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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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Aquaman has never led an easy life, what with the years of ridicule (thanks, Super Friends), that harpoon hand, struggling sales and brooding beards. However, this video from UCB Comedy finds the King of Atlantis at a particularly low point, even as the members of the Justice League gather to celebrate an anniversary.
But Aquaman, portrayed by comedian Alan Starzinski, isn’t about to suffer in silence; he has words for several of his teammates, particularly Batman. “Your superpowers are that you’re rich, and you’ve got dead parents,” Arthur slurs. “All of us have got dead parents, man. Superman’s got four dead parents, and I gotta dead son!”
And, uh, Barry Allen? You may want to invest in another kind of underwear …
Legal | Disney on Tuesday asked a panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss a two-year-old lawsuit by Stan Lee Media claiming the copyright to such Marvel superheroes as Spider-Man, the Avengers and the X-Men. A lawyer for Stan Lee Media, which no longer connected to its namesake, argued a federal judge in Colorado erred last year in dismissing the 2012 complaint, but Disney countered that the copyright claims have been addressed time and again by the courts. “This is their seventh bite of a rotten apple,” Disney attorney Jim Quinn said after the hearing. The three-judge panel hasn’t issued its decision. [The Associated Press]
Manga | The finale of Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto, which will run in an upcoming issue of Shonen Jump (both the Japanese and the North American editions), will be two chapters long, with the second appearing in full color, the manga magazine announced. Naruto was at one time the bestselling graphic novel in the United States and is still one of the top selling manga in the country. [Anime News Network]
Last week I laid out a lot of numbers and background on the distribution of character-oriented franchises in the New 52. (Along the way I got confused about the New 52 version of G.I. Combat; it was canceled after Issue 7, but its zero issue brought its total to eight.)
Accordingly, this week discusses whether the New 52 needs to get back up to its eponymous number of titles, or whether a smaller stable of ongoing series is a more sustainable environment. We’ll get into some other concerns as well, but the overarching question — as DC transforms its biggest franchise, the Bat-books — involves how the publisher chooses to allocate its resources.
(Because I forgot to do it directly last week, I want to acknowledge my debt to Dave Carter, who started me thinking about all this when he charted New 52 longevity in January and who, providentially, has just started listing DC rosters of Augusts past.)
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If there’s an Earth in the DC Multiverse where the Justice League was a brewery instead of a superhero team, one graphic designer has figured out what those beers would look like.
A few months back, AdWeek posted six beer labels designed by graphic designer Marco Rizzetto that are based on seven members of the premiere superhero team of the DC Universe. The different label designs by “Justice League Brewery” include the Batman-inspired “The Dark Beer” dark ale beer; the Superman-based “Super Strong Beer” strong pale lager; the Wonder Woman-homage “The Wonder Beer” premium american lager and much more. Even the Wonder Twins got a shout out with “Twins Framboise,” a lambic framboise. Unfortunately, there’s no “Captain Cold One.”
Note: This week’s post, and probably next week’s, get pretty number-heavy. Also, this week’s post contains a lot of history and background data. I have tried to make it all entertaining, but consider yourselves warned. Either way, there’s still the Futures Index.
Starting this week, the Batman line gets a makeover. Gotham Academy, from writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher and artist Karl Kerschl, is a delightfully spry addition to the Bat-landscape. Amid a franchise dominated (not unreasonably) by stylized, unflinching urban avenging, GA’s unique perspective is both welcome and necessary. Waiting in the wings are new Batgirl and Catwoman creative teams, as well as new titles Arkham Manor and Gotham After Midnight. (The three new books apparently take the places of Batman: The Dark Knight, Batwing and Birds of Prey.)
All look promising, and each offers a new look at a seldom-seen aspect of the Batman mythology. Moreover, it’s vitally important for DC to reach out to a diverse audience, particularly one that may have felt underappreciated over the past few years.
However, all this innovation comes at a time when the in-name-only New 52 has been stuck for a while at around 40-odd series. Only 21 of the original 52 ongoings are still being published, although books like Teen Titans, Suicide Squad and Deathstroke have been relaunched with new volumes. Similarly, we might view Grayson and Justice League United as continuations of Nightwing and the New-52 version of Justice League of America.
