DC Comics' July Highlights: "Batgirl," "Nightwing" and a "New Super-Man"
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.
Last week I wrote about Earth 2 in the context of its Supermen. The most recent issue, Earth 2 #26, brought some closure to the Apokolips-invasion plot and subplots, and this week’s Worlds’ Finest #26 does much the same for its displaced heroines. The September issues of both series will jump forward five years to tie into Futures End, and October brings the Earth 2: World’s End weekly miniseries.
Therefore, as these were the last couple of issues before everything will no doubt start to change, I want to talk this week about Earth-2’s unique place in the New 52’s multiverse, and what it might say about DC’s approach to legacy characters.
For a while it felt as if DC Comics was just going to talk about all its July books without ever soliciting them. News of Grayson and Robin Rising and relaunches of Suicide Squad and Teen Titans trickled out of the DC offices before the dam finally burst on Tuesday afternoon. (That’s why this week’s planned look at the “pilot episode” of Batman Eternal will have to wait.)
In fact, these solicitations are a little overstuffed, with a list of DC’s special September issues that lets us compare and contrast. Note too that while the September issues take place in The Future, they’re only two months removed from their July predecessors — so a good bit of current storylines may well be put on hold.
BECAUSE YOU LOVE THE NUMBERS
Here are the numbers. For the superhero line, DC is soliciting 42 regular ongoing series in July, plus the penultimate issue of Superman Unchained and an extra issue of Justice League. (It’s also putting out five annuals, five issues each of Batman Eternal and Futures End, a Harley Quinn special and the Robin Rising special, for a grand total of 61 single issues.) For September, there are 40 special Futures End tie-in issues, with 3-D covers like those on last year’s “Villains Month” comics. Basically, all the regular ongoing series except All Star Western, Justice League 3000 and Secret Origins get a Futures End issue in September. That doesn’t necessarily mean those three series are canceled, as none of them is part of Futures End’s “five years later” premise. September also includes a Booster Gold: Futures End issue, which one might reasonably think is a good indication of a new series for Booster — but I guess we’ll have to wait and see to be sure. Thus, July’s 42 ongoings, minus the three non-participating series, plus the Booster Gold issue, equal September’s 40 issues.
This week DC Comics released four more annuals, three of which are set in the past and one of which is a big, bridging chapter in an ongoing plot line. All are penned by the regular writers of their series, and are $4.99 for 38 pages. What else do you need to know?
Oh, who made them, what they’re about and whether they’re any good? Oh, sure, I can tell you that …
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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Apparently we misunderstood: The New 52 doesn’t refer to the number of titles DC Comics publishes each month but rather the number of times each title changes creative hands. That’s what it seems like sometimes, what with firings by email, quitting on Twitter, rehirings and more. The general impression from behind-the-scenes tales is that the New 52 is in chaos. However, the end product might suggest DC is actually somewhat holding it together.
Creative changes are nothing new; turnover is inevitable. The key is how that turnover is managed. The ideal is to have a long and satisfying run by a cohesive team smoothly transitioning to a new team. Lord knows that doesn’t always happen, and we’ve certainly been hearing about it not happening recently.
With all of the news of creators coming and going, or going before they even get there, it’s easy to get distracted from the results of the finished product. So, I decided to take a look at a sampling of DC’s New 52, from its launch in late summer 2011 to today, and see how the stability of various titles was affected by creative changes. For my survey, I looked at the Justice League family of books, which includes the flagship Justice League, as well as Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Arrow and others generally associated with the JLA that haven’t had a big Hollywood movie.
[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.
I debated about whether to include the current Worlds’ Finest as part of this project. According to the rules I set up for myself, I was only going to cover comics that were named after their female leads. I decided that because Birds of Prey was an all-female team, that would qualify, but for a lot of fans, Worlds’ Finest conjures images of Batman and Superman, not Huntress and Power Girl. Then I looked at the book’s actual logo. Although the official name of the comic is Worlds’ Finest, you can’t tell that by looking at the cover. It looks the way I’ve written it in the title of this post: Huntress/Power Girl: Worlds’ Finest. That qualifies, as far as I’m concerned.
But is it any good?
Worlds’ Finest corrects the biggest problem I had with its predecessor Huntress, also written by Paul Levitz. That miniseries had some fun stuff in it, but my complaint was that it wasn’t really about anything other than Stop That Generic Villain. The Huntress could have been switched out for any other hero without changing the story in a meaningful way. In Worlds’ Finest, Levitz makes the comic about his two heroes. As much as being about fighting bad guys, this is the story of Huntress and Power Girl’s friendship and their attempt to adjust to the new world they’ve landed in. That’s a huge improvement.
