grumpy old fan
Lately I’ve been pretty complimentary of Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke’s work on Green Lantern. Honestly, this is something of a shock. It’s not that I don’t like Johns, Mahnke, or GL — far from it — but the book has sneaked up on me, going from a nice habit to a must-read, and the new Lantern has a lot to do with it.
Green Lantern Simon Baz debuted in September’s Issue 0 as an Arab-American caught up in various schemes, who of course demonstrated the ability to overcome great fear. He wears a ring containing messages from the dead-ish Hal Jordan and Sinestro, but he carries a gun in case the ring fails him; the first fellow Lantern he encounters is B’dg, the extraterrestrial squirrel. Simon endures it all with courage and spirit, and in short order he’s kicked GL into another gear.
Simon’s introductory arc concludes this week — sort of, SPOILERS FOLLOW — with Green Lantern Corps Annual #1, the final installment of “Rise of the Third Army.” However, this just paves the way for “Wrath of the First Lantern,” which goes for the next couple of months. After that, April’s Lantern titles may not be part of an overarching story — at least, not one with a “_____ of the [Numbered] _____” title — but these plot threads apparently won’t be resolved before then, either.
Over the summer I wrote about the rate of “idea generation” across decades of DC history. Essentially, I was talking about the number of new ideas (or new uses for old ideas) being produced under current superhero-comics storytelling trends. Idea generation and world-building go hand in hand, such that the more ideas you can harmonize into a reasonably coherent (and accessible) shared universe, the better.
The 2006-07 weekly miniseries 52 put DC’s shared universe to good use. Written by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid, laid out by Keith Giffen, and drawn by an array of artists, 52 had a handful of C- and D-list characters guide readers through various obscure corners of the DCU. 52’s locales included a Metropolis without Superman, Black Adam’s Khandaq, an island of mad scientists, and the farthest reaches of outer space. 52 also featured its share of new characters, like the Chinese super-team called The Great Ten, the intergalactic despot Lady Styx and the dark religion of the Crime Bible. Of course, it also debuted new versions of Batwoman, the Question, Infinity Inc. and Supernova.
Because it chronicled a year in which the Trinity of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman each disappeared from public view, and because it had that year all to itself (thanks to the other titles’ concurrent “One Year Later” time-jump), 52 gave readers a unique opportunity to poke into the dusty corners of DC’s attic. Due (mostly) to the vagaries of its truncated timeline, the New 52 apparently doesn’t have such an extensive history. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t take readers on a similar journey.
Occasionally I talk about how perfunctory the monthly solicitation ritual can be … but not so for April!
On the same day the solicitations were released, Comic Book Resources launched its new “B&B” column, featuring editors Bob Harras and Bobbie Chase, and chock-full o’ factoids about various books. Moreover, the solicits were themselves packed with new story arcs, new creative teams, and an even more heightened feeling of coyness.
A big part of this coyness comes from April’s cover gimmick. Actually, we readers can only see half of the gimmick — because while every New 52 book will sport a fold-out cover, the solicits only show the left side. (Makes me wish there were a retailers-only edition of Previews, as this is just the kind of thing which surely irritates them.) To add to the anticipation, every New 52 solicitation ends with a question. Accordingly, this month more than usual, the solicits are structured precisely to set up dire consequences and leave them unresolved. Suspenseful!
Ah, but that sort of thing only encourages me. Let’s dive in, shall we?
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If it’s the first Grumpy Old Fan of 2013, it must be time for “Ten From the Old Year, Ten For the New.” For those who came in late, every January I evaluate 10 predictions/observations from the previous year, and present 10 for the next. Accordingly, first we have commentary on 2012′s items.
1. The Dark Knight Rises. I had three rather superficial questions about the final Christopher Nolan Batman movie. First, “[c]an it make a skillion dollars?” Not quite — while it did make over a billion dollars worldwide, it didn’t make as much as its predecessor domestically, and it came in second to The Avengers. Next was “[w]ill it have Robin?” Well … [SPOILER ALERT] it depends on your definition of “Robin,” I suppose. And finally, referring to certain issues about Bane’s elocution, “[w]ill it have subtitles?” Nope — as it turns out, they weren’t needed. Instead, Bane’s accent was perfectly suited to breaking not just Batman, but Alex Trebek as well.
At the end of every year, ROBOT 6 contributors Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman get together over the e-mail tubes and talk Big Two comics. Part 1 is here.
Tom: Something I’ve been curious about, off and on — what did Metro‘s customers think of the Man of Steel trailer? What do you think the average superhero fan wants out of a Superman book?
Carla: It’s mixed. It really is, some love it, some are grumbly and already ready to complain. I think what the average superhero fan and what the general fan wants are entirely different. Superman’s a difficult character to get right because of his status as a cultural icon and how much that character can mean to different generations. Some people just know Smallville and, at least from the trailer, it doesn’t even seem to be that. [Producer Christopher] Nolan’s influence looks pretty strong and, as much as formula might work in the Avengers movie mythos, the same style and tone for Batman really doesn’t jibe with the Man of Steel. Well, for me. Others might totally want a deep, emotional connection to an outsider and an outcast. Mind you, I’d tell them there are some great X-Men comics out there, but eh, what do I know? It’s a trailer, and very hard to judge on what the movie is going to be like when we see the full thing this summer.
