20.6.16

Of Spider-Clones and Supermen: Why "Superman: Rebirth" Is the New "Clone Saga"

Ever since hearing that DC Comics was going to kill off the "New 52" Superman and replace him with the recently-returned "Pre-Crisis" version who disappeared nearly 5 years ago, something's been scratching at the back of my head. And now that we're three full issues into the Pre-Crisis Superman taking over for NuSupes, I can finally put my finger on the feeling. It's one I last had about two decades ago.


For anyone having read Spider-Man comics between 1994 and 1996, you're of course familiar with the much-maligned "Clone Saga." For those not in the know, there was a time shortly after DC's "Death of Superman" storyline where editors pushed their talent to manufacture similar, event-based storylines to drive then-record sales figures ever higher. No idea was too silly when Marvel went looking for their own Spidey-centric tale. (Such events have only gotten more grandiose, but I digress.)

So writer Terry Kavanagh dusted off The Amazing Spider-Man #150, coda to a storyline wherein the villainous Jackal cloned both Spidey himself and his alter ego's late girlfriend, Gwen Stacy. Spidey threw away a report on whether he was really the clone because of, essentially, a gut instinct. The question became, "What if the Spider-Man fans had been reading since 1975 was really the Spider-Clone?" Writers like John Marc DeMatteis (one of my idols) became inspired, and suddenly the dead clone nobody thought twice about returned to life--and a co-starring role in all of Marvel's Spider-Man series for the better part of two years. He became Ben Reilly (so named after Peter Parker's uncle Ben, with his last name the same as Aunt May's maiden name Reilly) and Spider-Man's life would never be the same again!

I read the Clone Saga when it originally came out. One of my friends in the fledgling days of Internet fandom--the inimitable DRILLN0T--helped me write "The Spider-Man/Jackal Dossier," an ungodly tome that consolidated and promulgated fan theories and unresolved facets of the storyline. So yes, I'm kind of well-versed in the storyline and count it as one of the high points of my collecting.

What's that all have to do with Superman: Rebirth? It's funny you should ask...


Superman is, in fact, Ben Reilly. And it's all happening again.

Maybe I'm being a bit sensationalist, but cut me a line's slack, all right?

Superman is Clark Kent, the other-dimensional double of the New 52's very own Superman--a "brother" of sorts. He's who fans think of as the "real" Superman, returned after a few years real-time and DC-time to again assume the Superman identity upon his "brother's" death. In the meantime, two other Supermen were created with Clark's powers, and one perished trying to kill the New 52 version. Now, Superman, his wife Lois, and their son Jon try to keep their identities secret, with Clark living the life of a simple farmer under an assumed name. He can't take this universe's Clark's place, because everybody knows Clark was also the deceased Superman. There could be many "lost" tales from the period he was gone. And he's not wholly familiar with the New 52 Superman's foes.

In the back half of the Spider-Clone Saga...

Spider-Man is Ben Reilly, first believed to be the clone of Peter Parker but newly revealed to be the "real" Parker, returned after a few years Marvel-time to again assume the Spider-Man identity upon his "brother's" having moved to Portland with his pregnant wife. In the meantime, two other Spider-Clones were created, and one apparently perished trying to kill the other Parker. Now, Spider-Man continues to keep his identity secret, living the life of a simple barista under the assumed name of Ben Reilly. He can't take the place of the man who'd lived his life the last few years, because everybody knows Peter is married to Mary Jane Watson and they're expecting a child out in Portland. There are many tales from his "lost years." Oh! And he's not wholly familiar with "Peter's" foes.

And I haven't even mentioned the mysterious figure appearing in both their lives, claiming to be beyond the simple labels of friend or foe and insisting that neither Spider-Man/Superman nor his clone/other-dimensional double were what they believed. (For those playing the home game, that's Judas Traveller for Spidey, and "Mr. Oz"--inevitably to be revealed as Ozymandias--for Superman.)


I find a couple of things really interesting about this tableau:

1.) The Superman we knew, who starred in his own series between 1986 and 2011, is essentially cast in the same predicament as Ben Reilly in 1995. The powers that be wanted Ben to assume the role of Peter Parker in addition to Spider-Man, however temporarily, but he couldn't because his status quo was just too different. People on the street in the Marvel Universe knew Peter was happily married to Mary Jane, and the editors and writers were woefully unprepared for the kind of gymnastics of squeezing Ben into Peter's life. Hence, he became a blond-haired barista.

Here, DC's got a Superman obviously older than his New 52 counterpart and so easily recognizable as different from the New 52 Clark Kent. Plus, add the complication of New 52 Superman having been outed as Clark, and is there truly any suspension of disbelief remaining among Metropolitans? The bottom line is, as it was with Ben Reilly, barring another Cosmic Reset Button, it's going to be exceptionally difficult squeezing the Clark Kent from 2011 into the milieu of New 52 Clark, with specific relationships and traits the public associates with the character. Everyone wants Superman to fit in that box he's been in since 1938: "...and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights the never ending battle for Truth, Justice and the American Way."

2.) The difference with Superman is that the "new" one really is the old one come back. This is incontrovertible and has been documented throughout both the Convergence miniseries and Superman: Lois & Clark. It's not as though DC is reintroducing some copy from an old, obscure storyline and saying there's been an imposter running around the last 20 years. Returning the Superman who starred in 25 years of stories, there's a greater foundation and a bigger incentive to return him to that box mentioned previously. Still, I'm reminded of square pegs and round holes...

