Tom Bondurant, Author at Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources
Not that I’d forgotten, but CSBG’s new 75 Greatest Batman Covers poll was just the latest reminder that this is Batman’s 75th anniversary year. According to Mike’s Amazing World of DC Comics, Detective Comics (Vol. 1) #27 hit newsstands on or about April 18, 1939, which means the celebrations don’t have to start right away.
Still, so far Batman’s 75th seems to be a rather low-key affair, at least as compared to Superman’s 75th last year. That anniversary included a special logo, a new movie, a few new ongoing series, a couple of celebratory collections (including one for Lois Lane, who shares the anniversary) and an animated tribute. Batman’s already gotten a giant-sized Detective (Vol. 2) #27, and the final Arkham Asylum video game is coming out. Additionally, before 2014 ends, we’ll probably see Ben Affleck in the new Batsuit, plus whatever Batman Eternal has in store. Beyond that, however, it seems like business as usual for the Dark Knight.
Fortunately, business has been pretty good for a while now, such that slapping an anniversary tag on the various Bat-offerings almost seems superfluous. By this point Batman practically is eternal — but what does that really mean?
Readers of superhero comics have long debated the merits of “decompression” and “waiting for the trade.” You can either read a serialized story as it comes out, or you can wait until it’s collected. With two issues to go, it looks like Forever Evil wants it both ways. It is structured for the Wednesday crowd but written for the trade; and so far, the result is a grim, vignette-driven affair. Writer Geoff Johns and artists David Finch and Ivan Reis (and their various collaborators) have set up an apocalyptic scenario and teased a handful of elements pointing toward its resolution; but they haven’t otherwise done much, issue to issue, to move the story closer to that resolution. Indeed, the deeper I get into Forever Evil, the more I suspect that it — like its prologue, “Trinity War” — may be only the latest chapter in an ever-expanding saga.
By itself that would be unsatisfying enough. However, Forever Evil was supposed to show off DC’s shared universe (New 52 edition). To be fair, its Justice League crossover issues have presented New 52 versions of Plastic Man, the Doom Patrol and the Metal Men, and alluded to past battles with old-school villains like Ultivac and the Construct. Still, except for the Metal Men, none seems directly related to FE’s eventual outcome; and each seems intended instead as an Easter egg or the seed of a future series. Indeed, while the “Blight” crossover has shown what happened to the magic-based superheroes, FE itself hasn’t delved too far into the whereabouts of DC-Earth’s non-Leaguer super-folk. For those of us wanting each issue to go somewhere new, or at least somewhere different, month in and month out Forever Evil has felt fairly repetitive. Moreover, in sidelining the Justice League itself, it’s removed a potentially productive narrative thread.
Inasmuch as these choices relate to the changing comics marketplace, Forever Evil could be one of the last big events structured this way, or it could be the shape of things to come.
Not a lot in DC Comics’ May solicitations really strikes me as “new.” That’s due partly to a lot of the new books being set to launch a month earlier. Generally, the superhero line continues to contract, while The New 52 — Futures End kicks off, the New 52 version of Doomsday keeps rampaging through the Superman titles, and Batman Eternal rolls on. Nevertheless, I do have the irrational sense that the line is gearing up for something even more significant, and will be adding new series over the next few months.
Still, if we’re to get excited about the regular fare, we may have to read between the solicitations’ lines — so let’s get on with it, shall we?
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A NEW 52 FOR THE NEW 52
And here it is, Futures End. Last year I wrote the New 52 needed its own version of 52, the year-long miniseries that spanned time and space to focus on the lesser lights of the superhero line. I talked about exploring the geography of the still-new shared universe, doing character studies, and essentially giving the reader a good sense of place and/or connection.
DC’s serialized superhero-style comics operate on two basic levels: First, they’re an array of periodicals, with a different lineup of issues published each week. Next, those installments are collected into distinct volumes and published on a separate schedule. That’s nothing new. The single-issue reader sees the books differently from the collection-oriented reader, and each way has its advantages and disadvantages. These days, however, caught somewhere in the middle is the miniseries.
Since the New 52 relaunch, miniseries have been a lot more scarce in DC’s superhero line. That’s understandable, considering that the New 52 itself began as a group of ongoing series, and (even if DC isn’t putting out exactly 52 of ‘em each month) it takes a good bit of effort to maintain that many regular titles. Nevertheless, not so long ago, superhero-style miniseries were about as plentiful as their ongoing cousins. The last time I looked at the numbers in detail was in the summer of 2008 — when, over the previous five years, miniseries issues accounted for about one-third of the superhero line’s output.
