Saturday, January 22, 2011

DC's April previews reviewed (after some talk of the new rating system)

The biggest news related to DC’s publishing plans for April of this year is a seemingly minor one: Instead of a near-microscopic, completely meaningless seal of approval from the Comics Code Authority appearing on a handful of their books, they will now be rating their book’s, Marvel-style.

You can read DC’s full explanation of what the ratings are and what they mean in this post on dccomics.com. There are four of them, and they range from “E for Everyone” to “M for Mature.”

This is way overdue, and I’m glad to see DC finally taking this step, even though I suspect that, like Marvel’s ratings system and the Motion Picture Association of America letter-system they’re both ultimately a reflection of, application will be arbitrary to the point of being nonsensical at certain times.

Nevertheless, prior to this, DC had exactly two ways of labeling the content of their books. “For Mature Readers,” which was applied to everything published by their Vertigo imprint (regardless of content), and nothing at all, which was put on everything else. The end result was that everything that wasn’t a Vertigo book appeared to be an all-ages book, no matter how much graphic violence was in the book and, if you’ve read many DC comics over the last decade—or even just read this blog the last few years—then you know how incredibly violent and gory the mainstream DCU has gotten.

I don’t know if this will change that at all, but it should at least keep DC or a shop-owner from getting into trouble for selling something to a kid they probably shouldn’t have.

Between E and M are T (Teen) and T+ (Teen Plus). The former is defined as “Appropriate for readers age 12 and older. May contain mild violence, language and/or suggestive themes.” The latter is defined as “Appropriate for readers age 16 and older. May contain moderate violence, mild profanity, graphic imagery and/or suggestive themes.”

Based on those definitions, I would imagine the majority of the DCU output would therefore have to be labeled M, “Appropriate for readers age 18 and older,” as that’s the rating that allows for “intense violence.”

Let’s look at a few images from DC Comics over the course of the last few years, ones that struck me as a bit over-the-top for all-ages books featuring what originally began as children’s characters:How would you rate the level of violence in those images: Mild, moderate or intense?

Well, DC’s solicitations give us a clue as to how they rate some of the books that hosted some of those images: Mild.

As I said, I would expect the “T+” and “M” ratings to be the ones that were used the most on DCU books, but that’s not the case.

All of the books written or co-written by Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, The Flash, Brightest Day), probably the DC writer who is most notorious for including over-the-top violence in his work, are rated T (Remember, that’s mild violence).

The books written by James Robinson (Justice League of America, Superman/Batman Annual #5), who wrote the ultra-violent, corpse-strewn Cry For Justice, will also be rated T, as will the Outsiders, the book written by DC co-publisher Dan DiDio, the man most fans (rightly or wrongly) blame for the heightened bloodlust in DC’s line over the last few years.

The only “T+” books I saw were Green Arrow, Jonah Hex, Secret Six, Titans and Zatanna.

I haven’t read all of those books, but for the most part that sounds about right. GA has returned its title character to a status quo closer to that he had during Mike Grell’s run in the ‘80s, when Green Arrow was a darker, ediger book with limited contact with the lighter, brighter DCU. Secret Six is a book in which the good guys are depraved villains. Titans is currently a villain book too, and opened with a snuffy arc in which a woman killed a man by having sex with him while converting her genitals into fire.

I was slightly surprised to see Zatanna there, although she did have Vertigo one-shot, so I suppose she’s a good candidate for an almost-mature book (sales would likely benefit from bumping the book from “T+” (“suggestive themes”) to “M” (“nudity, sexual themes”).

Jonah Hex would also probably be more comfortable as an “M” book (he too belonged under the Vertigo “Mature Readers” umbrella for a while), as it would allow for Deadwood-style dialogue, more graphic violence and for some of the many prostitutes featured to sometimes be topless (Neither Hex nor Zatanna could really be hurt very badly by moving up to the “M” level; they both sell around Vertigo levels now anyway).

The only “E” books I saw were the ones on the unofficial “Johnny DC” imprint (that is, no DCU books), and the only non-Vertigo mature books were a pair of video game adaptations that would have appeared on the WildStorm imprint, if it were still around.

I think how—and perhaps even if—the new rating system effects the content of DC comics is something we won’t really be able to get a handle on for a few months, even years.

DC has repeatedly demonstrated that many of their decisions are made rather suddenly, and I’m sure the bulk of the first few months worth of books under the new rating system will have been created long before the system was instituted. So if April’s issue of Green Lantern is rated “T for Teen,” I highly doubt that it was written and drawn for a different audience than March’s issue was.

