Friday, February 19, 2016

DC's May previews reviewed...and "Rebirth" discussed as little as possible, through a great deal of willpower on my part

Just as I was preparing to write this month's column, I saw that DC finally, officially announced its plans for its "Rebirth" initiative, which will cut down on a lot of what I would have written here had I put this together the day they released their solicits, rather than today (For example, the absence of Scott Snyder, the fact that many of the books sound like they are shipping their final issues, even though there's no "FINAL ISSUE" in the solicits and so on).

This isn't the place to discuss "Rebirth," especially since creative teams haven't been announced, but as a cheapskate, I am very happy about the return to the $2.99 price point line-wide, and I'm intrigued by the bi-weekly schedule, even though I worry how that will affect the artists (hopefully, each bi-weekly book will have two different art teams, and they will do every other arc, rather than every other issue). I'm still more intrigued by some of the titles (Super Sons?!), and the fact that some books I assumed would be canceled are still around (Batman Beyond, Earth 2, Deathstroke, Green Arrow, a Constantine book), but I'm glad some of them are (Well, just Gotham Academy really; that's the only low-selling book I would really miss if it went away).

I've read what Dan DiDio and Geoff Johns have said about the initiative and, man, I don't know. While I'm cautiously optimistic, these are still the same guys who were in charge of the DC line, more or less, for the reboots and refocusing that went on with Identity Crisis/Countdown/Infinite Crisis/52, and then the hard reboot of The New 52, then the re-focusing of "DC You," and now this, which seems to be a correction of the mistakes of The New 52, which they saw at the time as a correction to the mistakes of the DC Universe leading up to The New 52 (which they were responsible for), but it's still the same guys in the driver's seat, the same people who keep breaking the vase that are gluing it back together, you know?*

I'm also a little alarmed about the prospects of some sort of in-story cosmic re-set button being hit now, after DC hit that button at the end of Flashpoint (although never explained what the fuck the three universes merging was all about and what Pandora's deal was), and during Multiversity and during Convergence (again, without explaining what exactly happened, other than that Crisis On Infinite Earths was kinda sorta undone), and those last two happened pretty much simultaneously.

Anyway, that's stuff for another post. For now, let's look at the last weeks of The New 52.

The variant theme for this month is a particularly weak one: Cover versions of the covers of the first issues of the 11 New 52 titles that launched in September 2011 and are still around. You can see them all here. Oddly, only a handful have anything in the way of change, like, for example, Billy Tan drawing Sinestro in his Sinestro Corps costume instead of the Green Lantern costume that was on the cover of Green Lantern #1, or Ben Oliver drawing Superman in his current costume rather than the T shirt, jeans and mini-cape that Rags Morales drew him wearing on the cover of Action Comics #1. In many cases, they are just the exact same image, only drawn more poorly, like, say, David Finch redrawing Cliff Chiang's Wonder Woman #1 costume (I wonder why he didn't bother drawing her in the current costume he designed?). Of all of them, I think only the covers of Batgirl (above) and Detective Comics are at all improved.

But enough prelude, let's take a look at what looks notably good, what looks notably bad and what looks notably perplexing in DC's solicits for May of this year (as per usual, you can read the complete solicits here).

Written by PETER J. TOMASI
On sale MAY 11 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T...
“Super League” continues—as two Supermen meet at last: pre-New 52 Superman meets the current Clark. A force seeking to end both Men of Steel brings them together, but divided they may fall as one Superman must choose the safety of his family before himself.

All of the Super-books in May will be telling chapters of a single story entitled "Super League," in which The New 52 Superman meets the Superman character from Superman: Lois & Clark, who the solicits insist on referring to as "pre-New 52 Superman."

That's not accurate, and the fact that they keep doing so is a little grating. That second Superman, the one with the beard and black, cape-less costume, is the the pre-New 52 Superman, the post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint one, who spent a year in a domed city cut off from the rest of his world throughout the events of Convergence (and went back in time to thwart the Crisis On Infinite Earths continuity rejiggering in some way), and then spent five-to-seven years living in secret with wife Lois and son Jonathan in the New 52-iverse. In other words, he's essentially just a random, alternate dimension version of Superman; he may have started as "the pre-New 52 Superman," but once you add six-to-eight years to him, he's no longer the same character.

