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Grumpy Old Fan | DC goes cross-platform in August

August is the third month of DC Comics' revamped lineup, which has yet to begin in earnest. Although you might think that would limit what there is to discuss in the August solicitations, I found a good bit to talk about. There are some unusual marketing moves, a few good guest-star opportunities, and even some nice tchotchkes. Let’s take a look.

FRANCHISES

“Truth” rolls on throughout the four Superman titles, and with its secret revealed in DC’s Free Comic Book Day preview, there’s not much point in speculating about the details. I’m not sure what to think about DC pairing its latest linewide relaunch with a couple of massive changes to Superman and Batman. I started reading The Amazing Spider-Man after the dust had settled from “One More Day," because I didn’t want to deal with a series of big events or their immediate ramifications. Accordingly, it makes me think that Supes will have his secret restored at some point -- perhaps in time for next spring’s Issue 50, which would also be just in time for the big Batman v Superman movie -- and if I were thinking about returning to Superman, I might just wait until then. (Of course, since the New 52 relaunch, Supes has gotten far more attention than Clark has, so this could just be an extension of that.)

Luke “Batwing” Fox shows up in Batgirl #43, and Stephanie “Spoiler” Brown will be in Catwoman #43. Meanwhile, Batman meets the stars of We Are ... Robin in their third issue, but it’s not clear which Batman. For that matter, I’m not sure which I would prefer.

Nothing in the text for JLA #3 makes me think it will be much different from the Grant Morrison/Howard Porter “New World Order” arc from (urk!) almost 20 years ago. However, that’s a really nice cover.

Speaking of Howard Porter, the new Super-Buddies lineup for Justice League 3001 apparently includes a couple of new Green Lanterns and a Flash (Wally West?) to go along with 21st-century refugees Booster Gold, Blue Beetle and Ice. It’s a pretty blatant attempt to recreate Giffen and DeMatteis’ Justice League International brand of humor (something JL3K1 hasn’t really done, even with Beetle and Booster), but I’m OK with that.

CROSS-PROMOTING

These solicits are tied to the DC direct-to-video business a bit more closely than usual. First, there are movie-and-hardcover combo packs for books like Batman: Year One, JLA: Earth 2 and The Death of Superman. It’s a reasonable way to market both items -- if you like the original, here’s the adaptation, and vice versa -- and I suppose they could be impulse buys and/or gifts. (If it clears out some inventory, so much the better.) I probably won’t be getting any of these, since I have all the originals and don’t have any raging need to own any of these movies. The $27 price tag seems a bit high, but I keep forgetting it’s for a hardcover, a Blu-ray and a DVD.

Second, DC is promoting the upcoming direct-to-video Justice League: Gods and Monsters with (effectively) a weekly miniseries, each issue slightly oversized at 40 pages for $3.99. It’s a digital-first series, though, so the format is about right for the print version. Anyway, JL:GAM looks like a wildly different take on the familiar names, with Wonder Woman coming from the New Gods and Superman and Batman having similarly divergent backgrounds. I’m not sure that a direct-to-video project has had this sort of pre-release push, but it sounds like an unusual project to begin with. Maybe such an elaborate backstory was too much for a 90-minute movie, and it had to be shifted over to a comics prequel.

OLD NAMES, NEW FACES

August brings another round of “Bombshell” covers. This time they’re promoting an actual Bombshells series (no doubt set on one of the uncatalogued worlds of the Multiverse). When the Bombshell covers first appeared several months ago, I appreciated the creativity behind their designs, but thought there was maybe a bit too much underlying cheesecake. While the new group features some beefcake, the real mitigating factor is the new digital-first ongoing, which places the characters in a World War II setting appropriate to their WPA-era inspirations. DC has done this before with the Ame-Comi Girls series, but I think this premise fits the material better, and I trust its creative team to keep the focus away from the superficial.

Thanks to the Convergence preview, I am eager to see the new Dr. Fate series. It looks a lot less serious than I expected, and may even be less serious than the J.M. DeMatteis/Shawn McManus run from the late ‘80s.

