Tom Bondurant, Author at Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources - Page 3 of 21
Summer is officially over, so this is a little late, but I’ve been meaning to talk about a certain arc from the summer of 1993. It was the height of the speculator bubble, when everything came with cover enhancements, trading cards, unfortunate hairstyles and/or superfluous pouches.
For many DC Comics readers, 20 years ago was also the summer of “Reign of the Supermen!” That’s not necessarily enthusiasm — the exclamation point was part of the title, which in turn was inspired by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s early proto-supervillain story, “The Reign of the Superman.” The third (and by far the longest) chapter of the “Death of Superman” saga began with teasers at the back of Adventures of Superman #500, published around April 15,* and ended with Superman Vol. 2 #82, published around Aug. 26.** Those four and a half months may not seem like much, but they saw 20 issues of the four regular Superman books (including Action Comics and Superman: The Man of Steel) spread over 20 weeks. In fact, “Reign” was front-loaded, with all four titles marking the official start of the arc on April 29 or so, two weeks after Adventures #500. That meant there were some weeks without a new installment, and those were sometimes hard to take.
“Reign of the Supermen!” is not the greatest Superman story ever memorialized in print. On one level it is very much a product of its era. However, for the Superman books, that era was energized not just by the efforts of their creative teams, but by the overarching framework the books had developed. While “Reign” wasn’t the only big DC event of the summer — for one thing, the debut of DC’s imprint Milestone Media has much more historical significance — it’s a reminder of the ebbs and flows of serial superhero storytelling, and it remains instructive today.
Warning: This is a very long post, because I think there’s a lot of background to be explored.
I talked about it last week, but there’s a lot to unpack in the recent Williams-and-Blackman-leave-Batwoman imbroglio. Part of it is DC Comics’ apparent need to keep characters relatively unchanged, which these days includes being young and unmarried. Co-Publisher Dan DiDio has already explained this in terms of heroic sacrifice, so I suppose that’s as close as we may get to official company policy on the matter.
However, before DiDio made his comments, I was wondering whether DC didn’t want the non-costumed half of Batwoman’s main couple to remain single and uncomplicated. After all, Maggie Sawyer goes back further than Kate Kane, and has appeared in both the animated Superman series and in Smallville. Thus, a certain part of the TV-watching public probably associates Maggie Sawyer more with Superman than with Batwoman; and DC might not want to have her tied permanently to the Bat-office.
This, in turn, brings up the issue of DC as a “content farm,” providing material for future adaptations. Obviously the publisher has almost 80 years’ worth of characters and stories ready to provide inspiration. Indeed, over the decades, that inspiration has gone both ways. However, more recently it seems like the adaptations have been influencing the comics to a greater degree than the comics have been influencing the adaptations, and in the long run that’s not good for either side.
DC Entertainment may not have planned it this way — “planning” being something with which DC may be only tangentially familiar — but I doubt its high-ups wanted to release these December solicitations the Monday after what had to be a pretty rough weekend. When you’ve just had to deal with a celebrated creative team walking off a fairly successful book — citing “editorial interference,” and reminding people that the character’s original writer also left after increasing frustration with DC — you might not want to follow that up by calling attention to all the other changes coming before the end of the year.
And don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of Batwoman and “sucky personal life” talk before we’re done. Solicits first, though …
If the first week of Villains Month is any indication, a good bit of the decimal-point issues will feature stories set in the early stages of the Crime Syndicate’s takeover. This wasn’t that apparent from the September solicits, and subsequent months also appeared light on explicit crossovers. December is about the same, with Teen Titans dropping out of the crossover lineup, and Pandora and Phantom Stranger joining the three Justice League books, the three Forever Evil [Colon] miniseries, and Suicide Squad.
