grumpy old fan
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.
For those who have followed DC’s promotion of Justice League 3000, this week’s inaugural issue must arrive with something of an asterisk. Announced in June as the latest reunion of Justice League International’s Keith Giffen (plot and breakdowns), J.M. DeMatteis (script) and Kevin Maguire (pencils), within two months the series became an unflattering example of creative-team chaos. In August, artist Howard Porter replaced Maguire, thereby postponing the series’ October debut. According to Maguire, DC apparently wanted something more dark and gritty, which doesn’t quite fit the style we now know as “bwah-ha-ha” — but by the same token, one wonders (as did Maguire) what DC thought it would get from the trio’s collaboration.
Still, to echo Donald Rumsfeld (and, 15 years earlier and more to the point, my entertainment-journalism professor), you review the comic you have, not the comic you wish you had. The first issue of Justice League 3000 reads like an artifact from the mid-1990s, when DC cranked out dystopian-future Elseworld stories fairly regularly; and Porter’s art is emblematic of the issue’s gritty, scratchy tone. This isn’t JLI. It’s not of a piece with Giffen and DeMatteis’ work writing Booster Gold, or even the current Larfleeze. It’s more like the short-lived, Giffen-written Threshold, crossed with an original-variety Marvel 2099 title.
In short, this first issue isn’t bad, just rather frustrating. I suppose the series has potential, and its creative team probably deserves a couple of issues to advance the plot. Regardless, JL3K #1 starts off negative and teases even more. It doesn’t give readers much optimism, outside of a vague sense that at some point, things can only get better.
SPOILERS FOLLOW, of course.
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.
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.
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.
* * *
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.
Warning: There will be a good bit of “in my day” talk in this survey of DC’s February solicitations. It’s the unavoidable contradiction of the publisher’s current superhero-comics model: Make everything “new,” but tease enough of the familiar old elements to keep longtime fans interested. While this practice goes back decades in corporately run superhero comics, the New 52 has tried so hard to distinguish itself that the old ways sometimes stand in even starker contrast.
Probably my biggest frustration with Forever Evil is its limited scope. Oh, sure, every electronic device on DC-Earth says “THIS WORLD IS OURS,” and writer Geoff Johns has teased a revamped Blue Beetle and Doom Patrol — but from the three issues published already and the three more solicited, it looks to be nothing more than Luthor’s Legion of Doom (plus Batman and Catwoman) vs. the Crime Syndicate. Ho-hum. We know the three Justice Leagues are imprisoned, the Teen Titans are bouncing through time, the Suicide Squad is depleted, and Nightwing is the Crime Syndicate’s prisoner, but where are the rest of the superheroes? What happened when they presumably rose up to challenge the Syndicators?
Thanks to Tom Spurgeon, I read a fascinating article about “using Graph Theory to create a digital model of the whole of Marvel continuity,” from comics to TV and the current crop of movies. It maps out connections among characters — unsurprisingly, the three big groups relate to the X-Men, the Avengers, and Spider-Man — but it also discusses exceptions to characters’ defining traits. For example, Hawkeye is Clint Barton (or not), who is an archer (most of the time) and an Avenger (except when he’s a Thunderbolt). Marvel appears to be using this model to answer basic questions like “who is that?” and “how does s/he relate to this over here?” — with an ultimate goal of getting fans of its movies and TV shows to try the comics.
As you might imagine, this sort of analysis would have been ideal for the pre-New-52 status quo, whose five generations of characters (going from the original Justice Society to Damian Wayne) included many with multiple code names. Chief among these were the original Teen Titans who, following the examples of Dick Grayson and Wally West, graduated from sidekicks to “grownup” superheroes. Initially, logistical concerns facilitated these changeovers (we need a new Robin; we need a new Flash) — but in terms of the intersection of continuity and character development, none of the Titans had quite as much on her résumé as Donna Troy.
I really like Halloween, but it’s always been hard for me to come up with a spooky post that relates to DC Comics. The emphasis here is on “for me”: DC has a wealth of spooky material from which to draw, and I’ve just never been able to work with it meaningfully.
For this year’s Halloween post I thought about doing a survey of DC’s horror-themed titles over the years, because certainly the publisher has had its share. There are stalwarts that go back decades, like House of Mystery, Swamp Thing and The Sandman (whose sequel miniseries starts this week, as you might have heard). The first round of New 52 titles included I, Vampire and Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE — and while both of those have bitten the dust, Justice League Dark still heads up the superhero line’s magic-oriented section.
However, the more I thought about it, this space is really not big enough — yes, even with my extreme verbosity — to do right by the horror books. Besides, most of them have ended up at Vertigo, although some are being reincorporated into the superhero line. House of Mystery is a good example of the “serious horror” migration. It started out in the ‘50s as a supernatural anthology before switching over to science fiction (after the fall of EC) and then, briefly, superheroes (specifically, the Martian Manhunter and “Dial ‘H’ for Hero”). When the Comics Code relaxed its stance on all things scary, HOM told horror stories, including an extended run as the original home of “I, Vampire.” The title ended in 1983, after 32 years and more than 300 issues, but it’s never really been forgotten. The House itself (along with its companion from another eponymous title, the House of Secrets) became a part of The Sandman’s landscape, and was the setting for a Vertigo relaunch, which ran from 2008 to 2011 (42 issues and a couple of specials). Now it belongs to John Constantine and serves as Justice League Dark’s headquarters, which I suppose is better than limbo.