In the long run, I can only see good coming from the system, as DC has thus far been in the strange position of pushing content to skew as “adult” as possible, but keeping the idea that there wares are safe for kids something that could at least be argued, which is why you never see nudity, but violence gets more hardcore, and you get specific not-swearing, like “F#$% you, you @#$%ing @$$hole” or whatever.

Now, if Ed Benes really wants to draw page after page of female heroes and villains pointing their barely-clad butts and boobs at the “camera’s” eye, DC can have him team with Gail Simone to create a Birds of Prey Vs. Gotham City Sirens Swimsuit Special and slap an “M” on it (Hell, they could even start drawing nipples on the women below their painted-on tops!)

If Eddie Berganza really wants to publish stories about teenage heroes being violently killed and dismembered, tortured for days and eaten alive by monster-dogs, no need to stick all that super-decadence in Teen Titans, just slap an “M” on a Blood Titans Giant-Size Snuff-Tacular 80-page giant.

I know I would love to read Grant Morrison and Guillem March’s Batman: The Red Casebook, an M-rated miniseries devoted to Batman’s erotic war journal chronicling his many sexual conquests.

As pleased as I am with this development, I’m even more pleased by a development that followed it almost immediately: Archie Comics bid the code farewell as well, which brings about the end of the Comics Code Authority. Huzzah!

And after that long-ass preamble, I suppose it’s high time I get around to actually doing what the title of this post promises: Reviewing DC’s April previews.


ACTION COMICS #900
Written by PAUL CORNELL, RICHARD DONNER,
DAVID GOYER, DAMON LINDELOF and more
Art by PETE WOODS, JESUS MERINO and more
Cover by DAVID FINCH

Superman returns to ACTION COMICS just in time for the title’s historic 900th issue, which clocks in at 100 pages! Everything Paul Cornell and Pete Woods have been building to over the last year culminates here in the ultimate Superman vs. Lex Luthor battle! But that’s not all - this story will lay the grounds for an insanely epic story coming out this summer in the pages of ACTION!
Plus, an incredible roster of guest talent help us celebrate this landmark issue, including the screenwriter of The Dark Knight, David Goyer; famed Superman: The Movie director Richard Donner; the co-creator of Lost, Damon Lindelof; and the creative team behind the hit DC UNIVERSE ONLINE game!

On sale APRIL 27 • 96 pg, FC, $5.99 US, RATED T


Is it worth noting that DC is selling this book by noting all of the people from outside of comics who had a hand in it’s creation? At least Goyer, Donner and Lindelof are Hollywood folks with some comics-writing experience, having worked on JSA, a few Action Comics arcs and Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk, respectively).

The Finch cover, above, is pretty lame for the 900th issue of a comic book. Even the Ross one looks clever and dynamic by comparison, and those are two adjectives rarely applied to Ross’ work.

I like his take on the Superman-lifting-a-car-over-his-head-while-a-dude-grabs-his-head-to-steady-himself-from-freaking-out image:


Perhaps it's just the blood of my ancestors (well, 1/4 of my ancestors) pumping through my veins, but I really like this Batman and The Joker colored like the flag of Italy cover for Batman Europa. Batman in anything other than black or blue tends to look really striking.



BATMAN INCORPORATED #6
Written by GRANT MORRISON
Art and cover by CHRIS BURNHAM

Man-of-Bats is a self-styled hero and community leader who protects his Sioux reservation from crime and disease. His son, Raven Red, can’t seem to keep his father’s often-embarrassing enthusiasm in check – and he dreams of escaping his father’s shadow to become a big time hero. But what happens when this homemade Dynamic Duo become the targets of a sophisticated, well-connected killer from the shadows? Can the intervention of Batman save them before it’s too late?

On sale APRIL 20 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US, RATED T


I sure hope the intervention of Batman can save them before it’s too late, because Man-of-Bats and Raven are the best.

By the way, Chief Man-of-Bats riding a buffalo? Even better than Batman riding a horse.


DC COMICS PRESENTS: BATMAN – ARKHAM #1
Written by DENNIS O’NEIL, ALAN GRANT and PAUL GRIST
Art by CURT SWAN, JOHN DELL, RICK TAYLOR, FRANK TERAN, CARL CRITCHLOW, KOI TURNBULL and DAN DAVIS
Cover by GEORGE PEREZ
Don’t miss this collection of classic, creepy tales of Arkham Asylum, wrenched from the pages of BATMAN CHRONICLES #6, BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM – TALES OF MADNESS #1, BATMAN VILLAINS SECRET FILES #1 and JUSTICE LEAGUES: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF ARKHAM #1!
On sale APRIL 13 • 96 pg, FC, $7.99 US


What a curious little collection this is. The binding factor is that these are all stories featuring the criminally insane Bat-villains that get housed at Arkham post-defeat, but the stories are otherwise a little all over the place.

