Grumpy Old Fan | Thoughts on DC’s spring growing season

by  in Comic News Comment
Grumpy Old Fan | Thoughts on DC’s spring growing season

Last week DC Comics rolled out its February solicitations, but Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns has already been talking up plans for April. He described the end of Forever Evil as the beginning of the New 52’s “Phase Two,” which would include a host of changes, introductions and reintroductions.

Of course, it’s not like the Internet needs an excuse for ill-informed speculation. In fact, I count just 46* ongoing series in February’s New 52 lineup — and one of those (StormWatch) will be ending in April — so DC will have some roster slots to fill. Therefore, this week let’s look at who might get called up and what DC might introduce.

* * *

Initially, DC divided the New 52 into categories like “Young Justice” (like Teen Titans, Legion of Super-Heroes or Blue Beetle), “The Dark” (I Vampire, Swamp Thing, Frankenstein) and “The Edge” (Deathstroke, Grifter, All Star Western) to go along with the more traditional franchise-oriented groups based around Batman, Green Lantern, etc. This doesn’t quite work any more, mainly because 21e original New 52 series have since been canceled, and a lot of those came from The Edge, The Dark, and Young Justice.

We can break down the 46 New 52 ongoing series solicited for February as follows:

  • 13 in the extended Batman family,** including Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn and Red Hood;
  • Seven in the extended Superman family: Action, Superman, Batman/Superman, Superman/Wonder Woman, Superman Unchained, Supergirl and Superboy;
  • Five Lantern Corps series: Green Lantern, GL Corps, GL: New Guardians, Red Lanterns and Larfleeze;
  • Five “traditional” DC series that readers expect to be published as a matter of course: Aquaman, Flash, Green Arrow, Teen Titans and Wonder Woman;
  • Five “Dark” series: Animal Man, Constantine, Swamp Thing, Pandora and Phantom Stranger;
  • Four Justice League books, including JL Dark and JL 3000;
  • The complementary Earth 2 and Worlds’ Finest; and
  • The four remaining, three of which are nontraditional superhero teams, but otherwise are fairly distinct from each other: All Star Western, The Movement, StormWatch and Suicide Squad.

To be sure, these numbers are a little fuzzy. You could argue that Birds of Prey and Red Hood aren’t Bat-books, or that JL Dark is more “Dark” than “League,” but I want to get more of a general sense of the New 52. It seems to be coalescing around a few particular groups, including Superman (given a boost by Man of Steel, I presume), Green Lantern, the Justice League and The Dark. By now a massive Bat-block almost goes without saying: It makes up about 25 percent of the New 52, and delivers four Bruce Wayne-centric series per month, but I doubt DC will want to cut it back anytime soon.

Still, even if StormWatch is the only immediate cancellation, if DC is committed to a 52-title superhero line, it has seven open slots. Johns mentioned one series spinning out of Forever Evil, and it could be any of the following:

  • Shazam!, which Johns and Gary Frank relaunched as a backup series in Justice League;
  • The Question, the third member of the “Trinity of Sin,” and one that has all but disappeared after the last installment of “Trinity War”;
  • The Metal Men, whose New 52 debut was just solicited for February’s issue of Justice League;
  • The Doom Patrol, seen briefly in as resistance fighters in Forever Evil;
  • A Lex Luthor solo series, given his star turn in FE and Johns’ “keep an eye on Lex” comment; or
  • A Blue Beetle II revival, based on the indirect reference to Ted Kord in FE #1.

Speaking of Blue Beetle, his old buddy Booster Gold is due for a return, particularly because his vision of a dark future based around the Superman/Wonder Woman romance seemed to be one of “Trinity War’s” catalysts. I don’t see a new Booster series spinning out of Forever Evil, mainly because so far Booster has yet to play any meaningful role in it. (Remember, the last Booster Gold series spun out of his and Rip Hunter’s storyline in 52.) For that matter, Booster’s most recent appearances were in All Star Western. Still, a new series has been rumored since this past spring, and April 2014 would be almost a year since those rumors.

Obviously some of these are surer bets than others. I’d say Shazam! and The Question are probably the favorites, with Booster Gold a more distant third, and the others fodder for miniseries (particularly Luthor) or guest appearances. If they were all turned into ongoing series — again, a big “if” — they would fill the seven open New 52 slots.

Should they, though? DC’s conservatism emboldens those of us who try to predict its moves, but it also frustrates those who want the publisher to take some chances. That said, the chances it has taken — on books like Dial H, Vibe, Katana and Green Team — haven’t exactly been rewarded. Those books starred revamped versions of lesser-known characters from the ‘70s and ‘80s, and unlike most of the potential series listed above, Vibe and Katana’s headliners were not white males.

Right now DC’s biggest gamble is Gail Simone and Freddie Williams’ The Movement, which boasts a diverse cast and a decidedly anti-establishment point of view. However, its unconventional approach really stands out. Among February’s New 52 series, only Batwing and Green Lantern Corps star African-American men (Luke Fox and John Stewart), although depending on his prominence in Justice League you could say the same for Vic “Cyborg” Stone. February’s female-led titles include a lot of familiar faces: Batgirl, Batwoman, the Birds of Prey, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Huntress and Power Girl, Supergirl, and Wonder Woman (now headlining two books for the first time in a while). The only female newcomer is Pandora, and her book may need a change in direction — or even a new reason for existing — once Forever Evil ends.

