Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
For a while now, it’s been hard to avoid talking about some sort of Multiverse.
Between Forever Evil, Futures End and World’s End, The Multiversity, Convergence, and recent looks back at Crisis on Infinite Earths, the grand structure of DC Comics’ cosmos has come back into the spotlight. Even Marvel is jumping into the deep end of the infinitely varied pool. (All things being equal, there will be another Crisis post next week, so the talk will continue at least in this space.) While I’m inclined to leave Battleworld and its ramifications to the experts, it’s all been reminding me of a “Power Girl Problem” — and no, it’s not costume-related. This week we’ll talk Kara Zor-L and a few other continuity tangles, with an eye towards avoiding future pitfalls.
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Paul O’Brien sums up the basic difficulties nicely:
In our current age of instant accessibility to an unimaginable library of entertainment, it’s difficult to imagine the hold that broadcast television once had on the culture. In the 1970s, people stayed home on Saturday nights to watch the CBS comedy lineup of Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, and Carol Burnett. On Tuesdays, ABC had Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. Of course, NBC owned Thursday nights for decades, from The Cosby Show, Cheers and L.A. Law in the ‘80s to Seinfeld, Mad About You, Friends, ER and The Office in the ‘90s and ‘00s.
Now imagine that NBC — which has since conceded Thursday to ABC’s now-dominant block of “Shondaland” dramas — will be replacing two months’ worth of regular Thursday programming with new episodes of the shows that typified “Must See TV.” Would you want to check in on Sam Malone, George Costanza, Ross & Rachel, or the doctors of Chicago General after all this time? Maybe, maybe not.
Well, for good or ill, that’s the bet DC Comics is making with the comics marketplace in April and May, by bringing back characters (and versions of characters) that haven’t been seen in anywhere from three to 30 years. Will readers want to check in with those characters, even if they’re the only DC game in town? Maybe, maybe not. It depends, I suspect, on some unquantifiable combination of character, creative team, and reader attachment to either or both. At long last, the first batch of Convergence solicitations is here, and today we’ll run through them.
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Last month marked the 30th anniversary of the first issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the ur-Big Event whose ripples continue to influence today’s (and tomorrow’s) superhero books. Accordingly, I thought it was a good time to revisit each issue on its approximate anniversary. That’s not because each issue of COIE was always a landmark unto itself, but because we tend to remember Crisis’ effects more than the ways in which the story was told.
Thus, it’s time for Issue 2, which was published in the direct market during the first week of January 1985. The issue was written by Marv Wolfman, penciled by George Pérez, inked by Dick Giordano, colored by Tony Tollin and lettered by John Costanza. Wolfman is listed as the issue’s editor, with Bob Greenberger as his associate editor (and co-plotter, according to COIE: The Compendium) and Len Wein as consulting editor.
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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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(Time once again for ROBOT 6 contributors Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman to email each other about the year in DC and Marvel superhero comics. This year’s exchange took place between DEc. 26 and Dec. 30. And be sure to check out Part 1 of the conversation.)
Tom Bondurant: One of the more pleasant surprises this year was the extent to which the Big Two started going after a different audience. New books like Ms. Marvel and Gotham Academy, and makeovers for Batgirl and Catwoman, have found success with distinctive, unconventional approaches. How long can they keep this up? Will digital distribution help these books, if it’s not doing so already? Are the Big Two really committed to branching out?
Carla Hoffman: Branching out is such a double-edged sword. It sounds weird to say that, because diversity is so championed online, but when a book can alienate old readers, you really have to draw in a lot of new readers to make up for it. Believe it or not, there were some who complained that Kamala Khan took the Ms. Marvel name rather than getting her own moniker. The good news is that Ms. Marvel is such a quality book and so important to the next generation of comic readers, not to mention Marvel Comics itself, I couldn’t care less if a (pardon my use) grumpy old fan can’t change with the times. Marvel published about 40 new titles this year — everything from Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu to Rocket Raccoon. Not all of the titles stuck (R.I.P. She-Hulk, try again later), but that’s still a lot of new stuff to try that isn’t just another variation of a Wolverine comic.
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(Time once again for ROBOT 6 contributors Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman to email each other about the year in DC and Marvel superhero comics. This year’s exchange took place between Dec. 26 and Dec. 30.)
