"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Comic Books, Film
Time once again to revisit some thoughts about the year just ended, and offer some thoughts on the year to come.
First, let’s see how I did with 2013:
1. Man of Steel. Last year I asked “a) how well will it do with critics and moviegoers; and b) yes, of course, will it help set up Justice League?” It got a 55 percent (i.e., Rotten) ranking from Rotten Tomatoes (although 76 percent of RT visitors who cared to vote said they liked it). Financially, Box Office Mojo called it a “toss-up,” putting it in the same category as Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, The Wolverine, The Hangover Part III, Pacific Rim and, uh, The Smurfs 2. I liked it well enough — I seem to like a lot of things “well enough” — but perhaps Super-fan Jerry Seinfeld’s musings about missed opportunities speak best to the film’s reception. MOS itself didn’t help set up a Justice League movie, at least not as expressly as, say, Nick Fury talking about the Avengers; but I think it’s safe to say that the sequel will go a long way in that regard.
2. Dark Universe. Although I noted that 2013 wouldn’t bring a Justice League Dark-style adventure, helmed by Guillermo del Toro, “one way or another, I think we’ll hear a lot more about it.” Well, not so much. In fact, Man of Steel’s success seems to have put a proposed Shazam! movie on hold. While Dark Universe may still come to pass, especially if Warner Bros. can establish its own DC Movieverse, it probably won’t happen until after Justice League.
3. The Simone effect. You may remember that, at the end of 2012, Gail Simone was off Batgirl suddenly, and then back on it just as suddenly. Back then, I said I didn’t see how DC could ever fire her again. “If she leaves, it’ll be on her own terms; and the success of Leaving Megalopolis [her Kickstarter-funded original graphic novel with Jim Calafiore] gives her a strong negotiating position. At this point DC needs her more than she needs it.” Still, I wondered how this would affect DC’s other creative-team relationships — and if 2013’s litany of creative-team changes is any indication, the answer was “not positively.”
4. Life without Morrison. Grant Morrison’s departure from monthly superhero comics, and Batman Incorporated and Action Comics in particular, seemed to indicate a sort of generational shift at DC. We’ll talk more about DC’s writing roster, but for now it’s enough to say DC didn’t replace Morrison with one of his Silver Age-centric, continuity-loving peers.
5. Multiversity or Wonder Woman: Earth One? Neither appeared in 2013, and WW:E1 got a title change.
6. Who gets Wonder Woman? Last year I said “the New-52 Wonder Woman may face a crossroads in 2013,” between the idiosyncracies of her own series and the shared-universe demands of Justice League and the Super-titles. Indeed, last year the new Superman/Wonder Woman series swung matters appreciably in the direction of the shared universe. Last year I hoped Azzarello and Chiang would have “veto power” over any conflicts, so we’ll see if that holds up.
7. Trinity War. I had high hopes for “Trinity War,” including “more information on the mysterious Pandora” and “perhaps some clues about the pre-Flashpoint DCU,” but mostly I wondered if it could “credibly present these 52 books as a coherent [and lived-in] shared universe.” It turned out to do very few of those things. Pandora’s past came out in her own series, the pre-Flashpoint DCU was a non-factor (if you don’t count Earth-3), and “TW” only involved the three Justice League titles. The jury’s still out on Forever Evil, but it too seems very light on actually connecting all the New-52 books — most of which are trundling on as if nothing happened.
8. Justice League, post-preliminaries. Did Justice League really turn a corner with “Throne of Atlantis” and the new Justice League of America? As it turned out, not really. Instead, much of the year dealt with “Trinity War” and Forever Evil, so we’ll have to table this one — maybe to 2015, the League’s 55th anniversary.
9. Digital effects, continued. The larger question was “did digital sales harm brick-and-mortar businesses?” The short answer appears to be no, as the direct market had a very good year. However, the intersection of digital and print shifted for DC in 2013, with the publisher canceling Arrow, changing Smallville into a series of miniseries, and cutting out the monthly print version of Legends of the Dark Knight. Digital comics still seem to be finding their own way, at least for DC.