You see Babs Tarr's cover of Adam Hughes' Batgirl #1 cover at the top of the post; that one is the variant. Above is Tarr's regular cover for Batgirl #52, which I like a whole lot better.

Written by ALAN GRANT
On sale JUNE 8 • 320 pg, FC, $24.99 US
Arkham Asylum is known for its lunatic inmates, and, now, one in particular: Batman. After the murder of a police officer, the Caped Crusader has been sentenced to Arkham Asylum, where a serial killer lurks the halls. Can Batman capture this knife-wielding fiend or will his enemies reach him first? Collecting the classic BATMAN: SHADOW OF THE BAT #1-12.

Launched as a third, in-continuity, ongoing monthly Batman comic in 1992 (Legends of The Dark Knight then being exclusively devoted to telling quasi-canonical, "Year One"-era stories), the original aim of Shadow of The Bat seemed to be to give the Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle creative team a new home after runs on both Detective and Batman. I remember being very excited at the time of the launch, because a) I was a huge fan of the Grant/Breyfogle team and b) At the time, it's not like there were that many opportunities to start a brand-new Batman comic from the very first issue.

Unfortunately, Breyfogle didn't stick around too long, and only drew the first five of the twelve issues collected herein. The first four of those issues would be the initial story arc, "The Last Arkham," which I've discussed before as being a pretty solid basis for some Batman movie somewhere down the line. That's the one where Batman gets committed to the newly rebuilt, supposedly inescapable Arkham Asylum in order to figure out how a serial killer committed there seems to be able to continually commit killings outside its walls at whim. That's the story arc that first introduced Mr. Zsasz, who became a remarkably popular reoccurring villain, particularly considering that he seemed to be a more-or-less tossed-off creation (albeit one with an interesting visual hook). It also introduced Jeremiah Arkham, and featured a then-rare team-up with Nightwing.

That's followed by a one-issue story entitled (and starring) "The Black Spider," a "last" Black Spider story, although he would later appear alive in the poorly-researched Identity Crisis.

Tim Sale is artist who draws the bulk of the remaining pages. That's the three-issue "The Misfits" story arc I've discussed here before, in which Catman, Killer Moth and Calendar Man team-up with a new villain to take on Batman and Robin. There's also a two-issue story arc entitled "The Human Flea" drawn by Vince Giarrano (my favorite non-Breyfogle contributor to the series; it introduced a new, teenage character by that name that I was always disappointed never returned in the pages of Robin as a villain or vigilante). Two single issues round out the collection, one drawn by Dan Jurgens and the other by Mike Collins.

I'll be interested to see if DC publishes a volume 2, as the next year would find the title drawn into the Batman line's then-status quo; Breyfogle returns for one issue, than Joe Staton draws two issues, and then we issues in which Batman II Jean-Paul Valley takes over, while a paralyzed Batman begins his globe-trotting quest to find his kidnapped lover Dr. Shondra Kinsolving (minor Batman villain The Tally Man and British superhero The Hood, who played a remarkably large role during Grant Morrison's Batman, Inc series, are both introduced by Grant and his collaborators during the second year of Shadow).

Written by JEFF PARKER
Art and cover by EVAN “DOC” SHANER
Jonny Quest variant cover by STEVE RUDE
Space Ghost variant cover by BILL SIENKIEWICZ
Action Heroes variant cover by JOE QUINONES
Herculoids cover variant by AARON LOPRESTI
On sale MAY 18 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
Retailers: This issue will ship with seven covers. Please see the order form for details.
When the adventurous and inquisitive Jonny Quest and his adoptive brother Hadji make a startling discovery in the swamplands of Florida, they are pulled into an epic struggle between the Space Rangers and a dangerous villain who threatens the galaxy. Now it’s up to the combined forces of Team Quest, Inter-Nation Security, Space Ghost, and a host of Hanna-Barbera’s greatest action heroes to stop him and save their universe! Don’t miss the start of this new, monthly series that features character designs by comics superstar Darwyn Cooke and kicks off with an extra-sized story and a wraparound cover!

