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Death in Comic Books: Part 1

July 18, 2011

There are few things about the comic book industry that stand out more than the issue of characters dying. Not in creator-owned books, mind you. Those characters drop like flies. It’s in the superhero books by the big two, Marvel Comics and DC comics, where the writers and executives believe that their characters are sacred cows, icons that need to be preserved forever and ever so they can make money off future generations. Thus, they’ll kill characters every so often to generate publicity. Supporting cast members and relatively unimportant superheroes will be killed off whenever a writer feels like it. But a big name hero only dies once every so often, it’s a big deal, and that character is inevitably resurrected. It may be only a short while later, like with Superman in the Death of Superman or Spider-Man in the Other, or it may be many years later like Bucky Barnes, Barry Allen, or Hal Jordan. But it pretty much happens to everyone, villain or hero.

Now, this is a source of major controversy as well. Since companies feel the need to kill off characters every time that there’s a major event (Blackest Night, Siege, Fear Itself), the fans cry foul, saying that the deaths are just to generate discussion and publicity. If the character’s major, he/she’ll be back within a year (or in the case of Hawkman and Hawkgirl, by the end of the event); if the character’s minor, then that’s just another pointless death. On the other hand, some people believe that there isn’t enough death in books, that even though heroes are routinely coming up against massive, powerful forces, there are almost no consequences, no casualties, and when deaths do occur, they mean almost nothing because of the “revolving door” nature of comic books. At the very least, both sides can agree on the fact that death means nothing in comic books.

So is either side right? Are they both right? Are they both wrong? Honestly, yes to all of the above. Death in comic books has become absolutely ridiculous, and the result is that only a handful of deaths actually generate the proper kind of feelings that a well-written death is supposed to do. Instead, most result in cranky fans bitching about their favorite characters dying or how Marvel or DC’s just trying to cheat them out of their hard-earned cash with meaningless drivel. And then a few months later, we get another “Reborn” series. It’s just stupid, and it doesn’t really help in telling good stories. Now, Geoff Johns seemed to indicate that, with Blackest Night and Brightest Day over, DC would be seeing a lot less of that. Perhaps the DCnU will take death more seriously. Then in the other camp, Brian Michael Bendis has killed off the titular star of Ultimate Spider-Man, and someone new is going to don the costume. Perhaps he can do that just because it’s in the Ultimate universe and not the “real” one, Earth-616. Still, writers are addressing the issue, whether it actually gets fixed or not.

So my next major discussion will be about death in comic books through the lenses of a few major storylines, like Death of Superman, the whole Green Lantern Emerald Twilight/Final Night/Spectre/Rebirth thing, the Other, the Dark Phoenix Saga and its sequels, Ed Brubaker’s Captain America saga (which sports two examples), and Crisis on Infinite Earths/Final Crisis/The Flash: Rebirth. We’ll see what works, what doesn’t, why death has been cheapened, and what the Big Two can do about it to make stories mean more.

So there you have it! The next post will come within the next couple of days, so stay tuned!

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Thinking About the DCnU: Conclusion

July 12, 2011

Well, here we are at the end of my little series on the DCnU. This week, the solicitations are coming out for the second month of the DCnU, and we have at least one important bit of news. Huntress is still here, and she seems to still be Helena Bertinelli. Better yet, they’ve gone back to her costume with pants, making her perfectly still recognizable (far more so than a few characters) while less of a slut. That’s nice, especially since DC hasn’t entirely followed through on its promise to make its female characters’ costumes more practical. No skirts, yes. Less skimpy, arguable (except with Harley Quinn, the amazing psychopathic prostitute). Practical, no. Sandals for Black Canary? Far from practical. Starfire’s costume? A bit nicer, but still rather impractical, even though it fits her character. I mean, how do her boob covers even stay on? Madame Xanadu’s outfit? Gets Power Girl’s old boob window. And poor Harley Quinn. So yes, it’s nice to see that some, if not arguably most, of the female characters get more reasonable outfits. Admittedly, though, they’ve become a tad more standardized because of all of the elements that are now no-nos. Then again, all of the DCnU outfits are more standardized: more collars and more pointless lines. Oh yeah, and Penguin gets a miniseries. Who cares?

