Let’s review: DC Comics (home of Gorilla Grodd, Blue Beetle, and Ragdoll. Oh, and Superman and Batman) decided to reboot their entire line of comics. Every comic they published started from number one again, including the comics that had been running non stop since the 1940’s, and nothing that we have ever read in a DC comic has actually happened before. The goal is to streamline their admittedly very confusing continuity, in order to make DC’s comics more accessible to new readers.
I’m a little surprised that I’m doing this, as I met the whole DC reboot thing with a resounding shrug of indifference. I’m not really doing much superhero reading these days, and continuity means less to me than ever before. I was reading exactly 5 DC comics before the reboot, and they were all cancelled (though to be fair, they probably would have all been cancelled anyways.) But as the day to the reboot got closer and closer, I have to admit that I got a little excited. Why?
Because superhero comics is what I grew up on. They’re what got me hooked on this medium, and no matter how many independent autobiographical graphic novels I read, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for superheroes. They were my first love, and you never forget your first love. The thing is, it takes a LOT for a superhero comic to impress me these days. When reading these, all I wanted was a good, enjoyable story. That’s it. I didn’t care about how the continuity didn’t jive with what happened before, or who the characters were. All I wanted were good stories.
Did I get my wish?
Batgirl #1 by Gail Simone and Adiran Syaf
A quick summary for those not familiar with Batgirl: For decades, she was Commisioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara. Who was then shot in the spine by the Joker, and ended up in a wheelchair. Barbara then became an information broker/IT support to DC’s superhero set under the name of Oracle, and as a result of the work that Gail Simone did with her on Birds Of Prey, proceeded to become one of the more interesting parts of the DCU. Other people went on to become Batgirl.
I had mixed reactions going into this book. Although I have all the confidence in the world in Gail Simone, I did think that this book was unnecessary. Bryan Miller had done an excellent job in getting me to love Stephanie Miller as Batgirl, and Gail Simone had also done an even better job over the years in getting me to love Barbara Gordon as Oracle. I loved that one of the more interesting players in the DCU was in a wheelchair, and I thought that putting her back in the Batgirl suit was gimmicky at best, superfluous at worst.
I hate to say it, but I think I was right.
Batgirl is a fine comic. There are some nice dialogue bits (always a Simone trademark), and I really liked Adrian Syaf’s action sequences a lot. And I really loved the concept of Batgirl being terrified to be Batgirl. We take it for granted that every superhero is a bucket full of courage, so it was nice to see one actually freeze up in the face of danger, and for good reason But I think one of the main things that the new DC books need to do is to show exactly WHY they should be replacing the books that they do. And there was nothing in Gail Simone’s Batgirl that accomplished that for me. You could have told the exact same story with Miller’s Batgirl, and in fact it might have made more sense, considering that character’s age, and lack of experience.
I think that Simone was put on this book because of her background with the Barbara Gordon character, but it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t the Barbara Gordon we know. Shared experiences aside, there is a casualness and joy about this version of the character that hasn’t existed in the character in decades, and it really feels like a step back for the character, not a step forward. And I guess that’s the point. But as far as I can tell, this Batgirl isn’t much different from the series it replaced, except that A) The name of the character is different, and B) it isn’t quite as good.
Batwing #1 by Judd Winick and Ben Oliver
This is one of the most underordered of the new DC books, but I picked it up based on the strength of Judd Winick’s skills. I’ve always liked his superhero writing, and while his talents are obvious here, I don’t think they are going to be enough to really make this book a success.Although the setting of Africa is somewhat untapped for a superhero book, at the end of the day, it’s just another costumed guy fighting other costumed guys. There is nothing “bad” about this book whatsoever, but there’s also not enough that’s unique about it to justify more than a first read.
Detective Comics #1 by Tony Daniel and Ryan Winn
While Daniel’s talents as an artist are obvious, his skills as a writer have been lost on me thus far, and unfortunately Detective Comics #1 doesn’t do much to change my mind. As with most of the other DC books I read today, this was a fine superhero comic book. Rights get wronged, bad guys get vanquished, etc. etc. But the dialogue here is overly heavy-handed at times, and there are a lot of words that most likely were best unsaid. For the most part, there seemed to be almost no difference between this Batman, and the Batman we knew two weeks ago, except that A) his costume sucks, and B) everyone is about 10 years younger.
But what’s getting people talking is the final page. And don’t get me wrong, it’s an AWESOME final page. One of the best cliffhangers I’ve read this year in fact. Unfortunately I had to slog through 24 average pages to read it.
Justice League International #1 by Dan Jurgens and Aaron Lopresti
The JLI is a beloved concept among DC fans. In its hey day, the title represented an excellent mix of humour and action, both of which are traits that are sadly absent in today’s first issue. It’s hard to see just how DC got this one so wrong. It wasn’t even 6 months ago that Judd Winick was finishing up probably the best JLI story NOT written by Keith Giffen. The team was re-energized, sales were good. And then this. It’s hard to imagine a comic less fun, less funny, and less full of the spark that got people invested in these characters in the first place. That this was actually published does not give me confidence in DC’s editorial team.
