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Grumpy Old Fan | After ‘Convergence,’ the flood

by  in Comic News Comment
Grumpy Old Fan | After ‘Convergence,’ the flood

Finally, it’s here. After months of speculating about the practical effects of DC Comics’ cross-country move, the publisher revealed its regular lineup, which starts in June. With 20 new ongoings and four new miniseries joining 25 returning titles, it’s widely seen as the end of the New 52. I wrote about that aspect of DC’s news over the weekend, but today it’s time to dig into the emerging details of the new superhero line.

* * *

Actually, let’s begin with one more nail in the New 52’s coffin: Just 12 of those initial 52 ongoings will continue unabated in June’s lineup. Moreover, eight of those 12 are books DC will publish until the last sun flickers out: Action Comics, Superman, Detective Comics, Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Justice League. The other four charter New 52 members surviving to June are Batgirl, Catwoman, Green Arrow and Aquaman.

We might also add four titles whose initial New 52 versions were canceled and relaunched — Deathstroke, Grayson/ Nightwing, (New) Suicide Squad, and Teen Titans — plus Red Hood/Arsenal, a June relaunch that apparently replaces Red Hood and the Outlaws. In the same vein, titles like Dark Universe, Green Lantern: Lost Army and Robin, Son of Batman might reasonably be seen as relaunches of charter New 52’ers Justice League Dark, GL Corps and Batman and Robin. That gives a total of 20 titles arguably carrying on the New 52’s original mission. Other books like Constantine: The Hellblazer, Justice League 3001 and Earth 2: Society are straight-up relaunches of later New 52 series.

This shifts the balance of “new” and “returning” concepts about seven series towards the latter, making the count more like 32 returning-ish to 13 new-ish. Moreover, those 13 are dominated by familiar faces: Batman Beyond, Black Canary, Cyborg, Dr. Fate, Martian Manhunter, Midnighter, Omega Men and Starfire. Black Canary has been guest-starring in Batgirl and Midnighter has shown up in Grayson. Cyborg and Starfire are fixtures in (respectively) Justice League and the current Red Hood series. Doctor Fate has been in the Earth 2 books, and Batman Beyond can be seen currently in Futures End. That leaves revivals of Omega Men and Prez, the “sidekick collective” series We Are Farm– I mean, Robin, and the Vertigo-meets-Gotham Academy series Mystic U. Don’t worry, we’ll talk at length about the new Justice League of America later on.

In terms of the four main franchises, the numbers aren’t changing much. At the start of the New 52 they accounted for 22 titles (42.3 percent), when they go on hiatus in March they’ll make up 26 of the line’s 45 titles (57.8 percent), and when June comes along they’ll be down to 24 (53.3 percent). Specifically, the Superman titles shrink from five to four, losing only Supergirl — but two of the survivors are Batman/Superman and Superman/Wonder Woman. The Justice League books basically trade JL Dark for the new JLA. The Green Lantern titles go from five books to three, losing three series which go back at least to the New 52 relaunch (GL Corps, GL: New Guardians, and Red Lanterns) and picking up only GL: Lost Army.

Not surprisingly, the Batman line stays at about the same level, although it’s instructive to see how the line itself has changed. It started the New 52 with 11 books, including four devoted to the man himself (Detective, Batman, Batman & Robin and Batman: The Dark Knight), five for spinoff characters (Batgirl, Batwing, Batwoman, Catwoman, Nightwing), and two loosely affiliated teams (Birds of Prey, Red Hood and the Outlaws). Along the way it picked up (and eventually dropped) Batman Incorporated and Talon. Today, the line’s tone has shifted, with less urban-angsty books like Harley Quinn, Grayson, Gotham Academy, and the revamped Batgirl replacing the likes of Dark Knight and Batwing. June continues this trend with the new Black Canary and We Are Robins.

Otherwise, the 21 non-franchise titles seem fairly well balanced. Traditional superheroes get seven books (Aquaman, The Flash, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Earth 2, Cyborg). Sci-fi super-folk get four (Lobo, Martian Manhunter, Omega Men, Starfire). Antiheroes have five (Suicide Squad, Secret Six, Deathstroke, Midnighter and Doomed, plus an honorable mention for Lobo); as do Vertigo-esque characters (Constantine, Dark Universe, Dr. Fate, Mystic U, Prez).

I haven’t forgotten about the miniseries, each of which features characters or situations well-suited for the format. Certainly I’d be skeptical of Bat-Mite, Bizarro, the Section Eight team or even the Harley/Power Girl duo sustaining an ongoing series (although Larfleeze started picking up steam once G’Nort came along). However, these seem reliable enough for miniseries, and Section Eight and Harley Quinn/Power Girl should make nice supplements to the line of Hitman and HQ collections.

