REVIEW: "DC Universe: Rebirth" #1 Makes the Future of DC Comics Look Genuinely Bright
DC Comics returns from its two-month Convergence break with a reinvigorated line, including more than 20 new series, new directions for existing titles, a new “DC You” promotional campaign, and a brief commercial message from Nick Lachey.
Among the most notable changes evidenced this week is the wildly increased diversity of the publisher’s offerings. Over the past 43 months or so of the New 52, DC was particularly daring in the oddball titles, characters and concepts launched, likely the result of having a set goal of 52 books (and the knowledge that they had some 75 years’ worth of IP to exploit). But while the publisher toyed with twists of the superhero genre (superhero war comics, superhero horror comics, superhero Western comics, etc.) and went surprisingly deep into its character catalog (Dial H, The Green Team, Infinity Man and The Forever People), there wasn’t much diversity in terms of tone or visual style.
That’s no longer the case. This week’s new releases include comedy miniseries starring Bat-Mite and Bizarro — two particularly fun Silver Age characters – and featuring intentionally cartoony styles that are as far removed from Jim Lee-derived New 52 house style as one can imagine.
Following the initial announcement last month by Boom Island Brewing Company, The Hero Initiative has revealed more details about the debut of the craft beer Gravity No. 9 at Wizard World Minneapolis.
The Belgian strong features a label specially designed by Fables creator Bill Willingham to support the organization, which helps to provide a financial safety net for creators in need.
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.
Of the three weekly series DC Comics is releasing this year, Futures End is arguably the most “important.” It spans the entire superhero line, bridges the gap between Forever Evil and 2015’s Big Event, and promises to change the New 52 irrevocably.
None of that apparently is deemed sufficient to attract new readers, because Futures End’s preview issue kicks off with 20 pages of your favorite characters either turned into, or slaughtered by, giant killer spider-bots.
To be fair, maybe the folks behind FE wanted to attract those readers already interested in a certain other let’s-prevent-the-robot-holocaust storyline from their crosstown rivals. But it’s not just X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Terminator or even Star Trek: First Contact (where you can hear the Borg Queen gloat “Watch your future’s end”) that Futures End echoes. Just off the top of my head, evil and/or assimilated versions of our heroes appeared in Final Crisis (remember Wonder Woman’s Female Furies?), in the Swamp Thing/Animal Man crossover “Rotworld” — which, by the way, I seem to be alone in liking — and in Flashpoint’s dog-eat-dog timeline. A future ruled by OMACs was also part of the Justice League: Generation Lost miniseries. Back in the day, “changing the bad future” was the plot of 1991’s summer crossover Armageddon 2001 and the unrelated JLA arc “Rock of Ages,” and 1992’s Eclipso: The Darkness Within featured “heroes turned bad.”
DC Comics’ current publishing pattern seems to center around growing various franchises, like Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and the Justice League. Aquaman is one of the publisher’s more familiar faces, he’s rooted pretty deeply in the superhero line, and he’s even had a good bit of multimedia exposure. However, when the April solicitations came out at the end of January, I wasn’t sure the world had been clamoring for another Aquaman title.
After reading the first issue of Aquaman and the Others — written by Dan Jurgens, penciled by Lan Medina, inked by Allen Martinez and colored by Matt Milla — I’m still not entirely convinced. AATO #1 is a solid first issue, dealing largely in traditional superhero matters, but its last-minute attempt to tie into the larger DC Universe comes from out of left field, and threatens to hijack the main narrative. Otherwise, it’s a fine reintroduction which gives newcomers a good glimpse at characters who are still pretty obscure. Still, those good fundamentals will have to overcome the why-should-I-care factor.
Summer is officially over, so this is a little late, but I’ve been meaning to talk about a certain arc from the summer of 1993. It was the height of the speculator bubble, when everything came with cover enhancements, trading cards, unfortunate hairstyles and/or superfluous pouches.
