5 Elements of the Pre-New 52 DC Universe We Really, Really Miss
September marches on, Wednesday by Wednesday, which means so too does DC Comics’ theme month. This year the publisher has suspended publication of its New 52 titles, replaced them with Futures End one-shots, and slapped new and improved (i.e. smaller) lenticular 3D covers on them, each bearing a “#1.”
One could certainly question the logic in tying all of the New 52 books, even the extremely popular ones like Batman, to a middling weekly series set in a possible future that will never come to pass and that seems to be a fairly reliable mid-list seller. But this week’s crop of one-shots demonstrates that, despite the fact that each book has the words “Futures End” in the title, many of them have somewhere between nothing and very little to do with the actual plot of the event series.
In the previous two installments of our weekly look at these specials, I recapped the basic plot of Futures End. But this time, I see I need not even bother. DC shipped 11 of the books this week, but I only read five — and the only thing those issues shared in common is that they’re set five years in the future (not that they had much of anything at all to do with Futures End).
This month marks the third anniversary of of the New 52, and, as was the case with each September since the 2011 relaunch of DC Comics’ superhero titles, that means the entire line is being unified under an umbrella theme … or gimmick, depending on how charitable you are.
In 2012, it was “Zero Month,” with each book telling a story set in the hero’s first year of rebooted continuity. Last year, it was “Villains Month,” featuring fancy 3D covers, decimal-point issue numbers and stories starring DC’s antagonists. This year, its a little from column A, and a little from column B: There are more of those fancy covers, but all of the stories are set five years into the future.
As I did last week, I’ve grabbed a handful of new Futures End one-shots, more or less at random, for review. This week DC released 10 Futures End one-shots, of which I have five sitting in a little stack next to me as I type. Last time, I tried ordering the reviews from worst to best, but I had trouble doing so this week, as there wasn’t really a stand-out like Grayson. Rather, these five seemed to cluster around a baseline of mediocrity, with a few being slightly better, others slightly worse.
Retailing | Books-A-Million had a good second quarter, and CEO Terry Finley gives at least part of the credit to graphic novels: “We also saw strong growth in the graphic novel category, with continued success with titles related to AMC’s The Walking Dead series and a renewed interest in several manga series [that] drove sales increases.” And to boost that, the retail chain, which operates more than 250 stores nationwide, is planning Marvel promotions throughout September. [ICv2]
Conventions | Salt Lake Comic Con co-founder Dan Farr is trying to measure how much money attendees are spending. In terms of hotel beds, at least, the convention seems to be dwarfed by trade shows, but with people coming to Salt Lake City from 48 states for the recent spinoff event FanXperience, that may be changing. Still, even in San Diego, attendees spend only about $600 per person; if Salt Lake attendees are similarly thrifty, the convention may not be a significant player in the Salt Lake City convention scene. [The Salt Lake Tribune]
When DC Comics relaunched its superhero line in 2011 with the New 52, there was an unmistakable sameness to the aesthetic of many of the titles. Sure, there have been some eye-catching exceptions, but for the most part, the Jim Lee-led character redesigns have exerted great influence over the DC Universe for the past three years.
If you’re a fan of Jim Lee, that’s pretty awesome. If you’re a fan of a lot of artists and styles, that’s less awesome and has made the New 52 sometimes frustrating and occasionally baffling. There are more than 75 years’ worth of characters bursting with the imagination of hundreds of creators. Why filter all that down to such a narrow experience for readers? I love Oreo cookies, but can I ever have chocolate chip cookie?
But then, along comes new Batman Group Editor Mark Doyle, who moved from Vertigo in February. Suddenly, there’s a new creative team, a new costume and a new outlook, for Batgirl, followed by announcements of Gotham Academy, Arkham Manor and, just Tuesday, Gotham By Midnight, demonstrating that Batman and his world are a resilient and powerful corner of the DC Universe. It’s one where offering different aesthetics adds a richness to the entire line while (possibly) attracting the eye of those looking for something different in their reading experience.
Essentially, Doyle just installed a snack bar. So let’s go eat!
Even as DC Comics announces another intriguing addition to its Batman line, the horror title Gotham By Midnight, artist Karl Kerschl has unveiled the first look at colored panel from Gotham Academy #1, offering a hint at what readers can expect from the October-debuting series. He has also posted a few black-and-white panels on his blog.