Of course, DC still produces big event-style miniseries — just look at Forever Evil and its spinoffs, to say nothing of the Before Watchmen minis — but those tend to be sure things, as are the recent Damian Wayne and Batman: Black and White miniseries. The kind of miniseries that tests the market’s appetite for a particular character — think Huntress, My Greatest Adventure or Human Bomb — has become considerably more rare since the New 52 debuted. Instead, the New 52 has produced low-selling, quickly canceled ongoing books like Blackhawks, Sword of Sorcery, Threshold and Green Team. That track record isn’t exactly flattering, so today we’ll look at whether DC might want to ease up on the ongoing-series commitments, and put more minis back on its schedule.
Putting Geoff Johns (writer), John Romita Jr. (penciller), and Klaus Janson (inker) on Superman sends a strong message to the cape-comics marketplace. At its core, that message seems to be “we’re not fooling around with the Man of Steel.”
Whether clad in T-shirt or Kryptonian armor, Superman has been the face of the New 52, in good ways and bad, since the 2011 relaunch. A Johns-written, Jim Lee-drawn Superman was part of the first New 52 comic published, namely the first issue of Justice League. Therefore, it’s eminently appropriate for one of DC’s highest-profile writers to take on its flagship character in his eponymous series. Likewise, art by longtime Marvel stalwart JRJr and veteran inker Janson is also appropriate to Superman’s central position in DC’s superhero line.
However, Johns also comes to Superman with a certain set of expectations, starting with his anticipated tenure. Writer/artist George Pérez and finisher Jésus Merino kicked off the current series, but they didn’t stay long; and for several months Superman struggled to find a consistent creative team. Incumbent writer Scott Lobdell came aboard with issue #13 and is scheduled to stay at least through April’s issue #30. That’s a year and a half, give or take a Villains Month, and it’s allowed Lobdell to leave his mark on Superman’s adventures. Moreover, Lobdell arrived about two-thirds of the way through Grant Morrison’s run as Action Comics writer, so for about a year, Lobdell has at least offered some consistency while Action tried to lock in a creative team. Johns has just come off two years writing Aquaman — not to mention multi-year runs on Green Lantern, Action, Flash, JSA, and Teen Titans — so it’s not unreasonable to think he’s got at least a couple of years’ worth of Superman in him.
In the long run, DC Comics canceling Teen Titans may not mean much: The Legion of Super-Heroes is on hiatus, but it’ll be back. Likewise, I think there will be a new Teen Titans title — maybe called Young Justice? — sooner rather than later.
What’s curious about the end of this particular series, which coincides with writer Scott Lobdell’s departure, is it suggests more than just a name change. The Titans began as an all-star team, like their mentors in the Justice League, but over time the title focused increasingly on interpersonal relationships. The New 52 version of the team now features a Wonder Girl and Kid Flash who have virtually no connection to their older namesakes. Only Superboy has a solo title, and besides him only Red Robin appears regularly outside of Teen Titans. That makes the Titans rather insular, so I wonder if the inevitable relaunch will try to address that.
Whatever happens, odds are that the all-star structure that characterized DC super-teams since the 1940s has faded into the background for good. This week we’ll examine the Titans’ place in the superhero line, and see what the book has to offer going forward.
This look at DC’s latest round of solicitations may be quicker and dirtier than usual, mostly because this week I thought I was going to be talking about Teen Titans’ cancellation. We’ll do a little of that this week, along with the other titles on the chopping block.
However, for a while now we’ve known that April — being the first post-Forever Evil month — will feature some big changes, and those start right here.
BY THE NUMBERS
I count 47 ongoing New 52 series, but that includes the six books canceled as of April, and it only counts Batman Eternal — which, contrary to my expectation, is not solicited as a limited series — once. Thus, if DC still wants to hit the magic number, it needs to come up with 11 new series for May.
Naturally, now I’m having reservations. My wellspring of fannish entitlement tells me that Wally comes with certain Implications. It may not be enough simply to reintroduce some guy who happens to have the same name, because Wally has his own 50-plus years of history.
