Friday, September 27, 2019

On the visual depiction of sound in Operatic

Earlier this month I wrote a review of writer Kyo Maclear and artist Byron Eggenschwiler's excellent graphic novel, Operatic. Much of the subject matter of their book revolved around music, which is part of what makes it such a remarkable book. Sound of any kind being incredibly difficult to capture in a comic, it therefore almost always stands out when someone finds a new or effective way to do so. Think Doug Moench, and his ability to come up with perfect onomatopoeia for his kung fu-filled super-comics that borders on synesthetic Foley work. Or James Stokoe's now-famous Godzilla roar in Godzilla: Half-Century War. Or Russell Dauterman's use of size and shape of sound effects in his art on Thor comics to imply a sense of scale to them.
In Operatic, illustrator-turned-comics artist Eggenschwiler repeatedly comes up with new and interesting ways to draw sound, music and its impact on its listeners. I talked at some length about all of this in my review, but I wanted to return to the subject here on my blog, where I could better share examples.

If you haven't read Operaticand I really think you shouldit's the story of  middle schooler Charlie and where her life is at when her time in middle school is officially coming to an end. She and her friends are in a music class taught by the charismatic Mr. K. He believes that somewhere in the universe, there is one perfect song for each and every individual, and he gives his students an assignment based on that principle. He wants them all to look for their song, and, when they find it, write about it, integrating research on its performer.

But how will they know a song is their song?

"You might not know it's the song the first time you hear it. It might creep on you. But eventually it should make you feel like it was made for you. It should feel like home.

Mr. K.'s song is A-ha's "Take On Me," which is, of course, a great song, even if his students don't necessarily see it as such.

I kind of love the bit where they ask him what the F the words of the title even mean, and he responds thusly:

Mr. K grew up, Charlie narrates to us, "like, a million years ago, in the 1980s." When talking about Mr. K's song, Charlie calls it "The one where the singer starts really low but ends up singing so high you can practically hear the top of his head flipping open." That description is...apt. (In the panel above, by the way, you can see one of Eggenschwiler's sound effects; the sharp, straight yellow lines emanating from Mr. K's snapping fingers. Obviously, he's snapping his fingers, and I don't know about you, but I can hear them snapping by looking at the image.)

Later, Mr. K talks about how when he is listening to the song, it takes him back, and while this is a bit more effective with the two pages side-by-side as a spread, as they are in the book, check out how the creators handle the sequence:

The "present" narrative of Operatic is rendered primarily in yellow (a flashback is drawn in blue, while the events of Marie Callas' life are drawn in red), and here we watch as the "real" Mr. K is broken down into his component parts of black and yellow, gradually transforming into less and less distinct versions of himself, until he is music, or perhaps just the feelings of that music, the yellow swooping line and the black music notes and "DOO DOO DOO" being the same stuff he himself is made of. Note how, in the next two panels, the yellow line of the music encircles and frames specific happy memories from those years, and then gradually re-forms into the real Mr. K at the end.

That's an all-around beautiful sequence, perfectly illustrating the way in which music can take one back and unlock particular memories.

Less importantly, but still amusing to me, is the way the sound of "Take On Me" is approximated with the "words" in that second panel, which, if you've heard the song as often as I have (and/or are playing it on YouTube right now as you read this), you can actually see in the "DOO DOO DUH DOO DOO DOO" on the page.

I'm also not sure if this was intentional or not, but if you have seen the videowhich I've seen a million times or so, given that I was just starting elementary school around the time MTV was invented and that was one of the more compelling videos of its erayou know that it is set partially in a comic book, which is drawn in an extremely sketchy, all pencil, no ink style that Eggenschwiler's Operatic actually rather closely resembles.

Here, for example, are two frames of it:

Another song that Mr. K's class talks about at some length is Patti Smith's "Gloria," a song I wasn't quite as familiar with, owing perhaps due to it being released in 1975, a few years before I was even born, and the fact that it didn't have an animated video in heavy rotation in the first years of MTV (Now, Laura Branigan's 1982 "Gloria," on the other hand...).

Anyway, Mr. K and the students talk at some length about Smith, and his more cynical students respond with, "I don't get it, sir. She can't really sing" and "Yeah. She sounds kind of demented. I mean, you know, off."

Here's how Mr. K introduces the song to them, though, and how Eggenschwiler draws it:
The music is still just lines, in the basic colors of the comicblack, yellow and whitebut they are more jagged, more unruly and less elegant and formed than the pop music of A-ha, or even the simple sound of Mr. K snapping his fingers.

Patti Smith is a pretty important part of the book, which opens with a quote from her: "When I was a teenager, I dreamed of being an opera singer like Maria Callas."

Charlie, Operatic's teenage protagonist, dreams of being Maria Callas...maybe not being an opera singer like her, but of making her own music, and of being the sort of a person as well as artist that Callas was. In Callas, Charlie finds her song, and here, too, Eggenschwiler comes up with an interesting way of portraying that music sneaking up on and grabbing Charlie:

The very next image is too big to fit on my scanner bed, but it is a two-page spread in which there is no background, just the off-white color of the page. In the foreground, Charlie's desk has toppled, her chair is tangled in the ornate vine of Callas' song, and she herself has all but disappeared. She retains her shape, but it is just outline, filled defined by hr tennis shoes, hair, three lines for her closed eyes and smile, and the music that has enveloped her, which blooms red flowers, red, again, being the sound of Callas.

The next panel following that, we see Charlie's classmates reacting, their words trying and failing to cut through the song"Una Voce Poco Fa" by Callasin dialogue balloons shaped like the tools one might use to attack a vine.

Here's an image of a young Callas learning to sing, summoning a butterfly shape.
Later there's a two-page spread of her singing, and the butterfly-shape of her song is huge, bigger than her, fluttering around a packed opera house, coming out of her mouth like fire from a dragon, its flight path described by vaguely ribbon-candy shaped hills and valleys of red and black lines.

It too was too big for my scanner, but I found an image of it online to filch:

There's...a lot of sound in the book.

For example:

And on and on. Much of the other images of sound are relatively minor, like the repetitive bold zig-zags of the thick black lines of a blaring car stereo, or the motion lines/sounds of Charlie's friends singing and dancing to Iggy Azalea's "Mo Bounce", or sketchy, lightning-like yellows arcing around a hair metal guitarist, or even the dialogue bubbles piled upon one another in a neat little two-dimensional stack when the whole class says "Yes, Mr. K" in unison.

The more—and more closely—I look at the art in this book, the more I find to admire in its creation.


On a similar note, but in an entirely different comic book, I really liked the way in which singing and music is drawn in the pages of George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott and Harmony Becker's The Called Us Enemy, which is another rather excellent graphic novel you should also seek out and take some time to read. (I wrote a review of that one too, but I can't link to it, as it hasn't yet been published. Hopefully it will see the light of day soon-ish.)

