INTERVIEW: "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey" Hunt Rebirth's Oracle
Readers of superhero comics have long debated the merits of “decompression” and “waiting for the trade.” You can either read a serialized story as it comes out, or you can wait until it’s collected. With two issues to go, it looks like Forever Evil wants it both ways. It is structured for the Wednesday crowd but written for the trade; and so far, the result is a grim, vignette-driven affair. Writer Geoff Johns and artists David Finch and Ivan Reis (and their various collaborators) have set up an apocalyptic scenario and teased a handful of elements pointing toward its resolution; but they haven’t otherwise done much, issue to issue, to move the story closer to that resolution. Indeed, the deeper I get into Forever Evil, the more I suspect that it — like its prologue, “Trinity War” — may be only the latest chapter in an ever-expanding saga.
By itself that would be unsatisfying enough. However, Forever Evil was supposed to show off DC’s shared universe (New 52 edition). To be fair, its Justice League crossover issues have presented New 52 versions of Plastic Man, the Doom Patrol and the Metal Men, and alluded to past battles with old-school villains like Ultivac and the Construct. Still, except for the Metal Men, none seems directly related to FE’s eventual outcome; and each seems intended instead as an Easter egg or the seed of a future series. Indeed, while the “Blight” crossover has shown what happened to the magic-based superheroes, FE itself hasn’t delved too far into the whereabouts of DC-Earth’s non-Leaguer super-folk. For those of us wanting each issue to go somewhere new, or at least somewhere different, month in and month out Forever Evil has felt fairly repetitive. Moreover, in sidelining the Justice League itself, it’s removed a potentially productive narrative thread.
Inasmuch as these choices relate to the changing comics marketplace, Forever Evil could be one of the last big events structured this way, or it could be the shape of things to come.
Warning: There will be a good bit of “in my day” talk in this survey of DC’s February solicitations. It’s the unavoidable contradiction of the publisher’s current superhero-comics model: Make everything “new,” but tease enough of the familiar old elements to keep longtime fans interested. While this practice goes back decades in corporately run superhero comics, the New 52 has tried so hard to distinguish itself that the old ways sometimes stand in even starker contrast.
Probably my biggest frustration with Forever Evil is its limited scope. Oh, sure, every electronic device on DC-Earth says “THIS WORLD IS OURS,” and writer Geoff Johns has teased a revamped Blue Beetle and Doom Patrol — but from the three issues published already and the three more solicited, it looks to be nothing more than Luthor’s Legion of Doom (plus Batman and Catwoman) vs. the Crime Syndicate. Ho-hum. We know the three Justice Leagues are imprisoned, the Teen Titans are bouncing through time, the Suicide Squad is depleted, and Nightwing is the Crime Syndicate’s prisoner, but where are the rest of the superheroes? What happened when they presumably rose up to challenge the Syndicators?
Now that Cartoon Network has released a clip from a series of five Metal Men animated shorts debuting Saturday as part of its DC Nation programming block, Evan Dorkin reveals that he and Sarah Dyer collaborated on the project, with the cartoonist also providing character designs. “Although they were simplified quite a bit from what I submitted,” Dorkin notes. You can see the clip, along with some of Dorkin’s designs, below (with more on his blog).
“We had no idea they were going to announce this so we’re playing catch-up,” he writes. “Anyway, I hope DC Nation viewers enjoy them, especially the kids. Nothing against longtime fans and responsometer wonks — there’s two or three Ross Andru/Mike Esposito-designed villains in the mix — but the kids were who we were thinking of while working on the stuff.”
DC Nation airs Saturdays at 10 a.m. ET/PT on Cartoon Network.
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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Since the end of 2011 is right around the corner, it’s as good a time as any to look forward to what DC may bring us in the next year. The fun part is, the (relatively) eclectic New-52 relaunch has made these sorts of predictions a little less accurate. Nevertheless, I think DC remains a fairly conservative publisher overall, at least in terms of the kinds of comics in its superhero-centric main line, so we can make some educated guesses. The fact that all but one of the New 52 featured well-established characters (and the 52nd was Batwing, buoyed by Batman Incorporated) doesn’t exactly hurt either.
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Accordingly, we start with two of DC’s most prolific titles which haven’t yet been reintroduced in the New-52 context: Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics (or, as you might know it, Superman/Batman). Both were on the pre-relaunch roster, but neither appears likely to make a comeback. Pre-relaunch, Adventure had become the second Legion of Super-Heroes title, following a brief run of Geoff Johns/Francis Manapul Superboy stories. The New 52 has since filled both roles, both with Legion Lost and the Legion: Secret Origins miniseries, and with the revamped Superboy. Adventure could come back as an anthology, but the New 52 already has the ongoing DC Universe Presents and the miniseries My Greatest Adventure for spotlights and new-character tryouts. As for Superman/Batman, changes to the Man of Steel’s overall outlook may include this relationship. Put simply, I don’t see the New-52 Superman teaming up with the (same old?) Batman on a regular monthly basis — at least, not right now.
I was pretty excited to hear that the Justice League International team supreme of Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire were reuniting to do a ‘Metal Men’ back-up feature in the upcoming Doom Patrol series by Giffen and artist Matthew Clark … and now seeing a preview of Maguire’s work whets my appetite to see more.
And let’s not forget that they’re also appearing in DC’s Wednesday Comics series, with art by some other legendary creators, José Luis García-López and Kevin Nowlan. It’s going to be a good year for the six (seven?) elemental robots this year.
Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire are back together again. As announced at the DC Universe panel at the New York Comic Con, the three will reunite for a “Metal Men” back-up in Giffen’s new Doom Patrol book. Can I get a “Wohoo?” How about a “Bwahaha?”
(Note: artwork above by JG Jones, who draws a pretty good Metal Men himself).