"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
At first glance, The Multiversity: Guidebook #1 — this month’s chapter of Grant Morrison’s grand epic exploring DC Comics’ Multiverse — looks like a somewhat-skippable book, supplemental material of the sort that the publisher used to release under the title Secret Files & Origins.
Everything seems to bear that out, from the content advertised on the cover (like the already well-traveled map of the Multiverse) to the artists involved (Marcus To and Paulo Siqueira are good, but not of the same superstar status as previous Multiversity artists) to the particular Earths the cover boys come from (the Batman on the left is from Morrison’s new version of the world of The Atomic Knights; the Batman on the right is an off-model drawing of the character from an Earth introduced in Morrison’s brief Action Comics run).
Second and third glances confirm that initial assessment of this book’s importance. On flip-through, you’ll note that about half of its 70 pages are devoted to illustrated prose in an airy, space-filling format, defining each of the 52 Earths and identifying a few of the key players.
But once you start reading the thing? Well, on a purely conceptual level, as a piece of comics writing and a piece of comics writing about comics, it’s probably the most ambitious, important and fascinating chapter of The Multiversity to date. And that’s in addition to being an extremely timely reminder of how to “read” DC’s continuity-realigning storyines and just what, exactly, it is that makes DC Comics and the DC Universe so special in the first place.
Spring 1992’s Batman #475 may not be all that important in the Dark Knight’s history, but it was a pretty pivotal issue in my own history with comics. It wasn’t just the first time I bought a Batman comic — beginning a growing interest in superhero comics that has yet to subside — but it was also the first time I encountered the work of artist Norm Breyfogle.
It was his incredible artwork that convinced me to purchase that issue over all of the other Batman comics on the stands and in the beat-up boxes of my local comic shop, and that fueled my many return visits, to buy new Breyfogle-drawn Batman comics as they arrived and dig out the dozens of earlier ones from the back-issue bins.
At the time, comics cost just $1 — a quarter of what the average issue costs today — but I was 14 years old, so my only income came from allowance, birthday and Christmas gifts, and what my grandfather paid me to mow his lawn. Comics were to me then, as they are now, a luxury purchase of sorts, something one spent one’s extra money on. As adults, that means they’re what we buy after we’ve paid the rent and utilities, bought groceries and filled up the gas tank.
The first page of Marvel’s Star Wars #1 is essentially a splash-page version of a screen cap, featuring the blue “A long time ago …” opening text. And they’re not kidding. The first Star Wars film opened 38 years ago, in 1977, which is when Marvel initially published licensed Star Wars comics. The company kept a monthly series going for a decade before canceling it. The racks were Star Wars-less for just four years before Dark Horse picked up the license, beginning a fruitful 23-year relationship that produced some pretty great comics — in fact, almost all of the good Star Wars comics (that aren’t the product of Jeffrey Brown, anyway).
And now, thanks to various corporate acquisitions, “The Greatest Space Fantasy of All!” is back in the hands of Marvel, which used to refer to it as such in the ’70s (and its principal heroes as “The Star Warriors”).
So how is the much-hyped, $4.99, 30-page comic with a variant cover for every star in the sky? Not bad. Not bad at all.
Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Vol. 1 (DC Comics): It was so long ago at this point that it might as well have been the 1950s, as fast as Internet time moves, but I seem to recall Chip Kidd and company’s 2008 book Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan getting some static for its treatment of Jiro Kuwata’s Batman manga. Kuwata’s contribution was by far the most fascinating aspect of the book — and took up the bulk of the page count — but many thought he didn’t get the credit he deserved (his name didn’t appear on the cover alongside Kidd’s and those of two others), while others felt weird about comics work being presented alongside photos of goofy Batman toys, as if it were just one more example of collectible kitsch.
Kuwata’s contributions certainly proved to be the most influential element of the book, however, inspiring an almost beat-for-beat adaptation in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon and inspiring writer Grant Morrison’s scripts for his critically-acclaimed Batman, Inc series. Now DC is giving Kuwata’s Bat-Manga its due, packaged in a distraction-free all-manga format.
