State of the Universe: Thoughts on DC’s New 52 (pt. 2)

So yesterday I talked about DC’s New 52 – DC Comics’ historic rebooting of 52 of their comics, from Batman to Aquaman. In case you didn’t read, the general gist was that I found the whole idea somewhat frustrating. Comics blame their increasingly poor sales on the inaccessibility of the books rather than their quality – or better yet on their COMPLETE LACK OF MARKETING.

I didn’t really address that point actually. But this guy does it better.

All that being said, I was really intrigued by this relaunch. I mean, how could you NOT be? Or at least, how could I not be? One of the main selling points for me was that Grant Morrison, one of my favorite comic book writers of all time, would be writing Action Comics, telling the new story of how Superman got started in Metropolis. I was also eager to reconnect with the Green Lantern franchise after hitting budgetary and emotional burnout with them during all the hype for the big movie. So, let’s talk about the New Issue #1s I picked up.

Action Comics

To be totally honest, I was pretty disappointed by the first issue of Morrison’s run. I mean, I liked seeing a Superman that was reckless, arrogant, totally vincible, and running around in jeans. I also liked seeing a Clark Kent that was just as concerned about justice – a young, crusading journalist and blogger, exposing corruption in Metropolis. But otherwise, the origin felt pretty by-the-numbers, and hardly revolutionary. By Issue #5, however, I am singing a totally different tune. Having seen the destruction of Krypton – which was very Last Days of Rome, the story of the Kents, the reveal that Brainiac is now the A.I. to Superman’s ship, the sacrifice of Krypto, the Phantom Zone criminals, and the mysterious time-travelling villains, I am really intrigued, and newly confident that Morrison has got tons of story to tell.

Green Lantern

The Green Lantern franchise was pretty solid before the relaunch. In the hands of Geoff Johns, how could it not be? This man almost single handedly transformed Green Lantern from a fringe comic into one of the mainstays of the DC Universe, in terms of creativity, critical review, and sales. As a result, pretty much NOTHING has changed from before the relaunch. Except that all that history has now taken place in five years rather than ten. So, Hal Jordan has been stripped of his ring. He’s struggling to lead a “normal” life, messing it up at every turn. Sinestro has been given a ring, and he’s equally unenthused. So obviously, they team up, with Sinestro loaning power to Jordan – that he can take away at any time. I must say, I was intrigued by the sort of buddy-cop vibe going on here, as well as the role reversal. But it never really GRABBED me. Maybe this is just GL-ennui from the movie, maybe it’s my very strapped budget, maybe it’s that I find Hal Jordan unbelievably boring. Obviously it’s all three. So I dropped it with a twinge of regret.

Green Lantern Corps

GLC was one of my favorite DC books for a while. It was more of an ensemble book than Green Lantern proper, and was also unabashedly weirder. The artist was unparalleled in creating horrifically bizarre aliens from the edge of space, and the author was a master of capturing different voices and telling stories with both action and resonance. But again, nothing really captured my attention this time around. And with the reboot being so hyped, I felt like that was really crucial.

Green Lantern: New Guardians

OK, so out of the FOUR Green Lanterns from Earth, Kyle Rayner is arguably my favorite. Maybe. Guy Gardner is hilarious. And Kyle’s mask is DUMB. But he’s been the main Earth Lantern most of my comic book life, so I have a sweet spot for him. For a while, New Guardians looked like the GL book for me. I mean, the concept was intriguing: Kyle Rainer all of a sudden finds himself with seven different colored power rings, transforming him into a nearly god-like entity. This in turn threatens the other 6 Corps, as well as his own god-like bosses. I really did like it, despite dropping it mainly for budget reasons. But out of all the Green Lantern books, it was easily my favorite.

Red Lanterns

The source of a Green Lantern’s power is his or her Willpower. But there are six other Corps, powered by different emotions: Rage, Greed, Fear, Hope, Compassion, and Love. So far, only Rage has gotten its own comic. The Red Lanterns are fueled by rage, which pumps their hearts and replaces their blood with acid. As a result, they are somewhat less than rational – with the exception of their leader. The first couple issues feature Atrocitus redefining his raison d’etre – from vengeance for him to justice for the victims of the universe. It’s a really interesting idea, but when most of the supporting cast can only speak in yells, hisses, and the occasional word, it gets a little old.

