BEST BETS: "Jessica Jones," "Big Trouble/Escape from New York" & More October 2016 Highlights
Because it’s the day after Christmas, and I don’t want to write 1,500 words about Forever Evil and its Justice League tie-in — except to say they both felt a lot like stereotypical Lost, and not necessarily in a good way — here’s a stocking’s worth of number-based observations about DC past and present.
Twelve Crisis issues: I talk a lot about 1984-85’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, mostly because it so completely transformed not just DC’s shared-universe continuity, but its publishing philosophy. On its merits, Crisis is a mixed bag, pairing stunning visuals with a sometimes-flabby narrative. However, despite its sprawl, COIE ended up with a definite structure. The first four issues deal with a mysterious antimatter onslaught which destroys whole universes, apparently including the familiar Earth-One and Earth-Two. The final page of Issue 4 is nothing but black “smoke” clearing away, revealing blank white space. Issues 5 and 6 offer vignettes on the five surviving universes, as time periods intersect in “warp zones” and ordinary people see multiversal counterparts of departed loved ones. Issues 7 and 8 are, to put it bluntly, the Big Death issues, with Supergirl saving her cousin from the Anti-Monitor and the Barry Allen Flash destroying Anti-M’s latest doomsday weapon. Issues 9 and 10 feature the “Villain War” and a two-pronged time-travel assault on Anti-M’s efforts. That ends with a shattered, otherwise “blank” comics panel, as the Spectre wrestles Anti-M for control of history itself — and issues 11 and 12 feature the heroes of a new, singular universe fighting a final battle against the Anti-Monitor. Today’s decompressed (and sometimes decentralized) Big Events focus more on character moments and slow burns, and more often than not they don’t have to streamline fifty years of continuity, but Crisis remains a model for just how big an Event can be.
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This is our fourth summer in Memphis, but we hadn’t taken the Graceland tour until this weekend. It helped that twenty-odd relatives came into town for a big reunion, and one of them had been jonesing especially hard for an Elvis fix.
As for me, not so much. I have always been curious about the King, mostly as an historical figure; and as my musical tastes have developed, I’ve learned to appreciate the profound effect his life had on the culture at large. Many years ago I read Peter Guralnick’s exhaustive two-volume biography, and I have a couple of greatest-hits CDs and the “Aloha From Hawaii” concert. (I was, however, somewhat disappointed not to hear Captain Marvel’s costume and/or Captain Marvel Jr. mentioned in the tour’s discussions of Elvis’ infamous caped jumpsuits.)
There’s a weird little sequence in the middle of DC Universe: Legacies #3 when the narration’s timeline goes all hazy and oblique, in order to move the story from sometime in the Eisenhower/Kennedy years right into the “X years ago” of modern continuity. Because Legacies tracks some sixty-five years of costumed crimefighting, this sequence bridges the gap between the Justice Society’s retirement and Superman’s debut.
“Hazy and oblique” are also good words for describing DC’s approach to long-term continuity. The history of the DC Universe is well-settled up to the early 1950s, but past then it becomes elastic. This is something we’ve come to expect: fudging the calendar keeps our heroes both as experienced and as youthful as they need to be. However, each passing year also widens the gap between the end of the Golden Age (early ‘50s) and the beginning of the Silver (thought to be 12-15 years ago). Through reader-identification character Paul Lincoln,* DCUL’s writer (and longtime DC favorite) Len Wein aims to put a human face on all those four-color adventures.
That sounds like the premise of 1994’s Marvels and its spiritual descendant Astro City. Really, though, any halfway-entertaining super-survey needs a narrator with a recognizable point of view. Even 1986’s History of the DC Universe, which was basically a series of George Pérez pinups arranged in chronological order, took its florid prose ostensibly from Harbinger’s meditations on the nature of heroism.
When I first interviewed Jeff Lemire back in early 2008, I knew he was immensely talented. But in terms of his creative path, quite honestly, I always expected his career to follow along the lines of the Essex Country Trilogy and Sweet Tooth. So earlier this year, when announcements came along that he would be writing an Atom one-shot/followed by a co-feature ongoing in Adventure Comics (which have seen releases in the past two weeks), as well an ongoing Superboy series, while the news caught me by surprise–it was the pleasant kind. This interview took place in late June prior to the release of his Atom work, as well as the announcement of his DC exclusive commitment. My thanks to Lemire for the discussion, as well as sharing with me a photo of the one-of-a-kind Jeffords action figure he had made (see this entry at his blog for more photos of the figure).
