Thanks to Tom Spurgeon, I read a fascinating article about “using Graph Theory to create a digital model of the whole of Marvel continuity,” from comics to TV and the current crop of movies. It maps out connections among characters — unsurprisingly, the three big groups relate to the X-Men, the Avengers, and Spider-Man — but it also discusses exceptions to characters’ defining traits. For example, Hawkeye is Clint Barton (or not), who is an archer (most of the time) and an Avenger (except when he’s a Thunderbolt). Marvel appears to be using this model to answer basic questions like “who is that?” and “how does s/he relate to this over here?” — with an ultimate goal of getting fans of its movies and TV shows to try the comics.
As you might imagine, this sort of analysis would have been ideal for the pre-New-52 status quo, whose five generations of characters (going from the original Justice Society to Damian Wayne) included many with multiple code names. Chief among these were the original Teen Titans who, following the examples of Dick Grayson and Wally West, graduated from sidekicks to “grownup” superheroes. Initially, logistical concerns facilitated these changeovers (we need a new Robin; we need a new Flash) — but in terms of the intersection of continuity and character development, none of the Titans had quite as much on her résumé as Donna Troy.
Summer is officially over, so this is a little late, but I’ve been meaning to talk about a certain arc from the summer of 1993. It was the height of the speculator bubble, when everything came with cover enhancements, trading cards, unfortunate hairstyles and/or superfluous pouches.
For many DC Comics readers, 20 years ago was also the summer of “Reign of the Supermen!” That’s not necessarily enthusiasm — the exclamation point was part of the title, which in turn was inspired by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s early proto-supervillain story, “The Reign of the Superman.” The third (and by far the longest) chapter of the “Death of Superman” saga began with teasers at the back of Adventures of Superman #500, published around April 15,* and ended with Superman Vol. 2 #82, published around Aug. 26.** Those four and a half months may not seem like much, but they saw 20 issues of the four regular Superman books (including Action Comics and Superman: The Man of Steel) spread over 20 weeks. In fact, “Reign” was front-loaded, with all four titles marking the official start of the arc on April 29 or so, two weeks after Adventures #500. That meant there were some weeks without a new installment, and those were sometimes hard to take.
“Reign of the Supermen!” is not the greatest Superman story ever memorialized in print. On one level it is very much a product of its era. However, for the Superman books, that era was energized not just by the efforts of their creative teams, but by the overarching framework the books had developed. While “Reign” wasn’t the only big DC event of the summer — for one thing, the debut of DC’s imprint Milestone Media has much more historical significance — it’s a reminder of the ebbs and flows of serial superhero storytelling, and it remains instructive today.
Warning: This is a very long post, because I think there’s a lot of background to be explored.
DC Comics kicked off its Villains Month last week, as the evil opposites of the Justice League invaded the DC Universe, seemingly disposing of all the heroes and taking over the world.
Likewise, the villains have been taking over DC’s New 52 line of comic books, with the MIA heroes finding the covers of their books occupied by bad guys. Those are, of course, the collectible and somewhat-controversial (among retailers) 3D lenticular covers.
But as the case with books, we shouldn’t judge a comic by its cover, so let’s continue reviewing our way through the contents of the Villains Month issues. As with last week’s batch, I’m rating each book on a 10-point scale of how evil it is, with “Not Very Good” being the worst and “Absolute Evil” the best, and noting its connectivity to the Forever Evil crossover event that sparked the promotion in the first place.
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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First I’d like to thank DC Comics for plastering its latest spoiler unavoidably across the Internet bright and early Monday morning. It did confirm something I’d suspected since before Christmas, but being surprised still has a certain appeal, you know?
(That assumes this isn’t reversed in an issue or two. Kyle Rayner was killed one issue and revived the next during a Blackest Night crossover, and something similar is eminently possible, albeit unlikely, in this case.)
Anyway, Caleb has done a great job covering the event’s immediate impact, and Corey and Michael have also talked about significant aspects of you-know-what, so for my part I’ll be taking a closer look at the “position” itself. Some people study the presidency, some the papacy, and some of us have spent most of our lives reading about … well, you know.
SPOILERS FOLLOW, I suppose.
Every week, hard as it may be to believe, I try honestly to offer something I think might interest the larger group of DC Domics superhero readers. However, this week I am invoking a personal privilege. For one thing, with Halloween on a Wednesday (when I usually end up writing these essays), the holiday will more than likely take priority.
The main reason, though, is that today is my birthday, and as you might have guessed from the headline, this year is my 43rd birthday. Therefore, this week I have pulled together an especially memorable DC story and/or issue from each of those years, 1969 through 2012. (Note: They may not always line up with the actual year, but just for simplicity’s sake, all dates are cover dates.) These aren’t necessarily the best or most noteworthy stories of their particular years, but they’ve stuck with me. Besides, while I’ve read a lot of comics from a lot of sources, for whatever reason DC has been the constant. Maybe when I’m 50 I’ll have something more comprehensive.
