"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
Although Convergence races on, it’s not DC Comics’ only cosmically minded title. This week brought a couple more takes on everyone’s favorite bit of heavenly housekeeping, as Justice League #40 kicks off “Darkseid War” and The Multiversity #2 concludes Grant Morrison’s meta-epic. Each makes clear connections to Crisis on Infinite Earths (and thus, by extension, to DC’s pre-Crisis output), and each reflects its writer’s philosophy.
However, where one extols the virtues of infinite creative diversity, the other focuses on the cyclical nature of it all. Today we’ll see which issue uses its approach more effectively.
SPOILERS for both issues, of course …
I hope it was by design that DC Comics released both The Multiversity #2 and Justice League #40 on the same day the two-month Convergence event reached its halfway point. However, it’s difficult to identify a plan in the publisher devoting the bulk of its output for the final week of April to three unrelated stories about the Multiverse. DC released 18 comics this week, and, of those, just five had nothing to do with its Multiverse.
If you haven’t been reading any of those titles — and if you haven’t, I’m afraid you’re not going to find this review terribly engaging — here’s a quick reminder of what’s going on in those three stories about the Multiverse:
Conventions | Rob Salkowitz, author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture, gazes into his crystal ball and predicts some new wrinkles to the convention scene this year, including more sophisticated use of technology: “New innovations such as beacons and near-field communications now enable real-time integration between digital content and the event itself in real time. In English, this means attendees can get instant notifications of nearby items that fit their specific interests, which could help navigate confusing and noisy exhibit halls.” And they could be used for real-time gaming as well. [ICv2]
If you liked the first half of Convergence in the April solicitations, you’ll probably enjoy the other set of shoes dropping in May. In fact, the second issues are all extra-sized (but not more expensive), filled out with previews of June’s coming attractions.
However, it’s not all anticlimaxes or “second verse, same as the first.” There are a couple of twists: Not only will the New 52 characters be participating, but the solicitation for Convergence #8 makes it clear this is for all the cosmic marbles. “There can be only one reality” after these two months of nostalgia — and we may have to read the books themselves (gasp!) to see what that looks like.
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For a while now, it’s been hard to avoid talking about some sort of Multiverse.
Between Forever Evil, Futures End and World’s End, The Multiversity, Convergence, and recent looks back at Crisis on Infinite Earths, the grand structure of DC Comics’ cosmos has come back into the spotlight. Even Marvel is jumping into the deep end of the infinitely varied pool. (All things being equal, there will be another Crisis post next week, so the talk will continue at least in this space.) While I’m inclined to leave Battleworld and its ramifications to the experts, it’s all been reminding me of a “Power Girl Problem” — and no, it’s not costume-related. This week we’ll talk Kara Zor-L and a few other continuity tangles, with an eye towards avoiding future pitfalls.
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Paul O’Brien sums up the basic difficulties nicely:
At first glance, The Multiversity: Guidebook #1 — this month’s chapter of Grant Morrison’s grand epic exploring DC Comics’ Multiverse — looks like a somewhat-skippable book, supplemental material of the sort that the publisher used to release under the title Secret Files & Origins.
Everything seems to bear that out, from the content advertised on the cover (like the already well-traveled map of the Multiverse) to the artists involved (Marcus To and Paulo Siqueira are good, but not of the same superstar status as previous Multiversity artists) to the particular Earths the cover boys come from (the Batman on the left is from Morrison’s new version of the world of The Atomic Knights; the Batman on the right is an off-model drawing of the character from an Earth introduced in Morrison’s brief Action Comics run).
Second and third glances confirm that initial assessment of this book’s importance. On flip-through, you’ll note that about half of its 70 pages are devoted to illustrated prose in an airy, space-filling format, defining each of the 52 Earths and identifying a few of the key players.
But once you start reading the thing? Well, on a purely conceptual level, as a piece of comics writing and a piece of comics writing about comics, it’s probably the most ambitious, important and fascinating chapter of The Multiversity to date. And that’s in addition to being an extremely timely reminder of how to “read” DC’s continuity-realigning storyines and just what, exactly, it is that makes DC Comics and the DC Universe so special in the first place.