Superboy

I. Love. Superboy. He’s a clone of Superman, and he’s a clone of Lex Luthor. He’s trying to discover which “parent” he’s going to follow. He’s trying to discover if he has an identity outside of either. He’s a teenager with all of Superman’s powers, plus raging hormones. There’s something really endearing about him, that makes him one of my favorite heroes.

Until now. The relaunch took him back to square one, as a creature grown in a vat. He seems to be even more powerful than before, but almost completely devoid of emotion. He lives in a tube, analyzing the world around him, and basically sounding like a computer. Except that sometimes he lives in a simulated Smallville, complete with crushes and homework and peer pressure, acting just like a normal kid. It’s jarring, and doesn’t make much sense to me.

Ultimately, they took everything I loved about Superboy, threw it out the window, and started over with an awkwardly-written, unrelatable character I have no desire to interact with again. Easily my greatest disappointment from the relaunch.

Wonder Woman

Oh Wonder Woman. Every bit as strong and virtuous as Superman. By far the most powerful and well-known woman super hero. Consistently lumped together with Supes and Batman as “The Big Three.” But time and again she is relaunched, rebooted, and revamped. The audience has to be TOLD that she’s awesome, rather than seeing it. She’s just never really clicked. Maybe it’s because she has no real mission. She isn’t the last of her planet. She isn’t a traumatized orphan. She isn’t a space cop. She’s an “ambassador for peace” from an island of sexist women… who fights everything. Her arch-villain is… a woman dressed like a cheetah? Really? Her weakness is… being bound by a man? Because that isn’t fetishistic. Well, dear readers…

NO MORE.

That’s right. Wonder Woman is suddenly AWESOME. By tweaking ONE thing about her, they have completely revitalized her, and opened up the door for endless villains, allies, and stories. Instead of being formed from a lump of clay by her mother, she is the illegitimate daughter of Zeus, who has been lied to her whole life. Now, she’s enemies with Hera. Now she’s sister to Hercules and Perseus and Strife and Athena, and SO MANY MORE. Now, she is the protector of Zeus’ latest conquest – who is being targeted by Hera as well. Wonder Woman has suddenly entered the most dysfunctional family in history, and it is fantastic. The story is dark and tense and mysterious and ominous and I really can’t praise it enough.

I, Vampire

OK, so I’m more or less over vampires. Which I say every year until True Blood comes back. So I was loathe to check out a comic called “I, Vampire,” despite the consistently stellar reviews I was seeing on the internet. But eventually [aka after I got a Kindle Fire] I decided I would download the first issue (for a dollar off regular price) and try it. And I actually really liked it. The story is about Andrew Bennett, and his progeny, Mary Queen of Blood. Andrew is an ancient vampire who basically hates vampires. He’s your classic Vampire with a soul. Or at least a conscience. Mary, on the other hand, woke up screaming about how she was going to slaughter all humans. So there’s that.

Mary has been secretly creating an army of vampires. She is tired of cowering in the shadows from the superheroes – whose leader just happens to be SOLAR POWERED – and hopes to conquer. Her tone wavers between Marxist revolutionary/champion of the oppressed under class and the quintessential stalker ex-girlfriend. For even as she is sending an army to kill Andrew for his “traitorous” way of life, she is trying to seduce him and bring him around to her way of thinking.

While this story hasn’t impressed me in the way Wonder Woman or recent Action Comics issues have, I do really enjoy it. It’s brilliantly executed and technically flawless, and the scope just keeps expanding with every issue as supporting cast is brought in and guest stars appear. This is definitely one to watch.

 

OK, so even though I only tried nine or ten of the 52 different comics, I feel like I got a decent sampling. Overall, I would say the relaunch was a resounding success. For one thing, sales were HUGE, which is always nice to see. Many of the books are benefiting from the new status quo, and very few seem actively HURT by it. But the best thing about the reboot was the awareness it brought. It was talked about online and on the national news. If DC can just find a way to keep marketing their books and putting out quality product, I think they could turn around the comic slump.

