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Time once again to revisit some thoughts about the year just ended, and offer some thoughts on the year to come.
First, let’s see how I did with 2013:
1. Man of Steel. Last year I asked “a) how well will it do with critics and moviegoers; and b) yes, of course, will it help set up Justice League?” It got a 55 percent (i.e., Rotten) ranking from Rotten Tomatoes (although 76 percent of RT visitors who cared to vote said they liked it). Financially, Box Office Mojo called it a “toss-up,” putting it in the same category as Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, The Wolverine, The Hangover Part III, Pacific Rim and, uh, The Smurfs 2. I liked it well enough — I seem to like a lot of things “well enough” — but perhaps Super-fan Jerry Seinfeld’s musings about missed opportunities speak best to the film’s reception. MOS itself didn’t help set up a Justice League movie, at least not as expressly as, say, Nick Fury talking about the Avengers; but I think it’s safe to say that the sequel will go a long way in that regard.
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As we’re unlikely to get another Marvel/DC Comics crossover any time soon, this video of the dorkiest MMA match ever may be the best opportunity to witness Spider-Man go toe-to-toe with Batman and Robin.
At first blush, you may think the highlight of the fight is the introduction of the World’s Scrawniest Detective or the early exit by the injured Boy Wonder, but I would argue it’s the hilariously straightforward play-by-play from the British commentators. For instance, “Nice mobility from Spider-Man. I mean, I noticed he was at a disadvantage initially because he didn’t have his web-shooters — he wasn’t allowed those, which I think is a bit unfair given the circumstances that he’s against two of them.” Or, “That’s a Superman punch there, Will, which is ironic seeing as how he’s Spider-Man from Marvel Comics.”
Clearly, the announcers were in Spider-Man’s corner from the start …
Because it’s the day after Christmas, and I don’t want to write 1,500 words about Forever Evil and its Justice League tie-in — except to say they both felt a lot like stereotypical Lost, and not necessarily in a good way — here’s a stocking’s worth of number-based observations about DC past and present.
Twelve Crisis issues: I talk a lot about 1984-85’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, mostly because it so completely transformed not just DC’s shared-universe continuity, but its publishing philosophy. On its merits, Crisis is a mixed bag, pairing stunning visuals with a sometimes-flabby narrative. However, despite its sprawl, COIE ended up with a definite structure. The first four issues deal with a mysterious antimatter onslaught which destroys whole universes, apparently including the familiar Earth-One and Earth-Two. The final page of Issue 4 is nothing but black “smoke” clearing away, revealing blank white space. Issues 5 and 6 offer vignettes on the five surviving universes, as time periods intersect in “warp zones” and ordinary people see multiversal counterparts of departed loved ones. Issues 7 and 8 are, to put it bluntly, the Big Death issues, with Supergirl saving her cousin from the Anti-Monitor and the Barry Allen Flash destroying Anti-M’s latest doomsday weapon. Issues 9 and 10 feature the “Villain War” and a two-pronged time-travel assault on Anti-M’s efforts. That ends with a shattered, otherwise “blank” comics panel, as the Spectre wrestles Anti-M for control of history itself — and issues 11 and 12 feature the heroes of a new, singular universe fighting a final battle against the Anti-Monitor. Today’s decompressed (and sometimes decentralized) Big Events focus more on character moments and slow burns, and more often than not they don’t have to streamline fifty years of continuity, but Crisis remains a model for just how big an Event can be.
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There’s no solicitation for Justice League 3000 in November, and it’s not hard to imagine why. Reworking a first issue from scratch, with a new artist and what sounds like a new tone, undoubtedly isn’t something even one of the Big Two can do on short notice. Instead, DC Comics goes back to the Bat-well both for November’s only new series, and to goose the sales of various superhero titles.
As always, though, there’s enough in the new batch of solicitations to keep us busy this week — so without further ado …
ALWAYS BET ON BLACK
Apparently “Zero Year” will include a “Blackout In Gotham” plot point that can stretch into a dozen other DC titles, including non-Bat-books like Action Comics, Green Arrow, Green Lantern Corps and The Flash. This makes a certain degree of sense, as it takes place back in the “before-time” of the George W. Bush administration, before the various superhero jurisdictions were established, so you’d expect someone like Superman to take a road trip if he thought Gotham needed him. However, thanks largely to this being Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, the blackout — which, as far as I can tell, would otherwise be just one part of one title’s flashback storyline — ends up involving more books than DC’s actual line-wide Big Event, Forever Evil. The latter includes the eponymous miniseries, three ancillary miniseries and the three Justice League books, but only two other ongoing series (Teen Titans and Suicide Squad, each of which has been tied into 4EVEv since it started). The total is “Zero Year” 13, Forever Evil 9, and almost half of the latter’s score is miniseries. Personally, I don’t mind a discrete Big Event, and I’m not surprised that DC would exploit “Zero Year.” I’m just a little surprised at how heavily it seems to be relying on “Zero Year” in November.