This is the most promising of the fairly insane-looking Hanna-Barbera cartoons-for-grown-ups comics that DC recently announced. The thought of a series similar to this has actually crossed my mind a couple of times, as when I saw Alex Ross' painting of many of these characters in a big, group action shot that is in the coffee table art book of his, or when Joe Kelly and Ariel Olivetti did their surprisingly straight 2005 miniseries featuring Space Ghost and, most recently, when I watched the 2013 direct-to-DVD movie Scooby-Doo: Mask of The Blue Falcon.

I say this one looks promising for a couple of reasons, the first of which that there are so many damn characters and concepts, each of which can (and, in some cases has) carry a comic book by themselves that the creative team need not worry about getting each and everyone right; there is an automatic epic scale to this, and should be enough going on that it can coast pretty far on character appearances alone.

More importantly, there's the creative team; you couldn't ask for a better one than Jeff Parker and Evan Shaner, the latter of whom has a clean, elegant, almost Toth-like line that makes him absolutely perfect for many of these characters (and whose contributions to a few recent events has been by far the best part of those events). (That said, I'm a little surprised that Alex Ross wasn't involved, as his tweaks to some of these characters in the aformentioned painting were pretty stellar. His Dyno-Mutt especially, although Blue Falcon and Dyno-Mutt seem to be sitting this one out. Maybe DC and Ross are fighting? He does seem to be doing plenty of covers for Marvel at the moment.)

And, if you read the whole damn thing, you'll notice the designs are by Darwyn Cooke, who is as good a designer as he is an artist (and who DC reaaalllly shoulda asked to handle the New 52 costumes instead of Jim Lee).

I normally cut out all of the variants when I re-post solicits here for commentary purposes (and I did cut out the mention of the "Blank" and "Coloring book" variants), but left up the others because that is one fine line-up of characters.


You know, I wonder what Jonny Quest looks like in a post-Venture Bros world? Like, I'm sure there are plenty of people who have seen Venture Bros who have never, ever seen a single episode of Jonny Quest, which was a cartoon of my mom's generation, not mine (but I came of age during the early years of Cartoon Network, which is the only reason I'm familiar with it.)

On sale JUNE 1• 168 pg, FC, $16.99 US
In the wake of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, the heroes of the DC Universe must find a new purpose and direction in the battle for justice! When G. Gordon Godfrey arrives on behalf of Darkseid to create a hate campaign that outlaws super-heroic activities, the world’s greatest find themselves fighting the very people they swore to protect! Don’t miss this new edition collecting the 6-issue miniseries, including the first appearance of the modern Suicide Squad!

Ha, "first appearance of the modern Suicide Squad" is hardly the way I would have referred to Legends, but I guess that's appropriate enough, given the modern mass media landscape. It's been a while since I've re-read this, but I recall it being very good, with Kesel's inking of in-his-prime John Byrne looking really great. This was also the first time, at least in my memory, of Darkseid and his crew taking on the DC Universe at large (well, there was a JLoA arc drawn in part by George Perez that probably pre-dates this), which gradually became a staple of DC Comics and associated media, to the point that Darkseid vs. The Justice League is kind of passe at this point.

I also recall thinking that the heroes coming together to save the day in the very last issue, the ones on the cover, would have made a damn fine Justice League line-up. And, in fact, seven of the 11 pictured did go on to form the core of the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire JLI...

Anyway, if you haven't read this, you totally should. It offers a pretty good snapshot of the DCU circa the mid-to-late '80s, and the start of several runs that would define the following years at the publisher.

On sale MAY 11 • 96 pg, FC, $7.99 US • RATED T
The legends continue with four acclaimed teams bringing you all-new thrills and adventure!
Metamorpho and Sapphire have been transported to another planet, one torn apart by war over the orb that gave Metamorpho his powers! Meanwhile, the alien criminal Kanjar Ro isn’t too far behind, planning to steal the orb by any means necessary.
Ronnie and Stein are back together as Firestorm! But as they struggle to work together again, Major Force shows up with nothing but punches and fists to the face—don’t miss this all-out action fight issue!
When an ex from Wonder Woman’s past threatens to expose their relationship on daytime television, Sugar & Spike are on the case! Will our heroes uncover the secret and horrible agenda that guides this menace’s hand before it’s too late?
Written by LEN WEIN
The Metal Men face off against a threat who might make them lose their breath and their chance for escape! Meanwhile, General Scaletti begins her own plan to capture the Metal Men!