Tim O’Shea: In an April CBR interview about your Atom work, you revealed a clear affinity for the Silver Age science fiction roots of the character. With that in mind, are you hoping to explore the white dwarf dynamics of the character’s powers–or are you hoping to explore the science potential of the Atom in other ways?
Jeff Lemire: The white dwarf matter will be a central part of my story. I don’t want to say too much more with out giving away spoilers though. As important to me is establishing the character of Ray Palmer. What kind of man is he? Where did he come from? What does he want moving forward in his life. And I have tried to develop an exciting superhero plot that reflects this examination of his character.
DC Entertainment Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee’s lengthy interview with CBR’s Kiel Phegley tackles many subjects, from the pair’s transition into their new jobs to the future of Vertigo and WildStorm to the company’s 75th anniversary. But I’m guessing DiDio’s exchange with Phegley on the death of Ryan “The Atom” Choi and diversity among DC’s characters is the bit that will provide the most grist for the comment-thread mill, as DiDio says the focus on Choi’s death as opposed to the breadth of DC’s line-up of non-white characters is “inappropriate”:
It’s taken me a couple of weeks to sort out my feelings about Ryan Choi’s death. It should go without saying that all of these feelings are negative. Ryan and his All-New Atom supporting cast were the core of a very fun comic book; and I thought Ryan made a good successor to Ray Palmer (who was missing in action for most of ANA’s run).
Accordingly, I started off angry at DC for its callous attitude towards the character, and honestly, I’m still a little angry. Regardless, that anger and frustration has developed into lingering disappointment. Specifically, I’m disappointed that DC continues to use death as a storytelling crutch. (John Seavey says it better here.)
However, I’m also disappointed in DC’s apparent unwillingness to let its superhero line develop naturally. There was nothing wrong with the Ryan Choi Atom. If anything, he was too superficially similar to Ray Palmer’s Atom: powers, costume, hometown, even occupation. Heck, they knew each other! I can see how this would make Ryan redundant once Ray decided to start superheroing full-time, but it’s not like Ryan didn’t have a day job. If you want to sideline someone like that, you let him go back to civilian life — you don’t kill him.
DC’s July solicitations include such high-profile titles as Brightest Day, Justice League: Generation Lost, three Grant Morrison Bat-books, Neal Adams’ Odyssey, and the 50th issues of Ex Machina and Green Lantern Corps. We’ll touch on some of those in this modest survey.
However, as usual, it was an eclectic group of books which caught my eye … starting with a feature I wasn’t expecting to see.
NIGHT AND DAY
I hate to dismiss a series which I’d like to read before it’s even seen the inside of a comics shop, but I think the Atom Special and its subsequent co-feature may do better in collected form than in single issues. I base this on the quite-possibly-irrational notion that a significant amount of DC readers want to read about the Atom, but don’t especially want to follow the Legion of Super-Heroes.
As we all know by now, DC is adding “co-features” to (so far) three of its titles: “Blue Beetle” in Booster Gold, “Ravager” in Teen Titans, and the previously-announced “Metal Men” in the new Doom Patrol. Each title will be $3.99, which presumably indicates that each title will contain at least 30 pages of story altogether. Assuming that the headliners will still get 22 pages per issue, this leaves a respectable 8 pages for the “co-feature,” although if it’s just 8 pages we might as well call it a “backup.”
Regardless of what you call it, I like this idea quite a bit. Backup stories expose readers to a greater variety of characters, creative teams, and storytelling styles. Furthermore, as long as DC feels compelled to increase its regular titles’ price point, $3.99 for 30 pages is about the same as (and a thin hair more economical than) $2.99 for 22 pages. This is not exactly a new strategy for DC: for books cover-dated September 1980, it added eight pages of story and art to all its books (going from 17 pages to 25), raised the price 25% (from $0.40 to $0.50), and in most cases used the extra pages for backups. Many of these starred familiar characters like Adam Strange, Aquaman, and the (Earth-2) Huntress, but many were used to spotlight the less familiar (Firestorm, OMAC) or to debut new characters (Nemesis). Since Newsarama indicated that “[m]ore books will have co-features added to them in the coming month,” let’s consider who might be returning in backup form.
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