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Grumpy Old Fan | DC’s December: happy golden days of yore

by  in Comic News Comment
Grumpy Old Fan | DC’s December: happy golden days of yore

There’s a lot to like in DC Comics’ December solicitations, most of it due to the return of some old friends and the uber-nostalgic glimpses at a traditional status quo. It’s not like the New 52’s changes are being rolled back — I have no illusions about that, and I’m not sure how it would work if it did happen — but DC is always best served when it can channel the familiar aspects of its past in vibrant new forms.

THERE YOU GO AGAIN

I am starting to think Secret Six is the comic Gail Simone was born to write, even more so than Birds of Prey. There’s always been a dark undercurrent running through her DC work, from BOP to Batgirl to The Movement, but only with the Sixers could she really cut loose. Indeed, as much as I enjoyed Scandal, Bane, Deadshot and the rest, I’m eager to see what she can do with six cryptically united strangers, most of whom will probably be new to us.

Those who believe the traditional, pre-New 52 DC Universe is still out there, somewhere in the Multiverse, can reasonably hang their collective hat on the return of the Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis Blue Beetle and Booster Gold in Justice League 3000 #12. I’d go even further, and say this version of Beetle and Booster probably follows directly from the two “Super Buddies” arcs that Giffen, DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire produced in the mid-2000s. The second one, I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League, ended rather pointedly with Beetle and Max Lord sharing a happy moment. That, of course, stood in stark contrast to the Countdown to Infinite Crisis special, in which Max shot Beetle in the head, and then (a few months later) successfully dared Wonder Woman to execute him. Therefore, the Beetle and Booster of JL3K hail from an Earth where things turned out quite differently — but ironically, they’ve been awakened in a dystopian future where the Justice Leaguers are darkly twisted versions of their old selves. Not that Giffen and DeMatteis can’t find some comedy there, but I’m having trouble summoning up a bwah-hah-hah.

WEEKLY ISSUES

Futures End just finished up its first phase in August, so I guess we’re due for the end of phase two in the December solicits. Based on what’s advertised, the “reconsidering” hero is probably Firestorm, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes the once-and-future Superman two and a half months to come out of retirement. I expect the “weight of the world” comment applies to him.  Either way, the series has been consistently depressing, so perhaps that will change as we head down the stretch.

There are five Wednesdays in December, but the last two are Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Since the start of the New 52, DC’s practice has been to save the annuals for the fifth weeks. There are a number of annuals coming in December, but they’ve been pushed up to the 24th, maybe to give the production people a light week on the 31st, and/or maybe to take advantage of holiday shopping? At any rate, the weeklies are the only comics scheduled for Dec, 31.

ODDS AND ENDS

Regardless of the underlying character dynamics, any Justice League book benefits from world-shattering stakes. That’s part of why I’m looking forward to “The Amazo Virus.” The solicitation effectively balances those stakes — an epidemic devastating much of the globe — against the more personal decision the League must make about Luthor. This sounds like an effective use of Luthor beyond simply being annoying to Batman and Superman; but more importantly, it’s a good way to show how the current team takes care of the life-or-death matters which are standard for the League.

Jeff Parker and Paul Pelletier should write and draw Aquaman vs. Grodd every month. Alternatively, Parker and Pelletier could recast Aquaman and the Others with Mera (an underwater heroine), Cyborg (a human-like robot), Congorilla (a guy who’s a gorilla), Martian Manhunter (a telepathic hero from elsewhere in the Solar System), and Poison Ivy (a “goddess of love”). It just makes sense.

The Superman solicitation promises “big changes” for the new year, and with Geoff Johns writing the main Super-title that could mean any number of things. At this point, though, it’s most likely just puffery.

ROCKIN’ ROBINS

Along the same lines, Robin Rises: Alpha features a cover with someone who looks a lot like Damian Wayne, in an outfit that doesn’t look a lot like Robin’s. Clearly this leaves room for all kinds of speculation, but I continue to think it would be a mistake to bring back any version of Damian as Robin. For one thing, it would render moot much of the past year or so of Batman and Robin. For another, tying the new Robin’s origin to Batman’s trek across Apokolips seems inordinately complicated. That has to be the final chapter of Damian’s story, not the first chapter of the new person’s. Here’s hoping Batman gets back from Apokolips, realizes that Damian left behind a good friend who deserves to know what happened to him, and in sharing the news with her realizes that she could be part of the Bat-family.

I feel compelled to point out that Secret Origins is presenting the “origin” of Dick Grayson, agent of Spyral, in December’s Issue 8, six months after it retold the origin of Dick Grayson/Robin. I suppose the origin of Nightwing is coming in another six months.

The Earth 2 solicit talks about Barbara and Dick Grayson, but surely the hook is “here’s what happened to the Earth-2 Batgirl and Robin.” I could nitpick and say that if the original Earth-Two had a Batgirl, she was probably Bat-Girl Betty Kane (Kathy Kane’s niece), but she was probably exclusive to Earth-One and besides she was kind of one-dimensional until she got into Titans West and then became Flamebird and showed up in the Beast Boy miniseries … but none of that’s germane to this particular comic. Still, it reminds me that the Earth-Two Commissioner Gordon had a son named Tony, and wouldn’t a Tony Gordon/Dick Grayson relationship be a new twist?

QUICK TAKES

Speaking of nitpicking, if any Green Lantern were to construct a “Mecha Darkseid” (as seen in December’s Forever People) I’d have bet on Kyle Rayner, not Simon Baz; but then again I haven’t been keeping up with how the New 52 has changed Kyle.

