SPIDER-MAN REBOOTS AGAIN
- Sony and Marvel are sharing Spider-Man now. For the sake of the children, it's good to see the adults getting along. Let us all hope this does not lead to a new Spider-Man origin as the post-credits teaser of "The Avengers: Age of Ultron." I think they're smart enough for that, though. I think we've seen the end of Spider-Man origins.
- Given the number of people I've seen tweet that they don't want to see Uncle Ben die again, I'm beginning to think a solo Uncle Ben movie might be the way to go.
- Wouldn't you love to have seen the emails on this deal going back and forth between Amy Pascal and Kevin Feige? Wait, you probably can download them somewhere on the Internet...
- The first Sony/Marvel Spider-Man movie is due in 2017. I'm guessing Angelina Jolie won't be directing that one. For obvious reasons.
- The first big change to happen is to Marvel's movie schedule for the next five years. Announced with great fanfare back in October, a new Spider-Man film in 2017 has now caused a bunch of changes. Back in October, the Script Notes podcast discussed how ludicrous the schedules were to begin with. I don't think they were imagining this one.
- We're all waiting for the other shoe to drop now. How will Warner Bros/DC counter this? It's about time for the Batman/Superman trailer, yes, but they need to think bigger and more direct. I'm hoping they do a Blue Beetle/Booster Gold movie and cast Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield in the title roles.
- Just think: A major topic of discussion at the DC creative meetings in Burbank today will be Spider-Man. It's like Feige planned that on purpose!
- This is a fun week for superheroes already, isn't it? The announcement raises even more questions and could, in fact, lead to more tensions all over the place in Hollywood if things don't go 100% according to plan. This will be a lot of fun to watch.
Let's get back to the comics now.
DC REBOOTS ITSELF, KINDA, AGAIN
Effectively, DC New 52ed the New 52 on Friday.
It's a bold move, and, I think, the best and most interesting move they've made in years. It's like the New 52, but with a chance of succeeding because it's not selling the same old stuff to the same old people with barely a new coat of paint. It's a publishing move that acknowledges the outside existence of places like Tumblr. It's like Jimmy Fallon doing his nightly YouTube video and then surrounding it with a staid old talk show that nobody cares about. (We all loved that "Saved by the Bell" reunion, but did you see the rest of the show? Neither did anyone else.)
The bold move here is what everyone is referring to as the "diversification" of the line, because a few of the titles don't feature solely white men. Beyond that, they're moving into ignored genres and taking chances on things like more light-hearted fare.
It's not that I want to splash cold water on the whole thing, but we've seen how well books like that have sold in the Direct Market. Specifically, they usually don't sell at all. They get big critical and social media responses, and are ignored by everyone else.
I don't like that, I don't support it, and I hope it all changes. But, realistically, it is what it is. Will DC be able to overcome that?
I hope so. But they'll have to bring people in from outside the DM to make that work. Maybe this is where digital comics come in so strongly, being able to carry comics not specifically groomed for the extant Direct Market audience and bring them to people who don't buy comics too much -- if at all -- otherwise.
I'd love to know if the current "Batgirl" or "Gotham Academy" titles are seeing stronger digital sales for DC than any of its other comics. I wouldn't be surprised. Such an indication could help launch a lot of the new books on DC's docket. Make no mistake, a "drastic" move like this relaunch will have numbers behind it somewhere. They couldn't sell it up the chain of command without a solid PowerPoint presentation filled with Spreadsheets and line graphs. We'd like to believe this is all creatively-driven, but let's be realistic.
I wonder what that slide deck looked like, and what numbers can justify this move?
Obviously, we won't know until the end of the year how this is starting to pan out. Whatever the reason for the move -- whether it's just the feel good diversity angle, or the desperation to get any attention in a market they can't beat Marvel in no matter how hard they try -- it's a bold move that will be lots of fun to watch develop.
The one book I'm most looking forward to is the new "Prez" title, not because I have any particular love for the character, but because Ben Caldwell drawing a new comic title is a very exciting thing. "Bizarro," likewise, has a nice animated sketch to show off. I just hope the rest of the comic is so well animated, but Bizarro is a character I never really loved the way so many comics folks do. Maybe he'll win me over here.
One noticeable absence from all of this, though, is Jim Lee. You'd think they'd want to launch with their big gun somewhere in the line-up, as he was with "Justice League" for the New 52. Timeliness, obviously, is an issue, but since when has that ever stopped a comics publisher from going after big sales?
Or maybe he's hunkering down to finish off "All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder" once and for all. He'll probably be hand-delivering copies to your doorstep atop his unicorn steed, a rainbow trailing behind him.
PIPELINKS AND UPDATES
- A quick update from my rundown of "Uncle Scrooge" comics last week: The original "Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck" softcover edition was published by Gemstone. Boom! did a standard-sized two-volume hardcover edition, which I do not own. (Thanks for the correction, Helias!)
- Todd McFarlane has talked recently about why he's been doing superhero comics for the last 25 years and not a romance or comedy. I'm really hoping this is in response to Peter David's "But I Digress" column from February, 1992. That would be awesome.
