Sometimes it’s been hard for me to process the New 52 as anything but an amorphous mass of, well, Newness. In this respect, DC’s October solicitations are helping to define that mass, with details like the five-year timeframe and Superman’s work boots.
Still, despite the promise of widespread change -- and the somewhat-irrational implication that those who aren’t curious now will be left behind later -- it’s been fairly easy for me almost to ignore the solicits, and just buy the books when they come out. After all, presumably DC is after new (or returning) readers who don’t follow the solicits and aren’t attuned to the spoilers.
Besides, the October solicits also include some attractive reprints; so let’s get right to it, shall we?
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WHEN TRINITARIANS CLASH; or WORLD’S FIGHTIN’-EST
Here’s the thing about Justice League #2: by now, 25 years after Dark Knight Book Four, a Superman/Batman fight is nothing new. However, the relationship between these two characters is one of DC’s most primal. Each taps into a different set of reader-identification impulses: Superman represents wish-fulfillment, and Batman stands for a more practical approach. In a very real sense, Batman’s enduring popularity is bound up with readers having chosen his brand of practicality over Superman’s embrace of fantasy.
The fact that this fight will play out as part of the Justice League’s new origin adds another layer of meaning, because Batman’s mere participation in the League has occasionally been deemed incompatible with his characterization. In fact, while the Justice League itself facilitates the interaction of genres (fantasy, mythology, space opera, etc.), its members tend to be more similar to Superman than to Batman; and so Batman’s pulp-style tendencies are often downplayed in fights with the likes of Despero and the Lord of Time. Therefore, this is not just another Superman/Batman throwdown. Instead, it has the potential to define Batman’s role in the Justice League, and by extension across the reintroduced superhero landscape.
Or, you know, Batman could have even more of an advantage, since Superman’s powers are still developing. Plus he's probably got a lot of prep time.
Classic DC names showing up in unexpected places: the Signalmen (plural of an old Batman villain) in Justice League International #2; Brainstorm (old JLA villain) in Mr. Terrific #2; N.O.W.H.E.R.E. (an acronym from Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol) in the second issues of Superboy and Teen Titans; and Amazing Man (onetime member of the All-Star Squadron; successor joined the Justice League) in OMAC #2.
MINISERIES MAKING A COMEBACK
Count me among those excited for the return of Batman: Odyssey -- not necessarily because I enjoy the series on its merits, but because it’s another chance to speculate about what Neal Adams wants to accomplish with it. I mean, even All Star Batman & Robin had its own place in Frank Miller’s Batman stories. Odyssey apparently exists apart from anything Adams has ever done with Batman, except maybe some demented version of those Power Records comics.
Speaking of standing apart, the new Shade miniseries -- the second one, remember, since James Robinson and a handful of fine artists did four issues with the character in 1997 -- sure seems like it’s not for the uninitiated. Rather, it feels like the next best thing to Robinson actually restarting his Starman series after a ten-year absence. And why stop with Starman? Maybe The Shade will refer to Robinson’s current Justice League work, which in October will only be out-of-date by a month. I’m trying not to be sarcastic here, because Robinson has a history of ignoring editorial mandates about continuity. Much of his Elseworlds miniseries The Golden Age (drawn by Paul Smith) laid the groundwork for Starman, so in a sense Robinson has always been playing in his own little corner of DC’s superhero line.
The reprints and collections in this crop of solicits are really quite good. Among the $7.99 issues, Mark Farmer and Alan Davis’ Superboy’s Legion stands out almost on eye-candy value alone. It’s lighter than the team’s original Nail miniseries, but it doesn’t go nuts with the cameos like Another Nail did.
Somewhat more serious is JLA: Age Of Wonder, which essentially puts Superman, Starman, Green Lantern, et al., at the dawn of the 20th Century. In scope and tone it reminded me of Superman: Red Son, because both deal with good intentions gone awry on a global scale. However, AOW doesn’t try to be as satirical as Red Son, so in that respect I liked AOW more. Worth the $7.99, definitely.
Can’t quite say the same for the two-issue reprint of Superman: Secret Identity. On one hand I’m glad it’s being reprinted, because it’s a gorgeous, affecting take on a “real-world” Man of Steel. The only caveat I have about recommending this edition is that DC should have just reissued the 2004 paperback collection. Sure, the two new $7.99 issues will be cheaper (the paperback was $19.95 seven years ago), but they won’t be as durable; and this is a story you’ll want to read many times.
It should surprise none of you that I am a big fan of literary annotations. Besides annotated versions of The Hobbit and A Christmas Carol, and Jess Nevins’ League of Extraordinary Gentlemen annotations, I have Leslie Klinger’s three-volume New Annotated Sherlock Holmes -- so of course I’m signing up for Klinger’s Annotated Sandman. (It’s cheaper than the Absolute editions, too!) Now maybe I will finally feel smart while reading Sandman....