There are two pages in which young George and his family are around Christmas music, the first time while they are free, the second time during a Christmas event in their internment camp:

Sorry for the poor quality of this one; I couldn't get the page to rest on the scanner bed, as it comes much later in the book:

Artist Becker—there's no letterer credited, so I assumed she handled that as well—draws the lyrics of the music directly into the panels, and in cursive, which serves to differentiate it from the more common form of communication seen throughout the book. You know, talking.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Marvel's December previews reviewed

In a truly shocking turn of events, it seems that this December Marvel Entertainment will be investing a lot of energy! There's a new round of Annihilation, which is Marvel's name for space-characters-team-up-to-do-stuff, this one called Annihilation: Scourge, which seems to consist of five characer-specific over-sized one-shots and some kinda sorta tie-ins, like this month's Marvel Tales and True Believers. The 2099 event continues, with a whole bunch of one-shots which seem to indicate new versions of the old 2099 characters, but I could be completely wrong, having never read any of those (did Ghost Rider 2099 always have a chainsaw?). There's a big murder mystery event with the eyebrow-raising title of Incoming!, which unfortunately calls to mind DC's 2004 Identity Crisis (Ha, remember back then, Marvel's reaction to Identity Crisis was a little miniseries called Identity Disc, seemingly conceived just to troll DC? Then they did Civil War, sold gajillions of comics, and have been in constant event mode ever since). Heck, there's even a Conan-related event, with some other Robert E. Howard creations teaming up with big guy.

Looking at what Marvel plans to publish in the last month of this year, this is what caught my eye...

Continuing the 1950s-style adventures of the Agents of Atlas! Disturbing visions lead the team to the darkest depths of the Atlantic Ocean, where waits the Sub-Mariner! Then, Jimmy Woo and M-11 find themselves caught in the talons of the most terrible power in China…the deadly Jade Claw! And the Atomic Age heroes confront today’s mightiest heroes, the X-Men and the Avengers, in two time-twisting tales! But when Aphrodite targets Venus, can the Agents rescue their teammate — and handle the truth about her past? Plus, Norman Osborn sends his killer crew of Thunderbolts to bring down the Agents of Atlas — hard! Collecting AGENTS OF ATLAS (2009) #6-11, X-MEN VS. AGENTS OF ATLAS #1-2, AVENGERS VS. ATLAS #1-4, THUNDERBOLTS (1997) #139-140 and material from ASSAULT ON NEW OLYMPUS PROLOGUE, INCREDIBLE HERCULES #138-141 and HERCULES: FALL OF AN AVENGER #1-2.
448 PGS./Rated T+ …$39.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-92272-6

Jeff Parker and company's Agents of Atlas comics are all great fun, and I'd highly recommend this and the previous volume of the Complete Collection series to anyone who hasn't read them. Alone, (most of) these characters are all quite compelling, interesting and cool, and together? They're even better.

I imagine these are being collected and published now to capitalize on any interest in the title being generated by its recent repurposing by Greg Pak and others as the name of an all-Asian super-team, rather than because of any upcoming multi-media adaptation or extrapolation, but I honestly wouldn't be surprised by Marvel announcing anything as a movie or a TV show anymore. I mean, they're doing an Eternals movie now; absolutely no Marvel announcement would surprise me anymore. (And Parker's reinvention of this motley crew of pre-Fantastic Four super-characters and his rather inspired secret hero-group-posing-as-a-secret-villain-group take seemed pretty much primed for a more comedic Marvel movie. Like, I've long maintained that Marvel Studios could have very easily done a Guardians of The Galaxy-style film starring this group instead of the Guardians. In fact, I was pretty confident that Jimmy Woo was going to be the first big break out Marvel movie hero of Asian descent, but I guess a Shang-Chi movie is on the way after all...)

I think I have almost all of theseI got a little lost at the end of the "Incredible Hercules" narrative when the title of the book changed a few times, so I'm not confident I have both of those Fall of An Avenger issuebut I might still be interested in purchasing these in this format, for ease of finding them and rereading them.

Cover by ROD REIS
A summons from S.H.I.E.L.D. leads Peter Parker into a globe-spanning adventure that will test him as never before — and the future of all mankind lies in his gloved, webbed hands! Who is the mysterious prisoner in the steel box who keeps propelling the wall-crawler onward? Nick Spencer and an all-star team of Marvel’s biggest writers and artists take up the challenge to create the wildest, maddest, most unconventional AMAZING SPIDER-MAN story of all! Guest-starring Nick Fury, Wolverine and Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham! Experience the amazing adventure in an action-packed oversized hardcover with a sensational array of surprises and extra features! Collecting AMAZING SPIDER MAN: FULL CIRCLE.
128 PGS./Rated T …$29.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-92138-5
Trim size: oversized

I was quite surprised to see this appear, and with that price tag attached, as it sounds like it's just the $9.99 one-shot being reprinted...with hard covers and a bigger trim-size...? Does that justify the extra $20? I guess that it depends on what the "sensational array of surprises and extra features" are, but somehow I doubt those can possibly be worth twice the cover price of the comic story preceding them...

Mark Waid (W) • Kev Walker (A)
Cover by Phil Noto
The impossible has happened! Doctor Strange’s hands have been healed, restoring his surgical skills - but now he’s being torn between his obligations as the Sorcerer Supreme and as a neurosurgeon. And when he’s forced to choose which vows to uphold, who suffers most for it? After all, magic always has a cost…Be here for a brand new era of magic…and horror from Mark Waid (HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE) and Kev Walker (BLACK PANTHER)!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Mark Waid is a good writer. And Kev Walker is a good artist. And this sounds like a pretty interesting premise for a Dr. Strange story arc. I don't think the change in status quo is a big enough deal to justify relaunching the series with a new #1 though, is it? I mean, this isn't even a new creative team; wasn't Waid writing the previous Dr. Strange book...? So they are just canceling that series and relaunching a new volume of it with a new #1 because, despite all evidence to the contrary, Marvel still clings to the totemic power of a "#1" on the cover of an ongoing series...?

Written by JACK KIRBY
Penciled by JACK KIRBY
In 1976, the legendary King of comics Jack Kirby returned to Marvel brimming with cosmic ideas — and none were bigger than the Earth-shattering immortals known as the Eternals! In this mind-blowing first issue, Kirby unleashes the full brilliance of his unbridled imagination to reveal a secret history of heroes and horrors — in which two bizarre branches of humanity’s cousins, the Eternals and the Deviants, vie to inherit the Earth! Prepare to meet Ikaris, Warlord Kro, and a colorful cast full of titans and terrors that could only have been conceived by the King himself! But who are the space gods known as the Celestials, and what happens if they are summoned back to Earth? It’s one of the all-time great Marvel comic books, boldly re-presented in its original form, ads and all! Reprinting ETERNALS (1976) #1.
32 PGS./ONE SHOT/Rated T … $3.99

Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, Peter Gillis (W)
Ron Wilson, Richard Buckler (A)
COVER BY Todd Nauck
In the “Untold Tales of the Marvel Universe,” the secret past of the Eternals is laid bare! See how space gods brought the Eternals to life! Discover the connections between the Eternals and Thanos, the Mad Titan! And learn the key role they played in the history of the Inhuman royal family! Collecting material from What If? (1977) #23 – 30.
56 PGS./ONE SHOT/Rated T ...$4.99

I'm super-glad Marvel is going to be making an effort to reprint some Eternals stuff ahead of the movie, because I know almost nothing about these characters beyond the fact that they are, like, the third or so of Jack Kirby's cosmic, god-like secret races of super-people, and maybe the least compelling of them.