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Different interpretations aren’t a problem for Batman, who’s taken on everything from Adam West and Bat-Mite to Frank Miller and Kelley Jones. Same goes for Wonder Woman (the original Marston/Peter crusader, Gail Simone’s steely warrior, and the current Brian Azzarello/Cliff Chiang monster-killer) and Aquaman (Ramona Fradon, Jim Aparo, Peter David). Likewise, each new Robin, Flash and Green Lantern puts a different spin on the core concept.
And yet, among all the elasticity of DC’s superhero line, Superman stands out as somewhat inflexible. More and more I am becoming convinced that there can be only one valid interpretation of Superman. That interpretation might work for a variety of storytelling styles, but the character at its core must fundamentally be the same.
For starters, let’s run down the list of everything the main-line Superman — the character, not necessarily the stories in which he appears — is not. Superman is not arrogant, manipulative, cruel, boastful … well, you get the idea. I’m not rewording 1 Corinthians 13 here, but that’s not a bad place to start when thinking about Superman’s motivations. “Love never fails,” begins the New International Version translation of verse 8, and that’s pretty much the idealist at the heart of Superman, isn’t it? Superman never fails, not because of invulnerability or super-strength or heat vision, but because his indomitable faith in the goodness of humanity keeps him going.
A couple of weeks ago, I wondered whether we could trace the entire sidekick-derived wing of DC’s superhero-comics history back to Bill Finger. Today I’m less interested in revisiting that question — although I will say Robin the Boy Wonder also owes a good bit to Jerry Robinson and Bob Kane — than using it as an example.
Specifically, this week’s question has nagged me for several years (going back to my TrekBBS days, even), and it is this: as between Alan Moore and the duo of Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, who has been a bigger influence on DC’s superhero books?
As the post title suggests, we might reframe this as “who won the ‘80s,” since all three men came to prominence at DC in that decade. Wolfman and Pérez’s New Teen Titans kicked off with a 16-page story in DC Comics Presents #26 (cover-dated October 1980), with the series’ first issue following the next month. Moore’s run on (Saga of the) Swamp Thing started with January 1984′s issue #20, although the real meat of his work started with the seminal issue #21. Wolfman and Pérez’s Titans collaboration lasted a little over four years, through February 1985′s Tales of the Teen Titans #50 and New Teen Titans vol. 2 #5. Moore wrote Swamp Thing through September 1987′s #64, and along the way found time in 1986-87 for a little-remembered twelve-issue series called Watchmen. After their final Titans issues, Wolfman and Pérez also produced a 12-issue niche-appeal series of their own, 1984-85′s Crisis On Infinite Earths.* The trio even had some common denominators: Len Wein edited both Titans and Watchmen (and Barbara Randall eventually succeeded him on both), and Gar Logan’s adopted dad Steve Dayton was friends with John Constantine.
Don’t ask me how I remember this, but it was just about twenty years ago that the first previews of Dan Jurgens’ Justice League began appearing. After five years, the “bwah-ha-ha” era was winding down, and Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis were leaving Justice League America. Giffen was also stepping away from plots and breakdowns for Justice League Europe, with JLE’s scripter Gerard Jones taking over as the book’s only writer; and Brian Augustyn replaced Andy Helfer as both books’ editor.
With a number of the New 52 titles changing creative teams before they’re even a year old, it’s too early to start talking about any long-lived, let alone definitive, runs on a particular book. Still, DC clearly hopes these books will be around for a while, even without the folks who launched ‘em. It got me thinking about past changes of the guard, and how they have followed some well-established interpretations.
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Veteran writer Marv Wolfman will return to Wintersgate Manor in March when he teams with artist Tom Mandrake on a seven-issue Night Force miniseries for DC Comics.
Created by Wolfman and the late Gene Colan, Night Force debuted in 1982 as a loose-knit group assembled by the sorcerer Baron Winters to battle supernatural threats. Members included the psychic Vanessa Van Helsing, granddaughter of Dracula’s nemesis, her reporter husband Jack Gold, parapsychology professor Donovan Caine, and ancient warrior Zadok Grimm. Night Force ran for 14 issues from 1982 to 1983, and was briefly resurrected in 1996.
“Because of the ability to write truly intense horror stories that allowed me to go anywhere I wanted, Night Force has always been my favorite creation,” Wolfman told DC’s Source blog. “This new Night Force story takes place over hundreds of years, but happens in the space of minutes. It is about a frightened young woman, the product of many generations of secret manipulations, a cop who is about to retire from the force and a cold case investigated by his dead FBI father many years before, a mysterious cult that is affecting the future but began on the night George Washington died, and a secret that will change the course of mankind forever.”
