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Grumpy Old Fan | ‘Grayson’: A spy ring to what?

Another legacy: bad hair

Another legacy: bad hair

(Note: Post title is taken brazenly from a Mystery Science Theater 3000 riff on the serial The Phantom Creeps.)

When DC announced Grayson in April, I wrote about the dangers of separating Dickie G. first from his mentor, and then from his friends in the Titans. Because Grayson is predicated on removing Dick from the superhero realm entirely, I’ve been ambivalent (at best) about this book. Even after reading the first issue — which was a good introduction to the series, and which stood on its own nicely — I still have some concerns. Most of these come from a desire (perhaps unwarranted) to judge a series in a larger context. Therefore, today we’ll talk both about the debut issue of Grayson (written by Tim Seeley and Tom King, drawn by Mikel Janín, and colored by Jeromy Cox), and whether that sort of big-picture evaluation is fair to it.

* * *

First let’s get some of the obligatory historical perspective out of the way. Dick Grayson has been around for almost 75 years, longer than just about all of DC’s A-listers, including The Flash, Hawkman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. Moreover, Dick/Robin has been adapted for various non-comics venues for almost as long, starting with radio and movie serials in the 1940s and continuing right through to today’s Teen Titans Go! Many of these more recent adaptations either alluded to, or showed directly, Dick’s transition to the Nightwing identity; and collectively they speak to the general public’s awareness of the character and his particular dramatic functions.

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Grumpy Old Fan | How Wonder Woman’s past can help the Finches

To coin a phrase

To coin a phrase

After three years, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang are wrapping up their Wonder Woman run. Starting with November’s Issue 36, the new creative team will be writer Meredith Finch and her husband, artist David Finch.

While it would be silly to pass judgment completely on the Finches four months before their debut, I have to say my initial reaction wasn’t entirely positive. Consider the creative teams on the four main books of Diana’s Trinitarian brothers. Although detoured by the “Doomed” crossover, Action Comics’ team of writer Greg Pak and artist Aaron Kuder has been well-received. Superman just kicked off the Geoff Johns/John Romita Jr. era. Detective Comics picked up Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato after their stylish success on The Flash; and Batman features the unstoppable Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. For that matter, Azzarello/Chiang was one of several distinct creative teams that debuted as part of the initial New 52 relaunch and set itself apart instantly from any DC house style. Besides Snyder/Capullo on Batman and Manapul/Buccellato on Flash, there were Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman on Animal Man, J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman on Batwoman, Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino on I Vampire, Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen on OMAC, and Snyder and Yanick Paquette on Swamp Thing. Accordingly, Azzarello and Chiang have seemed right at home helming Wonder Woman.

By contrast, as a writing/drawing team the Finches are an unknown quantity. Meredith Finch has written a few one-shots; and since coming to DC from Marvel, David Finch’s projects have been plagued by delays.

Now, these may all turn out to be moot points. The Finches may have the perfect take on Wonder Woman. They are certainly very enthusiastic, even if he has been a bit tone-deaf. We won’t know for sure how their Wonder Woman will read until this fall — but I can still offer some historical perspective, and maybe a little advice.
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Grumpy Old Fan | Johns, Romita take on Superman’s big blues

Expectations

Expectations

For their first issue of Superman, writer Geoff Johns, penciler John Romita Jr. and inker Klaus Janson (with colorist Laura Martin and letterer Sal Cipriani) have served up an intriguing blend of action and introspection. There are the requisite nods to semi-obscure (Titano!) and really obscure (J. Wilbur Wolfingham?) Superman minutiae, and one subplot seems destined to undo a New 52 development. However, while Issue 32 of Superman Vol. 3 is concerned with managing the Man of Steel’s status quo, a good bit of it revolves around the new character(s) that will apparently drive this story arc.

Accordingly, the issue doesn’t feel quite so much like the start of a bold new era (although it could well be); instead, the new creative team uses the issue to ease into its story, such that the action serves the character work. Considering that almost half of the issue involves fight scenes, that seems like an odd observation, but it’s kind of an odd issue overall.

