grumpy old fan
The biggest news from this round of solicits is probably the cancellations of Blue Beetle, Grifter, Legion Lost, and Frankenstein. I’ve been buying Beetle and Frankenstein, so I’m sorry to see them go.
Naturally, this means we can look forward to four new titles in February. If I had to guess, I’d say a new Shazam! ongoing series will spin out of the current Justice League backup, but according to January’s solicitation, the backup doesn’t seem to have reached a suitable stopping place. It’s possible that February’s Issue 17 could wrap everything up one week and lead into Shazam! #1 the next, but that would depend on Justice League shipping on time (in the third week of the month), and I’d think DC would want more wiggle room in case of a delay. Accordingly, the odds of a Shazam! series in the next batch of solicits seem rather long.
Still, the backup series has been running in Justice League since #7, so (counting the Shazam-centric Issue 0, but subtracting the lack of backup in Issue 13) February’s Issue 17 would mark its eleventh installment. That is subject to change, since the October solicits advertised a Shazam! backup which was not in the actual issue. Still, if my rough math is correct, that’s about 154 total pages of story — more than the New Teen Titans: Games paperback, but less than the Superman/Shazam collection — but the solicit for January’s Issue 16 (part 11, remember) just talks about continuing the origin. With that in mind, even if Issue 17 concludes the backup, the character could still appear in JL as a Leaguer until he does whatever he’s going to do in “Trinity War.” Yadda yadda yadda, now I think probably no new Shazam! series until that event is over.
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As written by Scott Snyder, penciled by Greg Capullo and inked by Jonathan Glapion, the lead story in Batman Vol. 2 #13 is a terrific kickoff to the latest Batman event. “Death of the Family,” the Joker-centric crossover running through the Batman line for the next few months, will eventually involve seven more ongoing series — including Batgirl and Batman and Robin, which we’ll discuss later — but this opening chapter by itself shows me that Snyder, Capullo and company intend to kick out all the stops when it comes to the Clown Prince of Crime.
Naturally, SPOILERS FOLLOW for this week’s Bat-books.
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This week sees the print debut of Legends of the Dark Knight, the ongoing print version of DC’s digital-first Batman anthology. By design it’s not part of the regular Batman line, and therefore not counted as one of the New 52. However, it gives me an excuse to ask how many Bat-books DC Comics really needs.
Now, I don’t mean that to be as dismissive as it sounds. The current Batman line is built on years, if not decades, of steady readership and fan attachments, and you don’t just wave that away. Nevertheless, if there are only 52 slots in the main superhero line, must the Batman Family claim a quarter of them? The relaunch has made pruning these titles both easier and harder, and today I want to look at the opportunities it presents.
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Because we live in an age of reboots, revamps, retcons and relaunches, by now we know the issues involved. Mostly they boil down to a balancing test: How faithful is the new material to the established work, and how compelling is it otherwise?
Of course, corporate-controlled superhero comics have had more than their share of reboots, revamps, retcons and relaunches, in all shapes and sizes, going back at least as far as the first Superboy stories. I’m not here today to dissect any particular one. Instead, the calendar gives me the chance to talk about one of the most successful sequel series in sci-fi history.
This week marks the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation. (It aired on different days in syndication, so I saw it first on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 1987.) For many fans, TNG was the gateway into an ever-expanding 24th century. Three more sequel/spinoff series followed, as well as four movies featuring the TNG cast, such that the saga of Jean-Luc Picard and his intrepid crew spanned 15 years, including seven TV seasons.
Here in Memphis this week, September finally turned the corner into fall. High temperatures are mostly in the 70s, the air is getting crisper, and the sky is turning a paler blue. Unlike July or August, when October and November seem far in the future, a nice September makes December that much easier to imagine.
In September you start to settle into the routine which will take you through the winter — and that’s apparently true as well for the New 52 superhero books. Let’s get on with it, shall we?