And that’s a perfect segue into another recent announcement: An ongoing Secret Origins series sounds like it could serve much the same purpose as the last SO ongoing (1986-90). That series ran for 50 issues, plus various annuals and specials, and it helped organize various bits of continuity in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths. For example, 1986′s Secret Origins debut spotlighted the Golden Age Superman, in a story by Roy Thomas, veteran Super-artist Wayne Boring and inker Jerry Ordway; and the first New 52 issue will feature Superman, Supergirl and Dick Grayson’s Robin origin.
I am cautiously optimistic about both of these announcements, but on balance I am a bit more excited for Secret Origins.
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.
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Every year ROBOT 6 contributors Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman get together to talk about everything in Big Two superhero comics. Watch for Part 2 on Thursday.
Carla: Is it me or was 2013 crazy-busy? There were event comics, new titles, canceled titles, movies (plural for Marvel!), TV shows and video games. It seems like there’s no escape from comics, making it harder and harder to get a general idea of the industry. Some days I kind of envy the indie comic fans as it must be a lot easier to handle comics as they come, as opposed to our gestalt juggernaut that is the Big Two. How much DC business could you comfortably follow before overwhelm set in?
Tom: Well, for starters, I pretty much skipped all of the video game and Cartoon Network developments, because I don’t have time for either area.
Because it’s the day after Christmas, and I don’t want to write 1,500 words about Forever Evil and its Justice League tie-in — except to say they both felt a lot like stereotypical Lost, and not necessarily in a good way — here’s a stocking’s worth of number-based observations about DC past and present.
Twelve Crisis issues: I talk a lot about 1984-85′s Crisis on Infinite Earths, mostly because it so completely transformed not just DC’s shared-universe continuity, but its publishing philosophy. On its merits, Crisis is a mixed bag, pairing stunning visuals with a sometimes-flabby narrative. However, despite its sprawl, COIE ended up with a definite structure. The first four issues deal with a mysterious antimatter onslaught which destroys whole universes, apparently including the familiar Earth-One and Earth-Two. The final page of Issue 4 is nothing but black “smoke” clearing away, revealing blank white space. Issues 5 and 6 offer vignettes on the five surviving universes, as time periods intersect in “warp zones” and ordinary people see multiversal counterparts of departed loved ones. Issues 7 and 8 are, to put it bluntly, the Big Death issues, with Supergirl saving her cousin from the Anti-Monitor and the Barry Allen Flash destroying Anti-M’s latest doomsday weapon. Issues 9 and 10 feature the “Villain War” and a two-pronged time-travel assault on Anti-M’s efforts. That ends with a shattered, otherwise “blank” comics panel, as the Spectre wrestles Anti-M for control of history itself — and issues 11 and 12 feature the heroes of a new, singular universe fighting a final battle against the Anti-Monitor. Today’s decompressed (and sometimes decentralized) Big Events focus more on character moments and slow burns, and more often than not they don’t have to streamline fifty years of continuity, but Crisis remains a model for just how big an Event can be.
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We’ve known for a while that DC’s superhero line will go through some changes in the wake of Forever Evil, and as the March solicitations bring the end of that Big Event, not surprisingly the month looks rather transitory. In fact, Forever Evil #7 is scheduled to appear on March 26, just as the final issue of Blackest Night — also written by Geoff Johns as a spinoff of his highest-profile series, in case you’d forgotten — dropped on the last week of March 2010. (It must be pure coincidence that these solicits feature a $200 White Power Battery tchotcke.) Back then, BN #8 was supposed to “set the stage” for the “next epic era of DC Comics,” which turned out to be about 18 months long and featured the biweekly sort-of-sequel miniseries Brightest Day. This time, Forever Evil #7 teases the importance of the “Hooded Man” and promises to “leave the DC universe reeling and reveal the secrets to the future.”
So, yeah, sounds like another cliffhanger ending, perhaps even leading into another big-deal miniseries — specifically, the May-debuting weekly Futures End. Considering that the three tie-in miniseries (ARGUS, Arkham War and Rogues Rebellion) all seem to feed into FE #7, the actual content of that final issue may well be a giant scrum, not unlike the final issue of Flashpoint, in which some cosmic button is pushed, defeating the Crime Syndicate but at a significant cost to DC-Earth. As it happens, there’s no mention of the “Blight” sub-crossover (bringing together Phantom Stranger, Pandora, Constantine and JL Dark) feeding back into Forever Evil, but I’m not sure how much it’s supposed to relate, beyond being about the JLD trying to pick up the post-invasion pieces.