There’s a ten-page O’Neil/Swan collaboration about the history of Gotham City, a 38-page Alan Grant/Dave Taylor/Bill Sienkiewicz story about what the Arkham inmates got up to during the Gotham City Earthquake of 1998 (part of the “Cataclysm” storyline leading to “No Man’s Land”), another 22-pages of Grant-scripted stuff from a 1998 Secret Files special with an awesome Brian Bolland cover, and Paul Grist, Coy Turnbull and Davis’ deeply weird Justice Leagues: Justice League of Arkham.

That weird-ass one-shot belongs to the JLA Justice Leagues event story, in which alien menace “The Advance Man” makes the members of the JLA forget they were ever part of the JLA, but deep within their subconscious minds, the Leaguers all remember those letters, just not what they stand for. Over the course of several one-shots, each with a nice George Perez cover, various Leaguers for their own Leagues, so we Aquaman’s underwater Justice League of Atlantis, Wonder Woman’s all-woman Justice League of Amazons and so on.

Batman’s League consisted of himself, Nightwing, Catwoman, and some of his deadliest, most insane enemies. I’m not sure how it stands up on its own, divorced from the other chapters of the story; the whole Justice Leagues event would probably make a fine DC Comics Presents volume on its own. There are about a million cameos in it—including Starman Mikaal Tomas joining a Justice League years before James Robinson added him to the real team, which may have some added relevance now—and currently quite popular Ethan Van Sciver drew the opening one-shot in the six-part series.

While this particular DC Presents volume has plenty of random Alan Grant stories set in the titular asylum, it does not collect my favorite—his two-part story form Showcase ’94, in which he and artist Tim Sale have the Arkham inmates form a baseball team that must play the team from Blackgate Prison (the repository of Gotham’s un-insane miscreants).
That story—think Morrison and McKean's Arkham Asylum x A League of Their Own— is fantastic, and how about the covers of the Showcase issues containing it, huh? Mike Mignola and Kyle Baker did those.

(Ooh, you know what would make a dynamite collection? DC’s various mid-nineties Showcase anthologies, Showcases ’93, ’94, ’95 and ’96. They could collect them all into one of their big black and white phonebook-sized collections and call it Showcase Presents: Showcase).


FREEDOM FIGHTERS #8
Written by JIMMY PALMIOTTI & JUSTIN GRAY
Art by TRAVIS MOORE & TREVOR SCOTT
Cover by DAVE JOHNSON
The startling conclusion to “American Nightmare” as The Jester’s hidden motivations are brought to light – along with the insidious purpose of the Confederate weapon of mass destruction. Will the Freedom Fighters succeed in protecting the nation, or are our days of freedom at an end?
On sale APRIL 6 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US, RATED T


The Jester is one of those characters that I’ve always liked the idea of, but never actually read a story featuring. I hope Palmiotti, Gray and Moore do a good enough story to match the version of the character that exists only in my mind so far, but I assume they won’t (Actual stories rarely meet the expectations of one’s that only exist as unrealized potential, right?)

Another nice Dave Johnson cover, anyway.

Speaking of DC’s FF, have any of you been reading this series? Is it any good? Is it, say, 500 times better than the two FF minis that Palmiotti and Gray wrote?



GREEN LANTERN #65
Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Art by DOUG MAHNKE and KEITH CHAMPAGNE
Cover by IVAN REIS and OCLAIR ALBERT

The “War of the Green Lanterns” takes a shocking turn! With the entire Green Lantern Corps against them, the four Earthborn GLs make a choice that will rank among the most memorable in GL history. But not all of them agree on what has to be done and what lines are to be crossed. Plus, the countdown to the live-action film continues with another exclusive look at the upcoming GREEN LANTERN movie!
On sale APRIL 13 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US, RATED T


The cover features a top-secret, blacked-out character appearing to join the Sinestro Corps (the Yellow Lanterns). I have to assume that it’s going to be one of the four Earth Lanterns—Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner, John Stewart and Guy Gardner, for those of you who don’t follow this stuff too closely—since those are pretty much the only people who it would be a shock to see joining the Sinestro Corps. If it was just one more random scary alien, who cares, right?