I think the only comic featuring these characters I have read was Neil Gaiman and John Romita JR's miniseries, and all I remember of that was thinking 1) It was pretty disappointing, coming from a comics writer as great as Gaiman, 2) JRJR's art was nice and 3) Marvel kinda screwed JRJR on the trade dress of the hardcover collection.

I'm fairly certain I read a reprint of Eternals #1 somewhere too, but I'll be damned if I can remember where; maybe they reprinted it in the back of that Eternals collection...? Or was there a True Believers issue...?

JIM ZUB (W) • Issue #1 - SCOT EATON (A) • Issue #2 - Stephen Segovia (A)
JAMES ALLISON will soon die. But it’s not his first death. He’s lived many lives, in many places - lives he can recall in vivid detail. But when an Elder God called the WYRM reaches across time to James, an ages-spanning quest begins! The serpent god SET plans to usher in an eternity of darkness, and only the chosen warriors across time and space have a hope of stopping him: CONAN THE BARBARIAN, SOLOMON KANE, DARK AGNES, and the man known as MOON KNIGHT!
In an unprecedented comics event, Robert E. Howard’s characters join forces along with Marvel’s Moon Knight, in an all-new saga built on REH and Marvel lore from across the ages!

One of these things is not like the other...and it's Moon Knight. Moon Knight is the one that doesn't belong in a comic in which various Robert E. Howard creations team-up. Although I suppose finding out why they stuck Moon Knight in there will be one of the interesting things about these comics.

Are your children normal? Are they respectful of you and other approved authority figures? Do they have a poster of the Punisher on their wall?
Or are they angry and discourteous? Do they embrace difficult and/or dangerous concepts, such as protest and the environment? Do they stand with the Hulk?
Ask yourself: Are your children normal... or have they joined the TEEN BRIGADE?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

The Teen Brigade! Perhaps the single most important team in the history of the Marvel Universe, as they kinda sorta founded the Avengers. I haven't mentioned it in a while, but remember Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta and company's excellent 2011-2012 series Vengeance, the series that introduced America Chavez...? That was a Teen Brigade series, although for some dumb reason Marvel decided to call it Vengeance and market it with random-ish Marvel villains on all the covers, perhaps because they didn't think a title like Teen Brigade would sell, and because Rob Liefeld had already used Brigade for a comic book series, so they couldn't just drop the "Teen" from the title.

I imagine Ewing has something rather different in mind, and he would almost have to in order to fit them into the story he's been telling in Immortal Hulk, but I also imagine his take will be rather worthwhile, as this series has consistently been surprisingly, shockingly good.

Cover by Patrick Gleason
Variant Cover by DUSTIN WEAVER
Variant Cover by SANFORD GREENE
A mysterious murder brings together the heroes of the Marvel Universe in the search for a killer - but no one can imagine where the trail will lead, or how it will affect everything in 2020 and beyond! Who is the victim and who is the assailant?
The closing chapter to MARVEL’s 80th year, which will connect the dots of everything that happened in 2019 and propel the narrative into the year that is to come! Featuring the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Daredevil, Spider-Man, the Champions, the Agents of Atlas, Valkyrie, the Immortal Hulk, Jessica Jones, Venom, Ghost Rider, the Masked Raider and more!
96 PGS./ONE SHOT/Rated T+ …$9.99

I'm not sure how much stock to put in these covers in terms of looking for clues to the identity of the murder victim. Like, is it someone not pictured reacting to the body...? If the character is on one or both of the covers, does that mean they are safe, or just that the artist drawing that particular cover wasn't given that detailed information, but was instead just told to draw all of the biggest characters...and/or those most relevant to the current line...? I don't even know if we should put much stock in the body seen on the second cover as being the actual body; it could just be a place-holder. If not though, than at least it's a man; I think we've seen enough ladies murdered in super-comics. Let's let a man take a turn in the fridge, huh?

I'm a little curious about who on Earth the victim could be that it would mean something to all of those characters. Like, there aren't many characters who mean anything at all to the Avengers, The Fantastic Four and The X-Men, you know? Especially if we assume it's not a super-hero, as they've pretty much all died and come back to life at some point in the last decade. (My best guesses would have been Rick Jones or Jarvis, but the latter was just returned from being killed in the pages of Secret Empire, and it seems like Marvel flirted with the idea of killing off Jarvis in the Avengers series No Surrender, only to hospitalize him instead.


"Masked Raider"...? Who the hell is the Masked Raider...? The cowboy guy? Maybe he's the one who is murdered! And that's why everyone is so shocked on that Gleason cover! They are shocked because they can't believe they are in a comic book about a dead cowboy!

It all ends here! Can NAMOR be redeemed as the world drowns? Or will THE SPEAR crush THE INVADERS and remake the world in their image?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Where I left off with this series, the end of the first trade paperback collection, original, android Human Torch Jim Hammond had his head ripped off his body, and was hooked up to some wires and stuff in Tony Stark's lab. So it's not completely surprising that he might have a new, bulkier, more robotic-looking body that bears a resemblance to one of Iron Man's suits of super-armor. But that still doesn't explain why he now has a flaming mullet, like a secondary fire-character from a late 1980s Firestorm comic.

DON'T DO THIS, MARVEL! I am still getting used to Namor's new long-haired, oddly-positioned armor look; I can't deal with that and a hideously redesigned Golden Age Torch at the same time!

Peni Parker, A.K.A. SP//dr is back!
The corruption of the Spider-Verse has reached Earth-14512 and Peni is in deep trouble.
Can Miles Morales help Peni defeat an all-new villainous incarnation?!X
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Wait a second, is that a Spider-gelion...?

Reprinting Fantastic Four (1961) #140
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

The theme for this month's True Believers reprints is Annihilation, and looking at the books being reprinted, it seems like they are all the first appearances of various characters who will be appearing in the latest Annihilation-branded space crossover, as, regardless of the titles of the actual comics being reprinted, their True Believers titles all feature the words Annihilation and the names of particular characters. So we see the origins or first appearances of many of the expected space-related characters, like Annihilus, Nova Richard Ryder, Quasar, Moondragon, Mantis and The Super-Skrull, but also some unexpected surprises, like Omega The Unknown and Man-Wolf (who really oughta get his own movie at some point; if Sony is going to try and make their very own answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe out of characters associated with Spider-Man, than Man-Wolf's a pretty good candidate).

Oh, and there's also a reprint of an issue from Walt Simonson's Thor run entitled True Believers: Annihilation–Odinpower. Looking at these reprints as clues as to what the hell might be going on in Annihilation: Scourge, it seems to be all over the place in an interesting, and perhaps lucrative for Marvel, way (It was the earlier Annihilation books that gave us the modern incarnation of The Guardians of The Galaxy by teaming up a bunch of particularly random space characters, for example).

Witness one of James Allison’s past lives in this adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s classic! Reprinting Supernatural Thrillers (1973) #3
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$1.00

There's also one issue of True Believers that has nothing to do with Annihilation, though. Instead, this one ties into the Conan event comic.