Comparing character demographics then and now, the New 52’s initial roster had nine books with a female lead (including co-leads, but not counting big-team books): Batgirl, Batwoman, Birds Of Prey, Catwoman, Hawk & Dove, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Supergirl, Voodoo, and Wonder Woman. The June lineup also has nine: Batgirl, Black Canary, Catwoman, Gotham Academy, Harley Quinn, PrezStarfire, Superman/Wonder Woman, and Wonder Woman. Batwoman was the original New 52’s only LGBT-led title, and only Midnighter fills that role in June. The New 52’s first lineup had several titles led by a person of color, including Batwing, Blue Beetle, Green Lantern Corps, Mister Terrific, OMAC, Static Shock and Voodoo. From what I can tell, among the June books only Cyborg features a non-white headliner, although books like Dr. Fate, Green Lantern: Lost Army and We Are Robin could add to that.

* * *

DC also released basic writer/artist credits for all but one of June’s 49 superhero-line series, allowing us to see who’ll be doing what. None of the artists has more than one book (although Tony Daniel, Ming Doyle, Francis Manapul, Patrick Gleason, and Bryan Hitch also have writing duties), so we’ll focus on the writers. Essentially, DC is relying on Cullen Bunn (four titles), Brenden Fletcher (writing one book and co-writing two more), Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (writing two books), Greg Pak and Scott Lobdell (two books each), and Robert Venditti and Tom King (each writing one book and co-writing a second). Those seven writers (counting the Palmiotti/Conner team as one) represent all or part of the writing responsibilities for 18 of the 45 ongoing titles. None of the writers or artists of the other 26 ongoings have more than one book (except Ming Doyle, who’s writing Constantine and drawing Dark Universe).

Put another way, most of June’s superhero books will be produced by a creative team unique to that book. Even with the aforementioned “core,” I count 38 writers (including 7 women) and 43 artists (including 4 women). That may not be diversity of demographics — which will probably be a long time coming — and many of the new books’ writers have worked for DC fairly recently. Still, at least DC is bringing in some new people, including Gene Luen Yang (writing Superman), Ming Doyle (Constantine and Dark Universe), David Walker (Cyborg), Alisa Kwitney (Mystic U), and Mark Russell (Prez); and doubling down on Brenden Fletcher Black Canary) and Tom King (Omega Men).

Meanwhile, in all the spreading-around of assignments, one of DC’s highest-profile writers has only a single title on the June roster. Of course, that’s Geoff Johns, still writing Justice League, the book that launched the New 52. When the New 52 began, Johns was also writing Green Lantern and Aquaman, and later helped to launch JL spinoffs Justice League of America and Vibe. As of June, when Gene Luen Yang succeeds him on Superman, Justice League will be his only book.

No doubt this decreased comics output is due to his chief creative officer responsibilities — but it also shows how the superhero line has developed over the past three-plus years. Writers Brian Azzarello and Jeff Lemire, who were prominent in the initial New 52 lineup and who most recently contributed to Futures End, have no books on the June roster. Grant Morrison is apparently still working on that Wonder Woman graphic novel, but apart from that the writer of Action Comics, Batman Incorporated, and Multiversity likewise won’t be involved in the June relaunch. I’m hoping Jeff Parker will still write Batman ‘66, but I’m sorry he and Paul Pelletier will be leaving Aquaman.

Otherwise, there’s not much creative turnover among the 25 returning titles. Besides the changes to Superman and Aquaman, Green Arrow and JL United will also have new creative teams, although JLU’s is still TBA. I also want to point out that David Finch has a book on the June roster (Wonder Woman), just as he did for the original New 52 (Batman: The Dark Knight); and Scott Lobdell and Dan Jurgens have hung around similarly.

* * *

That brings me to the new Justice League of America book. At various times over the past 25 years — yes, fellow geezers, Justice League Europe debuted early in 1989 — DC has tried to expand the Justice League franchise. For several years in the ‘90s, it was pretty successful, but the expansion ended when Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s JLA came along in 1996. Nevertheless, the Justice Society provided a sort of stealth spinoff, first with JSA and then with the unabbreviated Justice Society of America (running alongside the relaunched Justice League of America, naturally). About ten years ago, DC launched a standalone anthology series, JLA Classified, which focused on different eras of League history but stood apart from the regular Justice League title. Later, in addition to Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s Justice League, the New 52 offered JL Dark and a new-for-2011 Justice League International. After JLI was cancelled, a new JLA took its place, and then it was cancelled in favor of the current JL United. Still, for most of the past three years there have been three different Justice League teams coexisting peacefully.

That changes in June, since Bryan Hitch’s Justice League of America will also be telling stories about the seven A-listers who make (made?) up the Justice League crew. Granted, Forever Evil and events in Green Lantern up-ended the League’s lineup, bringing in Lex Luthor, Captain Cold, and Shazam, and letting Hal Jordan lead the GL Corps through one big crossover after another. However, Hitch’s promotional image includes Hal and Superman’s new-ish costume (note the Romita-designed belt), suggesting that these won’t be flashback stories. That would make the new JLA a companion to Justice League, like Superman is to Action Comics — and that’s a situation DC has never before tried to manage. Does this mean Johns and artist Jason Fabok are positioning “The Darkseid War” as their book’s grand finale? Will Hitch’s title feature more traditional stories? Which one will be more coordinated with the Leaguers’ solo series? (For example, the Johns/Romita/Janson Superman hasn’t been as connected with the other Super-books as Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder’s Action has been.)

