REVIEW: "DC Universe: Rebirth" #1 Makes the Future of DC Comics Look Genuinely Bright
Graphic novels | The 70th volume of Naruto topped the June BookScan graphic novel charts, followed by Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and the 23rd volume of The Walking Dead. The rise up the chart by Bechdel’s celebrated 2006 memoir can probably be chalked up to its musical adaptation, which opened in January on Broadway and earned five Tony Awards. [ICv2]
Conventions | Lisa Halverstat rounds up some facts about Comic-Con International, including the number of attendees at the first Comic-Con (100), the number of scheduled events (2,040) and the amount of money con-goers are expected to spend in San Diego ($80.4 million, or $619 per person). [Voice of San Diego]
Concluding this week, DC Comics’ Convergence put the big in “big event”: There were 89 individual comic books – a nine-issue weekly miniseries and 40 two-part miniseries – created by more than 75 writers and pencilers, plus a comparable legion of inkers, colorists and letterers.
Because of the sheer size, it’s difficult to review the event in its entirety, so I’m not going to bother picking it part here. The main series wasn’t particularly good, while the 40 tie-in series varied from terrible to excellent, with most of them falling somewhere in between.
In case you’ve watched this leviathan of a superhero event passing by without reading much – or any – of it, I thought it would be worthwhile to point out some of those excellent books, the ones that you should read if you decide to pick up any of Convergence, regardless of your interest in, or affection for, particular characters.
“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
This month marks the third anniversary of of the New 52, and, as was the case with each September since the 2011 relaunch of DC Comics’ superhero titles, that means the entire line is being unified under an umbrella theme … or gimmick, depending on how charitable you are.
In 2012, it was “Zero Month,” with each book telling a story set in the hero’s first year of rebooted continuity. Last year, it was “Villains Month,” featuring fancy 3D covers, decimal-point issue numbers and stories starring DC’s antagonists. This year, its a little from column A, and a little from column B: There are more of those fancy covers, but all of the stories are set five years into the future.
As I did last week, I’ve grabbed a handful of new Futures End one-shots, more or less at random, for review. This week DC released 10 Futures End one-shots, of which I have five sitting in a little stack next to me as I type. Last time, I tried ordering the reviews from worst to best, but I had trouble doing so this week, as there wasn’t really a stand-out like Grayson. Rather, these five seemed to cluster around a baseline of mediocrity, with a few being slightly better, others slightly worse.
As with many Jack Kirby creations, we could spend a long time on the Forever People. I’m not a Kirby scholar, although naturally I’ve tried to learn more about what the King wanted his characters to be. In that respect, the end of the original Forever People series was somewhat ironic: Kirby closed out Forever People Vol. 1 #11 (October-November 1972) with the group stranded on the distant planet Adon, far away both from Earth and from the ongoing conflict between New Genesis and Apokolips. Indeed, “stranded on Adon” was still their status when the big Who’s Who encyclopedia came out in 1985-86.
Not surprisingly, since then DC has revived the Peeps (if I may call them that) a handful of times. The latest is this week’s Infinity Man and the Forever People, which switches things up a little by giving top billing to the mysterious being who can trade places with his young allies. When DC announced that Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen were writing and drawing, I was skeptical, but willing to give it a chance.
In fact, it’s not a bad first issue. It introduces most of the cast (except for one headliner), it lays out a good bit of the New 52’s New Genesis setup, and while it occasionally seems a bit “edgy for its own sake,” generally it keeps to the spirit of the original. One character even says “without [Kirby], none of this would be possible.” That’s pretty on the nose, but appreciated.
Regardless, the new Forever People has a lot to live up to.
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Of the three weekly series DC Comics is releasing this year, Futures End is arguably the most “important.” It spans the entire superhero line, bridges the gap between Forever Evil and 2015’s Big Event, and promises to change the New 52 irrevocably.
None of that apparently is deemed sufficient to attract new readers, because Futures End’s preview issue kicks off with 20 pages of your favorite characters either turned into, or slaughtered by, giant killer spider-bots.
To be fair, maybe the folks behind FE wanted to attract those readers already interested in a certain other let’s-prevent-the-robot-holocaust storyline from their crosstown rivals. But it’s not just X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Terminator or even Star Trek: First Contact (where you can hear the Borg Queen gloat “Watch your future’s end”) that Futures End echoes. Just off the top of my head, evil and/or assimilated versions of our heroes appeared in Final Crisis (remember Wonder Woman’s Female Furies?), in the Swamp Thing/Animal Man crossover “Rotworld” — which, by the way, I seem to be alone in liking — and in Flashpoint’s dog-eat-dog timeline. A future ruled by OMACs was also part of the Justice League: Generation Lost miniseries. Back in the day, “changing the bad future” was the plot of 1991’s summer crossover Armageddon 2001 and the unrelated JLA arc “Rock of Ages,” and 1992’s Eclipso: The Darkness Within featured “heroes turned bad.”