Stormwatch #1 by Paul Cornell and Miguel Sepulveda
When talking to people online, this seemed to be the book people were most curious about,probably because it involved the most obvious changes to DC continuity. Like I’ve said before, I don’t care about the changes so much. I have no problem with change. All I care about is good stories. And this, my friends, is NOT a good story. In fact, this was a terrible story. Kudos to DC for trying to bring back old Wildstorm characters, but what DC doesn’t seem to understand is that the original Ellis/Millar run on Authority had NOTHING to do with the characters. It had everything to do with what was happening in the world at the time, and in comics. Authority wasn’t about superheroes, it was a reaction against them. And with all due respect to the talented writers who tried to salvage the Authority after Mark Millar left the book, but it’s a comic whose time has passed. Every interesting story you could tell with a group of heroes who have positioned themselves above even earth’s premier superheroes has been done, and with the all-ages mandate that DC has, there is NO way that they’re going to be able to tell the edgy, dark stories that the concept demands. Paul Cornell is a writer that has been given much praise as of late, but there’s been nothing since his days on Captain Britain that has really impressed me. And this clumsy, half-baked, watered down attempt at reviving a concept that should have stayed dead does nothing to change that opinion.
Swamp Thing #1 by Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette
I’ve never really cottoned to the Swamp Thing character. I know, I know. It’s the character that first introduced Alan Moore to North American audiences, and so there will always be a soft spot in people’s heart for the concept. But it’s never done that much for me, and I’ve ignored most attempts to update the character. So if I don’t care about Swamp Thing, then why did I pick this up? Two words: Scott Snyder. His run on Detective Comics really surprised and impressed me, and his new series for Image is intriguing as well. Unfortunately, he seems to be saddled with a LOT of baggage here, as the editorial committee at DC seems determined to cram a lot of back story down our throats. So even though in theory all continuity has been rebooted, there are still stories that apparently happened, and so most of this issue is about telling us how all of that stuff matters, even though it shouldn’t. This book looked pretty, but there was nothing in it of any real substance, and nothing that would convince me to get a second issue.
Men Of War #1 by Ivan Brandon and Tom Derenick
There have already been comparison’s to Garth Ennis’ work with this title, but I can’t see it. Other than the fact that it’s a book about military men, there is none of the emotion, or tension, or drama that you would find in an Ennis book when he’s at the top of his game. What you do get here is a solid, Sgt. Rock update. And while I have no problem with a solid Sgt. Rock update, and appreciate that there is room in this DCU for non-superpowered folks, this is simply just another ok book, among a lot of other ok books that were released today.
Animal Man by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman
This was probably one of the most anticipated of the new books, and I’m happy to report that its also easily the best of the bunch. By a lot. Why? Because this was the only title of the lot today that actually took any chances, and that was anything more than just a run-of-the-mill DC superhero book. And it was also the only one to really try to take advantage of the slimmer continuity and try to really reinvent it’s character in a real way. I mean, any superhero comic book that starts with a full-page of TEXT, and then continues with 5 full pages of a family talking around a breakfast table has to be something special right? Or terrible. Thankfully in this case it’s the former. Jeff Lemire continues to show why he is one of the brightest young stars in comics today with a book so full of emotion, drama, and character development, that I kept thinking I was reading a Vertigo book. So far, it’s only one of two of the new titles that actually made me excited to read the second issue.
Action Comics by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales
When reading online feedback about this reboot, variations on this theme kept cropping up: “At least Action Comics by Geoff Johns will be great right? “. It was nice to see that at least one prediction regarding this relaunch came true. At first glance, Superman is DC’s character most in need of a reboot. He stands for truth, justice, and is a black and white figure in a world full of greys.In other words, the character doesn’t really fit in today’s world. And so what does Grant Morrison do? He exaggerates every single one of the character traits that make Superman anachronistic to this era. Morrison’s Superman is a cocky, yet naive man-child stumbling from adventure to adventure, never once thinking about the consequences of his actions. There are bad guys. They need to be stopped. The end.
That’s the way Morrison’s Superman thinks, and it’s a wonderful character flaw to have in a character that has no actual weaknesses. The other thing that Morrison does here is to capture the sheer wonder that everyone in Metropolis regarding the miracles that Superman performs on a regular basis. On page after page, we see characters react in disbelief at what this man of steel can do. It’s a refreshing take on a world that is usually pretty blase about these sorts of things. I also need to mention Rags Morales here. He’s been one of my favourite superhero artists ever since Identity Crisis, but I think he surpasses that work here. He captures the dynamic energy of our hero so perfectly, that I can’t believe he hasn’t always been doing this book.
If it took upsetting the entire DC apple cart to get this book, it was worth it.
To sum up: Out of the 9 books I read today, I loved 2, liked one, despised two, and thought the rest were ok. The one thing that I think DC missed the boat on is to really start from scratch with these characters. Most of these books take place about 5 years after the first superheroes were sighted. So even though OUR history with these characters didn’t exist, they still do have a history, and too many of the books needed more exposition than should have been necessary for comics attempting to entice new viewers.
Still, not a horrible first week, I guess.
