Axel-In-Charge: Waid & Samnee on "Black Widow" and the Dawn of the All-New, All-Different Era
Still here? Good, because I’m serious: This is the last “Grumpy Old Fan” post. Not a dream, hoax, etc.
As for why, that’s not important. It really isn’t. I was going to title this post “The Last Worthless Evening,” as in the Don Henley song, but that seemed to suggest some bitterness on my part that really isn’t there. Essentially, I’ve been given an opportunity to do some slightly different work for Robot 6/CBR. Assuming it all works out, I’ll be back around these parts soon enough; although it may not be on Thursdays, and it won’t be under this banner.
As always, however, some history for those who might have come in late. “Grumpy Old Fan” goes back almost 10 years, to June 2006 and Blog@Newsarama. B@N likewise traced its roots to The Great Curve, a group blog that was going strong when I joined in spring 2015. I didn’t have a standing column at TGC, but when we were setting up special features for B@N, I picked the Thursday slot and chose what I thought was an ironic title. It would hang a lantern on any disconnect between me — at the time, a codger of 36 — and what I imagined as the appreciably-younger segments of online comics fandom.
With Labor Day behind us, for most folks it’s back to work. But by the time you read this I will be out of town, well into a two-day seminar. Naturally I take comics with me for the down time, and more often than not I take a couple of thick reprint books. Picking out specific volumes got me thinking about the changing nature of DC Comics’ reprints.
Now, I’ll try not to let this descend into some nostalgic pining, and I recognize that reprint formats aren’t the most exciting things. However, while today’s comics are available in print or digitally, and are collected routinely into more durable books, I’m not sure the older material is getting as much attention as it once did. To be certain, the older material is getting older all the time, with more added to it as the years go by; and modern audiences might well be satisfied with, say, just the past 20 years’ worth of DC’s output. Still, there’s value in those older stories, even if it’s just on an academic level; and I think it’s helpful to see how DC has treated it.
Thirty years ago, after almost a year of preliminaries, and longer than that in planning, DC Comics put an end to its infinite Multiverse. It happened as the final page of Crisis on Infinite Earths #10 — which hit the direct market during the first week of September 1985 — exploded into a cosmic whiteout, deliberately echoing the “destruction” of Earths-One and -Two in Issue 4. That cataclysm included (metaphorical?) black smoke billowing into panels and then dissipating into nothingness, but here the panels themselves shattered under the fury of the final battle between the omnipotent Spectre and the power-hoarding Anti-Monitor.
Issue 10 had a heck of a cliffhanger is what I’m saying.
The end of August also marks three full months worth of DC Comics’ line-wide relaunches. Naturally, the highest-profile of these are in the Superman titles, featuring a depowered and spiritually depantsed Man of Steel; and in the Bat-books, where a buff, mohawked James Gordon is the new Dark Knight. The two main Green Lantern books are also going through status quo upheavals, as Hal Jordan has gone off the reservation with a stolen power-ring prototype, while John Stewart, Guy Gardner and a handful of their colleagues have been hurled into parts unknown. (I’d say more, but it’d spoil the latest issue of Green Lantern: Lost Army.)
While I’m not exactly getting tired of these various plots, I am starting to wonder how long they can each be sustained. That, in turn, reminded me of similarly dramatic storylines that played out over much longer periods of time. I’ll be discussing a lot of storylines today, from the Silver Age to the present, and I’m sure I haven’t listed every possible one. (Spoilers: I won’t have time to get to a “dead and revived” list.) Some of these arcs were planned with endpoints, and some reverted to “normal” thanks to external factors. However, each tested the limits of readers’ tolerance for change.
Whether you call it “Divergence” or “DC You,” November represents the sixth month of DC Comics’ line-wide retooling. In just about three months it’ll be time to start taking stock of what worked and what didn’t, but for now we’re looking at what’s new and/or shiny.
THE 800-POUND GORILLA BOSS OF GOTHAM CITY
At the head of the line is a certain Bat-sequel. The hype surrounding Dark Knight III: The Master Race is understandable considering the shelf life of The Dark Knight Returns. It and its follow-up are two of DC’s most evergreen reprints, and DK3 will no doubt join them in the Valhalla of immortal collected editions.
As the fall premieres of DC’s various superhero television series tick closer, the updates dive deeper into comics lore. I certainly wasn’t expecting a “Flash of Two Worlds” homage (eee!) to be part of the marketing, nor did I think Matt Ryan’s John Constantine would himself cross over to Arrow. Otherwise, Arrow is teasing Oliver’s mayoral run; The Flash has cast Wally West; Supergirl promises Red Tornado and General Zod; and Legends of Tomorrow may take its tone from Justice League International.