DC may feel justified in its conservatism. The 21 initial New 52 books that have since been canceled*** were a mix of the familiar, the obscure, and the diverse, from Firestorm and Hawk & Dove to Mr. Terrific, Static Shock and Voodoo. The New 52 also tried for a while to mix superheroes with different genres, like science fiction, fantasy and war comics, and the only book that survives is All Star Western. Demographics alone didn’t determine those series’ fates, and demographics alone won’t guarantee a new series’ success. However, the New 52 roster is a reasonable gauge not just of DC’s capacity for risk, but also of the kind of audience it wants to attract. The superhero-comics business isn’t a zero-sum enterprise, and DC shouldn’t feel like it will automatically alienate white males, or fans of more traditional superheroes, if it offers series that don’t feature them.

Indeed, the New 52’s overall structural changes may force DC into creating new characters. From the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths in November 1985 to the end of Flashpoint in August 2011, the superhero line was centered around a single DC-Earth with a unified history. Eventually it produced four main generations of superheroes — think Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, Wally West and Bart Allen — each of which carved out a particular niche in the publishing lineup. When the New 52 came along, it got rid of a lot of the third generation and re-created the first on the current Earth-2. Accordingly, it can’t play off those generational differences anymore, as it did in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s with JSA, JLA, Titans, and Young Justice. It can’t build a relaunch around a decades-old legacy, as it did with Starman and (to a lesser degree) Manhunter. It also makes repopulating the traditional all-star teams a lot harder.

Still, “harder” isn’t “impossible.” A couple of years ago I tried to game out the second wave of New 52 books, suggesting (among other things) relaunches of titles like Kamandi and The Brave and the Bold.  Those could still happen, as could a new face under an old mask. (The Atom’s due for a comeback, and one of the next Green Lanterns will be an Earthwoman.) The Legion of Super-Heroes will return as well, perhaps in conjunction with Justice League 3000. The New 52’s use of the Multiverse, both in Forever Evil and in the Earth-2 books, also gives DC more creative latitude when launching new series: just set ‘em on a parallel world. (Countdown isn’t remembered very fondly, and probably isn’t in continuity any more, but it did give Kamandi Earth-51.)

The Multiverse keeps coming to mind when I think about Johns’ “new center” of the post-April DC Universe. No offense to the United States’ northern neighbors, but I don’t think it’ll be Canada. Despite Johns’ hinting, I don’t think it’ll be Luthor either. Thanks to the character’s place in comics history, the DC Universe will always be centered — expressly or otherwise — around Superman, and I think that will be true come April.

The question then becomes, which Superman? While the end of Forever Evil might not bring back the August 2011 status quo, I could see it producing a “soft reboot” like the one Johns engineered towards the end of Infinite Crisis. Then as now, DC followed its Big Event with a weekly miniseries, displaced in the timeline from the rest of the superhero books. In 2006-07 the roles were reversed, as the ongoing series did “One Year Later” storylines while 52 revealed the events of the missing year. We don’t know much about next year’s Five Years Later, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t have something to do with Forever Evil’s aftermath. (I do hope the aftermath isn’t so severe that it takes five years of comic-book time for DC-Earth to get back to normal.) In combination, Infinite Crisis, 52 and the “OYL” arcs were intended to blend favorite elements from the past with the status quo as of last month, and there’s no reason DC couldn’t do something similar in April. Maybe by then, Superman will be demonstrably less “New 52-y” — perhaps a little less brash, with a more Man of Steel-esque costume, and just good friends with Wonder Woman.

We’re getting off the track, though. Shared-universe structural issues are fun for a while, but a healthy roster of shared-universe titles is its own reward. Come April, I’d like to see DC take more chances with the New 52, particularly in terms of introducing new characters. Whatever the merits of the books themselves, at least series like Batwing, Talon, Pandora and The Movement show that DC is trying. However, I’m not convinced that DC’s writers, artists and editors have exhausted their creative juices. There is more to a superhero line than 25 percent Batman, 15 percent Superman and liberal amounts of Green Lantern and Justice League books. April brings yet another opportunity for the New 52 to find itself, and as always, I’m hoping DC makes the most of it.


* [I am counting the Green Lantern/Red Lanterns flip book as two series.]

** [Detective Comics, Batman, Batman And [Robin], Batman: The Dark Knight, Batgirl, Batwoman, Batwing, Birds of Prey, Catwoman, Nightwing, Harley Quinn, Red Hood and the Outlaws, and Talon.]

*** [Blackhawks, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Deathstroke, Demon Knights, DCU Presents, Firestorm, Frankenstein, Grifter, Hawk & Dove, Savage Hawkman, I Vampire, Justice League International, Legion of Super-Heroes, Legion Lost, Men of War, Mr. Terrific, OMAC, Resurrection Man, Static Shock and Voodoo.]

**** [One generation for the Golden Age (not including sidekicks); two for the Silver Age (heroes and sidekicks); and one for the Modern Age (mostly successor sidekicks). Damian Wayne represented the fifth generation, but I’m not sure how far DC would have gone with his peers.]