In our current age of instant accessibility to an unimaginable library of entertainment, it’s difficult to imagine the hold that broadcast television once had on the culture. In the 1970s, people stayed home on Saturday nights to watch the CBS comedy lineup of Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, and Carol Burnett. On Tuesdays, ABC had Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. Of course, NBC owned Thursday nights for decades, from The Cosby Show, Cheers and L.A. Law in the ‘80s to Seinfeld, Mad About You, Friends, ER and The Office in the ‘90s and ‘00s.
Now imagine that NBC -- which has since conceded Thursday to ABC’s now-dominant block of “Shondaland” dramas -- will be replacing two months’ worth of regular Thursday programming with new episodes of the shows that typified “Must See TV.” Would you want to check in on Sam Malone, George Costanza, Ross & Rachel, or the doctors of Chicago General after all this time? Maybe, maybe not.
Well, for good or ill, that’s the bet DC Comics is making with the comics marketplace in April and May, by bringing back characters (and versions of characters) that haven’t been seen in anywhere from three to 30 years. Will readers want to check in with those characters, even if they’re the only DC game in town? Maybe, maybe not. It depends, I suspect, on some unquantifiable combination of character, creative team, and reader attachment to either or both. At long last, the first batch of Convergence solicitations is here, and today we’ll run through them.
At the outset, it’s worth noting that DC is really going all in on Convergence. When the publisher rolled out Flashpoint in spring 2011, it included 16 three-issue miniseries and assorted one-shots accompanying the five-issue core miniseries. However, none of the regular ongoing series (except Flash and Booster Gold) ever really acknowledged Flashpoint’s existence.
Not so with Convergence, where for two months there will be no Snyder/Capullo Batman, no Johns/Romita/Janson Superman, no Johns/Fabok Justice League, etc. DC is putting all its eggs in one basket, effectively abandoning the New 52 (except for stragglers from two weekly miniseries) for two months. For the past two Septembers, DC’s roster of themed one-shots has tried to link a current event miniseries, either Forever Evil or Futures End, to its regular lineup of ongoing series. Apparently those linkages still haven’t made it particularly easy to predict customer demand, although the predictions haven’t been entirely impossible.
Nevertheless, Convergence’s subject matter removes even those links. To me, it forces retailers to make reference points out of some alchemical amalgam of lapsed readers, New 52 recruits and DC diehards. Convergence #1 will probably be DC’s bestselling book for April, but that may be by default.
THE MINISERIES ITSELF
April’s four issues of the Convergence miniseries are all written by Jeff King, with Scott Lobdell getting co-writer credit on the first one. The first two are drawn by Carlo Pagulayan and Jason Paz, with the next two by Stephen Segovia and Paz. Although King has written and produced TV shows like White Collar, Due South and Relic Hunter, as far as comics go he’s an unknown quantity. This CBR interview with Dan DiDio makes it sound as if King got the Convergence job basically for his enthusiastic response to DiDio’s multiversal charts and graphs -- which, again, isn’t necessarily bad, but at this point it’s too early to tell.
The artistic teams sound like they will be decent-to-good. Pagulayan’s done mostly Marvel work (I remember him from Agents of Atlas) and Segovia’s been contributing to Earth 2: World’s End. Speaking of which, the Convergence miniseries seems to reveal why most of the main Earth-2 heroes haven’t been in Futures End -- namely, because they’ve been adventuring on planet Telos.
(By the way, every issue is $3.99 except Convergence #1 at $4.99, so to buy everything in April will run you $176.56 retail.)
WEEK ONE: EARTH-AUGUST (APRIL 8)
As DiDio outlined in the above-linked interview, the four weeks of Convergence each has its own theme. Going from newest to oldest, DC is spreading 40 two-issue miniseries (10 issues per week) over two months. First up is the pre-Flashpoint era, or what I’ve called “Earth-August,” apparently picking up where Flashpoint left our heroes in August 2011.
Accordingly, this week features the most direct fan service, with seven of the 10 titles bringing back characters (or versions thereof) who gained significant and/or vocal followings over the past ten years or so. Stephanie “Batgirl” Brown returns alongside her old pals Tim “Red Robin” Drake and Cassandra “Black Bat” Cain. Reading between the lines of the Atom solicit, it sounds like Ryan Choi’s coming back as well. Wally West is the Flash again, The Question is Renee Montoya again, and Superman & Lois and Nightwing & Oracle are reunited at last. Finally, the original comics version of Harley Quinn goes up against Captain Carrot in what appears to be a more gentle yukfest than Harley’s New 52 series offers. The other books are unremarkable by comparison: Batman and Robin’s Damian-vs.-Jason storyline sounds like something that could happen in the New 52, the Titans look at Roy Harper deals with a subplot no one wants to remember; and the Justice League story seems interesting only for its unusual lineup.