Tom Bondurant: First let’s address the elephant in the room — or, more accurately, the infinite number of parallel rooms, each containing a slightly different elephant. In 2015, both Marvel and DC are building Big Events around their respective multiverses. Conventional wisdom predicts that DC is doing this to address fan criticisms of the New 52, perhaps resulting in some continuity tweaks.
Carla Hoffman: Oh, man, I hope that’s true! Honestly, I have a hard time judging the inner workings of our respective companies sometimes because I always hear more from the fan side than the production team. Enough customers come in, day in and day out, with a piece of their mind on how things should be run or changed, but rarely do the people in charge — not creators and editors, mind you, the people who sign the checks at the end of the day with real power — come forward to say, “We feel this is the right direction.” Tom Brevoort on Tumblr comes close with his tireless open forum, but even then there’s always going to be company policy. If DC is brave enough to go “Maybe we shouldn’t have thrown the entire baby out with the bathwater” and massage their continuity into a more pleasing shape for fans, that’s going to be a heck of thing that will have an effect on readership, for sure.
The Futures Index is taking a break for the holidays. In fact, this post looks to be about 1,300 words on the value of taking a break. You might not think the topic should take that much space, but breaks can be tricky things.
For starters, downtime isn’t always an easy commitment, not least because it means giving up control. If you’re not checking messages until Jan. 2, you’re admitting that the world can get along without you. Accordingly, comics publishers that have new material for Dec. 24 and 31 are telling their customers not to worry — the comics will be there for them. (There are a lot of “important” comics out this week too, like the Robin Rises special and a few installments of the Lantern books’ “Godhead.”)
Still, no matter what — or if — you’re celebrating, the last week of December all but forces you to slow down, because so many others are. Sometimes this slowdown doesn’t occur until the very last hours of the 24th or 31st, when you’ve done all you can do and the ticking clock can no longer be outrun.
DC Comics faces a similar deadline on April 1, when its regular roster of series goes on hiatus for two months. We know already the Convergence comics will feature stories set in previous versions of DC continuity, but so far we can make only educated guesses (at best) about what will be next.
A while back I wrote that DC Comics could stand to cancel some books, but this isn’t exactly what I had in mind. DC’s March solicitations are among the most significant of the New 52. The August 2011 solicits, which were the last of their particular era, were relatively routine; back then, every superhero title was either being canceled or relaunched. By contrast, March 2015 looks like the start of another line-wide makeover. It will see the end of several series, including some charter members of the New 52.
The solicits actually extend to the week of April 1, which will feature a slew of annuals, the final issues of the three weekly series, and Convergence #0. (All that will cost you $54.89 retail.) With Convergence then taking over April and May, readers will have to wait until June’s solicits (coming in February, of course) for the first full picture of the New However-Many. Although the nature of Convergence still suggests that some old, familiar elements will be reintroduced into the New 52 — because why say “every story matters” if you’re not going to use at least some of them going forward? — these solicits are arguably the strongest indication to date that the New 52 isn’t going away.
A little over a year ago, I asked, “what do we want out of a [superhero] comic-based TV series?”
This season, DC Comics fans have plenty of material to fuel that debate. I still haven’t seen any of Gotham or Constantine, but I’ve really enjoyed the combination of The Flash and Arrow. With both shows taking a break for the holidays, today I want to see what satisfies and what doesn’t.
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It took me a while to warm up to Arrow. After taking most of last season to catch up — and, as it happens, missing the Barry Allen episodes — I seem to have gotten on board just at the right time. Because I am not a fan of superhero shows that de-emphasize the “superhero” part, it was harder for me to accept that Oliver Queen would skulk around the urban jungle in a hood and eyeblack. That sort of intermediate realism (which now reminds me of the short-lived TV show based on Mike Grell’s Jon Sable comics) somehow requires more suspension of disbelief than a full-on costume and codename does.
Thirty years ago, as part of the first ship week in December 1984, the debut issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths arrived in comics shops. Cover-dated April 1985, and scheduled to appear on newsstands during the first week of January, it was the flagship title of DC Comics’ year-long 50th-anniversary celebration. The two-year Who’s Who encyclopedia had launched a month earlier, and most of DC’s series would tie into Crisis at some point; but this was the book that promised big changes.