3.) Off the above point, they're already introducing "another" Clark Kent whom, I'm guessing, DC will use to try to re-establish a secret identity for Post-Crisis Supes. But, but, but, how do they deal with the age problem? And the fact there are two Lois Lanes, one of whom is Superwoman and the other of whom is a wife, mother and successful author? And the fact Clark now has a son?

4.) In an inversion of said Clone Saga, it's really unusual--and, hence, remarkable--that DC has chosen to replace a young, single Superman with an older one who's married and has a son. Compare that to the Clone Saga, where Marvel specifically made Mary Jane pregnant as a sort of "ticking time bomb" to allow her and Peter's exit from the series in favor of the single Ben Reilly. (Of course, MJ ended up staying pregnant for much of the storyline's two-year span, and the child, a daughter named "Mayday," only ended up being born in a What If...? storyline that spun off into Marvel's next-gen "MC2" universe.) It's common comic editors' logic that readers don't like their heroes to be married or have children, as doing both has the appearance of "aging" said hero and thus disengaging readers who are still presumed to be young boys and teens. (The lone exception, historically, having been Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four.) So, is a married-with-child Superman really the best status quo for the character? Time will tell.

5.) Point on a "young, single" Superman: we're getting one courtesy writer Gene Luen Yang in a few months with The Super-Man, a spinoff featuring one of those ersatz Supermen I discussed a few points above.

6.) Lastly, isn't it interesting that writer Dan Jurgens has been involved in roughly the same "adjustment era" of both series? Dan not only wrote the recent, quite excellent Superman: Lois & Clark miniseries and is writer of the new Action Comics, he was also writer and artist of The Sensational Spider-Man where Ben Reilly first dyed his hair and started living the barista life!

Funny, too, how it is that Marvel has recently decided to dip back into the Clone Saga well with "The Clone Conspiracy," featuring the return of the Jackal as well as many dead characters returned to life.

Do you think DC will succeed where Marvel failed, and fully reintegrate both Clark Kent and Superman into their new status quo?

~G.

31.5.16

Just When I Thought I Was Out... (DCU Rebirth SPOILERS!)

Hey, y'all.

Remember when I said that both DC and Marvel Comics had catastrophically screwed the pooch when it came to handling their greatest super-heroes and super-villains?  (The most recent spate of comments started here with a discussion of Secret Wars and Convergence and continued over here with some talk about Superman: Lois & Clark.)

Yeah, Marvel's still doing it. I think right now I'm about the most opposite-of-excited as I've been for Marvel in a long, long while. Maybe ever! And it's something that's well reflected in my current buying habits. In my Discount Comic Book Service order for the month of May, I've only ordered nine ongoing Marvel titles--and five of those are in the Spider-Man family of books! I'm only reading what I enjoy, but even the current crop is subject to elimination. (And no, Steve Rogers: Captain America isn't doing the company any favors in my eyes, although certainly I'd be more apt to judge after we see more than just the first chapter.)

But DC? This last week returned a skosh of the goodwill they squandered over the last year. And the next several weeks will either validate that early feeling or maybe just sour me the rest of the way.


Of course, I'm talking about DC Universe Rebirth #1, the book that officially pulls back the curtain on the DCU of old and turns the trickle of old DCU carryovers into a veritable flood. Sure, a few characters like Batman and Green Lantern kept the majority of their continuity thanks to writers with long-term projects (Grant Morrison on the former, Rebirth scribe Geoff Johns on the latter). But it wasn't until Convergence with its undoing of Crisis On Infinite Earths that the ripple effect began in earnest.

That event had a few characters from the larger multiverse--which is to say, DC's forgotten, Pre-New 52 history--return in series of their own. Titans Hunt showed the return of the Pre-New 52 Titans, while Superman: Lois & Clark brought back the Post-Crisis Superman along with his wife and their brand new son. (There was also a third book spinning directly from Convergence, called Telos, which followed one of the new characters from the event. Since it has nothing really to do with the Pre-New 52 period, mentioning it is moot.) The former, I wasn't really interested in, because I've never really liked the Titans, teen or otherwise. (However, ask me about them again once I read Geoff Johns' run, which I picked up off eBay because of Superboy.) The latter, however, I was immensely interested in, for reasons including, but not limited to, the below:
  • Legendary Superman scribe Dan Jurgens as writer;
  • Legendary Daredevil artist Lee Weeks as penciler; 
  • The return of the same incarnation of Superman as I'd recently finished collecting a virtually full run of (thanks, dollar boxes!);
  • The fact they now had to explain how two Supermen now existed in the New 52; and
  • Did I mention two guys named Dan Jurgens & Lee Weeks??!?
Johns' own "Darkseid War" storyline in Justice League also presaged the return of more familiar elements, with both the return of Crisis' nemesis, the Anti-Monitor (now renamed Mobius) and another in a seemingly endless sequence of explanations for just why there are inconsistencies in DC's lineup, even between books in the New 52. (Something about the new reality "still cooling," as I recall.)


What I liked most about the book is no surprise: the entry point character, the linchpin that holds the entire narrative together. "My name is Wally West. I'm the Fastest Man Alive." As much affection as I have for both the current and 1990 incarnations of Barry Allen as The Flash on prime-time TV, Wally was my Flash growing up, so I had a very visceral reaction to his return in Rebirth. (He was Johns' Flash, too--so much so that he wrote the character for five whole years, 2000-2005, as one of his earliest long-term pro assignments.)