Of those four, Guy Gardner would make the most sense—he is the scariest—but he’s starring in a book sub-titled Emerald Warriors, so he pretty much as to continue wearing green, right? The roundness of the head suggests John Stewart, but sometimes they make those blacked-out images slightly differently shaped than the final image, so as to confuse guessers.

By the way, I like that one Yellow Lantern who looks like a shaven, headless wooly mammoth in a wetsuit.


JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #50
Written by MARC GUGGENHEIM
Art by HOWARD CHAYKIN and more
Cover by FELIPE MASSAFERA
1:10 Variant cover by DARWYN COOKE
We’re celebrating the fiftieth issue with an extra-sized spectacular and a roster of artists you won’t want to miss! The team must explore a bizarre and fantastic underworld found beneath Monument Point . . . with the help of the one and only Challengers of the Unknown! And why was Senator Eagin out to get the JSA during the long-ago witch hunts against the mystery men?

On sale APRIL 20 • 56 pg, FC, $4.99 US, RATED T


In fact, the spectacular roster of artists is so spectacular, we can’t even tell you who they are yet!


THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS TP
Written by J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI, MATTHEW STURGES, BRANDON JERWA, JOHN ROZUM and ERIC TRAUTMANN
Art by TOM DERENICK, ROGER ROBINSON and others
Cover by STANLEY “ARTGERM” LAU
J. Michael Straczynski and a host of top comics writers present The Shield, The Web, The Hangman and others are reinvented for a new era in this exciting new collection featuring RED CIRCLE: THE HANGMAN #1, RED CIRCLE: INFERNO #1, RED CIRCLE: THE WEB #1, RED CIRCLE: THE SHIELD #1 and THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS SPECIAL!
On sale MAY 18 • 160 pg, FC, $19.99 US


So, they’re using the title The Mighty Crusaders for a collection of the various one-shots that lead up to DC’s (shortlived, it turned out) revival of the old Red Circle characters? What will they use for the title of the collection of the miniseries, The Mighty Crusaders then…?


POWER GIRL #23
Written by JUDD WINICK
Art and cover by SAMI BASRI
You might think Power Girl and Superman would be more than up to the task of taking down a few dozen dinosaurs – but we forgot to mention they were magic dinosaurs. The kind that spontaneously grow wings. And shoot lasers from their eyes. Under ordinary circumstances, they’d turn to Zatanna for help – but it looks like she’s the one who summoned the dinos in the first place! What’s going on here?
On sale APRIL 20 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US, RATED T


I love the fact that the solicitation mentions "magic dinosaurs," but the cover just shows Power Girl and Zatanna posing in a magic dinosaur-free environment.


RED ROBIN #22
Written by FABIAN NICIEZA
Art by FREDDIE WILLIAMS II
Cover by GUILLEM MARCH

GOTHAM CITY SIRENS #22
Written by PETER CALLOWAY
Art by ANDRES GUINALDO
Cover by GUILLEM MARCH

BATMAN #709
Written by DAVID HINE
Art and Cover by GUILLEM MARCH


I like the premise of this story, a Batman riff on the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah story—angels visiting a corrupt city and seeking a single good person living there in order to spare it from destruction, I like the covers, and I love at least one of those artists, but it's kind of troubling that a three-issue crossover story will have three completely different writers and three different artists. Surely someone else should be credited as writer here, right? Or did Nicieza just write whatever he wanted for part one, and Calloway did whatever he wanted with part two and Hine did whatever he wanted with part three?


SUPERMAN #710
Written by J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI & CHRIS ROBERSON
Art by EDDY BARROWS and J.P. MAYER
Cover by JOHN CASSADAY
...
In the latest chapter of “Grounded,” the recently returned Bruce Wayne stops by Salt Lake City to pay a little visit to Superma — excuse us, Clark Kent! Learn how a legendary friendship was born as Bruce and Clark revisit the previously untold tale of one of their earliest meetings in which the teenaged duo faced the menace of the immortal Vandal Savage!
...
On sale APRIL 13 • 32 pg, FC $2.99 US, RATED T


In general I think there's something lame about writers trying to establish never-before-revealed connections between heroes long before they were heroes—I remember one short Loeb/Sale story where Alfred Pennyworth is chauffeuring little boy Bruce Wayne through a Smallville back road, and the car breaks down or stops for some reason next to a field where little boy Clark Kent is playing baseball with his pals, for example—but this one sounds zany enough to be fun.

