I really like Halloween, but it’s always been hard for me to come up with a spooky post that relates to DC Comics. The emphasis here is on “for me”: DC has a wealth of spooky material from which to draw, and I’ve just never been able to work with it meaningfully.
For this year’s Halloween post I thought about doing a survey of DC’s horror-themed titles over the years, because certainly the publisher has had its share. There are stalwarts that go back decades, like House of Mystery, Swamp Thing and The Sandman (whose sequel miniseries starts this week, as you might have heard). The first round of New 52 titles included I, Vampire and Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE — and while both of those have bitten the dust, Justice League Dark still heads up the superhero line’s magic-oriented section.
However, the more I thought about it, this space is really not big enough — yes, even with my extreme verbosity — to do right by the horror books. Besides, most of them have ended up at Vertigo, although some are being reincorporated into the superhero line. House of Mystery is a good example of the “serious horror” migration. It started out in the ‘50s as a supernatural anthology before switching over to science fiction (after the fall of EC) and then, briefly, superheroes (specifically, the Martian Manhunter and “Dial ‘H’ for Hero”). When the Comics Code relaxed its stance on all things scary, HOM told horror stories, including an extended run as the original home of “I, Vampire.” The title ended in 1983, after 32 years and more than 300 issues, but it’s never really been forgotten. The House itself (along with its companion from another eponymous title, the House of Secrets) became a part of The Sandman’s landscape, and was the setting for a Vertigo relaunch, which ran from 2008 to 2011 (42 issues and a couple of specials). Now it belongs to John Constantine and serves as Justice League Dark’s headquarters, which I suppose is better than limbo.
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading?, our look at what comics and other things we’ve been perusing lately. Today our special guests are Caleb Goellner, Buster Moody and Ryan Hill, the creative team of Task Force Rad Squad, the hot new comic find of 2013. Especially if you were ever a Power Rangers fan. Or even if you weren’t, as Moody and Hill’s art is just kind of wonderful on its own. Our old friend and former colleague Graeme says it “pretty much does for Power Rangers what Jeffrey Brown’s Incredible Change-Bots does for Transformers,” and that’s a very apt description. You can download it yourself here, and pay whatever you think is fair.
And to see what Task Force Rad Squad + the Robot 6 Irregulars are reading, click below …
Passings | Bob Clarke, one of the original artists for MAD Magazine, passed away Sunday of complications from pneumonia. He was 87. Best known for his “Believe It or NUTS!” parodies, Clarke actually began his career at age 15 as an uncredited assistant on the Ripley’s Believe It or Not comic strip before joining the Army, where he worked for Stars and Stripes. At MAD, he also drew “Spy vs. Spy” for many years, and illustrated the famed January 1961 back cover congratulating John F. Kennedy on his election (the front featured Richard Nixon; the editors were hedging their bets). [The News Journal]
Creators | Charles Soule talks about taking the reins of DC Comics’ Swamp Thing: “Swamp Thing isn’t just a horror book by any means — it’s also a book about superhero action and philosophy and humor. This is a title that’s open to just about anything.” Soule’s plans include new supporting characters and short story arcs that build up to a bigger structure. [USA Today]
Scott Snyder was already one of DC Comics/Vertigo’s rising stars when he began writing Detective Comics two years ago. In fall 2011, as part of DC’s New 52, Snyder moved over to the main Batman title and began writing Swamp Thing as well. His Batman work has helped put the title on a number of best-of-2012 lists, Swamp Thing is in the midst of the “Rotworld” crossover, and his collaboration with Jim Lee on a new Superman title will begin in 2013. American Vampire is going on hiatus for most of the year, but that will help him and artist Sean Murphy debut The Wake. I spoke with Snyder on Dec. 13, just after Batman #15 was published.
Thanks to Scott for his time, and to DC’s Alex Segura and Pamela Mullin for making the interview possible.
Tom Bondurant: I don’t know about the preliminaries [but] I will say that one phrase that kept coming to mind when I was thinking about interviewing you was that line from Ghostbusters: “How is Elvis, and have you seen him lately?”
