In-Depth on Marvel's "Divided We Stand" and The Latest Hydra Cap Twists
Archie: The Married Life Book Six (Archie Comics): This is a phone book-sized collection of the final seven issues of Life With Archie, the series set in a possible future where Archie is married to Betty … and Veronica, in two alternate timelines. The narrative jumps between those parallel realities in a way that can be downright confusing when read in such a huge chunk as the collections offer.
While the stories feature the same fairly sprawling cast — and the character designs and are style are, as usual, in perfect harmony no matter whose names are in the credits — there’s more differences between the two timelines than just which girl Archie settled down with. In one timeline, Jughead is dating Ethel; in the other he’s having a baby with Midge. Likewise, Reggie is either a newspaper reporter or a mechanic with a reality show, and Moose is either Riverdale’s mayor or Riverdale High School’s janitor. And so on.
There are a few things both universes share, however, like Kevin Keller having been elected to the U.S. Senate, campaigning on gun control, an issue driven home by a mass shooting in the nearby Southport Mall. And, of course, in the final two issues, the “Death of Archie” and the epilogue that follows, the story is carefully, delicately crafted so that every line and every panel can be read so they’re the conclusions of both storylines, despite all the differences between the two.
“The nice thing about coming in to write the New 52 is I don’t have to worry about what came before the New 52. That stuff is great and it can serve as inspiration, but continuity is the devil. [laughs] As a writer, having to slavishly make sense of too much continuity can kill a story. Yes, you want to stay true to the spirit of things, and continuity can absolutely be your friend in creating resonance and a sense of history and paying off certain emotional things – BUT: It was a beautiful, beautiful thing for me walking into the New 52 and being able to look at a small range of stories that had been told, and those are the things that are set in stone, and the rest of it we can make up as we go. We can build the stories that make sense for our characters in order to tell the emotional story that we’re telling.”
– Action Comics and Batman/Superman writer Greg Pak, on juggling different timelines, and different worlds, in the two DC Comics series
Batman/Superman, Vol. 1: Cross World (DC Comics): The greatest virtue of the Greg Pak-written World’s Finest team-up title is also its main drawback: There’s really great, flat-out gorgeous artwork by Jae Lee … except when their isn’t. Lee draws the lion’s share of the book — about 70 of its 100-plus story pages — and it’s some of the artist’s best comics work; his heroic figures pose through a series of complex layouts, their anatomy and features those of real, if exceptionally beautiful, people, rather than musclebound action figures. The too-busy New 52 costume designs are stripped down to their essentials, the various bits of technology all look like mobile art installations, and Lee’s vision of a Gotham City park is appropriately, if amusingly, dark, twisted and exaggerated.
He might not have been the best possible choice for this particular storyline, which involves two different Batmen, Supermen and Catwomen, given his use of silhouettes and sparse panels, and the cacophony of color-coded narration boxes have to do a little more work than they might otherwise. But it’s jarring to the point of shocking when fill-in artists appear to help Lee, with Ben Oliver-drawn climaxes for the first and last issues/chapters, and an extensive Yildiray Cinar flashback in another issue. There’s also a rather tacked-on origin story of Darkseid and the main villain for the story arc, which appeared in September’s Justice League #23.1, drawn by two more artists.
Political cartoonists | Michael Cavna looks into a report by the Cartoonists Rights Network International that Syrian cartoonist Akram Raslan was executed in July. Raslan was arrested last year by Syrian security forces and, together with a group of journalists, artists and other “intellectuals,” sentenced to life imprisonment. “Somehow, along the way to prison young 28-year-old Akram Raslan (and possibly others) was peeled off, taken out and executed,” the post said. “He is reported to be in a mass grave somewhere near Damascus.” However, CRNI’s Robert Russell told Cavna they have been unable to confirm the report, which came from a “reliable source” close to Raslan’s family. [Comic Riffs]
Conventions | Heidi MacDonald and Calvin Reid file a comprehensive con report on New York Comic Con, including a conversation with ReedPOP Global Vice President Lance Fensterman and a look at the panels and booths. [Publishers Weekly Comics World]
Despite the efforts of Nightwing writer Kyle Higgins to put to rest rumors that Dick Grayson will die as a result of DC Comics’ Villains Month, the whispers continue, in no small part because there’s no issue of the series in September.
