INQUIRE ABOUT ADVERTISING ON THE ADD BLOG

Trouble with Comics

DC PR FU

So last week, there were two different DC Comics-related news items that received instant scorn and outrage. First, Batwoman writers J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman quit the series as of issue #26, citing DC’s decision not to allow the long-planned wedding of Batwoman Kathy Kane and her girlfriend, Maggie Sawyer. It was seen by many as an anti-gay marriage stance. Since then, DC co-publisher Dan DiDio has explained, at a comics convention, that DC is very committed to the character of Batwoman (and challenged the audience to name a publisher who has shown more commitment to a character, before he quickly answered his own challenge that there was none), but that superheroes should not have happy personal lives, so it’s more of a general policy against marriage for superheroes in the New 52. As with most things DC, there are inconsistencies, as Aquaman is currently married, but if this is now their stated policy I suppose it’s fair to accept this as true for the moment and see if they live up to it. Personally, I think their superheroes would be a lot more interesting if they were more diverse, and I don’t just mean having more ethnicities represented. How about a married superhero, a superhero with an adopted kid with M.S., a superhero with a deaf boyfriend, a superhero in couples counseling? Of course, superheroes can’t have endlessly joyous lives and still be fun to read (although on second thought, DC sold its most comics back when that was the case, but I know there were other factors), but aren’t the traditional personal life problems of the single superhero (girlfriend in distress, girlfriend suspects you’re a superhero, no time for romance because crime fighting) pretty well played out by now?

The other item was a kind of tryout to be in an upcoming Harley Quinn comic, where prospective artists would illustrate four seemingly unrelated panels, most consisting of Harley in suicidal situations, the fourth panel also describing her as nude. So people complained that it was exploitation, sexist, and hey, since when has Harley been suicidal? Psychopathic and murderous, yes. Suicidal, not so much.

Co-publisher Jim Lee had damage control duty on this one, tweeting examples of how panels taken out of context can appear very different than their intent, and that this wasn’t exploitive and the writers were actually poking fun at themselves, or something. Fair enough. But both of these stories illustrate how poor DC’s PR department is doing at anticipating negative reaction and getting in front of a story. Obviously a big name like Williams III quitting a book over an editorial decision is going to get out—why wasn’t DC letting people know about their anti-marriage thing, and pointing to their, um, one other gay superhero character as proof of their LGBT friendliness? Why announce a contest that makes drawing a female super villain naked a requirement? That seems like a case where they mentioned the nudity precisely to get a reaction, but it wasn’t the reaction they wanted. After all, they certainly aren’t really going to show Harley Quinn naked in one of their comics; it might be suggestive, but undoubtedly most of her naughty bits will be submerged in bathwater. So even if the original intent was tongue-in-cheek, the announcement ends up being skeevy. And note that in neither case does anyone at DC apologize. No, it’s the fans who misunderstood what they’re doing. For his part, at least Lee acknowledges his writers, though when he talked about the Batwoman debacle, he basically said the talent has to follow the editorial direction laid out for them, no matter how late in the game, tough shit, creators. He said it in his affable Jim Lee way, though. 

It’s a bad situation for fans of DC’s characters these days. There’s still some talent there and despite everything, some good stories will make it through relatively unscathed. But look, I’m currently reading nothing from DC, and I tried over 90% of the initial New 52 titles, and several that debuted after that first wave. With Before Watchmen and their treatment of many other creators, and retrograde decisions like this anti-marriage thing, how can anyone feel good about buying these books? I feel bad for someone like Marc Andreyko, a decent writer (I really liked his Manhunter in the pre-New 52 days not long ago) who is stepping in as the new writer on Batwoman. It should be noted that Williams III, a co-creator of the character, started writing her when original writer and co-creator Greg Rucka abandoned DC and their interference. Andreyko is inheriting maybe the only interesting, well-designed character in DC’s stable in the past decade, and yet she’s been sullied and abused, an important part of her cored out. I was joking (bitterly) to a friend the other day that it was “about time she (Batwoman) got back to her roots as a superhero not in a loving, committed relationship.” Sounds fun, huh? 

—Christopher Allen

eddycurrents:

So there was this earlier in the week from Gerry Conway:

I need your help.

DC Comics is a great company.

It was the first major publisher to offer creator contracts on a regular basis, allowing the men and women who create characters for DC books to share in the profits those characters…

Agree with d. eddy here. There’s nothing wrong with what Conway is asking here, for himself or his fellow comics professionals. If he or they are due equity participation, why hinder or besmirch them? 

—Christopher Allen

comicsbeat:

http://bit.ly/H76Yf2

original

I had about 20 posts in various stages on gender issues this week…let’s put them all into one big roil, complete with shocking personal confessions:

§ Villain Month is for boys: When the New 52 rolled out two years ago (!?!) it was pointed out that there was a lone female creators: inker Sandra Hope. And there were many voices raised in protest.

Sue at DC Women Kicking Ass has analyzed Villain Month, the two years out event and…guess what. Things had improved in some areas and backslid in others.:

Total female creators credits for Forever Evil announced to date:

4

Total female credits for writers:

4

Ann Nocenti (Justice League Dark #23.1: The Creeper and Batman: The Dark Knight #23.1: Joker’s Daughter)

Gail Simone (Batman: The Dark Knight #23.1:The Ventriloquist)

Marguerite Bennett (Justice League #23.2: Lobo)

Total female credits for art:

0

That’s right 0. With 52 different covers and 52 books to be drawn, the total number of female artists with credits (that have been announced) is 0.

That gendercrunching guy has his own take on the numbers—I don’t usually quote these because I find comparing a female assistant editor to a female artist misleading but the metric is constant.

Is this concerning? Well, in the abstract, of course it is. With women drawing more comics, more bestselling comics and getting more acclaim everywhere in the mainstream world, its troubling that they’ve made so little headway at DC. In a larger sense, I find it far less remarkable. When the New 52 launched it was supposed to be “new” and female artists at DC were a new concept and thus part of the freshening up mode, so leaving them out seemed like a giant step backwards.