The marquee installment of The Multiversity may have been last month’s Pax Americana, but I was especially excited to see what writer Grant Morrison and artist Cameron Stewart (with colorist Nathan Fairbairn) would do with the Captain Marvel Family in this week’s Thunderworld. I was not disappointed. The Marvels have long been a sort of unicorn for DC’s superhero line, personifying both its potential and its abuse, and even its history (acquired as they were after the demise of Fawcett Comics). However, many modern takes on Cap and company often elicit negative comparisons to the character’s previous treatment. These boil down to some form of “why can’t it be like the old days?” (which, after all, is a common enough DC complaint).
In April, DC Comics released solicitations for its July titles alongside an extra batch of advance listings for the September Futures End-related one-shots. This week, in a move that’s perhaps unintentionally similar, the publisher’s February solicits arrive amid advance info about the spring’s Convergence tie-ins.
The scheduling gap isn’t quite as great — only a couple of months here, as opposed to five months last time — and I can understand why DC would want to avoid a lot of negative fan speculation about Convergence. Still, it steals some thunder from the current batch of solicitations, which try to compensate with a raft of Harley Quinn variant covers (including, strangely enough, one for Harley Quinn itself). In addition to her own series and Suicide Squad, Harl also gets a Valentine’s Day Special, another hardcover collection, a statue, an action figure, and a guest-shot in Deathstroke. At this rate I’m expecting her to be Wonder Woman’s new Amazon queen.
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Note: Due to my travel schedule, the Futures Index is taking a break this week. There will be a double dose next week to get us back on track.
Something I didn’t mention in last week’s post about The Multiversity #1 is the persistent notion that corporate-controlled characters have, for lack of a better phrase, “lives of their own.” In other words, we know how Superman, et al., are “supposed” to act, based on common, recurring elements, which are ostensibly independent of any particular creative team. Because The Multiversity offers a prime opportunity to play around with those elements and the expectations they engender, this week I wanted to go a little more in that direction.
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We begin with Batman, and specifically a scene from the now-classic Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon. “Legends of the Dark Mite,” written by Bat-guru Paul Dini, features a brief-but-incisive dig not just at fans, but at the corporate culture which has nurtured the Caped Crusader over these past 75 years. See, Bat-Mite wants to see his hero fight a supervillain, but Batman just wants the little guy to vamoose, and suggests the imp summon Calendar Man. Yadda yadda yadda, Calendar King has killer Easter Bunnies.
Let’s get this out of the way: The first issue of The Multiversity is one of the craziest main-line superhero comics I’ve read in a long time. It’s self-referential. It attempts to engage the reader directly. It leaps around various parallel worlds in great flurries of color, off-kilter captions, and shouty dialogue. It’s apparently also a pretty-direct sequel to Final Crisis, writer Grant Morrison’s 2008-09 big-event miniseries, which — not that it matters much — took place under a different set of cosmological rules.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the interaction between those rules and the need to reference a potentially “invalid” story. Some readers may be frustrated (not unreasonably) by such interactions, and so far The Multiversity isn’t making things easier.
Again, though, consistency across continuity reboots is beside the point. Indeed, with a giant one-eyed bat-thing intoning “WE WANT 2 MAKE YU LIKE US,” consistency itself appears to be one of The Multiversity’s main villains. Change the emphasis slightly and the plot becomes more insidious. “We want to make you like us” — i.e., happy to exist in a state of “anti-death,” an everlasting “moment of ruin.” The imagery isn’t very subtle, and commentators have already compared the Gentry’s members to DC and other big comics publishers. For that matter, Morrison and artist Cameron Stewart made the globular, monocular corporate mascot Mickey Eye the symbol for all that was wrong in the superhero world of Seaguy. (Coincidentally, that hero also had a funny-animal sidekick.)
My review could end up being in the form of a cop-out, but saying that readers get out of Multiversity what they put into it might actually be the point of the series. As a superhero comic, The Multiversity #1 is perfectly decent. Penciler Ivan Reis, inker Joe Prado, colorist Nei Ruffino and letterer Todd Klein present it in an attractive package. (The fact that Reis is the current Justice League penciler probably has its own metatextual significance, given the subject matter.) However, just as the Multiverse is a framework for various parallel realities, so The Multiversity #1 provides a framework for engaging with those realities — and that’s a little harder to quantify.
SPOILERS FOLLOW, assuming plot still matters for this sort of thing.