Hopefully, this week we’ll find out about other missing characters getting new series. The Marvel Family, the JSA, most of the Secret Six cast, Donna Troy, Wally West, Beast Boy, Raven, Ravager, Hawkgirl, etc., though a few of those may pop up in pre-existing series. On the whole, I do have to applaud DC for having the guts to go through something so paradigm-shifting. The only initiative of this scope and magnitude was DC’s own Crisis on Infinite Earths and the aftermath, which cleared up a ton of the confusing mess that was the Silver Age and paved the way for all of DC’s stories between then and now. But will that story be gone? Will so many great stories be gone? Again, that’s not unprecedented.

In the end, if DC manages to tell good stories, most of us can get over our indignation. Still, there’s only so many times that DC can revamp the wheel before people finally get fed up with having their emotional investment in these characters get tossed out because DC thinks that the characters still aren’t hip and modern enough. I’ve got a dozen or so books I’ll be buying once the revamp starts and a bunch more I plan to collect in trade paperback form. Thus far, DC’s managed to convince people to give this whole thing a chance. Let’s just see if they can follow through on their promises.

Thinking About the DCnU: Digital Release

July 11, 2011

So, there’s all that buzz about the DCnU that we’ve talked about thus far. But the arguably biggest thing about the DCnU has nothing to do with its content. DC Comics is making the unprecedented move of making all of its DCnU books available digitally the same day as their print release to expand their readership. It’s true that there are many, many fans online who would like to read these books, and it takes away the annoyance of having to travel to your local comic book store to buy books every Wednesday. Instead, you can just buy it and download it online. Piece of cake. Plus, it eliminates a huge amount of potential clutter. I personally have half a closet of stacked-up drawer boxes fit to bursting with comic books, and I can’t say that I would be adverse to a way of preventing that number from increasing.

Does that mean I plan to purchase digital comics instead of the print versions? Absolutely not. There’s just something about being able to actually touch the books as you read them. I think it’s the same argument that many people use who still love to read normal books as opposed to buying them on Kindle or what have you. Books and paper go hand in hand, and there’s a certain romanticism about being able to physically turn the pages of a comic book as you wait with baited breath for the next exciting panel. Maybe the people who feel that way are a small minority, but I think we number enough and are vocal enough that print comics will still be here for quite a while. True, DC’s move here may turn out to be the first step toward complete digitization, when comic book companies (and maybe even publishers) decide that there just isn’t enough profit anymore in keeping up book printing for just a few people.

However, I can’t say that I think this will be as momentous as DC thinks. If DC’s readership increases with the DCnU digital initiative, it will be because DC has finally decided to advertise seriously, not because of the digital releases. Comic book companies never really advertise their books enough, particularly when there are great opportunities to pair advertising initiatives with major comic book movie releases, so most big new changes don’t really reach very many new people. That’s what advertising is for in the first place. But DC is really stepping up here with all the publicity, the road tours, and the advertisements, so should their readership increase (honestly, I think it’s a matter of how much it increases, not if it does at all), that’s what I’ll attribute it to, all other things equal.

Plus, I think that this won’t really have much of an effect on internet piracy, truth be told. People who don’t want to pay for their comics just won’t pay for their comics, no matter whether they become more conveniently available for pay or not. It’s just too easy for them to get access to comic book scans, as it’s rather unfeasible to completely prevent such things from leaking online. All it takes is one person who’s actually bought the books to feel like posting scans online, and there you have it. And DC and other companies can spend tons of time pursuing litigation against the pirates, but new pirates will just pop up to replace them, and the cost of all of the lawsuits will quickly outweigh any potential benefits from their successes. The internet enables this kind of piracy, and I think it will take some completely new idea to be able to curb that.