As a reflection of that, there’s a lot of banter between the two women. Unfortunately, it’s not up to the standard for that kind of thing set by Gail Simone on Birds of Prey. I’m tempted to let Levitz off the hook for not being able to perfectly replicate what worked about Black Canary and Oracle, but I don’t know if I should. As much as I realize it’s not completely fair, it’s also impossible to read Huntress and Power Girl’s quipping without comparing it to the easy relationship in Simone’s series. Black Canary and Oracle felt like real friends and their conversations felt like a natural part of their relationship. Huntress and Power Girl call each other “BFF” and say things like, “You go, girl.” I appreciate the effort, but even without the Birds of Prey comparison, their dialogue doesn’t feel real.
Passings | Dr. Scott Henson, who retired from a career as a neurosurgeon and became a cartoonist, has died at the age of 52. Henson, who treated Superman actor Christopher Reeve after his fall, took up the pen after his health problems forced him to leave the medical field and created the panel cartoon Natural Selection under the pen name Russ Wallace. The cartoon was picked up by Creators Syndicate and syndicated nationwide. [The Charleston Gazette]
Publishing | Deb Aoki provides a thorough analysis of Tokyopop’s Anime Expo panel, in which the once-shuttered manga publisher announced a new title and hinted at more. [About.com]
Creators | Paul Levitz discusses Worlds’ Finest, his buddy comic featuring Power Girl and Huntress: “There’s always been a certain level of humor and cool confidence in a light way associated with Power Girl that’s been fun, and the Huntress has always been the more determined of the women in the DC Universe — a woman with a sense of mission and a crossbow ready to take your eye out. [USA Today]
DC Comics released four of the six “New 52 Second Wave” titles this past week, making it hard to choose what to focus on this week … so I figured I wouldn’t. Instead, here are round-ups of reviews for all four titles: Earth 2 #1 by James Robinson, Nicola Scott, Trevor Scott and Alex Sinclair; Dial H #1 by China Miéville, Mateus Santolouco, Tany Horie and Richard Horie; World’s Finest #1 by Paul Levitz, George Pérez, Scott Koblish, Kevin Maguire, Hi-Fi and Rosemary Cheetham; and G.I. Combat #1 by J.T. Krul, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Ariel Olivetti and Dan Panosian.
Keith Callbeck, Comicosity: “The multiverse returns! To fanfare or dread, depending on how you feel about pre-Crisis DC. But this is not your parents’ Earth 2. Completely reimagined by James Robinson, the creator most responsible for bringing the JSA back to the DCU with his series Golden Age, this Earth 2 is a world recovering from war. The story feels like a really good Elseworlds book (which Golden Age was as well) and not a What If…? type tale, though that element exists.The heroes of Earth 2 have existed for much longer than the five years of Earth Prime. When the parademons attack, paralleling the first arc of Johns’ Justice League, it is a much more mature Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman there to battle them.”
For fans of DC’s various Multiverses, this has turned into a big week. Action Comics vol. 2 #9 offers Earth-23, while the new Earth 2 and Worlds’ Finest series center around the latest take on Earth-2.
First, though, a nitpicky note. As usual with DC’s cosmologies, things can get confusing quickly, so here are some helpful definitions. The Infinite Multiverse refers to DC’s classic Multiverse, which saw its last big hurrah in Crisis On Infinite Earths. Worlds of the Infinite Multiverse have their number-tags spelled out, as with Earth-One and Earth-Two. (The Infinite Multiverse also had some letter-tagged worlds.) The 52 Earths refers to the Multiverse revealed in 2006’s 52 #52. Its worlds are tagged only with numerals, as with Earth-2 and Earth-51. There is the Earth One series of graphic novels, with which we are not concerned. Finally, there is the Current Multiverse, which may in fact still be the 52 Earths, and which apparently follows the same naming conventions. I will try hard to avoid getting into a discussion which dwells on these distinctions.
Now then …
These three issues each take different perspectives on the parallel-world concept. Earth 2 #1 lays out the rough recent history of the parallel world and introduces us to its major players. Similarly, all of Action #9 takes place on Earth-23, although it’s part of the background of Grant Morrison’s larger Superman work. Earth-2 in Worlds’ Finest #1 is background as well, since it’s part of the main characters’ shared backstory, but not a place with which they currently interact. Accordingly, I liked each of these introductory issues on their own merits, because I thought each did what it needed to within those particular contexts.
