O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
For most of us, it’s getting to be the middle of April. Everything is blooming and getting greener. Our thoughts turn to familiar rites of spring like baseball, taxes, and that new Green Lantern preview.
On Earth-Solicits, of course, it’s July. The greenery is withering in the heat, the tax refund is spent, and half the Reds are sick thanks to being downwind from the Proctor & Gamble plant. Nevertheless, the residents of Earth-Solicits are just bursting at the seams, excited to tell you all that’s been happening in their world …
… but they can’t tell you everything, because then you’d have no reason to visit.
This sort of fan dance is especially pronounced in the current crop of solicitations. When something like a third of DC’s superhero line is taken up with titles like War of the Green Lanterns: Aftermath, Brightest Day Aftermath, and especially the cottage industry which is Flashpoint — titles which jump off from endings readers have yet to see, and/or which go deeper into books yet to begin — it’s hard to get excited, because right now it’s all hype for hype’s sake.
Thankfully, that’s not all there is to the July solicitations, so let’s cruise on….
There’s a weird little sequence in the middle of DC Universe: Legacies #3 when the narration’s timeline goes all hazy and oblique, in order to move the story from sometime in the Eisenhower/Kennedy years right into the “X years ago” of modern continuity. Because Legacies tracks some sixty-five years of costumed crimefighting, this sequence bridges the gap between the Justice Society’s retirement and Superman’s debut.
“Hazy and oblique” are also good words for describing DC’s approach to long-term continuity. The history of the DC Universe is well-settled up to the early 1950s, but past then it becomes elastic. This is something we’ve come to expect: fudging the calendar keeps our heroes both as experienced and as youthful as they need to be. However, each passing year also widens the gap between the end of the Golden Age (early ‘50s) and the beginning of the Silver (thought to be 12-15 years ago). Through reader-identification character Paul Lincoln,* DCUL’s writer (and longtime DC favorite) Len Wein aims to put a human face on all those four-color adventures.
That sounds like the premise of 1994’s Marvels and its spiritual descendant Astro City. Really, though, any halfway-entertaining super-survey needs a narrator with a recognizable point of view. Even 1986’s History of the DC Universe, which was basically a series of George Pérez pinups arranged in chronological order, took its florid prose ostensibly from Harbinger’s meditations on the nature of heroism.
Following DC Comics’ announcement at WonderCon of its Retro-Active one-shots bringing together writers and artists from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, the publisher has unveiled the decade-specific logos for the three series.
Debuting in July, each issue of Retro-Active will feature 26 pages of new content plus 20 pages classic stories reprinted from that era, spotlighting such characters as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash and the Justice League of America.
Although DC has yet to announce all of the artists involved, the writers include Dennis O’Neil, Cary Bates, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, William Messner-Loebs, Mike W. Barr, Louise Simonson (with Jon Bogdanove on ’90s Superman), and Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis (with Kevin Maguire on ’90s Justice League).
“The way [DC Comics] put it was, look at your run back when you were doing Justice League International, find a moment there and tell an untold story,” Giffen told Comic Book Resources. “It’s one last blow-out. It’s one last hoorah for the characters.”
Check out the other two Retro-Active logos below.
Last week’s big reorganization project is finished (for now) — but by reintroducing me to Peter David and Esteban Maroto’s The Atlantis Chronicles, it has already paid off.
The Atlantis Chronicles was a seven-issue 1990 miniseries designed to give Aquaman a more “classically mythic” backstory. Like the Old Testament or your average Shakespearean tragedy, it is full of intrigue, violence, sinister motives, and secret affairs. Along the way it traces the history of twin cities Poseidonis and Tritonis from their sinking to Aquaman’s birth, explaining such things as marine mental telepathy, why the Tritonistas are mer-people, and when the Idyllists broke off into their own community. It was all in service to a PAD-written Aquaman regular series which ended up being delayed for a few years; and which, when it finally did appear, produced the cranky, hook-handed Aquaman of the ‘90s. Re-reading The Atlantis Chronicles reminded me that some noteworthy plot elements — including an involuntary amputation — foreshadowed similar events in the later series. Some characters from TAC also reappeared in David’s Aquaman, further connecting the two.
