J. Caleb Mozzocco
Whether due to use-it-or-lose-it legal concerns about trademarks, or simply to remind everyone of exactly what it owns, DC Comics has come up with a variety of ways to recycle old titles, ranging from the 1997 Tangent event to the anthologies Mystery in Space and Ghosts to the short-lived National Comics revival.
This week the company brought back Young Romance, the title of the Joe Simon/Jack Kirby-created comic that was published from 1947 to 1975, as a Valentine’s Day special featuring a half-dozen stories of romance in the New 52 DC Universe.
An interesting mix of creators are involved, an interesting enough mix to merit a look at what they might do with some of these characters and couples in eight pages. So join me for mini-reviews of every story in Young Romance: The New 52 Valentine’s Day Special.
DC Comics announced last week that its April superhero comics will be “WTF Certified,” presumably because the month kicks off with April Fool’s Day. In doing so, the publisher made itself the easiest of targets for snide remarks. Let’s take a quick sample of the ones I found in just a five-minute search:
- “[A]n all-too-apt description of the current state of the publishing company” — The AV Club’s Oliver Sava
- “I am looking forward to ‘MILF March’ featuring all the superheroes’ mothers” — Mike Sterling
- “DC has the ability to sell comics to literally anyone with an internet connection now. It’d be nice if their tenor reflected that.” — Kevin Church
- “The company announced that all 52 of its mainstream titles would have a ‘WTF Certified’ stamp on it, presumably as a wink to fans who have been wondering what the fuck has been going on at DC.” — Outhousers.com
- “This is not a hoax, not an imaginary story, but a certified edgy promotion! The covers are gatefolds, with the “What the” part on the front and the ‘fuck’ part on the inside.” — Heidi MacDonald
- “Remember how DC is having their mature and genteel ‘WTF Month,’ where the cover is supposed to fold out and make you swear in shock and exasperation … and if children still read DC comics, presumably get your mouth washed out with soap?” — Todd Allen
- “I thought every month was WTF month at DC?” — about one-fifth of everyone leaving a comment beneath an online article on the subject
It’s not that weird for DC Comics (or, to be fair, arch-rival Marve), to occasionally be metaphorically walking around with a “Kick Me” sign on its metaphorical back, but it is pretty weird for DC to affix the sign itself and make such a big, aggressive show of pointing it out to everyone.
So let’s get to kicking them, I guess. But where to start? With the name of the event, naturally.
According to recent convention scuttlebutt, DC Comics is apparently canceling its latest Hawkman series, the New 52-launched Savage Hawkman, perhaps as early as May’s Issue 20.
That is not the least bit surprising, really, given the publisher’s historical difficulty in keeping readers interested in Hawkman, and given the way in which the title and the character were served by the line-wide reboot and the accompanying creative-team chaos. It’s too bad, though, given how easily DC could have simply published the sort of Hawkman title the 21st-century super-comic audience would support, rather than The Savage Hawkman.
The series launched in September 2011 along with the other 51 new series comprising DC’s New 52 initiative, featuring a rebooted continuity for the then 71-year-old hero and a redesigned costume featuring more armor and pointed edges (most notably a set of Wolverine-like claws frequently waved in the direction of the reader on the covers). The creative team consisted of artist-turned-writer/artist Tony S. Daniel, who was just handling the writing, and Philip Tan, who was providing the art.
The first issue of the improbably titled Injustice: Gods Among Us includes a dystopian future featuring a fascist Superman, a half-dozen or so superheroes, a handful of supervillains, a pregnant Lois Lane, the deaths of multiple characters, a submarine hijacking and the detonation of a nuclear bomb.
I was most interested in what everyone was wearing.
Injustice is the print version of the digital-first comic based on the upcoming fighting video game from the makers of Mortal Kombat. The game is, of course, based on DC’s characters, so with the release of this issue, the circle is complete: This is the precise part of the tail where the transmedia ouroboros chomps down.
The aspect of DC’s overall New 52 refurbishing — from the de-cluttering continuity reboot to the costume redesigns — that has most fascinated me is that the timing seemed to indicate it was part of a transmedia strategy, which of course has led to months of trying to figure out why particular changes or decisions might have been made, and what that indicates about the publisher’s priorities.
This deep in to the New 52, it’s clear DC eschewed making its comics universe more closely resemble that of the popular, all-ages cartoons like Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans, the decades of assorted Batman shows and even Young Justice, which seems rather remarkably able to synthesize aspects of complicated comic-book continuity. And it’s clear the publisher has instead focused its energies on the older teen/adult audiences of video games Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City and, to a lesser extent, Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and their DC Universe Online video game.
So here’s a comic book based on the company’s next big video game, which was being developed and produced just as the New 52 line was being developed and produced: What will this comic look like? What will it be like?