So will this digital initiative be a success? Probably? How much of a success? Probably less than DC is hoping. And will it be a game-changer for the comic book industry? In the short run, no, but perhaps in the long run, people will look back and see that this started the move toward digitization of the industry. For now, I’ll stick to my nice paper comic books, thank you very much. Still, I can’t complain that much if readership improves, since that’ll help the industry as a whole, no matter how it’s achieved. I just hope that doesn’t go to DC’s head and make them think they can pull crazy revamp stunts like this every time their sales numbers sag.

At any rate, I’ll wrap up this look at the DCnU with next post, in which I’ll discuss other miscellaneous things and provide a final judgment on the whole thing.

Thinking About the DCnU: The Costumes

July 9, 2011

In addition to all these titles and continuity revamps, DC Comics has made a rather big deal about the fact that the vast majority of DC’s characters, excepting some more recent creations like Blue Beetle, Batwoman, and August-General-in-Iron, as well as most of the Green Lanterns, Hawk and Dove, and a few others, are having their costumes completely redone for the DCnU. Of course, many of the more iconic characters are keeping elements of their old costumes, so virtually none of them are completely unrecognizable. They’re just different enough to remind us that this is not our parents’ DCU.

I think that’s a very “make-or-break” kind of move. If the redesigns work, then it’ll be refreshing these characters, some of whom have had the same costumes for half a century of publication or more. On the other hand, if they look so drastically different and bad that the costumes are distracting and confusing, they could end up putting a lot of people off, reminding them that these aren’t the characters they’ve grown to love. So, how did DC do?

Well, here’s a case in point. The Teen Titans redesign by Brett Booth, which you can see below in the Continuity post , is pretty much a mess. Aside from the fact that it, as most people have commented, looks like an Image/Top Cow book, the designs are just… bizarre. Red Robin’s new costume doesn’t look too bad until you look at the fact that his cape has been replaced with some kind of feather… thing. Now, instead of looking like Dr. Mid-Nite, he looks like the Falcon. Don’t quite think that was the aspect of “Robin” that they were going for. Wonder Girl is Magdalena/Little Red Riding Hood with Donna Troy’s sparkly star thing and a red lasso, and that bug girl at the bottom is Witchblade. Terribly derivative. That purple/black girl in the back kind of brings Sunspot to mind too. Kid Flash has the most admirable attempt, but all the red and yellow switching around on his mask is just too busy. Plus, why does the mask cover only some of his hair? But Superboy is the absolute worst. Not only does this costume contradict what he’s wearing in his own title, it looks like he just grabbed some crap out of a trashbin and slapped it together. All the black doesn’t evoke Superman at all, and his “cape” is literally taped onto his back. It’s so small that you can barely even see it under normal circumstances. And that tattoo/barcode thing? What kind of needle could carve that into Kryptonian skin? It just makes no sense.

Then we have the Justice League, also below, in which collared costumes have suddenly become hip. Superman, Green Lantern, and Aquaman are all sporting them. Aquaman, the Flash, and Green Lantern have barely changed from their older costumes, so I can’t much complain there, especially since for Aquaman, the collar was a nice new touch. I do like the modified logo and the lightning belt, the latter of which comes from Wally West. Not sure about the small chin guard, but whatever. I also like that Superman and Batman have lost their outside underwear, and Batman looks a lot like Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated redesign. That’s a nice touch. Wonder Woman, unfortunately, looks a lot like her Odyssey version, though she does get rid of the crappy straps and the jacket, and she gets back her trademark bracelets. But the silver replacing the gold… not the best touch. It makes her shine less, and it just doesn’t fit as well with her overall color scheme. Cyborg looks more like a cyborg, which is fine. Unfortunately, his cyborg transformation also gave him cyborg underpants, which bring with them very awkward implications.

The single biggest problem here is a problem with all the new designs: too many lines. Suddenly, Superman, Green Lantern, Batman, and the Flash have random lines all over their costumes, though apparently that’s supposed to be armor or something. Instead, it just looks like extra work that makes the costumes look less sleek and more messy. Honestly, they could just as easily say that the costumes are more heavily reinforced without the lines within the story, and it would be much better. How long do you think the artists will actually want to draw those lines until they finally just forget it to save time and wasting energy? Those lines are also unfortunately there in those random fishnet-like things on Wonder Woman’s knees and as Cyborg’s “under armor.” All these costumes, much like Kid Flash’s, look too busy, save for Aquaman’s, since his was the least changed, and Green Lantern’s, as he gets the least useless lines. And really, why does Superman of all people need body armor?

