Tuesday, February 20, 2007

52 II: The Sequel

So you’ve no doubt heard the news that DC’s long-rumored sequel to weekly series 52 has finally been announced (If not, check out Rich Johnston’s Lying in the Gutters and Newsarama.com, for news, discussion, and an image…and while I hate to suggest it, Wizard does have the best look at an image, as well as an interview with Dini*).

I’m not surprised at all by the news, and not simply because Johnston’s been posting rumors about it for so long. Look at any sales data from the last forty-some weeks, and it’s clear that 52 is DC’s, if not the entire American comic industry’s, biggest and most consistent hit. While most DC titles struggle to break 50,000, 52 gets in the ninety-thousands and one-hundred-thousands every month…four times!

And it does this without any big-name stars (or even guest-stars…it was 30-some issues before Batman even appeared), nor any big-name artists. The art is usually competent and consistent, but it’s certainly not the best in the biz, giving lie to the fact that readers demand super-rendered, slow-to-produce art like that of the Jim Lees, Adam Kuberts and Ethan Van Scivers on the company’s roster.

DC is a business, so of course they will want to continue their biggest hit in some form, preferably with as little downtime as possible (in this case, no downtime).

That fictional universe is Marvel and DC’s greatest assets, why not tell a story set in it? It makes keeping your trademarks current easier, it rewards fans who love seeing the likes of even Professor fucking Milo pop up, and it tells a trade paperback-busting story that can only be told in your sorts of comics (I think that, properly utilized, such a comic book would also be the perfect way to advertise the rest of the line; why not have new characters like Aquaman II and Blue Beetle III show up in a series that 90,000-100,000 of your readers are already picking up? Certainly Vic Sage, John Henry Irons and Ralph Dibny have more fans now than they did a year ago).

An ongoing weekly series set concurrently with the rest of the DCU or Marvel U, instead of the pocketed “missing year” that 52 has been detailing, would additionally cover the companies’ asses when screw-ups like the Wonder Woman relaunch occur. Were it not for Justice League of America and Manhunter, much of the last year would have passed without Wonder Woman even appearing in the DCU; Batman, Superman, Supergirl and Green Lantern are also characters whose titles have had a hard time coming out once a month of late. But if they’re all appearing in DC Weekly or whatever, well, at least we can get fixes, right?

From a consumer’s perspective, I welcome more 52; there have been very few weeks this past year when it wasn’t the book I read first, and I like—no, love—knowing there will be at least one superhero comic book I’m genuinely excited about every week.

From a creative standpoint, I think this is exactly the sort of title both Marvel and DC should be publishing. In it’s very best issues—#1, #24 and the Christmas issue spring immediately to mind—especially, 52 has been the story of a year in the life of a fictional universe.

Looking backwards, it would have been great to have such a title in place for older events like “The Death of Superman” and the year in which he was dead (we saw relatively little of the universe mourning Superman back then, or how his fictional world would change without him in it), or “No Man’s Land” in the Bat-titles; a book where we can see the B-through Z-List responding to universe shaking events like, I don’t know, the temporary death of Wonder Woman or the world-wide war that occurred mostly off panel in Grant Morrison’s final JLA arc.

All that said, I find myself pretty unenthusiastic about the little information we have thus far:

Written by Paul Dini and others
Breakdowns by Keith Giffen
51 written by Paul Dini; art by Jesus Saiz
50 written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray; art by Jim Calafiore
49 written by Tony Bedard; art by Carlos Magno
48 written by Adam Beechen; art by David Lopez
Covers by Andy Kubert & Tim Townshend

The event of the year is here! This brand-new, year-long weekly series features a cast of hundreds where anything goes! With head writer Paul Dini and a rotating team of some of the industry’s best writers and artists, COUNTDOWN will serve as the backbone of the DCU in 2007.

When a character dies in COUNTDOWN 51, it sets off an unexpected ripple that will touch virtually every character in the DC Universe.

The COUNTDOWN is on…so begins the end!
COUNTDOWN 51 on sale May 9
COUNTDOWN 50 on sale May 16
COUNTDOWN 49 on sale May 23
COUNTDOWN 48 on sale May 30
32 pg, FC, $2.99 US”

Now, 52 had a writing team that was simply unfuckwithable. Long-time DC editor, writer and fan Mark Waid; current golden boy Geoff Johns, who was writing half the line; Grant Morrison who has written some of the best DC super-stories of all-time and fill notebooks with ideas for relaunching characters; and Greg Rucka, whom is a good writer who apparently just started reading DC comics the month he started working there (and even then, only the Bat-titles).

Yeah, I’m not a Rucka fan, and his horrible OMAC Project drained my dwindling respect for his abilities (His Detective Comics run and “No Man’s Land” work, however? Top-notch!)

But each of those other three bring an awful lot to the table when it comes to universe building. Morrison’s worked on all of the DC’s biggest characters, has encyclopedic knowledge of it’s fringe characters, and is brimming with new takes on old concepts. “Encyclopedic” does a disservice to Waid’s knowledge of the DCU minutae; I’ve seen the guy do trivia at cons, and it’s downright scary. Johns has developed a rep as something of a broken character doctor, and while he’s yet to deliver a masterpiece or even, really, really, really great comic book work, he’s one of the most reliable workman in comics, and has the benefit of knowing where all of the characters were coming from and where they were going.

These new writers? I’m not exactly excited. I loved Paul Dini’s collaborations with Alex Ross, but those were all out-of-continuity. Ditto Mad Love, one of the best Batman stories ever, but again, out of continuity. All we really have to go on of Dini in the DCU is his ’TEC run, and maybe Zatanna: Everyday Magic. How will he fare with the rest of the universe? I have no idea.