So if you’re at all interested in comics, or sleeping with someone who is, you know all about the big DC relaunch that’s coming. DC Comics is essentially wiping the slate clean, and rebooting their entire universe. None of the stories that you loved growing up actually happened, and they are rebuilding their entire continuity from the ground up. It’s like Greedo shooting first, but on an epic, cosmic scale.
I find myself in a perpetual state of not giving a shit. To me, good comic stories are good comic stories. The minute I stopped caring so much about things like continuity, is the minute I started really enjoying comics. And besides, I’m not reading much superhero stuff these days anyways, so they could put a Superman suit on a gay monkey and I probably wouldn’t notice. But because EVERYONE is talking about it, I decided to read the very first issue of the new reboot: Justice League #1. This issue is the first real peak that DC is giving us into their new universe, and as such should be designed to absolutely blow new readers away, and to give old readers a real sense of ‘HOLYCRAPICANTBELIEVETHEYDIDTHATTOSUPERMAN’
This issue succeeds on neither front.
Mediocre is a word that gets thrown around a lot, with usually a more negative connotation than it deserves. But sadly, it’s the perfect word for this sleepy, sleepy comic book. First of all, if you’re going to have a comic book about a team of heroes, I expect to see that team in the book. No? How about half the team? Just barely? Sigh. This issue focuses almost exclusively on Batman and Green Lantern, and one might suspect that writer Geoff Johns thought that his Green Lantern movie was going to be a hit when he wrote this, and thus decided to showcase the two heroes most recognizable to modern audiences. So basically Green Lantern and Batman team up to go after evil aliens, and find themselves on the run from the cops for most of the issue. This gives them plenty of time to snark at each other, and then at the end of the issue a guy shows up that I think is supposed to be Superman but couldn’t be because there is NO way that DC would ever allow such a bad costume design to actually get into one of their comic books.
And that’s pretty much the issue. Two people team up to take down a bad guy, and then another person shows up at the end. Hardly a world building blockbuster. This book wasn’t “bad” in the traditional sense. Jim Lee is considered one of the great living superhero comic book artists for a reason, and he makes pretty much every page pop here. And Geoff Johns put together a decent ‘Heroes put aside their differences” story. But this book is essentially the pilot for the biggest comic launch the business has seen since 1986.. Words like “decent” and “average” shouldn’t be used for this book. Words like ‘Skullripping” and “EyeballExploding” should.
Let me clarify: My negativity isn’t a backlash against the continuity changes they’re making here. I don’t care about any of that. I don’t care that it’s different, all I care about is that it’s good. And this ain’t.
I saw two movies this weekend. One was a smart, funny, science fiction story with likeable characters, believable (though incredible) situations, and entertaining drama. The other one was Green Lantern.
For those of you who don’t know the story of Green Lantern, here it is: An ancient race once gathered together to…blah blah blah…skip ahead a few thousand years, and now Ryan Reynolds has a green ring that allows him to create roller coasters out of thin air.
Let me clarify that last part: An actor with charisma and charm of Ryan Reynolds is put in the situation of being responsible for the most powerful weapon in the galaxy. Sounds like a great movie, right? He could spend most of the movie learning how to control this incredibly powerful device. He’d make some mistakes at the beginning, we’d see a lot of reaction shots from people being freaked out by the fact that there’s a GREEN MAN WHO CAN FLY AND SHOOT FIRE FROM HIS FINGER, he could learn some valuable yet subtle lessons about heroism, and then he beats the bad guy, who could turn out to be an ALIEN! WOW! In the last scene, we could see that not only do we have this great and AWESOME new hero that we love, but there’s a big reveal that there’s actually 2300 more of him and THEY LIVE IN OUTER SPACE! Holy Crap! I can’t wait for the sequel!!!
Sounds like a great premise right?
It is. It’s so good, they made a comic out of it. It’s called Green Lantern. Unfortunately, that’s not the story that Warner and director Martin Campbell chose to make here. The story they chose to make involves a smarmy spoiled dick doing his very best to not be surprised by any of the incredible things he’s seen, which include a cheesy alien planet that made Thor’s Asgard look like Brooklyn, and a hideous alien fear monster that can grunt semi-intelligent English. No, not Blake Lively.
There is so much wrong with this movie that I’m not really sure where to begin. Actually, I do.
I’m not saying it’s easy to write superhero movies. It’s not. But there is almost nothing in this script that is redeemable, from either a plot, or a dialogue sense, and I really don’t know how this movie got made. The first mistake that the movie makes, and then repeats throughout, is that it forgets one of the cardinal rules of storytelling in a visual medium: You can show a character doing something, or feeling something. Or you can have the character tell us about what he’s doing or how he’s feeling. But when you have him do both at the same time it’s redundant. And insulting to your audience. Green Lantern is guilty of this on numerous occasions, and so we have Hal tell us he’s feeling bad about his father, and then we see images of his father. And then we have Blake Lively tell us that she’s sad, and then we see big crocodile tears of poison dripping down her cheeks. This movie is many things, but subtle ain’t one of them.