Considering how much I enjoyed the Conan suite of True Believers, I kinda wish they reprinted an old Marvel Conan or Robert E. Howard adaptation once a week...

Al Ewing & JASON AARON (W) • Pere Pérez (A) • Cover by MAHMUD ASRAR
But are they all about to become doctors to the dead?! Doctor Strange, Night Nurse, Cardiac, Faiza Hussain and more join forces with Jane Foster for a supernatural medical emergency that will give you heart palpitations!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I haven't seen Faiza Hussain in a while now, but I really liked her character and her sadly short-lived series, Captain Britain and MI13. I was actually just thinking of that series the other day while reading Avengers By Jason Aaron Vol. 4: War of The Vampires, as I preferred that depiction of Marvel Dracula to the one in Aaron's Avengers...

Thursday, September 19, 2019

DC's December previews reviewed

So the most exciting news in this next round of solicitations for DC Comics seems to be that Rafael Grampa of Mesmo Delivery Service, whose super-comics work has been limited to some covers and a couple of shorts featuring Batman and Wolverine, will be the artist doing the next of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns sequels. Andy Kubert handled the last one, and John Romita Jr drew Miller's last project, Superman: Year One. So that's an interesting choice. Other than some exciting kids comics, though, it's mostly business as usual at DC in December...

John Romita Jr is drawing Action Comics #1018, which will be guest-starring Superman's running crew, as pictured above.

I think this image is a good example of the weakness of The Flash's current costume. If it doesn't look good when JRJR draws it, than it's just not a very good costume. And those lightning-bolt eyebrows? They do not look good here.

Tony S. Daniel's cover for Batman #85, which apparently reveals that The Signal and Batwoman both have superpowers now...they can fly!

That, or Daniel drew the figures first, and then goes back later to figure out how they relate to their environment...? And he's only halfway done at this point, having drawn rubble for the characters on the left half of the image to stand on, but he hasn't gotten around to drawing rubble for those on the right half to stand on yet...?

No remorse, no mercy...just ruthless death: Victor Zsasz has long been one of Batman’s most formidable enemies, and now his most infamous stories have been collected! This volume includes Zsasz’s debut story arc and much more, including a never before published story by writer Devin Grayson and artist Roger Robinson! Collects Batman: Shadow of the Bat #1-4, Batman: Streets of Gotham #10-11, a story from Batman Chronicles #3, Batman: Batgirl #1, Detective Comics #815-816, a story from Detective Comics (2011) #18, Rogues Gallery #1, and an unpublished story intended for Batman: Gotham Knights #12!
ON SALE 02.05.20
$19.99 US | 264 PAGES

Huh. Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle's Mr. Zsasz, a serial killer who counts his kills by making hash-marks in his flesh, always struck me as something of a surprise "hit" with other, later Batman writers, as he was basically created as a sort of one-off villain needed to move the plot of their "The Last Arkham" arc of Batman: The Shadow of The Bat along. Breyfogle gave him a kinda neat visual that worked really well for that of a comic book serial killer, provided it was drawn in a certain style, but I never got the sense that Grant and/or Breyfogle thought that this would be their most popular addition to Batman's rogue's gallery, certainly not compared to Scarface and The Ventriloquist or Anarky, who they returned to over and over and over again, or even the likes of Cornelius Stirk, who they seemed to make an effort to push now and then, particularly at the beginning (Hell, I think even Grant's creations with Vince Giarrano, like The Tally Man and The Human Flea, showed far more story potential than "Guy Who Stabs People And Cuts Himself").

I think it's telling that the the stabbing and cutting is pretty much the only thing later creators retained from "The Last Arkham." Rarely if ever has his goofy "costume" with the top hate resurfaced, nor has his habit of posing the bodies of his victims in life-like situations, which Batman's narration told us way back when was one of Zsasz's trademarks.

This particular collection, therefore, is sort of a surprise, as I would have expected plenty of other Batman: Arkham collections to come before it. Catman, Killer Moth, Maxie Zeus, Calendar Man and, of course, Scarface and The Ventriloquist and Anarky. On the other hand, they've already done a Joker's Daughter collection, so who knows what their precise criteria is.

The other weird thing about it that rather than using his "professional" name in the title, they're going with his full name, "Victor Zsasz." It's not like the entitled the Penguin collection Batman: Arkham: Oswald Cobblepot.

So, what have we in here? Well, there's the already-mentioned "Last Arkham" (which also introduces then-new characters Dr. Jeremiah Arkham and Amygdala). The story from Batman Chronicles #3 is a 1996 ten-pager by Grant and artist Jennifer Graves recounting the villain's origin (that issue had a pretty nice Brian Bolland cover; on it, Bolland obviously used Breyfogle's art as a guide, and the result was he seems to have turned Breyfogle's psycho eye effect into a pair of weird sunglasses). Batman: Batgirl #1 is one of those "Girlfrenzy!" one-shots featuring female protagonists from 1998, but not one I read; it's written by Kelly Puckett and pencilled by Jim Balent, so I bet it's actually pretty good, though. I've never read any of the Batman: Streets of Gotham series, but that's a 2010 two-parter by Paul Dini, Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs from during the second time that Dick Grayson was Batman. I similarly skipped 'Tec #815-816; those are some 2006 issues written by Shane McCarthy and featuring Cliff Chiang art, so I imagine if nothing else, they look awfully nice. 'Tec #18 is from the New 52 series, and the 2013 John Layman/Jason Fabok issue has a "Requiem" on the cover, so I imagine it's from the month or two that Batman thought Damian Wayne was dead-dead, rather than just dead-ish. Unless I miss my guess, Rogues Gallery is just one of those gallery type books of pin-ups DC did in the late '90s, and so that means there should be a nice-looking Matt Wagner drawing of Zsasz included.

Finally, perhaps the most interesting of the lot will be the never-before-published story by the Gotham Knights creative team of writer Devin K. Grayson and artist Roger Robinson. That was a great team and a pretty great book, so I'm pretty curious to see this story; given the character, one can assume that perhaps it wasn't published due to how gruesome or disturbing the story might have been, but, on the other hand, it's jsut as plausible it wasn't published for some perfectly pedestrian reason. The story that did run in Gotham Knights #12 was a fill-in story featuring Oracle by Jen Van Meter and Coy Turnbull, with a gorgeous Darwyn Cooke cover. So that's why that comic was such a departure...!

Unusual for the Batman: Arkham line of villain spotlight collections, this one is full of more comics I haven't read than I comics I have. I'll definitely give this one a borrow when it's available.

A horrifying crime attracts Batman’s attention and forces him to revisit the ghosts of his past as Oracle, Nightwing, and Robin attempt to help him solve the mystery! Batman engages in a psychological war with a stronger, smarter-than-ever Hugo Strange, but the aftermath of this battle will be a nightmare from which Batman and his associates may never recover. Collects Batman: Gotham Knights #1-12.
ON SALE 01.01.20
$29.99 US | 304 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-9407-6

Oh hey, and speaking of Gotham Knights...! Following the "No Man's Land" epic, the Batman line was in quite strong shape. Larry Hama and Scott McDaniel were on Batman, the book then devoted to Batman-as-superhero. Greg Rucka and were on Detective Comics, which was devoted to Batman-as-detective (obviously) and featured compelling coloring that evoked black-and-white art without actually being black-and-white. And Devin Grayson, then probably the strongest Batman writer and the one producing the most compelling character-focused comics in the line, got the brand-new tertiary title, Batman: Gotham Knights. The focus of this one was on Batman as the axis of the Batman family, and, during these early issues especially, the focus was on Batman's relationships with Robin Tim Drake, Batgirl Cassandra Cain, Nightwing, Alfred, Catwoman and so on.