MOVERS AND SHAKERS
Ivan Reis and Joe Prado head to Justice League with December’s Issue 15, and I for one am happy. Although I like Jim Lee fine, I think Reis is better-suited to big, multiple-character action. It’s hard for me to explain the distinction, so consider this: How would “Sinestro Corps” or Blackest Night have looked if Lee had drawn them? Reis manages crowds quite well, and Justice League should be crowded.
Also, while I’ve been rather down on Justice League of late, the expanded roster (teased over a year ago) and the Atlantis-centered storyline make me optimistic that the book is … well, doing what I’d like it to do, which is being a showcase for, and gateway to, the larger superhero universe. So, well done, solicitation!
[Note: all this was written before I read any of this week’s comics.]
As mentioned last week, part of this look back at my New 52 reading is the chance to see where I might drop some titles. Not that I want to be negative unnecessarily, but it’s always good to make sure you really like what you buy. While I do buy some books “just because,” it’s very easy simply to fall into the habit of reading the same things month in and month out, neither looking forward to them nor missing them when they’re gone.
Therefore, let’s push through some bad vibes and talk about a couple of books I let drift away. Besides Superboy (covered last week), there was Red Lanterns (written by Peter Milligan, penciled by Ed Benes) and Grifter (written by Nathan Edmondson, penciled by CAFU). Originally I liked Red Lanterns because I thought it had recast Atrocitus as a distracted middle-management type, questioning his place in the universe while his functionaries went down their own demented paths. However, as the months went by the series never really built up any momentum, and for a premise based around the blood-spewing power of RAGE!!!1!! that’s not so good. Much the same applies to Grifter: thought it had potential, but it didn’t hold my interest.
Because it’s the first week of the New 52 Year Two, the time has come to review where I stand at the end of Year One. It also happens to be the week I’m away on a bidness trip, unable to react to whatever dern-fool thing DC did on Wednesday.
That would probably take a back seat anyway, because I’m a little curious myself to look back at these books. In terms of reading habits, it’s been a rather funky year. Some weeks I wouldn’t have time to read everything I bought, and sometimes that meant books just dropped off my radar. I caught up with a few of these, but a few I just didn’t miss — which, of course, is never a good thing.
You’ll remember that last year I bought all 52 first issues, and talked about each as September proceeded. Of those which remain, I am reading 27: Action Comics, All-Star Western, Animal Man, Aquaman, Batgirl, Batman, Batman & Robin, Batwing, Batwoman, Blue Beetle, Catwoman, DC Universe Presents, Demon Knights, Detective Comics, Firestorm, Flash, Frankenstein, Green Lantern, GL Corps, I, Vampire, Justice League, Justice League Dark, Stormwatch, Supergirl, Superman, Swamp Thing and Wonder Woman.
Additionally, I was reading six titles that have since been canceled: Blackhawks, JLI, Men of War, OMAC, Resurrection Man and Static Shock. For a while I also read Grifter, Red Lanterns, and Superboy. Filling in some of those holes are second-wave titles Batman Incorporated, Earth 2, Worlds’ Finest and Dial H.
To keep your eyes as glaze-free as possible, this will be a two-part survey. Today we’ll look at the Superman and Batman families, the “historical” titles, the main-line Justice League books, and a few others.
Serialized storytelling provides superhero-comics publishers a pretty handy buffer. Anything can be judged unfairly, perhaps even after the whole story has been collected. Don’t like a preview image? Wait until the issue itself comes out. Don’t like how the story is going? Wait for it to end, so you can evaluate it in a more proper context. Don’t like how the story ended? Hey, at least you got the thrill of following it issue by issue.
There will always be a certain distance between fans and professionals, simply because the pros know where the stories are going and the fans can only make educated guesses. The previous paragraph’s view of it may be cynical, but I don’t think it’s too far off. Beyond nostalgic, blue-sky wishes for publishers to stop aiming low, and for fans to stop assuming the worst, I don’t have any easy solutions. Sometimes I just wish these sorts of observations weren’t necessary.