Forever Evil #1 is an uneven debut for the seven-issue miniseries, revealing that the Crime Syndicate — for those who came in late, basically an evil Justice League from the parallel Earth-3 — has killed all the Leaguers and is recruiting allies among DC-Earth’s supervillains. Although a handful of scenes are genuinely chilling, much of it is exposition and survey, with some of that geared apparently toward ancillary miniseries. Geoff Johns’ script works well when his characters can give speeches, but turns awkward and simplistic in crowd scenes. David Finch’s pencils are appropriately murky and grim, although there’s not a lot of subtlety; and inker Richard Friend seems to have gotten quite a workout. (This is the superhero-comic equivalent of a downpour at dusk.) Fortunately, colorist Sonia Oback manages to bring some variety to the gloomy proceedings, whether it’s brightening up a neon-lit cityscape or energizing a crackling solar corona.
Still, for the start of the first “universe-wide” Big Event of DC’s New 52, Forever Evil #1 feels like an apocalyptic tease. The issue’s main shocks aren’t as shocking as one might imagine, and the demands of a shared superhero universe will require them to be reversed. There’s undoubtedly more carnage to come, but for now it’s an exercise in attitude.
Naturally, there’s more after the jump. SPOILERS FOLLOW …
Honestly, the post title is a little misleading. Overall, I liked “Trinity War.” It was paced well, the creative teams did a good job wrangling all the characters and (for the most part) keeping them in character, and both story and art were top-notch. Basically, it felt like an old-school Justice League/Justice Society team-up, and for this grizzled veteran of the crossover wars, that’s high praise.
Nevertheless, its conclusion frustrates me, and I can’t talk about it without a massive spoiler warning. About the only thing I can say without reservation is that this week’s Justice League #23 featured the conclusion of “Trinity War.” To reveal much more about it would spoil the last page of the issue.
This is a terribly ironic situation, because DC Comics has made no secret about the setup for the sequel miniseries, the seven-issue Forever Evil. However, in the interests of preserving at least a nominal sense of fair play, I can’t really talk about that either. It all makes me feel very cynical, just when I was feeling good.
Anyway, if you’ve read the issue — or if you don’t mind knowing absolutely everything that happens, including the usual history lessons and ill-informed speculation — let’s talk.
Students of DC Comics’ publishing history can probably rattle off at least a few editors from the company’s first few decades. Whitney Ellsworth edited the Batman and Superman books in the 1940s and ‘50s before becoming a producer on the Adventures of Superman television series. In the Silver Age, Mort Weisinger presided over an exponential expansion of Superman’s mythology, including all those varieties of Kryptonite, the introductions of Supergirl, Krypto and the Legion of Super-Heroes, and ongoing series focused on Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. Similarly, as editor of the Batman titles, Jack Schiff supervised one of the character’s most recognizable periods, filled with colorful mysteries and giant-sized props.
Of course, the phrase “Silver Age DC” is virtually synonymous with Julius Schwartz, who worked with writers Gardner Fox and John Broome and artists Carmine Infantino, Mike Sekowsky and Gil Kane on rebuilding DC’s superhero line. One could argue fairly reasonably that without them DC Comics as we know it today might not exist (and neither would today’s Marvel).
However, while Ellsworth became DC’s editorial director in 1948, Schwartz Schiff, and Weisinger weren’t in similarly lofty positions. Today we readers hear a lot about “editorial control” and the dreaded “editorial interference,” charges aimed largely at the men at the top: Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras, Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. We hear a lot from them (illuminating and otherwise) about the general direction of the company. We also hear a good bit from various writers and artists, including Johns and Lee, regarding specific titles.
Nevertheless, on the management tier in between are the books’ editors themselves; and that’s the area about which I’ve become rather hazy. Therefore, I started looking through New 52 credits boxes, and supplementing this research through the Grand Comics Database, to see who was editing what.
There’s no solicitation for Justice League 3000 in November, and it’s not hard to imagine why. Reworking a first issue from scratch, with a new artist and what sounds like a new tone, undoubtedly isn’t something even one of the Big Two can do on short notice. Instead, DC Comics goes back to the Bat-well both for November’s only new series, and to goose the sales of various superhero titles.
