Axel-In-Charge: Waid & Samnee on "Black Widow" and the Dawn of the All-New, All-Different Era
The cover of Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (which hit comics shops in the first week of June 1985) screamed, “This is it! Double-sized SHOCKER!” However, the ending had been spoiled about two months before, when DC Comics revealed this was when Supergirl would die. (The April 10, 1985, edition of USA Today also revealed the fates of the Earth-Two Superman and Lois Lane, seven months early.)
Usually I try to be somewhat coy about Crisis’ plot twists, as if I were coming to it for the first time. With this, however, there’s little use. By now everyone and their super-cat knows Supergirl dies in Crisis, and it was pretty much the same 30 years ago.
Therefore, the question is how well does Crisis’ brain trust sell Supergirl’s death? It’s harder than you might think. Issue 7 is certainly one of the maxiseries’ best single installments (and that’s not a backhanded compliment); but the fact is that Supergirl not only dies to save Superman, she tells him how great he is with her last breaths. It doesn’t get much more meta than that.
It’s a good time to be a Supergirl fan. The preview for CBS’s Supergirl debuted a couple of weeks ago (and some of you may have even gotten to see — ahem — even more). Based on that, the show has been named one of the eight Most Exciting New Series by the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Closer to home, the preview also inspired my colleague Caleb Mozzocco to ask whether there were any non-terrible Supergirl comics.
That took me back. As someone who remembers the full and frank discussions about Supergirl’s image in the mid-2000s, when the character became emblematic of the decline of superheroes, it’s very weird indeed to realize that Supergirl could be a standard-bearer for superhero television.
August is the third month of DC Comics’ revamped lineup, which has yet to begin in earnest. Although you might think that would limit what there is to discuss in the August solicitations, I found a good bit to talk about. There are some unusual marketing moves, a few good guest-star opportunities, and even some nice tchotchkes. Let’s take a look.
“Truth” rolls on throughout the four Superman titles, and with its secret revealed in DC’s Free Comic Book Day preview, there’s not much point in speculating about the details. I’m not sure what to think about DC pairing its latest linewide relaunch with a couple of massive changes to Superman and Batman. I started reading The Amazing Spider-Man after the dust had settled from “One More Day,” because I didn’t want to deal with a series of big events or their immediate ramifications. Accordingly, it makes me think that Supes will have his secret restored at some point — perhaps in time for next spring’s Issue 50, which would also be just in time for the big Batman v Superman movie — and if I were thinking about returning to Superman, I might just wait until then. (Of course, since the New 52 relaunch, Supes has gotten far more attention than Clark has, so this could just be an extension of that.)
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Gerry Conway has written more comics than I care to count, including career-defining runs on The Amazing Spider-Man and Justice League of America. During his tenure at DC Comics in the 1970s and ‘80s, he co-created Firestorm, Steel the Indestructible Man, Vixen and Vibe (among many others). He wrote the first relaunch of New Gods and helped craft the Robin-to-Nightwing transition. Recently, he’s been calling attention to the use of “derivative” comics characters in other media — for example, the Flash TV show’s Caitlin Snow, who shares a name, a scientific background, and a Firestorm connection with the most recent version of Killer Frost’s alter ego.
DC responded to Conway’s concerns with assurances of fair compensation, but the matter also goes to the heart of the publisher’s shared universe.
The sixth issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths — which debuted in comics shops 30 years ago, during the first week of May 1985 — hangs a handful of fight scenes and expository moments on an almost rudimentary plot. It finalizes the series’ basic status quo and resolves some lingering threads, but beyond that it starts looking outward, to the regular superhero series which will survive it.
Consider Issue 6’s final page. The last page of the first issue fully revealed the Monitor, previously a mysterious figure who’d been appearing intermittently in the odd corners of various super-comics. The second and third issues ended with Harbinger’s internal struggle about whether she could fight the evil impulses leading her to kill the Monitor. Issue 4’s cliffhanger depicted the destruction of Earths-One and -Two, and Issue 5 threatened the same for Earths-Four, -S and -X. However, Issue 6 ends with Yolanda Montez showing off her new identity of Wildcat II. Regardless of your affection for the Wildcat legacy, one of these things is not like the others. The debut carries no cosmic implications (at least not for 1985) and serves mostly to advertise future issues of Infinity Inc.; but it also shows that Crisis was shifting more into a marketing mode.
