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Grumpy Old Fan | Coming together, splitting hairs

by  in Comic News Comment
Grumpy Old Fan | Coming together, splitting hairs

For months speculation had raged about what DC Comics would do to mitigate the logistics of its West Coast move. This week the publisher made it officialConvergence is a two-month, 89-issue event starting April 1.  It involves a central weekly miniseries and an array of two-issue micro-series combining various versions of venerable DC folk. Basically, if you’ve ever wondered whether Blackhawk could beat Kamandi, or wanted to see the Superman of 2010 square off against the Green Lantern of 1944, next April and May are going to be pretty fun for you.

I’ve been writing about this for so long that I’m not sure what else to say. (And yet, here we are.) Last week I wrote about DC’s various narrative delays and deferrals. Now I’m even more certain we’ll have to wait until June for the next significant DCU development. Still, the fact that Convergence is happening is … I don’t want to say “encouraging,” but it does seem like progress toward an ultimate — no pun intended — resolution. (Note: This presumes that DC does in fact have specific plans for the superhero line.)

Therefore, today let’s survey the Multiversal landscape, with an eye toward determining Convergence’s role in the grand scheme of things.

* * *

Probably most significantly, Convergence provides a pretty clear vehicle for restoring all or part of “Earth-August,” the pre-New 52 status quo. The conceit of Flashpoint was that mucking around in the timeline had changed history past the point of no return, such that the DC-Earth — none dare call it “Earth-1″ — needed another reboot of history; and the result was the New 52. However, recent revelations suggest that the New 52, Flashpoint and Earth-August are each independent of one another. Convergence will apparently explain this by saying that Brainiac has been collecting parallel universes and/or alternate timelines from across the Multiverse. This implies that Brainiac has been able to access not just the pre-Flashpoint Multiverse (revealed in 52), but perhaps even the original Silver Age Multiverse.

Quick refresher, because I know how much you love Multiverse talk:

• Although a few earlier stories hinted at its existence, the Silver Age’s Multiverse really became A Thing with September 1961’s “Flash of Two Worlds,” wherein Barry Allen of Earth-One met Jay Garrick of Earth-Two. For the next 24-plus years, this produced an era of parallel-world team-ups, most notably the annual Justice League/Justice Society get-togethers. It ended with Crisis on Infinite Earths #10 (January 1986), when a dawn-of-time battle resulted in a singular timeline.

• After COIE, the Multiverse per se went away for about 20 years. In the late ‘90s, Grant Morrison and Mark Waid tried to revive it in spirit with Hypertime, but that didn’t catch on.

• However, as part of 2005-06’s Infinite Crisis (a sequel/homage to you-know-what on its 20th anniversary), the Multiverse made a comeback. It was ratified a year later, in the final issue of the year-long 52. This Multiverse was also involved in the subsequent miniseries Countdown and Final Crisis, and it was the original setting for the current Multiversity.

• Regardless, to make things more confusing, the New 52 also got a new Multiverse, one different from both of its predecessors. This is most obvious in its version of Earth-2, whose characters are contemporaries of the main DC-Earth superheroes, as opposed to being Golden Age versions who debuted in the late 1930s and early ‘40s and aged more or less in real time.

While all of that has given DC a prodigious superhero population, as a practical matter the differences between versions are often not that significant. This is where the hair-splitting comes in. Convergence’s writers and artists need to convince readers that a story featuring the Superman of, say, 1979 is qualitatively different from one featuring the Supes of just ten years later. It must be more than just secret-identity occupations, power levels, and whether Ma and Pa Kent were still alive.

Of course, these various eras each have their own unique characters and relationships. Rolling back the New 52’s changes would restore characters like Cassandra “Batgirl/Black Bat” Cain, Wally “Flash” West and Donna “Pick a Codename” Troy; as well as developments like the Kent/Lane marriage.

Going along with that, I’m curious to see how Convergence’s creative teams treat the nigh-obligatory — if not inevitable — retro stylings of their various settings. It may not be expressed as such, but Convergence’s two-issue offerings will have the chance to show that they can be more entertaining than DC’s current offerings. I don’t think they’ll go out of their way to do this, but if there’s a chance to reintegrate some classic elements into the New 52 books, the Convergence titles probably won’t dismiss them.

Essentially, I see Convergence as a way to a) revisit some pre-New 52 characters and situations; b) offer fans a bit of closure for some (if not all) of those; and c) perhaps use some multiversal mumbo-jumbo to supplement the New 52’s DC-Earth. Whatever happens, I expect the superhero line to be recognizable as the New 52, but that’s not to say it won’t include the Justice Society or a couple of Dick Grayson’s old friends. It may be as simple as replacing the New 52’s Earth-2 with the Golden Agers’ and/or creating another Earth where Dick, Donna and Wally grew up to succeed their mentors. I definitely don’t expect Earth-August to continue as a viable alternative to the New 52.

