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Although we might reasonably expect a solid dose of black-caped entertainment in each installment of the weekly Batman Eternal, its brain trust has called the first three issues its “pilot episode” — that is, an arc that sets up the premise and introducing key characters and concepts. Therefore, today we’ll take a look at the pilot, plus a few notes on this week’s Issue 4.
Of course, the phrase “pilot episode” comes from television, and Batman Eternal so far feels very much like a TV show. Specifically, it has the feel of a TV show with a season or two under its belt. I say that both because Eternal starts off trading on previous Bat-history and bringing older characters into the New 52 status quo, and because it plunges right into the thick of things, assuming its readers know the basic Batman setup. There are no gratuitous operatic displays of Batman soaring over the skyline, cape billowing in the wind. For that matter, not counting a couple of standard Batman intimidation scenes, and a narrow escape for a returning character (all in Issue 3), the pilot’s big action sequences are confined to the first issue.
What fills out these three issues otherwise is a lot of conversation, devoted mainly to laying out who will be doing what. Cops talk about office and city politics. Batman exposits with Gordon, Alfred and Catwoman. Alfred checks in with the extended Bat-clan.* Reporters discuss the latest big story. Criminals (super and otherwise) plan for what’s coming. To a certain extent this is a function of the overarching plot, and the end of Issue 3 suggests things are going south quickly — but whatever those developments are, Batman Eternal would rather leave them off-screen in favor of people talking about them. To his credit, artist Jason Fabok finds ways to make these discussions visually interesting, mostly by playing with shadows and camera angles. Still, not to spoil Issue 3, but if this were a TV pilot, it’d probably show the carnage and use the dialogue as voice-overs.
That said, Eternal’s first arc is neither dull nor anticlimactic. Overall, the series’ premise is well-suited to its format, and the first three issues are generally successful at establishing that premise. They’re not perfect, but collectively they build to a pretty dire situation that, at this point, seems to justify recruiting all the Bat-people for the better part of a year. Eternal pretty clearly runs with the notion of Gotham City — or, at least, an id-fueled notion of what Gotham should be — “attacking” Batman. Current head Bat-guru Scott Snyder used that to inform the “Court of Owls” storyline. Here, though, that notion on a larger scale allows Eternal to justify its scope and length.
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.
This has turned out to be an eventful week for fans of the first Robin (and of the role in general), thanks to a Robin Rises one-shot, leading into the unveiling of … well, whoever’s going to wear the red vest for the foreseeable future, and Dick Grayson’s latest relaunch, a July-debuting ongoing series called simply Grayson, wherein the former Boy Wonder will start a new life as a super-spy.
With each of ‘em about three months away, obviously I’m not equipped to pass judgment on the merits of either. However, I can tell you what I think about Dick and Robin, how those impressions affect my snap judgments, and why you should — and shouldn’t — listen to someone like me.
First off, yes, I have read the first issue of Batman Eternal, but since its “pilot episode” includes issues #1-3, I’ll be talking about those more specifically in a couple of weeks. Eternal is one of two weekly series DC will offer this year, the other being Futures End, a look into the shared superhero universe five years from now.
However, we might well ask what difference will there be, one year from now, between an issue of either series and your average issue of a monthly title? When Eternal and Futures End are collected in their entirety two years from now, how different will they be from collections of Court of Owls or Throne of Atlantis?
The obvious differences are time and volume. The year-long weekly comics that DC put out from 2006 through 2009 — 52, Countdown and Trinity — all used their speedier schedule to tell a big story in a (relatively) short time. Instead of letting their epic tales play out over four-plus years, these series each got ‘em done in one.
Now think about sitting down with one of these thousand-page sagas. It won’t take a year to read, but it’s not something to approach lightly. That puts a special emphasis on how they’re to be read. Today we’ll look at DC’s history with weekly series (and some related experiments), with an eye toward what the two new ones might offer.
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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.
The final issue of Forever Evil was originally scheduled to come out this week, but now seems to have been delayed until May 21. That’s too bad, at least for those of us who’ve been following the thing since September (because those delays evaporate in collections). However, it gives me some time to digest what’s been presented so far. It also offers a chance to look back at a 2002 graphic novel that features a couple of the same peripheral elements.
Aw yeah! In my household, the best news from DC’s June solicitations is the six-issue Tiny Titans: Return to the Treehouse miniseries. I showed the cover to my 5-year-old and she was crestfallen to learn it didn’t come out for another three months. At least she can fill the time reading the other paperbacks (and Superman Family Adventures) and watching Frozen on an endless loop.