- Then, you can read further into the "But I Digress" archives and envision a parallel universe in which David did write "The Maxx" for Sam Kieth.
- Marvel announced "A-Force" with a single promotional image that features Jubilee returning to her classic look. (Didn't I just ask for that last week?) I'm sure it'll get washed away in some alternate universe mumbo jumbo, but the thought of having the good version of the character active and running around again is a positive step. That's the kind of reboot/relaunch I can get behind!
- "Big Hero 6" cleaned up last week at the Visual Effects Society Awards ceremony, winning all five categories for which it was nominated. Some of the categories seem pretty esoteric, but for an organization with such a strong focus, they make sense. Any excuse to give San Fransokyo an award is fine by me!
THE EPIC "ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN THE BOY WONDER" RE-READ, Episode Six
Batgirl makes her debut. Black Canary fights crime riverside. Vicki Vale is feeling better very quickly. And Batman has a good night.
The Barbara Gordon Frank Miller introduced in this issue is different from the one Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty wrote in "Batgirl: Year One." She is a little younger, a little less experienced, and a whole lot less mature. She's more attitude than intelligence, though she's got that, too. She thinks she's better prepared for the job she's about to do, though, than she probably is. Miller's script doesn't touch on what her training is, but at her age (15 going on 16, "Sound of Music" fans!) we can only imagine it's a martial arts class or something.
Barbara's role in the series is to play the hopeful young person angle. She's the bright bubbly future of Gotham. In a city painted in dark colors, she's wearing a bright yellow raincoat and sporting long fiery red hair with a red backpack. She stands out in the crowd, even before she dons a homemade costume.
With the costume on, she bursts out of her bedroom window to attack the night. Or protect the night. Whatever Gotham vigilantes do... The captions on the page read, "Youth. Hope. Inspiration. Purpose... ...and Mischief."
That summarizes the character perfectly. She's running around behind her father's back. She's smiling as she sets herself up to fight crime. She brings a lighter touch to what's been a mostly darker book so far.
It is the Batman who has inspired her to do something, the way he did with the near-rape victim last issue or Black Canary in the issue before that. We're following that theme throughout the series; this is just the latest example. She's the youngest to show it. Just check out the details Jim Lee includes in her bedroom to support that. There are boy band posters in there, but she's also got some Batman posters done in the style of the '60s series and Miller's own "Dark Knight Returns." She has stuffed animals including dinosaurs and Sanrio. The books on her shelves are mostly comics: "Watchmen," "Sin City", "300", "Gen13." There's also a martial arts book and one simply labeled "Schreck," presumably for Bob Schreck, the series' editor. The laundry in the corner of the room has what looks like sports uniforms in it, and even a baseball bat leaning up on the wall next to it. She's athletic to a certain extent, perhaps even a tomboy.
Superhero stickers festoon her dresser, alongside bumper stickers for BMX and CMX. For those of you who forgot, "CMX" was the manga line that WildStorm had in the 2000s. It was the center of some controversy for changing some aspects (which the Internet will always define as "censorship") of the reprints to appeal to a more family friendly demographic.
Her costume is a bit fangirlish. Chains around her neck and waist are made up of the icons of known DC superheroes: Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and Flash. The clearly-visible seams on her costume show just how hand-made it is, like something out of very serious cosplay, and not "professional" superhero garb.
It's sensible, too. She has plenty of pouches for her tools of the trade. Her boots have a chunky heel, not a stiletto. You can believe she'd be able to run in them. The cape is even shorter, so it doesn't get in the way.
She sees no action in this issue, though. Once she jumps out into the night, that's it for her for the issue. This is just Batgirl's introduction. In fact, we won't see her again until issue #10, where she has a prominent role. It's an odd pacing choice to spend six or seven pages now introducing a character who won't be doing anything for another four issues. It's either Frank Miller thinking in a more long term/graphic novel approach to his storytelling, or the victim of a book whose schedule was so far off the rails that we're just lucky they remembered she existed a year later when issue #10 did appear.
We also learn that the family life in Jim Gordon's house isn't terribly strong. Mom is an alcoholic. Jim is a philanderer. Miller's captions leave that a little up in the air, merely referring to Sarah Essen as the "woman of his dreams." We know from Frank Miller's "Year One" that they were having an affair, though, while Gordon's wife was pregnant with Barbara. And Miller links the continuity between the two with a couple of word balloons. Here's Gordon railing against Gotham's corrupt police force in ASBAR #6:
Here's the scene in "Batman: Year One" where Gordon takes the bat to Flass, in retaliation to Flass and friends taking a bat to him first.
I've mostly stayed out of the discussion as to whether this series is "in continuity" or not. I'd almost prefer if it wasn't. I want it to stand on its own and be the kind of thing that doesn't need to tie into anything. But when you research the series and read interviews from the time it was released, you'll see that Miller specifically felt that this book fits into the continuity of his series of Batman books. This exists in the same universe as "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Year One." It also exists in the same universe as "Holy Terror," the book that DC didn't publish and Miller took to Bob Schreck at Legendary Comics. The reception to that particular graphic novel made the reaction to ASBAR look Oscar-worthy. (There, too, I was kinder than popular opinion, though not enthusiastically so.)
