Axel-In-Charge: "Secret Wars" Jam Session Talking "A-Force," "Ultimate End" and More
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.
Fans of the weekly format — like yours truly — had an interesting new comic book day. That’s because all three of DC’s weekly series concluded on Wednesday, and the publisher kicked off its next weekly series with a zero issue.
When it comes to weekly comics, the first and last issues are the most important. Weeklies have a distinct advantage over monthlies, in that readers tend to be more forgiving from issue to issue. Perhaps the art is rough, but we excuse it, because we understand the brutal deadline pressure. Perhaps the story drags and stalls, but because a new issue arrives each week, we don’t have a lot of time to dwell on the flaws — and there’s always the hope it will get better with the next installment, which, of course, is just seven days away. But when we reach the final issue, that hope is gone, and readers discover whether their investment in the story— time and money — was worthwhile.
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 …
I’m a big fan of weekly comics in general, and DC’s experiments with the format over the past decade in particular. Some of those weeklies have been among the best DC comics I’ve ever read (Wednesday Comics, 52), some have been so bad I checked out after after the first few issues (Countdown, Earth 2: World’s End), and some have fallen in between (I enjoyed Trinity, and have never hated The New 52: Futures End enough to drop it).
Batman Eternal, which published its 50th issue Wednesday, has been a great example of what’s so enjoyable about weekly comics (there’s something for you at the shop every Wednesday, they offer space for a large cast and sprawling story), in addition to providing a good blueprint for future weeklies (co-plotters, a small group of rotating scripters who also serve as consulting writers, and a focus on a single franchise), even while representing the main weakness of the format (without massive amounts of lead time, super-speedy artists or a carefully assembled roster of artists with compatible styles, the books will necessarily feature sub-par, often disjointed artwork that will only read worse in trade).
I’ve actually gotten more and more excited about Batman Eternal the longer it’s run, as there’s been a mystery to the storyline regarding the identity of the villain. On more than one occasion a villain appears who seems to fit the bill, only to be dismissed later, revealing that he’s either working for someone else, or was invited to take part in a conspiracy to destroy Batman and Gotham City by a person unknown to him.
(Time once again for ROBOT 6 contributors Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman to email each other about the year in DC and Marvel superhero comics. This year’s exchange took place between DEc. 26 and Dec. 30. And be sure to check out Part 1 of the conversation.)
Tom Bondurant: One of the more pleasant surprises this year was the extent to which the Big Two started going after a different audience. New books like Ms. Marvel and Gotham Academy, and makeovers for Batgirl and Catwoman, have found success with distinctive, unconventional approaches. How long can they keep this up? Will digital distribution help these books, if it’s not doing so already? Are the Big Two really committed to branching out?
Carla Hoffman: Branching out is such a double-edged sword. It sounds weird to say that, because diversity is so championed online, but when a book can alienate old readers, you really have to draw in a lot of new readers to make up for it. Believe it or not, there were some who complained that Kamala Khan took the Ms. Marvel name rather than getting her own moniker. The good news is that Ms. Marvel is such a quality book and so important to the next generation of comic readers, not to mention Marvel Comics itself, I couldn’t care less if a (pardon my use) grumpy old fan can’t change with the times. Marvel published about 40 new titles this year — everything from Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu to Rocket Raccoon. Not all of the titles stuck (R.I.P. She-Hulk, try again later), but that’s still a lot of new stuff to try that isn’t just another variation of a Wolverine comic.
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Retailing | Books-A-Million had a good second quarter, and CEO Terry Finley gives at least part of the credit to graphic novels: “We also saw strong growth in the graphic novel category, with continued success with titles related to AMC’s The Walking Dead series and a renewed interest in several manga series [that] drove sales increases.” And to boost that, the retail chain, which operates more than 250 stores nationwide, is planning Marvel promotions throughout September. [ICv2]
Conventions | Salt Lake Comic Con co-founder Dan Farr is trying to measure how much money attendees are spending. In terms of hotel beds, at least, the convention seems to be dwarfed by trade shows, but with people coming to Salt Lake City from 48 states for the recent spinoff event FanXperience, that may be changing. Still, even in San Diego, attendees spend only about $600 per person; if Salt Lake attendees are similarly thrifty, the convention may not be a significant player in the Salt Lake City convention scene. [The Salt Lake Tribune]
Although U.S. publishers occasionally experiment with weekly series — DC Comics, for examples, will soon have three on its plate, with Batman Eternal, New 52: Futures End and Earth 2: Worlds End — comic books in North America traditionally have been released on a monthly schedule. It’s been that way for decades.
However, today sees the conclusion of weekly miniseries that not only make you reconsider that tradition, but also leads you to wonder whether the story’s impact would have been lessened by monthly release.
Created by writers Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman and artist Afua Richardson, the five-issue Genius was published weekly throughout August by Top Cow Productions (the final two installments went on sale this morning). This break from the tradition allowed the story to build a momentum that would have been missed had it unfolded over the course of five months.