For many DC Comics readers, 20 years ago was also the summer of “Reign of the Supermen!” That’s not necessarily enthusiasm — the exclamation point was part of the title, which in turn was inspired by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s early proto-supervillain story, “The Reign of the Superman.” The third (and by far the longest) chapter of the “Death of Superman” saga began with teasers at the back of Adventures of Superman #500, published around April 15,* and ended with Superman Vol. 2 #82, published around Aug. 26.** Those four and a half months may not seem like much, but they saw 20 issues of the four regular Superman books (including Action Comics and Superman: The Man of Steel) spread over 20 weeks. In fact, “Reign” was front-loaded, with all four titles marking the official start of the arc on April 29 or so, two weeks after Adventures #500. That meant there were some weeks without a new installment, and those were sometimes hard to take.
“Reign of the Supermen!” is not the greatest Superman story ever memorialized in print. On one level it is very much a product of its era. However, for the Superman books, that era was energized not just by the efforts of their creative teams, but by the overarching framework the books had developed. While “Reign” wasn’t the only big DC event of the summer — for one thing, the debut of DC’s imprint Milestone Media has much more historical significance — it’s a reminder of the ebbs and flows of serial superhero storytelling, and it remains instructive today.
Warning: This is a very long post, because I think there’s a lot of background to be explored.
I read all 13 of the Villains Month issues released this week by DC Comics, and in so doing I saw 89 people killed (Kryptonians and Thanagarians included) in all manner of ways. I saw people shot to death with laser guns, with regular old bullet guns, with eye-beams, with an arrow and even with an umbrella. I saw people stabbed, bludgeoned, impaled, decapitated, blown up, pushed off buildings, flash-frozen and shattered. I saw someone’s neck snapped, someone’s life-force magically drained, people sliced in half with psionic energy, and others torn to pieces by claws.
I saw a bestial woman eat the still-beating hearts of her victims.
But man, the rabbit that Arcane tore in half? That’s the image that sticks with me from this week’s Villains Week offerings. Thank God they didn’t put that on the cover; imagine that arc of rabbit innards being flung your way in lenticular 3D!
The comic book annual has, in recent years, become an endangered species. Once an oversized, extra-length dose of the characters and concepts a reader could count on appearing once a year (or, you know, annually), the changing funny-book landscape has made them a less appealing proposition.
The rise of the graphic novel and trade paperback collections made “novel-length” adventures appearing in actual, off-the-rack comic books somewhat obsolete. The rising price of comics helped make annuals seem less practical; if a 20- or 22-page comic costs $2.99 or $3.99, a 48- or 56- or 64-page one would be prohibitively expensive. And with the shrunken market, it doesn’t make sense for a publisher to release an additional, extra-long issue of almost every title in its line.
Digital comics | Despite all the talk about digital comics lately, Paul Delos Santos finds plenty of ink-on-paper comics, as well as creators and fans, at last weekend’s Amazing Las Vegas Comic-Con. “Digital is the newsstand of yesteryear for people that are new to comics that are discovering that way,” said Ralph Mathieu, owner of Las Vegas’ Alternate Reality Comics. “Then (they are) going to comic stores and getting the physical format.” [Las Vegas Sun]
Superheroes | Looking at the lineup of Marvel and DC Comics adaptations, Frank Hagler argues, “It is far past time for Hollywood to release a comic book movie based on a minority comic book hero where the characters race is central to the theme of the story.” [PolicyMic]
Conventions | Comic-Con International in San Diego is about six weeks away, so it’s time for Tom Spurgeon to post his massive list of tips for those planning to attend: “It helps to remember that the hassle of going to Comic-Con is mostly an accident of our recent cultural history — All those spectacle movies! All those fantasy franchise books! Marvel’s post-bankruptcy comeback! All those graphic novels! The toy explosion! The rise of manga and anime! — rather than something the convention itself enjoys or endorses or requires or was ever shooting for. I honestly don’t have any more fun going now than I did in ’96 or ’01, back when it was so much easier to attend the con that the worst-case scenario was registering on-site and staying in a $65 hotel ten blocks away. It wasn’t that long ago! But I also can’t stress this enough. I still have fun.” [The Comics Reporter]
To see what Greg and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below …
College basketball season starts back up in November, so that makes thinking about bracketology only a little less premature. Looking at the various discrete (and, occasionally, indirect) crossovers happening throughout November’s New 52 solicitations, I couldn’t help but picture the field of 68, with each individual game a step along the way to … “Trinity War,” I guess …?
