Axel-In-Charge: In-Depth with Alonso on Marvel's "All-New, All-Different" Lineup
Cover-billed as “The Final Fate of The Flash,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 — which appeared in comics stores 30 years ago this month, during the first week of July 1985 — takes a while to get to the point. When last we saw the Anti-Monitor, in Issue 7, his citadel had been destroyed and he’d been forced to flee in some sort of rough-hewn spaceship. Thus, Issue 8 opens with a two-page sequence aboard Anti-M’s vessel and features Psycho-Pirate, Anti-Monitor, and the Flash; but after that they don’t appear again until Page 14.
Indeed, much of that gap is filled with six pages of digressions involving (among others) Firehawk, Blue Devil, Green Lantern and the apparently final fate of the android Red Tornado. As overstuffed as Issue 7 felt, with the origins of the Multiverse and various cosmic players, and the big battle culminating in Supergirl’s sacrifice, this issue seems rather thin. Still, the main event remains powerful, even knowing how it plays out, and even taking into account Barry Allen’s eventual return.
Note: this whole post is about a MAJOR SPOILER from “The Big Burn,” a 2014 Batman and Robin arc which, coincidentally, has just been reprinted in paperback. As such, I recognize that it might be new for some folks. If you don’t want to be spoiled, come back next week for a 30-years-later look at Crisis on Infinite Earths #8. I’ll understand. I mean, I still haven’t finished Gone Girl.
Now then …
Every September of the New 52 featured some unifying motif. DC Comics’ line-wide relaunch kicked off in September 2011 and got “zero issues” — issues numbered zero, that is — in September 2012. The next two years promoted particular events, with September 2013’s Villains Month tying into Forever Evil, and Futures End one-shots taking over September 2014. Both times, 3D lenticular covers sweetened the deal.
This September, however, there’s no big event or other scheme to goose DC’s market share. Instead, it’s just the fourth month of the new status quo, and the only cover enhancements are some Green Lantern guest appearances.
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We’re in the second week of what I suppose I should call “Divergence,” because “Not the New 52″ sounds a little too cute. Last week was the first proper look at the new Superman status quo, and this week features the first full issue of the new Batman. For the most part, the new directions and relaunches I’ve seen have been pretty intriguing. However, underlying them is the age-old issue of maintaining a character’s core attributes.
I’ve talked about this before in the context of honoring a character’s creators. William Moulton Marston wanted Wonder Woman to have a very specific social-justice viewpoint, and to a certain extent Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had a similar goal for Superman. Nevertheless, the two characters ended up developing in different ways.
Marston’s creative voice was never really duplicated, so Wonder Woman became just a bit more generic. Meanwhile, Superman’s multimedia success resulted in a number of new influences, which eventually helped transform Siegel and Shuster’s creation into an Establishment figure. Of course, subsequent shifts in society generally and comics particularly would push back, as with the Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories and Jack Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen in the ‘70s to the more socially conscious Wonder Woman stories in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s.
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 …