I still remember buying the very first issue of his series in 1987 at some store in eastern Ohio. Mark Waid's "Return of Barry Allen" opus a few years later became one of my favorite Flash stories, ever. Then there was the "Terminal Velocity" event that formally introduced the "Speed Force"; The Life Story of the Flash which presaged the tale of Barry's evil twin, Cobalt Blue; Wally's exile into Hypertime and the introduction of the Dark Flash; and finally, the introduction of Iron Heights prison and Hunter Zolomon, the crippled Rogue profiler who became the villainous speedster, Zoom. (Can you tell I know Wally West?)


Another major point along the path to Rebirth--brought up in Justice League #50 but also touched upon here--was the "unmasking"--if one can call it that--of the Joker. Johns, who wrote both stories, didn't reveal the Joker's name so much as hint that the Clown Prince of Crime is less an individual and more a role played by three separate villains. Above, you can clearly see images of the early Jerry Robinson version, side-by-side with the Brian Bolland version straight out of The Killing Joke, side-by-side with the one of more recent vintage as depicted during writer Grant Morrison's tenure. (Is it no coincidence there's one Pre-Crisis version, another Post-Crisis, and the third Post-Infinite Crisis? Hmm...)

It's an interesting theory put forth, and one I'm sure Tom King and James Tynion IV will investigate in their Rebirth-fueled Batman and Detective Comics relaunches, respectively. But really, if Batman hasn't been able to pick up on the fact--from variations in physical appearance and other flaws--that he's been fighting three separate Jokers over the years, what right does he have calling himself "The World's Greatest Detective"?


Of course, that brings us to the image from the book's end, the one that everyone's talking about because ZOMG EVERYBODY'S GONNA FIGHT THE WATCHMEN (insert strings of useless emojis). Just about everyone's covered this topic earlier and better than me. Johns unveils the secret of his Flashpoint event that led to DC's New 52 initiative and their re-ordering of continuity. Simply put, it wasn't the Flash who was (solely) responsible for futzing with time and causing this bold new era. It was Dr. Manhattan of the Watchmen, firmly grounding that out-of-continuity series in DCU lore.

First, I'm pretty sure there's not going to really be any kind of direct conflict, at least not for a very long time; it kind of defeats the purpose for which Johns introduced this element. Second, the purpose in question is perhaps the most metafictional, anti-establishment message I've ever seen in a mainstream comic, because it amounts to a ballsy self-criticism of DC and its place in the industry since 1986.

Taken pretty directly, in Rebirth Geoff Johns is stating that the grimdark of the modern comics era can be directly traced back to Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons' Watchmen and subsequent creators learning all the wrong lessons in their embrace of deconstructionism over what makes comics "fun." Did they really have any right imposing a formal structure of reality upon a medium and genre that so often lives outside it? Further, it means that if there's any fighting to be done, it's DC's own metaphorical struggle, a refutation of Watchmen's lasting impact on the business 30 years on.

Do I agree with Johns' criticism? I do, but Watchmen isn't the only necessary target--just one of the most visible and the one with sufficient narrative weight, as well as the most tangible deus ex machina in Dr. Manhattan. (He could just as easily have blamed all the darkness on Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns; however, the older Batman doesn't really have any reality-warping powers we know of, and besides, DC continues to semi-regularly strip-mine Miller's creation with the current publishing of DKIII, with DKIV on the docket. Attributing any blame to DKR would be akin to defecating where one masticates.)

It is interesting, though, how Batman is the one who actually discovers the first piece of the puzzle. Maybe doing so redeems him for his analogue's part?


And speaking frankly, with hints of both Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian peppered throughout Rebirth, is it any wonder there are other characters lurking around the periphery? Certainly, Johns has been playing the long game in some capacity, for the "Mr. Oz" character he introduced in Superman #32 seems to be a disguised Ozymandias, the ultimate antagonist of Watchmen. It beggars the question, are we about to see Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan battle on a new canvas? And what the heck does he mean when he says the Supermen aren't who they think they are?

I love that DC has me theorizing and asking questions. Perhaps the most fun one is, "How much is this going to piss off Alan Moore?" By contrast, Marvel only has me asking two: "When's the next Marvel movie out?" and "When will the intolerable cruelty that is Totally Awesome Hulk be over?"

Post-Rebirth #1 I'm very comfortable in my decision to pre-order the first two months of the new stuff. I'll try my best to put some reviews up as I read them. Feel free to comment, too!

~G.

Next: The best series of 2016 so far. Or the follies of BvS. I really haven't decided yet.

12.3.16

Post-Crisis (Superman)

[I've been a bad, bad blogger over the last few months. Here's hoping I can start making my lack of regular posts up to everybody and bring back some regular readers in 2016. Sound good to you? Good! --GMM]
Maybe the single book I was happiest about in 2015. Happy irony!
When last I wrote, I was having a little crisis regarding my comic book buying habits. I developed a severe lack of faith in the output of the Big Two in 2015, exacerbated by line-wide events like Convergence at DC Comics and Secret Wars (what, again?) at Marvel.

Looking at some articles out there from not only fans but also some retailers, it appears I'm not alone in my trepidation. One thing the market hates is uncertainty, and in 2015 the Big Two gave it to retailers and readers alike in spades. With a spate of regular series, retailers can base their orders on their regular customers and their buying habits, forecasting here and there for "new" series based on the performance of other, similar books. With a two-month-long event like Convergence, there's a degree more of uncertainty because the entire regular lineup is replaced by forty two-issue miniseries anchored by a 9-issue event series. And because Marvel must take every idea DC has and shoot it full of Gamma Rays to do it "better," they anchored a staggering 42 miniseries of indeterminate length (upon early solicitations), as well as several issues of 10 ongoing series, to their own 9, then 10-issue event series.