In November I decided to use myself as a case study for the first issue of one of the series debuting as part of Marvel NOW!, the publisher’s concentrated, unified effort to sell its comics to a wider audience, which presumably meant luring in lapsed and new readers. That first issue I read was Fantastic Four #1 by Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley; I didn’t much care for it.
This week I picked up Young Avengers #1 by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton, giving it the same treatment. (Between the two, I also tried Fraction and Mike and Laura Allred’s FF #1 and loved it, but didn’t write about it in this manner because … well, I don’t remember why. Here’s what I said about the first issue the week it was released, though). Ready?
My background: I read the first dozen 2005-2006 Young Avengers comics by creators Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung, but gradually lost interest in the characters at about the same rate Heinberg did. Over the years I’ve read various Young Avengers-related comics, most of which Marvel seemed to be producing to fill the demand for Young Avengers comics while waiting for Heinberg to write more: Young Avengers Presents, Civil War: Young Avengers and Runaways, Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers. But when he finally did return, I didn’t.
I used to think Marvel was, consciously or unconsciously, driving its readers to quit serial comics and start reading trades. As evidence, there’s the standard list of complaints: inflated pricing, ads that don’t seem to generate any revenue, trade-ready scripting, variant covers, irregular but accelerated publishing schedules, etc.
The Marvel NOW! initiative has me starting to rethink that, however. See, I’ve been trade-waiting a lot of the Marvel comics I read, including the Jason Aaron-written Incredible Hulk. The first trade paperback collection of his run, which began in 2011, was released in late December. I just read it this week. And, of course, Marvel relaunched the Hulk with a new writer, new direction, new title and new numbering with Indestructible Hulk #1.
That’s one of several Marvel NOW! relaunches that happened almost on the heels of the previous relaunches — Wolverine went 17 issues in its new renumbering, the just-relauched Captain America was only on Issue 19, the similarly relaunched Thor on Issue 22 — and it was the first time I can remember reading a new trade that’s contents were made completely obsolete (from a keeping-up-with-the-goings-on-of-a-superhero-universe perspective only, of course) before it was even published.
I imagine a lot of the new NOW! premises won’t be around more than a year or two — Captain America can’t stay stranded in a different dimension forever, the Fantastic Four have to come back from space eventually, the original X-Men can’t be time-lost indefinitely — so I suppose this sort of thing could be happening on a more frequent basis. So if you trade-wait, maybe you’re waiting too long!
So, what did I wait for?
Dark Horse has long been the exemplar of how a smart publisher can make pretty great comics out of licensed properties, even those that might not even seem all that worthwhile to begin with. (Compare, for example, Dark Horse’s first few batches of Predator comics to Predator 2, or the publisher’s Predator Vs. Aliens comics to the eventual films bearing that title.) Certainly the company has had its greatest success with the Star Wars license; if there are any other relationships that have been as long and as fruitful as the Dark Horse/Star Wars one, I’m hard-pressed to think of them.
Despite those scores of Star Wars comics from creators who generally range from up-and-coming but professional talents to some of the best in the industry, the publisher’s new Star Wars series — called simply Star Wars, no colon or dash, no subtitle — seemed well-positioned to be something special: the new flagship of the comics line, something for new readers a la DC’s New 52 or Marvel’s NOW! machinations, a Star Wars comic for people who like Star Wars and like comics, but maybe don’t already read Star Wars comics.
Part of that positioning came from the unusual (for the franchise) creative team: writer Brian Wood, a longtime creator whose idiosyncratic work has always tended more toward critical acclaim than sales blockbuster, artist Carlos D’Anda, a newish-to-comics creator whose most recent high-profile work was Batman: Arkham City, and cover artist Alex Ross, the industry’s favorite painter of ’70s and ’80s nostalgia.
A greater part, I think, came from the focus. While Dark Horse has published comics about just about every character in the Star Wars “Expanded Universe,” and made a lot of them about the ancient history of George Lucas’ galaxy and the Clone Wars era (Lucas & Co.’s focus for the past decade or so), this new series is to center on the core cast of the original film trilogy, and to be set right after the events of Star Wars: A New Hope.
James Daily and Ryan Davidson intend to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that every subject, even one as dry and forbidding as the law, is more fun when you add superheroes. Exhibit A: The Law of Superheroes, their new book based on their blog Law and the Multiverse, which seeks to do for their area of expertise what James Kakalios’ 2006 book The Physics of Superheroes did for his.
