Friday, January 13, 2012

52 - 6 + 6 = 52

As DC Comics enthusiasts and comics news monitors are no doubt already aware, DC announced the imminent cancellation of six of the 52 titles they launched as part of last September's "New 52" publishing initiative. They also announced six replacement titles, answering the oft wondered-over question of how long they would spare failing titles from the scythe, and how would they address such needs given the fact that the specific number of titles was so integral in the creation, naming and overall promotion of the line.

The six canceled titles are Blackhawks, Hawk and Dove (not a good sign for The Savage Hawkman), Men of War, Mister Terrific, OMAC and Static Shock. None of these are terribly surprising, as some of them seemed created to fail.

There was no reason to believe either of the two war books would do well, as an extended Jack Kirby homage, the popular online, well-reviewed OMAC only had so far to go, and Mister Terrific's main selling point among DC's fanbase, the character's long history with the Geoff Johns-shepherded JSA/Justice Society books, was removed by the continuity reboot. (Similarly, one wonders—even if only idly—if a Hawk an Dove series might have sold better in an un-rebooted DCU, given that it would have been launching out of the rather successful Brightest Day and the very successful Blackest Night, instead of standing solely on the shrinking popularity of 90s phenomenon Liefeld and the residual hype of DC's unprecedented PR push).

Somewhat saddeningly, although also no real surprise, is the fact that two of the above titles were solo ones featuring black men, leaving only one book starring a black man in the "New 52" (That's Batwing, which has the valuable crutch of being a Batman family book to support it). It's my understanding from reading people who read it that OMAC starred a Korean-American protagonist, although there's no evidence of any particular race, ethnicity or nationality in the blue, finned hulk appearance of the title character.

Also, it's worth noting that the cancellations seem incredibly sudden, as changes were already announced on the creative teams of a few of those books, most notably—as in, I can remember them—pencil artist Rob Liefeld taking over writing duties on Hawk and Dove and Static Shock getting a new writer (It's third writing team, I believe, if you count the writer who was announced on the book before it launched, but didn't actually script the first issue).

These are the six new books replacing the six old books: World's Finest by Paul Levitz and George Perez and Kevin Maguire (starring The Huntress and Power Girl, rather than Superman, Batman and Robin); Dial H by China MiƩville and Mateus Santoluoco, another new take on the Dial H For Hero concept; G.I. Combat by J.T. Krul and Ariel Olivetti; The Ravagers, a Superboy and Teen Titans spinoff by Howard Mackie and Ian Churchill (which I'd prefer have been named Superboy and The Ravagers, just because its echoing of Superboy and The Ravers would amuse me, although I am amused that no one at DC seems particularly aware of what the verb to ravage can mean, particularly archaically); Earth 2 by James Robinson and Nicola Scott; and, finally, the return of Batman Incorporated by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham, a title that was apparently canceled due to the continuity reboot that accompanied the "New 52" launch, as it walked-back many of the changes and history that made Morrison's run on the Batman franchise possible.

From these new books, we can at least partially deduce what DC thinks is working right now. For one thing, more Batman never hurts. Incorporated will join Batman, Detective, Batman and Robin and Batman: The Dark Knight as a fifth ongoing monthly Batman book starring Batman Bruce Wayne himself. Add in Batwoman, Batgirl, Nightwing, Catwoman, Batwing and, if one wants to be generous, Red Hood and The Outlaws (starring former Robin Jason Todd, and bearing a bat-symbol in the logo) and Birds of Prey (co-starring Batgirl and other Batman allies and antagonists), that's a full dozen Batman family books, accounting for almost one-fourth of the "New 52."

The other spin-off is Ravagers, which would presumably tie-in to Superboy and Teen Titans (The Ravager was a member of the pre-reboot Teen Titans cast, and the character has apparently played a role in the post-reboot Superboy). Both books seem to be performing about as well as they were doing a few years ago at DC, but the company is apparently pleased enough with that to grow the franchise a bit.

Of the remaining books, Earth-2 seems like one that's been in development for a while now, although Robinson and Scott were previously announced to be working on "a JSA book." This new title is pretty suggestive, as is the hint about the book's premise offered at DC's blog The Source: "The greatest heroes on a parallel Earth, the Justice Society combats threats that will set them on a collision course with other worlds."