I’m guessing the Chastity Hex in Bizarro #3 is the great-great-(great-?) granddaughter of you-know-who, and I approve.

OLD FACES, NEW STORIES

The Omega Men hype has gone pretty far out of its way to make the Omegas seem evil, and the solicit for Issue 3 is the best example yet. Kalista, the abducted princess, was one of the original Omegas (and has apparently already shown up in current continuity, as part of a Lobo storyline in Deathstroke), so I have to think this kidnapping is really a fake-out. I mean, I’m probably the 10,000th person to think that, but still.

I am not really a John Constantine fan, so I wasn’t that excited about the latest relaunch, even with a fairly fresh creative team. Nevertheless, introducing “The Heckblazer” has given me some serious second thoughts.

I do like the new Donna Troy design on the cover of Wonder Woman #43. I really like the way the spotlight makes it look as if she’s in front of the moon, as a moon goddess was important to her Troia origin.

NEWS FROM VERTIGO

Astro City doesn’t really go in for self-promotion of the “big changes are coming” variety, so when the solicit for Issue 26 promises just that, it definitely has my attention.

Coffin Hill is canceled as of August’s Issue 21, and I’m sorry to see it go. I’ve been reading it all along, and while it was never as gut-wrenching as American Vampire or The Unwritten, it was still reliably entertaining. As it happens, these solicits also contain the series’ final collection, out at the end of September.

COLLECTIONS

I’m not enough of a MAD scholar to judge whether the MAD’s Original Idiots reprints are good representations of the works of Jack Davis, Wally Wood or Will Elder in the days when the magazine was a color comic. However, this set of collections seems to be an excellent starting point. Some of the references are at least 60 years old (the last issue represented was cover-dated May 1955), but MAD was one of the titles that changed comics, and these were the guys who did it.

Multiversity and Futures End vol. 3 are both being collected in the fall, for your comparing and contrasting pleasure. Knowing what I know now about Futures End, I’m not sure I would recommend reading it in paperback. In fact, the utter non-stop carnage of Earth 2: World’s End may be better-suited to a collection, especially given the Earth-2 folks’ role in Convergence.

The first Suicide Squad paperback is being reprinted, which is good news for those of us who bought it the first time around and have been waiting patiently for further volumes. I’m guessing the upcoming movie greased the wheels for this one, so I’m optimistic about seeing more from John Ostrander, Luke McDonnell, and company. (Presumably, a second volume would include the crossover with Justice League International, already reprinted in that series of paperback collections.)

I complain a lot about the Batman back-catalog relying on the same old stories (Dark Knight, Year One, Long Halloween, Hush), so even though this is another reprinting of Batman Year 100, at least it’s an idiosyncratic take on the character. If you don’t have it, get it.

It’s good to see the Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories getting the Absolute treatment, although I’d be just as happy to have them reprinted on the sort of newsprint-y stock used for the New Gods hardcovers. Seems like my first real exposure to these stories was through the 1985 reprints, which were done on the heavy white Baxter paper. A few years later, though, I read some of the original comics (thanks to my college library’s Special Collections department, which had an amazing amount of early-‘70s DC issues), and that really evoked the spirit of the times. The two-page Columbia House Record Club ads didn’t hurt either.

Darwyn Cooke gets an eclectic collection, pulling together a handful of short stories and one-offs. I didn’t know his DC career went back 30 years. I’m curious to see how his style has developed, especially with the influence of his animation work.

Marv Wolfman and George Pérez have two collections in these solicits, a new New Teen Titans paperback and (yet another) hardcover edition of Crisis on Infinite Earths. I think you all know how I feel about Marv & George by now, so I’ll just say that the Titans volume features the origins of Cyborg, Changeling, Starfire and Raven -- not sure why DC didn’t want to promote that, instead of the Kid Flash story -- and the Crisis book will be out in time for the 30th anniversary of its conclusion.