Another thing missing from the script is any real sense of wonder from its characters at the crazy stuff that’s going on. None of our characters seem especially surprised that these aliens are have expressed interest in them, and treat them with about the same level of interest as you would a moldy fridge. Remembering to write characters as being constantly amazed at cosmic events is something that’s easy to forget to write about in superhero comic books, as those kinds of things happen in comics all the time. But in superhero movies, especially in origin movies, keeping that sense of wonder is key to convincing the audience that they are seeing something amazing. Marvel’s recent Thor is a perfect example. There isn’t a second in that film where Natalie Portman’s character stops being absolutely flummoxed at the crazy stuff that’s happening around her. As the “everyman” , She’s our portal into the movie, and we share her surprise at every step. In GL, Ryan Reynolds is our “everyman”, but he travels to other planets, shoots laser beams from his hands, and encounters mutant telekinetics with about the same level of interest as you show when you go into a Wal-Mart you’ve never been in before.
The other problem is that by the time we see Reynolds in space, we’ve already beaten him there. Far too much of the exposition of the film takes place in the first 10 minutes of the film, before our hero even shows up. And so we learn everything about the movie way before our hero does, including what his ring is, where it comes from, and who the villain of the story is. We should have learned the secrets of the film at the same time our hero did. If the real story here is that a human discovers a truly powerful space weapon, we shouldn’t see the space weapon be used numerous times before he even stumbles across it.
The biggest issue I have with the script however, is its scope. I like ambition in filmmaking, but DC and Warner seemed to be SO convinced that they had money on their hands with Green Lantern that they seemed bound and determined to cram the plot and exposition of three movies, into one movie. Imagine if George Lucas had told us that Darth Vader was Luke’s father the first time Luke and Han stole aboard the Death Star. Or if Frodo and Gollum had battled for control of the One Ring in Mordor immediately after the Hobbits left the Shire? In storytelling, the journey is just as important (if not more so) as the destination. But GL is so crammed with “This is how we got here and this is where we’re going” that’s neither necessary or engaging, that we lose interest almost immediately.
I’m not going to spend much time on this, as these poor saps didn’t have much to work with. Reynolds was passable as the hero. But while he’s a fine actor, he wasn’t nearly good enough to break free from the clunky script. I suppose that a stronger lead could have done something with this, but I doubt it. Peter Saarsgard’s Hector Hammond and Mark Strong’s Sinestro threaten to steal the show with some pretty decent performances, but again, the source material lets them down. But it’s not until we see Blake Lively hit the screen that we know what true pain is. While the other members of the cast struggle to break free from the lacklustre script, Lively seems to embrace it, and recites each clumsy line in a stilted…..emotionless….. monotone…..voice, that makes one wonder if she knew she was in a movie at all, or if she thought that she was reading off letters from a chart in an eye exam. Note to Warners: When casting your next major motion picture, maybe try auditioning real actors.
Bad movies get made all the time, so this shouldn’t be that big a deal. But it is, in that DC and Warner had a lot riding on this film. In fact, I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the future of DC as a successful, independent IP unit in the Warner family depended on the success or failure of Green Lantern. This was DC’s first movie where all of their ducks (marketing, comic book tie ins, toys, scripts, etc) were firmly influenced by the DC office, and this was their first opportunity to show that they could make stars out of lesser-known characters, the way that Marvel Studios has done with Iron Man or Thor. But instead they proved what we already knew; that they are incapable of making entertaining non-Nolan superhero movies. Which means your chances of seeing a Justice League or Flash movie, just got a lot smaller.
I’m not a big comic con person. I’ve been to San Diego’s famed convention a few times, but haven’t been to many other than that. In fact, despite the subject matter of my blog, I’m not really a comic book geek at all, or at least in terms of sharing a lot of the “truisms” that comic book geeks are supposed to have. Most of my friends don’t read comic books, I don’t play video games, and I watch as many independent art-house films as I do big budget sci-fi films. I also have personal hygiene, have basic social interaction skills, and have actually known the touch of a woman. Ha! I kid because I love.
But I do love comic books. I love them, and I love talking about them, and I’m even working on writing them. And so I trekked down to Seattle’s Emerald City Comicon yesterday, along my good friend and writing partner, Jay. My wife came along for the ride, but spent the day shopping, and ogling the good-looking shoe sales guys at Nordstroms.
As I’ve said, I’ve been to the San Diego Comic Con several times, and while I found it exciting, I can’t say it did much for me from a comic book perspective. I did get some nice sketches, and saw some crazy movie panels, but it’s not creator friendly, and to be honest it’s a little soul crushing. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Emerald City was quite comic book focused, and at least from my perspective, seemed to be a lot more creator friendly than San Diego is. Geek culture was prevalent, however, in that there was lots of cosplay, lots of people who still can’t over the fact that Firefly was cancelled, and excessive line ups for TV “stars” that aren’t famous enough to even make the janitorial crew at the medical centre where Celebrity Rehab is filmed.