They’ve been serializing the comics, created in 1966 and ’67 during the height of “Batmania,” digitally, and are following up with hard-copy collections, the first of which is this hefty, 360-page brick.
Unlike Kia Asamiya’s 2003 Batman: Child of Dreams, in which that eminent manga artist told a regular American Batman story in his style, Kuwata’s Batman feature is a highly-strange, almost heady parallel take on Batman. The most basic elements of the story are there — millionaire Bruce Wayne and his young ward become Batman and Robin to fight crime in Gotham City, using the Batmobile, batarangs and other gadgets — but everything around the Dynamic Duo seems somewhat alien.
If you read about comic books on the Internet, and I have reason to believe you do, then chances are you’ve seen a lot this year about Lumberjanes.
And there’s good reason for that. First, the monthly series from BOOM! Studios is the sort of book many talkers-about-comic have been saying we need more of forever: It’s full of strong female protagonists, and it’s the work of strong female creators. (It’s a comic book about a group of awesome ladies, by awesome ladies!)
Second, and more importantly, it’s really, really good. It’s the story of five teenage best friends who occupy the Roanoke cabin of their Girl Scouts-like summer camping organization — April, Jo, Mal, Molly and Ripley — and their discovery of, and battles, against all kinds of weirdness in the woods around them. In the first, eight-issue arc they became involved in a contest between Greek gods, fighting three-eyed woodland creatures, yetis, dinosaurs and giant lightning bugs in the process. All that while earning merit badges.
Why do I bring this up? Well because if you’ve been reading about Lumberjanes and haven’t yet sampled it, this week’s issue is a pretty great jumping-on point.
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Readers and, especially, retailers may have plenty of reasons to be annoyed by Superman Unchained, the now-complete series available this week in a fancy-schmancy 350-page, slightly oversized hardcover “Deluxe Edition.”
DC Comics announced the awkwardly titled series — please note, there are no literal or metaphorical chains either going on or coming off in the story — as an ongoing, promoted with seemingly countless variant covers (more on these later). In theory, it sounded like a can’t-miss comic, featuring as it did the work of Scott Snyder, one of (if not the) most popular writers in the direct market and Jim Lee, one of (if not the) most popular artists in the direct market, working on DC’s flagship (and second-most popular) character.
In reality, the book turned out to just an nine-issue miniseries, rather important information a retailer would have taken into consideration when ordering. Whether or not it was always intended to be a miniseries, I don’t know; it reads as a complete story with a beginning, middle and end, and it fits into the New 52 continuity, but loosely enough that one need not have any idea what’s going on in any other book to follow it easily (Snyder really pulled off some great line-straddling here, as this reads equally well as part of the New 52 and as a standalone book for a new or lapsed Superman fan). The plan might have originally been for it to be ongoing, until the reality of a Lee drawing a monthly series set in.
Even at just nine issues, Superman Unchained was plagued with delays that made reading it serially something of a chump’s game. It took 15 months to publish those nine issues. That averages out to a bimonthly-ish schedule, but the delays were random and erratic: Issues 4 and 5 shipped in consecutive months, for example, and then there was a two-month delay before Issue 6, and a three-month delay before Issue 7. If there’s a more perfect argument for waiting for the trade than Superman Unchained, I’ve yet to hear it (you even get all 58 covers in this collection, some process stuff and no ads, and at $29.99 it’s cheaper than the buying all nine single issues at $3.99).
So, yes, if you’re in the business of trying to sell comics to people, you may have some ill will toward this book. And if you tried reading it “monthly,” you may also not feel great about it. I can’t defend DC’s production or marketing of the book, but I would argue in favor of forgiving Superman Unchained. Because the thing is, it’s actually a pretty great Superman story.
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Archie: The Married Life Book Six (Archie Comics): This is a phone book-sized collection of the final seven issues of Life With Archie, the series set in a possible future where Archie is married to Betty … and Veronica, in two alternate timelines. The narrative jumps between those parallel realities in a way that can be downright confusing when read in such a huge chunk as the collections offer.
