grumpy old fan
Last month DC Comics announced it had put together a new list of “essential” graphic novels and collections, designed to help casual readers and completists alike. This week I picked up a copy of the 121-page catalog (Issue 1, of course) along with my regular Wednesday haul.
Now, we all love lists, and this looks to be more comprehensive than the 30-item Jeph Loeb-heavy suggestions DC had previously offered. Could the new DC Entertainment Essential Graphic Novels and Chronology 2013 actually represent the depth and breadth of DC’s vast publishing history, and at least try to give each major character the attention he or she deserved?
I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but judging from the two pages devoted to “Women of DC Comics,” the answer doesn’t look promising for said women. As Sue (of DC Women Kicking Ass) and Bleeding Cool have already pointed out, Green Arrow and the Flash both get two-page spreads (each, to be fair, split between a one-page portrait and a one-page checklist), while Wonder Woman has to share two pages with Batgirl, Batwoman, Catwoman and the Huntress. Although the DC Entertainment Essential Graphic Novels and Chronology 2013 could use more female-centric titles (no Power Girl, Manhunter, Stephanie Brown or Cass Cain Batgirl, or Stars and STRIPE, and not a lot of Supergirl), today it may be enough just to focus on Wonder Woman.
In the very first panel of The Movement #1 there’s a blonde in black leather and fishnets. Her strong resemblance to old-school Black Canary seems designed deliberately to remind readers of writer Gail Simone’s previous DC Comics work. However, there’s nothing straightforward — at least not yet — about this new series. Simone’s script is a maze of upended expectations, and Freddie Williams’ art likewise seems made up of unsettled lines. The overall effect is disorienting, which might not be the best way to begin a from-scratch series like this one. But The Movement #1 works well as the first chapter of what will hopefully be a long run.
After four installments, Comic Book Resources’ monthly “B&B” feature, in which DC Comics Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras and Editorial Director Bobbie Chase answered questions from readers and CBR’s Josie Campbell, is no more. Jerry Ordway’s work situation, and controversies generally, were apparently to blame. Of course, DC is free not to participate in such things, and CBR is likewise free to investigate such controversies on its own. Still, the whole thing only highlights the problems DC has had in connecting successfully with fans.
Now, it may be more accurate to say DC has had problems connecting successfully with fans who are vocal about their negative opinions of the company. For all I know, DC may be quite popular with whatever audience it has targeted. Regardless, despite its constant PR presence, today’s DC seems a lot more guarded than it has been; and I think that can only hurt it in the long run.
Ironically, part of the problem is the corporate-comics news cycle. Each week’s worth of DC books has a couple of promotional features, namely the “All Access” editorial and the new “Channel 52″ two-pager. Beyond that (and probably more frequently than once a week) the company issues press releases and facilitates interviews for various news sites. Furthermore, each month’s solicitations advertise what’s coming out at least two months in the future; and during convention season the company can manage its particular messages in person. That’s a lot of information for a company whose bread and butter come from a few dozen monthly 20-page story installments.
Seventy-five years ago, on or about April 18, 1938, the company that would become DC Comics published the first issue (cover-dated June 1938) of a new anthology series. Today, Action Comics #1 is remembered mainly (and justifiably so) for introducing Superman.
Naturally, many of the elements and concepts from that first Superman story have changed over time. In Action #1, all we see of Krypton is its final fate. Pa Kent doesn’t have a first name, and Clark works for the Daily Star. There’s no Lex Luthor, no Jimmy Olsen, no Kryptonite, and no Superboy. Even Superman’s powers pale in comparison to what they would become.
However, two characters are already fleshed out pretty well, with motivations and dynamics instantly recognizable to today’s readers. One, of course, is Clark Kent, who creates the Superman identity to “turn his titanic strength into channels that would benefit mankind,” and who hides that strength behind a pair of glasses and a meek demeanor.
The other is Lois Lane.
Don’t ask why — because the answer is too boring and has nothing to do with Steven Spielberg — but the other day I was thinking about the original 13 American colonies, and from there the general course of American history across the 18th and 19th centuries. Naturally, from there I imagined how DC Comics would solicit the story of a young nation. It ended up being something like a team book: Meet the states that will form a great democracy — and discover the shocking secret which threatens to tear them apart–!
And then, as fate would have it, DC released its July solicitations, and my stab at patriotic humor was somewhat justified. So there you go.
In any event, on to “Trinity War” –!
