Axel-In-Charge: "Secret Wars" Jam Session Talking "A-Force," "Ultimate End" and More
As the new year is still fairly new, it’s time once again to revisit some old speculation, and offer a fresh batch.
2015 promises to be an unusual year for DC Comics, thanks to a couple of well-publicized real-world events: moving its offices from New York to California, and publishing two months’ worth of retro-themed comics while the regular series take a break. Although I’m getting tired of writing about these things, they will continue to dominate DC news for the next little while. Accordingly, counterintuitive though it may be, this week I’m going to resist talking about them as much as possible. You know they’re coming, I know they’re coming; but let’s try to find some other topics in the meantime.
Now to catch up on 2014’s items:
1. Anniversaries. Besides Batman’s 75th, which naturally got lots of play, I noted that last year was the 50th anniversary of the Teen Titans, the 55th of the Silver Age Green Lantern, Nightwing’s 30th, Zero Hour’s 20th and Identity Crisis’ 10th. The Titans got a commemorative hardcover and IC likewise received a new edition. However, Nightwing-the-series ended in 2014, as Nightwing-the-identity was exposed and Dick Grayson got a new spy-oriented comic. I also wondered whether the 50th anniversary of Batman’s “New Look” would get some special attention (it didn’t, unless you count the flood of Batman ‘66 love that accompanied the long-awaited home video releases of the New Look-inspired series).
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(NOTE: The Futures Index is on Thanksgiving vacation, so you’ll get a double dose next week.)
It doesn’t look good for the current Universe Designate 2. If the title of the miniseries Earth 2: World’s End weren’t enough of a clue, the setup of its companion Futures End tells the tale: Apokoliptian troops devastate the planet, forcing the refugees into the main DC Universe (Designate Zero). Moreover, glimpses of the previous Earth-Two — one-time home to DC’s Golden Age heroes and their legacies, like you didn’t know — suggest that it might be making a comeback.
Considering the New 52 relaunch eliminated the original versions of the Golden Agers, their collective reinstatement isn’t without its own set of issues. A few months ago I looked at how the current Earth-2 has distinguished itself from its predecessor. Therefore, today let’s ask how the return of that predecessor might work.
Do you like Batman? Sure, everyone loves Batman, which is what makes this new series Earth 2: World’s End so great. It’s got Batman in it! Well, not Batman so much as Batman’s dad. And not the “real” Batman’s dad, but an alternate dimension’s Batman’s dad … who has taken over for his son as Batman II. So, it stars a legacy version of an alternate version of Batman.
That’s one aspect of World’s End, which joins Batman Eternal and The New 52: Futures End on DC’s slate of ongoing weeklies, that I found particularly striking.
In the near future, some sort of sentient operating system has awoken and taken over the world, transforming its inhabitants into cyborgs that then either kill or assimilate the rest of the population. To try to prevent this apocalyptic nightmare, Batman Bruce Wayne sends Batman Terry McGinnis into the past to stop that operating system from being created.
I know parts of that plot might sound familiar, but notice the presence of Batmen in it, so obviously I am describing The New 52: Futures End, DC Comics’ weekly series set five year in the future, where McGinnis is trying to alter his past to save his future.
I wonder if DC could send someone back in time, whether they would have altered the storyline of Futures End a bit. It’s always difficult to tell exactly how well a particular series is selling — in part because of the insane way the direct market sells comics, in part because publishers don’t typically release numbers — but one expects DC might have had higher hopes for Futures End, given that this year’s theme month of September is devoted entirely to tie-ins to the storyline, as the company has suspended much of its New 52 line and replaced it with
52 42 Futures End one-shots.
Last week I wrote about Earth 2 in the context of its Supermen. The most recent issue, Earth 2 #26, brought some closure to the Apokolips-invasion plot and subplots, and this week’s Worlds’ Finest #26 does much the same for its displaced heroines. The September issues of both series will jump forward five years to tie into Futures End, and October brings the Earth 2: World’s End weekly miniseries.
Therefore, as these were the last couple of issues before everything will no doubt start to change, I want to talk this week about Earth-2’s unique place in the New 52’s multiverse, and what it might say about DC’s approach to legacy characters.
On Tuesday, Comic Book Resources interviewed Superman writer Geoff Johns, penciler John Romita Jr. and inker Klaus Janson, who (as the headline put it) want to “inject optimism” into the series. As part of that interview, Johns contended that the Man of Steel’s desire to connect with his fellow Earthlings makes him “more relevant now than ever.”