As the average price of serially published, traditional-format comics has risen sharply over the past few years, I’ve gradually turned into a trade-waiter, my pull list shrinking to such a meager size that many Wednesdays I’ll skip what was once a religiously observed weekly pilgrimage. It’s not worth a trip to the shop for one or two books, after all, so I’ll sometimes wait three weeks or so, allowing for a sizable stack to build up.
This was one such week, and I left the shop with a pretty good haul, about $45 worth of 14 comics, including a mess of DC weeklies, a pair of Marvel comics, a trio of high-quality kids titles, the latest issue of a locally produced horror series, a Batman/Green Hornet crossover and an issue of one of IDW’s many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics.
My pull list is now so small and carefully cut that I rarely encounter a book I don’t like any aspect of (generally, when I do buy a comic I have negative feelings about, they’re generated as much by disappointment as anything else). The flip-side is that because I take relatively few chances as a consumer (as opposed to a critic; as a critic, I read pretty much anything with panels on paper that I find in front of me), I’m rarely pleasantly surprised by what I bring home.
This week, I read one comic that was so good that I was genuinely taken aback by its awesomeness; I was surprised and super-excited. I wanted to stand up and shout “Yeah!” but I was in a coffee shop at the time. I wanted to high-five the artist, but he wasn’t within arm’s reach. I wanted to scrap what I was planning to write about in this space today and champion the book instead. I wanted to take the opportunity to say, “Hey everyone! Stop what you’re doing and read this comic right now!”
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.
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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I have to imagine there were almost as many forehead-slaps as high-fives in the room at the meeting where someone suggested DC Comics devote their next weekly comic to the Batman franchise. There had to be as many people thinking, “Why didn’t I think of that?” as there were people saying, “Good thinking!”
“More Batman” has rarely been a bad business decision for the publisher, and not only is the franchise carrying more than its fair share of the 52-ish books that make up the DCU line, the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo flagship title continues to perform at crazy-high numbers. So why not produce another Batman book, and rather than sticking it in a corner of the franchise, far from the main book, the one that seems to “count” the most, why not tie it closely to Snyder’s book? And hey, why not ship the thing weekly? Again, high fives!
I really love weekly comics, although the format has some pretty unique pressures, which we’ve seen play out various ways as DC has tried different routes over and over to get to weekly comics, with no two efforts—52, Countdown, Trinity, Wednesday Comics, and the bi-weeklies Brightest Day and Justice League: Generation Lost—really being produced in quite the same way.
The most obvious pressure is that getting these things to ship on time like clockwork often means sub-par art, so as much as I was personally looking forward to Batman Eternal, I was frightened as much as disappointed to see the art starting out bad; this was, after all, the issue that should be the best looking.
Passings | Maine cartoonist Jeff Pert, best known for his cartoons and illustrations of lobsters and moose, died Friday on his way to the hospital with chest pains. He was 55. His cartoons adorned souvenir postcards and coffee cups, but he was also an active part of the local comics community in Brunswick, Maine, a regular at Casablanca Comics, and a participant in the Maine Comic Arts Festival. Pert created his first comic when he was in fifth grade and sold copies to local comic shops. “They probably gave us the money and then threw them in the garbage, but we were happy,” said his collaborator (and best friend) Jon Dumont. Pert was known for supporting other artists and even persuaded his local state representative, Maggie Daughtry, to start drawing her own comics: Daughtry knocked on Pert’s door when she was campaigning for office, and, she said, “Within an hour of meeting him, he literally changed my life.” When Daughtry told Pert that she had dreamed of being a cartoonist as a child, he encouraged her to start drawing again, which she did. [Portland Press Herald]
This look at DC’s latest round of solicitations may be quicker and dirtier than usual, mostly because this week I thought I was going to be talking about Teen Titans’ cancellation. We’ll do a little of that this week, along with the other titles on the chopping block.
However, for a while now we’ve known that April — being the first post-Forever Evil month — will feature some big changes, and those start right here.
BY THE NUMBERS
I count 47 ongoing New 52 series, but that includes the six books canceled as of April, and it only counts Batman Eternal — which, contrary to my expectation, is not solicited as a limited series — once. Thus, if DC still wants to hit the magic number, it needs to come up with 11 new series for May.
Time once again to revisit some thoughts about the year just ended, and offer some thoughts on the year to come.
First, let’s see how I did with 2013:
1. Man of Steel. Last year I asked “a) how well will it do with critics and moviegoers; and b) yes, of course, will it help set up Justice League?” It got a 55 percent (i.e., Rotten) ranking from Rotten Tomatoes (although 76 percent of RT visitors who cared to vote said they liked it). Financially, Box Office Mojo called it a “toss-up,” putting it in the same category as Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, The Wolverine, The Hangover Part III, Pacific Rim and, uh, The Smurfs 2. I liked it well enough — I seem to like a lot of things “well enough” — but perhaps Super-fan Jerry Seinfeld’s musings about missed opportunities speak best to the film’s reception. MOS itself didn’t help set up a Justice League movie, at least not as expressly as, say, Nick Fury talking about the Avengers; but I think it’s safe to say that the sequel will go a long way in that regard.
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