Following DC Comics’ solicitations over the past few months has been fairly intriguing. The company’s West Coast move in early 2015 looms over all its actions, and makes it hard to gauge whether a new series or new creative team is a long-term commitment or a brief burst of experimentation. Moreover, that makes it tempting to say that anything you don’t like — or, for that matter, anything you do like — might be gone by April.
Oh, well. A little paranoia can’t hurt, but we’re not here to talk about that. Open a window to the November solicits and read along!
November brings new creative teams for Wonder Woman (the Finches and Richard Friend), Superman/Wonder Woman (Peter Tomasi and Doug Mahnke) and Supergirl (Mike Johnson, Kate Perkins and Emanuela Lupacchino). I’m still in wait-and-see mode on the Finches. However, after several years of reading Tomasi and Mahnke’s work, I feel like I know what’s coming from them. S/WW should look great, as Mahnke is no stranger to either Superman or Wonder Woman, having drawn JLA and various issues of the New 52 Justice League. I suppose I’m cautiously optimistic about Tomasi, because this is the sort of book that plays to his strengths. He’s good at reconciling and unifying different perspectives on characters, and that’s pretty much what S/WW has always had to overcome. Ironically, it’ll probably be less of a concern in the absence of Azzarello and Chiang, but I suspect Tomasi will keep those elements around.
Legal | The San Diego Police Department is asking anyone with video of the July 26 car accident during the annual SDCC ZombieWalk: San Diego to come forward. Police already have several videos of the incident, in which a driver plowed into the crowd, injuring at least three people, but they are hoping to get additional information. [Fox 5 News]
Legal | A Tokyo District Court judge sentenced Hirofumi Watanabe to four years and six months in prison for sending more than 400 threatening letters to venues connected with the manga Kuroko’s Basketball. The 35-year-old man admitted during his first day in court that he had sent the threatening letters, but he also refused to apologize or pay restitution and says he does not feel guilty. [Anime News Network]
On the eve of the launch of The Multiversity, the nine-issue miniseries by Grant Morrison, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Chris Prouse, Karl Story, Ben Oliver and Frank Quitely, the information is kind of slim: You can hover your cursor over just three Earths — Earh-0, Earth-8 and Earth-23 — to get details, but DC states, “New Earths are being revealed frequently so visit often.”
In 2008-09, Grant Morrison wrote (and J.G. Jones and others drew) DC Comics’ big-event miniseries Final Crisis. While it wasn’t the last cosmic-minded crossover, in many ways it was the crest of a wave that had been building since 2004’s Identity Crisis. The fallout from Identity Crisis sparked a new “Crisis Cycle,” leading into 2005-06’s Infinite Crisis, 2006-07’s 52, 2007-08’s Countdown, and various smaller-scale tie-ins.
With Morrison at the helm, though, Final Crisis turned out to be pretty esoteric. Apparently this pleased almost no one, being a) too steeped in DC lore for the casual reader, and b) not sufficiently tied into the regular comics, and thereby not rewarding the every-Wednesday folks who’d been following all the buildup.
Nevertheless, two FC plot points had immediate effects on the superhero line that, for all intents and purposes, have carried over into the New 52: It brought back Barry Allen and “killed” Batman. I was reminded of the latter two weeks ago, when a one-panel flashback in Robin Rises: Omega indicated pretty strongly that Darkseid’s Omega Effect (coincidence?) sent the New 52’s Caped Crusader bouncing through the time stream, just like his continuity-complicated predecessor. Accordingly, like so many DC stories of yore, Final Crisis still seems to have happened, even if in a significantly altered form.
Before we get too much further, rest assured this post isn’t dedicated to figuring out how a Final Crisis-shaped peg fits into a one-panel Robin Rising hole. Instead, I want to talk about how another FC plot point is helping to alter my perceptions of continuity.
Ahead of this afternoon’s DC Comics panel for The Multiversity at Comic-Con International, EW.com has debuted the mind-blowing — or is that mind-altering? — map of the DC Universe conceived by Grant Morrison.
Although the resolution isn’t high enough to make out all of the details, you can easily spot locations like the Source Wall, the Speed Force Wall, Dream, Apokolips, New Genesis, Skyland, the House of Heroes and the Rock of Eternity. The type in the Star Trek-like “Shift Ship Classification” on the right is a little too small for
old tired eyes.