So, to recap: we've got big event miniseries, which usually sell gangbusters. But what happens when you tie them to countless miniseries instead of the traditional issues of ongoing series? Remember the theory to using events and crossovers in the first place: namely, to prop up flagging sales of series by tying them--unnecessarily, even--to said event. But how do retailers even begin to determine orders when juggling an event with a whole bunch of new #1 issues for series of unknown length, with no real corollaries to existing series? Danger, Will Robinson! Danger! Danger!

I'm proud to announce that the tailspin I found myself in when I wrote the last entry has evened itself out. That's right: I'm no longer quite so fatalistic when it comes to the comics I read! Isn't that amazing? I've learned to not worry and enjoy the titles I read, like the Superman family of titles. Why, just last month we had Joe Kelly & Pascual Ferry finish their epic run on Action Comics; Joe Casey & Derec Aucoin do the same for Adventures of Superman; and Steven T. Seagle & Scott McDaniel have brought Superman to its grand 200th issue while finishing their year-long "Futuresmiths" storyline that began back in the worth-every-penny Superman: The 10-Cent Adventure. That doesn't even count Jeph Loeb & Ed McGuinness bringing us our heroes' epic throwdown with President Luthor in Superman/Batman, or Mark Waid & Leinil Yu's awe-inspiring reimagining of the Man of Steel's origin in Superman: Birthright. (True, there was Superman: Metropolis, that 12-issue series written by Chuck Austen about the "Tech" brought back from Brainiac-13's future, which was kind of a super-dud...but let's be honest, at least the powers-that-be were trying to do something different for a change...)

One of my favorite Superman covers, by the late Michael Turner. (Don't judge me.)
Wait, you haven't heard of these books I'm talking about? Well, that's probably because they're all from the past--2004, to be exact. Now, I haven't totally checked out on ongoing series for 2016--in fact, one of my next posts will be about the very few series I think are worth taking a chance on this year--but right now is time better spent on acquainting myself with a whole mess of back issues that've been taking up good storage space in my closet.

It's actually one of my favorite things to do: go grab a mountain of back issues (or, on rare occasion, trade paperbacks) and just go on a reading spree. I used to do it a little over ten years ago when a Pittsburgh comic shop had 50-cent "warehouse" sales, buying up pretty full runs of 1990s books like X-Force and all other manner of stuff. (True story: I bought New Mutants #98--the first appearance of Deadpool--from a $1 bin in pretty nice shape. I sold it with the rest of the series when I was financing an Incredible Hulk #1. So, granted, I'm not really kicking myself because I've got one book that's really appreciated...but, still...!)

In mid-2014, history repeated itself in having one fight between Superman and Doomsday lead me back to the back issue bins. The last time, it was the famed "Death of Superman" storyline that prompted me to buy up John Byrne's Superman and Action Comics, as well as Marv Wolfman & Jerry Ordway's Adventures of Superman. In that same sweep where I sold off Deadpool, I similarly sold nearly all of those books.

The storyline that launched a collecting crusade.
This time, the "Doomed" storyline reawakened my fascination with the Big Blue Boy Scout with even greater fervor. What really sparked that fire was my remembrance of a piece of Superman lore I found very interesting but never actually read.

John Byrne's final storyline prior to his departure involved Superman facing Kryptonian super-criminals from a pocket dimension. In the end, he rationalized that the only way to stop them was to expose them first to their version of Gold Kryptonite, which removed their powers, and then kill them using their version of Green Kryptonite. Over the subsequent months, in stories crafted by Roger Stern, Kerry Gammill & Jerry Ordway, Superman doubted his decision. At the same time, the vigilante called Gangbuster returned to the streets of Metropolis after having been gone for months due to a grave spinal injury. Eventually, we discovered this wasn't the original Gangbuster, but rather Superman, in the midst of a nervous breakdown which was the direct result of his doubts over killing those Kryptonians. The revelation of his new costumed identity led to his temporary self-exile into space. There, he eventually met the Kryptonian Cleric and the weapon called the Eradicator, the latter of which would cause years of trouble.

So, some eBay sales gave me a goodly bit of the run I wanted, which included everything up to and including the "Death of Superman" storyline. But as the auctions piled up and gave me a handful of issues beyond my intended end point, I decided "the hell with it!" and kept on trucking through more auctions and a few big $1 sales (especially the big basement sale at New Dimension Comics near Pittsburgh, PA). I filled a long box with Superman comics, 2,000 miles from home, at about 75 cents each. (Just imagine the difficulty in getting them to my home!) Finally, I achieved a satisfactory end point with the final issues of Superman's series before the New 52 began.

Somewhat ironically, a short time after I completed this Superman run--encompassing four long boxes and well over 1,000 individual issues--DC announced the return of the Post-Crisis Superman in Dan Jurgens and Lee Weeks' Convergence: Superman, a two-issue miniseries released during the larger Convergence event. That larger event left the Post-Crisis Superman "stuck" in the current iteration of the DC Universe, which begat the current Superman: Lois & Clark miniseries, also by Jurgens & Weeks. That book is currently the only DC comic I follow, for obvious reasons.