Volume 2 of the Steve Ditko Omnibus reprints a lot of odds and ends from the late ‘60s through the early ‘00s. If you’ve always wanted to read Ditko’s Hawk & Dove, or an arc from the Prince Gavyn “Starman” feature (written by Paul Levitz), and you don’t mind a collection with two issues of Man-Bat, a handful of “Odd Man” shorts, and some random Legion of Super-Heroes issues, then this is the book for you.
Last month DC solicited a new Justice League Archives, but I still didn’t expect to see a new Legion Archives in these solicits. We’re well into the ‘70s at this point, and well past the point that a casual Legion fan could just jump into this hardcover series. (Previous Archives have been discounted on eBay, but Volume 8 is out of print and pretty hard to find.) Maybe a combination of the Showcase Presents books and the later Archives will do. Besides, if this keeps up, the Archives might just catch up with that Great Darkness Saga collection I have already.
I’m also glad to see -- finally! -- a second Wonder Woman Chronicles. Many, if not all, of these stories have already been reprinted in Archive form, so it’s nice for someone like me (who, again, didn’t have the resources to devote to every Archive series) to catch up on the Amazing Amazon’s most imaginative era.
One thing about reading early-‘70s Batman comics is that the collections tend to focus on particular topics -- all the Neal Adams issues, all the Ra’s Al Ghul issues, the Manhunter saga, etc. -- and you lose sight of the larger month-to-month context in which these issues first appeared. That’s why I’ll be getting Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 5. I want to read stories like “The Demon Of Gothos Mansion” (from Batman #227) alongside more familiar classics like “Secret of the Waiting Graves” and “One Bullet Too Many!”
“The Demon Laughs” (now collected in the $7.99 format) came out in 2001, some time after the wholesale creative-team shuffle which followed “No Man’s Land,” but it’s still a good example of ‘90s Batman. It’s from Chuck Dixon and Jim Aparo, two of the period’s signature creators, and the story’s a good marriage of creators and characters. (Probably similar is the Catwoman: Guardian Of Gotham miniseries, which I haven’t read.) By contrast, Dwayne McDuffie and Val Semeiks’ “Blink” (which came out a year after “Demon Laughs,” and which also gets the $7.99 treatment) offered readers a respite from constant Bat-crossovers. More importantly, t’s a neat story in its own right, earning a Legends of the Dark Knight sequel not too long afterwards.
Of course, if you want the last hurrah of the ‘90s Batman creative teams, step right up to the new edition of “No Man’s Land” collections. After “Knightfall” and its sequels expanded the Bat-line pretty much irrevocably, the books crossed over constantly for the rest of the ‘90s, culminating in a post-apocalyptic storyline which took a year to tell and covered a year in the life of post-quake Gotham. It reduced the Batman mythology to very basic elements: one man (and his small group of associates) trying to bring justice to a hellish city broken by corruption and crime.
Finally, back when DC announced a Gene Colan Batman collection, I mentioned how great it would be to have a similar book for Don Newton -- so thanks, DC, for following up on that. Between the Colan book, the upcoming Marshall Rogers collection, and this one, my shelf will soon be full of stellar Bronze Age Bat-art.
Although I’m willing to give Peter Tomasi a chance as Batman And Robin’s regular writer, issue #2's mention of a more violent Robin suggests that some of the nuance which Grant Morrison gave Damian is being eroded. To be fair, Tomasi knows his Bat-history well enough that I expect him to distinguish this storyline from 1988's “did Jason Todd just kill that guy?” arc. By the same token, though, you’d think this would hit a lot of the same beats.
Glad to see Seven Soldiers’ Shining Knight on the cover of Demon Knights #2.
My position against buying the new Teen Titans hasn’t changed, but I will say that the cover of issue #2 is an improvement. Probably because Red Robin’s glider wings are covered up.
I’m sorry to see House Of Mystery go, because I read it for the first year-and-a-half. At its worst it was still pretty diverting, and occasionally it was inspired. Its unique format tried to combine continuing characters with an anthology, and I thought it was worth supporting just for that. However, I never got into the continuing characters, and eventually I dropped it. Naturally, now that it’s being cancelled, I’m inclined to revisit it to see what I missed.
The fact that the THUNDER Agents paperback reprints all ten issues of the lame-duck series, and is still called “Volume 1,” gives me hope for future THUNDER stories.
Will I buy the 1,216-page DC Comics: The New 52? No. Does DC need me to buy it? No. If DC thinks there is a market for that $200.00 Taschen retrospective, surely it has calculated that neither set of prospective buyers includes me. Anyone who does get it, let me know what you think.
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Well, that’s what jumped out at me this month. What looks good to you?