Conventions | The standalone Stumptown Comics Fest may be history, but an event has popped up to help fill the void: Linework NW, organized by Zack Soto and Francois Vigneault, a free, one-day show that will take place April 12 in Portland, Oregon. Michael DeForge has been announced as a special guest for the event, which will include such exhibitors as Fantagraphics, Koyama Press, Oni Press and Top Shelf Productions. [The Comics Reporter]
Creators | Scott Snyder is the subject of a glowing profile in The New York Times, which states the writer has “reinvented Batman in the past two years, deepening and humanizing the Dark Knight’s myth — in the making since 1939 — like no one since Frank Miller in the 1980s.” [The New York Times]
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.
Have you ever heard the expression, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well?” Have you heard about DC Comics’ He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, whose first six-issue miniseries was just collected? Have any of the people involved with the creation of those comics heard of that expression? Because from the results, it sure doesn’t seem to be the case.
The comics are poorly made — among the worst I’ve seen produced by an industry-leading publisher — but they’re bad in a very particular way.
They aren’t unreadable; I made it all the way through He-Man and The Masters of the Universe Vol. 1 without giving up. If pressed, I’m sure I could come up with some worse, more poorly made comics from DC in the recent past, but I might have difficulty thinking of worse comics from creators of such a relatively high caliber as some of those involved with this project, or an example of a series so bewilderingly bad.
Seemingly rushed through production like a term paper written the night before it’s due, many of the comics’ problems appear to originate with there being just too many creators working too fast and with little communication to meet a particular deadline. But,the funny thing is that it’s just a He-Man comic that no one in the comics-reading audience seemed particularly excited about, let alone interested in.
So it’s hard to imagine a reason DC decided to steam ahead with its creation to meet an arbitrarily chosen deadline before, say, nailing down a single creative team. Put another way, this is a bad comic book, and I can tell you what makes it a bad comic book, but I can’t hazard a guess as to why the people responsible for it made the decisions they did that resulted in it being so bad.
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?
The Masters of the Universe first crossed over with the DC Universe — well, Superman, at least — in July 1982’s DC Comics Presents #47, which found the Man of Steel teleported to Eternia, where he teams with He-Man to battle Skeletor, and again that same year in a special preview story. Three decades later, it’s happening again with DC Universe vs. Masters of the Universe, which kicks off in August.
However, one superhero appears to be getting a head start.
To entice fans to subscribe to its new He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series, DC Comics has partnered with Mattel to create a limited-edition variant cover created using Masters of the Universe action figures. A 12-issue subscription can be purchased here.
Written by Keith Giffen and penciled by Pop Mhan, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #1 features the return of She-Ra to Eternia as He-Man’s newest enemy. It goes on sale April 17.
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.
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As unlikely as it may seem, the Guardians of the Galaxy are poised to be the next Marvel team to get a tent-pole movie, following The Avengers (me, I was hoping for a Champions movie, as all but Hercules have been previously introduced in movies*).
The publisher has turned to Avengers-rehabilitation expert Brian Michael Bendis to write a new Guardians of the Galaxy series, and after teasing them in the first arc of Avengers Assemble, the comic featuring the cast from the Avengers movie, the writer is all set to launch a new Guardians monthly, penciled by Civil War artist Steve McNiven.
The title kicked off Wednesday with its first issue, Guardians of the Galaxy #0.1 (market research apparently revealed that comics buyers are more attracted to decimal points than either the number 1 or even 0), and it isn’t a bad read at all.
It’s the origin of Peter “Star-Lord” Quill, and while the story is essentially one character telling another his history, Bendis, McNiven & Co. depict it as a regular comic, rather than a long, dull conversation, as Bendis is often in the habit of doing. The last two pages reveal the cast.
And who, exactly, is this cast, and where did they come from? Based on the sales of the previous volume of Guardians of the Galaxy vs. sales of your average Bendis or McNiven comic, I imagine a lot of folks will be reading the new series without knowing much of that. And, as always, I think it’s worth keeping in mind who created these characters and how long ago (none of them are any newer than 1976, if you’re wondering).
So let’s take a look at your new Guardians of the Galaxy, shall we?
To see what Josh and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.