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Grumpy Old Fan | Cornucopia 2012: Predicting the next wave

by  in Comic News Comment

Since the end of 2011 is right around the corner, it’s as good a time as any to look forward to what DC may bring us in the next year. The fun part is, the (relatively) eclectic New-52 relaunch has made these sorts of predictions a little less accurate. Nevertheless, I think DC remains a fairly conservative publisher overall, at least in terms of the kinds of comics in its superhero-centric main line, so we can make some educated guesses. The fact that all but one of the New 52 featured well-established characters (and the 52nd was Batwing, buoyed by Batman Incorporated) doesn’t exactly hurt either.

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Accordingly, we start with two of DC’s most prolific titles which haven’t yet been reintroduced in the New-52 context: Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics (or, as you might know it, Superman/Batman).  Both were on the pre-relaunch roster, but neither appears likely to make a comeback. Pre-relaunch, Adventure had become the second Legion of Super-Heroes title, following a brief run of Geoff Johns/Francis Manapul Superboy stories. The New 52 has since filled both roles, both with Legion Lost and the Legion: Secret Origins miniseries, and with the revamped Superboy. Adventure could come back as an anthology, but the New 52 already has the ongoing DC Universe Presents and the miniseries My Greatest Adventure for spotlights and new-character tryouts. As for Superman/Batman, changes to the Man of Steel’s overall outlook may include this relationship. Put simply, I don’t see the New-52 Superman teaming up with the (same old?) Batman on a regular monthly basis — at least, not right now.

It does raise the issue of how similar the New 52 will be (and/or should be) to the pre-relaunch lineup.  After all, the relaunch torpedoed a number of books which, to put it bluntly, seem to have gotten in the way — books like Booster Gold, Power Girl, Secret Six, Red Robin, and Zatanna. Many of those characters have migrated into the new lineup, but in significantly altered forms. Thus, the Booster Gold of Justice League International doesn’t appear to have the same timestream-protecting mission, the Karen Starr of Mr. Terrific may or may not be Power Girl, etc. Bringing any of these series back would therefore depend on the relative success of their New-52 incarnations (barring something more extraordinary like a Booster Gold TV show).

However, DC is pretty reliable when it comes to reviving the titles themselves. Before Adventure Comics made its comeback, DC threw a decent amount of talent at team-up stalwart The Brave and the Bold. Starting strong with Mark Waid and George Pérez, it featured rotating creative teams for a year or so, and then petered out after several issues from writer J. Michael Straczynski. Basically it went on hiatus and never returned, and I don’t remember it even being officially cancelled. Perfect setup for a blockbuster relaunch, right?

Well, it’s not the worst time. Although its series finale just aired, the animated “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” brought both the title and the concept to a larger audience. DC still publishes the tie-in comic, but it ran alongside the “actual” B&B for a while, so you’d think there wouldn’t be much confusion. In fact, it’s almost the opposite of the Superman/Batman situation: because New-52 Batman hasn’t changed much (if at all), he may be an ideal vehicle for introducing all those not-so-hypothetical new readers to various DC denizens. That said, one significant argument against a new Brave and the Bold would be the relative ease of simply writing Batman into whatever series needed promoting. Also, there’s no shortage of Bat-content in the New 52 (including All-Star Western’s Gotham City setting), so there’s that risk of overexposure. Still, maybe DC figures “what’s one more?”, especially with another movie on the way.

There may be room for more Batman, but the fact is that a number of long-running (albeit cancelled) DC titles might be seen by readers as different names for the same thing. If the New 52 has Men Of War (starring a new Sgt. Rock), why does it need a new version of G.I. Combat, Our Army At War, or even Weird War Tales? Same goes for Weird Western Tales and All-Star Western, DCU Presents and Showcase, Deathstroke and Vigilante, etc. Even a (grown-up) Titans revival might have to distinguish itself pretty clearly from Red Hood and the Outlaws.

Still, one area conspicuously absent from the New 52 has been the “space-hero” sub-genre, with Adam Strange as its poster child, last seen in the pages of R.E.B.E.L.S. While I’d expect to see an Adam Strange title ahead of anything else, other potential revivals include the aforementioned R.E.B.E.L.S., its predecessor L.E.G.I.O.N. (perhaps spinning out of Legion Lost), Lobo, the Omega Men, and Tommy Tomorrow. However, Adam has a leg up, thanks to his appearances on “Brave and the Bold” and in Wednesday Comics.

Speaking of Wednesday Comics, at one point I was considering it a potential indicator of DC’s baseline publishing strategy. Mostly this was because through it, DC (yet again) tried (however tentatively) to reach out beyond the direct-market crowd by running WC’s Superman strip in USA Today. In hindsight, though, WC seems more squarely aimed at the direct-market consumer who likes the idea of retro-styled formats and alternative storytelling approaches. (Here I raise my hand.) Anyway, most of WC’s fifteen features are currently represented in the New 52: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Supergirl, Catwoman (with the Demon), the Teen Titans, Deadman, Hawkman, and Sgt. Rock. Besides Adam Strange, that leaves Kamandi, the Metal Men, and Metamorpho, and I really don’t see a Metamorpho series anytime soon.