Having said all that, I’m not going to call the latest Superman/Wonder Woman pairing (in this week’s Justice League #12, as you might have heard) The Dumbest Thing DC’s Ever Done. I’m not sure it’s even in the Top 20. Heck, I’m not sure it’s the dumbest thing DC’s done in the past 12 months.
What I will say is that it misses the point.
I can’t deny the appeal of crowdfunding. I’ve contributed to a handful of projects, including the Stripped documentary, the new Steve Rude sketchbook and a guide to Star Wars’ domestic filming locations. I’m also planning to pledge to Leaving Megalopolis, the new graphic novel by Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore.
Like many of you, I’m predisposed to like Simone and Calafiore’s work based on their issues of Secret Six. I also enjoyed the way Simone and her collaborators brought a little town of superheroes to life in Welcome to Tranquility. Heck, I just like Simone’s writing generally, and as it’s within my budget, I don’t mind spending the money.
However, while responding to Tom Spurgeon’s call for crowdfunding thoughts, I had a crazy idea: What if a license fee were part of the crowdfunding proposal? In other words, what if one item in a project’s budget were earmarked for licensing particular characters from DC or Marvel?
While there is a fine line between stupid and clever, I’m not sure upon which side this post lies. That’s probably not so good — but it hasn’t stopped me yet. …
College basketball season starts back up in November, so that makes thinking about bracketology only a little less premature. Looking at the various discrete (and, occasionally, indirect) crossovers happening throughout November’s New 52 solicitations, I couldn’t help but picture the field of 68, with each individual game a step along the way to … “Trinity War,” I guess …?
Green Lantern’s “Rise of the Third Army” occupies the four GL titles, of course, but it also brings in Justice League, where the solicit for issue #14 wonders where Hal is. (After reading this week’s GL #12, I have a better idea about that.) Likewise, GL #14 guest-stars the League.
From the solicits I wonder if “ROT3A” takes place mainly in GL (with a little JL on the side). “Night of the Owls” was advertised that way (you only need to read Batman, because the other Bat-books dealt with ancillary stories) and it kind-of fits with the way the New-52 books have hyped their creative teams. Johns, Scott Snyder, and Jeff Lemire are responsible for a total of seven books (GL, JL, Aquaman, Batman, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, JL Dark), and each writer has at least one book in some sort of crossover this month.
We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the New 52, and I anticipate doing the usual examinations of what worked and what didn’t. Until then, however, this preliminary post will try to organize my general impressions.
I have tried to keep an open mind about the various changes, but apparently I keep coming back to the New 52-niverse’s lack of meaningful fictional history. Much of this comes from the five-year timeline, but a good bit of it is due to storytelling styles. While origin stories can generate a nominal setting, including a regular supporting cast, many of the New-52 books held off for various reasons — like readers pretty much knowing the origins at the outset — and with today’s practical concerns, many books spent their first 12 issues on extended arcs.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been talking about this as a function of “idea generation,” but I think it is a more elemental concept. Specifically, it seems like I have been conditioned to expect a certain amount of continuity in a modern shared universe. Furthermore (and more troubling), I suspect the simple acknowledgment of preexisting continuity helps mitigate whatever weaknesses may exist in the stories themselves.
Today I am pondering that Ivan Brandon essay on TheAwl.com, and the things comics can do that movies just can’t.
Last week I mentioned the Lazarus Pit as an example of a comics staple that Batman movies — any Batman movies, arguably — would probably be reluctant to use. While the Pit comes with certain restrictions and side effects, it still boils down basically to an unlimited supply of extra lives. It runs counter to the idea of Batman as being grounded in reality, but in the context of a shared universe where Batman pals around with extraterrestrials (and their agents), a super-powered Amazon, and the King of Atlantis, it’s not that far-fetched. This is the old “Character Y could solve Character X’s problems” hypothesis, and it tends to be met with “Character X and Character Y play by different rules.” A good example of the latter was a “No Man’s Land” story featuring Superman (coincidentally collected in the new NML Vol. 3), where the Man of Steel’s well-intentioned assistance in trying to rebuild an earthquake-devastated Gotham turned out to be exactly wrong under the circumstances.