What do you think the Man of Steel trailer is all about? What kind of Superman do we need in the new millennium?
Tom: To me, the basic Superman approach is that Superman always does the right thing. It’s not about the powers. The powers just underscore that he can do whatever it takes. So it’s easy for Superman to punch something, or fly into the sun. The question should be, how can he do what’s right? I think that applies regardless of millennium.
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At the end of every year Carla Hoffman and Tom Bondurant exchange emails about the fortunes of the Big Two. Look for Part 2 on Wednesday!
Carla: Here we are, heading toward the year the Mayan calendar might not have thought would ever come: 2013. The future gets closer and closer! Technology advances! Politics change! And yet, comic books are still here. How cool is that? It’s been a heck of a year, full of ups and downs, movie premieres, new #1 issues and the never-ending race to produce better, faster comics.
I have to admit, Image has been doing a really great job keeping up with the Big Two, producing award-winning books in a variety of formats and getting involved in TV to draw new readers into a wide array of comic book genres. But we’re not here to talk about them! We’re here for the greatest shows in town, the Merry Marvel Marching Society and … our Distinguished Competitors.
My first question is kind of a no-brainer: How’s the New 52 treating you these days? And, after a year, is it still the “New 52″?
Tom: Well, as a practical matter, it’s the “New 52″ for as long as DC wants it to be. Actually, I think I have stopped seeing that little blurb on the covers. I happened to look at Aquaman #15 yesterday, kind of out of the corner of my eye, and was surprised it was there. Part of me thinks that it could confuse those hypothetical new readers, but then I thought that about “Earth One,” and that doesn’t seem to have hurt those books.
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Geoff Johns always starts strong, and “Throne of Atlantis” is no exception. The only two New 52 books DC Comics put out this week were the first two parts of this crossover, in the 15th issues of Justice League and Aquaman. That suggests something significant, so they dare not disappoint.
Ivan Reis and Joe Prado take over JL’s art with this issue, while Paul Pelletier and Art Thibert (with an inking assist from Karl Kesel) start on Aquaman. I’ve liked Pelletier’s work for years, but his characters aren’t as lean as Reis’s, and I wondered how well the styles would mesh. In fact, here they mesh pretty well, since Pelletier and company seem to have adapted to blend more seamlessly with Reis and Prado. Giving a big assist is colorist Rod Reis, who handles both books with the same basic blue-green palette.
I mention the art upfront because these two issues combine to establish “Throne of Atlantis” as a big crossover, both in terms of its implications and its threat level. While the plot so far is pretty straightforward, Johns and company hang on it a few impressive set-pieces, and a couple of nice bits of characterization. It’s the kind of high-stakes story I expect from the Justice League, and I hope it bodes well for the book’s future.
So without further ado, SPOILERS FOLLOW:
Last week’s solicitation roundup included the prediction that “Death of the Family” would kill young Damian Wayne. As most of you know, Damian is supposed to be about 11 years old, was raised by the League of Assassins, and has served (for the past “year or so” of comic-book time) as the latest Robin, the Boy Wonder. The solicitations were strangely silent concerning him, and thanks to the peculiarities of comic-book deaths, I figured he could take it.
That was last Thursday.
Since last Friday, I have rolled around that morbid prediction in my head, along with countless other real-world doomsday scenarios and nightmare moments. I am a fantastically lucky individual, and that is not meant as any kind of boast. I mean it simply to say that nothing remotely horrible has happened to me — no broken bones, no extended hospital stays, no natural disasters; and certainly nothing as devastating as my child’s death.
No small amount of drama accompanies the March solicitations, thanks to Gail Simone’s unexpected dismissal from Batgirl. There’s also turnover at Swamp Thing and Birds of Prey, potential clues to the end of “Death of the Family,” and the usual I-remember-this! commentary on collections.
FOLLOW THE BOUNCING BALL
The big stories are the departures of Simone from Batgirl and Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette from Swamp Thing. It seems particularly odd in Simone’s case because it leaves the fate of Batgirl’s current antagonist in the hands of a different writer. Maybe that means Simone’s original plans for him didn’t go over particularly well with DC, or maybe it’s something totally unrelated. Either way, looks like it’ll be at least another month (in January’s Issue 16, her last issue) before we learn anything significant. At any rate, Ray Fawkes writes two issues of Batgirl starting with Issue 18.
As of March, Jim Zubkavich is your new Birds of Prey writer, Andy Kubert draws the lead story in Batman #18, and Trevor McCarthy draws Batwoman #18. Also, in a move that threatens to have me try out Phantom Stranger, the very fine J.M. DeMatteis comes aboard as co-writer with Issue # (guest-drawn by the equally fine Gene Ha and Zander Cannon).
I am not certain about a lot of things, but I am pretty sure of this: If you read enough of Karen Berger’s comics, it makes you a better person. It would have to. It just makes too much sense!