Two years later we kind of see where this is going, and getting new voices is not as much of a priority for DC as character management.

Still, meet the new boss, etc.

(Aside: I’ve heard people going “where is Amanda Conner??!!??” which is understandable because she’s an amazing artist but she is always working and FUN FACT there are scores of women artists around the world working on comics right this minute besides Amanda Conner. Women in Comics does not begin and end with Conner, Thompson and Doran.)

comicseverybodycap8.jpg
§ Where are the great female comics journalists? On a somewhat similar note, while I’m super thrilled to see Comics Alliance back, this Reservoir Dogs-style staff pic did make me sad.

Can you guess why?

I’ve always been baffled why a site that has contributed so much to the notions of diversity and gender equality in comics hasn’t been able to develop more female writers. When I ask this kind of question I’m usually told,  it’s because none have come forward, and I’m sure it’s true. You see a site where 95% of the posts are written by men and you might suspect it isn’t a welcoming place, even if it isn’t true.

At The Beat I’ve assembled about equal numbers of male and female contributors. (I should note that ComicsMix also has a lot of female writers.) I didn’t set out to do it that way, I just noticed writers I liked or who came to me. Over at PW Comics World, Publisher’s Weekly’s comics newsletter, we had way more female reporters than male. In recent years, with the internet allowing women to be more vocal about their interests, and the (mostly male) gatekeepers who decided women didn’t belong at the big table neutralized, I’ve had no problem finding competent, insightful women to write about comics and other nerd topics. (To be fair, at the Beat I don’t have to answer to corporate goals for traffic, so I have far fewer concerns about content than a blog like Comics Alliance.)

That said, I do notice that women, even online, tend to segregate themselves into places where they feel more welcome or safer like Tumblr. Maybe it is time for women themselves to reach out more? And also not just write about gender issues. It’s important to jump on the outrage of the day, but if all you write about is gender, that’s how you will be branded, and only women “have gender” in the eyes of men. It’s a Catch 22 and a losing scenario.

Since I’m horn tooting, here’s one more example of mixing things up I was involved in. Caleb J. Mozzocco recently wrote about DC’s 25 most essential graphic novels list

Is it worth pointing out that none of the books are written by a woman, and, in fact, there’s only one female artist who has work on that list—Y: The Last Man’s Pia Guerra—although Lynn Varley’s Dark Knight colors and Karen Berger’s editing of some of the best books on that list are a good reminder that this list isn’t quite as male as it may appear simply by looking at the writers, pencil artists and inkers (Any suggestions for something written or drawn by a woman that DC has done that belongs on this list? The down side of not hiring many women to write or draw for you means that few classic or essential comics have been generated by them in the past. The few women in DC’s employ at the moment—Christie Marx, Gail Simone, Nicola Scott—are just working on continuity-heavy, unexceptional work).

So yeah, on DC’s list of 25 essential graphic novels—a list that represents an incredible body of lasting work—there is only one female writer or artist. And you know why there is ONE? Because I hired her. When I was an editor at Vertigo, I saw Pia’s samples, loved them, showed them to writers who loved them, BKV won the lottery to use her on a pitch and the rest is history. (And yeah, I’m sure BKV has a little to do with Y the Last Man being considered a classic than anything I ever did.) I don’t believe in quotas or affirmative action, but I do believe to live in a more diverse and interesting world you have to actually do something about diversity.

201306071728.jpg

§ Behind every woman…: There was also this this week. It’s so stupid that I hesitate to bring it up, but basically some idiot thinks Kelly Sue DeConnick only gets writing work because she’s marred to Matt Fraction. I can testify that when I met them (separately, before they even started dating) Kelly Sue was better known in comics than Fraction was, and sometime you marry someone who has common interests that you are both pursuing and it’s a lot of fun.

But the reason I brought this up because it made me flash back to about 25 years ago when a still-very prominent and much loved comics publisher told me “All the women in comics get work because they’re dating a guy in comics.” And then this guy laughed because it was all a joke and I shouldn’t be offended. Maybe this was stupid of me, but that moment was part of the reason that I resisted having a serious relationship in the comics industry for years. I knew the minute I was part of a “couple,” everything I did would no longer be my success but because of the “couple’s” success.

Now that I’m in a wonderful relationship with a wonderful man who is also in comics (and I’m also a little wiser) I see that being with someone who really understands what you love is one of the best situations you can be in. But idiots will take it as nepotism no matter what. Keep fighting, Kelly Sue, keep fighting.

§ The wisdom of Whedon: Speaking of men who do get it, Joss Whedon was promoting his little Much Ado About Nothing film and had many insightful and informed things to say.

Why do you think there’s a lack of female superheroes in film?

Toymakers will tell you they won’t sell enough, and movie people will point to the two terrible superheroine movies that were made and say, You see? It can’t be done. It’s stupid, and I’m hoping The Hunger Games will lead to a paradigm shift. It’s frustrating to me that I don’t see anybody developing one of these movies. It actually pisses me off. My daughter watched The Avengers and was like, “My favorite characters were the Black Widow and Maria Hill,” and I thought, Yeah, of course they were. I read a beautiful thing Junot Diaz wrote: “If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.”

§ Women in Hollywood gain a scrap of influence: AND WHILE WE’RE FINISHING THIS UP: here is what I consider a must read, The Hollywood Reporter’s Revenge of the Over 40 Actresses. The bottom line for this story is “The audience is aging and so are the stars” as the Baby Boom generation continues it chicken-in-the-snake ripple through demographics. But there are some surprising stats in the piece:

Even so, the industry still reacts with surprise whenever a female star demonstrates box-office clout. On March 15, The Call, an otherwise routine thriller, opened as that weekend’s top new wide release thanks to the presence of Halle Berry, 46. The TriStar film bowed to $17.1 million, trouncing the heavily promoted Steve Carell-Jim Carrey comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (in which Carell, 50, was paired romantically with Olivia Wilde, 29). Female moviegoers made up 56 percent of Call’s audience, and 48 percent of the overall audience cited Berry as the reason for turning out.