Scott Snyder: [laughs] Thanks! Well, I’m a huge Elvis fan, so that really starts the day off right, hearing that.
No small amount of drama accompanies the March solicitations, thanks to Gail Simone’s unexpected dismissal from Batgirl. There’s also turnover at Swamp Thing and Birds of Prey, potential clues to the end of “Death of the Family,” and the usual I-remember-this! commentary on collections.
FOLLOW THE BOUNCING BALL
The big stories are the departures of Simone from Batgirl and Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette from Swamp Thing. It seems particularly odd in Simone’s case because it leaves the fate of Batgirl’s current antagonist in the hands of a different writer. Maybe that means Simone’s original plans for him didn’t go over particularly well with DC, or maybe it’s something totally unrelated. Either way, looks like it’ll be at least another month (in January’s Issue 16, her last issue) before we learn anything significant. At any rate, Ray Fawkes writes two issues of Batgirl starting with Issue 18.
As of March, Jim Zubkavich is your new Birds of Prey writer, Andy Kubert draws the lead story in Batman #18, and Trevor McCarthy draws Batwoman #18. Also, in a move that threatens to have me try out Phantom Stranger, the very fine J.M. DeMatteis comes aboard as co-writer with Issue # (guest-drawn by the equally fine Gene Ha and Zander Cannon).
I am not certain about a lot of things, but I am pretty sure of this: If you read enough of Karen Berger’s comics, it makes you a better person. It would have to. It just makes too much sense!
In more than 30 years, first as a DC Comics editor and then as head of Vertigo, Berger helped to transform the comics industry by shepherding some of the most acclaimed and beloved series in recent memory. Swamp Thing, Hellblazer, The Sandman and other not-exactly mainstream DC books not only helped define Vertigo’s identity, they established their own, free from the restraints of a shared superhero universe.
The news of Karen Berger leaving Vertigo spread quickly. It wasn’t so much that it was a surprise, but that it finally happened. DC
Comics Entertainment has been going through significant changes over the past couple of years, including grabbing characters long associated with Vertigo and returning them to the DC Universe, and rumored changes to creator contracts. Despite the unfortunate end, Berger leaves behind an amazing legacy no matter what becomes of the nearly 20-year-old imprint.
I have a very clear memory of high school in the 1990s where kids much cooler than me were reading The Sandman. These were kids who otherwise didn’t read comics, and certainly not the superhero stuff from Marvel and DC. This was not an isolated incident. Vertigo in the ’90s brought a new audience to comics, a maturing audience with interests in horror, fantasy, suspense and mythology. These readers didn’t have access to, and probably weren’t ready for, the underground or alternative comix scene. As superhero comics turned into garish collector items, Vertigo provided the alternative: stories.
Getting a jump on the holiday shopping season, the editors of Amazon.com have released their choices for the best books of the year in categories ranging from Romance and Literature & Fiction to History and Science Fiction & Fantasy. Of course, what were most interested in is Comics & Graphic Novels:
1. Building Stories, by Chris Ware (Pantheon)
2. Darth Vader and Son, by Jeffrey Brown (Chronicle Books)
3. Saga, Vol. 1, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
4. The Hive, by Charles Burns (Pantheon)
5. Prophet, Vol. 1: Remission, by Brandon Graham, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis and Simon Roy (Image Comics)
6. The Underwater Welder, by Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf Productions)
7. Swamp Thing, Vol. 1: Raise Them Bones, by by Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette (DC Comics)
8. Wonder Woman, Vol. 1: Blood, by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang (DC Comics)
9. Creepy Presents Richard Corben, by Richard Corben and various authors (Dark Horse)
10. Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, by Allan Heinberg, Olivier Coipel, Jim Cheung and Alan Davis (Marvel)
[Note: all this was written before I read any of this week’s comics.]