While the stories feature the same fairly sprawling cast — and the character designs and are style are, as usual, in perfect harmony no matter whose names are in the credits — there’s more differences between the two timelines than just which girl Archie settled down with. In one timeline, Jughead is dating Ethel; in the other he’s having a baby with Midge. Likewise, Reggie is either a newspaper reporter or a mechanic with a reality show, and Moose is either Riverdale’s mayor or Riverdale High School’s janitor. And so on.
There are a few things both universes share, however, like Kevin Keller having been elected to the U.S. Senate, campaigning on gun control, an issue driven home by a mass shooting in the nearby Southport Mall. And, of course, in the final two issues, the “Death of Archie” and the epilogue that follows, the story is carefully, delicately crafted so that every line and every panel can be read so they’re the conclusions of both storylines, despite all the differences between the two.
What exactly is “the Earth One series”? I’m a little confused. So too is its publisher.
The line of original graphic novels launched in 2010 with J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis’ Superman: Earth One. The premise seemed to be the reintroduction of the character in a modern setting for a new audience. (Not unlike Marvel’s millennial Ultimate imprint then, but in a more bookstore/library-friendly format.)
That was followed with a sequel and Batman: Earth One, by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. Now the Teen Titans get a turn with this book by Jeff Lemire, Terry and Rachel Dodson and Cam Smith. Despite the blurb, the graphic novels aren’t connected in any way other than design, format and, perhaps, intended audience.
The “Earth One” designation remains particularly perplexing, given the baggage the phrase is freighted with, its ever-changing meaning and the fact that these books are presumably targeted at readers who don’t know or care about the oft-rebooted DC Multiverse’s various parallel-Earth settings.
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The current cultural interest in zombies seems to be, like the creatures themselves, deathless. Rather than abating, the trend simply finds new ways and places to appear, whether that’s Archie Comics’ entry into horror, a new take on DC’s old war titles, or manga-ka Kentaro Sato’s bizarre Magical Girl Apocalypse.
A recent import from Seven Seas that gives the zombie-apocalypse scenario the unusual agent of a magical school girl, the series is perhaps well-timed, given the resurgence of interest in Sailor Moon, most Americans’ first and strongest introduction to the Japanese trope, that has accompanied her new television show.
Sato’s comic is an odd one in how familiar it is … save for that one big innovation. It’s not even the first manga I’ve read about a zombie apocalypse that starts at a Japanese high school; Daisuke Sato and Shouji Sato’s superior Highschool of the Dead has a similar premise, and much of this first volume features scenes and character types almost identical to those in HOTD‘s first volume.
That isn’t to say it’s a retread, however; it differs in several significant ways — it’s far gorier, it’s less interested in fan service (and some of what’s there seems almost to be a parody of the ludicrously endowed characters that appear in some manga, including HOTD), it’s less interested in characterization (the cast expanding only to shrink almost immediately in a series of gory deaths) and, of course, there’s that magical girl.
All-New Doop (Marvel): It’s perfectly appropriate for any series starring peripheral X-Men character Doop to be a weird one, however, the miniseries collected in this trade paperback is weird in a weird way.
Doop was created by writer Peter Milligan and artist Mike Allred for their iconoclastic (and somewhat -controversial) 2001 X-Force run, which was then relaunched under the name The X-Statix. The premise involved a group of celebrity-wannabe mutants who used their powers for fame and fortune by starring in a reality show; holding the camera was a mysterious, gross, floating, potato-shaped green creature that spoke its own, indecipherable language and answered to the name Doop.
Milligan imagined a dramatic behind-the-scenes life for the character in a two-part, 2003 Wolverine/Doop miniseries, and writer Jason Aaron ran with the joke, including Doop as a member of the faculty at the Jean Grey School during his Wolverine and The X-Men run. For the most part, Doop functioned as a background joke, one more signifier of the zany environment of the new school for young mutants, though Aaron did pair with Doop’s co-creator Allred for a one-issue story that focused on the character as a behind-the-scenes, floating potato-thing-of-all-trades.
Milligan returns to the character for this miniseries, in which Allred only provides the covers, while David LaFuente draws the majority of the art. Milligan takes Doop’s behind-the-scenes portfolio to an extreme, marking him as a character capable of traveling through “The Marginalia,” entering and exiting the comic-book tales in order to influence their outcome.