10. The Year of the Snyder. I talked about Man of Steel already, but the bottom line seems to be that regardless of its shortcomings, Warner Bros. is using Superman to establish the DC Movieverse, and quickly, too. This isn’t just on Zack Snyder, but Christopher Nolan and David Goyer as well. I was betting that MOS would “do no harm” to Superman, and that didn’t exactly pan out. Still, in terms of helping to give Superman a solid cinematic foundation, Zack Snyder probably had a decent 2013.
Scott Snyder didn’t have much American Vampire in 2013, but Batman’s “Zero Year” (drawn by Greg Capullo) and The Wake (with Sean Murphy) were both highlights. Superman Unchained hasn’t quite lived up to lofty expectations, although it’s still a pretty good Superman story. Snyder and Lee’s first arc will wind up in 2013, and from there, who knows?
1. Anniversaries. What might DC remember? It’s the 50th anniversary of the proto-Teen Titans, as the first Kid Flash/Aqualad/Robin team-up appeared in Brave and the Bold #54 (cover-dated June/July 1964). Speaking of the Titans, it’s about 30 years since Dick Grayson traded in Robin’s red vest for Nightwing’s blue disco collar. Two milestones of shared-universe history mark anniversaries this year: Zero Hour turns 20, and Identity Crisis turns 10. Green Lantern: Rebirth is also turning 10, which reminds me that Hal Jordan’s 55th is on July 23. Of course, April 18 is the 75th anniversary of Batman. No doubt there’ll be plenty of Bat-iversary celebrations throughout the year (including this week’s Detective Comics Vol. 2 #27 and the aforementioned Eternal), but I wonder about the 50th anniversary of Batman’s “New Look.” The set of stylistic changes overseen by editor Julius Schwartz, writer John Broome, and penciler Carmine Infantino led to, and was arguably superseded by, the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams stories — but the New Look represented a break from the more fantastic adventures of the ‘50s and early ‘60s, and laid the foundation for every “serious” Batman tale since.
2. When, officially, does it stop being New or 52? The relaunch turns three in September 2014, so putting those three years up against a quarter-century of post-Crisis continuity — or the 50 years of (not-always-cohesive) stories before that — they do still seem rather new-ish. No doubt April will, similarly, signal whether DC is serious about exactly 52 ongoing series in its superhero line. However, at some point DC has to take off the branding and just sell superhero comics. Otherwise, it becomes a distinction meaningful only to the people who’d read it regardless. There’s not much of a prediction in this item, because I don’t really expect the branding to come off during 2014, but I guess this gives some sort of notice, for whatever it’s worth.
3. The return of the weeklies. From 2006 to 2011, DC put out five year-long series. 52, Countdown and Trinity were weekly, and Brightest Day and Justice League: Generation Lost were biweekly. Now 2014 brings Batman Eternal and Futures End, one focused on the Batman family and the other a glimpse five years into the future (and featuring a certain future Batman). I like weekly storytelling, because I enjoy the differences in pacing. I’m also curious to see what kinds of stories these series tell — decompressed, collection-ready mini-arcs, installments that make it hard to wait seven days, or a bit of both?
4. The Flash, back on TV. There’s a lot going on with DC on TV, including Constantine and the pre-Batman Gotham series. However, nothing Warner Bros. has in store for the small screen carries the weight that a new Flash series would. Spinning out of Arrow, apparently it would be a more unabashed superhero show, with none of Arrow’s “urban vigilante” rationalizations. There haven’t been too many of those on the small screen. The Cape and Birds of Prey were flops, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has focused more on super-spying, and even Smallville took its time introducing actual costumed superheroes. Was the last successful straight-up superhero series really Lois & Clark? I’m not saying the world isn’t ready for a Flash series, but I don’t think it’s automatically a slam dunk.
5. Editorial shakeups as DC moves west. While the moves won’t be complete until 2015 (DC’s 80th anniversary, by the way), the planning will probably affect the superhero line this year. Not everyone is expected to leave New York for California, so I’m curious to see who goes — and who succeeds those who don’t.