Green Lantern’s “Rise of the Third Army” occupies the four GL titles, of course, but it also brings in Justice League, where the solicit for issue #14 wonders where Hal is. (After reading this week’s GL #12, I have a better idea about that.) Likewise, GL #14 guest-stars the League.
From the solicits I wonder if “ROT3A” takes place mainly in GL (with a little JL on the side). “Night of the Owls” was advertised that way (you only need to read Batman, because the other Bat-books dealt with ancillary stories) and it kind-of fits with the way the New-52 books have hyped their creative teams. Johns, Scott Snyder, and Jeff Lemire are responsible for a total of seven books (GL, JL, Aquaman, Batman, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, JL Dark), and each writer has at least one book in some sort of crossover this month.
We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the New 52, and I anticipate doing the usual examinations of what worked and what didn’t. Until then, however, this preliminary post will try to organize my general impressions.
I have tried to keep an open mind about the various changes, but apparently I keep coming back to the New 52-niverse’s lack of meaningful fictional history. Much of this comes from the five-year timeline, but a good bit of it is due to storytelling styles. While origin stories can generate a nominal setting, including a regular supporting cast, many of the New-52 books held off for various reasons — like readers pretty much knowing the origins at the outset — and with today’s practical concerns, many books spent their first 12 issues on extended arcs.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been talking about this as a function of “idea generation,” but I think it is a more elemental concept. Specifically, it seems like I have been conditioned to expect a certain amount of continuity in a modern shared universe. Furthermore (and more troubling), I suspect the simple acknowledgment of preexisting continuity helps mitigate whatever weaknesses may exist in the stories themselves.
August marks the end of the New 52’s first year — and whether it’s the practicalities of collected editions or a prelude to mass cancellation, there’s a lot of finality in these solicitations.
Storylines conclude in All Star Western, Aquaman, Catwoman, Deathstroke, Frankenstein, GL Corps, Legion of Super-Heroes, Red Lanterns, Resurrection Man, Suicide Squad, Voodoo, maybe GL: New Guardians, and the main Justice League book. Big changes are coming for Stormwatch, Captain Atom and Green Lantern. August also sees the final issues of Justice League International (about which more later), iZombie and Scalped.
On the other hand, new stories begin in Flash and Batman, and the big Animal Man/Swamp Thing crossover kicks off. Better yet, J.H. Williams III returns to art on Batwoman with Issue 12, which not only starts a new storyline but guest-stars Wonder Woman. It’s somewhat ironic for a guy who drew the guest star-heavy Chase that his Batwoman work hasn’t ventured too far into the larger DC Universe, so I’m really looking forward to his Wonder Woman. (Along the same lines, I can’t wait to see what Gail Simone does with Batwoman in the latter’s Batgirl appearance.) Apparently the Next Six titles also just keep humming along.
Collectively, it may make the next four weeks a waiting game. With September set to include fifty-two zero issues, at least one of those will replace JLI on the schedule. From now until the September solicits are released, I wouldn’t be surprised if DC announced more cancellations in order to free up those zero issues for new series’ debuts.
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Since the March solicitations kick off the back half of the New 52’s first year, it’s probably worth noting that the whole line remains unchanged: no “midseason replacements” like Justice Society, but no cancellations either. If I hear relieved sighs from OMAC and Men of War, certainly Dan DiDio and Jim Lee have to be pleased generally that they’ve gotten this far with the 52 intact.
Well, pleased or stubborn, I suppose. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
Ahem. Away we go…!
One of my pet peeves about the New-52 is the sense that it lacks a meaningful “history.” For at least the last few decades, a reader might not have known exactly what had happened or when, but s/he could tell that these characters hadn’t just fallen off the turnip truck. I say this because the solicits for Justice League #7 and Flash #7 both allude to their books’ untold backstories. With Justice League, we’ll learn about membership turnover and other details of the five years between the League’s debut and today. (To be sure, some of that has already been alluded to in the League’s previous present-day appearances, like JL Dark #1.)