SPIDER-MANDATE: The Lowe-down on "Secret Wars," Tie-Ins and Stacey Lee
Thirty years ago, as part of the first ship week in December 1984, the debut issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths arrived in comics shops. Cover-dated April 1985, and scheduled to appear on newsstands during the first week of January, it was the flagship title of DC Comics’ year-long 50th-anniversary celebration. The two-year Who’s Who encyclopedia had launched a month earlier, and most of DC’s series would tie into Crisis at some point; but this was the book that promised big changes.
We talk a lot about the legacy of Crisis — high-stakes events, crossovers, reboots, etc. — but that can obscure the story itself. For all that it was designed to do, and all that it promised, Crisis remains both uneven and intriguing. At times it can read like a ramshackle assembly of exposition and spectacle, held together by the combined wills of its creative team. Some of it is flabby, some of it is clunky, but Crisis can still be thrilling, and even touching. In any event, it remains one of the great mileposts of DC history, so it can certainly stand another look.
Today is for the first issue, but this series will continue periodically throughout 2015. Grab your own copies of Crisis and follow along!
(NOTE: The Futures Index is on Thanksgiving vacation, so you’ll get a double dose next week.)
It doesn’t look good for the current Universe Designate 2. If the title of the miniseries Earth 2: World’s End weren’t enough of a clue, the setup of its companion Futures End tells the tale: Apokoliptian troops devastate the planet, forcing the refugees into the main DC Universe (Designate Zero). Moreover, glimpses of the previous Earth-Two — one-time home to DC’s Golden Age heroes and their legacies, like you didn’t know — suggest that it might be making a comeback.
Considering the New 52 relaunch eliminated the original versions of the Golden Agers, their collective reinstatement isn’t without its own set of issues. A few months ago I looked at how the current Earth-2 has distinguished itself from its predecessor. Therefore, today let’s ask how the return of that predecessor might work.
In April, DC Comics released solicitations for its July titles alongside an extra batch of advance listings for the September Futures End-related one-shots. This week, in a move that’s perhaps unintentionally similar, the publisher’s February solicits arrive amid advance info about the spring’s Convergence tie-ins.
The scheduling gap isn’t quite as great — only a couple of months here, as opposed to five months last time — and I can understand why DC would want to avoid a lot of negative fan speculation about Convergence. Still, it steals some thunder from the current batch of solicitations, which try to compensate with a raft of Harley Quinn variant covers (including, strangely enough, one for Harley Quinn itself). In addition to her own series and Suicide Squad, Harl also gets a Valentine’s Day Special, another hardcover collection, a statue, an action figure, and a guest-shot in Deathstroke. At this rate I’m expecting her to be Wonder Woman’s new Amazon queen.
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(NOTE: I’m happy to acknowledge the hard work and obvious dedication of the blogger Count Drunkula, whose Black Canary fansite Flowers & Fishnets was a great resource in putting together this post.)
Recent developments on The CW’s Arrow have gotten me thinking about the various twists and turns visited over the years upon DC Comics’ Black Canary. The television series has come at the character from a few different directions, even splitting some of her characteristics among three players. It makes sense for an adaptation of Green Arrow to include at least a nod to his longtime love interest, as traditionally they’ve been one of DC’s most prominent super-couples.
However, Black Canary didn’t start out as part of Green Arrow’s supporting cast, and even a cursory glimpse of her past invites some careful examination. Indeed, for a few years in the ‘80s, the history of Black Canary threatened to approach Hawkman levels of continuity complexity. Today we’ll look back at that history, and specifically at how a shared-universe setting can both screw up and enrich a character.
For months speculation had raged about what DC Comics would do to mitigate the logistics of its West Coast move. This week the publisher made it official: Convergence is a two-month, 89-issue event starting April 1. It involves a central weekly miniseries and an array of two-issue micro-series combining various versions of venerable DC folk. Basically, if you’ve ever wondered whether Blackhawk could beat Kamandi, or wanted to see the Superman of 2010 square off against the Green Lantern of 1944, next April and May are going to be pretty fun for you.