Although Convergence races on, it’s not DC Comics’ only cosmically minded title. This week brought a couple more takes on everyone’s favorite bit of heavenly housekeeping, as Justice League #40 kicks off “Darkseid War” and The Multiversity #2 concludes Grant Morrison’s meta-epic. Each makes clear connections to Crisis on Infinite Earths (and thus, by extension, to DC’s pre-Crisis output), and each reflects its writer’s philosophy.
However, where one extols the virtues of infinite creative diversity, the other focuses on the cyclical nature of it all. Today we’ll see which issue uses its approach more effectively.
SPOILERS for both issues, of course …
This week DC Comics rolled out its July solicitations. Because they mostly cover the second month of a relaunch whose first month is still six weeks away, they feel rather comment-proof. I mean, last month was the time for first impressions, so you can’t really comment further on storylines that haven’t started or creative teams whose first issues haven’t appeared. That said, July brings the first issue of the Cyborg solo series, as well as the return of Justice League United, so it’s not as if there’s nothing new.
HAIL TO THE VICTOR
As a longtime (i.e., aging) New Teen Titans fan, I’m a little torn about a Cyborg ongoing series. A spotlight on Victor Stone is long overdue, and I think the character is versatile enough to handle a wide range of adventures. (It’s also nice to note that with Starfire and Grayson, there will be three ongoing series based on ex-Titans.) However, I feel like Marv Wolfman and George Pérez established a lot of Vic’s backstory carefully and purposefully from 1980 through 1990, and then chucked it out the window when “Titans Hunt” blew up the Titans status quo. As the New 52 rebooted Vic (and since Forever Evil did it literally), he starts this ongoing with pretty much a blank slate. I’m looking forward to seeing what David Walker, Ivan Reis and Joe Prado have planned, but I hope that includes some of that forgotten history.
For all its attempts at inclusion, Convergence is limited to what DC Comics has “allowed” historically within its shared universe. The three main Convergence time periods are basically 2011, 1994, and 1984-ish, and they each interact with other superhero-flavored genres.
However, through the years there’s also been a thread of DC superheroics set outside the main-line milieu. More often than not, these stories aren’t really concerned with detail-oriented “what ifs” — Communist Superman, vampire Batman, etc. — but with the larger questions surrounding the superhero genre itself. If you’re going to talk about DC and you don’t want to talk about Convergence, more than likely you’re going to run into these stories.
This month’s look back at DC Comics’ signature Big Event comes at a very appropriate juncture. The first four issues of Crisis on Infinite Earths culminated in the destruction of Earths-One and -Two, which (for the most part) represented DC’s Silver and Golden Ages. Issue 5 — which appeared in the Direct Market during the first week of April, 1985 — began to combine the various parallel universes, although as we’ll see the process wasn’t exactly smooth. In fact, one might say it informs the basic setting of DC’s current multiversal event, Convergence. That’s probably not an accident, and we’ll look at those similarities in due time.
Besides that, though, Crisis issue 5 is noteworthy for a few reasons. First, it marks the arrival of inker Jerry Ordway, whose distinct finishes complemented George Pérez’s pencils quite nicely and gave Crisis a unique look. Second, it kicked off a set of plot threads that would run through most of the rest of the “maxi-series,” including the mechanics of multiversal melding, the identity of the mysterious villain, and the team of Superman and Superman. Finally, it shifted the focus decisively from a handful of characters and settings to the embryonic “DC Universe” itself. Starting this issue, the featured players changed from issue to issue, producing the superhero crowds for which Crisis became (in)famous.
Crisis on Infinite Earths #5 was written and edited by Marv Wolfman, penciled by Pérez, inked by Ordway, colored by Tony Tollin, and lettered by John Costanza. Bob Greenberger was the associate editor and Len Wein was the consulting editor.