More Turner, in the storyline that led to "New Krypton."
So there you go. I've actually gotten a small feeling of dread as I've begun reading 2004's swath of Superman series. In no small part, it's because of Superman/Batman. My trepidation isn't due to Jeph Loeb's writing, or the connection to the upcoming feature film; rather, it's because the series' opening arcs form the basis for "New Krypton," the immense storyline that began in late 2008 and continued through mid-2010. The return of the various colors of Kryptonite, as well as the "true" Supergirl, Kara Zor-El, foreshadow all that Geoff Johns, Sterling Gates & James Robinson accomplish throughout that year-and-a-half. From there, it's only a little over a year before the start of the New 52. I suppose it's a bittersweet feeling settling in right now.

But yes, to be fair, I have about 7 more years of Superman stories left to read. I've got "Our Worlds at War" and "Emperor Joker" behind me, and Infinite Crisis and yes, "New Krypton" still to come. It ought to be a fun ride. If nothing else, it'll provide a different perspective from my intermittent reading of these books during the first go-round.

How about for everyone out there? Are you disenchanted with the modern Big Two? And if so, what books are you reading to satisfy your superhero fix?

~G.

4.7.15

Convergence (Or, an Essay on My Changing Comic Buying Habits)

...and no, this time I don't mean DC's Convergence event that ran through their June and July-dated books this year. But, then again, that's not a bad place to begin...

Convergence #0 variant cover by Adam Hughes...just because I like it!
Historically speaking, my comic book buying habits have been rather crazy. And when I began ordering from Discount Comic Book Service in 2006 was when that habit kicked up another few notches. With astonishing 40% discounts across the Big Two and sizable discounts for the other companies, I could afford more than under my local comics retailer's discount.

(Please let's don't accuse me of being anti-local business. Time is money, and one of the closest comic shops to my prior home in western Pennsylvania was an 80-mile round-trip jaunt. Where I live today, it's still 40 miles, round-trip, to a decent store. Can you honestly blame me for embracing mail-order at such discounts?)

Month in and out, I buy predominantly monthly issues, but I also add some trade paperbacks and hardcovers. Sometimes I really go out on a limb and buy mini-busts, statues, and T-shirts of interest to me in Diamond's Previews catalog. (Diamond is another discussion entirely. But, I digress.)

Here's the last two years' worth of DCBS orders from me (sorted by month in which the orders were placed, generally 2 months before release). You'll note some interesting patterns, no doubt:


You'll note that most of the time, my DCBS bill--inclusive of all monthly titles, trades/hardcovers, and other items--was staying comfortably around $275 up through the end of last year, with only one outlier (a month that included a Marvel Masterworks volume, a Marvel Omnibus and a deluxe Mego-style action figure set).

And then, from November onward, the upward trend was unlike anything in the entire 9-year history of my association with DCBS. Look at those spikes for January (with a $250 Secret Wars Battleworld slipcase set) and April (with a Marvel Masterworks, two Marvel Omnibus and the first month of Marvel's Secret Wars event).

Know what the really interesting part of my DCBS orders is, starting with April? There's only one--count it, one--regular DC series in each of those orders.

Y'see, DC decided (or was forced by parent company Warner Bros.) to move offices from New York to Los Angeles in order to be closer to their movie studio arm (so they could better inform the new spate of comics-based films, natch). And during the two-month gap when they were moving offices and getting their new editorial crew settled in, they staged an event called "Convergence," consisting of one nine-issue miniseries and 40 two-issue satellite miniseries. The largest miniseries, actually called Convergence, told the main story while the satellite series delved into a number of previous and alternate timelines.

As a fan of alternate timelines, I was intensely fascinated by "Convergence" as an event, enough to pre-order the entire range of series in twin bundles, one per month, at half off cover price. The four main eras in which the stories were told were DC's Golden Age of the 40s and 50s; the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths era of the 70s and 80s; the pre-Zero Hour era of the mid-90s; and the most-recently-abandoned pre-Flashpoint era of the late 2000s. I was particularly interested in the last of the eras, since I'd recently taken a new interest in the post-Crisis Superman. (To wit, I bought virtually every Superman comic between 1986 and 2011 I'd been missing in order to do one massive read-through. The results of said read-through will be in a future DH entry.)

"Convergence" had its ups and downs, with the main miniseries being perhaps the least interesting thing about it. After a number of false starts and restarts, it seemed that all of the various "mainstream" DC timelines "counted" in some form or another, finally, again. The miniseries had some good and maybe even great moments, with Dan Jurgens giving a terrific coda to "my" Superman and Gail Simone giving Dick Grayson and Babs Gordon a happy ending, to name but a few.

However, nothing on the other side of the event has looked all that interesting to me. Even an event like Superman's secret identity being spoiled to the world by Lois Lane--which would have been a must-read years earlier--didn't faze me. Nor did Jim Gordon donning a suit of high-tech armor to become a new Batman. And so, the only DC book I chose to pre-order in April and beyond was Batman '66, the stunning digital-first series telling adventures in the style of the Adam West & Burt Ward-starring TV show of the swingin' sixties.

My lack of enthusiasm in DC's monthly series doesn't mean I won't rule out ordering some trade paperbacks of the new stuff soon. I'm just that much less likely to pick up single issues today.

Marvel's current flavor-of-the-month crossover, Secret Wars.
So now, Marvel's careening into an eerily-similar event--Secret Wars, with several alternate realities all smooshed together by Dr. Doom in the world's biggest Fantastic Four story masquerading for the last several years as an Avengers story. (Thanks, Jonathan Hickman!) While DC chose to do an inversion of their 1985 opus, Crisis on Infinite Earths, they'd at least given it a different name; Marvel's event not only has the same antagonist and many of the same plot beats, it's given pretty much the same name as the event being "homaged."