WORLD WAR T
Say, remember when “World War III” was an actual part of DC history? I’m not talking about the Great Disaster, or something that happened in the hazy interregnum between the present and the Legion of Super-Heroes, or even the final Grant Morrison/Howard Porter JLA arc. No, as part of 52 (2006-07), “World War III” was the name given to a week-long global Black Adam rampage. I bring it up because it’s no longer in continuity, and we still don’t know (beyond another “Villain Month”) what’s coming in September for the New 52′s second anniversary.
As part of a career in superhero comics that reached back to their beginnings, Carmine Infantino was one of the pillars of the Silver Age, and not just because he was a big part of its formative moment. His sleek redesign of the Flash became the avatar for DC Comics’ resurgent superhero line, and his unique style helped define not just the Scarlet Speedster’s world, but eventually all of the company’s titles.
Gather ‘round, kiddos, because we begin with another tale of Gen-X adolescence!
From 1977 through 1986, I grew from a snot-nosed third-grade punk into a snot-nosed (I had allergies) high-school senior, accompanied along the way by at least one big-budget sci-fi/fantasy movie milestone.* Specifically, right in the middle of the run were three sequels by which every self-respecting fan swears: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Superman II (released in the United States in 1981) and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). Each built on its predecessor using darker elements and/or more “mature” themes, because each had the sequel’s luxury of an established setting.
For Young Tom, though, the cumulative effect of these three movies was mind-expanding, if not mind-blowing. I’m not talking about Empire’s Big Reveal (echoed coincidentally in Khan) or the unsettling sight of a powerless Clark Kent. Instead, each catapulted the fevered suppositions of a junior-high imagination to higher levels of awareness. I went into the theater each time wondering will this be as good? and came out giddy at how much better each one was.
So what’s this have to do with comics? Read on …
You may remember the story of an antisocial teen working his way into Bruce Wayne’s life, and even becoming part of his family, before dying in a Robin costume.
You might also remember this story being called “Punish Not My Evil Son,”* as told by writer Bob Haney, penciler Neal Adams, and inker Dick Giordano (note: GCD credits Adams), in The Brave and the Bold vol. 1 #83 (April-May 1969).
Like much of the Haney oeuvre, “Punish” depends on unique circumstances that otherwise might not fit well within Batman’s shared universe. Young Lance Bruner, who’s around the same age as teenager Dick Grayson, is the son of one Prof. Bruner, Thomas Wayne’s “closest friend.” When we first meet him he’s horsing around with a couple of Wayne valuables and smarting off to Alfred, so already he’s off to a bad start. However, he shows Bruce an agreement signed by both Prof. Bruner and Dr. Wayne, which provides that “if anything ever happen[s] to the professor[,] the Wayne family promises to adopt and raise Lance.” Indeed, Bruce remembers seeing baby Lance in his dad’s arms, and recalls further that the professor was “the finest man I’ve ever known … besides my own dad!” Lance has already tearfully played the orphan card, so Bruce reminds a skeptical Dick how a certain other kid came to live at Wayne Manor — and away we go.
With his 19-issue Action Comics saga, Grant Morrison has almost literally written a Superman story for all time. “For every time” might be more accurate, because it plays with chronology like a kid jumbling up a Rubik’s Cube. Morrison begins with tales of Superman’s earliest days, then jumps into the New 52′s present for a couple of issues (bringing in the 31st century’s Legion of Super-Heroes) before wrapping up the first arc and proceeding on to “now.” The result is a macro-level adventure that draws liberally from every era of Superman, blends those disparate elements into a fine pureé, and repositions the mix as a self-reflective epic. This is the Superman legend as alpha and omega, beginning and end, reinvention and restoration, and it’s a heck of a thing.
It’s also a pretty daunting read. I spent about three hours Tuesday night with issues 1 through 17 (and Issue 0, of course) and still didn’t catch every nuance and reference. However, the overall impression is a familiar one: Superman’s real power comes more from the idea of “Superman” than from the effects of yellow-sun rays. On its own this is rather hokey, or at least dismissable as such, and a reader casually flipping through Action Vol. 2 #18 might wonder what all the fuss was about. To be fair, a more dedicated reader might wonder that as well; but I think it’s a lot less likely.
SPOILERS FOLLOW for Action Comics #18 and its predecessors:
It looks like June is shaping up to be pretty big for DC’s superhero comics. There are five new ongoing series, including Superman Unchained, Batman/Superman, Larfleeze, Pandora and, best of all, the return of Astro City. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo kick off a revised Bat-origin in “Zero Year,” and the Green Lantern books get new creative teams. (There are spoilers for those GL books in the solicitations, but if you’ve been paying attention it’s probably nothing you haven’t already figured out.)