So too does Dial H, based on the creators involved. The previous take on the concept didn't last too terribly long, it's one of the DC concepts with the most pure potential—since it is a concept, and not a character or set of characters—and from editor to cover artist, it seems like a prestige book.

Both World's Finest and G.I. Combat, which will feature the G.I.'s vs. Dinosaurs "War That Time Forgot" up front and "Unknown Soldier" and "Haunted Tank" back-ups look rather thrown together, considering the creative teams and how often those premises have been explored in the recent past. The logic of doing another military book on the heels of the cancellation of two other ones is questionable, but then, all three of those war comic concepts are more on the "Weird War" side of things, and I find all enormously appealing (In Showcase Presents reprints, anyway; none of those creative teams particularly wow me).

As with the "first wave" of New 52 books, the talents called upon to create them seem to be almost exclusively old hands. In many cases, the same old hands that were making DC comics from 2003-2010 or so: James Robinson, Grant Morrison, Nicola Scott, Chis Burnham, Paul Levitz (again?!), George Perez, Kevin Maguire, J. T. Krul, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Ian Churchill. I like the work of at least five of those folks immensely, but, again, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of effort put into recruiting and developing talent, and some of these guys have had plenty of opportunities to not sell comics (Levitz and Krul spring immediately to mind) in the very recent past, and/or have been pinballed around the new line (Perez, who was on Superman and Green Arrow in different capacities recently).

The exception is MiƩville, a somewhat prominent and popular prose fiction writer whose appearing here can be viewed by the comics industry as a legitimate "get." Olivetti was drawing for DC around the turn of the millennium, but has more recently been working at Marvel, where his style has devolved into something I quite dislike (that may be as much a matter of taste as quality, though). Mateus Santolouco's name is familiar, but I can't recall reading work he's done. Howard Mackie, a quick search informs me, wrote a bunch of '80s and '90s Marvel comics I never read, and thus he would seem to fit in the "New...To DC" category along with Scott Lobdell (Superboy, Teen Titans, Red Hood).

Since three of the six books canceled featured non-white male heroes as stars, it's worth noting that none of the books replacing them do (At least, not that we know of; maybe The Huntress and Power Girl in the new "New 52" World's Finest will be a black and Korean-American transvestite, respectively; if I'm leary of reading a Levitz comic in 2012, despite the presence of two such great artists as Perez and Maguire, than that kinda high-concept would definitely push me over the fence).

I'm not sure what they could do to replace one Korean-American hero with another, as I can't think of any characters in DC's catalog with that specific ethnic background. DC's non-martial artist Asian characters of any ethnicity or nationality reservoir isn't very deep. It would have been easier to replace Static Shock and Mister Terrific with another book—or two!—featuring black, male heroes though.

Black Lightning is probably the most obvious choice, having been one of the relatively few black men to headline his own DC ongoing monthly for a while, and is a character that could benefit from the Ultimate-like reboot of the DCU, given how rooted in a particular time the character's name (and costume!) is (Although DC did just make an effort in that direction pre-reboot with Black Lightning: Year One). Steel would have been another, although DC is employing him elsewhere, in the back-up features in Action Comics.

Post-reboot, Cyborg would certainly make sense (he's the only member of the current Justice League line-up without his own title at the moment). Does DC still have the rights to the rest of the Milestone catalog...? Because Hardwire and Icon or Icon and Rocket would make sense (and certainly wouldn't be any less likely to succeed than a G.I. Combat).

There's also...Okay, actually, I guess that's probably the end of that particular list, particularly since legacy characters like The Manhattan Guardian and Mister Miracle II might prove problematic. (Any other black DC superheroes that could conceivably carry their own book for at least as long as G.I. Combat or Hawk and Dove...? I would read a Black Manta or Amazing Man book, but I can't imagine too many others would be into that. I certainly can't imagine a Black Racer or Herald or Vykin or Orpheus or, um, Freedom Beast book. I would love to read a book entitled John Stewart, The Black Green Lantern or, even more simply, The Black Green Lantern, but of that I'm positive I'm the only one who would).


Even more surprising to me than the fact that DC would be tinkering so heavily with their new line so few months into it is the news that Rob Liefeld, the artist whose Hawk and Dove was among the six canceled titles, would be given three existing "New 52" books, to write—was his writing ever something anyone liked about any of his books?—or to write and draw.

