INTERVIEW: "Fantastic Four" EP On Character-Driven Approach, Sequel Plans
Comic Books, Film
Last week DC Comics rolled out its February solicitations, but Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns has already been talking up plans for April. He described the end of Forever Evil as the beginning of the New 52’s “Phase Two,” which would include a host of changes, introductions and reintroductions.
Of course, it’s not like the Internet needs an excuse for ill-informed speculation. In fact, I count just 46* ongoing series in February’s New 52 lineup — and one of those (StormWatch) will be ending in April — so DC will have some roster slots to fill. Therefore, this week let’s look at who might get called up and what DC might introduce.
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Initially, DC divided the New 52 into categories like “Young Justice” (like Teen Titans, Legion of Super-Heroes or Blue Beetle), “The Dark” (I Vampire, Swamp Thing, Frankenstein) and “The Edge” (Deathstroke, Grifter, All Star Western) to go along with the more traditional franchise-oriented groups based around Batman, Green Lantern, etc. This doesn’t quite work any more, mainly because 21e original New 52 series have since been canceled, and a lot of those came from The Edge, The Dark, and Young Justice.
When DC Comics relaunched its superhero titles in 2011 with the New 52, one of the effects was the integration of characters from the former Wildstorm imprint into the DC Universe. Those Wildstorm heroes had a good showing in Flashpoint and in the New 52’s debut titles, but by way of attrition, their presence soon dwindled.
After already seeing series like Voodoo, Grifter,Team 7 and the Wildstorm-esque Ravagers canceled, today we learned that Stormwatch will end in April with Issue 30. It gives a little bit of time for recently hired series writer Jim Starlin to wrap up, but its cancellation is another bad sign for fans of Wildstorm.
With a little more than two years under its belt, DC Comics’ New 52 still has plenty of corners left to explore and hundreds of characters of varying levels of popularity to re-introduce. (Where are you, Wally West?) So when I saw Celsius, Negative Woman and Tempest pop up in this week’s Justice League #24, I couldn’t help but smile a little.
Combined with the New 52 Robotman, who’s sporting a look very similar to the one Cliff Steele had when that version of the team debuted in 1977’s Showcase #94, we officially have Paul Kupperberg’s Doom Patrol joining the ever-growing ranks of “new” heroes opposing the seemingly all-powerful Crime Syndicate. But certainly more interesting than that, this panel, almost a throwaway, fills out the current DCU in a way we haven’t seen much since the early days of the relaunch.
Current Aquaman artist Paul Pelletier has a long and varied history in comics, dating back to the late 1980s. When I learned Jeff Parker would replace Geoff Johns as the series’ writer (beginning with Aquaman #26), I was pleased that DC Comics chose to leave Pelletier on the title (as opposed to switching to a new art team, as frequently happens). I enjoy Pelletier’s take on Aquaman, and I was surprised to learn he’s not well-versed in some of the character’s earlier runs (so readers, please be sure to share your favorite runs in the comments section, since the artist asked “which runs would the Aqua-fans recommend?”). It was a unique opportunity, prior to the October 23 release of Aquaman #24, to chat with the veteran artist as he transitions from collaborating with one veteran writer to another. Plus, I enjoyed hearing about Pelletier’s appreciation of basketball legend Larry Bird.
Tim O’Shea: Once you realized Arthur would be sporting a beard again, did you draw a couple of versions of beards (goatee versus full beard) or did you and Geoff always have one look in mind when it came to Aquaman’s facial hair?
Paul Pelletier: When Geoff wrote Aquaman with the beard, it was a result of Arthur being unconscious for six months, so I figured it wouldn’t be too stylized. A full beard that wasn’t too manicured made sense to me. Now if the beard was to remain, then we might have to think about something a bit more tailored to Arthur.