In more than 30 years, first as a DC Comics editor and then as head of Vertigo, Berger helped to transform the comics industry by shepherding some of the most acclaimed and beloved series in recent memory. Swamp Thing, Hellblazer, The Sandman and other not-exactly mainstream DC books not only helped define Vertigo’s identity, they established their own, free from the restraints of a shared superhero universe.
Consider the Twinkie. A relic of a more indulgent age, lately almost an afterthought, and most recently the latest symbol of vanished childhoods everywhere, it is once more in the spotlight due to the apparent end of the Hostess company.
While I have my own thoughts on the specifics of that particular corporate conclusion, suffice it to say that my sympathies are more with the soon-to-be-displaced workers than with either Hostess’ management or the Twinkies’ fans. Still, the reaction to Hostess’ demise demonstrates that there’s still a demand for the indestructible yellow creme-torpedoes — perhaps even more so now — and as long as people want ‘em, the Twinkies will be there.
The most important thing about a Twinkie is that it’s a Twinkie. Specifically, it’s made according to a particular recipe, and it has a particular name. Those two pieces of intellectual property will most likely be sold as part of Hostess’ liquidation, thereby giving their new owner the ability to make “genuine” Twinkies. In my estimation, it’s only a matter of time before Twinkies, Ho-Hos, Ding-Dongs, and all their confectionery cousins find their way back to stores near you.
I hear a lot of rumbling from the February solicitations — the First Lantern, the last Hellblazer, the new JLA — like the Next Big Things are simmering under the surface. Yes, this is how DC wants me to think, but there’s no guarantee that my anticipation will live up to the books themselves. Still, at least things are happening, which is nice. There are endings and beginnings, changes and reintroductions, and a few good reprints too.
So, without further ado …
JUST BE GLAD IT’S NOT “20,000 LEAGUES”
The “expansion of the Justice League” advertised in Justice League #17 may be related to the new Justice League of America, but I suspect it will have more to do with the main League’s roster additions (which, if memory serves, were teased back in summer 2011). I base this mostly on the fact that JLA #1 comes out two weeks before JL #17, and therefore I doubt DC would want its latest high-profile first issue to spoil the end of “Throne of Atlantis.”
In the immediate wake of the 2012 election, the emerging story is “demographics.” Specifically, the electorate of 2012 seems almost to have duplicated the coalition of 2008 that first elected President Obama. In fact, this year saw a slight increase in the number of Latino and Asian-American voters, and a corresponding decrease in the number of white voters. The next Congress will include 20 female senators; and for the first time in history, white men will be in the minority of the Democratic side of the House of Representatives.
It’s probably a coincidence that this week, DC Comics announced two new ongoing series, one for the Latino hero Vibe and one for the Asian heroine Katana. Each was created in the early 1980s, Vibe by Gerry Conway and Chuck Patton for Justice League of America, and Katana by Mike Barr and Jim Aparo for Batman and the Outsiders; and each will be in the new Justice League of America series debuting in February.
Meanwhile, though, a lack of diversity is almost hard-wired into the main Justice League. While the new series may mitigate that, it could just be a venue for more “edgy” fare. We’ll know more in a few months, but today I want to look at the League’s attempts to integrate.
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Every week, hard as it may be to believe, I try honestly to offer something I think might interest the larger group of DC Domics superhero readers. However, this week I am invoking a personal privilege. For one thing, with Halloween on a Wednesday (when I usually end up writing these essays), the holiday will more than likely take priority.
The main reason, though, is that today is my birthday, and as you might have guessed from the headline, this year is my 43rd birthday. Therefore, this week I have pulled together an especially memorable DC story and/or issue from each of those years, 1969 through 2012. (Note: They may not always line up with the actual year, but just for simplicity’s sake, all dates are cover dates.) These aren’t necessarily the best or most noteworthy stories of their particular years, but they’ve stuck with me. Besides, while I’ve read a lot of comics from a lot of sources, for whatever reason DC has been the constant. Maybe when I’m 50 I’ll have something more comprehensive.
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Thanks to creators’ rights issues and the way DC Comics (and its corporate parent) chooses to treat the families of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, a tragic, dissonant pall hangs over discussions of Superman. It makes a minor status-quo change, like the one used to hype this week’s Superman Vol. 3 #13, seem even more trivial. It’s often hard to reconcile the rich and fairly fascinating development of the world’s first superhero with the knowledge that the character’s creators didn’t (and their families don’t) share equitably in Superman’s attendant success.
Because Superman is so long-lived, the events of Superman #13 are a consequence of that success. They arise out of the perceived need to modernize a character who’ll be 75 years old next spring. However, the issue offers more subtle clues that the New 52 Superman may be changing in ways the hype doesn’t directly suggest. While I cannot ignore creators’ rights, today we’ll look at those clues primarily in the context of Superman’s overall history.
Now, when I say “larger history” I’m not kidding. As you know, Jerry and Joe’s creation debuted in 1938′s Action Comics Vol. 1 #1. Kal-L, son of Krypton’s Jor-L and Lora, was rocketed to Earth from his doomed homeworld, found by John and Mary Kent, and raised as their son Clark. After their deaths, he left his rural home for Metropolis, and as Superman fought there for truth and justice throughout the 1940s.