grumpy old fan
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.
There’s no solicitation for Justice League 3000 in November, and it’s not hard to imagine why. Reworking a first issue from scratch, with a new artist and what sounds like a new tone, undoubtedly isn’t something even one of the Big Two can do on short notice. Instead, DC Comics goes back to the Bat-well both for November’s only new series, and to goose the sales of various superhero titles.
As always, though, there’s enough in the new batch of solicitations to keep us busy this week — so without further ado …
ALWAYS BET ON BLACK
Apparently “Zero Year” will include a “Blackout In Gotham” plot point that can stretch into a dozen other DC titles, including non-Bat-books like Action Comics, Green Arrow, Green Lantern Corps and The Flash. This makes a certain degree of sense, as it takes place back in the “before-time” of the George W. Bush administration, before the various superhero jurisdictions were established, so you’d expect someone like Superman to take a road trip if he thought Gotham needed him. However, thanks largely to this being Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, the blackout — which, as far as I can tell, would otherwise be just one part of one title’s flashback storyline — ends up involving more books than DC’s actual line-wide Big Event, Forever Evil. The latter includes the eponymous miniseries, three ancillary miniseries and the three Justice League books, but only two other ongoing series (Teen Titans and Suicide Squad, each of which has been tied into 4EVEv since it started). The total is “Zero Year” 13, Forever Evil 9, and almost half of the latter’s score is miniseries. Personally, I don’t mind a discrete Big Event, and I’m not surprised that DC would exploit “Zero Year.” I’m just a little surprised at how heavily it seems to be relying on “Zero Year” in November.
Who’s up for some discussions about Starfleet fonts in the “Phase II” period?
Well, that’s not all we’re going to talk about today, but it does occasionally engage my brain. (And don’t worry, when we get there, it shouldn’t be that painful.) Today’s topic deals with the desire to make the imaginative “real,” in a tangible or practical sense. It’s what happens at the intersection of re-creating and explaining.
See, part of expressing my nerdom is building model kits, and especially Star Trek models. On one level this is pretty straightforward, because the bulk of those kits are based on the physical (or CGI) models used. However, sometimes you get an urge to build something that wasn’t on screen.
Remember when Batman was a jerk?
Remember when Batman was such a jerk that no less than Mark Waid called him “broken”?
Starting in 2006, writer Grant Morrison aimed to help fix him; and this week, with Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #13, Morrison concluded his Bat-saga. The issue is a neat encapsulation of the themes Morrison has played with for the past seven-plus years — including the portability (and immortality) of “Batman,” the uniqueness of Bruce Wayne, and the importance of not going alone — all drawn with verve and giddy energy by Chris Burnham. (There’s even a dialogue sequence where the punchline is “Cancelled!”) Like the infinite-Batman cover or the eternal-circle image that dominates an early spread, Batman will go on, but it is the end of a unique era.
As usual, though, some history first …
This post concerns a movie that (if all goes as planned) won’t start filming until next year, and won’t be in theaters until 2015. I know next to nothing about it past the basic premise, a handful of cast members and a few educated guesses. Nevertheless, once I read the Superman/Batman movie announcement, two words kept popping into my head:
See, I can’t help but think that in the sequel to Man of Steel, the Darknight Detective may get equal billing, but will necessarily have a subordinate role. This is not perfectly analogous to introducing Scarlett Johannson’s super-spy in Iron Man 2 — for one thing, that film wasn’t called Iron Man and Black Widow — but her role there was defined largely by the plot. Batman’s role in the as-yet-untitled sequel seems likely to have similar restrictions.
Indeed, we know some broad restrictions already: Batman won’t be played by Christian Bale, and the Christopher Nolan-directed trilogy doesn’t take place in the same “cinematic universe” as Man of Steel and this (prospective) new set of DC-superhero movies. That probably also means no Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, or Joseph Gordon-Levitt in S/B.