It also raises all sorts of questions for DC as to what the "All Star" line was all about. Was it meant to be filled with standalone series that exist on their own? Did it have its own continuity? Would it tie into the main DC Universe or one of its 52 variants in some way? I guess we'll never know. The "All Star" line didn't go very far. The Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely "All Star Superman" was the only one to see the light of day. The Adam Hughes "Wonder Woman" book never got off the ground. Even the proposed six issue final to ASBAR was to have been retitled, removing the "All Star" name from it.
Maybe Dan DiDio will write about this on Facebook, too, someday. Let's get back to this issue, in the meantime:
Meanwhile, Jimmy Olsen enters the scene visiting Vicki Vale in the hospital. After a bit of "The Graduate," the two leave the hospital, I guess. That's the assumption, at least. We never see it. In fact, this is the last we see of Vicki Vale in the series. Whatever her point was, it got lost along the way. Other, more important parts of the series took over and squeezed her out. Honestly, she won't be missed. Her role in this series was that of the sex bomb reporter whose inquisitive nature might cause troubles for Batman. Possibly. Maybe she was meant to come back in later issues, but since they never made those, we'll never know.
The other woman in Batman's life who takes over the biggest chunk of this issue, though, is Black Canary, riding like a bat out of hell through the docks of Gotham on the motorcycle she took from one of her bar patron friends. She feels like the adult version of Batgirl here. She has more experience fighting the bad guys. She's more confident. She has a more adult attitude towards Batman, which we'll get to next issue in more detail. Suffice it to say, she finds his power intoxicating in all the ways you might expect that to mean. She gets her jollies fighting crime and beating up bad guys. That scene she left at the bar was a good example of her skills and attitude.
We also learn more about her motives: She's playing Robin Hood with these thieves, taking their money to make her friends' lives a little easier. As a motivation, I like it. Not quite pure, not self-absorbed, immediately helpful. The series already has one protagonist with all the money in the world who can fight crime without worries of how to afford repairs on their vehicle of choice. Black Canary feels a little more down to earth this way, as if starting out as a bartender wasn't enough.
Yes, Batman is also in this issue, and his characterization falls in line nicely with the series so far. The opening splash page is a close-up of his head in the rain, but his thoughts that are sprinkled across the page are hilarious. Batman, as it turns out, is filled with good feelings:
"It's been the kind of night that DREAMS are made of. The kind of night I was BORN for."
"On my way to the DOCKS, I took out a trio of would-be RAPISTS and left them with enough broken-bone PAIN to last them a LIFETIME."
"I fed a drooling MUGGER his TEETH. By the DOZEN. He's probably STILL coughing them up."
"I kicked a sadist bastard PIMP thorugh a pane-glass WINDOW and kept right on kicking his sorry ass down the FIRE ESCAPE to a two-story FALL onto wet PAVEMENT that the woman-beating creep will never FORGET."
"Not even after six months in TRACTION."
In other words, Batman the Sadist has been enjoying beating the crap out of street thugs. To him, that's a good night on the town.
A little later in the issue, after we deal with all the other characters in the series, Batman leaps into action on the docks against the Graysons' killer and the dirty cops who are protecting him. He's only interrupted by the sounds of a fight by Black Canary, who he knows isn't good enough to stay alive against a small group of well-armed thugs. It's not that we don't believe him -- because he is, as the Canary so poignantly repeats for us as the last line of the issue, the "GD Batman" -- but Canary isn't visibly in immediate danger when he does leap in. He's being presumptuous. Perhaps misogynistic?
Artistically, this feels like a Frank Miller script, just from looking at the layouts. They're bold and needlessly splashy. "Sin City" looks good shrunk down to a smaller page size because the art is so simple in its graphicness, but also because Miller sticks to bigger panels. There are lots of big images in those books. Subtlety is rare. Miller is honest in those scripts, and shows everything. "All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder" feels a bit conflicted on that front. Jim Lee is an artist who can fill a page with a ridiculous amount of detail, often textural, but sometimes architectural. You want to see that art. Problem is, the bold splashy images are often used on moments that don't count for much and don't need much.
I think most modern comics readers still associate big images with important moments. A crowded fight scene might get a big splash page because there's so much detail to squeeze onto the page, but the crescendo of a mano-a-mano fistfight might also get a splash page just to put the exclamation point on the scene.
Splash pages in this series don't hew to that convention. They just... are. This issue starts with a profile of Batman. Black Canary riding a motorcycle gets a double-page splash. The corner of Barbara Gordon's bedroom is a page all unto itself. Batman's powerful moment of kicking in a cop car's windshield to kick the driver in the face is a double-page splash, but I'm not so sure the moment deserves it. It's a bold moment, but not necessarily a big one in the series.
This has always been a problem with the series, and it never abates. Instead, sit back and enjoy it.
Next issue: Batman and Black Canary keep their masks on, and Robin leaps into action against his parents' killer!