REVIEW: "DC Universe: Rebirth" #1 Makes the Future of DC Comics Look Genuinely Bright
“There’s a loosening up, and this is kind of current, at both companies in terms of what each company considers a comic, which is a ridiculous thing to say, because a comic is basically what sells. That’s a good comic. Dick Giordano hated, hated, hated Lobo — hated the character, hated the book — hated him. But he understood that Lobo was a popular character, not his cup of tea, so he wasn’t constantly after me to change and conform to his way.
That was, for a while, the way comics were being run. If the editor didn’t like the direction a book was going, it didn’t matter how well it sold — they’d get in there and start pinching and tweaking and fucking it up. But lately — and I know this for a fact, I’ve talked to people who actually make these decisions — it’s loosening up. It’s really loosening up. They’re actually saying, ‘You know what? You’re always saying, “If I was left alone, I would do this and this and this. I’d make this book popular.” Fine. The shackles are off. Go.’
I love that. I absolutely love that. I think if you’re willing to go after it, I think comics are loosening up a little bit; the way they approach the market, the kind of stories they’re doing, the kind of characters they’re willing to put in their books. This is just, I’d say, within the last year that I’m feeling this. A couple of years before that — as soon as last year — they were pretty horrible.”
– Justice League 3000 writer Keith Giffen, identifying a relatively recent loosening of the creative reins by DC Comics, and by Marvel
For those who have followed DC’s promotion of Justice League 3000, this week’s inaugural issue must arrive with something of an asterisk. Announced in June as the latest reunion of Justice League International’s Keith Giffen (plot and breakdowns), J.M. DeMatteis (script) and Kevin Maguire (pencils), within two months the series became an unflattering example of creative-team chaos. In August, artist Howard Porter replaced Maguire, thereby postponing the series’ October debut. According to Maguire, DC apparently wanted something more dark and gritty, which doesn’t quite fit the style we now know as “bwah-ha-ha” — but by the same token, one wonders (as did Maguire) what DC thought it would get from the trio’s collaboration.
Still, to echo Donald Rumsfeld (and, 15 years earlier and more to the point, my entertainment-journalism professor), you review the comic you have, not the comic you wish you had. The first issue of Justice League 3000 reads like an artifact from the mid-1990s, when DC cranked out dystopian-future Elseworld stories fairly regularly; and Porter’s art is emblematic of the issue’s gritty, scratchy tone. This isn’t JLI. It’s not of a piece with Giffen and DeMatteis’ work writing Booster Gold, or even the current Larfleeze. It’s more like the short-lived, Giffen-written Threshold, crossed with an original-variety Marvel 2099 title.
In short, this first issue isn’t bad, just rather frustrating. I suppose the series has potential, and its creative team probably deserves a couple of issues to advance the plot. Regardless, JL3K #1 starts off negative and teases even more. It doesn’t give readers much optimism, outside of a vague sense that at some point, things can only get better.
SPOILERS FOLLOW, of course.
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.
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.
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?