We talk a lot about the legacy of Crisis — high-stakes events, crossovers, reboots, etc. — but that can obscure the story itself. For all that it was designed to do, and all that it promised, Crisis remains both uneven and intriguing. At times it can read like a ramshackle assembly of exposition and spectacle, held together by the combined wills of its creative team. Some of it is flabby, some of it is clunky, but Crisis can still be thrilling, and even touching. In any event, it remains one of the great mileposts of DC history, so it can certainly stand another look.
Today is for the first issue, but this series will continue periodically throughout 2015. Grab your own copies of Crisis and follow along!
(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.
In April, DC Comics released solicitations for its July titles alongside an extra batch of advance listings for the September Futures End-related one-shots. This week, in a move that’s perhaps unintentionally similar, the publisher’s February solicits arrive amid advance info about the spring’s Convergence tie-ins.
The scheduling gap isn’t quite as great — only a couple of months here, as opposed to five months last time — and I can understand why DC would want to avoid a lot of negative fan speculation about Convergence. Still, it steals some thunder from the current batch of solicitations, which try to compensate with a raft of Harley Quinn variant covers (including, strangely enough, one for Harley Quinn itself). In addition to her own series and Suicide Squad, Harl also gets a Valentine’s Day Special, another hardcover collection, a statue, an action figure, and a guest-shot in Deathstroke. At this rate I’m expecting her to be Wonder Woman’s new Amazon queen.
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(NOTE: I’m happy to acknowledge the hard work and obvious dedication of the blogger Count Drunkula, whose Black Canary fansite Flowers & Fishnets was a great resource in putting together this post.)
Recent developments on The CW’s Arrow have gotten me thinking about the various twists and turns visited over the years upon DC Comics’ Black Canary. The television series has come at the character from a few different directions, even splitting some of her characteristics among three players. It makes sense for an adaptation of Green Arrow to include at least a nod to his longtime love interest, as traditionally they’ve been one of DC’s most prominent super-couples.
However, Black Canary didn’t start out as part of Green Arrow’s supporting cast, and even a cursory glimpse of her past invites some careful examination. Indeed, for a few years in the ‘80s, the history of Black Canary threatened to approach Hawkman levels of continuity complexity. Today we’ll look back at that history, and specifically at how a shared-universe setting can both screw up and enrich a character.
For months speculation had raged about what DC Comics would do to mitigate the logistics of its West Coast move. This week the publisher made it official: Convergence is a two-month, 89-issue event starting April 1. It involves a central weekly miniseries and an array of two-issue micro-series combining various versions of venerable DC folk. Basically, if you’ve ever wondered whether Blackhawk could beat Kamandi, or wanted to see the Superman of 2010 square off against the Green Lantern of 1944, next April and May are going to be pretty fun for you.
I’ve been writing about this for so long that I’m not sure what else to say. (And yet, here we are.) Last week I wrote about DC’s various narrative delays and deferrals. Now I’m even more certain we’ll have to wait until June for the next significant DCU development. Still, the fact that Convergence is happening is … I don’t want to say “encouraging,” but it does seem like progress toward an ultimate — no pun intended — resolution. (Note: This presumes that DC does in fact have specific plans for the superhero line.)
Therefore, today let’s survey the Multiversal landscape, with an eye toward determining Convergence’s role in the grand scheme of things.
Several years ago, in a post for the old Great Curve blog that’s surely lost to history, I called DC Comics’ steady stream of crossovers the “constant campaign.” Just as winning candidates must shift from electoral strategies to actual governing, so I argued that DC had to stop churning and changing and settle into telling stories. These days DC isn’t so much into line-wide crossovers — not like 2004-09, when Identity Crisis led into Infinite Crisis and from there to Final Crisis — but it has a similar lack of focus.
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Although the New 52 makeover is only a little more than three years old, it’s gone through quite a bit of change. Many series, and many creative teams, have come and gone. The original 52-series lineup boasted a number of distinctive, idiosyncratic writer/penciler combinations. Now, however, with this week’s final issue of Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s (and friends’) Wonder Woman, only Justice League, Batman and Batman & Robin have kept the same writer since the relaunch. Moreover, only the two Bat-books have kept the same writer and penciler.