Sunday, September 29, 2013

DC's Villains Month post-mortem

I read 48 of the 52 Villians Month specials. I did it for money. (Left to my own devices and my own finances, I probably would have only bought the Two-Face and Bizarro issues...and maybe the Scarecrow one, depending on whether or not I flipped-through it and so who the artist was and what his art looked like in it.) I reviewed them in four, weekly installments for Robot 6, which you can read here, here, here and here.

The four I missed were The Creeper, Deadshot, Deathstroke and Joker's Daughter. (For the purposes of this post, I'm referring to them by character/star, not actual title, as the actual titles are those of the hero characters or teams that usually—but not always—interact with the villains on the covers, and all have decimal points in them and I don't want to deal with that shit right now.)

Of those, the only one I've seen on a comics shelf was the Deadshot one, a week or two after release, and I did flip-through it, even if I didn't read it. It didn't appear to have anything to do with Forever Evil, and looked rather dull. He jumps out of an airplane and shoots a guy with a special bullet and thinks about his life, is what I got from the flip-through. He still looks way too much like Lord Zedd from Power Rangers).

The third week was the hardest week to read; that week, I read all 13, and I think that may have exceeded the limit of the number of violent, mostly shoddily-made comic books about evil and depravity that I can read and write about in a single evening. My eyes, head, fingers, stomach and soul all kind of hurt before I closed my laptop for the night.

Here are some thoughts on the whole month's line in general.

1.) I think all of the covers would have been improved if the heroes themselves were not included in the backgrounds. They were likely included to both provide an additional background element for the weird 3D-like process and to symbolically riff on the idea of the villains "taking over" the heroes' books. If you looked at any of them, you'll notice that they each featured the hero of the book bound or otherwise defeated-looking in the background.

In many cases, images of the hero bound were repeated from book to book, regardless of the artist drawing the foreground. It tended to look incredibly cheap and lazy, particularly in the case of the Batman books, where there were about three or so different images of Batman spread across some 12-16 books.

It was worst on the Justice League books, as they just showed a whole team of characters laying around on the ground, asleep. In some of these, there weren't actually any backgrounds, so the prone heroes just sort of floated around with their eyes closed, some propped up against something, or an implied something which was actually just nothing. I think just about every single image would have been improved without the heroes in the background but, again, I understand why they were there in the first place. (The Batman/Superman issue featuring Doomsday  looked particularly weird, as a defeated, prone Superman was in the background, but there was no sign of Batman at all).

2.) The decimal points and the rigging of the sales charts, in which they published four issues of the most popular titles in a franchise and no issues of the secondary or tertiary titles (that is, four issues of Green Lantern, and no issues of Green Lantern Corps or Green Lantern: New Guardians or Red Lanterns), can't possibly help sell any comics in October, December, February or March. Say you liked the issue with The Cyborg Superman in it, or The Ventriloquist, and wanted to see more of those characters by those writers; you might naturally look for future issues of Action Comics and Batman: The Dark Knight, as those were the titles devoted to telling stories featuring those characters, but it looks like they will actually be continuing in Supergirl and Batgirl. So good luck unlocking the Da Vinci code to follow these characters and creators!

3.) There were more bad books than good ones. I devised a 1-10 rating system, but didn't award anything any number higher than a nine, and I think the average worked out to about a 4.

I think the best books were The Riddler, Parasite*, Killer Croc, Ocean Master, Ra's al Ghul, The Rogues and Bizarro. Those are the ones I gave eights and nines, but since nothing got a ten, I guess you should count the nines as tens and eights as nines.

There are some obvious trends in those seven issues: Three of them are Batman comics, two are Superman comics. Most have at least a little to do with Forever Evil, at least as a source of inspiration. But the main similarity they all have is simply this: They all featured good writing and good-to-great artwork. This isn't—or it really shouldn't be—any great secret or anything, but I guess it still bears repeating in many circles. The best way to make the best comics is to get good writers and good artists and good writer/artists, and assign them the work.

4.) In terms of importance in relation to the unified catalyst of the month's promotion (which does feel more like something someone in marketing came up with to tie into the big crossover story, rather than something Geoff Johns thought would serve the big crossover story), The Secret Society one was probably the only really essential read, in that it was so heavily connected to the events of Forever Evil, focusing on Earth-3's Alfred Pennyworth and Thomas Wayne, aka Owlman, and offering clues and suggestions regarding several plot elements.

The Lex Luthor issue is probably the next most essential, given the role he played in Forever Evil #1 (as the protagonist and therefore default "hero" of the book), and the comic is a day-in-the-life story of Luthor leading up to the events of that particular book.