“What you’ve seen over these decades is less of a black and white between the heroes and villains. Back in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, you had clear-cut heroes, clear-cut supervillains. Today, you have more of a blend, more of a gray area between the two. You have the rise of the sympathetic villain and the rise of the antihero. You have a lot of characters who follow the motto ‘The ends justify the means,’ and depending on what the ends are, are they a villain or a superhero? That’s what makes supervillains today more modern. We’ll show their back story, we’ll show their motivation. It’s not just about robbing a bank of $10 million. They’re a lot more complicated and layered and thematically rich today than they were in the past.”
— DC Comics Co-Publisher Jim Lee, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that touches upon Villains Month, digital distribution, and the whereabouts of Batman: Europa.
DC Comics hasn’t had a particularly good run of things lately. To be frank, the publisher has done blown it a number of times over the past few years. But don’t worry, DC fans — I’m sure it’ll soon be Marvel’s turn, as the two rivals seem to trade off every five years or so.
I’ve been calling out DC for the past couple of weeks, but that doesn’t mean everything it does strikes me as wrong. It’s important to declare shenanigans, but it’s also important to recognize when a publisher does something that’s good for comics.
So here are six things DC is doing right:
1. Digital comics: Legends of the Dark Knight and Adventures of Superman are digital-first anthology series that feature some excellent creators (from Jeff Parker and Chris Samnee to J.M. DeMatteis and Jeff Lemire) producing completely accessible and entertaining stories that stand on their own; no college course on the New 52 or Crisis on Infinite Earths required. Yes, these stories are out of continuity — so for a percentage of readers, they don’t count. That’s a mistake, because there’s nothing wrong with a straight-up superhero tale that exists on its own terms. These two anthologies are the gems of DC’s digital-first line-up, but Batman ’66 and Batman: Li’l Gotham also offer fantastical takes on the iconic Caped Crusader that are bright and fun. For those exhausted by the angsty versions of serious stories, you owe it to yourself to check these out.
Students of DC Comics’ publishing history can probably rattle off at least a few editors from the company’s first few decades. Whitney Ellsworth edited the Batman and Superman books in the 1940s and ‘50s before becoming a producer on the Adventures of Superman television series. In the Silver Age, Mort Weisinger presided over an exponential expansion of Superman’s mythology, including all those varieties of Kryptonite, the introductions of Supergirl, Krypto and the Legion of Super-Heroes, and ongoing series focused on Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. Similarly, as editor of the Batman titles, Jack Schiff supervised one of the character’s most recognizable periods, filled with colorful mysteries and giant-sized props.
Of course, the phrase “Silver Age DC” is virtually synonymous with Julius Schwartz, who worked with writers Gardner Fox and John Broome and artists Carmine Infantino, Mike Sekowsky and Gil Kane on rebuilding DC’s superhero line. One could argue fairly reasonably that without them DC Comics as we know it today might not exist (and neither would today’s Marvel).
However, while Ellsworth became DC’s editorial director in 1948, Schwartz Schiff, and Weisinger weren’t in similarly lofty positions. Today we readers hear a lot about “editorial control” and the dreaded “editorial interference,” charges aimed largely at the men at the top: Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras, Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. We hear a lot from them (illuminating and otherwise) about the general direction of the company. We also hear a good bit from various writers and artists, including Johns and Lee, regarding specific titles.
Nevertheless, on the management tier in between are the books’ editors themselves; and that’s the area about which I’ve become rather hazy. Therefore, I started looking through New 52 credits boxes, and supplementing this research through the Grand Comics Database, to see who was editing what.
In late August 2011, just ahead of DC Entertainment’s’ high-risk relaunch of its superhero line, the company’s executive vice president of sales, marketing and business development emphasized the New 52 wasn’t merely a gimmick to seize more shelf space.