You may remember the story of an antisocial teen working his way into Bruce Wayne’s life, and even becoming part of his family, before dying in a Robin costume.
You might also remember this story being called “Punish Not My Evil Son,”* as told by writer Bob Haney, penciler Neal Adams, and inker Dick Giordano (note: GCD credits Adams), in The Brave and the Bold vol. 1 #83 (April-May 1969).
Like much of the Haney oeuvre, “Punish” depends on unique circumstances that otherwise might not fit well within Batman’s shared universe. Young Lance Bruner, who’s around the same age as teenager Dick Grayson, is the son of one Prof. Bruner, Thomas Wayne’s “closest friend.” When we first meet him he’s horsing around with a couple of Wayne valuables and smarting off to Alfred, so already he’s off to a bad start. However, he shows Bruce an agreement signed by both Prof. Bruner and Dr. Wayne, which provides that “if anything ever happen[s] to the professor[,] the Wayne family promises to adopt and raise Lance.” Indeed, Bruce remembers seeing baby Lance in his dad’s arms, and recalls further that the professor was “the finest man I’ve ever known … besides my own dad!” Lance has already tearfully played the orphan card, so Bruce reminds a skeptical Dick how a certain other kid came to live at Wayne Manor — and away we go.
It looks like June is shaping up to be pretty big for DC’s superhero comics. There are five new ongoing series, including Superman Unchained, Batman/Superman, Larfleeze, Pandora and, best of all, the return of Astro City. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo kick off a revised Bat-origin in “Zero Year,” and the Green Lantern books get new creative teams. (There are spoilers for those GL books in the solicitations, but if you’ve been paying attention it’s probably nothing you haven’t already figured out.)
FIRST, AN ENDING
The “Shazam!” conclusion takes up all 40 pages of Justice League #21. It’s been a long time coming — starting way back in Issue 7, getting a 23-page spotlight in Issue 0, and skipping issues 12, 13 and 17. In the end it should clock in just shy of 200 pages, which would have made it a robust nine-issue miniseries. By comparison, Geoff Johns’ and Gary Frank’s Batman: Earth One graphic novel was 138 pages. It may read better as a collection, because it hasn’t always seemed paced for a series of backup stories. Being absent from Issue 17 hasn’t helped either. Still, it should have three straight installments between now and June, so maybe it’ll finish strongly.
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Comics | Reporter Henry Hanks asks three experts about the increasing tendency toward “headline-grabbing plot twists” in comics, such as the death of Damian Wayne, and which ones they think have been the most successful. “I strongly believe that The New 52’s Batgirl can be seen as a great example of a major plot shift or re-imagining of a story that required readers to let go of a long-loved character (Oracle) and begin to believe in Batgirl as a new character, one who’s recovered from a life-threatening attack,” says Dr. Andrea Letamendi, a clinical psychologist and convention speaker. “The character essentially presented the determination, resilience and psychological strength that she needed to put the cape back on after a severe injury, just as readers were challenging her ability to represent a strong rebooted character. It’s as if we could relate to the weight on her shoulders, because we were a part of that process. [CNN]
When Batman and Robin #18 arrives in stores Wednesday, you’ll notice the cover by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray is decidedly different from the one solicited by DC Comics in December. Gone are the hopeful red hues of a Gotham City at sunset, replaced by the somber blue-gray tones of night.Gone, too, is what might be mistaken for a grin on Bruce Wayne’s face, now eclipsed by shadow.
And oh, yeah, it’s also missing a grinning Damian Wayne, soaring through the air at his father’s side, replaced by the darkness within the folds of Batman’s cape. Never has Gleason’s skull-shaped signature seemed more appropriate.
While the other Bat-Family titles receive completely new covers for the “Requieum” storyline, which deals with the aftermath of Damian’s death in Batman Incorporated #8, Batman and Robin #18 is the only one to boast a modified image — one made more eerie by the absence of Robin.
It’s an entirely silent issue,” writer Peter J. Tomasi told Comic Book Resources. “No text, no sound effects, storytelling at its purest form — show don’t tell — and, holy crap, does Patrick Gleason show why, in my humble opinion, he might be one of the best Batman artists ever. He knocks it out of the park.”
