"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Comic Books, Film
If you long for the days of Oracle and the Birds of Prey, here’s your chance to wax nostalgic — and, hey, maybe fight a little crime — from your very own Gotham Clock Tower. If you happen to have an extra $18 million lying around, that is.
The triplex penthouse atop Brooklyn’s iconic Clock Tower is on the market, boasting four 14-foot glass clocks, ceilings that range from 16 to 50 feet, three bedrooms, a private elevator, a sky roof cabana and deck, and a pretty spectacular view. If it helps in your decision-making process, the building is now Catwoman-free: The Dark Knight Rises star Anne Hathaway sold her $4 million loft in the building last year.
(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.
[Editor’s note: Each Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss the best in comics from the last seven days — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]
Gail Simone brought to a close her tenure as Batgirl writer and helped kick off the digital-first Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman series this week. Both issues were well within her comfort zone, featuring large casts of characters locked in spirited combat a la Wonder Woman #600 and Secret Six #36. Both had callbacks to previous Simone successes, one of which pleased this longtime fan immeasurably. (No spoilers, but let’s just say she’s a Bird of Prey I didn’t think I’d see in the New 52.) Perhaps most importantly, both showed their headliners fully in control of their respective situations. For Batgirl that came at the end of a long, somewhat depressing series of subplots, and in Sensation it was a well-executed rebuttal to anyone who thinks Wonder Woman can’t be as hardcore as her gothic-avenger colleague.
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.
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.
You might think you know about DC’s Birds of Prey … but do you really? Created in 1995 by Chuck Dixon, Gary Frank and editor Jordan B. Gorfinkel, the team led by Oracle (and later Black Canary) is arguably the best-known female superhero team in comics. Although the short-lived live-action television series didn’t do it any favors, the team — and the title — have gone on to become a staple in DC’s superhero playbook. But in all those stories from Dixon to Gail Simone and on to the New 52 adventures, do you remember the time they fought in World War II? I didn’t think so.
In 2001, Dixon worked with Argentine artist Lito Fernandez on a throwback issue depicting Babs and Dinah’s life as a “WW2 Era aviation newspaper strip,” the writer recalled. Paying homage to the likes of Milton Caniff and Frank Robbins, the issue was planned to be published similar to the WWII comic strips with black-and-white weekday serials and full-color “Sunday” sections. Created as an inventory issue to run in the Christmas season, for one reason or another it was never published, and Dixon left the series the next year.
This story seemed doomed to be lost in the sands of time, but Dixon posted the unlettered, uncolored pages Fernandez drew (they’ve been there for a while, apparently, but this is the first I’ve seen them). Here’s a sample, but visit Dixon’s site for the entire story.
So much time, money and creative effort is spent to bring comic-book superheroes to moving-picture life that it’s almost backward to contemplate how those adapted environments could be translated back into comics form. Thanks to technology, live-action and animated adaptations are finding new ways to convince viewers they’re seeing powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.
And yet, these adaptations only go so far. Movies trade spectacle for (relative) brevity, offering two-plus hours of adventure every two to three years. The reverse is true for television, which is more prolific but often less earth-shattering. Both have to deal with practical considerations such as running time, actor availability, and the streamlining of complicated backstories. Thus, to borrow a phrase from politics, adaptations are often exercises in “the art of the possible.” By comparison, comics have much fewer limitations.
Therefore, comics versions of those adaptations must necessarily limit themselves, even if they only choose to work within some of those real-world limitations. Sometimes this is as simple as telling stories set within the adaptation’s version of continuity. However, sometimes comics are the most practical way to “continue” a well-liked adaptation, and thereby perpetuate its visual and tonal appeal.
What do we want out of a comic-based television series?
At this point in pop-culture history the corporate synergies are so closely aligned, and the fans so plugged in, that we can all come up with various ways to adapt our favorite comics into TV shows or movies. I mean, when I heard about the proposed Gotham drama — lots of Gordon, no Batman, some supervillains — it got me thinking about a half-dozen other DC features that would make passable TV series.
For example …
• Martian Manhunter: that detective’s really an alien shapeshifter with all of Superman’s powers, but he doesn’t know his version of General Zod is also on Earth and looking for him!