As always, though, there’s enough in the new batch of solicitations to keep us busy this week — so without further ado …
ALWAYS BET ON BLACK
Apparently “Zero Year” will include a “Blackout In Gotham” plot point that can stretch into a dozen other DC titles, including non-Bat-books like Action Comics, Green Arrow, Green Lantern Corps and The Flash. This makes a certain degree of sense, as it takes place back in the “before-time” of the George W. Bush administration, before the various superhero jurisdictions were established, so you’d expect someone like Superman to take a road trip if he thought Gotham needed him. However, thanks largely to this being Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, the blackout — which, as far as I can tell, would otherwise be just one part of one title’s flashback storyline — ends up involving more books than DC’s actual line-wide Big Event, Forever Evil. The latter includes the eponymous miniseries, three ancillary miniseries and the three Justice League books, but only two other ongoing series (Teen Titans and Suicide Squad, each of which has been tied into 4EVEv since it started). The total is “Zero Year” 13, Forever Evil 9, and almost half of the latter’s score is miniseries. Personally, I don’t mind a discrete Big Event, and I’m not surprised that DC would exploit “Zero Year.” I’m just a little surprised at how heavily it seems to be relying on “Zero Year” in November.
Who’s up for some discussions about Starfleet fonts in the “Phase II” period?
Well, that’s not all we’re going to talk about today, but it does occasionally engage my brain. (And don’t worry, when we get there, it shouldn’t be that painful.) Today’s topic deals with the desire to make the imaginative “real,” in a tangible or practical sense. It’s what happens at the intersection of re-creating and explaining.
See, part of expressing my nerdom is building model kits, and especially Star Trek models. On one level this is pretty straightforward, because the bulk of those kits are based on the physical (or CGI) models used. However, sometimes you get an urge to build something that wasn’t on screen.
Remember when Batman was a jerk?
Remember when Batman was such a jerk that no less than Mark Waid called him “broken”?
Starting in 2006, writer Grant Morrison aimed to help fix him; and this week, with Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #13, Morrison concluded his Bat-saga. The issue is a neat encapsulation of the themes Morrison has played with for the past seven-plus years — including the portability (and immortality) of “Batman,” the uniqueness of Bruce Wayne, and the importance of not going alone — all drawn with verve and giddy energy by Chris Burnham. (There’s even a dialogue sequence where the punchline is “Cancelled!”) Like the infinite-Batman cover or the eternal-circle image that dominates an early spread, Batman will go on, but it is the end of a unique era.
As usual, though, some history first …
This post concerns a movie that (if all goes as planned) won’t start filming until next year, and won’t be in theaters until 2015. I know next to nothing about it past the basic premise, a handful of cast members and a few educated guesses. Nevertheless, once I read the Superman/Batman movie announcement, two words kept popping into my head:
See, I can’t help but think that in the sequel to Man of Steel, the Darknight Detective may get equal billing, but will necessarily have a subordinate role. This is not perfectly analogous to introducing Scarlett Johannson’s super-spy in Iron Man 2 — for one thing, that film wasn’t called Iron Man and Black Widow — but her role there was defined largely by the plot. Batman’s role in the as-yet-untitled sequel seems likely to have similar restrictions.
Indeed, we know some broad restrictions already: Batman won’t be played by Christian Bale, and the Christopher Nolan-directed trilogy doesn’t take place in the same “cinematic universe” as Man of Steel and this (prospective) new set of DC-superhero movies. That probably also means no Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, or Joseph Gordon-Levitt in S/B.
The first part of “Trinity War” (in last week’s Justice League #22) relied rather significantly on the changes the New 52 relaunch facilitated: Superman, Wonder Woman, and Billy Batson/Shazam (hereinafter “Billy/Shazam,” or maybe just “Captain Marvel”) each acted in ways incompatible with long relationships.
In the old days, Superman and Wonder Woman would have been close friends, Superman and Captain Marvel would have had a unique (almost mentor-protegé) relationship, and Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel would at least have had some Greek mythology in common. However, the main conflicts of “TW” Part 1 depended on Wonder Woman being more of a warrior than an ambassador, Superman trusting her hostility, and Billy/Shazam not knowing either of them that well. As such, it appeared to exemplify the freedom a relaunch confers, specifically to ignore the restrictions of previous developments to put these characters quickly on opposing sides.