I may also have to get the Li’l Gotham figures, although at $13 a pop they are pretty pricey. Perhaps just Batman and Robin.
Oh, there’s more? What could it be …?
LET’S GO PLACES
The solicitation for Futures End #6 — advertising Ray Palmer, Frankenstein and Amethyst’s trip into the Phantom Zone — makes me irrationally optimistic about the series generally. I think the New 52 needs this series (or something like it) to present a coherent shared universe, because for the past two and a half years it’s been a clash of disparate styles and an array of changes without much to pull it all together. If Futures End can manage a good-sized, eclectic cast, and convince readers they’re all able to function in the same basic environment, that’ll go a long way towards giving the superhero books common ground.
Although the five-years-later setup of Futures End won’t be here until May, it got me thinking about a not-so-new New 52. The current comics take place some five years after Superman and company debuted — plus, apparently, a year for the face-free Joker to recuperate — so if you add five more years, it’s like double the amount of history! Well, double the amount of history that “matters,” I guess.
As I have been pretty critical of the present timeline, I’ll be curious to see how Futures End treats those additional five years. I suspect that, for the most part, they’ll be five years of “filler,” in the sense that mostly bad, Futures End-specific things happened during that time to bring DC-Earth to whatever sorry state we see in FE #1. I’ve heard that when all the New 52 books jump ahead five years (in September, naturally), they’ll reflect where their creative teams would like to take the characters in five years — but those will only be single issues, as opposed to the year-long weekly installments of Futures End. Besides, my bitter, resentful impulses remind me that it might well have been simpler just to start off with a 10-year timeline that would only have tweaked the old pre-relaunch status quo, not thrown out huge chunks of it.
Not that I’d forgotten, but CSBG’s new 75 Greatest Batman Covers poll was just the latest reminder that this is Batman’s 75th anniversary year. According to Mike’s Amazing World of DC Comics, Detective Comics (Vol. 1) #27 hit newsstands on or about April 18, 1939, which means the celebrations don’t have to start right away.
Still, so far Batman’s 75th seems to be a rather low-key affair, at least as compared to Superman’s 75th last year. That anniversary included a special logo, a new movie, a few new ongoing series, a couple of celebratory collections (including one for Lois Lane, who shares the anniversary) and an animated tribute. Batman’s already gotten a giant-sized Detective (Vol. 2) #27, and the final Arkham Asylum video game is coming out. Additionally, before 2014 ends, we’ll probably see Ben Affleck in the new Batsuit, plus whatever Batman Eternal has in store. Beyond that, however, it seems like business as usual for the Dark Knight.
Fortunately, business has been pretty good for a while now, such that slapping an anniversary tag on the various Bat-offerings almost seems superfluous. By this point Batman practically is eternal — but what does that really mean?
Readers of superhero comics have long debated the merits of “decompression” and “waiting for the trade.” You can either read a serialized story as it comes out, or you can wait until it’s collected. With two issues to go, it looks like Forever Evil wants it both ways. It is structured for the Wednesday crowd but written for the trade; and so far, the result is a grim, vignette-driven affair. Writer Geoff Johns and artists David Finch and Ivan Reis (and their various collaborators) have set up an apocalyptic scenario and teased a handful of elements pointing toward its resolution; but they haven’t otherwise done much, issue to issue, to move the story closer to that resolution. Indeed, the deeper I get into Forever Evil, the more I suspect that it — like its prologue, “Trinity War” — may be only the latest chapter in an ever-expanding saga.
By itself that would be unsatisfying enough. However, Forever Evil was supposed to show off DC’s shared universe (New 52 edition). To be fair, its Justice League crossover issues have presented New 52 versions of Plastic Man, the Doom Patrol and the Metal Men, and alluded to past battles with old-school villains like Ultivac and the Construct. Still, except for the Metal Men, none seems directly related to FE’s eventual outcome; and each seems intended instead as an Easter egg or the seed of a future series. Indeed, while the “Blight” crossover has shown what happened to the magic-based superheroes, FE itself hasn’t delved too far into the whereabouts of DC-Earth’s non-Leaguer super-folk. For those of us wanting each issue to go somewhere new, or at least somewhere different, month in and month out Forever Evil has felt fairly repetitive. Moreover, in sidelining the Justice League itself, it’s removed a potentially productive narrative thread.
Inasmuch as these choices relate to the changing comics marketplace, Forever Evil could be one of the last big events structured this way, or it could be the shape of things to come.
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?
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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.
