UnSHIELDED: "Agents of SHIELD" Evolves With the Marvel Cinematic Universe
(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.
Last week I wrote about Earth 2 in the context of its Supermen. The most recent issue, Earth 2 #26, brought some closure to the Apokolips-invasion plot and subplots, and this week’s Worlds’ Finest #26 does much the same for its displaced heroines. The September issues of both series will jump forward five years to tie into Futures End, and October brings the Earth 2: World’s End weekly miniseries.
Therefore, as these were the last couple of issues before everything will no doubt start to change, I want to talk this week about Earth-2’s unique place in the New 52’s multiverse, and what it might say about DC’s approach to legacy characters.
Although the five-years-later setup of Futures End won’t be here until May, it got me thinking about a not-so-new New 52. The current comics take place some five years after Superman and company debuted — plus, apparently, a year for the face-free Joker to recuperate — so if you add five more years, it’s like double the amount of history! Well, double the amount of history that “matters,” I guess.
As I have been pretty critical of the present timeline, I’ll be curious to see how Futures End treats those additional five years. I suspect that, for the most part, they’ll be five years of “filler,” in the sense that mostly bad, Futures End-specific things happened during that time to bring DC-Earth to whatever sorry state we see in FE #1. I’ve heard that when all the New 52 books jump ahead five years (in September, naturally), they’ll reflect where their creative teams would like to take the characters in five years — but those will only be single issues, as opposed to the year-long weekly installments of Futures End. Besides, my bitter, resentful impulses remind me that it might well have been simpler just to start off with a 10-year timeline that would only have tweaked the old pre-relaunch status quo, not thrown out huge chunks of it.
Like a lot of kids who grew up reading Savage Sword of Conan, I knew I liked the art, but wasn’t aware of how much true greatness Marvel’s black-and-white magazine packed into its pages. It wasn’t until later that I started paying attention to artists’ names and learned about people like Neal Adams, John Buscema and Walt Simonson. And it wasn’t until this week that I learned Alex Toth was one of the Savage Sword artists as well. The legendary cartoonist and animation designer drew ten pin-ups for the magazine, nine of which have turned up on the Michael Sporn Animation blog. See some highlights after the break (including a Justice Society piece too nice not to share) and the whole awesome gallery in the link.
My parents were born in 1942, four years too early to be baby boomers. It also means they were just the wrong age to be exposed heavily to either the Golden or the Silver age of superhero comics. By the time they would have started to read, the Golden Age was half over; and when the Silver Age started in 1956, they were too old to be interested. I confirmed this with my dad, who has vague recollections of the original superheroes, but whose comic collection included more Archies and Little Lulus. (Had I known how much 21st-century hipster cred this would have given me, I’d have pressed him harder about those ….)
Still, these days they can’t get away from the Spandex set. When Conan O’Brien asserted (rightfully) that the Hulk had been in the Fantastic Four, Dad emailed me for confirmation. This itself was a big step up for Dad, who at one point several years ago thought Batman was in the FF. (In fact, I don’t think my folks have seen either of the Christopher Nolan movies, although they did watch a revival of the 1940s serial at the local art-house theater. Dad especially didn’t have any interest in the Schumacher movies, because the characters just “looked like toys.”) Last year, after the Green Lantern movie had been playing for a while, Dad thought he remembered seeing it — but actually, he and Mom had enjoyed Seth Rogen’s Green Hornet. Their nerd knowledge (what there is of it) is more likely to include Star Trek and Sherlock Holmes, although lately they’re into Downton Abbey.
Regardless, when I think about the impact of outing Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, I tend to gauge it in terms of my dad. He may not be the best representative of the generation that grew up with the Justice Society, but among people I know he was in the best position to become a fan, and for whatever reason it just didn’t stick. Therefore, when I mentioned the revelation of Alan’s sexuality to Dad over the weekend, it really didn’t register one way or another.
For fans of DC’s various Multiverses, this has turned into a big week. Action Comics vol. 2 #9 offers Earth-23, while the new Earth 2 and Worlds’ Finest series center around the latest take on Earth-2.
First, though, a nitpicky note. As usual with DC’s cosmologies, things can get confusing quickly, so here are some helpful definitions. The Infinite Multiverse refers to DC’s classic Multiverse, which saw its last big hurrah in Crisis On Infinite Earths. Worlds of the Infinite Multiverse have their number-tags spelled out, as with Earth-One and Earth-Two. (The Infinite Multiverse also had some letter-tagged worlds.) The 52 Earths refers to the Multiverse revealed in 2006’s 52 #52. Its worlds are tagged only with numerals, as with Earth-2 and Earth-51. There is the Earth One series of graphic novels, with which we are not concerned. Finally, there is the Current Multiverse, which may in fact still be the 52 Earths, and which apparently follows the same naming conventions. I will try hard to avoid getting into a discussion which dwells on these distinctions.