 

There are a couple of other odd ones too. Mr. Terrific lost his awesome jacket and instead gets clown makeup over his mouth and gloves with a tanktop. I can’t say that look really does it for me, much like with Superboy. It looks bare and a tad lazy. OMAC, right above, looks fine aside from his shiny, wavy mohawk. Honestly, that think is more distracting than any other redesign element, especially since it’s so thin that it looks like it should sway in every single breeze. The Birds of Prey are fairly boring. New character Starling comes off looking like Grace without the muscle, and Katana looses all of the elements that make her resemble a superhero samurai. Poison Ivy loses all the sex appeal and her plant alienness. Black Canary probably has the most admirable attempt here, as they really try to keep some elements of her old costume there. But all the random yellow elements are distracting, the fishnets really are terribly unpractical on her arms, and WHY THE SANDALS. Seriously, nothing says “super serious black ops team like sandals. Especially for a martial artist, who doesn’t need her footwear flying off when she does a kick.

But in my humble opinion, the award for the single worst redesign has to go to Harley Quinn, now of the Suicide Squad. Okay, King Shark looks weird as a hammerhead, and Deadshot’s new helmet is significantly bulkier. But DC has said that they were trying to make their female characters’ costumes more “practical.” What about this is practical?! The corset being shoved off by her breasts, or the shorts that are so small that they are virtually just a second belt? All of the whimsy of Harley’s previous jester outfit is gone in favor of wearing as little as absolutely possible while still being able to call it a costume. Instead of a harlequin, she looks like a psychopathic prostitute. That’s quite disappointing.

To be sure, not all of the redesigns are bad. Hawkman’s new outfit is appropriately savage, Green Arrow does look a tad younger, but more tech-savvy and less classically Robin Hood, Supergirl’s new cape is interestingly regal, even if her kneepads are… strange, and so on. But I can’t say that there were any outfits that really struck me as brilliant redesigns. Not like Thor’s new outfit from J. Michael Straczynski’s run. Then again, I hated Bucky Barnes’ new Captain America outfit when it was first introduced, and it did grow on me over time, though the lack of ear holes was rather baffling. So perhaps I’ll get to like some of these stranger costume elements. Still, I would have to say that they didn’t “make” it, so I suppose DC was much closer to “breaking” it. I would have preferred that they keep more of the costumes, but I can understand that they wanted these new visuals to reinforce the DCnU. It’s just a bit sad that iconic, perfectly good costumes have been lost in favor of some of these rather disappointing and uninspired replacements.

Next, I’ll discuss one of the most revolutionary aspects of the relaunch: the same-day digital release campaign.

Thinking About the DCnU: The Titles

July 7, 2011

Continuing with my discussion of the DCnU, let’s go over the new titles. In keeping with the 52-universe multiverse concept, DC Comics has announced 52 brand new #1’s, some of which are relaunches of existing titles and some of which are brand new series. They have said that there will probably be more new titles coming out in October, which is good, since there are some characters, most notably the Justice Society of America and Captain Marvel, who are noticeably absent from the September solicitations. You can view an organized list of all of the books right here.

So first, let’s go over the actual books themselves. There’s a ton of obvious books here, like Justice League, Batman, Superman, Action Comics, Detective Comics, Flash, Green Lantern, and so forth. There’s also some of the previously announced books getting to see the light of day, like Aquaman, Red Lantern Corps, Justice League International, Batwoman, and Static Shock, though the last of those five has a completely different creative team than was originally stated. There’s also a ton of interesting new books, particularly in the “Dark,” magic side of the DCU, which they’ve finally seen fit to mine. While Zatanna is sadly gone, we’re getting a magic Justice League with Justice League Dark, written by current Hellblazer scribe Peter Milligan. In addition to Zatanna, we get John Constantine himself, Shade the Changing Man, who Milligan wrote for many years and is bringing back in Flashpoint, Deadman, who’s now at center stage of the DCnU after the events of Brightest Day, and Vertigo alumna Madame Xanadu. Swamp Thing, Resurrection Man, and Animal Man are all getting their own books again with amazing teams, particularly Swamp Thing (Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette? Yes please!), and Frankenstein and Etrigan get their own books too, though Etrigan’s takes place in the past.

