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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This week sees the print debut of Legends of the Dark Knight, the ongoing print version of DC’s digital-first Batman anthology. By design it’s not part of the regular Batman line, and therefore not counted as one of the New 52. However, it gives me an excuse to ask how many Bat-books DC Comics really needs.
Now, I don’t mean that to be as dismissive as it sounds. The current Batman line is built on years, if not decades, of steady readership and fan attachments, and you don’t just wave that away. Nevertheless, if there are only 52 slots in the main superhero line, must the Batman Family claim a quarter of them? The relaunch has made pruning these titles both easier and harder, and today I want to look at the opportunities it presents.
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A brief indulgence before we get started: July 14 marked eight years since I started blogging about comics on my own little website, the now-dormant Comics Ate My Brain. Since one of my first posts was called “Robin Problems,” it’s a happy coincidence that this week we return to the original superhero-sidekick identity.
Although I’m not always happy with DC Comics as a company, I have a lot of empathy for the people who work on superhero comics, especially those who populate convention panels. Regardless of how we think they’re doing their jobs, those are still their jobs, and I wouldn’t want to go to work every morning facing a steady torrent of criticism from my customers. (We lawyers get more than enough workplace second-guessing as it is.) It also can’t be easy traveling around having to face one’s critics in person.
That said, if the alternative-fuels industry could harness avoidable fan outrage, DC Comics would be the new OPEC. Once again demonstrating a knack for how not to behave, its panelists practically laughed off legitimate questions about switching out fan-favorite Bat-protege Stephanie Brown for the “more iconic” Barbara Gordon.
After those original accounts appeared online (on Friday the 13th, no less), more details emerged to help explain just who did what. It’s still a situation where DC higher-ups asked to remove Stephanie (which, it can’t be said enough, is really asking for trouble); but apparently the series’ writer got to choose her replacement. Don’t worry, we’ll get into all the nuances.
Following some confusion at Friday’s Superman panel, DC Comics confirmed today at Comic-Con International that Stephanie Brown won’t be appearing as Nightwing in Smallville Season 11. As rumored, she’ll be replaced by Barbara Gordon.
The introduction of the one-time Spoiler turned Robin turned Batgirl alongside Batman in DC’s digital-first series was announced last month, giving some consolation to fans frustrated that the character has yet to be seen in the New 52. But even as Comic-Con began, a rumor emerged that the publisher had changed its mind.
On Friday, the fan who made headlines at last year’s convention as “the Batgirl of San Diego,” attended DC’s Superman panel in hopes of getting answers, but walked away with none. So today she returned for “The New Wave” panel, where Co-Publisher Dan DiDio delivered the official news: Stephanie Brown is out, and Barbara Gordon is in.
If you’re a Stephanie Brown looking to get to the bottom of a rumor about your favorite character, you’d think the best place to go for answers would be today’s DC Comics Superman panel at Comic-Con International. But you’d be wrong.
According to Comic Book Resources’ report, a fan dressed as Stephanie Brown approached the microphone to ask whether the character would appear as Nightwing next month in the digital-first Smallville Season 11, as the publisher announced last month, or whether there was truth to the rumor that she is being replaced by Barbara Gordon. Unfortunately for the fan, writer Bryan Q. Miller wasn’t on the panel as scheduled (he arrived late to San Diego), and the response she did receive was … let’s say unhelpful, and maybe a little flippant.
“The first rumor wasn’t known by us,” DC’s Vice President of Marketing John Cunningham replied, “and I have not heard of the second in the halls of DC, so I can’t comment.”
“But there was art!” the fan shot back.
“Are you going to believe art or are you going to believe us?” Superman writer Scott Lobdell said to the laughter of the audience. Cunningham gave her a Court of Owls mask, so that’s something.
When Batman won’t be alone when he debuts in August in DC Comics’ digital-first Smallville Season 11 — that much was clear from the cover art released earlier this week. But it turns out that’s not Robin but Nightwing warning the Caped Crusader of
Superman’s The Blur’s arrival. What’s more, that’s not a young Dick Grayson under the mask, but rather Stephanie Brown.
“Bruce can be somewhat of an angry man,” writer Bryan Q. Miller explains to TV Guide. “Stephanie’s personality is so can-do and unsinkable and bright, so it’s very much on purpose on Bruce’s part that he has a good cop going out on patrol with him every night.”
The storyline, called appropriately enough “Detective,” will also explain why Stephanie is Nightwing and not Batgirl, the identity she assumed in the DC Universe from 2009 to 2011. Miller, a former staff writer and executive story editor on The CW’s Smallville, also wrote DC’s Batgirl during Stephanie’s time in the costume.
Batman and Nightwing will arrive online in Smallville Season 11 in August, and then in print in September. Miller is joined on the four-part arc by ChrisCross and Marc Deering.