The question remains...when the new round of solicitations for Marvel's post-Secret Wars slate comes up, how many of their series will I pick up, and which will I leave on the shelf (or rather, with a big fat "0" on DCBS's Excel order spreadsheet)? On the month before the very end of Secret Wars I'm not just at the normal, pre-2015 level of buying, I'm actually approaching some of the lowest levels I've ever ordered. And if anything, Marvel's relaunching their entire line from #1 issues makes it easier to quit than DC...

So, it's a question so similar to doing the Limbo: "How low can you go?" How many Marvel series will be left on my orders from August forward? Will I be dropping nearly the whole line like I did with DC, only following them in trades now and then? Is 2015 the year of the sudden erosion of my enthusiasm in the comic book as an art form? Or might I finally embrace the indie books out there over what the Big Two offer?

Time, I suppose, will tell...

So, who's got some other thoughts on Convergence, Secret Wars and the other major events of 2015? Lines are open for your calls...

~G.

29.6.15

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before...

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that ends only while life gets in the way...let's see if we can get the ball rolling and keep it going for more than a post every 6 months, yeah?

And I'm starting with a post about the Hulk.

 
No, no, no! Not that Hulk! This one:

Image courtesy ComicBook.com
The Totally Awesome Hulk is one of the titles announced for the post-Secret Wars Marvel Universe this fall. And while traditional Hulk fans may look at the above promo artwork with apprehension if not outright disgust, there's a silver lining in the creative team.

Returning to the Hulk series (well, a Hulk series) after nearly four years away is "Planet Hulk" & World War Hulk scribe Greg Pak. Joining him is Liberty Meadows and Shanna's cartoonist par excellance Frank Cho. (While Frank himself has worked on a few Hulk stories under writer Jeph Loeb, this series will mark his first regular work on the character.)

I've heard a lot of "wait and see" statements, and a few more people on my Facebook feed have sworn the new series off altogether. In case you can't tell from the above illo by Cho, the protagonist of the new series won't be Bruce Banner. Like Loeb's series before, Totally Awesome Hulk will star a brand new gamma-powered man-monster. Unlike Banner, however, this new Hulk will revel in his new identity--which won't exactly sit well with the other heroes in the Marvel U.

Part of the stated allure of the new series will be the mystery of what's happened to the original green goliath. Although certainly I can't imagine he'll be gone for long.

Speculation's run rampant as to the identity of the new Hulk, although the smart money's on Pak's very own creation, Amadeus Cho, a.k.a. Mastermind Excello, who became an on-again, off-again sidekick of sorts to Banner and Hulk during his prior tenure. Adding more fuel to the fire is Pak's involvement in the currently-running Planet Hulk series as architect of the origin of the various Hulk-like characters therein.

But what everyone's overlooking is the fact that one Hulk writer wanted to do something very similar before. One who certainly has earned his place among the top Hulk scribes of all time. One who also had a 5-1/2 year run on the character.

That writer? Bill Mantlo.

It's no secret that Greg Pak cites Mantlo as his primary inspiration for nearly everything he's done with the character over the years. What might be a secret to everyone out there is the direction in which Mantlo wanted to go when he neared the conclusion of his run. Per Peter Sanderson's "The Big Switch" article from Amazing Heroes magazine in 1985:
[Wrapping up the Crossroads storyline] we were faced with the question, 'Okay, at the end of this, what happens?' We bring the Hulk back, it's clear we've come full circle, and more or less he's right back to where he was when I picked him up. My notion was I could go two ways: I could either bring him right back to where he was. or I was going to create an entirely new Hulk, a Hulk super-hero, who looked glorious, physically handsome, and would be a guardian of the Earth.
Of course, Mantlo's mind got made up for him when John Byrne stepped forward with the desire to tell the Hulk's adventures, resulting in a whole-house creative team swap I've previously covered. Plus, well, how long could a "new Hulk" have survived in the mid-1980s?

Still, it's very, very interesting we're on the cusp of a book featuring an all-new Hulk by a writer inspired by a classic Hulk writer who wanted to do something eerily similar.

With this being my first post back, I'm long on inspiration but woefully short on conclusions. As Joel Hodgson used to ask regularly: "What d'you think, sirs?"

~G.

24.4.14

Γ (An Open Letter to Mark Waid)

Mark,

Long time no talk! You probably don't remember me. We talked in Pittsburgh, back at the old ExpoMart. Early on a Friday, absolutely nobody was waiting to talk to you. You signed some Flash comics for me including the introduction of villain du jour Cobalt Blue, the evil twin brother of Barry Allen. You suggested that Cobalt Blue wasn't, strictly speaking, a retconned-in character, because nothing in Barry's history outright stated he wasn't a twin.

One of my favorite Flash storylines. Don't judge. (Art by Steve Lightle.)
What you didn't know and what didn't even matter back then is that I am, was, and probably ever shall be a fan of that green goliath called the Incredible Hulk.

So, maybe I didn't take it so well the other day when the following showed up on your Twitter feed after what I'm sure was a frustrating time at Wondercon:
Now, I'm not about to take you to task over the above comment, which has incensed more than a few Hulk fans who are on my Twitter feed, or who friended me on Facebook, or who hang out on the Hulk Message Board with me, or who read this very blog.

About as angry as most Hulk fans I've talked to lately. Art by Mahmud Asrar.