While many of us were enjoying our pumpkin-spice lattes while watching the stars for signs of the McRib’s return, McDonald’s Hong Kong was busy launching its line of Justice League-themed meals with the Batman Diner Double Beef.
I’m not sure what those two curious-looking sauces are (I’m sure they’re explained in the stylish video below), but a sandwich containing two beef-like patties, egg and cheese can’t be half-bad. Plus, it comes with Squeezy Cheesy Fries, with bacon-flavored bits, and green apple tea (why the fries didn’t get an appropriate Bat-name will remain a mystery). Plus, the box is pretty cool.
Start planning for your Hong Kong trip now, Bat-fans …
September marches on, Wednesday by Wednesday, which means so too does DC Comics’ theme month. This year the publisher has suspended publication of its New 52 titles, replaced them with Futures End one-shots, and slapped new and improved (i.e. smaller) lenticular 3D covers on them, each bearing a “#1.”
One could certainly question the logic in tying all of the New 52 books, even the extremely popular ones like Batman, to a middling weekly series set in a possible future that will never come to pass and that seems to be a fairly reliable mid-list seller. But this week’s crop of one-shots demonstrates that, despite the fact that each book has the words “Futures End” in the title, many of them have somewhere between nothing and very little to do with the actual plot of the event series.
In the previous two installments of our weekly look at these specials, I recapped the basic plot of Futures End. But this time, I see I need not even bother. DC shipped 11 of the books this week, but I only read five — and the only thing those issues shared in common is that they’re set five years in the future (not that they had much of anything at all to do with Futures End).
Outside of Dazzler, Lila Cheney and Zenith, we don’t often see musicians as superheroes — or is it superheroes as musicians? — in comic books. But that didn’t stop illustrator Andrés Moncayo from exploring the concept in “Super Rockers,” in which he assembles a lineup of DC Comics and Marvel superheroes for a rock-star makeover.
“I made this project because nothing inspire more as a child than superheros and music when I was a teenager,” Moncayo writes. “So here it is, music and superheroes together.”
As discussed here last week, the final page of Forever Evil promised a particular kind of big event as its follow-up. However, the just-concluded miniseries also inflicted more immediate consequences on the Justice League; it’s those I’ll be talking about today.
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I previously mentioned that the New-52 relaunch/reboot didn’t really add a new “structural” feature to the superhero line, in the way that “Flash of Two Worlds” established the Multiverse or Crisis on Infinite Earths facilitated all those legacy heroes. At the time I didn’t really mention the addition (or re-integration) of the WildStorm and Vertigo characters, but I still don’t think that’s as big a deal as the Multiverse or the generational timeline. The difference is that Flashpoint brought in characters mostly to the present-day DC Universe, whereas COIE and (to a lesser extent) the original Multiverse both dealt regularly with larger spans of time. In the latter cases, the superheroes first emerged in the runup to World War II, and those adventures ended up informing their modern-day counterparts. While the New 52 had books like Demon Knights and All Star Western that were set even further in the past, they could only influence the main superhero line obliquely.
For a while it felt as if DC Comics was just going to talk about all its July books without ever soliciting them. News of Grayson and Robin Rising and relaunches of Suicide Squad and Teen Titans trickled out of the DC offices before the dam finally burst on Tuesday afternoon. (That’s why this week’s planned look at the “pilot episode” of Batman Eternal will have to wait.)
In fact, these solicitations are a little overstuffed, with a list of DC’s special September issues that lets us compare and contrast. Note too that while the September issues take place in The Future, they’re only two months removed from their July predecessors — so a good bit of current storylines may well be put on hold.