Originally drawn by Dale Eaglesham and Paul Ryan, eventually Roger Robinson became the most regular of the artists. Robinson's art was quite strong, a mix of realistic and expressionistic that was similar in the balance it struck to Jim Aparo, despite the fact that their styles didn't look anything at all alike (and I'm just talking about their approach to realism vs. expression in their style; Robinson obviously didn't provide the sort of iconic Batman Aparo did. Years later, when I think of Robinson's art, the thing I most remember is the soles of Batman's boots).

The book was further distinguished by amazing Brian Bolland covers (although Dave Johnson provided the cover for #1, and Cooke, as noted above, drew the cover for #12), and the presence of the Batman: Black and White back-ups, which basically continued the types of stories that filled the pages of the anthology miniseries of that title. Often times, even if you had zero interest in the lead stories, the back-ups were worth the price of admission. The first issue, for example, was a then-rare Jim Lee-drawn Batman story written by Warren Ellis; I think that was the latter's very first Batman comic, but I could be wrong on that. Those back-ups have since been collected, while the lead stories have not until now. (In that respect, the singles are probably worth collecting if you can find them, as you'll get both the leads and the back-ups).

I have not re-read these issues in a long time, and am actually probably overdue to do so (I was actually considering it, too, as Meredith asked if I had them and borrowed them after there was some online discussion of how relatively rare women-writing-Batman has been in the character's 80-year-history. Almost, but not quite, as rare as women drawing Batman, it turns out!).

Reviewing the contents of them now on, I see these will include

A Batgirl-focused issue, exploring how Batman copes with Batgirl's death-wish in a particularly Batmanly way

A two-parter in which Batman faces a supernatural killer that I remember not caring for that much

A story featuring The Key, then recently re-invented by Grant Morrison in the pages of JLA, who ended up in Arkham Asylum, although this may be the only story referencing his time spent there. If not the only, it's one of the few.

An Oracle story behind a cover revisiting the events of The Killing Joke, which is notable in part because here was Bolland re-drawing a scene from his own graphic novel on the cover of the comic

A four-part arc featuring Batman, Robin, Nightwing and Catwoman vs Hugo Strange. I remember this being a pretty bonkers story, in large part because I had no idea what was going on for much of it, as I had thought Hugo Strange was dead (Prior to this, the only Batman comic I had read featuring Hugo Strange not set in the past featured Strange as a ghost).

I hope it sells well enough that they keep collecting the series. Shortly after these issues and a Rucka-written fill-in comes these sexy covers...

And then there's maybe my favorite issue of the whole series, this one...
...wherein a lone Batman is faced with a slow night, and ends up thinking of an excuse to team-up with Aquaman.

Good God, look at this Nick Derrington cover for one of the Batman Universe reprints. It's a nice image in that if you're wondering what Derrington's version of basically any Batman villain looks like, well, you're in luck; there's a pretty good chance the villain you're wondering about appears on this particular cover.

So Tom King's long, sales-healthy (and creatively unsatisfying) run on Batman is entering it's twilight, with the writer moving the last chapter of his narrative from the pages of Batman into a new, probably temporary title, Batman/Catwoman. You know what that means, right? DC should be announcing a new Batman writer soon. I fully expect it to be Brian Michael Bendis, who I was actually quite shocked wasn't writing Batman immediately upon his move to DC Comics (I assumed writing Batman would be the thing that lured him to DC, as that's their greatest prize to offer, and Bendis' career-long interest in crime dramas, police and private eyes and Marvel's "street-level" heroes made the character seem a better fit for him than Superman; I'm glad my assumption was wrong, though, as I've been pretty impressed with all the Superman stuff of his I've read so far, and he and DC have used Bendis' creative weight to do things I don't think would have gone over as well had another writer attempted them, like a Young Justice revival or the impending Legion of Super-Heroes one).

If it's not going to be Bendis, I sure as hell wouldn't mind a Christopher Priest run (although I'd personally prefer him follow Snyder on Justice League, and be given more leeway to do whatever the hell he wanted than I'm assuming he had during his short, place-holder run on the franchise before Snyder and company launched the current Justice League title).

Includes new stories plus classic reprints!
ON SALE 12.04.19 | $4.99 US | FC | 96 PAGES | DC

There's another round of bargain-priced giants this month, but this was the only new one. Batwoman is a curious co-lead to pair with Supergirl instead of Batgirl, although I suppose those are the two characters with CW TV shows. I'll be curious to see the contents, as the current Batwoman (and the one appearing on the TV show) is relatively new, as far as DC superheroes go, and I can't imagine there will be any stories featuring the original Batwoman. I'm also curious, as always, about the new content. Will it be a Batwoman/Supergirl team-up story, or a new story featuring both of them, or two new stories featuring each of them?

written by FRANK MILLER
art and cover by RAFAEL GRAMPA
1:10 variant cover by PAUL POPE
1:25 variant cover by JOELLE JONES
1:100 variant cover by FRANK MILLER
1:500 variant cover by ANDY KUBERT
Frank Miller returns to the Dark Knight Universe!
It’s been three years since the events of Dark Knight III: The Master Race. Lara has spent the time learning to be more human, and Carrie Kelley has been growing into her new role as Batwoman. But a terrifying evil has returned to Gotham City, and Lara and Carrie must team up to stop this growing threat—and they have a secret weapon. Young Jonathan Kent, “the golden child,” has a power inside of him unlike anything the world has ever seen, and it’s about to be unleashed...
Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child is Frank Miller’s triumphant return to the world of the Dark Knight and joining him is the superstar artist Rafael Grampá, the mastermind behind the groundbreaking Mesmo Delivery. Following work in advertising and film, this incredible collaboration marks Grampá’s first comics work in six years, bringing his extraordinary detail and storytelling to the Dark Knight saga, resulting in a Dark Knight story like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
ON SALE 12.11.19
$5.99 US | 48 PAGES
This issue will ship with five covers. Please see the order form for details.

I might be in the minority here, but I have almost no interest in a third sequel to The Dark Knight Returns, the second of which to feature another artist drawing Miller's script. Given the diminishing returns on the third one and some of Miller's more recent comics, I don't exactly have high hopes for this. I am excited to get more Rafael Grampa comics in any form, and I'm actually pretty excited to see him do a whole Batman graphic novel, which will apparently be split into serially published chapters here.

I suppose pairing Grampa with Miller on Batman will help ensure more eyeballs and higher-sales among DC's extant reader base, but I also can't help but wonder if Miller's presence will be a drag on Grampa. I'm sure Grampa doing his own Batman thing, along the lines of what Sean Gordon Murphy's been doing with his weird White Knight comics, would be pretty phenomenal, and free of any of the baggage that comes with a modern Miller comic.