I've been reading the Hulk's adventures for over thirty years, since I wasn't quite three years old. Long enough to be set in my ways, surely, right? Well, consider that I turned three in 1982 and that my first issue was Incredible Hulk #272, wherein Bruce Banner's personality became ascendant for the first long-term period in the character's existence. Consider that since my very first exposure to the character, he's never really stayed with one status quo for more than a few years at best, and you'll easily understand why I'm very, very comfortable with the concept of change.

You're one of my favorite writers, Mark. "The Return of Barry Allen" is one of my all-time favorite stories. I told Brian Augustyn how much I enjoyed "Chain Lightning" and "Dark Flash" when I saw him here in Arizona a few years ago. I loved Empire and look forward to seeing more of that world after your recent announcement. Captain America, JLA, Amazing Spider-Man, and even Ka-Zar? Terrific! Kingdom Come? Revolutionary! And nobody's brought Daredevil out from Frank Miller's shadow like you. (J.M. DeMatteis and Karl Kesel tried it, but the world just wasn't ready.)

So you, Mark, writing my favorite character? "Bliss" didn't sound like too strong a word, especially when considering the series had really and truly lost something with the departure of Greg Pak, the book's best voice since the departure of Peter David. Sure I was sad to see the book relaunched for the second time in two years, but it went along with the whole "Marvel NOW!" program and legitimately seemed like a new direction. "Hulk destroys, Banner builds"? Who doesn't love the dichotomy?

Waid's journey into Hulkdom begins. Art by Leinil Yu.
Something I didn't like about the run immediately preceding--without even getting into the story--was the constant artistic Armageddon going on. I know I said I liked change, but I prefer consistency in art. I grumble and I grouse that today there are seldom any unbroken artistic runs like in the sixties and seventies, and never at the Big Two. (Ironically, Hulk has been home to not one but two great, long art runs, by Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema.) Generally, though, the more consistent the look, the more I'm willing to forgive.

So we had Leinil Yu, whom I've always wanted to see take the regular Hulk gig (since Wolverine #145). And then we had Walt Simonson (ditto, since Rampaging Hulk magazine). Then we had Matteo Scalera, the "new guy" with 4 generally good issues right out of the gate...before we ran smack into what must've been a mountain of Dreaded Deadline Doom. Kim Jacinto; Mahmud Asrar; Clay Mann; Miguel Sepulveda; Jheremy Raapack; Tom Grummett; Joe Bennett.

I know you don't have any control when the Doom hits, Mark, but let me tell you, nothing kills momentum like artistic inconsistency--even among artists whose work I casually enjoy. It honestly felt like nobody cared about the book since about the halfway point of "Agent of T.I.M.E." Each issue marked time (yes, please groan) until the relaunch.

So what was I expecting out of Hulk, the new series that started last week? I saw Mark Bagley's name and immediately connected the dots to his unbroken or nearly-unbroken runs on Amazing Spider-Man, Thunderbolts, Ultimate Spider-Man, New Warriors, and Justice League of America. Nothing says "consistency" like adding "Bags" to a project.

Story-wise, that's something different. Since the seventies, more casual fans have identified more with the mute Hulk of the live-action TV show. A mute or near-mute Hulk carried over into both the 2003 and 2008 films as well as Marvel's The Avengers. While it works well enough because of the character's physicality, the Hulk's near-muteness can be a real detriment to the comic book page, working best when hidden behind prose more purple than the Hulk's pants (e.g. Bill Mantlo's "Crossroads" stories) and worst when the Hulk becomes an incredible cipher (e.g. Bruce Jones's horror take of the early 2000s).

The segue into the relaunch. Art by Joe Bennett.

The Hulk is Bruce Banner's rampaging id, yes. Everything Banner represses sublimates into the Hulk, true. But the Hulk works better with a brutish personality, whether it's the craftiness of the Grey Hulk; the canny savagery of the World Breaker; or the unique blend of childlike innocence and blind rage that was the Savage Hulk. (Very few, it seems, can write the latter well anymore, alas.)

When you stray too much from a Hulk who is capable of articulating his rage at being bound to Banner--either by saying "Banner keeps Hulk locked in dark place!" or by imbibing so much booze before dawn that it leaves Banner incapacitated until his next change at dusk--you lose something about the character. The Hulk becomes less a character and more a mindless weapon to aim.

I don't feel that Banner's character development must come at the expense of the Hulk's. However, it seems that's what we've gotten lately. True, from the looks of last week's Hulk #1, you might just be priming us for a reversal of fortune for which I'd be ever so grateful.

I'm anxious, very anxious, at the questions posed between last month's Indestructible Hulk #20 and this issue. How can the Hulk's healing factor be so severely curtailed by two mere bullets? (Clever way to make the Hulk "indestructible" no more.) Who could have infiltrated a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility to make the hit, and why? Could one of Banner's own team be to blame? What does that frightening last page mean for the Banner/Hulk paradigm you've established? How will the physicist we know and love return to normal? And might we still have to worry about Banner's "insurance policy" he worked out with Matt Murdock?

Where the answers begin (we hope). Art by Jerome Opena.

So, you've got a whole lot of questions to answer. Hopefully a smarter Hulk is part of the answer. After all, a Hulk that doesn't talk--much if at all--is an invention of a television producer who by and large looked down at the comics medium. Comics shouldn't be beholden to that portrayal. Comics are, well, comics. So reach higher. Do more.