I enjoyed The Atlantis Chronicles on its own merits, but I couldn’t help but think how it would have been treated better in today’s marketplace. That, in turn, got me thinking about the roles various “historical” DC miniseries played (and might still play) in the building of their legends.
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I read with great interest Brian Cronin’s list of 75 Most Memorable Moments In DC Comics History, in part because I wondered how close I could come with my own list without totally ripping his off. (Said with a smile and a great deal of respect, of course.)
First I thought about listing 75 key DC moments, drawn probably from both real and fictional history; but that list would be rather predictable as well — Action Comics #1 juxtaposed with Siegel and Shuster’s legal battles, etc. (Tom Spurgeon et al.’s list of “emblematic” ‘70s comics is close in spirit if not subject matter to the list I’d want to assemble.) The other type of “75 moments” list I considered would be a highlight-filled timeline including events exclusively from DC’s fictional history — things like “first meeting of the Justice Society,” “debut of Superman,” and “Darkseid enslaves Earth.” I didn’t quite like that because it too would be predictable, filled with first appearances and Big Events.
Ironically, though, DC has always seemed rather short on shared-universe-style events which define it as a superhero publisher. Marvel has the coming of Galactus, the Kree-Skrull War, the Secret Empire, and the deaths of Gwen Stacy and Phoenix. DC has comparable milestones, but they don’t come as readily to mind. Off the top of my head I might list “Flash of Two Worlds,” the Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories, and “The Judas Contract,” before getting into various Crises, disasters, and alien invasions. I think you have to dig a bit deeper into the DC titles to pull out things like a second Moon wreaking havoc (JLA #155, June 1978) or Trigon taking over the world (New Teen Titans vol. 2 #s 1-5, August 1984-February 1985). Therefore, while projects like the original History of the DC Universe and the current DC Universe: Legacies have their hearts in the right place, they must deal with DC’s scattershot approach to world-building.
Into DC and Marvel’s ongoing game of compare-and-contrast comes the just-announced Legacies miniseries, ten issues starting in May 2010 which will guide the reader from the Depression to the mid-21st Century. It’s the history of the DC Universe — not to be confused with another upcoming DC project — as seen through the eyes of a normal family.
In other words, it’s DC’s version of Marvels.
This is not necessarily a bad thing.
DC’s week of non-stop announcements keeps on keepin’ on: At CBR, Dan DiDio has announced Legacies, a seven-issue miniseries spotlighting the “five generations” of DC Universe superheroes. Written by Len Wein and featuring art from a rotating crew, the series kicks off in May 2010 with a Golden Age issue penciled by Andy Kubert and inked by his father, Joe Kubert.
The thing that struck me about the project, aside from how integral “legacy heroes” are seen as being to the current DCU, is the “five generations” characterization. Sayeth DiDio:
Legacies is a series that breaks down, over its chapters, the five generations of the DCU. They’re very concise generations, each with a beginning and end, and what you see is the various incarnations of our characters evolve, change and grow as the generations pass on.
Now, as I’d understood it — and I admit I’m not a hardcore DC buff, but I think my nerd credentials speak for themselves — there were four generations of DC superheroes. In terms of present continuity, you have the guys who fought during World War II, then the generation headed by Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the rest of the “Big Seven,” then the first wave of sidekicks and heirs, then the second wave of sidekicks and heirs. In current team terms, that’s roughly the Justice Society, the Justice League, the Titans, and the Teen Titans; in Flash terms, just to pick the easiest chain of legacy heroes to follow, it’s Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, Wally West and Bart Allen.