This post is about world-building. Ideally (and at the risk of being too cute), world-building would be what you made of it. The notion of a shared superhero universe implies a certain level of consistency, which at best offers a rich, textured backdrop and at worst becomes a tangled thicket of details. Naturally, each reader’s level of involvement will vary, and these days readers have quite a few options. Today I’m trying to sketch a general picture of how those options affect the stories themselves, and vice versa.
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Over the years — over the decades, really — it has been suggested that I read too many comic books. These concerns are not insignificant, and over the decades I have tried to deal with them appropriately.
However, while talking about DC’s Big Events with a friend on the way to the movies, I got a new perspective on the way these stories are received. Basically, my friend had seen Identity Crisis on a list of all-time worst comics and wanted my thoughts, because he had enjoyed it. Similarly, he liked Blackest Night not so much for the nonstop carnage, but for the sense that there were consequences.
An uncomfortable familiarity hangs over much of The Dark Knight Rises, the final film in the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman trilogy. Some of it comes from the disquiet of watching familiar characters and settings suffer. However, some of it comes from the use of overly familiar movie tropes. For example, one of the early “Batman must come back” scenes feels lifted from a style guide. Another scene, much later, echoes Luke and Han’s join-us-no-join-me exchange just before the Death Star attack. Oh, and William Devane shows up in a very William Devane-esque role.
Accordingly, The Dark Knight Rises is not a perfect movie. It doesn’t have the intricate plotting of its predecessor (2008′s The Dark Knight, like you didn’t know). Any socially conscious message about “the 99% vs. the 1%” is lost in Bane’s repurposed sloganeering and Selina Kyle’s disillusionment. In one spot, the movie seems to skip dusk entirely, going from twilight to pitch-black night in less than eight minutes.* Furthermore, although I hate to disagree with Sean, at times Bane sounds like Darrell Hammond’s Sean Connery (and apparently — beware of spoilers past the link — I am not the only one who thinks so).
Nevertheless, its epic ambitions are mostly realized, and it exists mainly to give its principals (i.e., just about every major character still left from 2005′s Batman Begins) closure. This, I want to emphasize, it does exceptionally well. Four years ago I compared The Dark Knight to David Fincher’s serial-killer meditation Zodiac, but this time I’m going with Doctor Zhivago by way of James Bond. A macro-level exploration of Begins’ “why do we fall?”, it builds to a thrilling, triumphal, bittersweet final shot. I’m looking forward to seeing it again, and eventually to examining the trilogy as a whole.
A brief indulgence before we get started: July 14 marked eight years since I started blogging about comics on my own little website, the now-dormant Comics Ate My Brain. Since one of my first posts was called “Robin Problems,” it’s a happy coincidence that this week we return to the original superhero-sidekick identity.
Although I’m not always happy with DC Comics as a company, I have a lot of empathy for the people who work on superhero comics, especially those who populate convention panels. Regardless of how we think they’re doing their jobs, those are still their jobs, and I wouldn’t want to go to work every morning facing a steady torrent of criticism from my customers. (We lawyers get more than enough workplace second-guessing as it is.) It also can’t be easy traveling around having to face one’s critics in person.
That said, if the alternative-fuels industry could harness avoidable fan outrage, DC Comics would be the new OPEC. Once again demonstrating a knack for how not to behave, its panelists practically laughed off legitimate questions about switching out fan-favorite Bat-protege Stephanie Brown for the “more iconic” Barbara Gordon.
After those original accounts appeared online (on Friday the 13th, no less), more details emerged to help explain just who did what. It’s still a situation where DC higher-ups asked to remove Stephanie (which, it can’t be said enough, is really asking for trouble); but apparently the series’ writer got to choose her replacement. Don’t worry, we’ll get into all the nuances.