And for god's sake, "Hulk knows how to con-joo-gate stupid verbs! Hulk is not stupid!" Truth: As was frequently the case during Bill Mantlo's earliest issues as Greenskin's scribe, those around him underestimated the Hulk time and again. Just because the Hulk spoke like a caveman, that didn't mean he was as dumb as one.*

(* - With apologies to the Geico cavemen.)

With a character that's been through as many iterations as the Hulk has over the last 52 years, you're always going to do something that disagrees with part of the readership. You've just got to find balance--between Banner's intelligence and the Hulk's savagery; between loquaciousness and taciturnity; and between what you want to write and what the readers want to read.

Excelsior!

~G.

11.3.14

Rebirth of a Delusion (Of Lanterns & Things)

Did you miss me?

Yes, it's been a hectic year--buying a home tends to add a whole lot of complications to a perfectly productive life. You've still seen me lurking around Facebook and Twitter, and I've even taken up co-hosting duties alongside Ragin' Rick Hansen and Captivatin' Karl Fink on The Incredible Hulkcast starting with Episode 28. But now, I hope to be back to where it all started, right here at Delusional Honesty. Because honestly, if nobody's posting a thing here, why the heck do I even keep this site around?

So, think of this as the rebirth of delusions, or maybe the rebirth of honesty. Whatever sounds better.

And, like any decent column of mine should, we begin with a green character.

But no, not that green character.

What?!?

Allow me to explain.

Everybody remembers when "The New 52" started, right? It's been about 2-1/2 years now and many of you are probably wondering why that moniker even still matters. (Meanwhile Marvel Comics is on their second "Marvel NOW!" campaign, entitled, appropriately enough, "All-New Marvel NOW!" Insert groans and sighs if you wish, but at least they didn't reboot continuity as a sacrifice to the elder gods of Burbank, California. Ahem.)

Anyway, one of the books that relaunched during "The New 52" that wasn't quite relaunched as much as the others--am I still making sense?--was Geoff Johns' perennial favorite, Green Lantern, the book on which he'd worked nonstop since late 2004. Johns seized the reins of a series that was a very modest seller, and in one month more than doubled circulation. He raised a middling book to the top of the heap where, after a fashion, it's remained ever since. Not just that, but the book has spawned an increasing number of spin-off series, becoming one of DC Comics' largest franchises, right up there with the Superman, Batman, and Justice League corners of their universe. (Hooray, he says sarcastically, for diversity in the marketplace.)

Be afraid. Be very afraid.
 The series and its spin-offs have flourished in spite of Johns' and DC's own Icarus moment. Yes, I'm talking about the much-maligned, overlong, banal Green Lantern film of 2011. You remember, it was the one that was supposed to be the start of a franchise that didn't have "bat" or "super" somewhere in the title. Instead it was a tragic misfire that tried to cram too many incredible concepts into two hours, and ended up exactly that--not credible--in the eyes of theatergoers everywhere. With a budget of some $200 million US, ol' GL racked up an embarrassing domestic box office total of some $116 million and a foreign B.O. total of $103 million. (Unsurprisingly, a sequel is stuck in development hell.)

I've had a long, off-and-on association with the Green Lantern character. It began in late 1984, courtesy writer Len Wein and artist Dave Gibbons, as well as a little comic shop in East Liverpool, Ohio, where my father bought me the book. In the story--which to this day invites comparison to Denny O'Neil and Luke McDonnell's deconstruction of Iron Man the previous year at Marvel--Green Lantern Hal Jordan has quit the Green Lantern Corps, and the Guardians of the Universe--they who lead the Lanterns--have assigned another Earthman, John Stewart, to fill the ring, er, suit.


It was the era of Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show on ABC-TV, and Super Powers also meant a series of limited series by comics legend Jack "King" Kirby. It also meant a line of action figures made by Kenner Toys, each of which included a mini-comic starring the same hero as was in the package. There were even tie-ins like hot chocolate. I'm relatively certain that one of those tie-ins--I'm thinking the figures--had a special offer for 3-month subscriptions to a few choice DC titles. That's how I learned about the Legion of Super-Heroes, and that's also how I began following Green Lantern in earnest.

Maybe it wasn't the best time to come aboard the series, what with John Stewart learning what it meant to be a Green Lantern all over again, and Hal Jordan trying his best to get back to the Corps. (Much later I bought the Green Lantern/Green Arrow trade paperbacks and learn of Stewart's first outing as a GL.) Still, there was something inherently interesting enough about the characters that I renewed with another 12-month subscription as the long, slow countdown to issue #200 began. (By "countdown" I mean it literally, as each issue's title literally counted down, beginning with #194's "5.")

The series changed hands from Wein and Gibbons to Steve Englehart and Joe Staton, but the stories kept their cosmic bent, featuring such key GL concepts and characters as Star Sapphire, the Predator, Katma Tui, the ring's yellow impurity, and more. During the crossovers with the Crisis on Infinite Earths limited series (which I wasn't even reading then), I even saw Guy Gardner get a GL ring for the first time!

Alas, right after the 200th issue, with the book's name officially changing to The Green Lantern Corps even though Hal had regained his ring, I was no longer interested. (Funnily enough, my subscription ended the month before, with #199.) In fact, I was no longer interested in DC at all, and would remain so until I rediscovered Firestorm, whom I remembered from the Super Friends cartoon. (And you can read all about my obsession with the character starting here. See how we all tie things together at Delusional Honesty?)

So, how did I pick up Green Lantern all over again? And how exactly does the answer lead to the horrendous pile of trade paperbacks I've had stacked in my library room?


Well, now that would be like skipping to the end, wouldn't it?

See you next time!

~G.