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State of the Universe: Thoughts on DC’s New 52 (pt. 1)

Well, as you may have noticed, I did not live-blog the Golden Globes, because I most unfortunately had work. Someday, I will have a normal job, with hours during the day. But alas, that time is not now.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to do a post on the DC Comics Reboot for a LONG time now, but wanted to give myself time to really form an opinion about it, and the results. I realize this isn’t something my general audience is clamoring to hear about, but it’s my party and I’ll nerd-out if I want to.

First, some background information. DC Comics started a long time ago. A long time. There have been hundreds of writers writing thousands of issues about hundreds of characters for decades. This means that comic books have become an extensive mythology, filled with supporting characters, years of drama and tension, epic battles and love triangles. It also means that there is some SERIOUS conflicting information, silly plot lines, and controversial material that would be better off forgotten.

One of the early ways DC (and Marvel) has dealt with conflicting information and such was to create a “Multiverse.” This is a convenient way to say “Oh, well, that story took place in another universe, so yes it technically happened, just not to OUR heroes.” It’s a bit of a cop-out, yes, but opened up the door to tell really creative stories where anything could happen, without regard as to consequences. It was liberating for authors.

Eventually however, DC decided that having so many universes and different versions of their characters was confusing to current readers, and daunting to new ones. So, in an effort to make the line more accessible, they merged all these disparate universes into one – seizing the opportunity to erase troublesome elements (for example, at one point there was a Super Dog, Super Cat, Super Horse, Super Monkey, pink Kryptonite that made Superman pretty gay… literally…), and re-write origins of certain heroes. DC has done this a few times since the 80s, to generally diminishing success.

So, this past year, DC told a new story. The Flash went back in time for some reason (I can’t remember why).  By doing so, he completely changed his world into one where Superman was imprisoned by the government as a child, Bruce Wayne was killed as a child – prompting his father to become the Batman, and Wonder Woman is fighting a world war against Aqua Man, killing millions in the process. Obviously, this distresses the Flash, who then decides to go back in time and stop his past self from trying to correct things (yes, this is confusing). He’s more or less successful, but still changes the world a TON. In this new iteration, everyone is about five years younger. They’re less experienced at fighting crime. They’re less powerful, and less wise. They are still forming relationships with each other. Some relationships and characters have been completely written out of existence.

So, what do I think? Well, first let’s talk about how I felt about the IDEA, then we’ll talk about the execution.

The big idea in comics lately is “accessibility,” i.e. the ability for a new reader to pick up any issue and immediately know more or less what is going on. This is the reason Marvel has started branding the first issue of a new arc with a .1. So there’s issue 19, followed by issue 19.1 – signifying that a new arc has started. I find this asinine. This is the same reason DC has re-booted their characters’ origins like three times in the last decade. Which is also asinine.

As a fan of television, I find this whole obsession with accessibility to be totally bogus. I can’t tell you how many times I have started a show half-way through, liked what I saw, and then gotten caught up as quickly as possible. In an age with hulu, Netflix, Amazon, and illegal online streaming, it’s easier than ever to Marathon Mode four seasons of LOST before the season premiere [Which I never had to do because I  was there from the first episode, not that I’m bragging]. But anyway, I have done that with countless shows, as have most of my friends. In fact, one time I read a book series, assuming it was the first, and absolutely loved it. It referenced so many past events without outright explaining them, I found myself having to really read between the lines and use my brain. I felt so respected as a reader, because the author was expecting me to piece together fragments of information. I later found out there was actually an earlier series about all that stuff. I read it, and enjoyed it, but the magic just wasn’t there. It felt more rote, and less rich.

My point with all this is to say that if you put out a quality product, people SHOULD read it/watch it, and get caught up without you having to make it “accessible.” Of course, history is full of quality products that people did not watch or read, that got cancelled too soon. That’s an unfortunate possibility. But for every Firefly, hopefully there’s a LOST out there, with people getting caught up on six seasons in two weeks just so they could watch the finale.

Well, this went on a lot longer than I expected, so I’m going to put this into parts. Tomorrow you should be able to read about my thoughts on the execution of DC’s Reboot, and not just my expectations.