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Grumpy Old Fan | The games begin for DC in November

by  in Comic News Comment

College basketball season starts back up in November, so that makes thinking about bracketology only a little less premature. Looking at the various discrete (and, occasionally, indirect) crossovers happening throughout November’s New 52 solicitations, I couldn’t help but picture the field of 68, with each individual game a step along the way to … “Trinity War,” I guess …?

OPENING ROUNDS

Green Lantern’s “Rise of the Third Army” occupies the four GL titles, of course, but it also brings in Justice League, where the solicit for issue #14 wonders where Hal is. (After reading this week’s GL #12, I have a better idea about that.) Likewise, GL #14 guest-stars the League.

From the solicits I wonder if “ROT3A” takes place mainly in GL (with a little JL on the side). “Night of the Owls” was advertised that way (you only need to read Batman, because the other Bat-books dealt with ancillary stories) and it kind-of fits with the way the New-52 books have hyped their creative teams. Johns, Scott Snyder, and Jeff Lemire are responsible for a total of seven books (GL, JL, Aquaman, Batman, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, JL Dark), and each writer has at least one book in some sort of crossover this month.

Accordingly, while the crossovers themselves may help sales of the down-ballot books, one could see the impetus for the crossovers coming from those writers. It makes the crossovers more organic, like “Here’s an idea Scott Snyder came up with which spills into Batgirl and Nightwing,” not “Hey, you like Snyder’s Batman, so why not read the other Bat-books.” I’m not saying there’s no editorial involvement (or appearance thereof), but it seems like if the editorial hand were firmer, you’d see Detective, Batwoman, and Batwing shoehorned in as well. (I do note that Tom DeFalco is writing Nightwing #14, so the crossover seems to have displaced regular writer Kyle Higgins.) “Rotworld” especially feels like the culmination of very similar characters and setups, which fans noticed early on. It’s a little too twee to say an Animal Man-Swamp Thing team-up (with a touch of Frankenstein) is “organic,” but there you go.

Less organic is the Green Arrow/Hawkman crossover, which this month ropes in Deathstroke. I just cannot bring myself to read Hawkman or Deathstroke, so I won’t be getting any of it. Besides, I can’t decide if “Ladyhawke” — with all its ‘80s-fantasy allusive power — is a legitimate codename for a Thanagarian princess, or if it’s just supposed to be goofy.

Then there’s “H’Ell On Earth,” going through the 14th issues of Superboy, Supergirl and Superman. Apparently it starts in October’s Superman #13, which last month was solicited with a somewhat obtuse bit of verbiage about “matching wits with his greatest enemy for the final time as [Supes] loses it.” Why that didn’t include some crossover tease I don’t know. It would have gotten me more interested in issue #13. Now I have retroactive interest for a book which won’t come out for two months, which I suppose is a wash. Anyway, H’el himself looks like Bizarro Grunge, so my expectations aren’t particularly high.

Speaking of the Boy of Steel, Superboy and the Teen Titans are showing up in a few different places in November. The Titans guest-star in Superboy #14 and Birds of Prey #14 teases a connection with them. Meanwhile, surely I am not the only one who noticed that “Superboy leading the Ravagers” (to paraphrase Ravagers #6’s solicitation) sounds a bit like the ‘90s spinoff Superboy and the Ravers? The latter didn’t last very long, and the Ravagers #6 solicit also sounds somewhat grim. “Risked everything,” “dying member,” “fates sealed,” “fall one by one” — these are not phrases you want to hear going into a sixth issue.

Anyway, elsewhere in special-guest-land, Wonder Woman isn’t done in Batwoman, Pandora and the Sons of Trigon appear in Phantom Stranger, and Amethyst guest-stars in Justice League Dark.

Considering that various WildStorm bad guys (particularly the Daemonites) showed up in a handful of New-52 books over the course of the past year, with nothing bigger to show for it so far, I’m not sure November’s Black Diamond threads will amount to much. Actually, assuming that the Black Diamond means Eclipso’s coming back, it would be a fairly recent callout to one of the final pre-relaunch storylines. Eclipso battled the Justice League in Justice League of America vol. 2 #s 54-59 (April-September 2011), the last big arc before the New-52 relaunch. I remember it being pretty decent, like much of James Robinson’s run, but it did feature the standard Eclipso move of turning various heroes evil. That sort of thing tends to succeed based on how creepy an atmosphere the creative team can establish, so whether it works on individual books or as part of a big crossover probably varies with specific titles. Anyway, the Black Diamond is slated to appear in Demon Knights #14 (probably its first chronological appearance), where it goes from Lucifer to Exoristos. (Maybe there it causes the Amazons to go all bloodthirsty?) It then shows up with Dr. Jekyll in All-Star Western #14 before appearing in the “five years ago” Team 7 #2. Again, from there it could go a number of places, most likely Justice League-related, so perhaps it’s part of “Trinity War.” We’ll see soon enough.

SPECIAL BATMAN COVERAGE

Your “Death of the Family” reading order appears to be concentrated in the middle weeks of November:

11/14: Batman and Robin #14 (“lead-in”); Batman #14, Batgirl #14

11/21: Red Hood #14 and Nightwing #14 (both “lead-ins”); Catwoman #14

Assuming that the mysterious figure from Jason’s past who’s been teased in Red Hood for the past couple of months is in fact the Joker, that seems like an oddly drawn-out lead-in, particularly since the book’s actual crossover has yet to happen.