I lack a black robe and a gavel, so I’m not certain exactly how authoritative my judgment on this particular case can be, but I think the pair did a rather admirable job. I can’t say in good conscience that their book is a rollicking, can’t-put-it-down read — even with superheroes, it’s still a book about the law and other, um, legal stuff — but it’s certainly interesting, and, for those of us coming at it as longtime comics fans, it presents new ways of thinking about classic characters and their weekly adventures.
The book’s 13 chapters are divided into rather broad subjects like constitutional law, criminal law, international law and so forth, and breaks the subject down further with various articles falling under each chapter’s subject, pulling examples from comic books (and a few movies based on comic books, particularly the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman movies, Iron Man and the Spider-Man movies).
So, for example, the chapter on constitutional law contains articles on mutant rights, superpowers and the Second Amendment, forcible removal of superpowers, the death penalty as it might apply to immortal or nigh-invulnerable characters, and so on. It’s discussion of the law that mainly drives the book’s construction; where the superheroes come in is when it’s time to apply that law to the Marvel and DC universes (as well as the Ultimate universe and movie universes and so on). Copious footnotes are provided to direct an interested reader back to particular comics stories or particular laws and court rulings.
It’s Thursday afternoon as you’re reading this, but it’s still Wednesday night as I write it. Usually on Wednesdays, I work at my day job until 5 p.m., and then, after I shout “Yabba-dabba-doo!” and slide down the tail of my sauropod/steam shovel, I hop into my car and drive to my local comic shop and pick up a small stack of comic books. Then I return to my apartment and read them, and then I write brief reviews of them all for a weekly feature I post on my home blog and then I write my weekly post for Robot 6.
Wednesdays are, generally speaking, pretty busy days for me. This one’s even busier than usual, as in addition to the above, I have a few extra writing assignments I need to finish before the end of the week and I still have two homemade Christmas presents for loved ones I need to finish putting together.
So then I had a brilliant idea! Well, an idea. Maybe instead of writing two blog posts tonight, one for Every Day Is Like Wednesday and one for Robot 6, I would just write my usual Wednesday-night blog post and put it here instead of there, thus killing two birds with one stone, as the saying, which was popularized back when people still killed birds with stones, goes.
Here then, are a few paragraphs about each of the new comic books I bought and read this Wednesday (now if only I could give blog posts as a Christmas gifts to my family members, the rest of this week would be pretty chill):
How much, exactly, is too much of a good thing? I imagine it depends on the thing in question, and the person you ask. Let’s say the thing is Marvel’s newish Hawkeye. And the person is me.
I really like this comic, which is something that came as a great surprise to me, as I don’t really have any feelings about Hawkeye beyond, perhaps, preferring the super-archer with the facial hair and the green costume. And I don’t really like reading Marvel comics serially any more, given how hard the publisher strives to make that experience an unpleasant one, with the ads and the variants and the cover prices and the AR phone applications and the random switching and the renumbering and title changing and the funny numbering schemes (“Superior Spider-Man #6AU“…?) and the irregular shipping schedules.
I bought the first issue on a whim, though (it was a light week), and despite a little confusion as to why artist David Aja was to aping ’80s-era David Mazzucchelli, it impressed the hell out of me. Writer Matt Fraction and Aja make a great team, and the idea of focusing on what Hawkeye does “when he’s not being an Avenger” — recasting the movie star/cartoon character/toy as a more-or-less everyman action hero — is interesting, as was the decision to make every issue a done-in-one complete story (for the first three issues, anyway).
Each story has had elaborately constructed plots that spring open, move fluidly and then snap satisfyingly shut, the script and art are paced to encourage a slower, more appreciative reading process that makes each issue seem twice as long as most other Marvel comics, and even Matt Hollingsworth’s old-school but understated color and generous use of purple (to compensate for the lack of costume) has been impressive.
I started to worry when Issue 4 shipped, though, and worry still more when I read Issue 5, and worry still more when I saw Issue 6 arrives next Wednesday.
During the 1960s creation of Marvel Comics, when Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko conceived the core stable of characters and the emerging shared-setting of the Marvel Universe, the line’s writer/editor/spokesman Lee created a fictional Marvel Bullpen.
Based on the crowded, raucous studio environment of the Golden Age, which Kirby actually worked in and Lee essentially interned in, Lee’s Bullpen presented he and his collaborators and employees as a big happy family, joyfully creating comics for their young readers an environment that could seem as fun as working in Santa’s workshop.
At the time of its creation, Lee’s fantasy might have been a pure invention (although later, after Kirby and Ditko left the publisher and Lee was promoted out of his hands-on control of the line, such an environment would occasionally come into existence, depending on the year, the employees and the owner at the time), but it did hint at an aspect of reality.
