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Grumpy Old Fan | DC in May: Once more, with feeling

by  in Comic News Comment
Grumpy Old Fan | DC in May: Once more, with feeling

If you liked the first half of Convergence in the April solicitations, you’ll probably enjoy the other set of shoes dropping in May. In fact, the second issues are all extra-sized (but not more expensive), filled out with previews of June’s coming attractions.

However, it’s not all anticlimaxes or “second verse, same as the first.” There are a couple of twists: Not only will the New 52 characters be participating, but the solicitation for Convergence #8 makes it clear this is for all the cosmic marbles. “There can be only one reality” after these two months of nostalgia — and we may have to read the books themselves (gasp!) to see what that looks like.

* * *

We begin with a handful of non-Convergence items. Fans of TV’s Arrow who have been missing its version of the Huntress (and who may be digital-averse) will want to check out Issue 8 of Season 2.5, which features Helena Bertinelli helping to take down Brother Blood. Similarly, the Flash tie-in comic features King Shark, who in the comics (to the best of my knowledge, at least) is an actual shark. I have no idea if that will hold true for the TV-ish version.

The excellent Black Canary And Zatanna: Bloodspell graphic novel by Paul Dini and Joe Quinones gets a paperback edition in June. It’s based in pre-New 52 continuity, but by June we should all be well-versed in that.

Fans of tough-guy heroes from the late ‘80s and mid-to-late ‘90s will be happy with the latest Green Arrow and Nightwing collections (volumes 3 and 2, respectively), and with the new edition of Batman: Cataclysm, the collection of reprints leading up to No Man’s Land. The latter features thrilling legislative action as Bruce Wayne battles Congress in the wake of the Gotham earthquake, while The Trial of Oliver Queen finds our hero relocating to Portland ‘way before it was cool.

Everyone should buy a copy of Legends of the Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle, both because it’s for a very worthy cause (Breyfogle’s medical bills) and because it reprints his formative work from Detective Comics. These are still some of the most original Batman comics in the character’s long history, thanks to both Breyfogle’s unique style and John Wagner and Alan Grant’s desire to do something distinctly different.

Finally, mark your calendars and cross your fingers: The Sandman: Overture #5 is on the schedule for May 27.

* * *

As for Convergence itself, there’s not much more to say. The May solicitations are essentially the same as the April solicitations, with the only differences being that some heroes get “powered up” in the second part of their stories. Last month I went through all the books in each of the four themed weeks, so this time let’s look at the bigger picture.

Many of you would probably rather hear more about obscure Cones of Dunshire rules than talk any more about parallel universes.  Me, I like thinking about DC’s Multiverse because for all its grand cosmic pretension, what DC’s creative folk have done with it seems very step-by-step. There are a lot of steps, of course, and sometimes they look like a Family Circus panorama; so I will try to keep it simple.

Convergence deals with four main “eras,” three of which include their own separate set of minor alternate universes. The four eras are, in chronological order of their appearance in print,

  • the pre-Crisis On Infinite Earths Multiverse (1935-85), which includes Earths-One, -Two, -Three (Crime Syndicate), -Four (Charlton), -C (Captain Carrot), -S (Marvel Family), and -X (Freedom Fighters);
  • the Zero Hour period (1985-94) focusing on the mid-1990s, when all DC had to worry about were alternate timelines;
  • the pre-Flashpoint period (1994-2011) at around 2010, including the abbreviated 52-part Multiverse; and
  • the New 52 (which also includes its own 52-part Multiverse, including Earths-0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5, and -10).

The other “antagonistic” realities mentioned in the Convergence solicits include

  • the antimatter universe which is home to the Weaponers of Qward;
  • Kamandi’s Great Disaster (since expanded to include OMAC and the post-apocalyptic Atomic Knights);
  • the “Electropolis” of the original Earth-Six, first seen in COIE #4;
  • the post-apocalyptic career of a time-lost Jonah Hex;
  • the Victorian setting of Gotham By Gaslight’s Batman;
  • the parallel-development world called Angor, home to Marvel pastiches including the Justifiers and the villainous Extremists;
  • the alternate timeline of the vampire-heavy Red Rain trilogy;
  • the alternate future of Kingdom Come;
  • the alternate universe where the pre-New 52 Wildstorm characters lived;
  • the alternate universe of Tangent Comics;
  • the alternate future of DC One Million (and probably All Star Superman);
  • the alternate timeline of Superman: Red Son;
  • the alternate universe of Injustice: Gods Among Us;
  • the alternate timeline of Flashpoint; and
  • the nightmare future of Futures End.

Many of these realities were assigned their own “universe designates” several years ago when the Multiverse was reduced to 52 worlds, and many of those also appear in the New 52’s revised Multiverse (which has since been charted in January’s Multiversity Guidebook). However, that doesn’t mean they’ve shared the same history throughout the years. The various versions of Earth-Two are probably the best-known example — there’s the pre-COIE original, the pre-Flashpoint revision, and the New 52’s total reboot — but in the mid-2000s there were two different Crime Syndicates running around, one from Earth-3 and one from the antimatter universe (as shown in the JLA graphic novel Earth 2). For that matter, the Extremists of Convergence may not come from either of Multiversity’s Marvel-esque worlds, the Marvel Family of Convergence is probably different from that of Multiversity: Thunderworld, and the heroes of Earth-Four don’t seem a whole lot like Multiversity’s Pax Americana.