I’ve been writing about this for so long that I’m not sure what else to say. (And yet, here we are.) Last week I wrote about DC’s various narrative delays and deferrals. Now I’m even more certain we’ll have to wait until June for the next significant DCU development. Still, the fact that Convergence is happening is … I don’t want to say “encouraging,” but it does seem like progress toward an ultimate — no pun intended — resolution. (Note: This presumes that DC does in fact have specific plans for the superhero line.)
Therefore, today let’s survey the Multiversal landscape, with an eye toward determining Convergence’s role in the grand scheme of things.
Several years ago, in a post for the old Great Curve blog that’s surely lost to history, I called DC Comics’ steady stream of crossovers the “constant campaign.” Just as winning candidates must shift from electoral strategies to actual governing, so I argued that DC had to stop churning and changing and settle into telling stories. These days DC isn’t so much into line-wide crossovers — not like 2004-09, when Identity Crisis led into Infinite Crisis and from there to Final Crisis — but it has a similar lack of focus.
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Although the New 52 makeover is only a little more than three years old, it’s gone through quite a bit of change. Many series, and many creative teams, have come and gone. The original 52-series lineup boasted a number of distinctive, idiosyncratic writer/penciler combinations. Now, however, with this week’s final issue of Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s (and friends’) Wonder Woman, only Justice League, Batman and Batman & Robin have kept the same writer since the relaunch. Moreover, only the two Bat-books have kept the same writer and penciler.
Although the first issues of Who’s Who and Crisis \on Infinite Earths got a headstart in the closing months of 1984, January 1985 kicked off DC Comics’ 50th anniversary in earnest. No doubt real life — i.e., the DC offices’ upcoming westward move — is preventing the publisher from starting the 80th anniversary celebrations this January, and the solicitations certainly don’t have much in the way of commemoration.
(To be sure, the month’s variant-cover scheme involves the 75th anniversary of The Flash, which Robot 6 contributor J. Caleb Mozzocco has already covered extensively on his own blog.)
Therefore, while the real fireworks will probably have to wait another couple of months, the January solicitation tease the return of Robin, changes in the Super-status quo, and other various and sundry plot churning.
One thing that jumps out at me from these solicits has to do with numbering. Now, we all love numbering — big versus small, gimmicks versus straightforward integer progression — but the January books are soliciting the 38th issues of the remaining original New 52 titles. That puts the 50th issues of those series on track for January 2016; or, more likely, February 2016, if next September is another “take a break for a set of specials” month. If I were DC and wanted to relaunch my various titles, and I were a year away from a set of 50th issues, I’d probably wait a year.
We’re just now into the back half of October and it’s already been a busy month for DC Comics’ television and movie adaptations. Gotham got under way, The Flash debuted and Arrow has returned, with Constantine on deck. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. announced a massive slate of Justice League-related movies, stretching from 2016’s Batman v Superman to 2020’s Cyborg.
However, the adaptation pipeline has the potential to flow in two directions. Between Caitlin Snow’s potential Killer Frost, the second episode’s Multiplex and the promise of both Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein, the new Flash show seems pretty intent on bringing in a good bit of Firestorm lore. If DC executives hadn’t already been thinking about yet another Firestorm comic revival, The Flash’s immediate success may well encourage them to. Similarly, of all the movies Warner Bros. apparently intends to make over the next six years, the only one without a solid comics presence is Cyborg.
Therefore, today we’ll look at these two creations of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, to see what DC might do with their four-color futures.
Last week I laid out a lot of numbers and background on the distribution of character-oriented franchises in the New 52. (Along the way I got confused about the New 52 version of G.I. Combat; it was canceled after Issue 7, but its zero issue brought its total to eight.)
Accordingly, this week discusses whether the New 52 needs to get back up to its eponymous number of titles, or whether a smaller stable of ongoing series is a more sustainable environment. We’ll get into some other concerns as well, but the overarching question — as DC transforms its biggest franchise, the Bat-books — involves how the publisher chooses to allocate its resources.
(Because I forgot to do it directly last week, I want to acknowledge my debt to Dave Carter, who started me thinking about all this when he charted New 52 longevity in January and who, providentially, has just started listing DC rosters of Augusts past.)