FIRST, AN ENDING
The “Shazam!” conclusion takes up all 40 pages of Justice League #21. It’s been a long time coming — starting way back in Issue 7, getting a 23-page spotlight in Issue 0, and skipping issues 12, 13 and 17. In the end it should clock in just shy of 200 pages, which would have made it a robust nine-issue miniseries. By comparison, Geoff Johns’ and Gary Frank’s Batman: Earth One graphic novel was 138 pages. It may read better as a collection, because it hasn’t always seemed paced for a series of backup stories. Being absent from Issue 17 hasn’t helped either. Still, it should have three straight installments between now and June, so maybe it’ll finish strongly.
Continue Reading »
In news that will surprise no one, I enthusiastically add my voice to the chorus advising comics companies to give Jerry Ordway work. Mr. Ordway represents, for better or worse, a particular style of superhero storytelling. His detailed, textured work is both realistic and stylized. He’s also become associated with a traditional approach to superheroes, mostly by drawing the Golden Age characters and their descendants. Similarly, his modern-day Superman and Marvel Family work gave those books a pretty “classic” look.
In fact, for a long while Jerry Ordway helped define Superman. He was an original contributor to the 1986 John Byrne-led revamp, penciling Adventures of Superman first for writer Marv Wolfman and then for Byrne. When Byrne left, he took over writing Adventures before moving over to the main Superman book. In one way or another, he was involved with the Superman titles from 1986 through 1993, when he started working on Captain Marvel in the Power of Shazam! graphic novel.
First I’d like to thank DC Comics for plastering its latest spoiler unavoidably across the Internet bright and early Monday morning. It did confirm something I’d suspected since before Christmas, but being surprised still has a certain appeal, you know?
(That assumes this isn’t reversed in an issue or two. Kyle Rayner was killed one issue and revived the next during a Blackest Night crossover, and something similar is eminently possible, albeit unlikely, in this case.)
Anyway, Caleb has done a great job covering the event’s immediate impact, and Corey and Michael have also talked about significant aspects of you-know-what, so for my part I’ll be taking a closer look at the “position” itself. Some people study the presidency, some the papacy, and some of us have spent most of our lives reading about … well, you know.
SPOILERS FOLLOW, I suppose.
So this is what happens when you praise Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern run …
Let’s be clear: I do not generally have violent mood swings. My sense of well-being does not depend on the fortunes of DC Comics. I don’t pretend to have any special insight into the publisher’s inner workings, and I’m sure the reverse is equally true. However, after saying many nice things about Green Lantern a couple of weeks ago, and then eviscerating the humorless “WTF Certified” last week, it was pretty surprising to see the May solicitations address both topics.
NEXT, RAFALCA JOINS THE LEGION OF SUPER-PETS
The Green Team may have been a group of entitled, self-satisfied jerks with an abnormal need for validation, but if anyone can make them lovable — or, alternatively, entertainingly clueless — it’s Art Baltazar and Franco. I don’t see this book as DC scraping the bottom of the character barrel. Rather, I take it as a good-faith attempt to update a (perhaps misguided) concept for the sensibilities of our time. Not quite “at least they’re trying,” but … at least it’s not another big-name spinoff, you know? (Although a new Steel series is always welcome.) Regardless, the over/under for this book has to be somewhere around 6 issues.
When I talked about DC Comics’ April solicitations a few weeks back they hadn’t yet been “WTF-Certified.” (Caleb has an excellent roundup of the WTF specifics, and I am unlikely to improve on his observations.) That phrase suggests strongly either that DC is no longer interested in anyone young enough to use “Why The Face” in casual conversation; or, conversely, that polite society now freely tolerates even an abbreviated F-bomb.
Whatever the reasoning, DC wants its April fold-out covers to be SO! SHOCKING! that even the casual browser cannot refuse them. This is not a bad goal in and of itself. Indeed, we might quibble about which quick exclamation best captures such a “must-read” impulse — OMG! would be too Bieber-feverish, and “wait, what?” is taken — but as far as real WTF covers go, these are a bit tame.
See, back in the olden days, when print publications actually sold well, a comic’s cover absolutely had to command the consumer’s attention, and thereby encourage him or her to spend a few hard-earned coins (ask your parents, kids) on the new DC titles. The late Julius Schwartz is supposed to have said that a book would sell well if its cover boasted a gorilla, a motorcycle, the color purple and/or a question posed to the reader. (During Mark Waid’s editorship of the 1980s Secret Origins, its 40th issue got all four.) As there was no Internet providing potential readers with constant updates — and therefore requiring a steady stream of update-friendly factoids — the cover had to do all the heavy-lifting.
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.