Making sure older female moviegoers — in Hollywood’s marketing lingo, “older” means those over 25 — have someone to root for in a movie even can factor into the casting of tentpoles looking to attract all four quadrants. And so, Gwyneth Paltrow, 40, became a key marketing hook for this year’s top-performing film to date, Iron Man 3. (It’s worth noting that when Marvel and director Jon Favreauwere assembling the first Iron Man, they sought McAdams, then 29, for the role of Pepper Potts, which Paltrow eventually made her own.) “Ever since I’ve turned 40, I feel younger than ever and more energetic,” announced Paltrow at the Iron Man 3 premiere in Hollywood. “I’m ready. I’m ready for action now.”

There’s also advice that mirrors what I was saying a few graphs ago — you gotta make your own opportunities.

“I advise any actor to take control of your career,” says Feig. “Start doing stand-up. Start writing roles for yourself. When you’re sitting around waiting for the town to have an epiphany, you’re going to sit forever. Look for the parts, chase the parts, but at the same time, seize control.”

Kristen Wiig did just that when she co-wrote and starred in Feig’s Bridesmaids. She finds herself among the town’s most in-demand despite being on the precipice of 40 (she turns 40 this summer). “She’s definitely someone who can get a movie made on her name alone,” notes Gabler.

Of course, all this positive thinking gets rebuffed when you really dig down into the numbers:

But not all the news is encouraging. A recent USC study tracked characters appearing in the 500 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2012 and found that the percentage of females between the ages of 40 and 64 has not changed meaningfully over time. The majority of all female characters onscreen in the 100 most popular films in 2012 were between ages 21 and 39. And, among characters in the 40- to 64-year-old range, males outnumbered female characters by nearly 4-to-1.

2212129373_1435c6e21a_z.jpg

§ The politics of cosplay: Now here’s where I get into trouble. I’ve avoiding talking much about cosplay here because a) it’s not my major field of study and b) I think my opinions differ from those of many on the cosplay scene. Anyway there was a long and very smart article by Emily Finke called Slut Shaming and Concern Trolling in Geek Culture about a woman who went to a con wearing a mini skirted Star Fleet uniform and was castigated for it:

Dragon*Con isn’t perfect, and in most ways, is a much less safe convention for a woman. However, at Dragon*Con, I am accepted as a costumer. At a con like Balticon, I’m celebrated as eye candy. I felt like I was placed in the role of Convention Booth Babe, receiving both the objectified interest from the men and the scorn of the women.

While I don’t think anyone should be abused, touched or treated like an object no matter how they are dressed as a con—even the guys in tights with no underwear—I’m far more fired up about other gender related issues than I am about the right to wear costumes that were designed by men specifically to objectify women. Those Star Trek costumes were stupid and meant to make women look sexy not to make a statement about empowerment—even if wearing a mini skirt was considered a form of empowerment by women in the 60s. Finke says a lot of women told her her skirt was too short and ascribes the motives to jealousy (probably true) and bringing her down a peg (also true.) We do live live in a society where wearing a skirt that’s too short—or wearing tights with no underwear and your franks ‘n’ beans showing—means you aren’t taken seriously and that’s hurtful.

Unfortunately, the default assumption of convention space is “male space” The really annoying thing about this whole discussion? Convention space has never been a space that was solely the domain of men. From the very beginning of the fandom that I chose to represent at Balticon — Star Trek — conventions had women. Women creating costumes, dressing as Klingons. Women discussing gender and racial politics in the series. Women participating in collaborative remixing of the canon. There have always been women objecting to “warrior women” on the covers of books and magazines and protesting the misogynistic habits of male writers who enjoy pinching and groping. There have always been women using science fiction to rewrite gender assumptions. They were there. They are there. They’ve always been there. The history of geekdom is not a history of men, it’s a history of invisible women.

The “invisible woman” syndrome is really what I’ve been writing about in each and every item in this list: not getting hired, not being noticed, not getting credit.

Being attractive and wearing costumes that enhance that is a good way to get attention—you’re certainly not invisible. While I support the right of every women to show off her confidence and lore by wearing whatever costume she wants—and not to be quizzed and questioned, let alone harassed and abused. But it only goes part of the way, and it’s only part of the struggle.

Okay out of time and room. Next time: why a female Doctor Who would destroy society as we know it.

#call_to_action h4{padding:0px 5px;} #social-essentials {margin: 0 0 10px 0;}

Good stuff here from Heidi Macdonald. DC Comics is always worth discussing because of their prominence in North American comics, but as Heidi points out, there are a lot of women doing comics for other publishers, self-published, as illustrators and animators, or doing comics in other countries. When it comes to minority representation, one must always keep in mind that old publishers like Marvel and DC created most of their characters (for the purpose of this point, I’m calling them the creators) in times when they were targeting young, usually white, males, with minimal effort over the years to be more diverse, both with the characters and stories and the talent hired to make them. It echoes the Diaz quote by Whedon; when women or other minorities don’t see themselves truly reflected in the comics, the comics don’t take hold in their hearts, and they move on to other things. This is not to say there aren’t many female artists, writers and editors who could do great work for DC, but I do think there is a smaller percentage than the guys who grew up with 40-50 male heroic role models or analogues every month. I think with some of these eligible women, not having drunk that superhero Kool-Aid when they were young, they see through a lot of the bullshit at these publishers and don’t think it’s worth it to try to fit within these restrictive systems that seem more and more to be chewing up talented people. And you know, if Amanda Conner’s begets project in 2012 is Before Watchmen, I’d rather she go elsewhere, anyway.

—Christopher Allen

Excellent interview with veteran comics scribe Jenkins on his choice to work for BOOM!, describing the culture at Marvel as too event-driven, continuity-shackled and inconsequential, and DC as much worse, with bullying, uncommunicative and incompetent editing. Jenkins is a guy who’s had his ups and downs, more downs of late, and this perhaps puts some of that in perspective. I should note that when I say, “excellent interview,” this is mainly to Jenkins’ credit, as he’s able to reasonably and thoughtfully navigate through Rich Johnston’s caustic, accusatory style of questioning. Johnston seems not to recognize the appreciably different ways Jenkins describes Marvel and DC (he’s much more measured about Marvel and isn’t saying farewell forever), delighting in his perception of Jenkins’ possible burning of bridges, and at one point he challenges Jenkins to “present evidence” that his detailed, lengthy and reasonable accounting of conditions at DC aren’t just “sour grapes”. He does ask intelligent questions about BOOM!, though, which does have some business practices worth questioning even if the creative environment seems healthier.