Now then …
These three issues each take different perspectives on the parallel-world concept. Earth 2 #1 lays out the rough recent history of the parallel world and introduces us to its major players. Similarly, all of Action #9 takes place on Earth-23, although it’s part of the background of Grant Morrison’s larger Superman work. Earth-2 in Worlds’ Finest #1 is background as well, since it’s part of the main characters’ shared backstory, but not a place with which they currently interact. Accordingly, I liked each of these introductory issues on their own merits, because I thought each did what it needed to within those particular contexts.
SPOILERS FOLLOW for Earth 2 #1, Worlds’ Finest #1, and Action Comics vol. 2 #9.
Although they won’t be solicited for a few more weeks, DC has already been talking up the six new(ish) titles coming in May. G.I. Combat, Dial H, Ravagers, and Worlds’ Finest join the returning Batman Incorporated and the long-rumored Justice So– I mean, Earth 2 — as the replacements for most of the New-52’s lowest-selling books.
As with the original New-52 group, every new title except one is familiar to longtime DC fans; and as with the original New-52, that book spins out of an existing feature. (Then it was Batman Incorporated begetting Batwing; here it’s the Teen Titans/Superboy nexus spawning Ravagers.) However, where the New-52 tried noticeably to make many of its books accessible — or at least uprooted them from established DC lore — most of the new titles seem to require some prerequisite reading.
Three recent bits of DC news are running together in my mind. Cumulatively they may amount to nothing — housekeeping details and/or fallout from the New-52 relaunch — but individually they seem significant, because they may well speak to the proverbial “reset button” which DC claims does not exist. Put simply, I think that reset button exists, I think it affects all of the New-52 books, and I expect it to be revealed within the next year or two. Whether it gets pushed, and/or how much resetting occurs, is another matter.
While it may be overprotective to put a SPOILER WARNING so early in the post, I realize some of you may want to discover these things as they are actually published.
I don’t blame you — I was trying to avoid the Wonder Woman thing, but that’s what I get for reading convention coverage. (And yes, I have seen the recent news about a certain Flash character.)
Anyway, SPOILERS for potential DC milestones big and small….
Although usually not active on the weekend, DC’s The Source blog had two tidbits today coming out of Fan Expo Canada.
The first has to do with the return of the Justice Society. According to DC’s The Source blog:
There’s been plenty of speculation about the Justice Society in The New 52 – and we can now confirm that they will, in fact, be back! As with everything else with DC Comics – The New 52, however, there’s a significant twist. What is it? We’re not saying. Just. Quite. Yet.
“It’s everything you want, but not what you expect,” promises Eddie Berganza, DC Comics Executive Editor.
As Brian Cronin pointed out, word from the convention is that James Robinson and Nicola Scott are working on the series which will be set during an as-yet unspecified time period – on Earth-2.
Speaking of Robinson, the Source also announced Jill Thompson as the artist on Shade #8. The standalone issue — set in Paris in the early 1900s — is something Robinson wrote specifically for Thompson, reminiscent of the standalone stories Robinson would write when he was doing Starman. Shade #8 comes out next May.
One of the many questions surrounding DC Comics’ line-wide renumbering centered on the absence of Justice Society of America, a title that in recent years had undergone its own high-profile reboot and spawned two spinoff series. The Justice Society, with a sprawling membership that includes Golden Age characters (or their namesakes) like The Flash, Hawkman, Green Lantern and Hourman, reached deep into DC, and comic-book, history, forming the very first team of superheroes.
But Justice Society wasn’t among the 52 books rolled out by the publisher last week. Neither, for that matter, was Power Girl, whose title character has been closely associated with the JSA since her debut in 1976. And the solicitation for Mister Terrific #1, featuring a new take on “the world’s third-smartest man” — and two-time chairman of the team — makes no mention of the group. Then came the unveiling on Friday of Action Comics #1 which, as Robot 6’s J.K. Parkin pointed out, refers to “a world that doesn’t trust their first Super Hero.”
If all of that isn’t enough to signal the end, or non-existence, of the world’s first team of superheroes, official word came over the weekend from Co-Publisher Dan DiDio, who wrote on his Facebook page, “As for JSA, we have decided to rest this concept while we devote our attention on the launch of the three new Justice League series. As for other characters and series not part of the initial 52, there are plenty of stories to be told, and we’re just getting started.”
As with any demise in superhero comics, this one is probably only temporary (heck, the JSA itself has been put to “rest,” only to be resurrected, a handful of times over the past 60 years). However, when the publisher is pushing a “modern” and “contemporary” take on its superhero universe, grappling with graying characters so firmly rooted in World War II will undoubtedly prove problematic.