BECAUSE YOU LOVE THE NUMBERS
Here are the numbers. For the superhero line, DC is soliciting 42 regular ongoing series in July, plus the penultimate issue of Superman Unchained and an extra issue of Justice League. (It’s also putting out five annuals, five issues each of Batman Eternal and Futures End, a Harley Quinn special and the Robin Rising special, for a grand total of 61 single issues.) For September, there are 40 special Futures End tie-in issues, with 3-D covers like those on last year’s “Villains Month” comics. Basically, all the regular ongoing series except All Star Western, Justice League 3000 and Secret Origins get a Futures End issue in September. That doesn’t necessarily mean those three series are canceled, as none of them is part of Futures End’s “five years later” premise. September also includes a Booster Gold: Futures End issue, which one might reasonably think is a good indication of a new series for Booster — but I guess we’ll have to wait and see to be sure. Thus, July’s 42 ongoings, minus the three non-participating series, plus the Booster Gold issue, equal September’s 40 issues.
CBC News has debuted new details about the young Cree superheroine to be introduced next month in DC Comics’ Justice League United #0, by Jeff Lemire and Mike McKone.
Code-named Equinox, Miiyahbin is a 16-year-old from Moose Factory, Ontario, whose power comes from the Earth and changes with the seasons. As revealed in October, the character is inspired in part by Shannen Koostachin, a teenage activist who lobbied the federal government for a new school in Attawapiskat First Nation, on the James Bay Coast. Koostachin died in a car accident in 2010 at the age of 15.
“Creating a teenage female superhero was interesting to me because, generally, most superheroes are white males,” Lemire told CBC News. “We need diversity and we need different personalities. You need very distinct voices for personalities on the team or else you just start writing the same character in a different costume.”
To conduct research for Equinox, the Toronto-based creator of the Essex County trilogy traveled north to Moosonee and Moose Factory on James Bay, where he received feedback from local residents.
The final issue of Forever Evil was originally scheduled to come out this week, but now seems to have been delayed until May 21. That’s too bad, at least for those of us who’ve been following the thing since September (because those delays evaporate in collections). However, it gives me some time to digest what’s been presented so far. It also offers a chance to look back at a 2002 graphic novel that features a couple of the same peripheral elements.
DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Consumer Products have reteamed with General Mills to include four collectible editions of Justice League in specially marked boxes of Big G cereals, sold in grocery stores nationwide. A fifth issue is available in select boxes of Cheerios available exclusively at Target.
The companies first partnered for the initiative in late 2011, shortly after the publisher relaunched its superhero line with the New 52. For that cereal promotion, 12 million comics were printed. Once again, the stories begin in print and continue online at BigCerealHeroes.com, where you can get a sampling of the titles.
Readers of superhero comics have long debated the merits of “decompression” and “waiting for the trade.” You can either read a serialized story as it comes out, or you can wait until it’s collected. With two issues to go, it looks like Forever Evil wants it both ways. It is structured for the Wednesday crowd but written for the trade; and so far, the result is a grim, vignette-driven affair. Writer Geoff Johns and artists David Finch and Ivan Reis (and their various collaborators) have set up an apocalyptic scenario and teased a handful of elements pointing toward its resolution; but they haven’t otherwise done much, issue to issue, to move the story closer to that resolution. Indeed, the deeper I get into Forever Evil, the more I suspect that it — like its prologue, “Trinity War” — may be only the latest chapter in an ever-expanding saga.
By itself that would be unsatisfying enough. However, Forever Evil was supposed to show off DC’s shared universe (New 52 edition). To be fair, its Justice League crossover issues have presented New 52 versions of Plastic Man, the Doom Patrol and the Metal Men, and alluded to past battles with old-school villains like Ultivac and the Construct. Still, except for the Metal Men, none seems directly related to FE’s eventual outcome; and each seems intended instead as an Easter egg or the seed of a future series. Indeed, while the “Blight” crossover has shown what happened to the magic-based superheroes, FE itself hasn’t delved too far into the whereabouts of DC-Earth’s non-Leaguer super-folk. For those of us wanting each issue to go somewhere new, or at least somewhere different, month in and month out Forever Evil has felt fairly repetitive. Moreover, in sidelining the Justice League itself, it’s removed a potentially productive narrative thread.
Inasmuch as these choices relate to the changing comics marketplace, Forever Evil could be one of the last big events structured this way, or it could be the shape of things to come.