The question then becomes whether those characters — Superman included — are compelling enough to follow month in and month out. Last month, Johns told Comic Book Resources that readers should “[j]ust give us one issue and that’s all. I think we’ll earn your trust and your time and your investment in one issue because I really believe in this first issue and I really believe in what we’re doing.”

Whether Superman #32 meets that standard is therefore somewhat unclear. It lays out the characters and their concerns pretty broadly, and (somewhat like Johns’ and Ivan Reis’ Aquaman) it depends to a certain extent on answering reader frustrations. Still, on balance, it works. This is a very good issue of the New 52 Superman, with all that implies.

Read on for more, and as always …

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Grumpy Old Fan | Deja vu for DC in September

"I wanted new Bill Watterson comics, but not like this!"

“I wanted new Bill Watterson comics, but not like this!”

Hey, remember in April, when the July solicitations also included all the September Futures End tie-ins? Well, guess what: The September solicits are out, and they’re pretty much all the same!

What’s more, “all the same” isn’t much of an exaggeration. The 41 New 52 titles that are getting Futures End one-off tie-ins bear the same prices, release dates and copy as they did in the July solicits. The September listings do add cover art and credits, which are important details; but they don’t change the gist or tone of the previewed plots. More on this later.

Otherwise, these solicits contain only a handful of additional main-line superhero titles. These include the second Multiversity issue (with the awesomely alliterative subtitle Society of Super-Heroes: Conquerors of the Counter-World), the final issue of Superman Unchained, four issues each of Futures End and Batman Eternal, and the first Teen Titans: Earth One hardcover.

Therefore, this month’s solicitation roundup might get a little weird.
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Grumpy Old Fan | ‘Forever People’ gets a Big Bear hug

Not cool, man

Not cool, man

As with many Jack Kirby creations, we could spend a long time on the Forever People. I’m not a Kirby scholar, although naturally I’ve tried to learn more about what the King wanted his characters to be. In that respect, the end of the original Forever People series was somewhat ironic: Kirby closed out Forever People Vol. 1 #11 (October-November 1972) with the group stranded on the distant planet Adon, far away both from Earth and from the ongoing conflict between New Genesis and Apokolips. Indeed, “stranded on Adon” was still their status when the big Who’s Who encyclopedia came out in 1985-86.

Not surprisingly, since then DC has revived the Peeps (if I may call them that) a handful of times. The latest is this week’s Infinity Man and the Forever People, which switches things up a little by giving top billing to the mysterious being who can trade places with his young allies. When DC announced that Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen were writing and drawing, I was skeptical, but willing to give it a chance.

In fact, it’s not a bad first issue. It introduces most of the cast (except for one headliner), it lays out a good bit of the New 52’s New Genesis setup, and while it occasionally seems a bit “edgy for its own sake,” generally it keeps to the spirit of the original. One character even says “without [Kirby], none of this would be possible.” That’s pretty on the nose, but appreciated.

Regardless, the new Forever People has a lot to live up to.
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Grumpy Old Fan | Structure, tradition, and Luthor’s League

"Why is the most brilliantly diabolical leader of our time surrounding himself with total nincompoops?"

Why is the most brilliantly diabolical leader of our time surrounding himself with total nincompoops?

As discussed here last week, the final page of Forever Evil promised a particular kind of big event as its follow-up. However, the just-concluded miniseries also inflicted more immediate consequences on the Justice League; it’s those I’ll be talking about today.

* * *

I previously mentioned that the New-52 relaunch/reboot didn’t really add a new “structural” feature to the superhero line, in the way that “Flash of Two Worlds” established the Multiverse or Crisis on Infinite Earths facilitated all those legacy heroes. At the time I didn’t really mention the addition (or re-integration) of the WildStorm and Vertigo characters, but I still don’t think that’s as big a deal as the Multiverse or the generational timeline. The difference is that Flashpoint brought in characters mostly to the present-day DC Universe, whereas COIE and (to a lesser extent) the original Multiverse both dealt regularly with larger spans of time. In the latter cases, the superheroes first emerged in the runup to World War II, and those adventures ended up informing their modern-day counterparts. While the New 52 had books like Demon Knights and All Star Western that were set even further in the past, they could only influence the main superhero line obliquely.