“To be clear – DC is not a market-share-chaser. If we were, we would not be creating a quality lasting direction across a controlled number of titles,” John Rood wrote on the DC Comics blog, setting up on obvious shot at Marvel. “We would instead be flooding the market with over 200 titles a month, changing your prices with abandon, killing off a character every quarter or so, and/or randomly announcing decimal-pointed event-ish thingies. We haven’t.” That, of course, was a reference to Marvel’s Point One initiative and the then-recently announced Fear Itself #7.1, #7.2 and #7.3.
Now fast-forward to this morning, less than two years later, as DC rolls out the details of its newly confirmed “Villains Month,” the September event in which the company’s antagonists take center stage in the aftermath of “Trinity War”: As the Batman solicitations for September show, any issues DC had about decimal-pointed event-ish thingies appear to have resolved, because we’re presented with Batman #23.1: The Joker, Batman #23.2: The Riddler, Batman #23.3: The Penguin and Batman #23.4: Bane.
If you were just thinking your summer wouldn’t be complete without some New 52-inspired beach and camping accessories or garden tools, well, you’re in luck: Target has partnered with Warner Bros. Consumer Products and DC Entertainment to introduce an exclusive summer collection of Justice League merchandise.
Debuting Sunday, the line features more than 50 products, sand toys designed to form cities like Gotham and Metropolis, Wonder Woman melamime dinnerware, a Batman snack cup and apron, a Wonder Woman kids’ camp chair, and Batman, Wonder Woman and The Flash beach towels that double as capes.
In addition to the the summer collection, the partnership will see the introduction of a wide range of Justice League merchandise, ranging from $1 Justice League temporary tattoos to the $59.99 Justice League rocking chair. There will also be a line of Justice League Halloween costumes later in the year.
“DC Comics’ Justice League characters are a powerful assemblage of the most recognizable Super Heroes in the history of comic books,” Brad Globe, president of Warner Bros. Consumer Products, said in a statement. “We are incredibly excited to offer fans of all ages a unique collection and collaboration that pairs the heroics of the Justice League characters with the product design and marketing super powers of Target.”
Shortly after Comic Book Resources announced DC Comics will no longer participate in a monthly Q&A feature, the publisher has launched “What’s New in The New 52″ on its own press blog.
CBR’s four-month-old “B&B” column featured Editor-In-Chief Bob Harras and Editorial Director Bobbie Chase answering questions from Staff Writer Josie Campbell and readers about series launches and cancellations, story developments and, occasionally, controversial decisions. But in an editor’s note appended to today’s installment, CBR wrote, “the DC team has made it clear to CBR that discussing some of the more controversial debates surrounding the company and the comics community is not something they feel comfortable doing in this format, and ultimately they decided to no longer participate in this feature.”
The inaugural installment of DC’s weekly “What’s New New in The New 52″ is devoted to Harras’ brief discussion of changes in character designs between a preview for Constantine #1 and the release of the issue, and a first look at Papa Midnight.
“The title pretty much says it all – this is where we get to play show and tell,” he wrote by way of introduction. “New looks, new designs, new villains, new heroes … See the trend? The New 52 is about trumping expectations and keeping readers on their toes. Every week, you’ll get a glimpse of that here.
However, why the feature appears on the DC blog intended for press rather than the one dedicated to fans isn’t explained.
Gather ‘round, kiddos, because we begin with another tale of Gen-X adolescence!
From 1977 through 1986, I grew from a snot-nosed third-grade punk into a snot-nosed (I had allergies) high-school senior, accompanied along the way by at least one big-budget sci-fi/fantasy movie milestone.* Specifically, right in the middle of the run were three sequels by which every self-respecting fan swears: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Superman II (released in the United States in 1981) and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). Each built on its predecessor using darker elements and/or more “mature” themes, because each had the sequel’s luxury of an established setting.
For Young Tom, though, the cumulative effect of these three movies was mind-expanding, if not mind-blowing. I’m not talking about Empire’s Big Reveal (echoed coincidentally in Khan) or the unsettling sight of a powerless Clark Kent. Instead, each catapulted the fevered suppositions of a junior-high imagination to higher levels of awareness. I went into the theater each time wondering will this be as good? and came out giddy at how much better each one was.