• Challengers of the Unknown: living on borrowed time after inexplicably surviving a plane crash, four adventurers solve the world’s weirdest mysteries!
• Adam Strange: it’s Indiana Jones with a jetpack, as an Earth archaeologist finds himself on another planet!
Digital comics | IDW Publishing released its first batch of digital comics on the motion-comics platform Madefire this week. The selection includes partially animated My Little Pony, Star Trek and Transformers comics, which sell for $1.99 each. Jeff Webber, IDW’s vice president of digital publishing, noted that because Madefire has a partnership with DeviantArt, the books are being exposed to “an incredibly broad network of illustration fans.” To commemorate My Little Pony’s Madefire debut, Dave Gibbons drew the image at right “to show that Friendship IS Magic!” `[Publishers Weekly]
Passings | Cartoonist Jack Matsuoka, who chronicled life in the Poston, Arizona, internment camp in his book Camp II, Block 211, has died at the age of 87. , Born in the United States to Japanese parents, Matsuoka was a teenager when his family was sent to internment camps in Salinas, California, and then Poston. After leaving the camp he was drafted and served as an interpreter for the U.S. Army in occupied Japan. He went to college on the G.I. Bill and worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for many years. Camp II, Block 211 was based on sketches he did while living in the camps and set aside for many years; his mother found them and encouraged him to share them with the public. They were put on exhibit in San Francisco and then collected into the book, which was first published in 1974. A revised edition was released in 2003. [The Rafu Shimpo]
Occasionally I talk about how perfunctory the monthly solicitation ritual can be … but not so for April!
On the same day the solicitations were released, Comic Book Resources launched its new “B&B” column, featuring editors Bob Harras and Bobbie Chase, and chock-full o’ factoids about various books. Moreover, the solicits were themselves packed with new story arcs, new creative teams, and an even more heightened feeling of coyness.
A big part of this coyness comes from April’s cover gimmick. Actually, we readers can only see half of the gimmick — because while every New 52 book will sport a fold-out cover, the solicits only show the left side. (Makes me wish there were a retailers-only edition of Previews, as this is just the kind of thing which surely irritates them.) To add to the anticipation, every New 52 solicitation ends with a question. Accordingly, this month more than usual, the solicits are structured precisely to set up dire consequences and leave them unresolved. Suspenseful!
Ah, but that sort of thing only encourages me. Let’s dive in, shall we?
Continue Reading »
“Seeing lots of ‘that’s how it is in this business,’ stuff in regards to the day’s news. It really isn’t, and it certainly shouldn’t be. To be a little more direct: the way DC treats a lot of their freelancers is absolutely abhorrent. When it happened to me on SUPERGIRL, I didn’t say much, because I didn’t want to dwell on the negative. But when you see it happen to so many good people, and the damage it does to their careers, their incomes, etc… it’s just not okay. I don’t understand the need for it, & I wish it were otherwise. I love DC, love the characters, & I know I did some of my best work there. And I’m VERY happy for my friends who have been successful there. But I would tell any creator — especially newer, younger ones — to be extremely careful in doing business there.”
– Nick Spencer, who was abruptly removed from Supergirl in 2010, reacting to Monday’s news that DC Comics had replaced newly announced writers Robert Venditti and Jim Zubkavich on Constantine and Birds of Prey, respectively, before their first issues had debuted
With the launch of Comic Book Resources’ new monthly feature with DC Comics Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras and Editorial Director Bobbie Chase arrives announcements of a slew of creative changes, including confirmation that Jim Starlin is the new writer of Stormwatch.
Best known for his work on Marvel’s cosmic titles, Starlin has been teasing since early December that he would take the reins on an existing DC series beginning in April. Yvel Guichet joins him as artist. Other creative shifts in April include:
• Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes will write the newly launching Constantine, taking over Robert Venditti with Issue 2. “Robert came to us with a fantastic pitch for Constantine,” Harras told CBR. “We really loved what Robert’s doing — he’s working on Demon Knights now, and he’s also working on another project for us that I really can’t go into which is a big deal for us. But at the end of the day, Robert and Dan [DiDio] and I spoke, and Constantine was, for him, one book too many. It was the one thing that we had to go, “If we want you to focus on this one project, maybe we should make a change on Constantine.”