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Note: This week’s post, and probably next week’s, get pretty number-heavy. Also, this week’s post contains a lot of history and background data. I have tried to make it all entertaining, but consider yourselves warned. Either way, there’s still the Futures Index.
Starting this week, the Batman line gets a makeover. Gotham Academy, from writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher and artist Karl Kerschl, is a delightfully spry addition to the Bat-landscape. Amid a franchise dominated (not unreasonably) by stylized, unflinching urban avenging, GA’s unique perspective is both welcome and necessary. Waiting in the wings are new Batgirl and Catwoman creative teams, as well as new titles Arkham Manor and Gotham After Midnight. (The three new books apparently take the places of Batman: The Dark Knight, Batwing and Birds of Prey.)
All look promising, and each offers a new look at a seldom-seen aspect of the Batman mythology. Moreover, it’s vitally important for DC to reach out to a diverse audience, particularly one that may have felt underappreciated over the past few years.
However, all this innovation comes at a time when the in-name-only New 52 has been stuck for a while at around 40-odd series. Only 21 of the original 52 ongoings are still being published, although books like Teen Titans, Suicide Squad and Deathstroke have been relaunched with new volumes. Similarly, we might view Grayson and Justice League United as continuations of Nightwing and the New-52 version of Justice League of America.
The sprawling intertitle crossover “Doomed” wrapped up this week with the release of Superman: Doomed #2. It’s a 40-page installment produced by writers Greg Pak and Charles Soule and artists Ken Lashley, Szymon Kudranski, Cory Smith, Dave Bullock, Jack Herbert, Ian Churchill, Aaron Kuder Vicente Cifuentes, and Norm Rapmund (assisted ably by colorist Wil Quintana and letterer Taylor Esposito). However, it’s getting some attention due to the final page.
Yes, “Doomed” began as a sequel to an as-yet-unseen event — the New 52 version of the monster’s first deadly battle with Superman — but it’s ended, like many a crossover before it, as a tease for the next big thing. Moreover, it’s joined by the only Futures End special one-shot without its own series (yet); namely, Futures End: Booster Gold.
Accordingly, today’s all about how everything might start to make sense, and how it doesn’t quite make sense for DC to go that way.
SPOILERS FOLLOW for the finale of “Doomed” and for Booster Gold.
There’s a lot to like in DC Comics’ December solicitations, most of it due to the return of some old friends and the uber-nostalgic glimpses at a traditional status quo. It’s not like the New 52’s changes are being rolled back — I have no illusions about that, and I’m not sure how it would work if it did happen — but DC is always best served when it can channel the familiar aspects of its past in vibrant new forms.
THERE YOU GO AGAIN
I am starting to think Secret Six is the comic Gail Simone was born to write, even more so than Birds of Prey. There’s always been a dark undercurrent running through her DC work, from BOP to Batgirl to The Movement, but only with the Sixers could she really cut loose. Indeed, as much as I enjoyed Scandal, Bane, Deadshot and the rest, I’m eager to see what she can do with six cryptically united strangers, most of whom will probably be new to us.
Those who believe the traditional, pre-New 52 DC Universe is still out there, somewhere in the Multiverse, can reasonably hang their collective hat on the return of the Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis Blue Beetle and Booster Gold in Justice League 3000 #12. I’d go even further, and say this version of Beetle and Booster probably follows directly from the two “Super Buddies” arcs that Giffen, DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire produced in the mid-2000s. The second one, I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League, ended rather pointedly with Beetle and Max Lord sharing a happy moment. That, of course, stood in stark contrast to the Countdown to Infinite Crisis special, in which Max shot Beetle in the head, and then (a few months later) successfully dared Wonder Woman to execute him. Therefore, the Beetle and Booster of JL3K hail from an Earth where things turned out quite differently — but ironically, they’ve been awakened in a dystopian future where the Justice Leaguers are darkly twisted versions of their old selves. Not that Giffen and DeMatteis can’t find some comedy there, but I’m having trouble summoning up a bwah-hah-hah.