We went just for one day, and kept to the convention floor for the most part.There were panels, and while many of them were comic book themed, they mostly consist of the following: Disgruntled Fan: “I love (insert obscure character’s name here. It could be Superman. Or Wolverine. Or the Golden Pretzel. Doesn’t really matter).” “I don’t like that you did (insert random character event here. It’s usually death. Or turning the character gay. Or a combination of the two) to him. Since my world view is so narrow, I thought that rather than voting with my dollar and supporting different comics created by talented creators that don’t necessarily succeed or fail on the whims of billion dollar multi-nationals, and since I really only want to read about the adventures of 70-year-old marketing franchises, I’ve decided to come here and complain to you, even though you have tried to revitalize (insert character here) a dozen times to no avail, and tell you that not only that everything you have done to this point sucks, but also to tell you that everything you are planning on doing in the future sucks, and also that ideas that you haven’t even formulated in your brain suck.” Editor-in-Chief: Good question! We love (insert character here), and trust me when I tell you that we’re planning great things with (insert character here) but I can’t quite tell you about them yet, mostly because everything we’ve ever done with that character has failed miserably, and because anytime we try anything new, you shit all over us, and so now we’re terrified of change, even though we need it in order to survive in the long-term. We hope to have announcements at (insert upcoming comic convention held in more important city) regarding (insert character here), although you and I both know that any new thing that we do with that character will be ignored by the next poor creative team that we somehow convince to take over the thankless task of babysitting our increasingly fickle fan base. Good question!”
And so it goes. As I said, Jay and I spent the day on the floor, except for a brief spell where Jay decided to stalk the guy who played Indiana Jones. No, not that guy. The other one. No, not that one. The guy you’ve never heard of. Right.
I brought in a few books to get signed by creators that I knew were going to be there, but line-ups deterred me from following through on this for the most part. They weren’t that long, I just didn’t feel like standing in them. However, I did get books signed by Matt Kindt, Ethan Nicolle, and Ben Templesmith, so it still worked out all right. Jay is better than this than I am, mostly because a) he has freaky luck in picking the exact moment where no one else is bothering the person, and b) he’s actually a friendly, engaging person that people aren’t terrified of when he says hi. So he’s very much unlike me, and 98% of the rest of the people who go to these things. And so he got signatures by Greg Rucka and Geof Darrow.
In terms of original art, I got a nice little sketch of Hellboy by the writer/artist of Icarus, Ryan Cody. The big prize for me was buying an original piece of art from 3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man, by one of my current favourite creators, Matt Kindt. Jay won out on this as well, as he commissioned Matt to do a truly amazing piece for him. Jay picked Indiana Jones as the subject, and so Matt complied and the results were incredible.
I also picked up a few books, but it was a relatively small haul: The awesome little BPRD – Hell On Earth: Seattle comic that Dark Horse produced just for this con; the first issue of Officer Downe by Joe Casey; Casey’s Godland TP’s Vol. 4 & 5; a really interesting little sci-fi graphic novel
called Jan’s Atomic Heart by Canadian Simon Roy; Two The Incredibles trades by Mark Waid; The Solomon Kane: Death’s Black Riders TP (I also got writer Scott Allie to sign this); the TP of a mini called Olympus, also signed by writer Nathan Edmondson; the first issue of Icarus, signed by creator Ryan Cody; and a copy of Mephisto And The Empty Box, which is the only graphic novel by Matt Kindt that I didn’t own. Awesome for me!
Probably the most valuable thing I got in Seattle was information. I’m currently writing my own comic books with my writing partner Jay, and so we went to Seattle with the goal of trying to talk to as many writers and creators we could, just about their experiences and recommendations. We had some awesome talks, and here are some highlights:
Oni Press Booth – In terms of the bigger companies, these guys were the most helpful, and the most engaging. The guy running the booth really went out of his way to talk to us, and gave us the low down on some my favourite Oni titles, like the Sixth Gun, Wasteland, Stumptown, and Guerillas. According to him, putting out books on time is his top focus this year, and so their new policy is not to solicit books that aren’t completely done. Also had a short talk with Brian Hurtt, artist of the Sixth Gun, and he told us that the book is on track, and that they’re continuing to work on it for the forseeable future.
Top Shelf – I’m a fan of Top Shelf in general, and although they’re small, I think that they put out a nice cross-section of stuff. I asked about when the next installment of League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen was coming out, and was told this summer for sure. Uh huh. Had a nice conversation with J.D. Arnold, the writer of BB Wolf And The 3 LP’s, about the blues, and the incredible art work of Rich Koslowski. The only negative thing about this booth was that when both Jay and I complained that both copies of a book that we own are falling apart, we were given explicit instructions as how to fix it ourself. No offer to exchange the book, or refund our money, but rather a how-to guide on book binding. Good if you’re a 19th century homesteader, I guess, but not what we were looking for.
Dark Horse, and DC – Meh. Not much going on here, and I’m not really sure why they bothered putting up booths.
The Image booth – This was probably the most fun we had at the con. Had some really great conversations with people like John Layman (the writer of Chew), Nathan Edmonson (the writer of The Light, and Who Is Jake Ellis?, and Jay Faerber (writer of Noble Causes, and what looks to be a really interesting new crime book called Near Death), and Jim Zubkavitch (writer of Skullkickers). I think that working these kinds of things can be hell for up and coming creators, and so the impression we got is that they enjoyed talking to people who actually knew and appreciated their work. Got some great tips on networking and writing, and some cool peeks into what they were working on in the future.
We also spent some time talking with Cameron Stewart, the creator of Sin Titulo. He confirmed what had been reported by Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool.com, that he will probably be putting out Sin Titulo in hardcover form sometime in 2012. Very friendly and engaging guy. He also seemed to appreciate talking to people who have read something that was so obviously near and dear to his creative heart.