—Christopher Allen

Chris Sprouse Off Card Superman Story

Lots of people are congratulating Chris Sprouse for asking DC to replace him on hatemonger Orson Scott Card’s upcoming (or not) online Superman story. And yes, he did the right thing. But when you read his statement, which even in this headline is misconstrued, Sprouse says nothing about DC’s decision to hire Card, nothing about gay marriage or gay rights. He is merely uncomfortable with the negative attention. He just wants to draw comics that are discussed for the comics themselves rather than the creators’ beliefs, and that’s fine, though it’s a little weird to me he goes out of his way to make clear he’s cool with DC Comics and will continue to work with them. So he’s fine with them hiring Card, just not with people who don’t like Card now not liking him if he works with the guy. It’s a career-based decision. Understandable, especially in a tough comics industry that isn’t growing but continues to have new talent coming in, competing for work. But let’s not call the guy a hero.

—Christopher Allen

List of Disgraced Watchmen 2 Scabs Revealed

Comic Book Resources has obediently cooperated with Time-Warner corporate superhero comic book publisher DC Comics in revealing the long-ago leaked “news” that DC will publish comic book derivative of Watchmen, a comic book created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Here is the list of scab creators associated with this unethical publishing decision:

Brian Azzarello
Lee Bermejo
Darwyn Cooke
J.G. Jones
J. Michael Straczynski
Adam Hughes
Andy Kubert
Joe Kubert
Len Wein
Jae Lee
Amanda Conner

No comic book reader who believes in creator rights or ethical business practices will buy or read the comics being planned. Writer Alan Moore co-created Watchmen and signed a contract with DC Comics that under normal industry practices of the time would have seen control of the work revert to Moore and artist Dave Gibbons after the work had gone out of print for a period of time, as was the case with every DC graphic novel created under a similar contract up until Watchmen. Because of the unprecedented quality and success of Watchmen, DC has never allowed the work to go out of print, and therefore has retained legal control of Watchmen for decades longer than anyone at the time could have imagined they would have. I’ve said before that DC may have the legal right to create more Watchmen comics, but their ethically dubious stewardship of the property and repeated actions against the interests and wishes of Alan Moore make these comics nothing but the fruit of a poisoned tree.

I once again ask anyone who believes DC is in the wrong here to sign the petition asking the publisher not to create more Watchmen comics until such a time that DC reaches an accord with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, and the two fully and freely endorse such work.

I’m disgusted by the long list of scab writers and artists above, who have willingly thrown in their lot against creator rights and in favour of unethical corporate thuggery. Any writer or artist who respects the rights of their colleagues throughout the industry would refuse to work on any derivative works related to Watchmen until DC, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons are all in agreement on the creation of new Watchmen properties. 

Alan David Doane 

DC 51 Week Four, Part Two - Racing with the Flash to the Finish Line (FIXED)

Here it is, the final part of the four week tour through the new DCU.  And while I’ve never run a marathon, I can only imagine this is how a runner feels after the 25th mile of the run: it’s been like a massive endurance test but I… just… have… to… make… it… across… that… line.

And the conclusion, as it moves reverse alphabetically to the very end (just like running a race backwards)…

 

Green Lantern: New Guardians #1 is yet another new book that manages to screw up the whole idea of a re-launch.

The primary problem with this comic is the fact that the story starts with a flashback that doesn’t reveal that it’s a flashback until it’s seven pages into the book.  So what seems like a shocking and amazing beginning actually took place years ago and simply retells how Kyle Rayner got his ring.  Initially the comic seems to open with a “Wow!! What the hell has happened?!?  This is crazy!!!” moment that is then utterly deflated when it’s revealed that the events took place before “The Present Day”.  The flashback doesn’t even explain if Hal Jordan went all Parallax-y in this new universe or what caused these events in the past – it just re-hashes the story of how Kyle became a hero.

This un-announced flashback wouldn’t be such a horrible sin if it served some sort of function in the comic, but it fails to add anything new to Kyle’s origin and does not serve any purpose in this particular issue.  The only thing the flashback succeeds in doing is robbing the main story of seven pages.  It is not a great start for the comic.

As for the other “new guardians” of the title, they are introduced as jaw-clenching, spandex-clad one-note characters that go by professional wrestler names such as “Fatality” and “Bleez”.  Their most distinguishing characteristics: Fatality is a Violet Lantern/Star Sapphire who always displays her large breasts, while Bleez is a Red Lantern who always shows the reader her oh-so-very shapely butt.

To summarize: pointless recap of the hero’s origin; Star Sapphire’s breasts, Red Lantern’s butt and a story about stolen Lantern rings that is a re-hash of what was previously done in the Blackest Night saga.

This comic, like the other three books in the Green Lantern family, lacks focus or purpose.  The books aren’t inter-connected at this time but they all read like that they should be and they’re doing their best to resist that almost magnetic temptation (You can almost hear the books collective plea, “Must… resist.. the crossover.  Got to… stand… on my own.”)

Geoff Johns might have a masterplan for all the various Green Lantern books, but until that intergalactic emergency reveals itself, all four comics look poised to just meander for a while.

 

The Fury of Firestorm takes the single best aspect of the character — the fact that two human beings with completely different personalities have to combine in order to make one hero — and jettisons the premise for the notion that two characters can turn into two heroes who can then combine into one bigger hero.

And I simply don’t understand why the change was made.  Why ditch the original concept just to create two identical heroes with (apparently) the same name?  It’s not like the idea was improved upon.  It’s just been changed for the sake of change.  Maybe this is all part of a grand design, but after this first issue it just seems to be tinkering with a concept for no reason.