See, for purposes of Convergence, it seems that Brainiac has been collecting representative samples of these realities just before each were destroyed. This being DC, there’s a precedent for such a maneuver. Specifically, to get around the 1986 revisions which eliminated young Clark Kent’s Superboy career, the Time Trapper cultivated a Superboy-centered “pocket universe” out of a sliver of time. By redirecting the Legion of Super-Heroes’ various time trips to that “pocket,” instead of the post-COIE DC-Earth, it allowed the Legion’s history to remain unchanged. Indeed, it allowed the Time Trapper to preserve that history as he remembered it, right down to the last Silver Age-specific detail. Brainiac’s actions appear to have done much the same for Convergence’s retro-fied settings, and with the same sort of preservational purpose. (Not to mention the same kind of “just the way you remember it” metacommentary.)

Now, the “only one reality” declaration implies that these will be those settings’ last hurrahs — and I suppose that’s true, in terms of the singular reality we call DC’s superhero line. That reality has gone through a host of structural changes over the past 80 years, but the important thing is, it’s “only one reality” in a very specific meaning of the phrase. The DC Universe as we know it includes all manner of augmentations, from the additions of other publishers’ characters to the subtractions of “outdated” stories. However, over all those 80 years, countless eyes have read those stories, countless minds have contemplated them, and countless hands have crafted new ones. Accordingly, what we call the “one reality” is actually nothing more than a shared frame of reference. Earth-Two was never the same as the Golden Age of Comics, just a setting which replicated those stories. That goes for Earth-Four, Earth-S, Kingdom Come, New Frontier, Earth-August, and all the other alternate milieux appended to and/or visible from the main DC-Earth. The New 52’s version of Universe Designate Zero is just another copy, altered to fit an “updated” set of sensibilities.

With that in mind, Convergence (along with Superman: Doomed and recent issues of Futures End) seems to be telling us that the current DC Multiverse went through a number of familiar phases, including Crisis, Zero Hour and Flashpoint. It’s been stretched, squashed, pulled apart, and put back together like a ball of Play-Doh — as the Multiversity Guidebook puts it, “several attacks, surgeries and reconstructions” — and Brainiac’s been coming along and picking up the stray pieces after every round of reshaping. That’s where we get these bits of 1984, 1994, 2010, and assorted alternates — but they’re just raw materials, shards of clay likely to be recycled again.

* * *

As for the future, it looks pretty much like how we’ll leave the New 52 in March. DC’s 2015 Free Comic Book Day preview comes out Saturday, May 2, literally in the middle of Convergence but with three previews of New 52 series Batman, Justice League, and Superman.  The New 52-style Multiverse — which I take to be the one described in Multiversity — will likely also survive, not just because there’s still an Earth-2 title coming in June but because Grant Morrison and friends poured an awful lot into that Multiversity Guidebook. As mentioned above, it assigns separate Earths to a number of Elseworlds-style stories (Justice Riders on Earth-18, Kingdom Come on Earth-22, Red Son on Earth-30), but it alters others as well. Earth-19 now includes the Victorian worlds of Gotham By Gaslight and Wonder Woman: Amazonia, New Frontier’s Earth-21 has the Justice League save President Kennedy, and Earth-37 combines the Howard Chaykin-written works Thrillkiller and Twilight. It all sounds like they’re meant to be evocations, not necessarily substitutes.

That applies just as well to Convergence itself. As much thematic overlap as Convergence and Multiversity have, I don’t expect a lot of shared plot or character elements otherwise. Multiversity is about the structure of the current cosmos, while Convergence revisits elements which had been cast off. Regardless, both deal in simulations of stories — which may be a fairly fine distinction, but one which preserves the integrity of the originals. These days, that’s not a bad place to start.

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

And here is the Futures Index for this week’s Issue 42.

  • Story pages: 20
  • Justice League vs. Brainiac pages: 7 (including about 4 pages of Atom vs. Brainiac)
  • Superman and Shazam vs. Brainiac pages: 7
  • Batman/Mr. Terrific pages: 1
  • Batman Beyond vs. Bat/Joker pages: 5
  • Number of alternate realities inside Brainiac: probably about as many as appear in the April and May solicits
  • Precise meaning of the “Palin Protocol”: still unrevealed
  • Odds that it refers to Monty Python: 1 in 100,000
  • Odds that it refers to a former Alaska governor: 1 in 70,000
  • Odds that it refers to a particular athlete, artist, or performer: higher than you might think

NOTES: Not as effective as last issue, but still earned some points with me for cross-cutting among the various fight scenes. I was a little thrown by the cognitive dissonance between Mr. Terrific saying “I’ve talked with God” only to say later on that “it can be controlled.” If the intervening “Palin protocol” somehow bridges those two things — if it prevents Brother Eye from “going rogue,” for example — that would be a neat twist on what looks like an early step to the nightmare future.

Otherwise, the Atom’s information overload seems to serve the same narrative function as Hawkman’s fate did last issue, which is to set up Convergence. I was on the fence about Atom’s pulling the Engineer’s plug, but I suppose Cyborg being a distraction (along with everything else Brainiac was trying to do) makes just enough sense. Hey, if a nigh-omnipotent artificial life-form is going to subcontract so many higher functions to a relatively-flawed being like the Engineer, it deserves whatever it gets, right?

And speaking of deserving what it gets, I did like Terry using ALFRED to lead Bat/Joker into the path of a hurtling Brainiac sphere. Clever! However, it reminds me that the Plastique-vs.-Plastique cliffhanger is still outstanding from last issue. Futures End has been abandoning subplots lately, but that one’s relatively easy to address.

NEXT WEEK IN THE FUTURE: Lois finally talks to Superman! Brother Eye’s on TV! Mr. Terrific’s watching something different! And … Brainiac takes the wheel!

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