Night Force #1 debuts March 1.
The New Teen Titans: Games is the latest in an ever-expanding series of projects I never thought I’d see — a list which includes 2001′s The Dark Knight Strikes Again, 2005′s Englehart/Rogers/Austin Dark Detective, the various Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League International reunions, and of course George Pérez finally getting his bravura turn on JLA/Avengers.
In the waning years of the 1980s (so the stories go), New Teen Titans co-creator Marv Wolfman had an idea for a Titans graphic novel. Wolfman, Pérez, and editor Barbara Kesel conceived Games — basically a supervillain-caper story with an espionage/terrorism angle — as a one-shot spinoff of the wildly successful ongoing series. Pérez then drew some 70 pages before complications sent the project into the limbo of unfinished possibilities. However, as the years went by and the stars realigned, and that possibility of finishing Games turned into probability, Wolfman and Pérez were forced to rethink their approach to the material, both in terms of changed styles and changes in content.
Accordingly, the Games we have today isn’t quite an artifact or a re-creation. Although it is rooted significantly in Titans lore, it doesn’t seem inaccessible to new readers. It’s a continuation which, for various reasons, can’t be “official,” and it’s also a standalone story which offers another look at the pair’s signature work. It may well be their last word on these characters, but it’s hardly an ending. It’s what they would have done twenty-odd years ago, except that it works best when taken slightly out of that context. Take it from someone who grew up in the land of strong bourbon — Games may be one of the most potent distillations of the Wolfman/Pérez experience.
Naturally, all that requires some explanation, so here we go….
In a well-timed interview with The Village Voice, veteran editor and writer Marv Wolfman, chief architect of the landmark Crisis on Infinite Earths, offers an interesting perspective on DC Comics’ relaunch, addressing continuity, “event fatigue” and how the 1985 reboot didn’t accomplish all that he’d initially hoped.
Wolfman reveals that, similar to DC’s New 52, his original plan post-Crisis was for all the publisher’s titles to start fresh, with a new No. 1 issue.
“When I first pitched Crisis my belief was, at the end, that a new DC universe would be formed,” he tells the weekly, “all the books would begin with number 1 starting with a new origin in each, and Crisis would never be mentioned again because, as I set it up, the Earth would be reformed at its origin and so what had been had never happened as a new Earth was created. The Crisis itself therefore “never happened” though its effects would last. But ultimately the Powers That Be decided they didn’t have enough people to pull that off and so the Crisis was constantly referred to which I always felt was a mistake.”
He also touches upon the need for comics to change — “they need to evolve, and they need to keep fresh in order to stay relevant” — his dislike for “overarching continuity” — “The line I’ve been using since before Crisis is, ‘Continuity holds the best writer hostage of the worst’” — and the post-Crisis rise of event comics.
“In a way, Crisis spawned an entire industry of mega-events when it should have only given birth to those kinds of events where something vitally important had to be achieved,” Wolfman says. “Sadly, it didn’t turn out that way so these days you often here the term ‘event fatigue’ being bandied about.”
Hello and welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading? Today’s special guest is Shannon Wheeler, New Yorker cartoonist and creator of the Eisner Award-winning comic book Too Much Coffee Man, Oil & Water, the Eisner-nominated I Thought You Would Be Funnier and the upcoming Grandpa Won’t Wake Up.
To see what Shannon and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below …
In recent years, we’ve seen a boatload of comic books and graphic novels make their way to the silver screen, from Big Two stalwarts like Spider-Man and Batman to independent titles like Scott Pilgrim and 30 Days Of Night. Among the various adaptations, though, is an overlooked veteran who has fueled some of comics biggest successes on the big and small screen: Marv Wolfman.
With this year marking his 43rd year in the comic industry, Marv Wolfman has done it all: he’s been editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, wrote one of the defining event series of all time in Crisis On Infinite Earths and created memorable characters such as Blade, Black Cat, Nova, Deathstroke and the New Teen Titans. He pioneered the idea of inventory stories at the major publishing houses, and as a creator he was the catalyst for companies to start crediting creators by name in comics. He’s been one of the key figures in comics adaptations in video games and animation, scripting episodes of Teen Titans, Batman: The Animated Series, Transformers, Spider-Man, Cadillacs & Dinosaurs and even some non-comics hits like Jem and The Garbage Pail Kids.
Marvel’s first major Hollywood success came thanks to the Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan creation of Blade, and his work on The New Teen Titans was one of the pillars of successful Teen Titans cartoon. But with all that work out there, comics still has a lot of Wolfman gems to offer movie producers. Here’s a highlight of some natural born hits coming from the mind of Wolfman and his collaborators.
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….