That makes little sense to me—"Hey, the market didn't seem to like that one thing you did; how about we try having you do three things now?"—but I am not a DC Comics editor. I don't know why they are doing this thing, but I suspect that Liefeld and DC may have colluded just to make the piece I wrote for Robot 6 the other day completely irrelevant almost as soon as I hit the publish button.

The book Liefeld will be writing and drawing will be Deathstroke, which is interesting because Liefeld created Deadpool as a homage/analogue/clone of Deathstroke. I can't imagine how the change in creative reigns will affect the inside of the comic—I haven't read a single page of Kyle Higgins and Joe Bennett's run, and never read an entire, full-length comic book story of Liefeld's—but holy smokes, compare the Liefeld-generated image DC released to the Simon Bisley-drawn Deathstroke covers:One of those things is not like the other, huh?

Liefeld will also be plotting Savage Hawkman, which is currently written by another artist, Tony Daniel, and Grifter which, eh, who cares? I suppose it's interesting to see that one Image founder will be working on a character created by another, even if it's Liefeld just writing Lee's Grifter, rather than drawing him.


Nicholas Ahlhelm said...

Um, I assume by Darkest Night you mean Blackest Night and not Darkest Knight, the Batman tie-in that didn't even feature Hawk & Dove.

DC actually has two books featuring prominent black characters after this: you forgot Fury of Firestorm, the non-buddy book with Jason Rusch as one of the two leads.

Mateus has worked on American Vampire. Beyond that I don't know.

And if I was to take a guess, Ravagers will team up Rose Wilson with the rebooted versions of Gen 13.

Eric TF Bat said...

Your mathematics appears impeccable, apart from the stated 52 / 4 = 12, which I put down to your eyes glazing over and your brain going numb after having to list all the endlessly samey Batbooks.

Jacob T. Levy said...

Somehow I'm still not ready to give up on Levitz, even though he got me to drop Legion for the first time since before Zero Hour. There's no real reason why his return to the Super-Squad Earth-2 should work any better than his return to the 30th century did; and by now I'm sufficiently fond of Helena Bertinelli that my Helena Wayne nostalgia is long gone. Gonna try it anyways, and hope.

That Liefeld move is seriously baffling.

And DC's pointless waste of the valuable Milestone properties continues.

Caleb said...

Um, I assume by Darkest Night you mean Blackest Night

You assume correctly. I fixed it. (I think).

you forgot Fury of Firestorm

I considered it, but since Jason's only half of the title character, I didn't count it. I haven't been reading it, but do they even turn into a single Firestorm? The cover images I've seen showed them each turning into their own Firestorms...

Your mathematics appears impeccable, apart from the stated 52 / 4 = 12, which I put down to your eyes glazing over and your brain going numb after having to list all the endlessly samey Batbooks

I originally double-counted batman inc and got six batman books. I fixed the sentence. It's ALMOST 1/4 of the books.

Somehow I'm still not ready to give up on Levitz, even though he got me to drop Legion for the first time since before Zero Hour.

Even removing all question of whether or not Levitz is a great comics writer--it's been a long time since I've read anything of his, and it struck me as perfectly decent if nothing to go out of my way for--it just seems strange putting him on stuff like this. It would be like if Marvel had Stan Lee write Ultimate Spider-Man instead of Bendis in 2000.

I've NEVER read anything with Helena Wayne in it, and hearing about this more just confuses me. Did they really streamline and simplify the DCU just to reintroduce the original mutliverse, the complification of which lead to the original Crisis to simplifly it..?

denis.tsui said...

i could be wrong but i think one of the main problems with black characters in the DCU is that their powers are redundant and boring (black lightning/static shock, steel/hardware/batwing, jason rusch firestorm/ronny raymond firestorm, john stewart gl/gl corps, etc.). i don't think it's an issue of race, more an issue of interest...

Eyz said...

Superboy and The would have been nice!

Yeah you're right, the Bat-books occupy way too much of the current DC lineup.. I mean, there's clearly not enough diversity of genres... Is there a comedy book? This would be the perfect time for a new Ambush Bug series/mini (give it a whole TPB long run! simple as that!)

Also, why couldn't they offer a new title for one of the Milestones characters? Or Black Lightning, always like him. His Year One recent story was pretty well done...