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Ten from the old year, ten for the new

by  in Comic News Comment

Last January, I listed ten items I’d be watching in 2008 from (or related to) DC’s superhero line.  Today I’ll revisit each of those and offer ten new items.

Can you stand the excitement?!?

Yeah, I thought so.  Let’s cruise on.

2008

1.  The Dark Knight. I was afraid that a too-intense Joker might confirm for the normals that they didn’t want to have anything to do with modern Batman comics.   I don’t think that happened, exactly.  As far as I could tell, Heath Ledger’s Joker didn’t spark any protests from parents afraid to buy their kids Dark Knight toys.  (Of course, I didn’t see any “Magic Trick Joker” action figures out there either.)  Instead, while Ledger’s performance turned out to be one of the movie’s big selling points, TDK seemed to do more for superhero movies than it did superhero comics.  In any event, I doubt that all the upheavals in 2008’s Batman books would have made them especially friendy to the general public.

2. Final Crisis. I mused that FC wouldn’t be “preoccupied with legislation,” and thought that “fans [were] willing to give Morrison and J.G. Jones the benefit of the doubt, making FC a big seller despite Countdown’s poor reception.”  In hindsight, I suppose it depends on your definition of “big seller.”  By and large, I’ve enjoyed the miniseries and its tie-ins, but as I wrote last month, it’s

an esoteric, creator-driven project which must fit into the every-Wednesday model of big-event series. I have nothing to back up either of the following assertions, but I suspect that for a good bit of the people who followed Countdown, FC doesn’t mesh with orthodox continuity strongly enough; or otherwise doesn’t feel enough like a big-event crossover. (Conversely, for many non-regular DC readers, FC may feel too heavily connected to Dan DiDio’s “culture of continuity.”) FC’s shipping schedule, and lack of connection to the regular titles, has also made it easy for every-Wednesday readers like me to forget it’s there.

Naturally I’m reluctant to judge Final Crisis on its merits until it has finished.  Unfortunately, it was supposed to be over by now, and I think that continues to reflect poorly on DC’s scheduling abilities.

3. The 2008 weekly series (i.e., Trinity). I try to be unbiased about my other current weekly obligation, honest.  I do think it’s one of the more new-reader-friendly titles DC publishes, although I’m not sure you could start cold this late in the game.  (Judging by its sales, I’m not sure there are that many new readers anymore.)  However, so far it’s been a nicely-paced, entertaining epic, and when collected, it should make a nice primer on DC’s superhero world.  I was right about it being “disconnected from the main line of DC books,” but wrong about its launch date being during Final Crisis‘ “natural break.”

4. Wonder Woman. In my heart I wanted to call this an unqualified success, since the book has finally gotten a stable creative team able to tell good standalone stories … and then I looked at the sales charts, where WW was #76 in October 2008 with under 40,000 issues sold to retailers.   Crossover-friendly books like Supergirl and Batman and the Outsiders (!) were doing better, and so were Justice League and Trinity, titles which featured the character prominently.  Wonder Woman‘s “Sinestro Corps”-style event, “Rise of the Olympian,” has started already, so we’ll see how much attention it attracts.

5. Justice League of America. Ironically, just as the book is coming out of its crossover-facilitating period, it must now deal with upcoming changes to Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  Apparently James Robinson’s Justice League title has also been postponed.  I don’t expect those developments to affect the quality of Dwayne McDuffie’s writing, but once again I’m eager for him to start telling his own stories without having to set up or react to someone else’s.

6. The New Teen Titans reunion (i.e., Titans). Last year I wrote, “[a]nything that makes the book less of a perfunctory exercise in fan entitlement is a positive sign.”  So far, though, I haven’t seen much in the way of positive signs.  Apparently the book will be tied into two titles I didn’t read, and have no plans to read:  Marv Wolfman and Rick Leonardi’s Vigilante revamp, and the already-concluded DC Universe:  Decisions miniseries.  I really hope Titans doesn’t take over the JLofA crossover-clearinghouse role.

7. Superman’s 70th anniversary. Can’t complain a whole lot here, since the anniversary itself coincided with Jerry Siegel’s heirs being awarded the estate’s share of the character’s copyright.  I do hope that by 2013, everyone’s on the same page and ready to celebrate the character’s 75th.

8. The Legion of Super-Heroes’ 50th anniversary. On balance I think it was a good year for the Legion, starting with the well-received “Superman and the Legion” story in Action Comics and ending with the first two issues of Legion of Three Worlds.  However, both of those stories dealt with Geoff Johns’ revival of the Earth-1 Legion, which looks to be the dominant version going into 2009 and beyond.  This raises the issue of the Legion’s accessibility, and the related issue of DC’s target audience.  If it’s guys like me who grew up on that version, mission accomplished.  If it’s anyone else, good luck.

9. Manhunter, All-Star Wonder Woman, and/or All-Star Batgirl. Last year I wondered whether any of these titles would see an issue published in 2008, and I bet (wisely, at the time) on Manhunter.  However, with the title’s cancellation, it was a Pyrrhic victory.  Overall, I wanted to see more solo-female-headlining books out of DC, but no such luck. In fact, Catwoman was cancelled too, and Birds Of Prey will be replaced by an Oracle miniseries.  2008 did see miniseries for Wonder Girl, Raven, Batgirl, and the Huntress, but that’s not quite the same commitment.  Recently, Dan DiDio appeared to tease a second Wonder Woman title (maybe All Star Wonder Woman, since he’s “seen pages“), as well as the oft-promised Greg Rucka Batwoman, so there’s the potential for growth.