* * *

The problem for DC is that it seems to be setting up a choice between the New 52 and the all-too-recent past. The New 52 relaunch incorporated a number of unpopular changes to characters like Superman, Lois Lane and various Teen Titans, and crammed decades of Batman and Green Lantern stories into a “five-year” timeline. However, abandoning that wholesale would be disastrous for the publisher. In the pre-COIE years, the Multiverse allegedly made the superhero line too complicated; and in the 30 years since, DC has gotten a reputation for capricious rebooting. Another complete overhaul after just three and-a half years would only solidify that, regardless of whatever Marvel does. Like it or not, sticking with some form of the New 52 may be the simplest way to streamline its books for the long haul.

Nevertheless, some kind of rollback may be more likely if DC thinks it can regain some goodwill among fans alienated by the New 52. Again, we may be able to predict this from Convergence’s overall attitude. DC’s “Retro-Active” specials from a few years back (just prior to the New 52 relaunch, in fact) were fairly respectful of their subjects. However, the 2008 tie-in miniseries Countdown: Arena — also weekly, also combining various multiversal counterparts — was more of a “who would win?” exercise, stripping away much of the appeal of the characters’ original Elseworlds appearances. Needless to say, Convergence will fail spectacularly if it reminds readers too much of Arena. It sounds like Convergence will have some significance beyond mere nostalgia, but it can’t be to create cannon fodder.

This presents the publisher with a real public-relations minefield. If DC revisits portions of its past, it risks being seen as pandering to aging Silver and Bronze Age fanboys. If it forges ahead with the New 52, it risks further alienating younger fans who grew up with what became Earth-August (and who aren’t already completely disgusted with DC). A wholesale reboot (or rollback) would both remind readers that DC loves to change things, and characterize the New 52 as a four-year publishing stunt.

More than likely there’s a path through all of these pitfalls, but I think it will end up being more subtle and specific than might otherwise be expected — not so much “look who’s back!” but “we did some stuff behind the scenes to help these folks come back.” Lately DC hasn’t been that great at “subtle,” so I’m a little dubious about how well it’ll all be handled. Still, the timing would be right for another big September rollout.

For a two-month stopgap measure designed to give the regular DC staffers some breathing room, Convergence has the potential to affect the superhero line for years to come. I’d like to think DC is mindful of these concerns, but as usual, we’ll have to wait a while.

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

And here is the Futures Index for this week’s Issue 27.

  • Story pages: 20
  • Team Arrow pages: 5 (2 pages + 3 pages)
  • Lois/Tim pages: 5 (3 pages + 2 pages)
  • Slade/Grifter pages: 2
  • Mr. Miracle/Huntress pages: 3
  • Terry/Plastique/Batman pages: 5
  • Sequences involving Cadmus Island: 4
  • Sequences involving Mr. Miracle fighting a female Earth-2 character on Cadmus Island: 1
  • Number of issues since the previous sequence involving Mr. Miracle fighting a female Earth-2 character on Cadmus Island: 3
  • Number of lenses on Prince’s sunglasses: 3
  • Odds that Prince is an agent of Brainiac: not sure I want to find out

NOTES: This issue advanced its various subplots so incrementally that it often felt like brief, unnecessary rehashes of those subplots. As pointed out above, Mr. Miracle fought Fury back in issue #24 — and got pretty beaten-up doing it, too, which makes me wonder what shape he was in fighting Huntress this issue. Tim surprises Lois in her apartment and they puzzle over the arrowhead and coordinates, much like the scene in issue #20 where Tim surprises Lois in her office and they puzzle over the arrowhead and coordinates. (At least this time there are allusions to the earlier meeting.) When last we saw Team Arrow in issue #21, they were ready to invade Cadmus Island and Barda was itchin’ to wipe Cadmus out. This issue, Team Arrow is on the way to invade Cadmus Island and Barda’s still ready to wipe ‘em all out. Even the Terry/Plastique subplot, which has been percolating pretty steadily over the past few weeks, hasn’t been moving much faster. Still, now it includes Batman and a big explosion, so I guess that’s something.

Of course, everything this issue points towards Cadmus Island. Even Terry and Plastique are aware of the island, having been told about it by ALFRED in issue #22. Regardless, the issue doesn’t convey a sense of urgency about all these disparate threads drawing together. Cadmus is more than just incidental to the various subplots, but sometimes not by much. It makes the issue feel like a collection of character moments, not a tense race to prevent a terrifying future. While this may be just fine for the collections, it’s frustrating week in and week out.

NEXT WEEK IN THE FUTURE: Lois in the jungle! Jason to the rescue! And … one Batman too many!

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