MERCH

The Central City Police badge looks like a sensible replica prop, affordable and subtle. Wear it with your favorite beanie.

I have enough Justice League figures to fill a satellite in geosynchronous orbit, but for various reasons I didn’t get the Alex Ross-styled figures when they first came out. These appear to have gotten new coats of shiny metallic paint, and for some reason the Flash is shorter than everyone else, but $95 for six figures is a bargain in today’s toy market.

Finally, we will be getting a plush version of Streaky the Super-Cat. It will lie in the sun all day, which is all the action feature any cat ever really needs.

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And here is this week’s installment of Converbiage.

WHAT I BOUGHT: Everything -- Convergence #7, plus the conclusions of Adventures of Superman, Batman and the Outsiders, Flash, Green Lantern Corps, Hawkman, Justice League of America, New Teen Titans, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, Swamp Thing and Wonder Woman.

BEST OF THE WEEK: Flash, Green Lantern Corps, Swamp Thing

NOTES: Maybe this has been explained somewhere and I missed it, but this week’s Superboy and the Legion seems to say that the earthquake running through all the May tie-ins is the planet Telos shifting from its limbo-home to the main-line Universe Designate Zero. (The “Tangent Superman” of Earth-9 calls it “Earth-Prime,” but we know that’s not the preferred term.) That’s about as tight as the continuity has gotten between the main miniseries and its retro-fied arms, and after seven weeks I guess I’ve come to accept it. The event comes with enough of a multiversal fudge factor to excuse things like costume subtleties and cross-title coordination.

For its part, Convergence #7 embraces the smorgasbord, with one crowd of good guys fighting a Deimos-led crowd of bad guys, and Parallax stepping in ultimately to fry the Skartarian wizard. Unfortunately, as is his wont, Parallax’s move ends up setting off an even bigger space-time disturbance, setting the stage for next week’s conclusion.

Thus, much of the issue is an extended fight scene, so it’s nice to have an experienced storyteller like Aaron Lopresti penciling (with Mark Morales inking and Peter Steigerwald on colors). The art isn’t perfect -- why is Guy Gardner suddenly a Green Lantern again? Why is Supergirl’s chest symbol illegible? -- and the abundance of double-page layouts can take some getting used to, but it moves the characters from one plot point to the next. While that’s admittedly an awfully low standard, it seems like an appropriate one for this particular event. As much as Convergence is supposed to open things up for DC’s superhero books (and as much as folks like me have imagined it could do), all it really needs to do is get DC through April and May. If I start expecting it to do much else, like substituting the classic Donna Troy for the Finches’ version, I’m bound to be disappointed. Convergence is very much an action-figure scrimmage, and on that level it’s been fairly satisfying.

For the most part, the week’s tie-ins were all fairly good. The two Marv Wolfman-written books, Adventures of Superman (penciled by Roberto Viacava, inked by Andy Owens, colored by Sotocolor) and New Teen Titans (penciled by Nicola Scott, inked by Marc Deering, colored by Jeromy Cox), were each just a bit too talky. That worked better for Titans’ larger cast and more complex plot; but AOS kept things simple -- even with a Phantom Zone rescue and a Beneath the Planet of the Apes scenario -- so its script tended to over-explain. I’m sure Nicola Scott’s Nightwing satisfied a certain section of fandom, though.

Similarly, Batman and the Outsiders (written by Marc Andreyko, drawn by Carlos D’Anda, colored by Gabe Eltaeb) and Superboy and the Legion (written by Stuart Moore, penciled by Peter Gross, inked by Mark Farmer, colored by John Rauch) were each very busy issues. BATO’s opponent, the classic Jack Kirby OMAC, struggled with mind-control as he led an army of post-apocalyptic creatures. Meanwhile, the Atomic Knights sought to contrast their survive-at-all-costs credo with the Legion’s optimism. Thus, while each ended up being reluctant foes, their internal struggles added more subplots to issues already packed with super-teams. S/LSH even included a Young Clark Kent vignette. Still, each creative team managed to balance their story’s particular elements. D’Anda’s style suits the Outsiders fairly well, and Gross and Farmer have the Legion looking more like their old selves (although I didn’t mind the artistic license taken last month). Each issue felt like it honored its subjects appropriately, even if neither did much more than that.