The Rogues and Scarecrow and Bane issues were about as connected to the events of Forever Evil as any of the books mentioned between now and #5 on my list of observations, but are perhaps of greater note because they lead directly into spin-off/tie-in series (Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion and Forever Evil: Arkham War), and will therefore potentially play greater roles in the remainder of the Forever Evil series.

Black Adam, Black Manta, Killer Frost, Harley Quinn and Deadshot all more-or-less declare extreme dissatisfaction with Syndicate rule in some of the books, and are therefore likely to play a bigger role later in the series, if it does indeed turn out to be an Earth-52 vs. Earth-3 villain war, or a team-up of Earth-52 heroes and villains to repel the invaders and their allies.

The books having at least a little to do with the events of Forever Evil, either in a red-sky, this-is-what-so-and-so-was-up-to-at-the-time or a more direct expansion of cameo roles in Forever Evil sort of way, are these: Bane,  Black Adam, Black Hand, Black Manta, Cheetah, Clayface,  Court of Owls, Grodd,  Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, Killer Frost, Mr. Freeze, Ocean Master, Man-Bat, Metallo, Parasite, Poison Ivy, Ra's al Ghul, Two-Face, and The League of Assassins, Scarecrow and Ventriloquist.

The books having nothing at all to do with the events of Forever Evil were these: Arcane, Bizarro, Brainiac, Count Vertigo, Cyborg Superman, Darkseid, Desaad, Dial E, Doomsday, Eclipso, First Born H'El, Joker, Lobo, Mongul, Penguin, Relic, Reverse Flash, Shadow Thief, Sinestro, Solomon Grundy, Trigon and Zod. That's a lot.

5.) What's striking to me about how high that number of books having nothing at all to do with Forever Evil is the fact that Forever Evil involves a group of brand-new (to the New 52) villains that we the readers don't know anything about; villains from another world who likely have long and exciting backstories that would certainly have proven a lot more interesting than almost any of the stories of the characters mentioned in the previous story arc, some of which do tie in to their home titles (Reverse Flash read like an issue of Flash, for example, and told a piece of a storyline already in-progress), but others of which are just standalone filler issues not really connected to anything at all.

Why weren't any of those 23 issues devoted to The Crime Syndicate (as a whole), Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick, Power Ring, Deathstorm, Atomica, The Outsider, Sea King and Talon? Wouldn't their origins be a hell of a lot more interesting than a day-in-the-life of the Penguin or Count Vertigo, or retellings of origins for The First Born and Sinestro and Brainiac? I would have appreciated a Dr. Psycho origin, given his relatively prominent role in "Trinity War," or some other Society members like Giganta, Signalman and Vandal Savage. I found the Seven Deadly Sins that plague Pandora to be unlikable and poorly-designed, but they sure seem more relevant to the current state of the DCU and the stories going on in it. What's up with them? 

6.) The names of a few creators appeared a lot during these issues.

Geoff Johns had the most writing credits at four, although all four of those were co-writing credits (Black Manta and Ocean Master with Tony Bedard; Secret Society and Black Adam with Sterling Gates).

Greg Pak, Charles Soule, Matt Kindt and Peter J. Tomasi were the most prolific writers involved, all four writing three issues solo, making it a four-way tie for most productive writer in September. Brian Buccellato was involved with the writing of all three Flash issues, but a few of those were as co-writer.

Of the artists involved, Jeremy Haun and Szymon Kudranski were the only two who managed more than one issue apiece, the former drawing The Riddler  and Ra's al Ghul issues, the latter The Scarecrow and Secret Society issues.

7.) What if instead of spotlighting sometimes random Earth-New 52 villains, they instead offered Earth-3 versions of the New 52? You know, their regular offerings, only starring the evil opposites of the stars from Earth 3? I don't know that those comics  would have been any better, and the selling of them might have been a bit more tricky, but I bet they would have been interesting.

I looked at everything DC offered in August, and tried to think of Earth 3 opposites that could have starred in 'em

1.) All-Star Western could probably keep the same title, actually; I would be curious to see what an alignment-flipped version of Jonah Hex's Old West from Earth 3 might have looked like though. Or wait, would the Old West be in the East of the America on Earth 3...?