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Grumpy Old Fan | Let’s do the time warp again

It's the pelvic thrust that really drives 'em insane

Put your hands on your hips

A big part of me still thinks Forever Evil would have worked a lot better as one of those late-1990s done-in-five-weeks events. I did enjoy the final issue, but it was because lots of things actually happened, and it made me wonder why they couldn’t have occurred a bit more quickly.

Still, the last-page reveal warmed my withered nerd heart. It’s the sort of thing that cries out for a boatload of analysis based on a set of comics published when I was in high school. Could be a stretch, but I’ll risk it.

SPOILERS FOLLOW, therefore, for Forever Evil #7 and probably some other stories you have already read.

5

4

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Grumpy Old Fan | Summertime blues for DC in August

Happy trails

Happy trails

Considering that the July solicitations also previewed September’s Futures End tie-ins, and the final issue of Forever Evil arrives this week after being scheduled originally for March, the August listings feel like just one more ingredient in a jumbled publishing stew. When it’s all done, maybe we’ll see that it’s all worked together. Now, though, we might have to wait until the October solicits for a clearer picture of where DC’s superhero line is going.

EARTH DAZE

In the wake of the New 52’s various revisions, the Grant Morrison-written The Multiversity miniseries seems like an artifact — if not a relic — from the pre-relaunch days. Like the Morrison-written Batman Incorporated, it was originally conceived in that environment, when legacy characters abounded and beloved Silver Age elements were reemerging. Of course, with Earth 2, Worlds’ Finest, Forever Evil and Futures End, parallel worlds have hardly been absent from the New 52; so perhaps The Multiversity is meant to expand that storytelling device even further. I get the feeling that many things are about to change (again) for DC’s shared superhero line, and if some Morrison-infused characters are going to be part of that, I hope they stick around for a while.

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Grumpy Old Fan | Clothes calls, or the perils of practicality

Boys and their toys

Boys and their toys

This past week (ish), DC Entertainment was so pervasive in the television upfronts, it almost made me forget the company still publishes comics. Joining Arrow on the 2014/2015 TV schedule will be adaptations of The Flash, iZombie and Constantine, as well as the Bat-prequel Gotham. (And hey, that was Caity “Black Canary” Lotz reprising her role as Don’s pregnant-hippie “niece” on Sunday’s Mad Men!) Moreover, we’ve now seen a moody black-and-white photo of Ben Affleck as Batman, standing next to his new Batmobile and ready to dominate the next Superman movie; and The CW has shown us a nifty little clip of the Flash in action.

While I’m prepared to like all of these shows, and certainly willing to give them reasonable opportunities to succeed, once again they remind me that no comic — and certainly no superhero comic — can be adapted to live-action with complete fidelity. Indeed, by taking its cue directly from the comics of the ‘40s and ‘50s, the old Adam West/Burt Ward Batman show was one of the more faithful projects. Likewise, the pilot of the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series didn’t go too far from Diana’s earliest adventures in All Star Comics #8 and Sensation Comics #1. However, I don’t think that approach would work these days.

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Grumpy Old Fan | A bumpy start for ‘Futures End’

Does this bug you? I'm not touching you

Does this bug you? I’m not touching you

Of the three weekly series DC Comics is releasing this year, Futures End is arguably the most “important.” It spans the entire superhero line, bridges the gap between Forever Evil and 2015’s Big Event, and promises to change the New 52 irrevocably.

None of that apparently is deemed sufficient to attract new readers, because Futures End’s preview issue kicks off with 20 pages of your favorite characters either turned into, or slaughtered by, giant killer spider-bots.