Considering a couple of ongoing storylines, this current focus on positivity sounds like a voice crying in the wilderness. Today we’ll look at the end of Earth 2’s “The Kryptonian” — which features two alternate Supermen — as well as the latest installments of “Doomed” in the regular Super-books.
Naturally, SPOILERS FOLLOW for Earth 2 #26, Superman/Wonder Woman Annual #1, Action Comics Annual #3 and Action Comics #34.
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Some months the solicitations don’t inspire much in the way of analysis. The superhero serials just sort of chug along, and maybe there’ll be an unusual creative team or an idiosyncratic collection to enliven things. Not so with DC’s October solicitations, which include a number of new series, storylines, and creative changes.
This next bit will sound conspiratorial, but I don’t think it’s an unreasonable supposition. I believe — or at least I would not be surprised to learn — that all these debuts and changes are starting in October because that will give them at least six issues to resolve themselves before the big springtime move to the West Coast. For example, six issues is pretty much the minimum for a collection, so if any of the new series just drop immediately into the sales cellar (I’m looking at you, Klarion; say hi to GI Zombie), DC can still have enough for a trade paperback. That’s not to say a reboot is inevitable next spring — notwithstanding one panel in Robin Rising that should jump-start such talk — but I could see a good bit of the superhero line taking a potential victory lap over the fall and winter. (Apparently I am not alone in thinking this.)
Publishing | The latest BookScan numbers reveal June was a good month for manga in bookstores, with eight volumes of Attack on Titan making the top 20 — a new record. The first volume topped the list, which means new readers are still discovering Hajime Isayama’s dark fantasy. Overall, manga had a slight edge, with 11 titles, and all three volumes of Saga were on the list, but only one volume of The Walking Dead. And despite the Amazon-Hachette battle, the Yen Press title Sword Art Online: Aincrad made the chart. [ICv2]
Publishing | ICv2 and Comichron’s John Jackson Miller joined forces to calculate the size of the entire comics market, including the direct market, bookstore and digital channels, and both single issues and graphic novels. Inevitably some things get left out, such as subscription services, sales to libraries and the juggernaut that is the Scholastic Book Fair, but it’s a good snapshot. The bottom line: $850 million in 2013. [Comichron]
A big part of me still thinks Forever Evil would have worked a lot better as one of those late-1990s done-in-five-weeks events. I did enjoy the final issue, but it was because lots of things actually happened, and it made me wonder why they couldn’t have occurred a bit more quickly.
Still, the last-page reveal warmed my withered nerd heart. It’s the sort of thing that cries out for a boatload of analysis based on a set of comics published when I was in high school. Could be a stretch, but I’ll risk it.
SPOILERS FOLLOW, therefore, for Forever Evil #7 and probably some other stories you have already read.
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.
For a while it felt as if DC Comics was just going to talk about all its July books without ever soliciting them. News of Grayson and Robin Rising and relaunches of Suicide Squad and Teen Titans trickled out of the DC offices before the dam finally burst on Tuesday afternoon. (That’s why this week’s planned look at the “pilot episode” of Batman Eternal will have to wait.)
In fact, these solicitations are a little overstuffed, with a list of DC’s special September issues that lets us compare and contrast. Note too that while the September issues take place in The Future, they’re only two months removed from their July predecessors — so a good bit of current storylines may well be put on hold.
BECAUSE YOU LOVE THE NUMBERS
Here are the numbers. For the superhero line, DC is soliciting 42 regular ongoing series in July, plus the penultimate issue of Superman Unchained and an extra issue of Justice League. (It’s also putting out five annuals, five issues each of Batman Eternal and Futures End, a Harley Quinn special and the Robin Rising special, for a grand total of 61 single issues.) For September, there are 40 special Futures End tie-in issues, with 3-D covers like those on last year’s “Villains Month” comics. Basically, all the regular ongoing series except All Star Western, Justice League 3000 and Secret Origins get a Futures End issue in September. That doesn’t necessarily mean those three series are canceled, as none of them is part of Futures End’s “five years later” premise. September also includes a Booster Gold: Futures End issue, which one might reasonably think is a good indication of a new series for Booster — but I guess we’ll have to wait and see to be sure. Thus, July’s 42 ongoings, minus the three non-participating series, plus the Booster Gold issue, equal September’s 40 issues.