I do like the fact that the Joker is confronting other Bat-villains, particularly The Penguin. For a while there, especially in the ‘80s and ‘90s when the two main Bat-books crossed over more frequently, the villains were written as part of a macabre community. The first two Mike Barr/Alan Davis issues of Detective, when the Joker kidnaps Catwoman to zap the good impulses out of her, were a good example of how the Joker could interact believably (and still chaotically) with another villain.

Over now to the home stretch of Grant Morrison’s years-long Bat-epic. The last batch of solicits had this to say about Batman Incorporated #5:

Return to the future world seen in BATMAN #666, where Damian has taken over the mantle of the Bat! The whole world has gone mad. The only sane people left are in Arkham Asylum – where Batman is the warden!

This time out, the resolicited issue #5 promises

War in the skies of Gotham City! Bat-robots versus Talia’s Man-Bat armies! Leviathan and The Heretic increase the hostilities to a whole new level!

While those blurbs are not necessarily irreconcilable, it is kind of curious that the alt-future story seems to be downplayed. The new solicit keeps the previous cover, but that might just be a placeholder. Whatever the cause, all the mystery only encourages conspiracy-minded fans….

THIS AND THAT

More trident love, this time from Ocean Master, in Aquaman #14. Pete Woods draws the issue, and he’s not listed as a guest artist. I’m not complaining, but I just read that rumor about Ivan Reis and Joe Prado moving over to Justice League.

And hey, there’s a character named Black Trident who’s not fighting Aquaman! (Only a matter of time, I’m sure.) I am strangely anticipating Dan Jurgens’ Firestorm, perhaps because Firestorm has always struck me as a good “generic superhero.” You can take Firestorm in some unconventional directions, but it’s possible to overthink him. Ostrander came close, towards the end of his run, and the current creative team is getting there too. It doesn’t look like Jurgens will do that, at least not right away.

“Who will give their life [in Flash #14] defending Central City against the ape invasion?” I’m hoping it’s not Patty. I’m willing to bet that Barry ends up with Iris eventually, but I’d hate for Patty to be his Gwen Stacy. The Flash doesn’t need to be haunted by a loved one’s death, particularly with the retcon of his parents’ Zoom-driven tragedy.

Because I read the I … Vampire! paperback (reprinting the original stories from House Of Mystery), I recognized the name Deborah Dancer as a callback to the old days. She’s going to be in issue #14, although I presume she won’t be quite the same as she was in the ‘80s. No big hair, certainly.

I have been meaning to pick up G.I. Combat, and issue #6’s Howard Chaykin-drawn Haunted Tank story may be just the thing.

Except for Legion of Three Worlds and the subsequent Action Comics arc, I haven’t read Legion of Super-Heroes since the Mark Waid/Barry Kitson days — and since the team’s gone back to a post-Bronze Age status quo, it hasn’t felt especially accessible. However, all that makes me appreciate its continued existence. Even when Superboy was a member, LSH was never that connected to present-day DC, and I suspect the New-52 changes have only widened the divide. Therefore, it’s remarkable that DC keeps the “old” (in more ways than one) Legion around, free to do its own thing with only the occasional nod to the rest of the superhero line. I’m probably not going to pick it up anytime soon, but I’m glad it’s still around.

COLLECTIONS

If memory serves, DC is reprinting the original Books of Magic miniseries because Timothy “Harry who?” Hunter is apparently making a comeback in Justice League Dark. Having Neil Gaiman as the writer probably doesn’t hurt either — in fact, DC could probably sell it as the intersection of Gaiman and Potter and make boatloads more than JL Dark ever will. Still, I feel like there should be some sort of “confusion quotient” which expresses the relationship between a character’s relative obscurity, the timing of a particular collection, and the extent to which the character might have changed in the interim.

I have always been curious about the original Deadman stories, because apparently the subplot about Boston Brand’s killer came to a fairly satisfactory conclusion. Again, not having read the stories, I imagine nevertheless that if you read them, you get closure about Boston’s murder. This doesn’t mean he stops being Deadman, but it’s not like an ongoing saga — future stories retain the same basic body-hopping setup, so they’re fairly accessible. Indeed, Deadman seems to have become a perennial C-list favorite over the years. All that said, though, I’m surprised DC is continuing its Deadman collections with a Volume 3, getting into the 1970s. It actually makes me more interested in the other two books — particularly since I don’t think there’s been a cheaper Showcase Presents book — and I wonder now whether we’ll see a Volume 4.

REMEMBERING JOE KUBERT

Finally, there wasn’t much question about me getting Joe Kubert Presents, but now it’ll be a bittersweet experience. Same goes for Showcase Presents Weird War Tales. I daresay DC doesn’t put out too many solicitations without at least one Kubert book, both because he was so prolific and because it’s practically guaranteed to be good.

Over the years I read a lot of Kubert comics, from Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace to Hawkman, Tarzan, and Tor. I probably read more than I realize, but I know I didn’t read nearly enough. I did read Bill Schelly’s biography Man Of Rock, and I commend it to anyone who loves comics, because Joe Kubert did so much and influenced so many.

In thinking about Joe Kubert’s work, the one word which kept coming back to me was “handmade.” His distinctive style drew the reader into the page, and his figures bore the weight of their adventures. To paraphrase perhaps his most famous character, “nothing came easy” in a Joe Kubert comic. The weariness in Frank Rock’s eyes and the scowl on Hans von Hammer’s face communicated volumes even to the most casual reader. Similarly, when Kubert drew superheroes, they didn’t look as slick or clean, but they moved and struck with even more grace and power. Whatever he drew, you believed it. There’s so much more to say, but at the same time whatever I say will still be inadequate.

Joe Kubert lived and breathed comics, and for many of us he was comics. Even before he left us, he had become immortal.