Batgirl is written by Alisa Kwitney and drawn by Rick Leonardi and Mark Pennington, so it should be pretty good. Likewise, I have high hopes for The Atom, by Silver Age fan and writer extraordinaire Tom Peyer and artists Steve Yeowell and Andy Owens. Tony Bedard and Tom Grummett should produce a fine Fla -- I mean, Speed Force book; and Fabian Nicieza, Ron Wagner, and José Marzan Jr. Should at least make Titans readable, despite the subject matter. Certainly a lot of readers are anticipating Gail Simone writing Oracle once more (and Nightwing too, I guess), and I’m eager to read Greg Rucka and Cully Hamner’s return to The Question. Dan Jurgens and Lee Weeks produced one of the better Futures End tie-ins last September, so they should do well with the Earth-August versions of Superman and Lois Lane. Same goes for Ron Marz, Denys Cowan and Klaus Janson, who seem well-suited for a Batman book. Still, I don’t know how Steve Pugh and Phil Winslade will do with Harley Quinn, and I’m really not sure about Frank Tieri on Justice League (although I don’t have a problem with Vicente Cifuentes).
WEEK TWO: 1994-ish (APRIL 15)
Here’s where it starts to get tricky. I remember these versions pretty well -- after all, it was only about twenty years ago -- but for many readers, Hook-Hand Aquaman, Matrix/Supergirl and Fade-Cut Superboy may only be historical curiosities. Something like Batman vs. Azrael is probably more attractive, not least because those stories have been reprinted fairly consistently since their original publication. I think Tony Bedard and Cliff Richards will be good on Aquaman, and Bedard and Ron Wagner should also do fine on Green Lantern/Parallax. However, most of the rest -- Larry Hama and Philip Tan’s Shadow of the Bat, Justin Gray and Ron Randall’s Catwoman, Christy Marx and Rags Morales’ Green Arrow, Frank Tieri and Tom Mandrake’s Suicide Squad, and Fabian Nicieza and Karl Moline’s Superboy -- seem like uneasy marriages of features with creative teams. That said, I think Ron Marz and Mike Manley’s JLI has potential, as does Keith Giffen and Timothy Green’s Supergirl. Still, the only real must-have book of the week for me is Louise Simonson and June Brigman’s Power Pack reunion (guest-starring Gen13!) on Superman: The Man Of Steel.
WEEK THREE: EARTH-ONE (APRIL 22)
This week’s pairings look better to me than Week Two’s do. Appropriately enough for the ‘80s theme, Marv Wolfman has two high-profile titles. Adventures of Superman (drawn by Roberto Viacava and Andy Owens) foreshadows Supergirl’s fate in Crisis on Infinite Earths, and New Teen Titans brings together Wolfman and the great Nicola Scott against the menace of the Tangent version of the Justice League. Len Wein also returns to Swamp Thing, with Kelley Jones -- who can draw Swampy whenever he wants, as far as I’m concerned -- on art. Those are all definite highlights, but I’m also eager to see Marc Andreyko and Carlos D’Anda on Batman and the Outsiders; Jeff Parker, Tim Truman, and Enrique Alcatena’s Hawkman; and Stuart Moore and Gus Storms’ Superboy and the Legion. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a clunker in the bunch. The Dan Abnett/Frederico Dallocchio Flash, David Gallaher/Steve Ellis Green Lantern, and Nicieza/Chriscross Justice League should all be fine. I’m not sure about Larry Hama writing an ‘80s-style Wonder Woman, but Joshua Middleton is drawing and the bar for Bronze Age Wonder Woman isn’t that high to begin with.
WEEK FOUR: AROUND THE HORN (APRIL 29)
Week Four comes from the same general pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths time frame as Week Three, but it focuses on Earth-Two -- that’s right, another Earth-Two, not to be confused with the New 52's Earth-2 -- and a few other prominent parallel worlds. The exception is Dan Jurgens and Alvaro Martinez’ Booster Gold, which I suppose could have been slotted in anywhere. In fact, this Booster may well be the New 52 version who’s been bopping across the greater DC cosmos since 2012's Justice League International Annual #1, but it could just as easily be his predecessor from the pre-New 52 days. In any event, he should have plenty of friends, as Scott Lobdell and Yishan Li present the Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, and Question of Earth-Four, who are themselves (of course) distinct from their DC-Earth counterparts.
I’m tempted to say it wouldn’t be a DC event without some sort of nightmarish “villains win” scenario, but the inclusion of the Earth-3 Crime Syndicate and Nazi-fied Earth-10 (or is that Earth-X?) are probably just happy accidents. Crime Syndicate is written by Brian Buccellato and drawn by Phil Winslade, and Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters is written by Simon Oliver (of FBP and Exterminators fame) and drawn by John McCrea, so both should be fun even if neither has much to say.