As mentioned last week, part of this look back at my New 52 reading is the chance to see where I might drop some titles. Not that I want to be negative unnecessarily, but it’s always good to make sure you really like what you buy. While I do buy some books “just because,” it’s very easy simply to fall into the habit of reading the same things month in and month out, neither looking forward to them nor missing them when they’re gone.
Therefore, let’s push through some bad vibes and talk about a couple of books I let drift away. Besides Superboy (covered last week), there was Red Lanterns (written by Peter Milligan, penciled by Ed Benes) and Grifter (written by Nathan Edmondson, penciled by CAFU). Originally I liked Red Lanterns because I thought it had recast Atrocitus as a distracted middle-management type, questioning his place in the universe while his functionaries went down their own demented paths. However, as the months went by the series never really built up any momentum, and for a premise based around the blood-spewing power of RAGE!!!1!! that’s not so good. Much the same applies to Grifter: thought it had potential, but it didn’t hold my interest.
To see what Alex and the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately, click below.
Today I am pondering that Ivan Brandon essay on TheAwl.com, and the things comics can do that movies just can’t.
Last week I mentioned the Lazarus Pit as an example of a comics staple that Batman movies — any Batman movies, arguably — would probably be reluctant to use. While the Pit comes with certain restrictions and side effects, it still boils down basically to an unlimited supply of extra lives. It runs counter to the idea of Batman as being grounded in reality, but in the context of a shared universe where Batman pals around with extraterrestrials (and their agents), a super-powered Amazon, and the King of Atlantis, it’s not that far-fetched. This is the old “Character Y could solve Character X’s problems” hypothesis, and it tends to be met with “Character X and Character Y play by different rules.” A good example of the latter was a “No Man’s Land” story featuring Superman (coincidentally collected in the new NML Vol. 3), where the Man of Steel’s well-intentioned assistance in trying to rebuild an earthquake-devastated Gotham turned out to be exactly wrong under the circumstances.
With Comic-Con International nearly upon us, Stephen Bissette posts a reminder that 27 years after they were stolen from the offices of DC Comics, pieces of original artwork from Saga of the Swamp Thing by he and John Totleben are still missing.
“This is stolen property,” he writes on his blog. “It is not legally for sale, nor legally the property of anyone else to trade, exhibit, or sell. Please contact me if you know anything about where it is or who has it. If you are knowingly selling, buying, or trading this original art, you are engaged in a criminal act involving stolen original art.”
The pieces include the original painting for the cover of Saga of the Swamp Thing #34 (above), the final page of that issue (below), and pinups by Totleben for issues 32 and 33.
“At this point, it would be the property of our children, some of whom are now adults,” Bissette continues. “They know. And we will be reminding the world of this regularly.”
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.
August brings the preludes to the Swamp Thing/Animal Man crossover that writers Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire have been talking about for awhile now, as Team Red and Team Green take on The Rot. According to Lemire, the crossover, Rotworld, is an “epic superhero/horror story” that he’s been working with Snyder on for the past year. “Buddy Baker and Alec Holland join forces to lead a pre-emptive strike deep into The Rot, the consequences of which will tear both of their worlds apart forever,” he said on his blog.
The crossover runs through each title’s 17th issue and will feature art by regular series artists Yanick Paquette and Steve Pugh, who worked together on the above joining covers for Animal Man #12 and Swamp Thing #12.
Creators | Legendary comic artist Tony DeZuniga, the co-creator of Jonah Hex, has been hospitalized in the Philippines after suffering from a stroke and pneumonia. The 70-year-old DeZuniga is reportedly in the intensive care unit as friends and family rally to help with his medical expenses. [GMA News]
Retailing | Diamond Comic Distributors announced that retailers have ordered more than 3.5 million comics for Free Comic Book Day, up 23 percent from last year. Diamond also confirmed a second event centered on Halloween. [ICv2]
Graphic novels | The Irish Education Minister, Ruairí Quinn, has given his blessing to a manga-style graphic novel intended to help teenagers develop “emotional intelligence.” [TheJournal.ie]