For those who have followed DC’s promotion of Justice League 3000, this week’s inaugural issue must arrive with something of an asterisk. Announced in June as the latest reunion of Justice League International’s Keith Giffen (plot and breakdowns), J.M. DeMatteis (script) and Kevin Maguire (pencils), within two months the series became an unflattering example of creative-team chaos. In August, artist Howard Porter replaced Maguire, thereby postponing the series’ October debut. According to Maguire, DC apparently wanted something more dark and gritty, which doesn’t quite fit the style we now know as “bwah-ha-ha” — but by the same token, one wonders (as did Maguire) what DC thought it would get from the trio’s collaboration.
Still, to echo Donald Rumsfeld (and, 15 years earlier and more to the point, my entertainment-journalism professor), you review the comic you have, not the comic you wish you had. The first issue of Justice League 3000 reads like an artifact from the mid-1990s, when DC cranked out dystopian-future Elseworld stories fairly regularly; and Porter’s art is emblematic of the issue’s gritty, scratchy tone. This isn’t JLI. It’s not of a piece with Giffen and DeMatteis’ work writing Booster Gold, or even the current Larfleeze. It’s more like the short-lived, Giffen-written Threshold, crossed with an original-variety Marvel 2099 title.
In short, this first issue isn’t bad, just rather frustrating. I suppose the series has potential, and its creative team probably deserves a couple of issues to advance the plot. Regardless, JL3K #1 starts off negative and teases even more. It doesn’t give readers much optimism, outside of a vague sense that at some point, things can only get better.
SPOILERS FOLLOW, of course.
It’s been more than a year and a half — 19 issues and an annual — but the New 52 version of Earth 2 still feels like a work in progress.
The series began with the last battle of an Apokoliptian war that claimed the lives of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, which was followed soon afterward by the debuts of “wonders” (not “marvels,” no sir) like the Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkgirl. To a certain extent, each was meant to remind readers of the heroes of the original Earth-Two, where Superman and Lois Lane met in 1938 and married in the early 1950s, and where Batman and Catwoman saw their daughter Helena become a successful attorney. When everything started getting organized into a Multiverse in 1961, Earth-Two became the home of DC’s Golden Age characters, including Jay Garrick’s Flash and Alan Scott’s Green Lantern. Indeed, for more than 70 years Jay and Alan were part of DC’s first generation of superheroes, serving as inspiration for the many who followed.
Not so with the current Earth 2, where Jay and Alan are themselves inspired by the heroic sacrifices of that world’s Trinity. On one level, Earth 2 is a way to reintroduce those characters in a present-day context, breaking them down into more basic forms and building them up through a series of fiery trials. Talk about a “never-ending battle” — in Earth 2, war is never far away, whether it’s the reminders of past devastation or the dark portents of new tragedies. Originally I thought this might be writer James Robinson’s way to evoke the world-at-war atmosphere of the 1940s, but now I’m not so sure. Current writer Tom Taylor may simply want to put the “wonders” through a pretty rigorous series of tests. Now, that in itself has become a well-worn DC trope (Geoff Johns personified it some 10 years ago with his updated Reverse-Flash), and it’s not one of which I am especially fond. It has tended to emphasize the “testing” more than the eventual triumph, so it threatens to become a trial for the reader as well.
And yet, like Caleb appreciating the Taylor-written Injustice: Gods Among Us,I have looked forward to each new issue of Earth 2. It’s definitely not the original. Sometimes it’s barely an homage to the original. However, it needs to be its own thing, and this week I’ll tell you why.
So much time, money and creative effort is spent to bring comic-book superheroes to moving-picture life that it’s almost backward to contemplate how those adapted environments could be translated back into comics form. Thanks to technology, live-action and animated adaptations are finding new ways to convince viewers they’re seeing powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.
And yet, these adaptations only go so far. Movies trade spectacle for (relative) brevity, offering two-plus hours of adventure every two to three years. The reverse is true for television, which is more prolific but often less earth-shattering. Both have to deal with practical considerations such as running time, actor availability, and the streamlining of complicated backstories. Thus, to borrow a phrase from politics, adaptations are often exercises in “the art of the possible.” By comparison, comics have much fewer limitations.
Therefore, comics versions of those adaptations must necessarily limit themselves, even if they only choose to work within some of those real-world limitations. Sometimes this is as simple as telling stories set within the adaptation’s version of continuity. However, sometimes comics are the most practical way to “continue” a well-liked adaptation, and thereby perpetuate its visual and tonal appeal.