"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Comic Books, Film
With the end of Geoff Johns’ tenure on Green Lantern and Grant Morrison’s upcoming farewell to Batman, a fan’s thoughts turn naturally to other extended runs. Marv Wolfman wrote almost every issue of New (Teen) Titans from the title’s 1980 preview through its final issue in 1995. Cary Bates wrote The Flash fairly steadily from May 1971’s Issue 206 through October 1985’s first farewell to Barry Allen (Issue 350). Gerry Conway was Justice League of America’s regular writer for over seven years, taking only a few breaks from February 1978’s Issue 151 through October 1986’s Issue 255.
However, in these days of shorter stays, I wanted to examine some of the runs that, despite their abbreviated nature, left lasting impressions. At first this might sound rather simple. After all, there are plenty of influential miniseries-within-series, like “Batman: Year One” or “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?,” where a special creative team comes in to tell a particular story. Instead, sometimes a series’ regular creative team will burn brightly, but just too quickly, leaving behind a longing for what might have been.
A good example of this is found in Detective Comics #469-76, written by Steve Englehart, penciled by Marshall Rogers and inked by Terry Austin (after Walt Simonson penciled and Al Milgrom inked issues 469-70). Reprinted in the out-of-print Batman: Strange Apparitions paperback, and more recently (sans Simonson/Milgrom) in the hardcover Legends of the Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers, these issues introduced Silver St. Cloud, Rupert Thorne, Dr. Phosphorus and the “Laughing Fish,” featured classic interpretations of Hugo Strange, the Penguin and the Joker, and revamped Deadshot into the high-tech assassin he remains today. Tying all these threads together is Bruce Wayne’s romance with Silver, which for my money is the Bat-books’ version of Casablanca. It’s the kind of much-discussed run that seems like it should have been longer. Indeed, I suspect it’s one of the shorter runs in CSBG’s Top 100 list.
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Today I am pondering that Ivan Brandon essay on TheAwl.com, and the things comics can do that movies just can’t.
Last week I mentioned the Lazarus Pit as an example of a comics staple that Batman movies — any Batman movies, arguably — would probably be reluctant to use. While the Pit comes with certain restrictions and side effects, it still boils down basically to an unlimited supply of extra lives. It runs counter to the idea of Batman as being grounded in reality, but in the context of a shared universe where Batman pals around with extraterrestrials (and their agents), a super-powered Amazon, and the King of Atlantis, it’s not that far-fetched. This is the old “Character Y could solve Character X’s problems” hypothesis, and it tends to be met with “Character X and Character Y play by different rules.” A good example of the latter was a “No Man’s Land” story featuring Superman (coincidentally collected in the new NML Vol. 3), where the Man of Steel’s well-intentioned assistance in trying to rebuild an earthquake-devastated Gotham turned out to be exactly wrong under the circumstances.
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading? Our special guest today is Andy Burns, editor-in-chief of the pop culture site Biff Bam Pop!, which is doing a holiday gift guide with giveaways through Dec. 24. You can follow them on Twitter for more information.
To see what Andy and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below …
Silver Surfer (2nd series) #1 (1987), page 13. Marshall Rogers.
Space is the first practical consideration an artist needs to tackle when composing a page of comics. The size of the page itself is important, but it’s been standardized at something around 6.5″ by 10″ (with an original size of 10″ by 15″) for so long that many of America’s greatest cartoonists spent their entire careers composing for nothing but “comic book size”. Within that dominant stricture, use of the area available becomes a pressing question. Approaches to fitting more than usual into the same amount of space as ever are many and varied, to say the least; but more often than not they involve some kind of addition, a new method for cramming a lot into a little. Meticulous detail, bigger amounts of smaller panels — we’ve all seen these approaches succeed, and we’ve also seen what happens when there’s simply more than can please the eye being put on the page.
What’s fascinating about the Marshall Rogers page above is the amount of space being explored with five panels drawn in the workaday, simplified-realist Marvel Comics house style. Rogers, like Carmine Infantino before him, was a student of architecture, and brought the architect’s understanding of practical construction within a limited amount of space to his every page. Panel-to-panel transitions sizzle and page turns strike notes of suspense or release under Rogers’ direction — as much because of the smooth, perfectly choreographed paths he led the eye down to them as the content of the pictures. Finally, Rogers colored his own pages, giving him a leg up on just about every other superhero artist in history as far as getting the work to do what he wanted it to.
One tagline for the big alien-invasion movie Independence Day cautioned, “Don’t make plans for August.” Well, perhaps the biggest news coming out of DC’s August solicitations is the pervasive sense of foreboding they have about September. Rich Johnston maintains that a whole crop of new No. 1 issues is on tap for the fall, but there are no “FINAL ISSUE!” blurbs to be found on any of the current ongoing series.
While that doesn’t rule out a line-wide relaunch, the solicits also seem to say that readers won’t have to worry about a line-wide reboot. As noted in this space a couple of weeks back, the degree of change will probably be different for different titles. Nevertheless, now that we have a better idea of how August will look, let’s see what it says about September….
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned The Comics Reporter’s excellent list of “emblematic” ‘70s comics, and how I’d like to put together something similar. Thus, with help from the timeline at comics.org, I started putting together a short list of significant creators, books and characters that I thought defined ‘70s DC.
However, the more I thought about my list, the more it struck me as indicative of a company at odds with itself. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, DC boasted several successful long-term marriages of professional and property, including Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’s New Teen Titans and Pérez’s Wonder Woman, Steve Englehart and Joe Staton’s Green Lantern, John Byrne’s Superman, Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, Doom Patrol and JLA, and Mark Waid’s Flash. In the ‘70s, though, this wasn’t necessarily the case. Writers like Gerry Conway and Cary Bates became synonymous with Justice League and Flash, so much so that by the mid-‘80s (and the Detroit League and “Trial of the Flash”) they had arguably stayed too long.