The story Doop influences here is “Battle of the Atom,” the Brian Michael Bendis-helmed X-Men crossover that involved Cyclops’ X-Men team, Wolverine’s X-Men team and an X-Men team from the future engaged in a fight over what to do with the teenage original X-Men plucked out of the Silver Age and currently hanging around the present.
Marvel recently released Moon Knight Vol.1: From The Dead, collecting the first six issues of writer Warren Ellis and artist Declan Shalvey’s run on their newly launched Moon Knight ongoing series. As it turns out, it also collects the entirety of Ellis and Shalvey’s run on their newly launched Moon Knight ongoing series, as the pair left the book after those six issues.
Under most circumstances, creators departing almost as soon as they started would be a pretty clear sign that something was wrong behind the scenes, and would, in general, be regarded as a very bad thing. And Ellis and Shalvey leaving the book so soon is a bad thing, if only because they did such terrific work on it.
As odd as it may seem, they’re not leaving any story business unfinished, and the trade reads complete as is — there’s no cliffhanger at the end, no dangling plotlines, no characters in the lurch. That’s because Ellis didn’t write the book as if it were an open-ended, superhero serial narrative, but approached each of those six issues as a done-in-one, complete story. In all honesty, Ellis and Shalvey could have quit after three issues, or two or one, and Moon Knight would still read as a complete narrative with a beginning, middle and end.
There’s a lot more than gender differentiating Wonder Woman from her fellow first generation superheroes that have, against all odds, survived to the modern day. More so than even Superman and Batman, the only other heroes whose comics have been in continuous publication since their creation, Wonder Woman is a character with sharp, often difficult to reconcile (or even wrestle with) contradictions built into her.
Foremost among those contradictions is the fact that, as Tim Hanley alludes to in the subtitle of Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine, the character is universally known, to the point that she’s practically omnipresent in pop culture, but that knowledge tends to be pretty shallow.
That is, everyone knows Wonder Woman, but relatively few know much of anything about her. Her name and costume, her bullet-blocking bracelets and magic lasso, maybe her invisible jet, but that’s about it, really. Curious indeed.
Do you like Batman? Sure, everyone loves Batman, which is what makes this new series Earth 2: World’s End so great. It’s got Batman in it! Well, not Batman so much as Batman’s dad. And not the “real” Batman’s dad, but an alternate dimension’s Batman’s dad … who has taken over for his son as Batman II. So, it stars a legacy version of an alternate version of Batman.
That’s one aspect of World’s End, which joins Batman Eternal and The New 52: Futures End on DC’s slate of ongoing weeklies, that I found particularly striking.
It would be awfully hard to overstate the enthusiasm out there for Batgirl #35. As soon as the new creative team of Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr and Brenden Fletcher was announced, social media was buzzing; hell, it was singing. Fan art of the new costume began appearing online immediately, and cosplayers started dressing the new Batgirl based on nothing more than the initial promotional images and cover.
I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen this much enthusiasm for a DC Comics production. Universe-shaking developments — deaths, resurrections, infinite crises — major crossovers, and new series from the hottest creators are generally greeted with a dose of cold water from a certain faction of fans. DC readers tend to fall somewhere between “cautiously optimistic” and “openly hostile” when it comes to the publisher’s big decisions. But, for whatever reasons, I’ve seen none of that cynicism regarding the new direction of Batgirl.
Which is a long way of saying that expectations for this particular issue of this particular series are, in most quarters that care about such things, sky-high.
There are only ever three things that can happen with expectations: They can be met, they can fail to be met, or they can be exceeded. And, in general, the higher the expectations are, the less likely they are to be met.
So, as a comic book, how is Batgirl #35 …?
In the fullness of time, all things come to an end: Futures, worlds, even month-long publishing initiatives. And so Wednesday brought with it the final batch of Futures End specials from DC Comics.
Of this week’s 10 releases, I read four, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of those were pretty good … and at least two of them even tied in to the events of The New 52: Futures End, the weekly series that nominally gives the one-shots a reason to exist.
Heck, one of them tied in to the series, which saw the release of its 21st issue this week, strongly and directly enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned up in one of the eventual trade collections of Futures End.
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