Not a lot in DC Comics’ May solicitations really strikes me as “new.” That’s due partly to a lot of the new books being set to launch a month earlier. Generally, the superhero line continues to contract, while The New 52 — Futures End kicks off, the New 52 version of Doomsday keeps rampaging through the Superman titles, and Batman Eternal rolls on. Nevertheless, I do have the irrational sense that the line is gearing up for something even more significant, and will be adding new series over the next few months.
Still, if we’re to get excited about the regular fare, we may have to read between the solicitations’ lines — so let’s get on with it, shall we?
* * *
A NEW 52 FOR THE NEW 52
And here it is, Futures End. Last year I wrote the New 52 needed its own version of 52, the year-long miniseries that spanned time and space to focus on the lesser lights of the superhero line. I talked about exploring the geography of the still-new shared universe, doing character studies, and essentially giving the reader a good sense of place and/or connection.
This week DC Comics released four more annuals, three of which are set in the past and one of which is a big, bridging chapter in an ongoing plot line. All are penned by the regular writers of their series, and are $4.99 for 38 pages. What else do you need to know?
Oh, who made them, what they’re about and whether they’re any good? Oh, sure, I can tell you that …
We’ve known for a while that DC’s superhero line will go through some changes in the wake of Forever Evil, and as the March solicitations bring the end of that Big Event, not surprisingly the month looks rather transitory. In fact, Forever Evil #7 is scheduled to appear on March 26, just as the final issue of Blackest Night — also written by Geoff Johns as a spinoff of his highest-profile series, in case you’d forgotten — dropped on the last week of March 2010. (It must be pure coincidence that these solicits feature a $200 White Power Battery tchotcke.) Back then, BN #8 was supposed to “set the stage” for the “next epic era of DC Comics,” which turned out to be about 18 months long and featured the biweekly sort-of-sequel miniseries Brightest Day. This time, Forever Evil #7 teases the importance of the “Hooded Man” and promises to “leave the DC universe reeling and reveal the secrets to the future.”
So, yeah, sounds like another cliffhanger ending, perhaps even leading into another big-deal miniseries — specifically, the May-debuting weekly Futures End. Considering that the three tie-in miniseries (ARGUS, Arkham War and Rogues Rebellion) all seem to feed into FE #7, the actual content of that final issue may well be a giant scrum, not unlike the final issue of Flashpoint, in which some cosmic button is pushed, defeating the Crime Syndicate but at a significant cost to DC-Earth. As it happens, there’s no mention of the “Blight” sub-crossover (bringing together Phantom Stranger, Pandora, Constantine and JL Dark) feeding back into Forever Evil, but I’m not sure how much it’s supposed to relate, beyond being about the JLD trying to pick up the post-invasion pieces.
It’s been more than a year and a half — 19 issues and an annual — but the New 52 version of Earth 2 still feels like a work in progress.
The series began with the last battle of an Apokoliptian war that claimed the lives of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, which was followed soon afterward by the debuts of “wonders” (not “marvels,” no sir) like the Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkgirl. To a certain extent, each was meant to remind readers of the heroes of the original Earth-Two, where Superman and Lois Lane met in 1938 and married in the early 1950s, and where Batman and Catwoman saw their daughter Helena become a successful attorney. When everything started getting organized into a Multiverse in 1961, Earth-Two became the home of DC’s Golden Age characters, including Jay Garrick’s Flash and Alan Scott’s Green Lantern. Indeed, for more than 70 years Jay and Alan were part of DC’s first generation of superheroes, serving as inspiration for the many who followed.
Not so with the current Earth 2, where Jay and Alan are themselves inspired by the heroic sacrifices of that world’s Trinity. On one level, Earth 2 is a way to reintroduce those characters in a present-day context, breaking them down into more basic forms and building them up through a series of fiery trials. Talk about a “never-ending battle” — in Earth 2, war is never far away, whether it’s the reminders of past devastation or the dark portents of new tragedies. Originally I thought this might be writer James Robinson’s way to evoke the world-at-war atmosphere of the 1940s, but now I’m not so sure. Current writer Tom Taylor may simply want to put the “wonders” through a pretty rigorous series of tests. Now, that in itself has become a well-worn DC trope (Geoff Johns personified it some 10 years ago with his updated Reverse-Flash), and it’s not one of which I am especially fond. It has tended to emphasize the “testing” more than the eventual triumph, so it threatens to become a trial for the reader as well.
And yet, like Caleb appreciating the Taylor-written Injustice: Gods Among Us,I have looked forward to each new issue of Earth 2. It’s definitely not the original. Sometimes it’s barely an homage to the original. However, it needs to be its own thing, and this week I’ll tell you why.