I'm still pretty perplexed by the very existence of a "Sugar and Spike" feature in which the characters, whose defining characteristic is that they are babies, are grown-ups, but I do find it amusing tha "the ext from Wonder Woman's past"** here turns out to be the monster she almost married in Wonder Woman #155.

I wonder how this title will be collected? Will each feature get a trade of its own?

Ramon Bachs' cover for Robin: Son of Batman #12 promises a fight I never knew I wanted to see: Damian Wayne versus a T-Rex! (Or possibly an Allosaurus, or some other large, carnivorous theropod dinosaur; I'm not that particular.)

Written by MATT WAGNER
On sale JUNE 15 • 320 pg, FC, 7.0625” x 10.875” • $29.99 US • MATURE READERS
In these noir tales from SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #1-12, millionaire Wesley Dodds becomes the Sandman to fight injustice in 1930s New York City, going after kidnappers, blackmailers and predators who prey on rich socialites.

This is one of the all-time best superheroes-for-grown-ups comics, so if you've never read it any form before, this is probably a pretty greatformat to start with.

Cover by JIM LEE
Scooby-Doo variant cover by HOWARD PORTER
Shaggy variant cover by DAN PANOSIAN
Velma variant cover by BEN CALDWELL
Daphne variant cover by JOELLE JONES
Fred variant cover by NEAL ADAMS
On sale MAY 25 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
Retailers: This issue will ship with eight covers. Please see the order form for more information.
Those meddling kids—Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and their dog, Scooby-Doo—get more ghost-debunking than they bargained for when faced with a fundamental change in their world. The apocalypse has happened. Old rules about logic no longer apply. The creatures of the night are among us, and the crew of the Magical Mystery Machine has to fight to survive—because in the apocalyptic badlands of the near-future, the horrors are real!
This new monthly series takes Scooby and the gang to a whole new level and features character designs by comics superstar Jim Lee!

Because Jim Lee's greatest talents are his story-telling and character designs, here's a weird new take on the Scooby-Doo franchise featuring a story co-plotted by Jim Lee and character designs by Jim Lee!

My first thought upon seeing this cover was of Noelle Steven's far-superior, widely-circulated "Badass Scooby Gang" sketches from 2011 of or so (Yes, I saw them like five years ago and still remember them; that's how good they were). Not only are Stevenson's all-around cooler and more bad-ass, they're also truer to the spirit of the originals, while obviously going for a more mature, more modern tone and, well, if you just compare and contrast the tattoos on Lee's version vs. Stevenson's version, it's clear that one set of characters is more "cool dad" than just, you know, cool.

Wait, wait, wait...That's not true. That was not my first thought. My first thought was "WHAT???!!!" My second thought was "Uh-oh...or should I say 'Ruh-roh'...?" And then my third thought was of Stevenson's badass Scooby gang.

Of the Hanna-Barbera reboots announced thus far, this is the one I'm most primed to be interested in, being a life-long Scooby-Doo fan, but I can't help but recoil. Worse still, as bad as Lee's design-work might be, he is not–repeat not–actually drawing the interiors, which will be handled by Howard Porter, who is maybe even more ill-suited to the characters, regardless of their design.

While I was a fan of Porter's JLA (still one of my all-time favorite comics), he's spent the last decde or so getting particularly bum assignments from DC, doing fill-in work and the surprisingly bad Justice League 3000/Justice League 3001 with the Scooby Apocalypise scripting team of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis.

Ugh. Well, the good news? My expectations for this comic are so low, that I don't see how it can help but exceed them. Although, I thought the same thing about the DC Universe Vs. Masters of the Universe crossover, and that ended up being even worse than I feared. And who wrote that? Let's see, it was one...Mr. Keith Giffen.

Ruh-roh, indeed.

On sale JUNE 8 • 296 pg, FC, $19.99 US
In this new edition of DC classic, Brainiac invades the earth with his ultimate weapon—Warworld! With the help of Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern and more, Superman must defend his adopted home. Collects ACTION COMICS #474-476, SUPERMAN: MAN OF STEEL #9-11, ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #488-490 and SUPERMAN #65-67.