To be fair, maybe the folks behind FE wanted to attract those readers already interested in a certain other let’s-prevent-the-robot-holocaust storyline from their crosstown rivals. But it’s not just X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Terminator or even Star Trek: First Contact (where you can hear the Borg Queen gloat “Watch your future’s end”) that Futures End echoes. Just off the top of my head, evil and/or assimilated versions of our heroes appeared in Final Crisis (remember Wonder Woman’s Female Furies?), in the Swamp Thing/Animal Man crossover “Rotworld” — which, by the way, I seem to be alone in liking — and in Flashpoint’s dog-eat-dog timeline. A future ruled by OMACs was also part of the Justice League: Generation Lost miniseries. Back in the day, “changing the bad future” was the plot of 1991’s summer crossover Armageddon 2001 and the unrelated JLA arc “Rock of Ages,” and 1992’s Eclipso: The Darkness Within featured “heroes turned bad.”

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Grumpy Old Fan | Riding with ‘Batman Eternal’s’ pilot episode

All this aggravation ain't satisfactioning me

All this aggravation ain’t satisfactioning me

Although we might reasonably expect a solid dose of black-caped entertainment in each installment of the weekly Batman Eternal, its brain trust has called the first three issues its “pilot episode” — that is, an arc that sets up the premise and introducing key characters and concepts. Therefore, today we’ll take a look at the pilot, plus a few notes on this week’s Issue 4.

Of course, the phrase “pilot episode” comes from television, and Batman Eternal so far feels very much like a TV show. Specifically, it has the feel of a TV show with a season or two under its belt. I say that both because Eternal starts off trading on previous Bat-history and bringing older characters into the New 52 status quo, and because it plunges right into the thick of things, assuming its readers know the basic Batman setup. There are no gratuitous operatic displays of Batman soaring over the skyline, cape billowing in the wind. For that matter, not counting a couple of standard Batman intimidation scenes, and a narrow escape for a returning character (all in Issue 3), the pilot’s big action sequences are confined to the first issue.

What fills out these three issues otherwise is a lot of conversation, devoted mainly to laying out who will be doing what. Cops talk about office and city politics. Batman exposits with Gordon, Alfred and Catwoman. Alfred checks in with the extended Bat-clan.* Reporters discuss the latest big story. Criminals (super and otherwise) plan for what’s coming. To a certain extent this is a function of the overarching plot, and the end of Issue 3 suggests things are going south quickly — but whatever those developments are, Batman Eternal would rather leave them off-screen in favor of people talking about them. To his credit, artist Jason Fabok finds ways to make these discussions visually interesting, mostly by playing with shadows and camera angles. Still, not to spoil Issue 3, but if this were a TV pilot, it’d probably show the carnage and use the dialogue as voice-overs.

That said, Eternal’s first arc is neither dull nor anticlimactic. Overall, the series’ premise is well-suited to its format, and the first three issues are generally successful at establishing that premise. They’re not perfect, but collectively they build to a pretty dire situation that, at this point, seems to justify recruiting all the Bat-people for the better part of a year. Eternal pretty clearly runs with the notion of Gotham City — or, at least, an id-fueled notion of what Gotham should be — “attacking” Batman. Current head Bat-guru Scott Snyder used that to inform the “Court of Owls” storyline. Here, though, that notion on a larger scale allows Eternal to justify its scope and length.

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Grumpy Old Fan | DC’s July looks toward the horizon

Whosoever holds this hammer...

Whosoever holds this hammer…

For a while it felt as if DC Comics was just going to talk about all its July books without ever soliciting them. News of Grayson and Robin Rising and relaunches of Suicide Squad and Teen Titans trickled out of the DC offices before the dam finally burst on Tuesday afternoon. (That’s why this week’s planned look at the “pilot episode” of Batman Eternal will have to wait.)

In fact, these solicitations are a little overstuffed, with a list of DC’s special September issues that lets us compare and contrast. Note too that while the September issues take place in The Future, they’re only two months removed from their July predecessors — so a good bit of current storylines may well be put on hold.