We’ve also got a bunch of other exciting books, like Blue Beetle finally coming back, a Wildstorm invasion with Stormwatch, Grifter, and Voodoo, Hawk and Dove, Deathstroke, and Suicide Squad getting books again, and various lower-tier Justice League characters getting books, like Firestorm, Hawkman, and Green Arrow. The Batman books also get a total makeover, with Dick Grayson returning to the mantle of Nightwing, Red Hood getting his own book with Starfire and Arsenal, whose arm seems to have regrown, and most controversially, the new Batgirl series with Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf, and Vicente Cifuentes which somehow puts Barbara Gordon back in the cowl.

So to be perfectly fair, most of these pitches are actually pretty dang good. Sure, there’s a lot of backstepping, like with Nightwing and Batgirl. Some characters are also starting fresh as though they’ve never been in the DCU before, most notably Firestorm. But the creative teams are all quite solid, with virtually no disliked writers *cough* James Robinson *cough* in sight. As many have noted, it’s a small group of writers. Scott Snyder, Tony Bedard, Geoff Johns, Peter Milligan, Jeff Lemire, Kyle Higgins, Judd Winick, Scott Lobdell, Gail Simone, Peter Tomasi, J.T. Krul, Paul Cornell, and a few others all writing one book each. I also can’t say that any of the artists really pops out as bad, save perhaps for Rob Liefield, though the poor man’s seen enough hate lately. But each of the books are taking a brand new direction, whether based on past DCU events or not, so DC seems to be taking this initiative very seriously. And a lot of these concepts seem really interesting, particularly some of the Dark books.

So let’s go over some of my concerns. First, Action Comics and Justice League are taking place at the beginning of the age of heroes, rewriting the history of the DCU. It seems now that Superman was the first superhero, and Cyborg is taking Martian Manhunter’s place as one of the founding JL’ers. That knocks out the JSA, which is particularly confusing because of Johns’ amazing work with them. Considering how many awesome characters are associated with them, that does make me nervous. Also, I’ve grown to love Martian Manhunter, particularly since his story was, in my opinion, the most consistent and interesting plot in Brightest Day, and it’s sad to see him lose his position of prominence. Sure, he may be over in Stormwatch, but he’s been the most consistent member of the Justice League, and it will be weird to see a team that not only doesn’t have him but never had him in the first place.

Next, some of the new titles are definitely… odd. Of all the African-American superheroes to give a title to, they gave one to Mr. Terrific, the only JSA character to pop up thus far. I do like the guy, but shouldn’t Cyborg get his own title before Mr. Terrific or Batwing, the random new black Batman? And considering the rather universal panning Eric Wallace’s run on Titans has received, shouldn’t they entrust the character to someone more… trustworthy? And who thinks that the Red Hood can actually support his own title? And what’s he doing with Starfire and Arsenal? Definitely an odd duck trio there, especially considering that it’s taken me and many other fans forever to truly like Mr. Todd since his revival (and I’m still not entirely sold). Some of the “Edge” books are puzzling, like O.M.A.C., since it’s unclear what place Brother Eye now has in the DCU with its revamped history, and I don’t know what happened to Michael Costner. And why are the Blackhawks and Easy Company in the modern day? Weren’t they World War II characters? So those will be complete reimaginings. Lastly, I, Vampire? Really? That minor of a character is getting his own book? That’s obviously not DC cashing in on the popularity of vampires these days.