But even if this is only Step One in the character’s journey, it’s difficult to enjoy a story that has part of its focus on teenage angst and a jock arguing with a bookworm, while elsewhere in the book a family is murdered, a man is tortured and a high school coach is killed in front of his students.  The distance between ‘jock vs. bookworm’ and ‘terrorists slaughtering innocent victims’ is huge and The Fury of Firestorm doesn’t show how the two can possibly exist in the same book.

Artist Francis Manapul takes over the writing duties with Brian Buccellatto for The Flash and, after reading a ton of books that have been filled with torture, T&A and mindless murders, this comic is a breath of fresh air.

Barry Allen is back as a younger, less experienced hero and the first issue does a good job of presenting  him (in Geoff Johns style) as new and yet familiar.  He’s still a scientist, still in Central City, but to the creators’ credit, he isn’t doing battle with his traditional Rogues Gallery of villains (well, at least not in this first issue).

This is in striking contrast to three of the four Batman books which between them made sure that every possible villain made an appearance.  Manapul and Buccellato deserve praise for crafting a solid first issue without using the old, familiar bad guys as a crutch for their story.

My only complaint: Barry and his wife, Iris, had one of the strongest relationships in the old DC Universe.  He battled time, the speed force and death itself to be re-united with her.  It’s disappointing to realize all of that has been shoved aside just so he can be single and date different young women.  Perhaps it’s silly on my part, but I hope the creators have plans to get the two characters together again.  But perhaps that’s just me, because otherwise this was a strong start for the speedster.

 

Blackhawks #1 suffers the same problem as Men of War:  it’s almost impossible to do an action/war comic in a universe overflowing with superheroes.

With Blackhawks it seems that there is a desire to create a S.H.I.E.L.D. equivalent in the new DCU but it’s difficult to imagine what their role is in a world where everyone seems to be invulnerable to bullets, can shoot lasers out of their eyes or is so rich that they inspire and finance followers around the globe.  And it’s especially difficult to suspend disbelief when the Blackhawks are supposed to be a super-secret special ops unit that chooses to plaster its Blackhawks insignia on all of its uniforms, planes and helicopters. 

The old Blackhawks concept with its international cast of soldiers could make for an great updated story with a sense of intrigue, mystery and danger.  But this update sure isn’t the one anybody’s been waiting for.

 

The fourth Batman book, The Dark Knight, isn’t the weakest of the Batman bunch but it does seem strangely redundant.

In this book Bruce Wayne makes a speech to the ultra-rich elite of Gotham City (just like he did in Batman #1), there’s a riot and escape attempt at Arkham (again, just like in Batman #1) and the final splash page of the comic has a huge reveal about one of the hero’s greatest villains (just like in Detective Comics #1).

Uniquely and bizarrely, there is a one-panel appearance of a woman in a bunny costume whose super-power seems to be the ability to dodge bullets as she flashes her luscious derriere at Batman and various members of the police department.  The police don’t recognize her and Batman says something like “She shouldn’t be here.”  No one can believe what they’ve just seen:  it’s as if the buxom bunny character is like the giant rabbit in the movie “Harvey” but with a much nicer, sexier butt.

The Dark Knight therefore combines the worst aspect of the various Green Lantern books (and their relentless fascination with a woman’s shapely posterior) with some of the best and the worst story elements from the other, recently published Batman stories.

Maybe this issue could be forgiven for its redundancies if those comics hadn’t all been published within the past three weeks,.  But I can’t help but wonder why the book’s editor, Mike Marts, didn’t speak to one of the creative teams and say, “Umm, guys, I’ve got a story with a lot of similarities to this in one of the other books.  Do you have any other ideas and maybe we can just shelf this one until later?”  After all, isn’t that what a group editor is supposed to do?

Because right now, only one month into the re-launch, the four Batman books are already suffering from a “been there, done that” lack of originality.

 

Before being made DC’s Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns was the company’s go-to guy when it came to revamping and re-invigorating old, tired heroes.

Superman, Green Lantern and The Flash were all transformed by his particular style which combines nostalgia with a kind of ‘new car smell’.  He takes the character back to his basics and yet somehow makes him seem fresh and vital.

If he was in marketing he would brand his product as “new, improved and classic.”

And now, by turning his attention towards Aquaman and doing the voodoo he does so well, Johns’ immediately elevates the character’s status from the minors to the big league.  Aquaman instantly becomes a book that, deservedly or not, fans are interested in. 

But having said all that, does it work?

The first issue certainly establishes Aquaman’s role in this new DCU.  He is perceived by the public as being more alien than Superman:  he’s the guy who lives in the ocean, talks to fish and is the king a country of a mythical undersea country that no one believes exists.

He is also the only DC character that, in the new 52, has managed to keep his marriage intact.  Clark and Barry lost Lois and Iris, but after the events in Brightest Day, Aquaman has been allowed to keep Mera.  Their interaction in this issue, while brief, indicates that story will be as much about them as the menaces they battle.

In just one issue Johns and artist Ivan Reis manage to make Aquaman majestic and interesting.  And the character has been given the best aspects of Superman and The Flash before their reboots: integrity, experience and a strong marriage.  In other words, Aquaman is one of the few adults in the new DC Universe and that maturity (it’s kind of sad to note) makes the hero very unique among these re-launched characters.

 

 

And the marathon run finally comes to the final book, All Star Western, a comic I wanted to like a bit more than I did, but one that I will still keep reading.

 

The series that took place before the re-launch, Jonah Hex, was a great comic in the old-fashioned “one and done” tradition.  Each issue (with the occasional multi-issue story) told the tale of a man who would ride into town, get into trouble and then, usually after a lot of shooting and killing, he would ride away.  The stories could jump to different parts of his life without a need to explain when it took place and how he got there.  He was Jonah Hex: wherever he went, trouble couldn’t be far behind.

 

But it appears this new book is going to settle Hex in the old wild west days of Gotham City, complete with the ancestors of The Penguin and other characters.  So rather than being a dangerous and unpredictable force of good/evil/indifference, Hex will become a known commodity and maybe even a common citizen.