Probably the most rewarding time we spent there was in talking to the writer/artist Matt Kindt. Both Jay and I are big fans of his, and seeing him be so kind and generous with his time was awesome. He told us a bit about some of the projects that he’s working on, including an upcoming spy comic for Dark Horse, and a sequel of sorts to Super Spy.
So all in all, a rewarding trip. Although I did like the comic book focus, I was still surprised at how few small comic publishers were there. I know it’s Seattle, and the little guys probably have to be pretty choosy which cons they go to, but still. That being said, it was still great to see so many people enjoying the medium I love.
Well, we’re down to the home stretch, folks. This is my final DC blog post. That’s right, I’ve read almost an entire bookshelf worth of DC trade collections, and I think I might need to be hospitalized. I’ve culled over a full shelf (about 100 trades) worth of trades, which unfortunately I’ve already replaced with recent purchases. Although I’m sick to death of superhero comics, I still have another full bookcase worth of superhero comics to read after this. But before I can get to my Marvel books, I have one more DC blog to write. Be strong. Be brave.
Young Justice – Young Justice, Sins Of Youth
This was a much-loved series from a few years ago that features a junior version of the Teen Titans. It featured Robin (later known as Red Robin), Impulse (later known as Kid Flash, than Flash, then dead Flash, then Kid Flash again), and Superboy (later known as Dead Superboy, and now just known as Superboy again) It’s written by Peter David, which means it’s heavy on funny, with a healthy dose on heart and soul. I thought I’d be culling this, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it stands up quite well as a light-hearted, fun, superhero series, though obviously extremely goofy at times. A lot of the current relationships that are major parts of today’s DCU were set up here.
Zatanna – Everyday Magic
A short, sweet, and entertaining one-shot that Paul Dini wrote a few years back. Definitely a nice mix of the superheroic and magic sides of the DCU. I wish Paul Dini’s new Zatanna series was half as good.
Various – Secret Origins, DC Universe Illustrated by Neal Adams, Across The Universe – The DC Universe Stories of Alan Moore, Adventure Comics 80-Page Giant
When judging anthology trades like this, the rules are simple: There are going to be hits and misses. If the hits outweigh the misses, then you’re in good shape. Unfortunately for these, the reverse is true. Secret Origins and Adventure Comics were fluff anthologies, with very little to keep the interest of anyone other than the die hards. The Alan Moore and Neal Adams trades are of higher quality, but ultimately disposable. Though obviously the art in the Adams trade is strong, the stories themselves are weak, and nowhere near the quality of his Batman or Deadman work from the same time period. The Alan Moore trade is a cash grab, but there is only one good story in here to speak of (though it’s a GREAT one: Superman’s For The Man Who Has Everything with Dave Gibbons) it wasn’t worth keeping.
Various – Bizarro Comics, Bizarro World
For those of you who found Marvel’s recent Strange Tales anthology a little familiar, it’s probably because they stole the idea from DC. These two engaging collections consist of dozens of indie comics top creators riffing on their favourite DC characters. No rules, no guidelines, just fun. As you can imagine, the results are VERY mixed, but there’s fun and joy on every page. Highlights from the first volume include: Chip Kidd and Tony Millionaire’s take on Batman, Dylan Horrocks and Jessica Abel’s Supergirl and Mary Marvel story, and the critically acclaimed “Superman’s Babysitter” by Kyle Baker and Liz Glass.
Various – Blackest Night
DC’s most recent mega-crossover. This started out extremely well, and the tension Geoff Johns builds at the beginning is palpable. Sadly, it soon collapses under its own weight, and becomes just a little too big for its own good. It’s also never really clear what the motivation of the villains is, which is never good, and is a happenstance all too common in DC books these days. Here is my number one rule regarding big events: The “event” should be able to have a start, middle, and end, all in the pages of its own book. There can be cross-overs and companion books, but the big beats should all take place in its own pages. DC breaks these rules more often than not, and so unfortunately you also need to get the corresponding Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps trades to get all the major plot points. Still a good, creepy story for the most part, and a worthy pay-off to the last several years of Green Lantern comics.
Various – Crisis On Infinite Earths
This is the grandaddy of all big event stories, and to this day is the gold standard by which all big events are compared. The problem is that it’s not really as good as you remember it being. Oh, the premise is sound: All of earth’s heroes team up to fight an intergalactic menace, with plot and art by one of the business’ top creative teams at the time. But the stories strengths are also it’s weakness’. This story is huge. So huge in fact, that’s it almost impossible to tell you what it was about. Characters float in and out with no explanation, plot points seem urgent but then get dropped immediately, and no one outside of a life long DC fan would be able to figure out who any of these people are. On the plus side: Some great character moments from a lot of neglected DC characters, the best art EVER in an event book like this (Seriously), and 2 of the best, if not the very best deaths in superhero history. Not to mention the final issue, which features a battle between Earth 2 Superman and the Anti-Monitor so drenched with action and drama that it’ll make your teeth hurt.