Lastly, some of the relaunches seem to be completely ignoring the popularity of the concepts of their predecessors. The two biggest offenders are Birds of Prey and Teen Titans. Aside from Black Canary, Birds of Prey has none of the characters Simone has worked with for years, instead giving us what looks like Poison Ivy and Katana, along with some brand new character named Starling. Whether this book is good or not, it has to be even better to overcome the prejudices of the readers, who will be disappointed that Huntress, Oracle, Lady Blackhawk, and the gang are missing. And the Teen Titans are suddenly meeting for the first time, and none of them are even the same people, save perhaps Red Robin. Wonder Girl is a thief, Superboy was just recently created, and Kid Flash is even more of a spaz than before. Plus, we have three brand new characters. Beast Boy? Ravager? Solstice? Raven? Gone. Replaced. And with both books, all the development and interaction that the characters have had before has been erased, so now we can see Superboy and Wonder Girl fall in love awkwardly a second time. In these cases, I feel like DC is just spitting in the fans’ faces, to be honest. The characters we knew and loved are gone because the head honchos, including Geoff Johns, who brought the Teen Titans back to prominence after years of mediocrity, thought that the characters weren’t hip enough and didn’t fit into the DCnU. But I already discussed my feelings about continuity issues, so we’ll put that aside. Suicide Squad is similarly strange, since it seems like an amalgamation of the old Squad and the Secret Six, which has sadly fallen by the wayside. Not sure about that one either.

So all in all, there are about 30 titles here that I can unreservedly look at and think will be good, though I still don’t plan to buy Superman or Aquaman. The rest are all either questionable, even though I plan to buy some of them because of attachments to the old characters. Come September, we’ll see how many of my reservations actually prove correct. My next post will discuss all of the new character designs, all of the ones that look just horrible, and the strange increase in the number of random lines on costumes.

Thinking About the DCnU: Continuity

July 5, 2011

For quite a while now, the DCnU, DC Comics’  massive rebranding and retooling (don’t say reboot or they’ll forcefully correct you) of their entire line, has been the biggest news in the comic book industry. Everyone’s eaten up every piece of information DC’s given out thus far, and not all of it has been met with approval. Apparently, it’s even sparked a protest at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Sad, I know, but it’s true. So over the next week or so, I’ll be doing various posts about my personal thoughts about the DCnU and what it means for DC and comic books in general. While my time reading DC is shorter than my time reading Marvel Comics (6 years compared to 15), all of this does mean quite a lot to me as well. At least, as much as comic books can. I won’t be out there on the picket lines, but here I’ll say my piece.

So let’s start off with continuity, that awful, horrible elephant in the room that DC and Marvel keep wishing they could ignore. Because comic book people are under this bizarre impression that continuity just muddles up what makes characters iconic and great. It’s the desire to write stories free of continuity that hold to characters’ iconic nature that spawned the All-Stars line. And it’s the reason why characters’ origins are constantly getting revamped in stories like the famous Crisis trilogy. Geoff Johns, the current Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics, is particular fond of revamping origins and stories, and his work on characters like Superman, Green Lantern, and Aquaman has been touted as the model for the DCnU. That makes perfect sense, since he and Jim Lee are the two primary architects of the DCnU.

Now what’s the problem with all this? It’s the same problem that came up with Spider-Man and One More Day. If you constantly retell origins and keep characters spinning their wheels in the same place because you want to preserve their iconic status, then they stagnate. They become flat characters who only grow within the narrow confines the writers allow, and especially with DC, those stories will be partially retconned away anyway come the next, inevitable revamp. And come on. If you include all three of the Crises, Zero Hour, and the Silver Age, they’re pretty bad with that. At least the Silver Age kept everything else in existence, though. And it brought us far better characters.

But that’s their excuse. They say that these revamps are for the sake of telling good stories for new generations of comic book readers. Well, it’s fairly subjective as to what constitutes a “good story.” For example, most people loved the Brand New Day stories, and I thought they were fluffy garbage. But let’s say there is an objective standard to which all stories can aspire. The characters are still becoming flat. How much has Superman really changed in the last decade or so? Not much. And now, a lot of his personal growth, which included his marriage to Lois Lane (though I’m not 100% sure that’s going away), will be washed away to keep him young and hip. And any changes won’t be logical growths in his character as a result of building on previous experiences; they’ll just be replacing what we currently know of him. To me, that’s like patching up the characters instead of letting them grown and develop over time.