The first part of “Trinity War” (in last week’s Justice League #22) relied rather significantly on the changes the New 52 relaunch facilitated: Superman, Wonder Woman, and Billy Batson/Shazam (hereinafter “Billy/Shazam,” or maybe just “Captain Marvel”) each acted in ways incompatible with long relationships.
In the old days, Superman and Wonder Woman would have been close friends, Superman and Captain Marvel would have had a unique (almost mentor-protegé) relationship, and Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel would at least have had some Greek mythology in common. However, the main conflicts of “TW” Part 1 depended on Wonder Woman being more of a warrior than an ambassador, Superman trusting her hostility, and Billy/Shazam not knowing either of them that well. As such, it appeared to exemplify the freedom a relaunch confers, specifically to ignore the restrictions of previous developments to put these characters quickly on opposing sides.
In other words, one might reasonably have seen Part 1 as a) realizing the New 52 allowed for a particular Shocking Event and b) working backward to create the conditions that would lead to said Event. “Because we can do this, how do we do it?”
After September’s market-chasing “Villains Month” solicitations, the October listings look a lot more normal. I say “more normal” because I only count 47 New 52 ongoing series, which means October’s new additions don’t balance out August’s cancellations. Forever Evil and other miniseries are picking up some of that slack, but obviously they won’t be around forever. If DC is serious about having 52 ongoing titles — and why wouldn’t it be serious about something so arbitrary? — now may be a good time to start pushing for that Crimson Fox series you’ve always wanted. Hey, DC has greenlit worse ideas …
NOT FOREVER, BUT CLOSE
Forever Evil is 2013-14′s big-event crossover miniseries whose hook is that the villains have taken over the world. Final Crisis was 2008-09′s big-event miniseries whose hook was that Darkseid (helped in part by a revived Secret Society of Super-Villains) had taken over the world. Final Crisis didn’t actually do much crossing over into ongoing series, but it did have an array of tie-in miniseries and specials, including one featuring the Flash’s Rogues Gallery.
Trinity of Sin: Pandora #1 (written by Ray Fawkes, drawn by Zander Cannon, Daniel Sampere, Vicente Cifuentes and Patrick Zircher) is not a terrible first issue, although it does trade on some pretty horrific images. It’s not a boring issue, although the title character’s emotional arc is essentially an 8,000-year, 20-page slow burn. For a character who so far has been a walking plot point — and who is still advertised mostly as a plot element for the next Big Event — the issue isn’t even that obtuse. Pandora #1 is a fairly well-executed comic book which does a decent job of humanizing its heroine, but which still hasn’t justified its own existence.
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Traditionally, the average superhero character included a strong element of wish-fulfillment. Perhaps it came simply from having powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal folk, or perhaps from the plausibility of training one’s mind and/or body to the limits of human potential. Maybe those powers, or that training, had been personally costly: a parent’s death, a home’s destruction or a tragedy that could have been prevented.
Although I’m looking forward to Justice League 3000, I still can’t quite get over the Legion-sized hole in DC’s roster. The Legion of Super-Heroes turned 55 earlier this year (on Feb. 27, according to Mike’s Amazing World of Comics), which makes it some 18 months older than Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, and almost two years older than the Justice League. Indeed, the Legion’s enduring popularity has made it one of the“foundational” features that DC will probably publish until its doors finally close, along with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, the League and Green Lantern. However, today I want to talk about the Legion in terms of a different kind of landmark.
By definition, a shared universe is composed of the combined details of its constituent features. We tend to think of this in terms of geography, cosmology and the space-time continuum. Accordingly, DC-Earth has various additional “fictionopolises” (including Metropolis, Gotham City, Central City and Coast City) and nations (like Atlantis and Themyscira); and it shares a universe with planets not found so far in ours (Oa, Tamaran, etc.). There are also other planes of existence to be explored (Gemworld, Earth-2, the Fourth World and the Fifth Dimension); as well as series set in the Dark Ages, the Old West and of course the 31st century.