SPOILERS FOLLOW for Earth 2 #1, Worlds’ Finest #1, and Action Comics vol. 2 #9.
Welcome to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy at our local comic shop based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a splurge item.
Well done, DC: For the second time, I’m suckered in by your wave of new launches. This week, if I had $15, I’d drop a chunk of that on Dial H #1, Earth-2 #1 and Worlds’ Finest #1 (All DC, Dial H and Worlds’ Finest both $2.99, Earth-2 $3.99). What can I say? I really love the DC Multiverse as a concept, and I’m curious to see what the new Dial H is like.
If I had $30, I’d add some more new launches in there: Jim McCann and Rodin Esquejo’s Mind The Gap looks like a lot of fun (Image, $2.99), as does the first issue of New Mutants/Journey Into Mystery crossover Exiled #1 (Marvel, $2.99). On the recommendation of many, I’m also going to grab The Spider #1 (Dynamite, $3.99) to try out David Liss’ writing; I had a lot of people say good things about his Black Panther, so I’m looking forward to this new book.
Should I feel the urge to splurge, DC have again won the day: Spirit World HC (DC, $39.99)? Genre stories by Jack Kirby from my favorite period of his work that I’ve never seen before, including some that have never been reprinted before? Seriously, there’s no way I couldn’t want this book.
I actually tried and then gave up on Paul Levitz and Marcus To’s Huntress before starting this tour of superhero comics featuring women, but one of the things I wanted to do with the experiment is to get a large, healthy sample of each series before passing judgment. I’d only read a couple of issues of Huntress before giving up on it, so I felt like I needed to go back for at least a couple of more. I ended up reading the entire six-issue mini-series, but that was just because it finished before I got around to catching up and I figured, “Why not?”
My problem with the series mostly has to do with lack of dramatic excitement. Marcus To draws an attractive Huntress and does a nice job of depicting the luxurious lifestyle of rich people living around the Mediterranean, but the plot is extremely basic: dictators who are also human traffickers are evil; Huntress wants to stop them because she’s a good guy. Though the story takes place mostly in Italy, there’s a Gotham connection to explain Huntress’ being on the case, but if this is your first exposure to her (which it is, because this is an all-new Huntress created especially for the New 52), just having the crimes relate to Gotham isn’t enough to know why that’s important. Does this Huntress have a Batman-like need to protect that city? Is she idly curious and chasing a rabbit down its hole (before uncovering something darker)? This comic isn’t telling.
When I wrote about Birds of Prey, I caught a little flack in the comments for complaining that there are no personal stakes for the heroes of that series. Most of the commenters understood though that I wasn’t suggesting that every villain has to have a personal connection with the hero. That gets unbelievable really fast and I’m not suggesting it for Huntress. But I do want to feel like there’s a reason for a story to be told other than just, “So there’s this bad guy and he needs to be stopped.” Why does this particular hero need to be the one to do it?
The next phase of the New 52 begins in May, as six new titles debut and Rob Liefeld carves out his own niche with a handful of others. My first impressions of the Next Six remain largely positive, but we’ll get into that in a bit.
SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES (GOLDEN AGE EDITION)
Basically, what we know about Earth-2 so far is that it has its own (multi-generational) version of the Trinity, it’s home to Alan Scott, Jay Garrick and probably Ted Grant, and at some point Darkseid invades. This does not mean that everyone who first appeared during the Golden Age still did. Indeed, we can suppose that, because the New-52 Huntress is apparently in her early 30s (at most, I’m guessing), that would make her parents at least 50-ish and probably closer to 60 or even 70. Thus, the Earth-2 Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle could have become Batman and Catwoman anywhere from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. It’s a significant change from the original Earth-Two, where Helena Wayne was born in the early 1950s and became the Huntress in the late ’70s.
Although they won’t be solicited for a few more weeks, DC has already been talking up the six new(ish) titles coming in May. G.I. Combat, Dial H, Ravagers, and Worlds’ Finest join the returning Batman Incorporated and the long-rumored Justice So– I mean, Earth 2 — as the replacements for most of the New-52’s lowest-selling books.
As with the original New-52 group, every new title except one is familiar to longtime DC fans; and as with the original New-52, that book spins out of an existing feature. (Then it was Batman Incorporated begetting Batwing; here it’s the Teen Titans/Superboy nexus spawning Ravagers.) However, where the New-52 tried noticeably to make many of its books accessible — or at least uprooted them from established DC lore — most of the new titles seem to require some prerequisite reading.