I usually edit out the variant cover listings in these solicits, because who cares, but I included them here because it's kind of remarkable how few of them there are (And one of 'em is by Paul Pope!). I mean for the last comic set on Miller's Earth-DKR, there were so many goddam variant covers that DC actually published a standalone book that was nothing but variant covers. Now we're down to just fur.

This month's round of $1 reprints, imaginatively entitled "Dollar Comics," includes The Flash #164, the first issue of Geoff Johns' run (which I purchased off the rack specifically because of how great that Brian Bolland cover was, although I ended up dropping the book after the first story arc, and then only checked in on in sporadically. They're also publishing Birds of Prey #1 by Chuck Dixon and Greg Land (back when he was pencilling his art either without photo-reference or at least making an effort to make the reference his own), the first issue of the ongoing series after plenty of waters-testing via miniseries and specials; Batman #613, which is the Catwoman-centric issue of Jeph Loeb, Jim Lee and Scott Williams' "Hush" arc, just in case you've somehow managed to miss it's many, many collections; and Gales of The Teen Titans Annual #3, an inflection point in Marvel Wolfman and George Perez's series featuring Tara, and reprinted this month because DC's doing one of those Tales of The Dark Multiverse Elseworlds-y specials riffing on it.

guest written by MARK RUSSELL
Harley Quinn is great at kicking jerks in the face. Paying her taxes? Not so much. Things turn from bad to worse when Harley’s new accountant, an ex-con called the Hambezzler, runs into trouble with his old crew and they come to Coney Island with one thing on their minds: payback!
ON SALE 01.01.20 | $3.99 US
This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for details.

Another masterpiece of a cover by Guillem March; good God that horrifying. Although the character of "the Hambezzler" sounds like it's based on McDonalds' Hamburglar, this character has the scary hamburger-for-a-head feature of McDonalds' less-popular mascots, Mayor McCheese and Officer Big Mac.

written by MARK RUSSELL
Harley Quinn hosts “Villainy’s Biggest Night” as the DCU’s most dastardly gather at the Hall of Doom to do what they do best—congratulate themselves! But one villain has a secret plan, fueled by years of being overlooked by his peers, and the burning desire to receive the praise he so rightly deserves... Don’t miss out on a one-of-a-kind comic book experience, with the winners decided by you, the fans! Who will be crowned DC’s Villain of the Year? Go to for more information!
ON SALE 12.11.19
$4.99 US |40 PAGES |FC |DC

One would hope that Black Manta receives the award, based on how good that little top hat looks poised upon his over-sized head on Amanda Conners' cover for the book, which she is not drawing, but Mike Norton is. And Mike Norton is a good artist.

written by TIM SEELEY
cover by INHYUK LEE
Prince Keldor and his two He-Man comrades leap head first in to a new adventure, which is an oh-so-subtle way of telling you that we’re doing...wait for it... Space He-Man! Now the three travelers must stop the Anti-He-Man before he tears the haunted power core out of the heart of starship Eternia!
ON SALE 12.18.19
$3.99 US |2 OF 6|32 PAGES FC|DC

Ugh, just seeing Inhyuk Lee's drawing of New Adventures of He-Man He-Man brought me all the way back to 1990, when I was home sick from school and caught an episode of the first-ever He-Man reboot and was disgusted and enraged with what I saw happening to the first media franchise I cared about.

I'm not sure if any He-Men die in this series, but, if one does, I know which one I hope it will be...!

written by ZOE QUINN
Donna Troy is a hero. She fought alongside friends, led the Titans into battle, and buried more friends in the line of duty than she cares to remember. She’s strong, she’s brave, she’s one of the fiercest warriors on the planet...and she’s the Batman Who Laughs’ next target for infection! Spinning out of the events of The Batman Who Laughs and Batman/Superman comes the story of a hero who is done with bringing peace to a world that cannot be trusted with it. A woman who’s past has been her greatest adversary, and whose newly awakened dark side is ready to burn it all down and forge a new destiny. No more peace. Only...Deathbringer!
ON SALE 12.04.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

written by PAUL JENKINS
Commissioner Gordon has dedicated his life to the safety of the citizens of Gotham City. Sure, he doesn’t wear a cape, but this hero has chosen a thankless job, because it’s the right thing to do. But what happens when Jim Gordon’s sense of duty and honor is stripped away? What happens when Gotham City’s greatest public pillar of justice finally says “enough”? Spinning out of the events of The Batman Who Laughs and Batman/Superman comes the story of a man who has finally given in to his worst impulses—and he might just take the entire city into the darkness with him...
ON SALE 12.18.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

Woah, woah, woah...Donna Troy's new "Infected" codename is "Deathbringer", while Commissioner Gordon's is simply "The Commissioner"...?

I grew confused, scared and angry while reading the Deathrbring solicit too, because I read the comic where Donna Troy was reintroduced for the first time into the DC Universe post-Flashpoint/New 52, and this doesn't seem to line-up with that in the least. Of course, I never read The Titans, as I couldn't stand the artwork, so maybe they de-rebooted aspects of the re-boot? Anyway, nice to know that after DC hit a hard re-boot on their entire line like never before in 2011, Donna Troy's backstory is even more confusing than ever before...!

cover by JIM CHEUNG
Why hello there, readers! It’s your Uncle Joker letting you know that this year’s DC winter holiday special is not for the good guys. It’s all about the folks on Santa’s naughty list! Folks like me, Sinestro, Toyman, Harley Quinn, and even an appearance from that timely rascal the Calendar Man. Come sledding with your favorite villains in 10 fantastic tales created by comics’ finest talents. They’re not as funny as me, mind you, but it’s important that we be charitable this time of year.
ON SALE 12.04.19
$9.99 US | 80 PAGES

As with Girlfrenzy!, I thought the 1997 New Year's Evil suite of one-shots was a pretty good idea that could quite easily have been an evergreen, annual event. If you weren't reading comics back then, those were eight one-shots featuring various villains, each spinning out of an ongoing or event title. They had unified trade dress, and each featured a Jason Pearson-drawn cover, featuring the title character in a bold, all-black background. The characters featured were The Body Doubles, Dark Nemesis (Um, I had to look that one up because I forgot who she was), Darkseid, Gog, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Prometheus, The Rogues and The Scarecrow. If I recall correctly, I read four of those, and, again like the Girlfrenzy! one-shots, some of them were used to tease upcoming stories in popular books. The Prometheus special, for example, was the origin of the character who would appear in a great two-parter during Grant Morrison's JLA run, and then return for the series' climactic story arc, "World War III." (He's since been extremely diminished in his usage by writers who are not Grant Morrison, perhaps most famously during James Robinson's doomed Cry For Justice clusterfuck of a comic and, more recently, during Steve Orlando's odd Midnighter book.)

Anyway! "New Year's Evil" is a good phrase, and they should use it more often! Here it is being used for this year's DC holiday special, the focus of which is villains. I fucking love these things, even though they are almost never all good from start to finish. As I've said ad naseum before, I used to aspire to write DC Comics for a living someday, and if I had found a genie in a lamp, my first wish would be to be able to write a Justice League run. Now my greatest ambition is to contributed 10-page stories to DC holiday specials; I think those are perhaps the most interesting and most vital things they publish these days...although DC Zoom and DC Ink have been producing some surprisingly compelling stuff.