Last month I singled out Justice League of America (written by Fabian Nicieza, drawn by Chriscross, colored by Snakebite Cortez) basically for telling a very good Justice League Detroit story. This month concludes that story, and again the creative team has done well by the Detroit League. It’s an entertaining account of Elongated Man and the four newest Leaguers trying to hold off the more powerful, more experienced Earth-9 League (called the Secret Six). However, it didn’t make my top three this week because it didn’t say much beyond “the Detroit League isn’t a bunch of losers,” and I think we’ve already established that.

Likewise, last month I was impressed by Hawkman (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Tim Truman, inked by Sam Alcatena, colored by John Kalisz), basically for making me care about Hawkman. This month, the same creative team concludes its story in fine fashion. Again, though, it apparently used the parts of Beneath the Planet of the Apes that Adventures of Superman didn’t, so it felt a little duplicative in that respect. I didn’t dislike it by any means, and I’d gladly buy a Parker/Truman/Alcatena Hawkman series; but I suppose this suffered through no fault of its own.

Worst of the week was Wonder Woman (written by Larry Hama, penciled by Aaron Lopresti, inked by Matt Banning, colored by the Hories), mainly because it imposed more modern WW sensibilities on a Bronze Age WW setting. The Wonder Woman of the early ‘80s wasn’t a wide-eyed innocent, but neither was she the ultra-pragmatic warrior who snapped Max Lord’s neck. Having her fight an army of vampiric Batman villains was a clear clash of tones, and I don’t have a problem with that -- but the result was basically a victory for the vampires. At least the art was fairly effective (as mentioned above, I’m an Aaron Lopresti fan), even in service to an overly grim script.

Green Lantern Corps (written by David Gallaher, penciled by Steve Ellis, inked by Ande Parks, colored by Hi-Fi) was essentially a Guy Gardner story, but an unusual one in that it took place between Guy’s coma and his second recruitment into the GL Corps. Thus, all Guy knew of being Green Lantern boiled down to a couple of adventures, one of which ended with General Zod and Sinestro tag-teaming to torture him. I liked this issue because it took a very period-specific approach to its main character, combined it with elements of the Hercules Unbound series without making them explicitly antagonistic, and produced a story which (thanks to Ellis and Parks’ Joe Staton-esque work) could actually have come out of the early-to-mid-1980s. My one complaint is that Hercules on the cover looks a bit like John Belushi.

I give Flash (written by Dan Abnett, penciled by Federico Dellocchio, colored by Veronica Gandini) points for discussing Convergence’s logical inconsistencies -- and especially for comparing them to Star Trek episodes -- but it took me a while to warm up to this issue, because the Fastest Man Alive spends 14 of the 22 pages talking to his opponent. Yes, Barry Allen is a scientist and an all-around good guy; and yes, the conversation was probably in character for both him and the Tangent Superman. In the end, Tangent Supes looks into Barry’s future and sees that Barry needs to “win” in order to help take down the Anti-Monitor in Crisis. That sort of out-of-the-box thinking should be rewarded.

Finally, my favorite book of the week was Swamp Thing (written by Len Wein, drawn by Kelley Jones, colored by Michelle Madsen). Faced with an army of vampires, Swampy basically turns his fingers into stakes and grows his own garlic, becoming a lean green undead-destroying machine. The vampire Batman against whom he’s matched hasn’t quite gone over to the dark side, so he and Swampy team up to clean up his vamp-infested Gotham. It’s all very pulpy and (unlike Wonder Woman, for example) doesn’t take itself too seriously. My one disappointment was that the new vampire overlord seemed set up to be a familiar DC face (perhaps Mary from I ... Vampire!), but was essentially just a random centuries-old creature. Other than that, though, well done to all involved.

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