Hey, I liked this one a lot! Like Legends, I haven't revisited it in forever, but I recall it being jam-packed with guest-stars (some of which you see on the cover) to the extent that it had the cast and scope of a big, line-wide crossover story, but it played out quickly and in the relatively few pages of a handful of comics (as opposed to 20-some annuals and a book-end miniseries, as was in vogue at the time). That's a pretty high-caliber creative team too, so you get to see plenty of great artists in their prime drawing the hell out of much of the DC Universe as it existed at the time.

*As I've noted before, probably ad nauseum, one of the most perplexing aspects of The New 52 initiative was that it was a response to the DCU line as it existed, but when they announced all the re-booted titles, the exact same creators were still involved with the line, some of them simply shifted to new titles. The only influx of creators was that they got Spawn artist Greg Capullo to draw Batman (an excellent move, considering that books' rock-solid, super-high sales for well over four years now), and a coupla old-school Marvel writers, as if the real problem with the DC Universe was that Superman wore shorts, there were generations of heroes, there was a rich history of stories to build on and the lack of Scott Lobdell's input.

**Past? What past? This is The New 52! No one has a past!


Jer said...

as if the real problem with the DC Universe was that Superman wore shorts

I think the evidence is pretty clear at this point that the entire New 52 initiative was just a way to boost sales with a relaunch and to solve one single solitary "problem" that DC had - ending Superman's marriage without making him divorced or killing Lois or making it the result of a cosmic entity (that readers would assume would get beaten and the marriage restored eventually). They could not figure out a way to do it without breaking their universe and putting it back together, so break the universe they did. Other than that it was an excuse to slap new #1s on comics, give the characters a fresh coat of paint, and make their continuity so confusing that even the writers couldn't figure it out for four years (no naturally it's time to confuse things again!)

after DC hit that button... during Multiversity and during Convergence

I read both of those - no reset buttons were hit. Multiversity doesn't even touch "Earth-0" - I think the only character from Earth-0 in the book is Nix Uotan (though I could be wrong - a few others might be in the Hall of Heroes - but they're certainly not the focus characters). And Convergence wasn't a reset button it was a weird retcon that wasn't even a retcon. It was just amazingly confusingly told so I can see why people thought it was doing something when in fact it was inserting itself into DC history "Forrest Gump" style as an explanation for something that didn't need to be explained.

At the end of Convergence Superman, Parallax, and a handful of others go on their mission to prevent the end of the Multiverse at the end of Crisis. They succeed but - for reasons that are not explained at all - their success transforms the Multiverse into the 52-niverse that was revealed at the end of 52 and that was explored in Multiversity and Countdown. Different Earths morph into their new 52-niverse counterparts - which is what those final splash pages are supposed to be showing (Earth-S becoming Earth-5, Earth-X becoming Earth-10, etc.). It's really confusing because as far as we the reader are concerned this is the multiverse that already exists but Convergence is giving an explanation for why the singleverse that was created at the end of Crisis is gone now and has been replaced by the 52-niverse that was revealed at the end of 52. Basically we (the readers on Earth-33) been living in that alternate timeline all along, we just didn't know it.

(The one hole in this reading is that "Earth-no-number-because-it-was-earth-Post-Crisis-Pre-Flashpoint" appears to be the original version of Morrison's Earth-16 - suggesting that Earth-1 and Earth-post-Crisis were actually different worlds and not transformations of the same world. Which I personally like and wish they had gone with instead of rewriting timelines to do reboots, but it is weird).

[Future Quest] is the most promising of the fairly insane-looking Hanna-Barbera cartoons-for-grown-ups comics that DC recently announced.

Agreed. It's the only book in that group that I'm even halfway interested in. But after seeing what Parker and Shaner did with Flash Gordon and with Captain Marvel, I'm actually really excited to see what they do with the Hanna-Barbera properties. I just wish that Thundarr were in that group too. Or maybe they can just do a Thundarr book at some point...

Jonny Quest, which was a cartoon of my mom's generation,

Jeez. Make me feel old.

SallyP said...

I probably AM as old as your mom... and yes, I religiously watched Jonny Quest. I also had a crush on Race Brannon. So this all looks quite fabulous... although after experiencing the joy of "Space Ghost: Coast to Coast" I am no longer sure I can read about him without giggling.

Bram said...

Much topic of discussion at the shop — who is the audience for those H-B books?