Based on the cover, the book will feature the usual suspects, although I much more rarely used Toyman and Calendar Man get name-checked in the solicit. No real surprises in the listed creators, either, although it's been some time since I've read a Busiek-written DC story, and it appears that the great Gabriel Hardman is writing and drawing his entry.

As to whether or not I check this out, it all depends on who is doing The Calendar Man story, I guess

written by PETER J. TOMASI
art by RAGS MORALES, DON KRAMER, and others
cover by ANDY KUBERT
When the bodies of nefarious villains and fallen heroes begin to disappear from their final resting places, Dick Grayson is drawn into a mysterious, life-altering adventure! Nightwing falls into a web of intrigue involving Talia al Ghul and the diabolical Dr. Creighton Kendall. As the stakes get higher, Nightwing finds not only his own life in danger, but quite possibly the future of the entire country. Collects issues #140-153.
ON SALE 01.15.20
$29.99 US | 360 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-9171-6

I remember liking this status quo for the character, whose status quo--home town, day job, headquarters--seems to change with each new creative team. It certainly helped that the run kicked off with art by Rags Morales. There was a particularly grotesque and violent issue that felt kinda snuffy, featuring a fantasy sequence in which a huge swathe of Batman's rogue's gallery is violently killed, but other than that, it was pretty okay.

written by SARAH KUHN
art and cover by NICOLE GOUX
Cassandra Cain, teenage assassin, isn’t exactly Batgirl material...not yet, at least. But with Batgirl missing from Gotham City, can Cassandra defy her destiny and take on a heroic mantle of her very own? She’ll have to go through an identity crisis of epic proportions to find out.
After a soul-shattering moment that sends Cass reeling, she’ll attempt to answer this question the only way she knows how: learning everything she possibly can about her favorite hero—Batgirl. But Batgirl hasn’t been seen in Gotham for years, and when Cass’s father threatens the world she has grown to love, she’ll have to step out of the shadows and overcome her greatest obstacle—that voice inside her head telling her she can never be a hero.
Sarah Kuhn, author of Heroine Complex and I Love You So Mochi, takes on one of her favorite heroes for a new audience of readers. Featuring the edgy art style of Nicole Goux, Shadow of the Batgirl tells the harrowing story of a girl who overcomes the odds to find her unique identity.
ON SALE 01.29.20
$16.99 US | FC | 208 PAGES
6” x 9”
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8978-2

Hey look, new Batgirl Cassandra Cain content! I mean, I know Cass is still making new appearances in new comics, but that's as Orphan, withe a dumb name, dumb costume and drastically fucked-around-with origin story, and those are happening in the pages of Batman and The Outsiders. This looks infinitely more promising.

Reading this made me realize that "Shadow Bat" is a pretty good code name for Cass, if they can't just use "Batgirl" and have some objection to "The Black Bat"...

written by TOM TAYLOR
cover by IVAN REIS and JOE PRADO
Task Force X—nicknamed the Suicide Squad—unites some of the DCU’s unlikeliest villains for its bloodiest series yet! The Squad’s new mission is to neutralize a new group of international super-terrorists known as the Revolutionaries—and not everyone on either side will make it out alive! But when the U.S. government’s most deniable team of do-badders realizes that the surviving Revolutionaries will be joining the Squad, all hell breaks loose! Who can Harley Quinn and Deadshot trust when their new teammates are the very people their crew was assigned to kill? The Suicide Squad doesn’t just need to worry about surviving their next mission... now they have to survive each other! The acclaimed Injustice creative team of writer Tom Taylor and artist Bruno Redondo reunite for the wildest incarnation of the Squad ever seen!
ON SALE 12.18.19
$4.99 US | 40 PAGES

I honestly actually kind of forgot that there wasn't a Suicide Squad comic being published monthly anymore, but since the next movie's on the horizon, I guess it's time for a relaunch. I think the book will likely have the same problem that all post-New 52 volumes of the book will have, as the concept sort of requires a long, long continuity littered with has-been villains, and introducing a new version of The Cavalier just to kill him off in issue #2 or whatever is an exercise in pointlessness.

That said, there is at least one reason to be excited about this: Tom Taylor, who has written far more good comics than he has poor ones.

Dang, that's a nice cover on Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #6...

written by JAMES TYNION IV
art and cover by STEVE EPTING
variant cover by RICCARDO FEDERICI
blank variant cover
DC’s “Year of the Villain” begins its sinister conclusion! Lex Luthor has brought Perpetua back from her cosmic grave and restored her power! Now the Multiverse lives in fear that she might wipe out all existence. The only thing that could stop her are the forces of the Dark Multiverse— which means it’s Luthor’s mission to defeat the Batman Who Laughs! But if Batman and Superman couldn’t stop him, what chance does Luthor stand? Spinning out of the end of the “Justice/ Doom War” in Justice League #38 and the conclusion of the epic “Infected” arc from Batman/Superman #5, DC’s two top villains face off in a battle royal—and the fate of all reality hangs in the balance!
ON SALE 12.18.19
$4.99 US |1 OF 4|32 PAGES

So wait, the climax and conclusion of Scott Snyder and James Tynion's years-long Justice League vs. Legion of Doom story...leads into a spin-off series...? That...doesn't really make sense. I certainly hope the conclusion of "The Justice/Doom War" arc of Justice League is more satisfying than this solicitation suggests it will be.

The evil redesigns of the "infected" characters on the cover remind me a bit of those from Final Crisis, when Batwoman, Mary Marvel and company were infected with Darkseid's evil-ness and became the new Female Furies.

Also, is this going to be a weekly series? If not, then aren't the last few issues going to ship in 2020, the year after the Year of The Villain...?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Is it just me, or does it seem like the DC Universe has gotten kind of...small?

Ever since the closing pages of Dark Nights: Metal, writer Scott Snyder and his frequent co-writer James Tynion IV have been telling a very big story in the pages of the miniseries No Justice and the ongoing Justice League, which is already on issue #31 or so, thanks to the twice-monthly publishing schedule.

The storyand it has essentially been just one storyhas encompassed all of existence, stretching as far back as before the beginning of time, and involving an entire multiverse of multiverses. Part of Jack Kirby's Source Wall broke, unmooring the local multiverse, and releasing Perpetua, a mother of the god-like Monitor, Anti-Monitor and World Forger (the last of whom is a new addition to DC's cosmology).

We're told that in the creation before this creation, Perpetua has made another reality, but her sons rebelled against her and made this existence instead. Now Lex Luthor and his Legion of Doom have taken up fighting for Perpetua and the forces of the abstract concept of doom, warring against the Justice League who, of course, are fighting for the abstract concept of justice. During the course of their battles, the DC Universe seems to be in a slow-boiling process of being remade once again, presumably ultimately undoing the last grand remaking, 2011's Flashpoint, which gave us the current New 52 version of the shared DC Universe setting (which, of course, encompasses not just a single universe, but a multiverse...or multiverses).