10. The new Batman Encyclopedia. Thankfully, 2008 wasn’t all bad.

* * *

Now for 2009:

1.  The Watchmen movie. Once the dust settles from the litigation — and I think “settle” is the operative word here — it’ll be time once again to evaluate how regular folks react to the Citizen Kane of superhero comics.  This time, though, enough people might actually be familiar with the book to make the discussion worthwhile.

2. The Blackest Night. From what I can tell, this has gone from being a storyline within the two Green Lantern books, a la “The Sinestro Corps War,” to its own miniseries.  With that comes the potential for crossovers into the rest of the superhero line — and that, I’d say, would put DC back in the line-wide crossover business.  This is not exactly good news.  If DC were making cars, the line-wide crossovers would be its SUVs.  For the better part of two years, it looked like DC had gotten out of the SUV business and was focusing on smaller models.  Accordingly, for DC to expand Blackest Night seems to me like looking at a midsize and wondering whether it couldn’t trade fuel efficiency for more cargo space, a higher center of gravity, and a luggage rack.

3.  Life with Geoff. 2008 was a good year for Geoff Johns.  He helped steer three of DC’s seven foundational franchises (Superman, Green Lantern, and the Legion of Super-Heroes), with a Flash revamp on deck.  His work on Action Comics, Booster Gold, Justice Society, and Legion of Three Worlds was well-received.  He goes into the new year having elevated expectations for Blackest Night, Flash:  Rebirth, the Legion revamp, and Superman:  Secret Origin.  If DC has hits with any of those, it should be very happy; and it’s certainly possible for the company to do well with two or even three.  I don’t expect his Legion work to sell the way the other three could, but when that’s the only caveat, he must be doing something right.

4.  Life without Geoff. However, the titles Johns has left, or will be leaving, face 2009 with a little less certainty.  Booster Gold is now in the hands of creator Dan Jurgens, Action will be turned over to writer Greg Rucka (working with Nightwing and Flamebird instead of Superman), and Justice Society will welcome writers Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges.  These are not bad changes by any means — but consider the uneven post-Johns fortunes of Flash and Teen Titans.

5.  Variety of genre. Dan DiDio has talked a fair amount about the DCU line’s non-superhero books, headed up by Jonah Hex, arguably The Spirit (which is outside the DCU for crossover purposes) and the occasional Sgt. Rock miniseries.  Back in September DiDio also mentioned an upcoming Warlord ongoing series from creator Mike Grell.  Adam Strange, Captain Comet, and other sci-fi characters can thank Jim Starlin for their recent miniseries, but miniseries is all they’ve gotten.  I’ve already spouted off about this topic, so for now I’ll just note that the publisher has plenty of non-superhero fare, like Blackhawk and Challengers of the Unknown, which tends to go unused outside of appearances in the superhero books (for example, the Waid/Perez Brave and the Bold).

6.  The price-point polka. Okay, it’s a poor choice of phrase, but I’m a lawyer, not an economist.  Anyway, conventional wisdom seems to say that with Marvel moving its regular floppies to $3.99 per 32-page issue, DC will eventually follow suit.  If Internet reaction is any indication, $3.99 will be too much for the weekly-LCS visitor.  You’d think that neither Marvel nor DC want those regular readers to change their habits, but if the 32-page floppy (22 pages of story) shows signs of circling the drain, a format change seems inevitable.  Personally, I expect the publishers to raise prices further while also expanding page counts — say, $4.50 for 48 pages.

7.  Franchise events. Each of DC’s foundational franchises except Justice League has its own sales-goosing event for 2009.  Besides Flash:  Rebirth, Blackest Night, and the Legion relaunch, there’s “Battle for the Cowl”; “New Krypton” and its aftermath; and “Rise of the Olympian.”  Apparently there’s something cooking with the Titans books as well.  While I expect big things from the Johns-written events, I’m not so sanguine about the others.  Fans frustrated with the end of “Batman R.I.P.” may wait out “Cowl” until the new Batman emerges.  We’ll see how the Superman books do after Johns leaves.  I don’t know that there’s enough interest in Wonder Woman’s own book for “Olympian” to produce a sales spike, and I have similar doubts about whatever the Titans books have cooking.

8.  Aquaman. Lord only knows what will happen with Aquaman — whoever turns out to be Aquaman — in 2009.  There’s one in Final Crisis and there’ll be one in Blackest Night.  At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned out to be related to Wendy from Teen Titans.  I’m not going to say that as Aquaman goes, so goes DC’s superhero line.  However, I’ll be interested to see the path his comeback takes, and at what group of readers it’s directed.

9.  The Milestone and Red Circle characters. When DC announced that the Red Circle (i.e., Archie) characters would be introduced via Batman team-ups in The Brave And The Bold, I thought that was a decent plan.  Now, however, the news that they’ll get a series of one-shots makes me a little more nervous about their chances.  I’d give good odds that at least one Milestone character spins off successfully into his or her own title by the end of 2009.  For a given Red Circle character, the odds of the same thing happening just got a lot longer.

And finally…

10.  “Batman:  The Brave and the Bold.” After starting off with The Dark Knight, this makes a nice bookend, don’t you think?  Here’s hoping the show is as fun over the long haul as it’s been so far.

Like I said last year, I’ve probably missed some things, but we’ve got 51 more weeks.  Until next time!