Written by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher, with art by Kerschl and colorist Romain Gaschet, Gotham Academy is a teen drama set in the city’s most prestigious school (or, as the official description reads, “set in the shadow of Batman and the craziness of Gotham City”).
In summer 2011, the Geoff Johns/Andy Kubert event series Flashpoint was reaching its climax, and the fifth issue was devoted to The Flash trying to unscramble the mixed-up, dystopian timeline in a typically Flash way — by running around really fast.
Near the end, there was a strange, two-page spread of an interlude that seemed almost grafted on: The Flash catches a glimpse of a mysterious, hooded woman with glowing eyes and lines all over her face, who says portentously, “Because the history of heroes was shattered into three long ago. Splintered to weaken your world for their impending arrival. You must all stand together. The timelines must become one again.”
The timelines were those of the DC Universe, the WildStorm Universe and a handful of DCU characters who had mainly been appearing in books published by DC’s Vertigo imprint. The result? The New 52, the biggest and most dramatic reboot the oft-rebooted, retconned and otherwise tinkered-with DC Universe had ever experienced in the history of forever; they even relaunched Action Comics and Detective Comics!
Batman: The Dark Knight Vol. 3: Mad (DC Comics): Poor Batman. His new continuity is only a few years old, and already he’s suffering from threat inflation, so that now seemingly every crime is one that could level Gotham City and every villain a mass-murderer with a three-figure body count to rival The Joker’s.
In this volume — collecting six issues and an annual from writer Gregg Hurwitz’s run on The Dark Knight — it’s The Mad Hatter’s turn for an upgrade. A villain formerly portrayed as either obsessed with hats or with Lewis Carrol’s Alice books or both, depending on the writer, Jervis Tetch here begins his road to villainy by killing a rabbit, then uses a step-ladder to reach the face of an underling who he proceeds to murder by plunging his thumbs into the victim’s eyes. From there, he murders a housewife by bashing her head in with an iron, he kills hundreds—hundreds!—of Gothamites through his mind-control technology, and he then has Batman’s girlfriend killed…by having her beaten to death in front of him.
In response, Batman tears one of the Tweedles’ jaws off, beats the diminutive Hatter until he’s drenched in his villain’s blood, then tosses him into a pond to drown until Alfred reminds him that he can’t kill the Hatter, or else he’ll be no different from him. I don’t think Batman should ever resort to lethal force, but Alfred’s argument isn’t all that powerful as presented here, given that one side of the scale has a madman murdering scores of innocents, and the other has Batman killing said killer.
That’s not the only surprisingly cliched bit of the story, which invents a new origin full of childhood trauma for Jervis Tetch akin to those Hurwitz previously gave The Scarecrow and The Penguin. Batman also decides he loves his current girlfriend, reluctantly reveals his secret identity to her and then, the very next night, one of his foes murders her while attempting to torture Batman’s secret identity out of her.
It’s a pretty problematic plot, to say the last.
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.
Trinity of Sin: Pandora #1 (written by Ray Fawkes, drawn by Zander Cannon, Daniel Sampere, Vicente Cifuentes and Patrick Zircher) is not a terrible first issue, although it does trade on some pretty horrific images. It’s not a boring issue, although the title character’s emotional arc is essentially an 8,000-year, 20-page slow burn. For a character who so far has been a walking plot point — and who is still advertised mostly as a plot element for the next Big Event — the issue isn’t even that obtuse. Pandora #1 is a fairly well-executed comic book which does a decent job of humanizing its heroine, but which still hasn’t justified its own existence.
* * *
Traditionally, the average superhero character included a strong element of wish-fulfillment. Perhaps it came simply from having powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal folk, or perhaps from the plausibility of training one’s mind and/or body to the limits of human potential. Maybe those powers, or that training, had been personally costly: a parent’s death, a home’s destruction or a tragedy that could have been prevented.
Whether due to use-it-or-lose-it legal concerns about trademarks, or simply to remind everyone of exactly what it owns, DC Comics has come up with a variety of ways to recycle old titles, ranging from the 1997 Tangent event to the anthologies Mystery in Space and Ghosts to the short-lived National Comics revival.
This week the company brought back Young Romance, the title of the Joe Simon/Jack Kirby-created comic that was published from 1947 to 1975, as a Valentine’s Day special featuring a half-dozen stories of romance in the New 52 DC Universe.