The Justice League itself isn't too terribly big at the moment. The core team consists of 9-13 characters, depending on whether or not you want to count Jarro and very recent additions like The World Forger, The Monitor and Shane (that's Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl's son from a now non-existent future). There are also two ancillary teams, the ones that star in Justice League Odyssey and Justice League Dark; the former never appear in the pages of Justice League, the latter fill up crowd scenes and appear in the backgrounds in the Hall of Justice.

As the now years-long storyline reaches what appears to be a climax in the current "Justice/Doom War" story arc, much has been made of the Justice League recruiting "everyone," an entire army consisting of every available hero. Meanwhile, Luthor has been doing the same with the villains, part of the "Year of The Villain" storyline/branding event in which a newly reborn Luthor approaches various villains with transformative gifts that make them more powerful than ever.

The above page is the sixth page from Justice League #30, by Snyder, Tynion and artist Jorge Jimenez. After Starman has briefed the assembled heroes on what is going to happen in the upcoming Legion/League warthe League is all killed, but not as brutally as one might expect from a modern DC comicthe core League gives the assembled heroes a kinda sorta pep talk about their plan to stave off their seemingly fated defeat.

Here's the thing though. For an image of all of DC's superheroes assembled as a sort of Justice army, the page seemed kind of...small to me.

Part of that might be because Snyder and Tynion have already revealed this particular beat to readers a few times. They Tynion-written portion of DC's Year of The Villain Special #1 featured a two-page spread in which Francs Manapul draws pretty  much the exact same group of heroes, and Justice League #26 featured a sequence in which Hawkgirl and Mera walked around the Hall, checking in on these recruits as they prepped for the war.

But there just don't seem to be very many superheroes here. There are some members of Justice League Dark (Zatanna, Man-Bat, Swamp Thing and his beard), some Teen Titans (Robin, Red Arrow, Kid Flash), some non-teen Titans (Donna Troy, Kyle Rayner, Raven, Beast Boy, Steel, Miss Martian), The Terriffics (Mister Terrific, Plastic Man, Metamorpho and Phantom Girl), a random handful of various heroes appearing in comics throughout the current DC line (Batgirl, Supergirl, Captain Marvel "Shazam," Hawkman, Black Lightning, Jericho) and another, smaller handful of book-less characters (Firestorm, Animal Man, Ted Kord, Simon Baz, Guy Gardner) and that's it. All together, that's only between 25-30 supeheroes one can identify in the image, plus a bunch of indistinguishable blobs in the background and, remember, another nine or ten heroes off-panel on a sort of stage giving a presentation.

As someone who can just barely hold a pencil, I certainly am in no position to blame Jiminez for not filling the page with more heroes, and getting everyone in the latest edition of those encyclopedias of characters DC publishes into that panel, but I was really struck by how small it made the DC Universe of the moment seem.

I mean, I'm pretty sure you could get 30 superheroes if you took all the active members of the teams during the early '90s, when there were three Leagues with their own titles (America, Europe/International and Task Force). Or had they used the "everyone who was ever a Leaguer" rubric of the reserves evidenced in Mark Millar's JLA #27 from 1997. Hell, I bet if Batman called up all of his sidekicks, allies and affiliated teamsThe Outsiders, Birds of Prey and Batman, Inc/The Club of Heroeshe alone could have filled that room to bursting.

Now, I know there are a lot more DC heroes out there, and that they're probably not available to appear in this story for their own story reasons. Noticeably absent, for example, is supposedly active Justice Leaguer Cyborg, and his entire Odyssey team (presumably because they are off in space doing space stuff; they haven't appeared in the series since the earliest issues). That's probably why Hal Jordan and Adam Strange and a few others aren't there, as well. Tim Drake and the Young Justice team are all MIA, probably because they're still out-of-universe doing whatever they're doing in the pages of Young Justice. I haven't read Heroes In Crisis yet, but I assume if Ted Kord is elbowing Guy Gardner instead of Booster Gold, that means he's dead-ish, or at least lost in time? Same with The Flash Wally West...?

But where are The Metal Men? Or the rest of The Shazam Family? What of all those Dark Matter/New Age of Heroes heroes...did none of them stick around after ignominious cancellation of their titles? Is it notable that Arsenal isn't there, or that Nightwing or Batwoman or Huntress aren't? Does Red Tornado exist anymore, and/or is he currently alive? Elongated Man? Fire and Ice? Hawk and Dove? Blue Devil? The other Steel, John Henry Irons? Vibe? Frankenstein? O.M.A.C.? Any Doctor Fates around anymore? No more Power Girls? Are we totally done with Wildstorm characters existing in the DCU, even Midnighter and Apollo? What about new characters introduced in the wake of Flashpoint, like Skitter and Bunker and Talon and those guys with weird names in Stormwatch...?

The longer I lingered on this image, the more I realized that the DCU got awfully small after Flashpoint. Not only did it wipe out the JSA and their fellow Golden Agers, and the various future heroes (although both the JSA and Legion of Super-Heroes are on their way back, of course; the former appearing on the last page of this very issue), but the reboot lead to the de-creation of huge swathes of heroes and other characters, many of whom would of course be recreated, but even many of those exist in weird liminal states, where they seem to have been re-rebooted or re-recreated since their initial New 52 reintroductions (like Black Lightning, for example) and others I know have appeared in some form, but lost track of.

And then, of course, there are heroes I know DC has reintroduced in new forms since The New 52 effort and the other branding exercises that followed it, but those characters apparently failed to catch on...and failed so badly they apparently can't even fill in crowd scenes like this (I'm thinking here of the new Ragman, or The Ray, or The Human Bomb or National Comics' Rose and Thorn, Eternity, Madame X and Looker;  I'm sure there are more).

Honestly, I'd have trouble filling a room with DC superheroes that I know have both been re-introduced since Flashpoint and haven't been killed or otherwise jettisoned from usage in an event story like this. Of course, this could very likely be just me, as I am not following the Wednesday by Wednesday exploits of DC's stables of heroes as closely as I used to, and therefore I've lost track of pretty much all of the heroes not appearing in Justice League or the Batman titles.

So maybe the DC Universe hasn't gotten small, it just feels small to me. I don't know; I'd be interested in hearing the opinions of others on the matter.

A few pages later in the very same issue, we see an echo of this page, when Luthor gestures towards his newly recruited Legion of Doom, consisting of about 25 villains, only about 15 of whom I can name...although these are mostly redesigned, presumably because of the gifts they accepted from Luthor.

The Legion has been awfully small since the start of the series, originally consisting of just six villains, the archenemies of each of the "Big Seven" Leaguers, minus Martian Manhunter. They've since lost two and gained one, so the League has always outnumbered the Legion (The original Legion, the one from Challenge of The Super-Friends, boasted 13 members; the most appropriate number for a group of villains).

They too seems like a rather small number of bad guys, especially when contrasted with the all-the-bad-guys-teamed-up premise of Forever Evil, but that image didn't make me reflect upon the possible contraction of the DC Universe in quite the same way, as for almost every successful superhero, there are always going to be dozens of bad guys. I mean, you could fill up a splash page with Green Lantern, Aquaman or Wonder Woman villains, let alone Batman, The Flash and Superman, who boast incredibly large rogues galleries.