Also, you have to think there were high-fives all around the DC offices when the phrase “Mecha Darkseid” was coined, but I prefer “damnation contamination” from the Action Comics solicit.

Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato’s first arc of Detective Comics wasn’t the revelation that their Flash work was, but I do think they could do a really good Anarky story.

I don’t have much to say about the Green Lantern/New Gods crossover “Godhead” except to note that all three months of it have been solicited before a single issue has hit the shelves.

Volume 1 of Superman: Earth One didn’t do a whole lot for me, and I heard enough bad things about Volume 2 to skip it. However, the plot summary for Volume 3 — the Luthor siblings teaming up with Krypton’s destroyer to kill Superman — sounds pretty decent. At least it hits a number of suspenseful buttons. I might wait for the paperback.

NEW FRONTIER, OLD SCHOOL

Surely it’s no coincidence that DC rolls out all those fantastic Darwyn Cooke variant covers in the same set of solicits as a new edition of DC: The New Frontier. I liked New Frontier pretty well, although I haven’t read it in a while. Like Kingdom Come, it helps if you’re already a fan of the various Justice Leaguers. There’s a healthy amount of cynicism running through NF, but it’s hardly a critique of the Silver Agers it chronicles. Accordingly, without that narrative context, there’s no cynicism in Cooke’s variant-cover work, just celebrations of the classic DC characters using traditional designs and settings. Since 2015 marks the publisher’s 80th anniversary, I suppose that’s appropriate; but it’s also a reminder that DC isn’t going to “go retro” on a regular basis anytime soon.

If any book deserved a Darwyn Cooke variant cover, it’s The Multiversity: Thunderworld. With Cameron Stewart drawing, this sounds like the Captain Marvel comic old-school fans have been wanting since the end of the Jeff Smith miniseries. On the other hand, I could be getting a little too optimistic. As far as I know, Morrison hasn’t written a straight-up Marvel Family story, only using the characters as part of larger casts in JLA and Final Crisis. Furthermore, having to deal with the larger DC Universe has forced the Marvels to adapt in unfortunate ways — and that could be reflected in the hyper-reality of Multiversity intruding on an idyllic Earth-5. Still, Thunderworld should be pretty fun for a while.

COLLECTIONS

This month’s batch of collections includes two solid mid-1980s reprints, the Roger Stern/Curt Swan Superman: The Power Within and the Len Wein/Paris Cullins et al. Blue Beetle. The Superman collection finally brings together the two-page installments from Action Comics Weekly, while the Blue Beetle book is a Showcase Presents that should complement Showcase Presents Booster Gold pretty nicely. In fact, I daresay the Blue Beetle book may be more lighthearted than Booster’s, even though Beetle and his alter ego go through some pretty dark periods.

The new round of JLA reprints has reached the Joe Kelly/Doug Mahnke era, and the Volume 6 solicited this time around includes the “Obsidian Age” arc. I didn’t think it was that bad, but I may be in the minority. Certainly Kelly and Mahnke should be able to tell some exciting stories, so maybe it’s just underappreciated.

FINALLY…

The Unwritten ends in December, bringing to a close a series that might have faded from the spotlight, but remained compelling. It’s been a wonderfully multi-layered exploration of the very nature of fiction, and I look forward to revisiting it once it’s completed.

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

And here is the Futures Index for this week’s Issue 20.

  • Story pages: 20
  • Tim Drake/Lois Lane pages: 5
  • Future Mr. Terrific pages: 4
  • Cadmus Island pages: 5
  • Terrific/Coil/Key pages: 4
  • Tim/Madison pages: 2
  • Number of non-Joker characters on the cover: 0
  • Number of interior panels in which the Joker appears: 1
  • Extent to which the Joker figures in the issue’s plot: unknown

NOTES: This issue contains a number of parallels, and I would have put them in the bullet points if I’d been more clever. First, there’s Lois’ “I couldn’t trust someone who’d KEPT A BIG SECRET FROM ME HINT HINT” speech, which apparently settles definitively whether she learned You-Know-What prior to this miniseries, and sets Tim on the path to Breakup City. Second, there are the Misters Terrific of the near future and the more-distant future. One’s getting ready to move against Bruce Wayne, and the other’s horrified about Brother Eye’s treatment of “other father.” Third are the “outings” of Batman and Red Robin (not quite public, but bad enough in their particular contexts). Fourth, and perhaps mentioned only to be complete, are Future Brother Eye’s unfamiliarity with sarcasm, and Fifty-Sue’s present-day dislike of it.

Naturally, a few things didn’t make sense. How did the would-be burglars know to drop Bruce Wayne’s name? Were they paying that much attention to Terry’s conversations with ALFRED? What exactly is Future Brother Eye doing with the “SHHHHING” panel — showing Terrific he’s caged in by laser bars? Vaporizing the red-skied cityscape? Some combination of both? And what’s up with that one-panel shot of the Joker’s teeth? Is Future Brother Eye involving the aged Harlequin of Hate in his time-travel plans? Was Robert Patrick too busy with his new TV show?

Overall, I thought this was a decent-to-good issue. I like Aaron Lopresti and Art Thibert’s artwork, and the dialogue has gotten better, particularly with the Cadmus Island folks. However, the pacing could stand some work. Just about every major sequence combined expository dialogue with large, mood-setting panels (and/or sparse mood-setting dialogue). Do we really need a total of 7 pages to establish that Lois knows Tim’s secret and it’s doomed his relationship with Madison? Maybe next week will pick up the pace, so —

NEXT WEEK IN THE FUTURE: Angry Barda! Scowly Barda! Cool spaceships! Flashy explosions! And … do not mock Green Arrow’s magnificent beard!

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