 

I trust writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray with the character, but I do worry about this new concept.  The first issue, with Hex riding into town and staying because of the “This time it’s personal” conceit doesn’t fill me with confidence.  But as I said, Palmiotti and Gray have done brilliant things with the character before, so I’m sticking around.

 

Having said that, if Hex becomes the sheriff of Gotham City, I’m exiting faster than a vulture plucks the eyes out of a dead man.

—Kevin Pasquino 

The New DC 52 Week Four, Part One - Fishing for Compliments

And so we enter the final week of DCs reboots, with about 40 books under our belt and a final dozen to review. For now particular reason, lets start with them in alphabetical order.

All-Star Western #1 by Justin Gray, jimmy Palmiotti and Moritat is an early front runner for book of the week. I liked Gray and Palmiotti′s Jonah Hex quite a bit, so I′m happy they get to continue with Jonah here, though the title of the book suggests we′ll eventually move on to lesser DC Western heroes like El Diablo, Tomahawk and Unknown Scalper. This story brings Hex to 1880s Gotham, hired to help track down the Gotham Butcher, a serial killer of prostitutes. The immediate impression is, damn, Moritat is a fantastic artistic, recalling the old Moebius Lt. Blueberry stories in gritty but precise verisimilitude. Gotham turns out to be no less corrupt than in Batmans time, though here, there be more boobs on display. 

Gray and Palmiotti twist a typical Western character—the reporter chronicling the cowboys exploits—into a psychologist teamed with Hex, and the results are even better. Amadeus Arkham not only provides insight into Hex′s character without the writers having to show it, but he has a good grasp on the killer as well. And when the two outsiders find themselves in the midst of a conspiracy, a secret society that may very well shield the killer from their grasp, we′ve got a gripping suspense story on our hands. Excellent.

Aquaman #1 by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis is better than I expected. I admit, when I saw the toothy, Sleestak-looking fish people on the first page, I was thinking, that Johns just can′t be happy unless someone is getting chewed up and dismembered. But with nary a drop of blood, he changes scene to focus on our boy Arthur, a regular hometown hero guy stopping bank robbers and trying to grab a lunch of fish and chips if some dumb blogger would stop bothering him. Johns does a good job showing Aquaman as tough and heroic, then countering it by having other characters voice the common conceptions and misconceptions about the guy: he has a deep bond with fish, nobody likes him, etc. And yet, he′s going to try to find a place for himself on land regardless. Nothing earthshaking but it′s well-crafted, and this is as good as I′ve seen from Reis.

Batman The Dark Knight #1 by Paul Jenkins and David Finch was okay up until the laughable ending. One-Face? Oh, Paul Jenkins. Taking away Two-Face′s duality and making him a musclebound thug is about as bad an idea as there is. Up to this point, though, things aren’t bad, although Jenkins keeps hammering on about fear being a cannibal and whatnot to the extent not much actually happens. Bruce Wayne is accosted by a GCPD Internal Affairs officer who, by definition, should be grilling other cops, not citizens, and he′s harassing he richest, most powerful man in Gotham on a flimsy premise that a guy not as nice as Bruce would end his career on. But on the plus side, new potential love interest Jaina Hudson is sassy and smart, and Finch doesn’t forget the most important attributes: her ass cheeks. Finch is okay, but still has a very limited repertoire of male faces, and all of them constipated and looking like they had nose jobs. If one more Arkham breakout and one more great lady waiting to get her heart crushed by Bruce Wayne is up your alley, then plunk down your $2.99. Me, I′m hoping for a little more.

Blackhawks #1 by Mike Costa, Graham Nolan and Lashley is like, I dunno, that movie version of The Losers. Looks like it might work, but the script isn’t very good and the talent involved isn’t meshing. Costa is new to me but I know hes written a lot of recent G.I. Joe comics, and this is sort of in that line, a fake military strike team that avoids killing, with a lot of toys and a cool logo on all of them. That logo provides the most risible plot point, as someone with a cellphone takes a picture of the Blackhawk logo on the side of a chopper during what is supposed to be a covert mission. 

Something that dumb is hard to overcome, but Costa makes a game effort, introducing two of the team members who are in a secret romance. Kunoichi was bitten during the mission and exposed to industrial waste, and now she appears to be getting meta powers, which would mean DC′s two military-themed books have superhumans in them, which strikes me as not a very good idea, twice. 

Graham Nolan returns from an even less promising gig, newspaper comics, to provide layouts for the book, and they′re fine, but finisher Lashley is committed to adding so many extraneous little hashmarks to every character that they look like they’ve been struck with wire brushes. It results in a kind of Whilce Portacio approximation, only with even less restraint. 

Other than the public relations nightmare from the logo, and the pending eruption of superpowers, there isn’t much going on in the book, unless you get excited every time you read the word ″nanocites″. This one doesn’t pass muster.

—Christopher Allen
The New DC 52 Week Three, Part Two - Turn Me On, Deadman

So now that we′ve covered the Batman related books of the week, what about all the rest? As usual, there are some old standbys and a few solo books for characters who have never been able to support them for long. First, though, we′ve got a book starring one of the heavy hitters of the DC Universe.

Wonder Woman #1 by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang is, as expected, a train wreck. The posturing, macho Azzarello would seem an odd choice to write Diana, and indeed, shows very little aptitude for her here, relegating her to a detached role, the focus more on the human Zola, a pretty, short-haired blonde who finds herself menaced by centaurs and other creatures from Greek mythology because she is apparently carrying the child of Zeus. She is saved by Hermes, who is later wounded terribly. One of the villains has charcoal skin and would seem to be an angry son of Zeus, but as much as I loved the Robert Graves book as a kid, his identity didn’t jump out at me. 

I find mythological elements can be nice in contemporary stories but it′s easy to overdo them, and Azzarello goes full court press here, jamming the pages with magic and symbolism so that there is barely time to meet a sleeping Diana and get her dressed in a silvery, non-patriotic variation on her classic attire. How soon do I miss the ′90s leather jacket of last year′s muddled, aborted Straczynski reboot. 