And that does mean letting characters get old. DC shouldn’t be so afraid of characters aging a bit. I mean, Wally West is probably going to lose his kids, Superman will probably lose his marriage, and if Green Arrow’s younger, he definitely couldn’t have fathered Connor Hawke, who’s already an adult. Round characters age, but flat characters stay forever young. And unfortunately, flat characters eventually grate on many people’s nerves. There are people who still like flat characters, and some flat characters, if they’re funny in their flatness, are endearing. But you can’t expect us to continually connect and like characters who never truly grow from their experiences and change as time goes on. I mean, I’m going to grow old, and it’s hard to sympathize with characters who stay perpetually young and in the same kinds of trouble they’ve always been in. And in a Marvel connection, it’s hard to continually stay sympathetic toward Peter Parker when every time the guy catches a break, something bad happens to snatch that away. Characters have to win sometimes to make the readers feel like their emotional investments are paying off, and those winnings can’t always just get erased in subsequent stories to return them to their iconic “status quo.” Again, that’s spinning their wheels.

Then there’s also some of DC’s bizarre continuity choices here. They’re picking and choosing which of the old stories count. That means they can completely recreate the characters however they like and ignore some beloved stories. Then some of these characters won’t even be the ones we have grown to care about. True, that goes counter to the idea of characters not changing, but again, it’s not growth, but replacement. The Teen Titans won’t be the same characters I’ve loved ever since I started reading DC. Red Robin, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, and Superboy will suddenly not even know each other anymore. And Teen Titans was my first DC book, so I have a strong investment there. Will I even care about these new characters who suddenly have no memories of hundreds of issues of adventures they’ve had together?

On the other side of the spectrum, in order to restore characters to their iconic statuses, a few are getting “fixed.” Brightest Day did a lot of that work for a few characters, but the biggest issue is Oracle returning to being Batgirl. DC assures us that her time as Oracle will still have existed, but it has the strong potential to cheapen all of that character development. Gail Simone is handling the book, and she is the seminal Oracle writer, so if anyone can handle that, it’s her. That doesn’t mean I’m not worried about it, as Barbara Gordon really did blossom as a character far more as Oracle than Batgirl, in my opinion. But the other issue here has nothing to do with continuity. It has to do with Oracle’s status as an icon for people with physical handicaps. Ryan Sohmer and Ryan Chan captured that problem perfectly in Gutters #147. Oracle was such a great, empowering icon, and it does send across a bizarre message that you can just wash that away.

So no, I don’t like anything that DC’s doing here continuity-wise. It’s just bad storytelling, to be perfectly honest. I may like the stories that come afterward. I did finally come back to Amazing Spider-Man for Big Time, and Dan Slott is hitting that out of the park (I hope you actually read this post, Dan, since the only time a comic book creator ever read my blog before, I was totally ripping poor Dan a new one). But even still, I have this bad taste in my mouth that comes back every so often, and I think the same will be there with the DCnU whenever I remember what DC used to be. I don’t know if this is how fans felt just before and after one of the previous reboots, but even Crisis on Infinite Earths wasn’t this extensive. Only the Silver Age matches this level of reimagining, and that was an admitted resounding success. It just makes me sad that the writers are so concerned about icons that they’re inadvertently committing major writing mistakes in the process.

At any rate, the next post will be about the new titles themselves, which look like they’re going to work, and which look like the DCnU architects were being a tad optimistic about.

Feeling Fearful?

July 3, 2011

 

When I first heard about Fear Itself, Marvel Comics’ supposed blockbuster event of the summer, I was actually intrigued. To be sure, I had been enjoying the Heroic Age going on for a while, and I was wary of another event so soon after Siege. It was nice to see writers actually get to tell stories instead of having to twist their works around the next status quo-changing, game-breaking epic. But the idea of the Marvel Universe facing its fears, tapping into both the fears of individual characters and of the world nowadays, seemed timely and like a potential gold mine. The perfect kind of story to place after the Heroic Age. And Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen as the creative team? Fraction’s done a great job with Invincible Iron Man from the get-go, and his Thor work, while not quite as stellar, is still solid. And Immonen has been the artist who snuck up on me for the last year or so, as his work on New Avengers has truly wowed.