But DiDio and Wein are firmly establishing an even-earlier generation of do-gooders, more properly dubbed “mystery men” than “superheroes” — guys like the Golden Age Sandman or the star of Legacies #1, the Crimson Avenger. In other words, suits rather than Spandex. I can see how that would work: It tips a hat to the pulps in a fashion similar to DC’s First Wave — and it leaves me wondering if the series will establish antecedents to the established patriarchs of multi-generational hero family trees like the various Flashes or Green Lanterns. Do any of you DC experts out there have any thoughts?
As previously reported, Mark Evanier is helping Len Wein rebuild his collection of his own work after losing it in a house fire a few weeks ago. Evanier has set up a page on his website that details how you can help by donating your comics to Wein, and provides an update this morning based on the emails he’s already receiving.
The site includes a list of books they’re looking for, as well as contact information if you want to donate. So go look at the list and look through your collection to see if you happen to have any duplicates of Wein’s work, or start checking your retailer’s bargain bins for any of them; he’s pretty much worked on everything, so it’s likely you’ll find something either way.
As reported last week, Len Wein and and his wife Christine Valada’s home caught fire last week, killing their dog Sheba and destroying much of the house, including Wein’s collection of original art and his own work.
Comics writer Mark Evanier is putting together plans to help Wein replace a lot of those comics:
To all those who’ve asked: We’re preparing our little campaign to help our pal Len Wein, who lost much of what he owns in a fire one week ago. In a day or three, I’ll be opening a web page to try and collect copies of Len’s work for him…extra copies you may have of comics he wrote. A lot of you have already written with generous offers and they’re appreciated. The page will tell you how to follow through on those offers.
According to a report in the Contra Costa Times, the fire that devastated Len Wein and Christine Valada’s home yesterday was caused by “combustible items left next to an electric wall heater.”
Writer Harlan Ellison shared more details on his website, saying “… a power surge apparently went through the electrical system of the house, shorting out a wall heater that had been in place in the bathroom since the house was built…an appurtenance no one even paid any attention to: it was invisible, like a countertop. But it sparked, caught fire, and the fire caught on towels, curtains, bathroom mat, magazines on the hamper, clothes, and raced up the walls and across the ceiling, into the hall, and into the bedroom where Len lay asleep. Michael, Chris’s son, was dead asleep in the loft of the small bedroom.”
Writer Harlan Ellison posted on his website that more than half of Justice League writer Len Wein’s home burned down today:
EXTREMELY BAD NEWS
Len Wein called this morning. More than half of his house burned down earlier today. Len and Chris Valada and Chris’s son, Michael, got out okay, but their beloved dog, Sheba, ran back inside and is gone. In addition to both bedrooms, the bathroom, and much of the office, what was burned first was the original art for the first Wolverine story, the cover of GIANT X-MEN #1 and other art pieces worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Susan and I will be over there as soon as I pick up my car today, and as soon as I’ve met the dental appointment we have scheduled. This is a major catastrophe for one of my oldest and closest friends. Like your Host, Len is a lifetime freelancer and, even though he remains a star of the comics world, even though he created Wolverine and Storm–among other characters–he goes from day to day earning a freelancer’s living, as do I…and these are frightening economic times for those of us out there, to paraphrase Arthur Miller, “on a few words and a shoeshine.”
Our best wishes go out to Wein and his family. We’ll share any details on how folks can help if/when they become available.
Len Wein is becoming something of a go-to writer for DC Comics’ superhero flashbacks. After retelling the origin of Libra (a character he created for May/June 1974’s Justice League of America vol. 1 #111) in the recent Final Crisis Secret Files, last week’s comics featured two similarly-styled issues written by the comics veteran. Justice League of America vol. 2 #29, drawn by ChrisCross, was a condensed version of three 1972 issues which introduced Starbreaker, the cosmic vampire*; and it prefaces next month’s new Starbreaker story. Meanwhile, Superman/Batman Annual #3, penciled by Chris Batista and inked by Mick Gray and Jack Jadson, continued the S/B Annuals’ pattern of backwards-looking tales by revising the origin of the Composite Superman.