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Those of us who follow DC Comics’ superhero line have been waiting for this week for a long time. One year ago, Batman Eternal kicked off what became a trio of weekly series, with the other two apparently set to transform DC’s shared universe. Last week I talked about the next-to-last installments of each of those series, plus the next-to-last issue of Multiversity, which covered some of the same conceptual ground. I was hoping Multiversity would end this week as well, but since it didn’t come out, that just gives me a future topic.
Regardless, this week not only sees the conclusions of Batman Eternal, Futures End, and Earth 2: World’s End, but the start of Convergence, yet another (albeit shorter) weekly series running through the end of May. Today we’ll look at how the first three wrapped up, and whether Convergence #0 had a successful start.
The last New Comics Day of March 2015 is also the final “normal” ship week of the New 52. Next week, each of DC’s three weekly series will publish its final issue (although in Batman Eternal’s case, “final” only for Volume 1) and Convergence will begin with a zero issue. Multiversity is set to wrap up next week as well.
Therefore, I want to look at the next-to-last installments of Batman Eternal, Futures End, Earth 2: World’s End and Multiversity: Ultra Comics. As you might expect, there will be SPOILERS, not just about these issues but about the series themselves. These comics collectively just got a little more meta, and not necessarily where you’d expect, either …
March is the final full month of the New 52, so appropriately enough it also brings the solicitations for the first full month of … well, whatever we end up calling these books. (The Fine 49? The Diverse Curse-Reversers? The Too Few For 52 Redo?)
Actually, this month it’s more like the Thrivin’ 45, because these solicits don’t include four ongoing series already announced as part of the post-Convergence lineup: Justice League United, Cyborg, Mystic U and Dark Universe. No doubt they’ll benefit from the extra month’s rest.
Among all the new and returning series are a number of associated changes and comebacks. There’s Tight-Shirt Superman, Mecha Batman, Pointy-Wristed Wonder Woman, Hoodie Green Lantern, the reintroductions of Reneé Montoya and Kate Spencer, and Selina Kyle back in the Cat-suit. Even with all that, though, there’s So! Much! More!
Let’s get started, shall we?
This week it’s back into the DC/CW television universe, as news has broken about three “major DC characters,” each new to the TV realm, who will be part of the upcoming Arrow/Flash spinoff series. Some brief character descriptions are now fueling speculation about these folks. So who are The Traveler, Female Warrior and Mystery Hero — and why do we want to know?
Continuing the retrospective, we come to Crisis on Infinite Earths #4, which went on sale during the first week of March 1985. Narrative captions give the in-story date as July 1985 (as was the case in Issue 3), which isn’t that important now, although later we will see that the bulk of the series happens/happened in that month.
Anyway, Crisis #4 puts the superheroes in the background to follow some vignette-style arcs, mostly involving Pariah and the Monitor. This has the effect of distracting the reader from the bigger cosmic goings-on. However (at the risk of overloading on negatives), this doesn’t mean that nothing happens — it’s still happening, even in the background. Re-reading this issue, I was struck by how quickly it moves, such that by the time Pariah turns in horror to watch a cosmically-coordinated cataclysm, it’s the bottom of Page 22 and therefore far too late to stop. Indeed, just about everything that can go wrong does go wrong — which at the time struck me as a genius move, and still resonates today. The issue was written and edited by Marv Wolfman, penciled by George Pérez, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by John Costanza and colored by Anthony Tollin. Bob Greenberger was the associate editor, with Len Wein the consulting editor.
It was Mark Waid Week last week at Marvel, and the veteran writer penned two more winning installments of S.H.I.E.L.D. (issue #3) and Daredevil (issue #13).
For the latter, Waid and artist Chris Samnee (with colorist Matthew Wilson) poked fun at the old “loved one in danger” trope, as Daredevil fought to save Kirsten from an unknown opponent. Not only did this happen with the express acknowledgment that Daredevil’s relationships tend to have unhappy ends, it explored just who might want to abduct her, and put a couple of subplot-servicing twists on top just for good measure. Waid and Samnee have been so reliably good for so long on this title that they may risk being taken for granted, but this issue was a real treat. Done in one but with a final-page hint of future danger, Waid’s script was propulsive enough to keep the reader both involved and guessing throughout.