Ironically, the pre-relaunch setting was probably more friendly to a new Kamandi series, since Countdown and Final Crisis went to such great lengths to place just about all of Jack Kirby’s DC creations on Earth-51. Absent the hook of a Kirby-Earth, I’m not sure there’s a great clamor for post-apocalyptic adventure where animals are intelligent and humans are hunted. Regardless, DC just published the first Kamandi Omnibus, so maybe there’s a chance. The Metal Men had a couple of well-received books a few years back, one a proper miniseries by Duncan Rouleau and the other a Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis/Kevin Maguire co-feature in Doom Patrol. The latter has been collected in 100-page form, so again, perhaps those waters are being tested too. I still wouldn’t expect the Metal Men to carry much beyond an arc in DCU Presents, though.

Of course, one of DC’s next big outreach efforts will be Cartoon Network’s “DC Nation” block, putting the ongoing Green Lantern and Young Justice shows alongside various short features. I’d be very surprised if DC didn’t launch some sort of anthologized tie-in, featuring the Doom Patrol, Amethyst, Tiny Titans Go!, and whatever other subjects the shorts include. Whether this leads to more revivals in the main line is unclear, because the tie-ins don’t always affect the inspirations — but I do think we’re closer to a nice Amethyst paperback….

Conversely, as discussed above, sometimes I think the reprint schedule offers clues to the monthly books. There’s a paperback reprint of Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan’s Night Force coming next summer, and last week there was that Black Orchid collection. To be sure, the reprints probably owe a good bit to the creative teams — Tomb Of Dracula gave Wolfman and Colan a solid reputation for horror, and Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean are always popular — but I wonder if at least a Night Force series isn’t at least in the early stages. Sometimes a reprint just feels so random that it must be part of a bigger plan, you know?

Sometimes, too, those bigger plans are interrupted, and one wonders whether they’ll be picked up again. Seems like the latest Spectre and Question had barely gotten settled in their costumed roles when the big relaunch put ‘em in limbo. Both characters’ predecessors have had respectable runs, and I don’t think that in their short tenures either Crispus Allen or Reneé Montoya have “harmed their brand.” I can see someone at DC wanting to bring either or both back, because s/he is (not unreasonably) passionate about their storytelling possibilities — but I can also see the people in charge getting tired of trying to sell Crispus and/or Reneé, and giving them both a little rest. However, it would be kind of cool to have the Spectre (regardless of host) show up in the Justice Society relaunch, acknowledge that he’s got power over the entire Multiverse, and give him a reason to favor Earth-2….

The last two features I’ll discuss aren’t connected by anything beyond persistence and (most recently) low sales. We all know The Warlord, right? Created by Mike Grell in 1976, Travis Morgan was an Air Force pilot stranded in the hollow-Earth fantasyland of Skartaris, where he grew a Green Arrow beard and fought dinosaurs and evil wizards. Warlord was a staple of DC’s lineup until 1988, and enjoyed a few brief revivals thereafter. Most recently it ran for 16 issues in 2009-10, written and occasionally drawn by Grell and (SPOILERS!) wrapping up with Morgan’s son taking over following his dad’s death. You’d think this would preclude a New-52 revival, and you’re probably right — but Warlord is just the kind of series I’d expect as a “midseason replacement.” It gives the New 52 a little more genre diversity (although it’s very likely another hypermasculine series), it appeals to lapsed fans who might remember it from their more attentive days, and it’s not the hardest concept to explain to new readers.

Finally, there’s Manhunter, a Golden Age title revived several times in legacy form. Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson brought original-version Paul Kirk back memorably in their ultra-stylish early-‘70s Detective Comics backup series. Since then, public defender Mark Shaw, musician Chase Lawler, clone Kirk DePaul, and attorney Kate Spencer have each been Manhunter. There’s little chance DC would bring back the Goodwin/Simonson version, but Kate Spencer’s recent series went on hiatus twice (check the cover dates) before being cancelled with issue #38. Also, she was briefly part of the Birds of Prey, had a brief co-feature in Batman: Streets Of Gotham, and probably still has a decent fan following. A New-52 Manhunter would help the superhero line’s gender balance, and Kate’s federal-criminal-law practice could facilitate crossovers or guest-shots in just about any other title. Since Kate’s backstory tied into a few obscure areas of DC lore, it could go with a new Manhunter as well.

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I should note that none of this is meant as a commentary on recent Marvel cancellations. To the contrary, I think DC’s roster gravitates towards the familiar more often than not. I’d love it if the second wave of New-52-style books were all original concepts, produced by creative teams given the freedom to do exactly the kinds of comics they wanted. However, I also know we’re getting that new Justice Society book (which should be pretty good, don’t get me wrong) and those Captain Marvel backups in Justice League, along with new versions of The Ray and the Challengers of the Unknown. That Robotman feature in My Greatest Adventure could lead easily into another Doom Patrol book, too. Whichever way DC goes, it seems to be still expanding; and it may even be cautioned by Marvel’s situation.

Additionally, this isn’t meant as another “DC should publish only the things I like” manifesto. Although there are some diversity-enhancing suggestions, I’ve tried only to identify some perennial favorites and some more obscure features which may be on the horizon. In fact, seeing Amethyst in the DC Nation promo, and ‘Mazing Man on “Batman: The Brave And The Bold,” indicates that DC may well be digging deeper into its library for characters with previously-untapped appeal. That sounds rather mercenary, but I consider it encouraging. You take exposure where you can get it, and hopefully you use it to grow constructively.