new teen titans
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.
Thirty-six questions. Six answers. One random number generator. Welcome to Robot Roulette, where creators roll the virtual dice and answer our questions about their lives, careers, interests and more.
Joining us today is Gabriel Hardman, who is co-writing and drawing Star Wars: Legacy and co-writing Planet of the Apes: Cataclysm. He’s also the creator of Kinski, a new digital miniseries from Monkeybrain available now through Comixology.
Now let’s get to it …
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.
I hear a lot of rumbling from the February solicitations — the First Lantern, the last Hellblazer, the new JLA — like the Next Big Things are simmering under the surface. Yes, this is how DC wants me to think, but there’s no guarantee that my anticipation will live up to the books themselves. Still, at least things are happening, which is nice. There are endings and beginnings, changes and reintroductions, and a few good reprints too.
So, without further ado …
JUST BE GLAD IT’S NOT “20,000 LEAGUES”
The “expansion of the Justice League” advertised in Justice League #17 may be related to the new Justice League of America, but I suspect it will have more to do with the main League’s roster additions (which, if memory serves, were teased back in summer 2011). I base this mostly on the fact that JLA #1 comes out two weeks before JL #17, and therefore I doubt DC would want its latest high-profile first issue to spoil the end of “Throne of Atlantis.”
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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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.
There wouldn’t be as much of an issue — and perhaps none at all — if every character’s history had been allowed to reset. However, stating specifically that the Batman and Green Lantern families both came through the relaunch relatively unchanged, even as Superman, the Flash, the Teen Titans, and the Justice League generally each got new beginnings, was just asking for trouble. Still, the question then becomes how much of Batman and GL backstory has become crucial to the present understanding of those characters?
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We begin with Batman. Pre-relaunch, Batman had built up a small army of proteges and associates over the course of a long career. In fact, said career spans at least ten years, because Damian Wayne was ten years old when he met Bruce Wayne, and his mom (Talia al Ghul) only sought out Bruce because her father had figured out he was Batman. Factoring in Dick Grayson’s age (between 18 and 20, depending on when you think 1987′s Batman: Son of the Demon falls in the timeline), and adding a few years for Dick’s early Robin career and Bruce’s solo debut (accounts vary) gives us a rough idea of how many years Batman’s been operating.
Its outreach efforts notwithstanding, DC’s superhero line has a longstanding reputation as a warehouse of impenetrable arcana. Even before it boasted four distinct heroic generations, it featured multiple Earths, dozens of 30th-Century Legionnaires, and thousands of Green Lanterns. While that sort of thing is catnip for obsessive fans, those are not the only kind of fans DC wants to attract. Naturally, over the years it has tried to make the superhero books more accessible, even as it sought to honor that voluminous history.
Exploring the balance between being new-reader-friendly and old-reader-comfortable is nothing new. Still, when serial storytelling is involved, even the newest takes will accumulate their own intricate backstories. Accordingly, how much DC lore does one really need? Is all that history just dead weight? Should continuity have an expiration date, or at least a statute of limitations?
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We begin with Batman and Green Lantern, two characters ostensibly “left alone” (for the most part) by the five-year timeline of the New-52 relaunch. This ended up cramming the origins of at least four Robins and four Earthling G-Ls into those five years. That said, in fairness to DC, we can make the case that all of DC’s superhero stories from 1969 to 1986 happened in a two- to three-year span (specifically, from the time the original crop of Teen Titans left for college until they started turning 20). Conveniently enough, this period saw the debuts of John Stewart as Green Lantern and Jason Todd as Robin, plus Guy Gardner’s return to active GL duty; and we still have two years to spare. Nevertheless, it seems needlessly restrictive to pin a quarter-century of stories to the hazy ages of a group of slowly-aging sidekicks — kind of like deciding to measure “Marvel time” by Franklin Richards’ growth.
Before we jump into 2012, I have one last bit of business to take care of: toting up my 2011 predictions, and offering a set for the new year.
1. The Green Lantern movie. Last year I predicted that GL would be “more lucrative than Captain America, not as much as Thor. It ended up making $116 million domestically ($219 million worldwide), well behind Cap’s $176 million ($368M globally) and Thor’s $181 million ($449M globally). Also, it wasn’t as good. I liked it well enough (and from what I hear I may like the Blu-Ray version more), but apparently I was in the minority.