An interesting mix of creators are involved, an interesting enough mix to merit a look at what they might do with some of these characters and couples in eight pages. So join me for mini-reviews of every story in Young Romance: The New 52 Valentine’s Day Special.
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading?, where we reveal our picks for the best Super Bowl ads … er, where we talk about what we’ve been reading lately. Today our special guest is Sonia Harris, who writes a weekly column – Committed – for Comics Should Be Good, and is a graphic designer on books such as Butcher Baker the Righteous Maker (collected in hardcover now from Image Comics) and upcoming comic books SEX (beginning March) and The Bounce. (beginning May).
To see what Sonia and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
With the launch of Comic Book Resources’ new monthly feature with DC Comics Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras and Editorial Director Bobbie Chase arrives announcements of a slew of creative changes, including confirmation that Jim Starlin is the new writer of Stormwatch.
Best known for his work on Marvel’s cosmic titles, Starlin has been teasing since early December that he would take the reins on an existing DC series beginning in April. Yvel Guichet joins him as artist. Other creative shifts in April include:
• Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes will write the newly launching Constantine, taking over Robert Venditti with Issue 2. “Robert came to us with a fantastic pitch for Constantine,” Harras told CBR. “We really loved what Robert’s doing — he’s working on Demon Knights now, and he’s also working on another project for us that I really can’t go into which is a big deal for us. But at the end of the day, Robert and Dan [DiDio] and I spoke, and Constantine was, for him, one book too many. It was the one thing that we had to go, “If we want you to focus on this one project, maybe we should make a change on Constantine.”
Even as fans react to Sunday’s announcement that Gail Simone will no longer be writing Batgirl, word has trickled out that recently appointed Justice League Dark co-writer Ray Fawkes will fill in on a two-part story arc beginning in March.
The news arrives courtesy of DC Comics’ Batman Group solicitations for March (via The Outhousers), which appear to have leaked a little early on Newsarama:
Written by RAY FAWKES
Art and cover by DANIEL SAMPERE and VICENTE CIFUENTES
On sale MARCH 13 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
• The first of two issues by guest writer Ray Fawkes!
• Batgirl must face the man who sold her out to The Joker during “DEATH OF THE FAMILY”…her own brother, James Gordon, Jr.
• Can Barbara help him, or will this conflict be the final nail in her family’s coffin?
Best known for his such books as Mnemovore, Apocalipstix and Possessions, Fawkes joins Jeff Lemire in February as co-writer of Justice League Dark.
Adding to such recent revivals as Strange Adventures, Ghosts and Young Romance, Vertigo will publish the science-fiction anthology Time Warp #1 in March. Although the announcement at MTV Geek doesn’t specify that the title is a one-shot, all of the previous ones have been.
The issue will feature stories by the likes of Damon Lindelof, Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, Toby Litt, Mark Buckingham, Dan Abnett, Peter Milligan, Ray Fawkes, Simon Spurrier, Gail Simone, Rafael Albuquerque and Tom Fowler, with covers by Eduardo Risso (in full below) and Jae Lee.
Time Warp doesn’t have quite the august history that such titles as Young Romance and Strange Adventures have: Debuting in 1979 amid the renewed popularity of science fiction, and in the wake of the DC Implosion, the anthology lasted just five issues. However, it featured an impressive lineup of talent, including Steve Ditko, Curt Swan, Jim Aparo, Paul Levitz, Gil Kane, Arnold Drake and Denny O’Neil.
Ryan North’s (Dinosaur Comics, Adventure Time) Kickstarter for his illustrated prose book, To Be or Not To Be is way past being fully funded with 24 days still to go, so this isn’t a plea for action so much as it is a public service announcement. Because, dude …
North is putting together something that he can’t call Choose-Your-Own-Adventure for legal reasons, but totally is, only it’s for grown-ups, based on Hamlet, allows you to play as various characters including the ghost, and is illustrated by an insane line-up of artists like Kate Beaton, Chip Zdarsky, Chris Hastings, David Malki, Dustin Harbin, Jim Zubkavich, Kazu Kibuishi, Ray Fawkes, Vera Brosgol. … Seriously, I’m going to embarrass myself by leaving someone awesome out and the list is loooong. Check out the Kickstarter page for the full scoop.
$15 gets you a PDF copy, but $20 gets U.S. residents the PDF and a paperback copy too. Backers outside the U.S. are asked for a $30 pledge to cover shipping costs. And of course there are other goodies for pledging more.