No small amount of drama accompanies the March solicitations, thanks to Gail Simone’s unexpected dismissal from Batgirl. There’s also turnover at Swamp Thing and Birds of Prey, potential clues to the end of “Death of the Family,” and the usual I-remember-this! commentary on collections.
FOLLOW THE BOUNCING BALL
The big stories are the departures of Simone from Batgirl and Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette from Swamp Thing. It seems particularly odd in Simone’s case because it leaves the fate of Batgirl’s current antagonist in the hands of a different writer. Maybe that means Simone’s original plans for him didn’t go over particularly well with DC, or maybe it’s something totally unrelated. Either way, looks like it’ll be at least another month (in January’s Issue 16, her last issue) before we learn anything significant. At any rate, Ray Fawkes writes two issues of Batgirl starting with Issue 18.
As of March, Jim Zubkavich is your new Birds of Prey writer, Andy Kubert draws the lead story in Batman #18, and Trevor McCarthy draws Batwoman #18. Also, in a move that threatens to have me try out Phantom Stranger, the very fine J.M. DeMatteis comes aboard as co-writer with Issue # (guest-drawn by the equally fine Gene Ha and Zander Cannon).
Sue at DC Women Kicking Ass points out that DC has changed the cover on Birds of Prey #13 from what was solicited. Ben Oliver created the artsy, solicited cover, while Trevor McCarthy drew the dynamic one that showed up with DC’s preview of the issue. Both can be seen in all their glory below.
They’re both attractive pieces of work, so this isn’t about one of them being bad. What I’m interested in are the different purposes the two covers serve. Oliver’s, as Sue points out, is eye-catching and “poster material.” Rob Staeger notes in the comments, however, that McCarthy’s cover, while busier, better communicates what’s in the story.
My question for you is: Which do you prefer? Not just for this particular issue, but in general. Are you more likely to try a new comic with an artful, but interchangeable depiction of the main characters? Or with a powerful representation of what’s going on in the story?
This week sees the print debut of Legends of the Dark Knight, the ongoing print version of DC’s digital-first Batman anthology. By design it’s not part of the regular Batman line, and therefore not counted as one of the New 52. However, it gives me an excuse to ask how many Bat-books DC Comics really needs.
Now, I don’t mean that to be as dismissive as it sounds. The current Batman line is built on years, if not decades, of steady readership and fan attachments, and you don’t just wave that away. Nevertheless, if there are only 52 slots in the main superhero line, must the Batman Family claim a quarter of them? The relaunch has made pruning these titles both easier and harder, and today I want to look at the opportunities it presents.
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I once attended a writing workshop by a popular, big-name comics writer in the 1990s who revealed a Dirty Secret that’s haunted me ever since. I’m paraphrasing, but he admitted that writers of corporate-owned superheroes rely heavily on fans’ pre-existing attachment to those characters. Obviously, the extent to which he was able to speak for his peers is questionable, but the implication was that he felt he could sneak sloppy work by readers, confident that their love for the characters would keep them buying the comics anyway.
Please please please don’t think that I’m accusing Duane Swierczynski of that. I have no reason to think that he’s doing anything less than his best work. It’s just that that Dirty Secret occasionally pops back into my head as I’m reading comics I’m not enjoying about characters that I like. And the New 52 Birds of Prey is one of those comics.
I discovered Black Canary through Green Arrow. I’ve been a Robin Hood fan my whole life, so it was an easy jump to digging Green Arrow, but I admit that I didn’t care for Black Canary at first. My intro to these characters was all post-Mike Grell, and all I knew about Canary was that – early in Grell’s Green Arrow run – she accused Green Arrow of cheating on her and left him. At the time I was learning about this history, there was a huge debate among Green Arrow fans about how justified Black Canary’s complaints were. But either way, Green Arrow’s reputation as a philanderer stuck. Eventually, it became apparent to me that – whether or not he’d been that way before – Green Arrow’s writers now considered commitment-phobia and infidelity to be important parts of his character. I began to lose interest in him and gave Black Canary a second look instead. I checked out Birds of Prey and dug it.