Since this week also has what looks like a fantastic Captain Marvel story (Jeff Parker and Doc Shaner’s Shazam!), it’s possible for that to be either a follow-up to Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart’s issue of Multiversity, or yet another alternate world. Prior to COIE, the Marvels lived on Earth-S, but Multiversity has them on Earth-5. Boy, do I wish that Multiversity guidebook had come out this week ...
Anyway, most of Week Four’s action centers around Earth-Two. The Golden Age Supes teams with his cousin Power Girl in Justin Gray and Claude St. Aubin’s Action Comics; while the middle-aged Dick “Robin” Grayson and his sort-of-sister Helena “Huntress” Wayne share the Detective Comics spotlight courtesy of Len Wein, Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz. Infinity Inc. welcomes back original artist Jerry Ordway, although this time he’s writing a face-off with Jonah Hex drawn by Ben Caldwell. The Justice Society book looks to be the most nondescript, as Dan Abnett and Tom Derenick return the Golden Agers’ youth. I can’t say the same for the self-proclaimed “most unusual tale in all of Convergence,” the Seven Soldiers Of Victory story in World’s Finest Comics. Paul Levitz is writing and Jim Fern is penciling -- but is that really Too Much Coffee Man’s Shannon Wheeler contributing in some unnamed capacity? Talk about bringing in unexpected guests!
BUT IS IT ART?
Look, we all know that Convergence is a huge risk for DC. The Beat’s Todd Allen argues, not unconvincingly, that the numbers for ostensible lead-ins Futures End and World’s End aren’t that great -- less than half of what Justice League does -- so the numbers for Convergence must necessarily suffer as a result.
More to the point, it is an event designed to satisfy everyone and no one. Faithful followers of the New 52 books get their stories interrupted for two months. Conversely, readers who liked the pre-New 52 status quo just fine only get teased for two months. Indeed, perhaps only the most devoted DC scholars (yo!) may find something to like every week; and even then, it’s not like these follow-ups can just be slotted into the “real” histories they’re designed to evoke. To do that you’d probably need some supergroup of skilled continuity wranglers -- a Justice League of Annotations with the likes of Kurt Busiek, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, James Robinson, Roy Thomas and Mark Waid at its core, and someone like Darwyn Cooke, Alan Davis, or George Pérez drawing the whole thing.
The thing is, DC already did that, thirty years ago. Maybe it’s been paying the price ever since. It’s gone big several times already, and it remains to be seen whether Convergence is just a two-month placeholder or the foundation of yet another “new” DC realm. At its heart, though, Convergence is just comics, and comics is what DC does. I’m curious enough about it to give it a shot.
And here is the Futures Index for this week’s Issue 38.
- Story pages: 20
- Bat-fight pages: 6
- Polaris/Firestorm pages: 5
- Fifty Sue Family pages: 4
- Frankenstein/Amethyst pages: 5
- Number of pages devoted to recapping Stormguard’s origin: about 1
- Number of pages devoted to revealing Stormguard’s origin two issues ago: 3
- Amount of new information: not much
- Reason given for Bat-Joker firing on Bruce/Batman: none
- Presumed reason: either to kill Bruce/Batman in the present so he never becomes part of the future abomination; or to lure Bat-Joker away from Terry/Batman; or some combination of the two
NOTES: After 10 issues, Andy MacDonald makes a welcome return as artist. I thought he brought a nice bit of personality to issue #28, and he does the same with this issue. His faces and figures are pleasantly expressive, his sand-made Terminator was pretty cute, and even his backgrounds have playful details like the too-generic “Custom Pants” and “Socks!” signs on his Metropolis businesses. This issue was an improvement over the past few, and the art was a big part of it.
Probably the highlight of the issue was the Fifty Sue/Lana/Grifter sequence, thanks to a good combination of dialogue and art. I have a better idea of why we should care about the safe, but am still too much in the dark about what can be done with it. The latter also applies to the Frankenstein sequence. We can see already that Frank is becoming more “human,” and that radical measures like the Black Canary face-graft are in his future. However, beyond dark foreshadowing, it’s hard to see why his subplot merits so much attention.
I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome of the Polaris/Firestorm fight, mostly because the two acted like actual people instead of characters serving the demands of the plot. I could have done without the sexist remarks, though.
Finally, it was nice to see an actual plan to defeat Brother Eye emerge from the Bat-fight. Terry and Tim are “invisible to the timestream,” or whatever, and Bruce is Bruce, so between the three of them I’m expecting good things. Still, with ten issues to go, there’s plenty of time for padding....
NEXT WEEK IN THE FUTURE: Doctor Polaris in orbit! Doctor Frankenstein goes Doctor Moreau! The triumphant return of Banger & Mash! And ... has that been there all along?