Because this space is normally reserved for DC Comics and its stable of characters, you might think a post on Miracleman goes a little outside the lines. However, Miracleman was based on Captain Marvel, who is a DC character in the same way that Miracleman is now a Marvel character: the wonderful world of intellectual-property rights. That’s just one of several traits the two features share, so today I’ll be comparing and contrasting. I’ll also consider whether Marvel’s upcoming Miracleman revival could affect DC’s latest version.
Miracleman (under its original name of Marvelman, but you knew that already) started out as a way to hold onto British readers of Captain Marvel when the latter closed up shop in the mid-1950s. In that form, the series lasted until 1963. In 1982, writer Alan Moore headed up a revival that started by updating familiar elements, but ended up going off in a decidedly different direction. As reprinted, renamed, and subsequently completed in the United States, Moore’s Miracleman (from Eclipse Comics) filled 16 issues, give or take some reprints, and came out over the course of about four and a half years (cover-dated August 1985 to December 1989). Moore’s artistic collaborators included Garry Leach, Alan Davis, Chuck Austen (under the name Chuck Beckum), Rick Veitch, and John Totleben. From June 1990 to June 1993, Eclipse published eight more issues, written by Neil Gaiman and drawn by Mark Buckingham, and an anthology miniseries (Miracleman Apocrypha) came out from November 1991 to February 1992. For various reasons, though, no new Miracleman has seen the light of day for over twenty years.
That’s all about to change, starting with January’s reprints from Marvel. It remains to be seen whether today’s readers will be interested in 20- to 30-year-old stories from a writer whose popularity isn’t what it once was, and which will apparently be reprinted initially in a somewhat-pricey format. Additionally, Miracleman has turned into much more of an “Alan Moore book,” as opposed to a Captain Marvel parody. Therefore, its return doesn’t strike me as the sort of thing which will automatically generate more interest in Captain Marvel; but their similarities (and even some of their differences) can be instructive.
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The Forever Evil and “Gothtopia” crossovers don’t exactly dominate DC Comics’ January solicitations, but compared to the more mundane goings-on in the other series, they tend to stand out. For that matter, Forever Evil doesn’t sound like it’s promising much more than a lot of clenched jaws, dark humor and grim spectacle.
Still, if it has to happen sometime, it might as well be in January. I don’t mind January so much; it’s the darkest month of the year, but after a hectic holiday season it’s a chance to catch one’s breath. Going back to work after New Year’s Day and realizing there’s not much more to do but look forward to spring is like waking up at the crack of dawn and surveying a wide, flat, featureless plain — gray from the winter cold and just barely lit by the first rays of the distant sun — and realizing that if you’re going to make it across that plain, you’d better start walking.
Sometimes you just have to get through January, is what I’m saying — but sometimes getting through it isn’t so bad.
Whew! How was that for an intro? Weren’t we talking about comics?
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This week sees the debut of Superman/Wonder Woman, the very existence of which brings into sharp relief a number of concerns about the treatment of both characters in the New 52. We’ll get into the specifics in a minute, but for now it may be enough to say that if the book had come out under a previous administration (say, the post-Infinite Crisis period, when the two leads were especially close friends), it might be enjoying a warmer overall reception. Superman/Wonder Woman #1 isn’t a bad comic book, but its premise — assuming the reader accepts it — does make for some awkward moments.
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!
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 talked about it last week, but there’s a lot to unpack in the recent Williams-and-Blackman-leave-Batwoman imbroglio. Part of it is DC Comics’ apparent need to keep characters relatively unchanged, which these days includes being young and unmarried. Co-Publisher Dan DiDio has already explained this in terms of heroic sacrifice, so I suppose that’s as close as we may get to official company policy on the matter.
However, before DiDio made his comments, I was wondering whether DC didn’t want the non-costumed half of Batwoman’s main couple to remain single and uncomplicated. After all, Maggie Sawyer goes back further than Kate Kane, and has appeared in both the animated Superman series and in Smallville. Thus, a certain part of the TV-watching public probably associates Maggie Sawyer more with Superman than with Batwoman; and DC might not want to have her tied permanently to the Bat-office.
This, in turn, brings up the issue of DC as a “content farm,” providing material for future adaptations. Obviously the publisher has almost 80 years’ worth of characters and stories ready to provide inspiration. Indeed, over the decades, that inspiration has gone both ways. However, more recently it seems like the adaptations have been influencing the comics to a greater degree than the comics have been influencing the adaptations, and in the long run that’s not good for either side.
DC Entertainment may not have planned it this way — “planning” being something with which DC may be only tangentially familiar — but I doubt its high-ups wanted to release these December solicitations the Monday after what had to be a pretty rough weekend. When you’ve just had to deal with a celebrated creative team walking off a fairly successful book — citing “editorial interference,” and reminding people that the character’s original writer also left after increasing frustration with DC — you might not want to follow that up by calling attention to all the other changes coming before the end of the year.
And don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of Batwoman and “sucky personal life” talk before we’re done. Solicits first, though …
If the first week of Villains Month is any indication, a good bit of the decimal-point issues will feature stories set in the early stages of the Crime Syndicate’s takeover. This wasn’t that apparent from the September solicits, and subsequent months also appeared light on explicit crossovers. December is about the same, with Teen Titans dropping out of the crossover lineup, and Pandora and Phantom Stranger joining the three Justice League books, the three Forever Evil [Colon] miniseries, and Suicide Squad.