Today, ROBOT 6 introduces its new weekly feature “By the Numbers,” which takes a look back at the events of the past five days … in numbers. The biggest, or at least most-discussed, story of the week was undoubtedly Grant Morrison’s decision to kill off Damian Wayne in Batman Incorporated #8, a little something to remember the writer by as he wraps up his six-year run on the Dark Knight.
That development, naturally, stirred memories of 1988, when DC Comics bumped off a far less-popular Robin in an even more controversial manner: by having the readers decide whether Jason Todd lived or died … by calling a 1-900 phone number. The Joker may have wielded the crowbar, but Batman fans handed down the death sentence.
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.
In the swelling tide preceding Batman Incorporated #8, the promised death of the current Robin and the impending finale of Grant Morrison’s six-year opus, something jumped out at me about the writer’s previous work for hire: He has a propensity to kill the characters he introduces into the universes of Marvel and DC Comics before he leaves.
Think back to his first major mainstream superhero book, JLA. In it, Morrison and Howard Porter revived the team in a back-to-basics approach featuring the seven most popular and iconic members. But during that time Morrison also created (with Mark Millar and N. Steven Harris) the Mesoamerican hero Aztek. Launched in his own series — whose first issue teased his impending death — Aztek later joined Morrison’s JLA and was killed in JLA #41, the writer’s final issue.
Here we go again. A major news outlet has enthusiastically run the exclusive story that a major comic book character dies in a comic released today. Superhero deaths and their inevitable resurrections have been a staple of comics for decades thanks to the sales bump they tend to get from press coverage. But the giddy acceptance of superhero deaths is starting to crack.
Since the heady days of “The Death of Superman,” mainstream news has loved a dying superhero icon. In 1992, Superman’s death was such a big deal, newspapers were writing hand-wringing editorials about what it could mean for the state of America. Right from the start, DC Comics only guaranteed he would be dead until March 1993, but somehow that got lost in the din of cultural symbolism and frenzied collectability. People really thought he was dead, even if they sensed it was financially the stupidest thing DC could do. Needless to say, Superman came back. And ever since, it seems Marvel and DC have been chasing that same media buzz by (temporarily) killing off their marquee characters, whether it be Batman, Captain America, Spider-Man or even the Human Torch. But with each passing media blitz, an interesting thing is happening: Mainstream outlets are beginning to become just as jaded about superhero deaths as we longtime readers are.
Warning: Spoilers for Batman Inc. #8, The Dark Knight Rises, and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus follow.
Grant Morrison’s reflection on his Batman run is interesting, in that it offers insight into what the writer thinks makes the character tick, but the part that jumps out at me was the very end where he brings up Robin and asks, “What son could ever hope to replace a father like Batman, who never dies?”
It’s something I’ve been thinking about since seeing Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. As flawed as that film is, it has some intriguing ideas about the relationship between creator and creation, whether that’s alien and human, inventor and android, or parent and child. On that last dynamic, Charlize Theron’s character Vickers observes, “A king has his reign, and then he dies. It’s inevitable.” That’s a horrible thing to say about your father. It is, however, true.
Hey, have you somehow managed to avoid hearing about the thing that’s going to happen in that one comic book Wednesday? The thing the writer and publisher are so excited about that they’ve been hyping it up in various media?
If so, then you must be the sort of comics fan who doesn’t like to have story points spoiled for you in advance, so out of respect for you, and respect for the diligence you’ve shown in so far being able to avoid having the story — whatever it is, in whatever book it’s unfolding — spoiled for you, I’m going to bury this entire post below the break.
So, if you already know what I’m talking about, read on!
“I chose to build my story around the basic trauma, the murder of his parents, that lies at the heart of Batman’s genesis. It seemed to me there would be a part of Bruce Wayne that resented his parents for leaving him and especially resented his father for not being Batman that night, so the principal villains were an archetypal bad father figure in the form of Dr. Hurt and a dark mother in the form of Talia, our villain for the concluding chapters of the story. This master theme of damaged and ruined families was nowhere more in evidence than in the creation of Damian, the first ‘Son of Batman’ to be acknowledged in the canon. In many ways this has been Damian’s story as much as it has been the story of Bruce Wayne and it’s a story that had its end planned a long time ago – for what son could ever hope to replace a father like Batman, who never dies?
– Grant Morrison, in an essay on the DC Comics website, addressing his more than six-year stint
writing the Caped Crusader, from Batman to Batman and Robin to Batman Incorporated