“Nightwing doesn’t have a book that month, but we’re back after September,” Higgins assured CBR TV last month. “We’re back with October. Actually, the finale of the first arc in Chicago with the Prankster and Tony Zucco, that culminates in October with Issue 24. We’re still around, we’re doing our thing.”
As Stan Lee sayings go, “Every comic book is someone’s first” isn’t quite as well-known as “With great power comes great responsibility,” but it’s nevertheless one that comics editors and creators should integrate and internalize just as thoroughly. It’s probably much less true today, now that comics are sold primarily through specialty shops (and, increasingly, online) instead of on newsstands and spinner racks, than whenever Lee first said it.
But regardless of whether Executive Assistant Assassins #13, Fearless Defenders #7 or Tarot Witch of the Black Rose #81 — to pick three titles from this week’s shipping list — will actually be anyone’s first comic book, as long as publishers continue to sell comics as serialized stories, then the thought that one of those could be someone’s introduction is a pretty good guiding principle for creating those comics.
With that in mind, this week I read a handful of second issues of some prominent new books from the biggest players in the direct market, with an eye toward how friendly the material might be toward a new reader starting the series — or comics in general — with that issue.
“What makes it compelling as a story and a character is his tremendous backstory, which sets up the character as someone who is different than everybody, but striving to help. That sense of somebody that is an ‘other,’ someone who doesn’t belong but is doing his best to do the right thing all of the time. That’s incredibly compelling and universal. All of us, no matter how much we feel complete, sometimes feel like we’re on the outside, feel like we’re alone, feel like we’re strange and different. That’s why the Harry Potter books and movies are so popular. That’s why the X-Men are so popular. That’s why just about every pop culture phenomenon you can think of is so popular.
It’s amazing how many of the stories we love to cherish explore that sense of being different. That’s a universal human condition. And the reason Superman, in particular, is so compelling is because he’s on the outside, yet he’s doing his best to help everybody. That moral core of the character is something that we all, deep down, want to aspire towards. It’s that struggle to do the right thing that is really compelling. And it’s not easy for him. I think that’s another thing that great Superman writers have explored over the years. This is a guy that — everything should be easy for him because he’s Superman and he can do anything, but he is still in a constant struggle to figure out what the right thing to do is and how to do it.”
– Greg Pak, writer of DC’s upcoming Batman/Superman series, explaining to Comic Book Resources what makes the Man of Steel such a compelling character
It looks like June is shaping up to be pretty big for DC’s superhero comics. There are five new ongoing series, including Superman Unchained, Batman/Superman, Larfleeze, Pandora and, best of all, the return of Astro City. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo kick off a revised Bat-origin in “Zero Year,” and the Green Lantern books get new creative teams. (There are spoilers for those GL books in the solicitations, but if you’ve been paying attention it’s probably nothing you haven’t already figured out.)
FIRST, AN ENDING
The “Shazam!” conclusion takes up all 40 pages of Justice League #21. It’s been a long time coming — starting way back in Issue 7, getting a 23-page spotlight in Issue 0, and skipping issues 12, 13 and 17. In the end it should clock in just shy of 200 pages, which would have made it a robust nine-issue miniseries. By comparison, Geoff Johns’ and Gary Frank’s Batman: Earth One graphic novel was 138 pages. It may read better as a collection, because it hasn’t always seemed paced for a series of backup stories. Being absent from Issue 17 hasn’t helped either. Still, it should have three straight installments between now and June, so maybe it’ll finish strongly.
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