But once again, we don’t seem to be getting the story we were originally sold. Firstly, we’ve got some god of fear, a.k.a. the Serpent, who’s the real All-Father of the Norse Pantheon, and he’s making Odin even more cranky, stubborn, and unreasonable than ever. This is a big retcon for the backstory of the entire Thor cast, and it goes counter to everything we understand about them, including stuff that Fraction himself has established. Plus, I can’t say I’m a fan of Fraction making Odin such an ass. I felt like J. Michael Stracynzki had put him in the right place, fighting Surtur day after day, especially considering that it allowed the Thor cast to grow and develop in exciting, new ways.

Still, obnoxious retcons like this have been done before, and in the hands of the proper writer, they’ve been done very well. At the very least, if the story that results is good, that excuses some of it. But Fear Itself is… less than exciting, to say the least. For one, at least in the main series, we get almost nothing of how the common folk are afraid. Tell me, what do angry, screaming riots have to do with fear? Well, they could have a lot to do with it, but Fraction pretty much framed it as rage rather than fear. Most importantly, what do the Worthy actually have to do with fear? Yes, they’re all big, muscular, powerful warriors with giant hammers. That tends to be pretty scary. But are they actually awakening any sort of primal fear within those they terrorize? Not thus far. Thus far, they all seem to just… smash. Except the Grey Gargoyle, a.k.a. Mokk: Breaker of Faith, who turns you to stone, and then smashes you, and Attuma, a.k.a. Nerkkod: Breaker of Oceans, who drowns you and then smashes you. They’re a very one-note group. Especially since multiple of them are the same kind of character: the giant, super strong kind. And what does the Serpent himself have to do with fear? He’s an old god with special magicky powers who likes hammers. Thus far, that’s about it. All-in-all, these villains, who are pretty much the driving force behind the event, are rather uninteresting.

Even still, if we actually saw some kind of psychic fear effect they had on everyone, that would be better. But again, we get none of that. We do get the obligatory event comic book death in the form of the current Captain America, Bucky Barnes. As a huge fan of what Ed Brubaker has done with Bucky in an example of a retcon done right, that’s just disappointing. After we were convinced to invest all this emotional energy in him as a character and the direction he was taking Captain America in, that’s all gone. Presumably. For now. But again, this event seems more about smashing, breaking, and destroying than actual fear. Admittedly, destruction is rather frightening, but you’d think that a god of fear would have more up his sleeve. From what I’ve read, the tie-ins are using these concepts to far greater effect than the main book. Nick Spencer, who really should be writing Secret Avengers full-time, is doing a great job using the event to show the fear in the general populace and how people deal with this fear, as well as spotlight various Avengers. Herc continues to tell a compelling story and just uses the concept as a backdrop for Hercules’ conflict with Kyknos and Hecate. And Invincible Iron Man actually does make Mokk somewhat frightening, what with the people hiding from him in the shadows, even though it’s still ultimately about a high body count (giant pile of statue bodies). Those are just the books I’m reading. Plus Avengers, which is… meh. But Fear Itself: Spider-Man actually tries to use that concept of psychic fear inducement, and Fear Itself: The Home Front is revisiting Speedball and Miriam Sharpe, a whole relationship just full of fear.

Perhaps the next four issues will redeem this miniseries. It’s perfectly possible. It only took the last two or three issues for Civil War to lose what made it exciting in the beginning, and it was after only about two issues that Secret Invasion turned to utter trash. On the other hand, Siege was a story successfully told in only four issues, though in an admittedly blockbuster-like fashion relatively devoid of character development. Hm. That sounded less like an endorsement than it originally did in my head. Well, perhaps Fear Itself is screwed. At least Brian Michael Bendis isn’t the main person guiding the Marvel Universe anymore, even if Fraction doesn’t prove to be any better in the end.