On my superhero fashion site Project: Rooftop, I’ve been talking up to the nth degree an amazing set of superhero redesigns by Italian artist Denis Medri. This artist has taken Gotham’s resident bad-boy billionaire and recast him as a 1950s greaser to amazing results. While Medri’s work might not be in line with the New 52, it harkens back to the best of DC Comics’ celebrated Elseworlds line of titles reimagining its heroes in different timelines and settings. Medri’s gone on to reinvent much of Batman’s cast in this model, with everything from a Betty Page-esque Catwoman and a poodle skirt-wearing Harley Quinn to a Rat Fink-worthy hot rod Batmobile.
Although the actual chances that DC would somehow accept this as a back-door pitch are slim to none, it does highlight the intriguing passion artists have for classic characters and just how enamored fans can be when their favorite heroes (and villains) are repositioned to alternative lives. While some might say its insular thinking, I think it broadens the core concepts of these timeless characters and shows just how versatile they can be.
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.
The great strength of DC’s superhero line is its heterogeneity — that is, its history of bringing together different genre-based roots and different storytelling approaches. However, as the shared-universe model came to dominate superhero serials, DC’s various high sheriffs have tried to impose various kinds of order on these disparate perspectives. Starting in the Silver Age, the infinite Multiverse organized characters broadly, for example by generation (Earth-Two), publisher (Earth-X, Earth-S, Earth-Four), or special category (the Crime Syndicate’s Earth-Three, the Zoo Crew’s Earth-C). Crisis On Infinite Earths consolidated a lot of that, The Kingdom’s Hypertime sought unsuccessfully to reincorporate it, and 52 compromised with a scaled-back set of parallel Earths. Today, the New-52 setup still has a Multiverse, but the main DC-Earth has scaled back its superheroic history dramatically.
Details aside, though, each of these cosmological structures is an attempt to bring some deeper meaning to DC’s superhero line. Put simply, for a long time DC’s superhero books weren’t about something, whereas Marvel presented a “world outside your window” in which superpowers came with their own sets of problems. Thus, from the post-Crisis 1980s until the end of Flashpoint last summer, DC was arguably “about” superheroic legacies, and had no small success putting new faces with old names.
And again, those details are not especially germane to today’s post. Instead, I want to talk about the nature of DC’s various traditions, the extent to which those traditions should guide the publisher, and whether DC’s superhero books can, collectively, ever really be “about” anything.
Welcome once again to What Are You Reading?, where we share what comics, books and other good stuff we’ve been checking out lately. This week our special guest is Thomas Hall, writer of the science fiction/fantasy comic Robot 13.
To see what Thomas and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
Publishing | Jennifer de Guzman announced that, after 10 years, she has left her position as editor-in-chief of SLG Publishing: “My decade SLG was, I suspect, like no other decade anyone has spent working anywhere. I had great co-workers and got to work with fantastic creators, all of whom I will miss very much. (Though because this is comics and a community like no other, we will always stay in contact.)” [Possible Impossibilities]
Retailing | Chris Powell, current general manager and chief relationship officer for Texas-based comic chain Lone Star Comics, has accepted the newly created position of executive director of business development for Diamond Comic Distributors. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund board member will start his new position in March. [ICv2]
Welcome to What Are You Reading?, where each week we talk about what comics, graphic novels, books and what-have-you we’ve been reading lately. This week our special guest is Brian Ralph, creator of Daybreak, Cave-In and Reggie 12.
To see what Brian and the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately, click below.
Whether by accident or design, this week was dominated by female leads (four, not including Starfire in Red Hood) and Bat-titles (four including RH; five if you count Birds Of Prey). It is tempting to say the woman-led titles ran the gamut of experiences from A to D, but thankfully it is a little more complicated than that. As you might expect, the week produced issues of varying quality, although I found something to like about each one. Sometimes it was harder to find that one thing, though….
Naturally, SPOILERS FOLLOW.
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In theory, the DC Universe Presents anthology has a longer lease on life because its sales can’t be judged fairly on the basis of only one arc. I suppose that, given Deadman’s relationship with one of Hawk & Dove’s headliners, that book’s readers might be interested in this one. By and large, though, the audience for this title is made up either of DC stalwarts waiting for a good Obscure Character X story, or (less likely, I’d say) impulse buyers. Such an approach might have been a great way to introduce a totally new character within the context of the New 52, and piggyback that feature on the rest of the relaunch’s popularity — but I’m not surprised DC chose Deadman, fresh off Brightest Day.
• USA Today talks with Supergirl co-writers Mike Johnson and Michael Green about their approach to the relaunched title, and provides a five-page preview of the first issue, which goes on sale Wednesday. “We’re really excited about the opportunity to hand this book to a female reader who is into things like The Hunger Games,” Johnson says. “This is a strong character with her own point of view.”
• Writer J.T. Krul will be replaced by Keith Giffen and artist Dan Jurgens on Green Arrow with December’s Issue 4. The news comes just days after John Rozum announced he’s leaving Static Shock.