Various – 52 Vol. 1-4
An ambitious DC experiment that should have failed miserably, but instead worked so well that they’ve tried to replicate it ever since, though with mixed results. Here is the skinny: 4 of DC’s top writers at the time would team up with Keith Giffen and other artists to produce a 52 issue story, with each issue coming out once a week. Not only was the book never late, but the book was also extremely good. In fact, I can’t get over how great this was, considering how much of an editorial and logistical nightmare it must have been to produce. The best part is that it featured some of DC’s lesser known characters (The Question, Black Adam, Elongated Man, Animal Man, Doc Magnus, Booster Gold, etc), and many of these have gone on to become much larger parts of the DCU as a result. It’s one of my favourites of DC’s recent events books, and JG Williams covers are worth the price of admission alone.
Various – History Of The DC Universe
After the first Crisis, DC continuity was a bit of a mess. This was Wolfman and Perez’ attempt to set the record straight, and while it’s not much if you’re looking for a cohesive story, the art is gorgeous, and it’s a worthy companion to Crisis On Infinite Earths.
Various – Identity Crisis
This was (and still is), an extremely controversial story, and one that got fans riled up like a hornet’s nest. Here’s the premise: The wife of a B list hero is brutally murdered. In the frenzy to capture her killer, many secrets come to light, involving some tough decisions that our heroes had to make in the past. This was the beginning of DC’s recent descent into morbidity, and it’s not an easy read. But putting the actual events in the book aside, it’s a very powerful story, and works extremely well as a stand alone event. Brad Meltzer doesn’t do nearly enough comic book work, and Identity Crisis might be his finest moment. Add one of the best fight scenes in recent superhero comics, and you’ve got yourself a powerful, yet very disturbing read.
Various – Countdown to To Infinite Crisis, WWIII, Final Night, Rann-Thanagar War
DC embraces “big events” like no one else. Every time they do one, they put a dozen supporting minis and one shots, and before you know it, you’ve filled up an entire shelf just on their cast-offs. Obviously some good can come from events like this, but I’ve found that Marvel does a better job of keeping the quality high on their secondary books than DC has when in comes to recent big events. Although the events they’re tied to (Infinite Crisis and 52 respectively) are strong, Prelude andWW3 aren’t worth a second glance. The Rann-Thanagar War and Final Night both are decent reads, and while I’m not keeping them, they might be of interest to DC completists.
Various – Prelude To Infinite Crisis, Infinite Crisis, Day Of Vengeance, Infinite Crisis Companion, Omac Project
This was more or less a sequel to the first Crisis, and it would be hard to conceive of a more complicated, unnecessary story. Remember when I said that a successful event comic needed to have all of its key plot points contained within the main book itself? Not only does Infinite Crisis NOT do that, it barely has ANY major plot points in its own pages, and much of the actual story is spread among a dozen other spin-offs, one-shots, and cross-overs. Sadly, those stories (Villains United and Omac Project being the best examples of this) are often stronger than the main books itself. This story works ONLY if you read everything, and since I have, I guess it’s a success. But it’s really an overhyped mess, whose only real memorable moment is that it’s responsible for the best Blue Beetle story ever written.
Various – Kingdom Come, The Kingdom
Kingdom Come is one of the most heralded DC stories of all time, and there are some good reasons for that. It’s set around 15 to 20 years in DC’s future. America is overrun with metahumans who spend all their time beating the crap out of each other, and the line between hero and villain is non-existent. As usual, it’s up to Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman to save the day, but it takes some time for all 3 to get on the same page. This book is memorable for a few reasons. It’s Alex Ross who gets all the credit, and he deserves it. His painting has never been as good, or as focused as it was on Kingdom Come, and many of the new designs he gave some of DC’s iconic characters proved so effective that they are being used today. But I think it’s Mark Waid who is really the unsung hero of this piece. It’s his understanding of the inherent traits of each character that really makes this piece work, and I think any list of the greatest Superman stories of all time would have to include Kingdom Come. It’s a true epic, and I know of more than a few people who cite this as their very favourite DC story of all time. It’s follow-up, The Kingdom, hasn’t aged quite as well, but it’s a nice companion piece, and has enough backstory to some of the events in its predessesor to make it worth keeping.
Various – New Frontier
Although Kingdom Come gets far more mainstream praise, it’s Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier that captured my heart, and I would have to say that it gets my vote as best DC event story of all time. That’s right. Of all time. Why? Because no one has captured the wonder and imagination of DC’s Silver Age like Cooke did. He gets right to the essence of each character, and it’s impossible to read this without a huge smile on your face. It’s one of my all time favourite comic stories in any genre, and if you haven’t read it, you’re really missing out.
Various – 9-11 Vol. 2
After 9-11, a lot of the comic book companies rushed to put out comics that showed their support for the victims. I thought that this one was the best of the lot. Though I don’t agree with some of the politics, there are some beautiful stories here, and it’s a snapshot of history that hopefully will never have to be repeated.
Next up: What you’ve all been waiting for: MARVEL!!!!!!