BECAUSE YOU LOVE THE NUMBERS

Here are the numbers. For the superhero line, DC is soliciting 42 regular ongoing series in July, plus the penultimate issue of Superman Unchained and an extra issue of Justice League. (It’s also putting out five annuals, five issues each of Batman Eternal and Futures End, a Harley Quinn special and the Robin Rising special, for a grand total of 61 single issues.) For September, there are 40 special Futures End tie-in issues, with 3-D covers like those on last year’s “Villains Month” comics. Basically, all the regular ongoing series except All Star Western, Justice League 3000 and Secret Origins get a Futures End issue in September. That doesn’t necessarily mean those three series are canceled, as none of them is part of Futures End’s “five years later” premise. September also includes a Booster Gold: Futures End issue, which one might reasonably think is a good indication of a new series for Booster — but I guess we’ll have to wait and see to be sure. Thus, July’s 42 ongoings, minus the three non-participating series, plus the Booster Gold issue, equal September’s 40 issues.

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Grumpy Old Fan | ‘Grayson,’ Robin and fates worse than death

Through the years

Through the years

This has turned out to be an eventful week for fans of the first Robin (and of the role in general), thanks to a Robin Rises one-shot, leading into the unveiling of … well, whoever’s going to wear the red vest for the foreseeable future, and Dick Grayson’s latest relaunch, a July-debuting ongoing series called simply Grayson, wherein the former Boy Wonder will start a new life as a super-spy.

With each of ‘em about three months away, obviously I’m not equipped to pass judgment on the merits of either. However, I can tell you what I think about Dick and Robin, how those impressions affect my snap judgments, and why you should — and shouldn’t — listen to someone like me.

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Grumpy Old Fan | The Church Of What’s Happening Now

Put your hand in the hand of the man who changed the course of mighty rivers

Put your hand in the hand of the man who changed the course of mighty rivers

First off, yes, I have read the first issue of Batman Eternal, but since its “pilot episode” includes issues #1-3, I’ll be talking about those more specifically in a couple of weeks. Eternal is one of two weekly series DC will offer this year, the other being Futures End, a look into the shared superhero universe five years from now.

However, we might well ask what difference will there be, one year from now, between an issue of either series and your average issue of a monthly title? When Eternal and Futures End are collected in their entirety two years from now, how different will they be from collections of Court of Owls or Throne of Atlantis?

The obvious differences are time and volume. The year-long weekly comics that DC put out from 2006 through 2009 — 52, Countdown and Trinity — all used their speedier schedule to tell a big story in a (relatively) short time. Instead of letting their epic tales play out over four-plus years, these series each got ‘em done in one.

Now think about sitting down with one of these thousand-page sagas. It won’t take a year to read, but it’s not something to approach lightly. That puts a special emphasis on how they’re to be read. Today we’ll look at DC’s history with weekly series (and some related experiments), with an eye toward what the two new ones might offer.
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Grumpy Old Fan | This and that about ‘Aquaman and The Others’

I hope Jurgens names the trident Mr. Pokey

I hope Jurgens names the trident “Mr. Pokey”

DC Comics’ current publishing pattern seems to center around growing various franchises, like Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and the Justice League. Aquaman is one of the publisher’s more familiar faces, he’s rooted pretty deeply in the superhero line, and he’s even had a good bit of multimedia exposure. However, when the April solicitations came out at the end of January, I wasn’t sure the world had been clamoring for another Aquaman title.

After reading the first issue of Aquaman and the Others — written by Dan Jurgens, penciled by Lan Medina, inked by Allen Martinez and colored by Matt Milla — I’m still not entirely convinced. AATO #1 is a solid first issue, dealing largely in traditional superhero matters, but its last-minute attempt to tie into the larger DC Universe comes from out of left field, and threatens to hijack the main narrative. Otherwise, it’s a fine reintroduction which gives newcomers a good glimpse at characters who are still pretty obscure.  Still, those good fundamentals will have to overcome the why-should-I-care factor.

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