Cliff Chiang does a terrific job, but with one more bad career choice like this it is getting harder to drum up sympathy for why he isn’t a superstar. As for Azz, I will say that by the end, he has stood by the courage of his trumped-up portentous bullshit enough that it almost gets over, but one comes away from this book scratching one′s head and wondering why it was more important to him to explore the mystery of how Zeus fucked this human girl and she didn’t know it, than to try to make the star of the book interesting.

Captain Atom #1 by J.T. Krul and Freddie Williams III makes me think I misjudged Krul unfairly by the secondhand reviews of his previous Green Arrow and Arsenal miniseries. Well…that Arsenal thing really did sound awful, but hey, this marks two good books from Krul this month. Part of the appeal is Williams′ art, which has evolved to a freer, sketchier style that is surprisingly refreshing when depicting all the nuclear energy blasts and such. It′s like he′s making science fun. And I′m not saying Krul is knockdown brilliant or anything, but as with Green Arrow #1 he is using a formula that works: 1) see character in action; 2) present his supporting cast; and 3) present the ongoing problem, which in this case is the reliable premise of the hero whose powers may end up killing him. I like that he gets away from the overly militaristic hardass or government stooge role that Atom is often given, and the energy hairdo lifted from Firestorm actually looks pretty good on him.

Blue Beetle #1 by Tony Bedard and Ig Guara defines workmanlike. Unimpressive artwork, a get-it-out-of-the-way flashback explaining the origin of the scarab that will give Jaime Reyes his Blue Beetle abilities, and several uninteresting scenes leading up to that contrived moment. I think the Beetle redesign from a few years back, which hasn’t changed much here, is terrific, and I′ve liked Jaime fine the few times I′ve seen him, but this was not a good start for, Jesus, is this Volume 9 of Blue Beetle?? Volume 10 should be just around the corner. 

Supergirl #1 by Michael Green and Mahmud Asrar presents a Supergirl who doesn’t know where she is, fighting for her life against guys in mech suits trying to contain her. Naturally, she′s freaked out and we are sympathetic to any creature who doesn’t know why something unpleasant is happening to them. Kind of reminds me of something John Byrne would do, and I mean that as a compliment. Simple, but good storytelling, and I like Asrars style. Hey, maybe I won′t like the character once she assimilates into the DCU, but for now, good start.

DC Universe Presents #1 by Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang is one of the nicer surprises of the week, a mature take on Boston Brands karmic balancing journey. You may well ask why such an admitted jerk in life as Brand would get the opportunity to live on through others after death, but its clear that this is, if not a curse, certainly a burden he will have to carry for a long time until the goddess Rama finds him sufficiently enlightened and selfless. I could take issue with an Eastern deity being so on-the-nose and really spelling out for Brand what he has to do, but overall it looks like Jenkins has a good handle on things, and Chang is a good choice on art, as he is can handle the everyday stuff as well as the more mystical or superheroic elements.

OK, so while I missed getting this week′s Green Lantern Corps #1, I did find last week′s Superboy #1 by Scott Lobdell and R.B. Silva and liked it, certainly a lot better than Lobdell′s Red Hood book. I don’t know Superboy too much, so maybe having him as a kind of lab project combo of both Superman′s and Lex Luthor′s dueling DNA has been explored before, but I get the feeling the patient, calculating genius aspect of the character is new, and I like it. Silva is kind of stiff but it does fit the character so far, and the idea of Superboy in a virtual reality his creators aren’t aware he knows is fake should be good for a lot of mileage. 

Legion of Super-heroes #1 by Paul Levitz and Francis Portela was my least favorite book of the week, which may be surprising to read after how I tore into Wonder Woman, but at least that caused a strong reaction. I want to be sensitive because I know what its like to follow an artist for a long time, long enough that you can find bits of their old magic where someone less familiar cant. Like, take new Bob Dylan or Van Morrison records and old fans may fine wonders while new listeners hear croaks, grunts and wheezes. 

So Im just saying that I missed the time when Paul Levitz was good enough on LOSH to create all the warm memories that fans have of his run. In reading this (and I did read the first couple of his last LOSH as well), its not even like the feeling one may have from reading a past-prime Claremont or Miller where the style is so distinctive that if you give in you can maybe get swept up in it even if its ridiculous. I don’t really see much of a Levitz style, unless you call metronomic, low impact character introductions a style. Here is this guy talking about why he is upset to this girl who misses so-and-so and this guy cant be a Legionnaire anymore and this girl is married to this guy and this guy has almost the same powers as this other guy but lets just seem them both anyway because some folks are fans of one and some prefer the other and this one is complaining that they need to recruit more Legionnaires because we have only seen a dozen so far and theyre all sitting around doing nothing except the really smart one who is doing something with his computer and this Legion must be made of money because they can afford to keep two dozen or more heroes sitting around and waiting for something to happen that usually requires the efforts of five or six of them. 

Listen, there is something cool about the Legion. I have read pretty good runs from four or five writers, and I would give Levitz the benefit of the doubt that back in the day, his run was good, too. But it is just not happening here. This is just formula without fire. I don’t understand how you can put out two Legion books with dozens of characters and tons of history to draw from, and they can both be botched so badly. I don’t get any passion here, any attempt to do something fresh or sincere or layered or anything. ZZZZ.

—Christopher Allen

The New DC 52 Week Three, Part One

So, good for DC for not only getting some decent sales so far for the relaunches, but generating a bit of controversy as well, specifically with the sexual mores of Starfire and Catwoman in two books that debuted this week. I guess I might as well enter the fray before said fray is all over, so without further adieu…

Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort is, to be fair, notable for more than Lobdell¢s recasting of Princess Koriand¢r, Starfire, as little more than a doe-eyed, obedient fembot, ready for superheroing or sex, the former something she seems to do more as a favor and the latter something she does for fun, and does often. Nothing wrong with a liberated woman, of course, although narration mentioning that she had once been a slave raises questions about just how much of her attitude is cultural and how much might be spawned from that experience, and why did she have to be introduced with a joke about her breasts? As others have rightly pointed out, it doesn’t make for a good character (re)introduction because there is literally nothing else here but a hot orange chick in a bikini who has sex with any guy who hoves into her reach. There are interesting things that can be done with that as far as Roy (never called Arsenal or Speedy) Harper and Jason (Red Hood but its really a helmet) Todd, because one of them will probably develop feelings for her, but that’s all about the male characters and their conflicts. Give us something for Kori to do or think about besides humping.

