devastated by Darkseid in search of his “daughter.” Since the Power Girl and Huntress of Worlds’ Finest are refugees from Earth 2, my guess is that their reason for being here has to do with evading him. I think Power Girl, the Supergirl of Earth 2, is hiding here because she is not Kal-L’s cousin, but actually the daughter of Darkseid.

@Chris as unlike as that is… That would be the coolest thing ever. The Power Girl being Darkseid’s offspring thing.

Don’t forget the Saucer People. They have their hands in everything. Eliminating the meal of dinner is just the beginning.

Blackhawks appeared in Deathstroke. You missed that one.

Deathstroke also attacked the Bat Jet, can’t remember the issue now. Just read above yes it was in Dark Knight prob around issue 3.

The Wizard SHAZAM being a kind of desincarnation of Merlin in the New 52 would be a great way to connect magic titles acros the DCU. With the introduction of Captain Mavel (renamed SHAZAM) and the clue in Demon Knights and Stormwatch it would be great.

I also think that the missing daugther of Darkseid is more likely to be Pandora…
And with Helspont affronting Superman the daemonites will probably become a central threat in more titles and not only the Wildstorm’s one.

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