6. Who are the new Architects? This is a question I raised with Carla, and I think it bears on the superhero line’s overall identity. Going back through publishing history, we can identify certain groups of prominent writers whose work helped shape those series. Every now and then the company hits a sweet spot, pairing the right creative teams with the right titles. Arguably, that was the case in the mid-2000s, with Grant Morrison starting on Batman, Mark Waid back on Flash, Geoff Johns revving up his Green Lantern run and starting on Action Comics, Gail Simone on Birds of Prey (and eventually Wonder Woman), Kurt Busiek writing Superman and Greg Rucka launching Checkmate. The New 52 originally tried to make similar matches. However, as individual titles adjust to new teams, 2014 will be a good time to see who goes where, and which of those particular professionals ends up emerging.
7. Can American Vampire rise again? Outside of a couple of specials, American Vampire was largely absent from the stands in 2013. Certainly Vertigo wants its upcoming return to make a big splash, but how big will it be? In an environment where every hiatus is an excellent jumping-off point, and where many readers wait for the collections anyway, I am pessimistic about the amount of copies AmVam’s next issue will sell.
8. A transitory year begins in April … We’ve heard already about changes to come following Forever Evil, but pretty soon the April solicitations will start showing us what those changes will be. Still, whether it’s Lex Luthor leading the Justice League, Dick Grayson joining the Bolshoi, or Swamp Thing becoming a cattle rancher, I doubt the changes will last too long. Dan DiDio seems too fond of an “iconic” status quo to let anything else take hold.
9. … and might peak in September. In the New 52 era, DC has turned the end of the third quarter into The Biggest Month Ever. For the past two years it’s tried to replicate its success with the original New 52 launch, with “Zero Month” in 2012 and “Villains Month” last year. However, this year’s September event will have to work around the changes wrought in April. Put another way, if a story starts in an April issue, September will be its Part 6. That’s enough for a collection-ready arc, but perhaps not enough payoff for a radical development from the spring. For example, “Trinity War” was six issues long and set up the next big event, so it’s entirely possible that the spring and summer are just another act in whatever September brings.
10. What is the nature of the Multiverse? One thing that I would be very, very surprised to see discussed in 2013 is the precise relationship of the New 52 Multiverse to the post-Infinite Crisis Multiverse. The latter informed the title of the weekly 52 miniseries, because it contained exactly 52 parallel universes. Most of these contained pre-existing variants of the main DC-Earth — which, for whatever reason, was never called Earth-1 — as seen in Elseworld stories like Gotham By Gaslight, Red Son and New Frontier. However, there was also a Nazi-fied Earth-10, the Marvel Family’s Earth-5, an Earth-2 where the Golden Age only took a short break, and an evil Earth-3. That Earth-3 isn’t the current Earth-3 — the current one is clearly not a continuation of its predecessor, which got a lot of play in the Countdown To Final Crisis miniseries. However, if it isn’t, then where did it come from? When Pandora guided the Flash through “re-assembling” the main DC Universe, she wanted him to combine it with “Vertigo” and “WildStorm” universes. So far, so good, because the WildStorm universe existed as part of the then-current Multiverse. By that logic, though, the Multiverse would then have been reduced to 50 parallel universes (not counting the one created at the end of Trinity, which I think matters only to me and Mr. Busiek). Did the Flash’s actions somehow “resonate” throughout the rest? Or is Forever Evil really an invasion from Earth-3A? Either way, I look forward to the issue when the Justice Leagues realize that if they’ve been invaded by Earth-3, maybe that means they might look to an Earth-2 for some help. Needless to say, I don’t expect that to happen in 2014, but you never know …
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Naturally, this isn’t meant to cover every aspect of DC’s superhero line over the next twelve months. There are a lot of important matters to discuss, including rising prices, the continued development of the digital line, audience demographics and expectations, and creative-team diversity. I’ll try to talk about those throughout 2014, and I hope it’ll be worth your attention.