As for Roy, I have never really followed him except secondhand, so I¢m pretty okay with pretending the heroin and lost arm and dead baby or whatever just didn’t happen. But so far he¢s a not-very-interesting along for the ride kind of guy, and since the ride Red Hood is taking him on isn’t clear, well. As for Jason, Lobdell seems to want to make him sort of a Grifter type, with a girls jacket instead of a long trenchcoat over what looks to just be Nightwing¢s current costume, more suave than psycho, with skeletons in the closet but insane revenge against Batman on the backburner. Lobdell moves things along briskly and with a little bit of intrigue, and barring the gratuitous Starfire poses, Rocafort has clear talent, but in order to make Red Hood into a character who could support his own ongoing book, it seems like he has been smoothed out to be pretty indistinguishable from a lot of superheroes.

Catwoman #1 by Judd Winick and Guillem March is the other controversial one, and for good reason, as we first see Catwoman in bra and panties, then shes undercover as a bartender in a hotel suited rented out to Russian mobsters and prostitutes with sheer panties jutting out at the reader, and finally, she decompresses with some wild-but-brief sex with Batman on the roof of her borrowed penthouse. I actually don’t mind this in theory, as I think people are too puritanical about superheroes, as if having an active sex life somehow makes them less noble. Now, an active sex life with a criminal, that’s a different story, especially as Batman is historically the hardest-assed, least forgiving of them all. But that can be really interesting to develop, if Winick avoids the more fanfictiony elements of it seen here. Better to suggest and leave some of this to the imagination, even if March does draw sexy women. As for the rest of the story, with an anonymous gang blowing up her place, her love of cats, and the introduction of a smart, kind older female friend-slash-provider of jobs, its all pro forma. Of course her friend isn’t going to provide any competition for Selina in the looks department. Of course theres a creepy pimp killer guy she can tear to pieces that we wont feel shocked about, because he deserves it. Catwoman works best when shes skirting that blurry line of morality, a thief whos a good friend, mentor, and who steals from those who can afford to replace the item or who maybe stole it in the first place. Winick needs to work harder to explore those moral quandaries, the decisions that turn out bad in one way or another, rather than dwell on the sensational.

As long as we¢re in the Batverse, let¢s look at Batman #1 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. I wish I could unremember Kevin Pasquino noting that Scott Snyder has a fondness for characters talking about their fathers, because here we go again with another bit of wisdom, although I¢ll cut Snyder some slack here: it makes sense that Bruce Wayne would talk about his father in a speech looking towards the future of Gotham. And at least Bruce/Batman is written about the same as he is in Tony S. Daniel¢s Detective.

Like many of the relaunches, this one starts with a quick bit of action, followed by a lot of talking to set up the direction of the book. My first impression of 2011 Capullo is that he isn’t much different from 1999 Capullo, but with more of a tepid hybrid of the styles of Jim Lee and former boss Todd McFarlane. From the Batcave on, there isn’t anything here that will wow you, and his Joker is surprisingly unthreatening-looking. I also thought it was odd that Dick Grayson was drawn as looking about 17, not fully grown, when he is clearly an adult in his own book and we know he is just off a convincing gig as Batman. It would hardly be a Batbook without a creepy murder these days, though thankfully Snyder doesn’t dwell on it too much, and he does a nice job dropping a little red herring early on that helps justify Bruces new doubts about Dick, now that Dick¢s DNA has been found under the nails of the victim. I didn’t like this as well as I did Snyder¢s Detective run, but not a bad start.

Nightwing #1 by Kyle Higgins and Eddy Barrows is about as good as it should be. What I mean is, while it will never sell as well as a book starring Batman, a Nightwing series should always be pretty good because you have a character who is more fun and more accessible as Batman. He¢s a lower-budget Batman who also has the same father issues most of us have, but he also gets laid now and then, but always in a non-creepy Red Hood way.

This issue establishes that Dick was Batman for a while on a fill-in basis but is happy to be back as himself again. Of course, being Gotham, a day doesn’t go by when some hero¢s past doesn’t come back to haunt him, which comes in two forms here: 1) an agile but not superpowered hitman trying to kill him, and 2) his old traveling circus is in town, with a childhood friend now grown into a lovely woman. Seems like pretty familiar territory, but Higgins writes a likable Nightwing and Barrows draws him handsome and heroic, nothing very ambitious in the storytelling but very consistent and attractive. I liked it a lot.

Birds of Prey #1 by Duane Swierczynski and Jesus Saiz is no longer a Batbook, as Barbara Gordon only appears briefly to turn down Black Canarys offer to join. Its confusing, because this seems to be the first incarnation of the team, so if that’s so, how do BC and Babs know each other? The team is now Black Canary as the veteran/voice of reason, Starling as the sassy one (she¢s new to me), and Katana as the quiet one/Asian one/one without a bird name. Based on the cover, Poison Ivy will appear at some point, but she doesn’t here.

I like Saiz¢ art a lot. He is able to capture female forms without adding too many lines and getting into gross territory. In fact, I can¢t think of a book he¢s done where he didn’t class up the proceedings a notch.

We meet a reporter who has been trying to uncover the truth behind the Birds of Prey, and they have heretofore tolerated him, until the guy feeding him details on them sets up a meet that is really designed to draw them out in the open to be picked off, whereupon they rescue him, kick some butt, and take off. Three inoffensive, distinct female characters who are good at what they do and work well together, some sort of menace, and an interesting supporting character or two. Nothing astonishing, but this should be the baseline quality of any superhero book, and so far, so good.

—Christopher Allen