Oh, DC, you came so close to a slam dunk. If you had told me Keith Giffen, J. Marc DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire would be working on Legion of Super-Heroes, I’d have been beyond excited. After all, Justice League International was nothing if not a superb ensemble comedy, and what richer source of super-ensemble action does DC have than the Legion?
Instead, though, we’re getting Justice League 3000, set in the Legion’s 31st century and apparently following the events of August’s final Legion issue, but not explicitly tied to the 55-year-old super-team. This raises two questions. First, whither the Legion itself? DC has previously put the Legion on hiatus, although never for too long, so one wonders how long it’ll lie dormant this time. Second, why does it have to be such a familiar Justice League? The initial roster includes Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Green Lantern, with redesigns (courtesy of Howard Porter) that retain some fairly familiar elements. Is the League being “Avengers-ized,” so that every major super-team must have some “JL” in its name?
And those two questions combine for a third: How sustainable is JL3K, really?
One big potential problem with any Superman incarnation is his relationship with the audience. Even if the story centers around a credible moral dilemma, it risks having him make a choice with which the audience disagrees. Put another way, you can start with a Superman with a definite code of ethics, who always tries to do the right thing, and who puts others’ welfare above his own, and you might still end up with the Injustice comic, the pure-Straczynski issues of “Grounded,” or Superman Returns. For a significant group of fans, these are cautionary examples of How Not To Do Superman (although apparently those Injustice comics sell reasonably well…).
Accordingly, it helps if the audience trusts the particular Superman writer, which is where Scott Snyder, David Goyer, and Christopher Nolan come in. Snyder is already a big deal at DC thanks to his Batman work. Likewise, last year Goyer (screenwriter) and Nolan (producer/director) wrapped up a wildly successful Batman film trilogy.
Still, it’s easy to do Batman. For one thing, Batman doesn’t need to be a nice guy. Like James Bond or Don Draper, his main focus is the work, and the style with which he gets the particular job done. If Bats gets to make a hard moral choice, as he did at the conclusion of The Dark Knight, that’s just gravy.
With that in mind, we turn to the week’s two newest Superman vehicles, one an ongoing comic book, and the other a new film incarnation, to see what choices they present to our hero.
DC Comics goes bad in September, turning all 52 slots of its superhero line over to its less-savory characters. That’s pretty much the story of the superhero solicitations, although there are some interesting collections coming this fall.
On its face, Forever Evil sounds like a pretty straightforward, traditional superhero story. I think the “heroes disappear, villains romp” plot was even an episode of Super Friends. Accordingly, all things being equal, I have no problems with using it for a line-wide crossover. No doubt the DC Comics of 2013-14 will season it with plenty of violence and depravity, sucking away my goodwill accordingly; but those details will have to wait until the comics themselves come out.
THE SHAPE OF EVIL
In fact, the part of “Villains Month” that interests me most is its structure. Yes, there are 52 single issues coming out of the superhero line in September, plus Forever Evil #1. However, those 52 issues ostensibly “represent” only 18 series: Action Comics, Aquaman, Batman, Batman and Robin, Batman/Superman, Batman: The Dark Knight, Detective Comics, Earth 2, The Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Justice League, JL Dark, JLA, Superman, Swamp Thing, Teen Titans and Wonder Woman. Furthermore, 16 of the 52 are Bat-books, more than the Justice League books’ 10 issues and twice as many as the Superman books’ eight issues. Add Batman/Superman #3.1, and 35 of the 52 will have “Batman,” “Superman” or “Justice League” on their covers. In fact, 16 of the 18 series are already on my pull list (sorry, Green Arrow and Teen Titans), so I’ll probably be putting back a fair amount of these, which won’t make my comic shop’s job any happier.
DC Comics is calling June “Superman Month,” but next week is Snyder Week. The first issue of Scott Snyder and Jim Lee’s Superman Unchained arrives next Wednesday, and the premiere of director Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel premieres in most places two days later.