The little I've read of "Grounded" so far was enough to make me quite reluctant to read anymore, but I curious to see what this Roberson fellow can do with JMS' in-progress story about Superman being an asshole in random, real-world cities.


T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #6
Written by NICK SPENCER
Art by CAFU & BIT
Cover by JOHN CASSADAY
The first arc of the series everyone’s talking about comes to a dramatic conclusion as the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents attempt to deal with the fallout from last issue’s startling events! Featuring a thrilling, no-holds-barred battle royal between T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and Spider! It’s an issue so fantastic, you’ll want to burn your copy, erase your own memory and buy it all over again!
On sale APRIL 13 • 32 pg, FC $2.99 US, RATED T


Okay, some exaggeration is to be expected in these little paragraphs which are intended to hype up and sell issues of comics. But to refer to DC’s THUNER Agents as the series “everyone’s talking about”…? That seems a little much.

Is anyone talking about this series? It’s possible someone somewhere is, but I certainly haven’t run across anyone anywhere doing so.


SUPERMAN/BATMAN ANNUAL #5
Written by JAMES ROBINSON
Art and cover by MIGUEL SEPULVEDA
Picking up where March’s JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #55 left off, “Reign of Doomsday” amps up the danger as Supergirl and Batman are trapped aboard the Justice League satellite with Cyborg Superman and Doomsday — and both villians want to tear them limb from limb! A “who’s who” of the DCU shows up to aid in the battle, but there’s something different about Doomsday — something even the Justice League of America might not be prepared for! The story continues in this month’s SUPERBOY #6!
On sale APRIL 6 • 56 pg, FC, $4.99 US, RATED T


This seems like a rather weird place for a chapter of the "Reign of Doomsday" storyline to show up, doesn't it? As an annual, it will be a different size and a different price point than the other chapters, which have or will appear in single issues of various monthlies, plus that Steel one-shot.


Awesome. I hope the boys wear pink costumes inside as well.


I'm pretty sure the lead character in The Anchor fought that very same deer-centaur dude...or something close.

10 comments:

Josue said...

I didn´t understood. Do you think Brightest Day will have an "M"? I doubt it will but it should.

Randal said...

I can't say whether or not THUNDER Agents is any good, but it seems that everyone who has read it raves about it.

Reed Solomon said...

Another reason Guy would be the most logical of the four Earth lanterns to join the Sinestro Corps.. he has already used Sinestro's own yellow ring back in the 90's. Hal could barely make a yellow ring function when he tried. Plus, he's probably going to get kicked out as a result of whats happening in Emerald Warriors and War of the Lanterns. But, it might be too obvious and Geoff and the rest of the GL creative staff are probably messing with us.

mordicai said...

No one cares about violence, not really. Heck, comics can even hide behind "cartoon violence" & get away with more than live action. Parents don't care about gore nearly as much as they care about the dreaded S-E-X. If you show a boob-- however grand or accessible your story is otherwise, however non-sexualized that boob is-- then you are Mature.

lurkerwithout said...

There was a nice Jester/Ted Knight Starman issue in Robinson's Starman run. I can't remember which trade or omnibus its collected in though...

Khairul H. said...

I like his take on the Superman-lifting-a-car-over-his-head-while-a-dude-grabs-his-head-to-steady-himself-from-freaking-out image:

Actually that guy has his hands on his head because there's a gun pointed at his head.

Caleb said...

Josue,

According to the solicits, Brightest Day is rated T for Teen, so all that over-the-top violence is considered "mild."

I'd kinda like to see Geoff Johns write an ultra-violent, M-rated title just so I can see what he/DC considers really violent.


Reed Solomon,

Oh yeah, I kinda forgot about that. Now I remember being disappointed that he lost the yellow ring and they did that whole goofy alien-tattoo-weapon thing with him; I thought he worked fine as an unaffiliated, Corps-less guy with with own power ring, but not so much as Whatever-the-Hell-He-Was when he was turning his arms into guns and knives.

Shriner said...

I'm probably one of the few people reading Freedom Fighters.

If you liked the two mini-series -- it's basically more of the same. I think the art is better than the last mini.

IMO, it's not very "new reader friendly", so I'm surprised they made it an on-going and not just another mini-series.

Dara said...

Batman Europa has had great covers. I especially like how the red at the bottom of this cover image is an extension of Jokers' nosebleed!

Travis said...

I read the first 2-3? issues of Freedom Fighters, and it just wasn't working for me. And I enjoyed the first two minis.