However, for me the most intriguing news is the impending arrival of Hawkman. I’m curious about how Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Geoff Johns, et al., will try to make him appealing (or at least watchable) for the broader TV audience. I say that a bit skeptically, because Hawkman has never really done much for me.
When discussing Crisis on Infinite Earths #3, I noted the story’s “seams were starting to show.” A few months later, I thought Issue 6 was more concerned with “marketing.” Now, with Issue 9 — which appeared in comics shops 30 years ago, during the first week of August 1985 — not only has the miniseries burst its original boundaries, but the crossovers have become more pervasive.
Although the bulk of the issue involves the Villain War (as last issue’s cliffhanger language called it), it starts off by setting up crossovers with Green Lantern, New Teen Titans and Firestorm. It also features some clunky dialogue and name-checking cameos, which by now are as much a part of Crisis as the red skies were.
Still, even if Issue 9 is something of a rough-and-tumble indulgence amid the ongoing struggle to save all creation, it has its moments. Scenes of tragedy and triumph are executed fairly well, characters exit and enter the stage effectively, and the issue is propulsive enough to energize an otherwise weak cliffhanger.
While most of the political world is following the likes of Hillary Clinton, Jeb(!) Bush and Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has been making waves in a few nerd realms. First came his Simpsons impressions, and then his assertion that Captain James T. Kirk was/is/will be a Republican. Now Cruz is listing Watchmen’s Rorschach as one of his favorite superheroes.
However, Cruz isn’t the first candidate to invoke nerd culture. President Obama, himself a Star Trek fan, listed The Amazing Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian as his favorite comics growing up, and was photographed in Metropolis, Illinois, imitating its Superman statue. In return, Obama was immortalized on a Spider-Man cover, and depicted in another Superman-inspired pose by painter Alex Ross.
For that matter, the election year of 2008 featured a couple of seminal superhero films with clear political overtones. The first Iron Man showed its hero working within the military-industrial complex, and The Dark Knight inspired pundits to compare Batman’s surveillance technology to government eavesdropping.
The comics I bought this week were full of ex-Teen Titans, and I don’t even read Teen Titans. Besides the usual mimbo antics in Grayson, Donna Troy and someone who looks a lot like Aqualad showed up as antagonists in Wonder Woman and Aquaman, and Wally West was mentioned but not seen in The Flash.
And then there was Cyborg, relaunching the Titan-turned-Leaguer under the guidance of writer David F. Walker, penciler Ivan Reis and inker Joe Prado. Last year, when a Cyborg movie was announced as part of Warner Bros.’ ambitious superhero slate, I thought DC Comics might well look to the original Marv Wolfman/George Pérez New Teen Titans stories as the foundation of any upcoming solo series. Now that series is here, and Vic isn’t quite the same character he was in the 1980s. The 2011 reboot severed his ties to the Titans in favor of an origin based around the Justice League. What’s more, 12 years of animated adventures as part of Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go! have no doubt affected readers’ perceptions.
This month’s look at DC’s immediate future is going to be a little more concise than usual, because I am dealing with a summer cold which refuses to go away (and it has nothing to do with Comic-Con, to boot). If the Lord had visited a plague of mucous unto Pharaoh, it would have been something like this.
Anyway, in the wake of Comic-Con, DC has released its October solicits to remind us that all those ideas for movies and TV shows have to come from somewhere. Speaking of which, October is also the month when Flash and Arrow return to The CW, and when Supergirl debuts on CBS. Accordingly, I was expecting a little more tie-in product, but I guess that will have to wait.
The biggest news — at least in terms of reader commitment — comes once more from the Bat-office, in the form of the new six-month weekly miniseries Batman And Robin Eternal. Following up structurally, if not quite thematically, on 2014-15’s Batman Eternal, apparently it will deal with the repercussions of a case from the Dick-as-Robin days, and also it will bring back Cassandra Cain. The old case is advertised as “the most disturbing of their crimefighting career,” so yay for that. Presumably it’s “most disturbing to that point,” because by himself the Joker has probably committed a half-dozen fairly disturbing capers.
Have you ever gotten the Frozen Smile? The eyes say “I have no idea how to respond” while the mouth still thinks everything’s fine?
I got it the other day while talking to a co-worker about Teen Titans Go!. She loves it as much as her kids do, and my daughter loves it as well. I then mentioned that I haven’t had as much of a chance to see it, but I do have all the DVDs from the 2003-06 Teen Titans series. That brought things to a halt. When I mentioned the earlier show, it was evidently like saying I’d read the scripts in the original Klingon, because her face froze after that and she got out only an “Uh-huh….”
Today I’m going to talk about some of DC’s just-announced 2016 miniseries, and Raven in particular, because once again I suspect a lot of potential readers may be giving DC the ol’ frozen smile.
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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.