2.) Action Comics Ultra-Action Comics (Although I think Action Tragedies has a neat ring to it, too)

3.) Animal Man Beast Thing

4.) Aquaman Sea King

5.) Batgirl Owlgirl

6.) Batman Owlman

7.) Batman and Robin  Owlman and Talon

8) Batman: The Dark Knight Owlman: The Black Knight

9.) Batman/Superman Owlman/Ultraman

10.) Batwing Owlwing

11.) Batwoman Owlwoman 

12.) Birds of Prey Raptors

13.) Catwoman The Cat or maybe Super-Cat (I like Super-Cat)

14.) Constantine All-New Hellblazer

15.) Detective Comics  Owlman's Detective Comics or maybe Detective Tragedies

16.) Justice League of America's Vibe Crime Syndicate of Amerika's Bad Vibes

17.) The Flash Johnny Quick

18.) Earth 2 Earth 3

19.) Green Arrow Black Arrow

20.) Green Lantern Power Ring

21.) Green Lantern Corps Power Ring Corps

22.) Green Lantern: New Guardians Volthoom Vs. The Guardians

23.) Green Team: Teen Trillionaires Bean Team: Aged Hobos

24.) Justice League Crime Syndicate

25.) Justice League Dark "Crime Syndicate Dark"

26.) Justice League of America Crime Syndicate of America

27.) Katana Ummm...I don't know what the evil opposite of a katana is, or a more evil version of a katana...Scythe? AK-47? Swiss Army Knife? Brass Knuckles?

28.) Larfleeze Orange Lantern or Orange Power Ring (Wow, this is getting hard now)

29.) The Movement... Umm...No guess. I haven't read this at all. What's the opposite of a movement? Anarchy? Anarky, maybe? 

30.) Nightwing Talon

31.) Red Hood and The Outlaws Black Hat and...uh...His Inlaws...?

32.) Red Lanterns Red Power Rings...?

33.) Suicide Squad Homicide Horde 

34.) Stormwatch The Authority

35.) Superboy Ultraboy (Either a unique character, or The Adventures of Ultraman When He Was a Boy)

36.) Supergirl Ultragirl 

37.) Superman Ultraman 

38.) Superman Unchained Ultraman Unchained

39.) Swamp Thing Meadow...Man...?

40.) Talon Nightwing (In a pitched battle against The Court of Bats!)

41.) Teen Titans Mean Titans

42.) Trinity of Sin: Pandora Sinity or Sin: Pandemonium

43.) Trinity of Sin: Phantom Stranger Sinity of Sin: Phantom Acquaintance

44.) Worlds' Finest Worlds' Foulest (featuring Ultra Girl and Tigress)

45.) Wonder Woman Superwoman

...Hey, they only published 45 New 52 titles in August...?  Or did I just miss seven?

You'll note that would make for an awful lot of Owlman comics, just as Earth-52 has a bunch of Batman comics. Luckily, there would be a lot opponents of Owlman, like The Jester, Man-Owl, Crusader Croc, Crow Man and so on.

8.) This is what September's line-up would have looked like if they were publishing 52 villain spot-lights aimed solely at me, personally:

Action Comics #23.1: Bizarro
Action Comics #23.2: Mr. Mxyzptlk
Action Comics #23.3: Titano
Action Comics #23.4: Terra-Man
Aquaman #23.1: Iceberg Head
Aquaman #23.2: The Human Flying Fish
Batman #23.1: Bat-Mite
Batman #23.2: Calendar Man
Batman #23.3: Catman
Batman #23.4: Killer Moth
Batman and Robin #23.1: Anarky
Batman and Robin #23.2: The Human Flea
Batman and Robin #23.3: The General
Batman and Robin #23.4: Cluemaster and The Spoiler
Batman: The Dark Knight #23.1: King Tut
Batman: The Dark Knight #23.2: Captain Stingaree
Batman: The Dark Knight #23.3: The Scarecrow
Batman: The Dark Knight #23.4: Kiteman
Batman/Superman #3.1: Composite Superman
Detective Comics #23.1: Zebra Man
Detective Comics #23.2: The Gorilla Boss of Gotham City
Detective Comics #23.3: The Rainbow Creature
Detective Comics #23.4: The Mad Hatter
Earth 2 #15.1: Ragdoll
Earth 2 #15.2: Sportsmaster
Flash #23.1: The Turtle
Flash #23.2: Rainbow Raider
Flash #23.3: The Top 
Green Arrow: #23.1: Mr. Mephisto ***
Green Lantern #23.1: Invisible Destroyer
Green Lantern #23.2: Goldface
Green Lantern #23.3: The Shark
Green Lantern #24.3: Major Disaster
Justice League #23.1: Starro
Justice League #23.2: Dr. Sivana
Justice League #23.3: Mr. Mind
Justice League #24.4: Animal Vegetable Mineral Man
Justice League Dark #23.1: Monster Society of Evil
Justice League Dark #23.2: Blackbriar Thorn
Justice League of America #7.1: Lion Mane
Justice League of America #7.2: Gentleman Ghost
Justice League of America #7.3: The Man-Hawks
Justice League of America #7.4: Solaris, The Tyrant Sun
Superman #23.1: King Krypton
Superman #23.2: Ultra-Humanite
Superman #23.3: Destructo
Superman #24.4 : Krull
Swamp Thing #23.1: Cranius
Teen Titans #23.1: The Mad Mod
Teen Titans #23.2: The Brotherhood of Evil
Wonder Woman #23.1: Egg-Fu
Wonder Woman #23.2: The Blue Snowman

Of course, even then, these would all have to be made by writers I liked and and artists I liked, or writers and artists that I had never heard of, but would like the work of once I read it. I would go on to suggest creative teams for the above, but that seems way too much like fantasy football to me, but wait, half of this blog post was like fantasy football already, wasn't it? Only without the possibility of winning any money...?