DC’s serialized superhero-style comics operate on two basic levels: First, they’re an array of periodicals, with a different lineup of issues published each week. Next, those installments are collected into distinct volumes and published on a separate schedule. That’s nothing new. The single-issue reader sees the books differently from the collection-oriented reader, and each way has its advantages and disadvantages. These days, however, caught somewhere in the middle is the miniseries.
Since the New 52 relaunch, miniseries have been a lot more scarce in DC’s superhero line. That’s understandable, considering that the New 52 itself began as a group of ongoing series, and (even if DC isn’t putting out exactly 52 of ‘em each month) it takes a good bit of effort to maintain that many regular titles. Nevertheless, not so long ago, superhero-style miniseries were about as plentiful as their ongoing cousins. The last time I looked at the numbers in detail was in the summer of 2008 — when, over the previous five years, miniseries issues accounted for about one-third of the superhero line’s output.
Of course, DC still produces big event-style miniseries — just look at Forever Evil and its spinoffs, to say nothing of the Before Watchmen minis — but those tend to be sure things, as are the recent Damian Wayne and Batman: Black and White miniseries. The kind of miniseries that tests the market’s appetite for a particular character — think Huntress, My Greatest Adventure or Human Bomb — has become considerably more rare since the New 52 debuted. Instead, the New 52 has produced low-selling, quickly canceled ongoing books like Blackhawks, Sword of Sorcery, Threshold and Green Team. That track record isn’t exactly flattering, so today we’ll look at whether DC might want to ease up on the ongoing-series commitments, and put more minis back on its schedule.
Putting Geoff Johns (writer), John Romita Jr. (penciller), and Klaus Janson (inker) on Superman sends a strong message to the cape-comics marketplace. At its core, that message seems to be “we’re not fooling around with the Man of Steel.”
Whether clad in T-shirt or Kryptonian armor, Superman has been the face of the New 52, in good ways and bad, since the 2011 relaunch. A Johns-written, Jim Lee-drawn Superman was part of the first New 52 comic published, namely the first issue of Justice League. Therefore, it’s eminently appropriate for one of DC’s highest-profile writers to take on its flagship character in his eponymous series. Likewise, art by longtime Marvel stalwart JRJr and veteran inker Janson is also appropriate to Superman’s central position in DC’s superhero line.
However, Johns also comes to Superman with a certain set of expectations, starting with his anticipated tenure. Writer/artist George Pérez and finisher Jésus Merino kicked off the current series, but they didn’t stay long; and for several months Superman struggled to find a consistent creative team. Incumbent writer Scott Lobdell came aboard with issue #13 and is scheduled to stay at least through April’s issue #30. That’s a year and a half, give or take a Villains Month, and it’s allowed Lobdell to leave his mark on Superman’s adventures. Moreover, Lobdell arrived about two-thirds of the way through Grant Morrison’s run as Action Comics writer, so for about a year, Lobdell has at least offered some consistency while Action tried to lock in a creative team. Johns has just come off two years writing Aquaman — not to mention multi-year runs on Green Lantern, Action, Flash, JSA, and Teen Titans — so it’s not unreasonable to think he’s got at least a couple of years’ worth of Superman in him.
In the long run, DC Comics canceling Teen Titans may not mean much: The Legion of Super-Heroes is on hiatus, but it’ll be back. Likewise, I think there will be a new Teen Titans title — maybe called Young Justice? — sooner rather than later.
What’s curious about the end of this particular series, which coincides with writer Scott Lobdell’s departure, is it suggests more than just a name change. The Titans began as an all-star team, like their mentors in the Justice League, but over time the title focused increasingly on interpersonal relationships. The New 52 version of the team now features a Wonder Girl and Kid Flash who have virtually no connection to their older namesakes. Only Superboy has a solo title, and besides him only Red Robin appears regularly outside of Teen Titans. That makes the Titans rather insular, so I wonder if the inevitable relaunch will try to address that.
Whatever happens, odds are that the all-star structure that characterized DC super-teams since the 1940s has faded into the background for good. This week we’ll examine the Titans’ place in the superhero line, and see what the book has to offer going forward.
This look at DC’s latest round of solicitations may be quicker and dirtier than usual, mostly because this week I thought I was going to be talking about Teen Titans’ cancellation. We’ll do a little of that this week, along with the other titles on the chopping block.
However, for a while now we’ve known that April — being the first post-Forever Evil month — will feature some big changes, and those start right here.
BY THE NUMBERS
I count 47 ongoing New 52 series, but that includes the six books canceled as of April, and it only counts Batman Eternal — which, contrary to my expectation, is not solicited as a limited series — once. Thus, if DC still wants to hit the magic number, it needs to come up with 11 new series for May.