It won’t be long before the Legion of Super-Heroes reappears in the New 52. This week’s two-page editorial spread (written by editor Brian Cunningham) teases next month’s “The Infinitus Saga,” a Justice League United arc pitting the newest batch of Leaguers against the future’s greatest super-team.
Providentially, rumors have begun circulating about the Legion’s possible jump to the big screen, as Warner Bros.’ answer to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Among the reactions to these rumors were Eric Diaz’s suggestions (at Nerdist) and The Beat’s conclusion that “I never got the Legion [but] this could be a charming and exciting film.”
To be sure, it’s way too early to evaluate the merits of a Legion film. Heck, there may not even be a Legion movie, if Batman v Superman underperforms. However, two things jump out at me from this coverage: First, the blockbuster Guardians has opened the door for adapting all sorts of superhero obscurities. Second, any adaptation must deal with — and most likely overcome — the Legion’s history (and history of reboots).
With regard to the latter, The Beat calls the feature “classic DC — a continuity-heavy series that has a smallish but rabid following, and a huge cast of characters who are sometimes oddballs”; and Nerdist notes that “DC has struggled to keep the book relevant” for most of the past 30 years.
Note: Due to my travel schedule, the Futures Index is taking a break this week. There will be a double dose next week to get us back on track.
Something I didn’t mention in last week’s post about The Multiversity #1 is the persistent notion that corporate-controlled characters have, for lack of a better phrase, “lives of their own.” In other words, we know how Superman, et al., are “supposed” to act, based on common, recurring elements, which are ostensibly independent of any particular creative team. Because The Multiversity offers a prime opportunity to play around with those elements and the expectations they engender, this week I wanted to go a little more in that direction.
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We begin with Batman, and specifically a scene from the now-classic Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon. “Legends of the Dark Mite,” written by Bat-guru Paul Dini, features a brief-but-incisive dig not just at fans, but at the corporate culture which has nurtured the Caped Crusader over these past 75 years. See, Bat-Mite wants to see his hero fight a supervillain, but Batman just wants the little guy to vamoose, and suggests the imp summon Calendar Man. Yadda yadda yadda, Calendar King has killer Easter Bunnies.
Let’s get this out of the way: The first issue of The Multiversity is one of the craziest main-line superhero comics I’ve read in a long time. It’s self-referential. It attempts to engage the reader directly. It leaps around various parallel worlds in great flurries of color, off-kilter captions, and shouty dialogue. It’s apparently also a pretty-direct sequel to Final Crisis, writer Grant Morrison’s 2008-09 big-event miniseries, which — not that it matters much — took place under a different set of cosmological rules.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the interaction between those rules and the need to reference a potentially “invalid” story. Some readers may be frustrated (not unreasonably) by such interactions, and so far The Multiversity isn’t making things easier.
Again, though, consistency across continuity reboots is beside the point. Indeed, with a giant one-eyed bat-thing intoning “WE WANT 2 MAKE YU LIKE US,” consistency itself appears to be one of The Multiversity’s main villains. Change the emphasis slightly and the plot becomes more insidious. “We want to make you like us” — i.e., happy to exist in a state of “anti-death,” an everlasting “moment of ruin.” The imagery isn’t very subtle, and commentators have already compared the Gentry’s members to DC and other big comics publishers. For that matter, Morrison and artist Cameron Stewart made the globular, monocular corporate mascot Mickey Eye the symbol for all that was wrong in the superhero world of Seaguy. (Coincidentally, that hero also had a funny-animal sidekick.)
My review could end up being in the form of a cop-out, but saying that readers get out of Multiversity what they put into it might actually be the point of the series. As a superhero comic, The Multiversity #1 is perfectly decent. Penciler Ivan Reis, inker Joe Prado, colorist Nei Ruffino and letterer Todd Klein present it in an attractive package. (The fact that Reis is the current Justice League penciler probably has its own metatextual significance, given the subject matter.) However, just as the Multiverse is a framework for various parallel realities, so The Multiversity #1 provides a framework for engaging with those realities — and that’s a little harder to quantify.
SPOILERS FOLLOW, assuming plot still matters for this sort of thing.