2. Superman and Wonder Woman after JMS. I just had questions for this entry: will Roberson and Barrows stay on Superman? (No.) Will Diana keep the jacket and pants? (No jacket, pants optional.) Finally, I asked “[w]ill sales improve once ‘Grounded’ ends?” Guess that depends on how you define “ends,” because “Grounded” closed out that Superman series; and the next issue of Superman was a New-52 No. 1 which sold almost 100,000 more copies than its predecessor. We may never know what might have happened to Superman without the New 52, but probably not that.
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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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At first I wasn’t especially excited about too much in DC’s February solicitations. However, the more I looked around, the more optimistic I became. Six months into the New 52, some connections are starting to gel, and their interactions (well, as far as what you can glean from the ad copy) seem more organic. As always, there were a few pleasant surprises in the collected editions, and some details from which to spin hopeful speculation.
But enough with the purple prose — let’s hit the books!
TO UNLIMITED AND BEYOND
The gee-whizziest news of the February solicitations has to be the digital-first format of Batman Beyond Unlimited. I have not been the quickest to adapt to digitally-conveyed comics, mostly because my personal technology level hasn’t caught up. However, I do read a number of webcomics, as well as newspaper strips online, and if the price were right, I’d gladly sample BBU’s features on my computer before picking up the print version. Having Dustin Nguyen and (yay!) Norm Breyfogle involved doesn’t hurt either.
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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 many ways, for longtime DC superhero readers, this is the first week of the rest of our lives. This is the week the first batch of New-52 second issues come out, and as such, this week the New 52 stops being a September-specific gimmick. We all know the second issue is where the rubber meets the road. Accordingly, in conjunction with a look at December’s titles, here’s where I am after a month of first issues.
Back when the September solicitations came out, I listed 37 books that I was planning at least to try:
Action Comics, All-Star Western, Aquaman, Batgirl, Batman, Batman And Robin, Batwing, Batwoman, Blackhawks, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Catwoman, DC Universe Presents, Demon Knights, Detective Comics, The Flash, Frankenstein: Agent Of SHADE, The Fury Of Firestorm, Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians, Grifter, Justice League, Justice League Dark, Justice League International, Men Of War, Mister Terrific, Nightwing, Red Lanterns, Resurrection Man, Static Shock, Stormwatch, Supergirl, Superman, Swamp Thing, and Wonder Woman
I’m pretty sure every other DC-Comics blogger in the known universe will be doing this, but for me it is an imperative: from now through the end of the month, this space will give short, probably reactionary, and likely ill-considered reviews of all 52 new titles. Not surprisingly, then, this week is all Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1.
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I liked Flashpoint #1 pretty well. I thought it was a promising start to a story that — in a daring departure for a big event — could stand on its own without universe-altering ramifications.
Of course, that was in early May, a lifetime ago.
While Flashpoint #5 finishes that story, it does so in a way that feels maddeningly hollow. Not the epilogue, mind you — that sequence just manages to avoid mawkishness, and is a well-done counterpoint to the end of issue #1. No, my problem with issue #5 (and to a lesser extent with the miniseries generally) is the way in which writer Geoff Johns apparently just decides he needs to wrap things up.
SPOILERS FOLLOW for Flashpoint #5, and later for Justice League #1 …
One of the more precarious parts of DC’s New-52 relaunch is this notion that a whole lot of in-story history happened over just five years of comic-book time. So far, this comes primarily from narration in the new Justice League #1, indicating that the team was formed “five years ago,” when “the world didn’t know what a super-hero was.”
Now, this may not be an entirely accurate measurement of the relaunch’s age. Practically by definition, the Justice League consists of heroes with fairly well-established careers, so we have to think that its charter members had been around for a little while before teaming up. Furthermore, in the context of the New 52 specifically, we can infer from what we know about the new Action Comics — which will show him less-powerful and with a more mundane costume — that Superman debuted some time before the events of Justice League #1. (According to Comics Alliance’s account of Friday’s New-52 Comic-Con panel, Action initially takes place just a few months before Justice League.)