Therefore, because there will be a lot of Superman talk coming down the pike, I thought I’d get mine out of the way early.
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One thing that comics blogging has taught me is a healthy respect for the roles (including the rights) of creators. Creators’ rights aren’t unique to comics, of course, but you really can’t talk about the history of superhero comics, or the development of corporately handled superheroes, without at least acknowledging the people who first introduced the concepts. In this respect Superman is a special case, because he seems to have developed past his creators’ original idea (or, certainly, past the original parameters) into something Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster might never have imagined — and people seem pretty cool with that, in a way that perhaps doesn’t apply to similarly long-lived characters.
With the end of Geoff Johns’ tenure on Green Lantern and Grant Morrison’s upcoming farewell to Batman, a fan’s thoughts turn naturally to other extended runs. Marv Wolfman wrote almost every issue of New (Teen) Titans from the title’s 1980 preview through its final issue in 1995. Cary Bates wrote The Flash fairly steadily from May 1971′s Issue 206 through October 1985′s first farewell to Barry Allen (Issue 350). Gerry Conway was Justice League of America’s regular writer for over seven years, taking only a few breaks from February 1978′s Issue 151 through October 1986′s Issue 255.
However, in these days of shorter stays, I wanted to examine some of the runs that, despite their abbreviated nature, left lasting impressions. At first this might sound rather simple. After all, there are plenty of influential miniseries-within-series, like “Batman: Year One” or “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?,” where a special creative team comes in to tell a particular story. Instead, sometimes a series’ regular creative team will burn brightly, but just too quickly, leaving behind a longing for what might have been.
A good example of this is found in Detective Comics #469-76, written by Steve Englehart, penciled by Marshall Rogers and inked by Terry Austin (after Walt Simonson penciled and Al Milgrom inked issues 469-70). Reprinted in the out-of-print Batman: Strange Apparitions paperback, and more recently (sans Simonson/Milgrom) in the hardcover Legends of the Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers, these issues introduced Silver St. Cloud, Rupert Thorne, Dr. Phosphorus and the “Laughing Fish,” featured classic interpretations of Hugo Strange, the Penguin and the Joker, and revamped Deadshot into the high-tech assassin he remains today. Tying all these threads together is Bruce Wayne’s romance with Silver, which for my money is the Bat-books’ version of Casablanca. It’s the kind of much-discussed run that seems like it should have been longer. Indeed, I suspect it’s one of the shorter runs in CSBG’s Top 100 list.
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Who’s your Green Lantern writer?
If you started reading the series in the ‘60s, odds are it was John Broome. He didn’t write every Green Lantern story of Hal Jordan’s first decade, but he was there for the character’s introduction (in September-October 1959′s Showcase #22), and he lasted until March 1970′s Green Lantern #75.
If you joined the Corps in the the ‘70s, your Green Lantern writer was Denny O’Neil, who had already written a few GL stories before getting the regular gig with the landmark Issue 76. He guided the feature through some rocky patches — including the book’s cancellation, its time as a backup feature in The Flash and its 1976 relaunch — before finally taking a bow with June 1980′s Issue 129.
The ‘80s saw a parade of writers, including Marv Wolfman, Mike Barr, Len Wein and Steve Englehart (and in GL’s time as an Action Comics Weekly feature, Jim Owsley/Christopher Priest and Peter David). Each made his own contribution, be it Hal’s exile from Earth, John Stewart’s star turn, the Guardians’ sabbatical, or the enigmatic Lord Malvolio. The early ‘90s belonged to the neo-Silver Age stylings of Gerard Jones, and the balance of the decade was all Ron Marz and Kyle Rayner. Starting in 2000, Judd Winick took on Kyle for three years, then Ben Raab wrote a few issues, and Marz came back for one last crack at his creation.
And since then, it’s been all Geoff Johns.
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