In other words, one might reasonably have seen Part 1 as a) realizing the New 52 allowed for a particular Shocking Event and b) working backward to create the conditions that would lead to said Event. “Because we can do this, how do we do it?”
After September’s market-chasing “Villains Month” solicitations, the October listings look a lot more normal. I say “more normal” because I only count 47 New 52 ongoing series, which means October’s new additions don’t balance out August’s cancellations. Forever Evil and other miniseries are picking up some of that slack, but obviously they won’t be around forever. If DC is serious about having 52 ongoing titles — and why wouldn’t it be serious about something so arbitrary? — now may be a good time to start pushing for that Crimson Fox series you’ve always wanted. Hey, DC has greenlit worse ideas …
NOT FOREVER, BUT CLOSE
Forever Evil is 2013-14′s big-event crossover miniseries whose hook is that the villains have taken over the world. Final Crisis was 2008-09′s big-event miniseries whose hook was that Darkseid (helped in part by a revived Secret Society of Super-Villains) had taken over the world. Final Crisis didn’t actually do much crossing over into ongoing series, but it did have an array of tie-in miniseries and specials, including one featuring the Flash’s Rogues Gallery.
Trinity of Sin: Pandora #1 (written by Ray Fawkes, drawn by Zander Cannon, Daniel Sampere, Vicente Cifuentes and Patrick Zircher) is not a terrible first issue, although it does trade on some pretty horrific images. It’s not a boring issue, although the title character’s emotional arc is essentially an 8,000-year, 20-page slow burn. For a character who so far has been a walking plot point — and who is still advertised mostly as a plot element for the next Big Event — the issue isn’t even that obtuse. Pandora #1 is a fairly well-executed comic book which does a decent job of humanizing its heroine, but which still hasn’t justified its own existence.
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Traditionally, the average superhero character included a strong element of wish-fulfillment. Perhaps it came simply from having powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal folk, or perhaps from the plausibility of training one’s mind and/or body to the limits of human potential. Maybe those powers, or that training, had been personally costly: a parent’s death, a home’s destruction or a tragedy that could have been prevented.
Although I’m looking forward to Justice League 3000, I still can’t quite get over the Legion-sized hole in DC’s roster. The Legion of Super-Heroes turned 55 earlier this year (on Feb. 27, according to Mike’s Amazing World of Comics), which makes it some 18 months older than Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, and almost two years older than the Justice League. Indeed, the Legion’s enduring popularity has made it one of the“foundational” features that DC will probably publish until its doors finally close, along with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, the League and Green Lantern. However, today I want to talk about the Legion in terms of a different kind of landmark.
By definition, a shared universe is composed of the combined details of its constituent features. We tend to think of this in terms of geography, cosmology and the space-time continuum. Accordingly, DC-Earth has various additional “fictionopolises” (including Metropolis, Gotham City, Central City and Coast City) and nations (like Atlantis and Themyscira); and it shares a universe with planets not found so far in ours (Oa, Tamaran, etc.). There are also other planes of existence to be explored (Gemworld, Earth-2, the Fourth World and the Fifth Dimension); as well as series set in the Dark Ages, the Old West and of course the 31st century.
Oh, DC, you came so close to a slam dunk. If you had told me Keith Giffen, J. Marc DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire would be working on Legion of Super-Heroes, I’d have been beyond excited. After all, Justice League International was nothing if not a superb ensemble comedy, and what richer source of super-ensemble action does DC have than the Legion?
Instead, though, we’re getting Justice League 3000, set in the Legion’s 31st century and apparently following the events of August’s final Legion issue, but not explicitly tied to the 55-year-old super-team. This raises two questions. First, whither the Legion itself? DC has previously put the Legion on hiatus, although never for too long, so one wonders how long it’ll lie dormant this time. Second, why does it have to be such a familiar Justice League? The initial roster includes Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Green Lantern, with redesigns (courtesy of Howard Porter) that retain some fairly familiar elements. Is the League being “Avengers-ized,” so that every major super-team must have some “JL” in its name?
And those two questions combine for a third: How sustainable is JL3K, really?