Essentially, the logistics of producing a Justice League series which lives up to its all-star origins — i.e., which brings together seven or more solo stars for huge adventures none could handle alone, and which stays current with continuity — seem so daunting that I can’t imagine DC’s editors coordinating everything in service of two books for too long. There can be only one, as they say; and I wouldn’t be surprised if Justice League ends with Issue 50. That would leave Justice League of America alone at the top of the superhero pyramid, which is where you’d expect to find it.

* * *

Obviously there will be more to say about all of this in the months ahead, but for now I’ll just close with some thoughts on what I’m anticipating most. I’m getting 14 of the 25 returning series already, and right now I’m planning to pick up 17 of the new 24.

In terms of returning/relaunching books, I’ve been enjoying the current Superman team, but Gene Yuen Lang has gotten me excited for June. I’m curious to see how the Earth-2 books regroup after World’s End and Convergence, and I wonder how Patrick Gleason will do writing Robin. As for the new series, I’m eager to see Mystic U, but with an artist still unannounced it’s hard to gauge at this point. I think Tom King and Alex Morgan will do well by Omega Men and I like the designs of Bat-Mite and Bizarro. I’ve enjoyed the Starfire team on other books like All Star Western and Supergirl, so it should be good; and the same goes for Cullen Bunn and Jesus Saiz on Green Lantern: Lost Army Black Canary looks nothing like I would have expected, given the character’s history, but Batgirl got a great burst of energy from a similar makeover.

Finally, speaking as someone who bought every issue of The Movement and The Green Team (and Xombi before them), Prez may be June’s obligatory low-selling critical darling. It’s a relaunch of a short-lived ‘70s series which is remembered fondly by aging DC-philes and people who read that one issue of Sandman. However, I’ve got high hopes. For now, let’s leave it at that.

+++++++++++++++++++++

And here is the Futures Index for this week’s Issue 41.

  • Story pages: 20
  • Lois Lane pages: 2 (first and last)
  • Superman vs. Brainiac pages: 2 (double-page layout; not counting the page with Shazam)
  • Hawkman vs. Brainiac pages: 4 (including a double-page spread)
  • Terrifitech pages: 7 (including a 2-page sequence with just Tim and Plastique)
  • Justice League vs. Brainiac pages: 5
  • Number of visible deaths/corpses/otherwise-final fates: 21 (Hawkman, 18 Terrifitech employees, Mr. Terrific’s chief assistant whose name I don’t remember, and the Atom)
  • Number of Hawkman reboots/relaunches since the character’s 1940 introduction: at least 5
  • Number of Hawkman reboots/relaunches represented on pages 5-7: 5
  • Number of distinct realities represented on pages 5-6: at least 10 (Medieval Superman, New Frontier Superman, Red Son Superman, Adam West Batman, original-style Legion of Super-Heroes, Multiversity’s Doc Fate, Earth-One Supergirl, the Crisis On Infinite Earths trio, a classic version of Grifter, and classic versions of the other characters who could all have coexisted on the pre-Flashpoint Earth)
  • Number of pages featuring both Lois Lane and Superman: 0
  • Number of pages featuring Batman Beyond: 1 (and only 1 panel on that page)
  • Number of June-launching series featuring Batman Beyond: 1
  • Number of pages featuring Hawkman, Firestorm, the Atom, or members of the Legion of Super-Heroes: 7
  • Number of June-launching series featuring Hawkman, Firestorm, the Atom, or members of the Legion of Super-Heroes: 0

NOTES: Another strong issue, both because things are finally happening and because it’s organized around a central plot. I am curious about what’s happening with Fifty Sue and company, because you’d think “GIANT MONSTER ATTACKS NEW YORK” would get their attention, and Futures End should probably check in with them sooner rather than later. Still, this issue builds on the last one, and I am noticing details like how Brainiac’s use of little do-everything spheres seems in hindsight to have influenced Mr. Terrific. (Of course, Terrific’s mind has snapped seeing what he has helped create.) I also liked the “frenemy” relationship between Tim and Batman, in which Batman is more of a dispassionate pragmatist (“I can’t deal with this and I’m wearing body armor”) and less of a jerk.

Although I was fine with Jésus Merino and Dan Green’s work on most of the issue, it was good to see Andy MacDonald’s two-page Plastique/Tim sequence. His use of inset panels and changes in perspective helped create a nice suspenseful mood, and would have worked better as the cliffhanger scene than the “whoops! page 20!” ending we got..

Given what we know about Convergence, it’s safe to say this issue features our first real in-universe look (beyond the cover triptych a few months back) at what’s in store for April and May. Odds are we won’t get a Batman ‘66/Ambush Bug crossover, but you never know. The more relevant question is whether Futures End will actually, you know, end, or whether the last page will be a Convergence-facilitating cliffhanger. Clearly this future isn’t meant to be, and under ordinary circumstances Brainiac’s ship could be a giant reset (or reboot) button; but there’s got to be some conflict left over for Convergence, and I’m afraid Futures End won’t resolve all that it’s got going on.

NEXT WEEK IN THE FUTURE: Déja vu all over again!

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