*Abhay Khosla chose the issue of Superman featuring Parasite as his sample representing the Villains Month endeavor. He found it wanting, but I think he did a good job of distilling what's off about The New 52 in general, although he does acknowledge that maybe it won't be such a big deal when we get some distance from it, as he compares his feelings about it now to his perception of the feelings of the people who were unhappy about the Post-Crisis DCU. But listen:
So ultimately the thing that makes a DC Comic feel most like a real DC comic now (besides being dull) is that feeling of “everything would be better if my time machine could take us back in time” which is the most DC thing there is left, now, for me.  So, so DC, that.  I know it’s been said before by other people, but:  they didn’t just create a new universe; they created a new old-universe-that-it-was-a-mistake-to-throw-away.  You know?  I kinda find the poetry of it all interesting, if not the reading the DC comics part.
I think that's a better"that's it in a nutshell" than what I've been trying to articulate as they only partially re-booted their universe, jumped ahead five years in time and they won't tell anyone (creators included) what they actually changed and what they didn't, except in dribs and drabs (and sometimes those drabs contradict the dribs). 

**Go ahead, look him up.

***Says Wikipedia, "Hobo posing as demonic mastermind to extort fellow hobos into committing crimes." Move over, Count Vertigo!

6 comments:

Akilles said...

I`m thinking that you should be an editor, or an advicer at DC.

I`ve read that same Hostess ad that has Iceberg head.

SallyP said...

Caleb, I love the way that you think. My personal favorite was "Mean Titans". So...so perfect.

It's true that there were a couple of good issues, but for the most part, they seemed to be a whole lot of filler, or retold origins, or whatever.

Laplace Zombie said...

Reading your post has made my day awful, because now I know I live in a world where Bad Vibes, Homicide Hordes, The Phantom Acquaintance (!) and Crusader Croc don't exist.

Peter said...

Longtime lurker popping out to say that I would read your DC villains month in a heartbeat. Titano! Kiteman! Zebraman! The Gentleman Ghost! The Animal Vegetable Mineral Man!!! I wish they could instill the DC 52 with the fun of Batman: The Brave & The Bold, that's what I get out of your suggestions for the villain spotlights as well as the Earth-3 versions of all the regular books.

I know it sounds mean, but I think the climate at DC is such that what you came up with actually smells too much like imagination for the editorial regime. The dearth of imagination at DC is, er, unimaginable right now? (Lack of actual artistic talent on both the writing and penciling front also is a problem)

Imagine Grant Morrison and Steve Skroce doing your Egg Fu or Mister Mind story, mmm... (Quitely also works of course but I'd rather put Morrison with someone he's not so closely associated with, but who is also full of movement and flexibility)

Anyhoo, that was an awesome suggestion post, and I'm all for your fantasy creative teams for all these books too, you know, seems like the perfect fantasy football to me :D

Oh yeah, where are Crazy Quilt and the Ten-Eyed Man? :)

Peter said...

Longtime lurker popping out to say that I would read your DC villains month in a heartbeat. Titano! Kiteman! Zebraman! The Gentleman Ghost! The Animal Vegetable Mineral Man!!! I wish they could instill the DC 52 with the fun of Batman: The Brave & The Bold, that's what I get out of your suggestions for the villain spotlights as well as the Earth-3 versions of all the regular books.

I know it sounds mean, but I think the climate at DC is such that what you came up with actually smells too much like imagination for the editorial regime. The dearth of imagination at DC is, er, unimaginable right now? (Lack of actual artistic talent on both the writing and penciling front also is a problem)

Imagine Grant Morrison and Steve Skroce doing your Egg Fu or Mister Mind story, mmm... (Quitely also works of course but I'd rather put Morrison with someone he's not so closely associated with, but who is also full of movement and flexibility)

Anyhoo, that was an awesome suggestion post, and I'm all for your fantasy creative teams for all these books too, you know, seems like the perfect fantasy football to me :D

Oh yeah, where are Crazy Quilt and the Ten-Eyed Man? :)

Tam B said...

Thanks for the summary. So glad I skipped all of it.