The characters who were making Marvel comics were in many ways just as colorful and talented as the characters starring in them; the story of Marvel Comics is at least as exciting as any story in Marvel comics. And, in a very real way, Sean Howe’s book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is probably the Marvel story of the year—bigger, more epic and with greater conflict and drama than Fear Itself or Avengers Vs. X-Men or even that billion-dollar feature Marvel Studios released over the summer … the movie’s monstrous success being what gives Howe’s book a sort of validating end-point, a raison d’etre; to both Lee’s decades-long ambition to see Marvel characters on the big screen, and owner after owner’s ambition to become very, very rich off the heroes Kirby and company created.
As most of you are well aware, Marvel NOW! is Marvel’s new initiative to re-brand and re-freshen its line of superhero comics, which seems to be a sort of undeclared response to DC Comics’ 2011 New 52 relaunch.
Whereas the Distinguished Competition rebooted its continuity as well as giving all its series new No. 1 issues, Marvel’s effort is more akin to the branding enterprise that followed past crossover events (“The Heroic Age,” “Dark Reign,” “The Initiative,” etc), albeit to a far greater extent: In addition to bearing uniform cover design, many of the NOW! books are also being relaunched with new No. 1 issues and getting new creative teams (although many of those teams are simply swapping assignments; for example, the guy who was doing Avengers is now doing an X-Men comic,while a guy who was doing an X-Men comic is now doing an Avengers comic, and so on).
The idea, one imagines, is, as always, to sell more comics — to lure lapsed readers, Marvel-curious readers and (judging by the numbers of variants being published) collectors and speculators to try out some of the new and/or refurbished comics. It worked on me, so I thought it might be interesting (or at least something to write a blog post about, which is basically the same thing for me) to use myself as a case study to examine a single instance of a new reader trying out a Marvel NOW! book.
I don’t really need to waste words telling you guys how special comics are, and of the unique artistic alchemy that goes on in their creation and their reading, in which verbal and visual components fuse and synthesize, and the readers finish, almost animate the pages in his or her own imagination. You guys know all that; you read these things all the time.
What you may not think about as much, because I know I don’t, is something that comics can have a lot of trouble dealing with: Sound. Aside from the rustling of the pages, there’s no sound involved in reading comics, and the writers and artists have to get pretty inventive when it comes to trying to include sound in their comics narrative…at least if they want to do so effectively.
In Frank M. Young and David Lasky’s The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song, a comics biography of the massively influential early 20th-century music group, sound is obviously something that’s rather important. Music is the thing that binds the main characters together; it’s what first brought young Sara to the attention of her husband A.P. Carter, it’s what they did with Sara’s cousin Maybelle, it’s what obsessed A.P. to the point that he neglected Sara, it’s the legacy the family left behind, and it’s the reason the book exists in the first place.
When Joe Kubert passed away in August, he left a sizable hole in the world of comics, by virtue of his lifelong career in the field, his fairly unique role as one of the medium’s first and most influential teachers, and his immense talent.
At the time of his death, many of the obituaries and remembrances mentioned he was still drawing comics at his advanced age, and that, in fact, he had projects on his drawing board.
I suspect a lot of people will be contemplating Kubert’s work this week, and mourning his loss, as Wednesday the major publisher with which he was most associated throughout his career released some of his latest and, sadly, last work, giving readers to chance to see some of that stuff of that was on his drawing board when he passed away: an eerie, unfinished story for a Vertigo anthology and the first issue of a new limited series bearing Kubert’s name.
The Vertigo anthology is Ghosts, and Kubert’s piece is “The Boy and the Old Man;” it’s about a brave old warrior on his figurative deathbed, lying there awaiting his end, and, ultimately, vigorously fighting against it when it arrives, in order to save a young man.
Yesterday Image Comics released two new books by Brandon Graham.
One was Prophet #30, the latest issue of the critically acclaimed sci-fi/fantasy series based on a resuscitated and reimagined Rob Liefeld-created property. Graham writes Prophet, and only very occasionally draws parts of it, while the lion’s share of the illustration duties has fallen to a rotating cast of talented artists, including Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple and Giannis Milonogiannis. Despite that it’s not all his in the way most of his other comics work has been, it has brought a lot of attention to the talented young creator, and kept his name and work in the reading audience’s mind in a way more occasionally published graphic novels just can’t do.
The other book was Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #1, which is both written and drawn by Graham, and isn’t based on a Rob Liefeld-created property. This one is all Graham’s and, in that respect, is probably a better example of what the next work from the guy who did King City is – it’s Graham’s latest comics work, and his truest follow up to King City.
But the characters, their world and their story have been around for quite a while now, traveling on an orbit that takes them from inside Graham’s mind and imagination out into the public eye, and back again; while the lines on these pages might be newer, aspects of Multiple Warheads pre-dates Graham’s Prophet work and at least large chunks of his King City.