Before I start, I should mention my wife. She has been awesome in all of this. She’s put up with my nose being in various comic books for the past 6 months, and has also done an excellent job in feigning interest in such topics as “Why Brian Bendis’ Daredevil is vastly superior to Ed Brubaker’s Daredevil” and “Yes, The Hulk could beat Superman in a fight, but only if it’s the green Hulk as written by Greg Pak, and not the grey Hulk as written by Peter David”. The one snag is that she has an annoying habit of leaning over my shoulder to see what I’m reading right around the time that I’ve turned the page to a panel of some anatomically impossible trollop dressed in a thong thinner than Michael Ignatieff’s credibility. Usually she gives me a sigh, and then goes on with her day. Not when I read Teen Titans however. Because as any self-respecting comic book fan knows, Teen Titans means Starfire. Or as my wife put it, the love child of Sailor Moon and Chaka Khan.
That being said, my wife’s mocking of my hobbies is a small price to pay for paradise, so there you go.
As is the usual with some of the weirder DC concepts we’re discussing, some back story for the Teen Titans is required.
In the late 1960’s, DC realized that they had a glut of teen sidekicks (Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, Speedy) taking up a lot of space, and decided to put them in a team. And so the Teen Titans were born. As befitting the era, there were a lot of “Groovy, man!”, and “Out of sight!” & “I can’t believe Batman touched me there, dude” and so ons. The comics were corny, and for the most part shouldn’t be discussed.
Fast forward a decade and a bit. Marvel had a HUGE hit with the X-Men, a motley group of powered young people who spent a lot of time dealing with personal drama. And so since coming up with an original idea would have been too hard, DC remembered that they had their own group of powered young people who spent a lot of time dealing with personal drama, and dusted them off. They put two up and comers on the book (Marv Wolfman and George Perez), and the New Teen Titans were born. There have been endless versions of that group ever since, of extremely variable quality.
Teen Titans – Terra Incognito, The Judas Contract, The Terror Of Trigon, Who Is Donna Troy?
When people think of the Titans, they think of this version, the early ’80’s one created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. These Titans were superheroes, but they were also teenagers. Which meant that they were moody, had problems with father figures, and screwed each other silly. This sounds superficial, but in reality this was a hell of a comic book. The focus was character development first, plotting second, but Wolfman supplied a healthy amount of both on a regular basis. The traits and backstory that Wolfman wrote into these characters are still used today, which is pretty rare in an industry that reinvents it’s characters about as often as Sarah Palin edits her Facebook page. And what can I say about the art? It rocks, that’s what I can say. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. When it comes to big-time superhero action, nobody beats George Perez. Nobody.
Although Judas Contract is usually considered the pinnacle of the series, my personal favourite is the Terror arc. It’s a mini-masterpiece in how build tension in a superhero comic. You truly feel as if these heroes are beyond redemption, and that this is the last time you’re seeing them. The despair leaks from every page. And I don’t think there has been a more disturbing image in superhero comics than the shot of Raven finally going over to the dark side and following in her father’s footsteps. Creepy, powerful stuff. The only “miss” in this batch of trades is the Who Is Donna Troy collection, simply because it highlights how rediculous DC’s attempts at salvaging the character of Wonder Girl have been. It’s still worth owning for the beautiful art by Perez and Phil Jimenez, but it’s a bit of a mess in places. I’ll also use this quote from my friend Donovan, where he calls me out for not mentioning that “the original issue of Who is Donna Troy? Is one of the single greatest stories in the history of the medium and one of only two works of art that nearly succeeding in getting a young B-Boy Dram E. Dram to shed a single tear of appreciation. (The other being when they shaved the Lion’s mane in The Witch, The Lion, and The Wardrobe.)” For those of you who need that translated, he meant to say that it was really good, and that he liked it. He also says that “no other single issue meant so much to establishing Dick Grayson as more than Batman Jr. while in costume.”
Teen Titans – A Kid’s Game, Family Lost, Beast Boys & Girls, The Future Is Now, Life & Death, Around The World, Titans East, Titans Of Tomorrow
Although there have been numerous Titans reboots since the Wolfman/Perez version, most of them have failed miserably. And so a few years ago DC got their golden boy Geoff Johns to try his hand at rebuilding the franchise. For the most part, he succeeded. Although this series isn’t going down in my all-time favourites any time soon, Johns and Mike McKone took a credible stab at reminding people why teen superheroes were a good idea in the first place. Specifically Johns spent a lot of time building up the friendships and relationships that are necessary in any teen book, and the Titans team up with their future selves is one of the better time travel stories that DC has attempted recently. However, as I reread I found that the series quickly wore out its welcome, and that pretty much everything after the Future Is Now storyline started to slowly deteriorate in quality. I got the impression that Johns told the story he wanted to tell early on, and that it didn’t take long for him to lose interest in the characters.
A Kid’s Game, Family Lost, Beast Boys & Girls, The Future Is Now: KEEP
Life & Death, Around The World, Titans East, Titans Of Tomorrow: CULL
Teen Titans & Outsiders – The Insiders, The Death And Return Of Donna Troy
Since Geoff Johns’ Titans and Judd Winick’s Outsiders were launched as companion books, it was inevitable that the two books would cross over occasionally. In fact, the Death and Return arc is the storyline that launched both books. Although not essential, these are books that read nicely for fans of Titans or Outsiders.
Next up: The utterly fabulous character known as Wonder Woman.