The other writers mentioned include Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, a solid and reliable team, but then, I’ve dropped every series of theirs I’ve started (in the case of Jonah Hex, I just moved to trades, but still); Tony Bedard’s a decent writer who is rumored to be taking on a book featuring one of the JLA’s Big Seven, but I have a hard time recalling more than a book or two of his that I’ve even read; and as for Adam Beechen, the bulk of his experience has been in the fun but usually overly preachy JLU; thus far, his DCU work has been among the worst writing I’ve ever read in a DCU book, and is certainly riddled with more continuity errors and off-portrayals than any DCU book.

Not mentioned in the solicitation copy shared on Newsarama.com is that Columbus’ own Sean McKeever will be involved (at least according to Dini in Wizard). This is great news, I think. McKeever does pretty incredible character work, and it’s nice to see him getting to work on a guaranteed hit like this. But as great a writer as McKeever may be, he’s still no Waid or Morrison, nor does he have the background with the DCU that Waid, Morrison or even Johns had.

Perhaps most disheartening though, is this: “When a character dies in COUNTDOWN 51, it sets off an unexpected ripple that will touch virtually every character in the DC Universe.”

Yeah, I know, it’s just a super-vague, one-sentence description, but isn’t that the way that Countdown to Infinite Crisis and it’s four tie-in minis started? And Identity Crisis? And Infinite Crisis? And JSA started? And JSoA? And Titans/Young Justie: Graduation Day? If it’s not a murder mystery, it doesn’t have to start with a dead body.

And not every superhero comic has to be a murder mystery. Among the things I liked best about 52 is that rather than a story of who killed Sue Dibny or who will die next, there was positive types of suspense. Who is Supernova? What are the mad scientists up to? Who’s their ringleader? What did the space heroes see that they weren’t supposed to? Will Ralph be able to bring his wife back from the dead? What does “52” mean, exactly? Yes, there have been dismembered corpses and people torn in half and dangling viscera, but at least that wasn’t what was driving the whole story.

I’m also surprised to see Andy Kubert doing covers. Outside of Jim Lee, he’s probably DC’s “hottest” artist, but can he draw 52 covers? Thus far, his entire DC outuput has consisted of just five DC covers, one page of JLoA #0, and 88 pages of Batman interiors. Isn’t asking for 52 covers just going to keep him from drawing any more issues of Batman?

That aside, Kubert’s a great artist, but is he a great cover artist? I would have preferred to see J.G. Jones keep at it, or someone like Dave Johnson, James Jean or Kaare Andrews, whose covers are usually so strong it’s the only incentive you need to buy the books they’re on.

I hope DC doesn’t do this in real time, because the characters are already growing up too fast and also because the “Week 1, Day 4” crap is distracting and, ultimately pointless. 52 could just as easily been a real-time story with a looser time table; we know it’s winter because theres’s snow on the ground, not because it’s 30 weeks since spring or whatever. Those who pay attention to the datelines just find plenty of mistakes there, as they open up opportunities to question the stories (Nat hasn’t changed clothes for two days? The Horseman’s grand entrance involved three weeks of hiding out?), and it doesn’t really add thing.

Finally, lets’ take a look at that image.

Come May, Captain Marvel will still be all Shazamified (and wearing the same outfit as Mary Marvel—awk-waarrd!), Martian Manhunther will still be rocking his stupid new look, the original Aquaman will still be missing and an OMAC is still running around the DCU (Seriously? Someone’s actually reading that series?).

Adam Strange, Starfire, Black Adam and Steel all seem to survive 52 after all (Sweet! Now get Steel on the JLA already). No sign of Isis, Elongated Man, The Question, Booster Gold or Animal Man, though.

Kyle Rayner totally runs like a girl; you can fly man, get up in the air already!

And hey, look, there’s Batgirl in her Batgirl costume! Considering everyone here’s a good guy (I guess; is Red Hood a good guy or a bad guy or what now?), does this mean Cassandra Cain is a good guy again?

*And why does DC give this “scoop” to Wizard instead of an industry media outlet that is much less offensive to the eyes, brain and soul than that juvenile embrassment? Good question, Caleb. I wonder if it has something to do with Wizard apparently agreeing not to stray too far from a list of questions DC provided them. Seriously, look at the first few questions on the second page, it looks like Dini is saying, “Okay, no ask me this” between his answers and their questions.


Derek said...

Excellent. Nothing has made me more excited for Countdown than this post.

I especially agree with you that they should give up any pretense of being in real time. It was an interesting concept, but with so many plot threads weaving through 52, it just ended up leaving weeks-long gaps in stories that should have picked up right where they left off the last time they were featured.

The hard timeline doesn't really matter, so long as the plots keep pace with each other as they intertwine (i.e. Will Magnus doesn't show up on Oolong Island before he's kidnapped).

Could be very cool. They've got my money for at least the first month.

the2scoops said...

I'm more jazzed about Countdown than I am about the Civil War fallout.

Looking at the Countdown picture, it looks like GL Jon Stewart is still around. He's been conspicuously absent in OYL titles, except for some one-off comment about being on a secret space mission. Also check out Captain Atom in his Monarch armor still (far right).

Then again, we've been bait and switched with images before (JLA cover anyone?)

Martin said...

I like OMACs, and enjoyed the OMAC Project - I feel Rucka works best with characters that are more his own than things like Batman (and I'm counting Gotham Central in that).

However, I don't like the Bruce Jones OMAC series. It's just not very enjoyable.