So what’s this have to do with comics? Read on …
Zatanna is making the move from Justice League Dark to Justice League with July’s Issue 22, and she’ll bring with her a new costume.
Writer Geoff Johns made the announcement last night on Twitter with “the worldwide debut” of the character’s new look, which combines elements of her Satellite Era/Detroit Era costume — the cape, thigh-high boots and the design on the unitard — with the fishnet of her better-known stage-magician ensemble. Yes, gone are the bustier and leather pants of Justice League Dark.
With Zatanna joining Aquaman in Justice League, Vibe and Martian Manhunter in Justice League of America, and Gypsy and Dale Gunn reintroduced in Justice League of America’s Vibe, can a new Justice League Detroit series be far behind? The answer’s likely a firm “no,” but if Elongated Man makes a surprise appearance somewhere in the New 52, all bets are off!
Apparently we misunderstood: The New 52 doesn’t refer to the number of titles DC Comics publishes each month but rather the number of times each title changes creative hands. That’s what it seems like sometimes, what with firings by email, quitting on Twitter, rehirings and more. The general impression from behind-the-scenes tales is that the New 52 is in chaos. However, the end product might suggest DC is actually somewhat holding it together.
Creative changes are nothing new; turnover is inevitable. The key is how that turnover is managed. The ideal is to have a long and satisfying run by a cohesive team smoothly transitioning to a new team. Lord knows that doesn’t always happen, and we’ve certainly been hearing about it not happening recently.
With all of the news of creators coming and going, or going before they even get there, it’s easy to get distracted from the results of the finished product. So, I decided to take a look at a sampling of DC’s New 52, from its launch in late summer 2011 to today, and see how the stability of various titles was affected by creative changes. For my survey, I looked at the Justice League family of books, which includes the flagship Justice League, as well as Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Arrow and others generally associated with the JLA that haven’t had a big Hollywood movie.
“I want to remind readers of this column that all the Marvel NOW! launches are going strong — none have been canceled or RE-relaunched in a whole new direction after 3 or 4 issues — which is a testament to the talent and coordinated effort of our writers, artists and editors,” Marvel’s Axel Alonso said in last week’s Axel-in-Charge column. Yeah, it’s another trademark swipe by Marvel at its competition, but he isn’t wrong. Putting aside the snarkiness, there’s something to be said for a.) making a plan and sticking with it, b.) having faith in the choices you made, and c.) not undermining your creators and your fans with sudden shifts in creative teams.
I of course have no insight into how things are really being run at DC. But from an outsider’s perspective, it feels like its editorial strategy is inspired by the likes of The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. Every man for himself, blink once and they’re gone, blink twice and their replacement is gone. On the day DC announced the new new writers for the Green Lantern books, I remember seeing a tweet that said something like, “Oh, I figured they wouldn’t announce the new writers until [next weekend’s] WonderCon.” My first thought? Just wait — maybe they will.
“Yes, many have heard, Andy Diggle left Action Comics after the first issue. I can only say I feel bad he made that decision. I think it was the wrong one, but that was his choice to make. For the remainder of the arc I’ll be working off his plots to finish out this first arc. So essentially, I become ‘scripter’ in the credits w/Andy as ‘plotter.’ As for myself, I end my short run after I complete this first arc, which ends with issue 21. This was preplanned since last fall as there is another project I’ll be taking on, and assisting with, a massive project with DC. I still think people will like this arc and I’m staying as true as I can be to Andy’s plans for this story. In the end I hope he’ll find it somewhat recognizable as something he took part in.”
– Tony S. Daniel, commenting on his Facebook page about the abrupt departure of writer Andy Diggle from Action Comics after just one issue. Daniel, who was initially announced as penciler of the DC Comics series, previously had stints writing Batman, Detective Comics and The Savage Hawkman.