By Allison Eckel
Three weeks of new DC Comics titles, and Batwoman appears in the top five of nearly all reviewer lists as the best of the crop. Keeping her company are Animal Man, Swamp Thing, and Batman. The fifth spot on the leader board seems to be the wild card slot, chosen depending on the reviewer’s particular tastes. I have to agree that those four titles are compellingly written with art that takes typical comics storytelling to new levels. However, I don’t really like them.
I set out to say that I don’t really like Batwoman specifically, but realized that the others didn’t really excite me either. I have been dragging my feet trying to complete this article because I can’t quite explain my statement – like that “Ollie-ness” so missing from J.T. Krul’s new version of Green Arrow. Elusive, undefinable, and really kind of important.
But, I don’t really have to like these particular books because the 48 other choices are designed to offer something compelling for almost every type of reader. While they don’t quite go that far, they come close. Pre-DCnU, readers had simple choices. You want a strong hero-led book? Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman. You want an ensemble cast? Justice League, Justice Society, or Legion. There were a few others on the fringes, but they were not the central tent pole titles.
We are still in early days, but in the DCnU, I don’t see a clear core of books that all must read. Perhaps because in rolling out the new universe, the company is giving almost equal weight to every title. Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. seems almost as important in the grand scheme as Wonder Woman. Could this be due to the dual layer of storytelling presented in each book? We have the creative team’s story and then we have the way it all fits in with the bigger picture of post-Flashpoint and that glowing Mystery Lady that only Superboy seems to sense. By inserting her into every #1, DC is telling readers that even I, Vampire will somehow be important.
That should free readers to sample all of the books and commit to the ones they truly like. We all like different things for different reasons, so I am a little surprised that the group of Batwoman, Animal Man, Swamp Thing, and Batman so consistently land at the top of every list. I suspect mob mentality or a feeling of, “Well, So-and-so said it’s really great so it must be.” And as I said, they are all well-done. But so are a lot of other books. So, I am breaking from my pundit colleagues, going out on a limb, and saying that I really didn’t enjoy Batwoman.
Now, because I am a comics reviewer who focuses on DC Comics, it is in my (non-existent) contract to compile my own list of top DCnU books so far. In case you have the patience to read yet another list, mine is below. These are the books I am really excited to read regularly. I would like to read your list, but only if you choose the books you sincerely enjoyed, not just the ones everyone is lauding.
Allison’s Favorite DCnU Titles (So Far):
#1: Justice League
#2: Demon Knights
#3: Wonder Woman
#4: Green Lantern
Now, I have yet to read quite a few books. I am most excited to read: Flash, Firestorm, Aquaman, Superman, and all the books released while I was trying to write this, including Supergirl, Captain Atom, Birds of Prey, and the very sexy Catwoman. My leader board is likely to change.
For now, the comments section is open (here and on our Facebook page: All Things Fun! Comics). Share your pics for the DCnU titles that excite you so far. And if it’s Batwoman, tell me why.
By Glenn Walker
Hopefully y'all have been following the All Things Fun! Comic Vidcast broadcast live every Wednesday, and if not, get yourself over to its special webpage and enjoy. As I said, it's live every Wednesday morning at 11:30 AM sharp Eastern Standard Time, and available for viewing, as are all the episodes, throughout the week afterwards.
I, along with co-hosts Allison Eckel and Ed Evans, discuss the new comics that come out that day for the week. We like to think we offer our own unique and informative view of the comics world and what's going on within it and around it.
Although, sometimes fifteen to twenty minutes just isn't enough to explain some of the references made during the vidcast, and it certainly isn't anywhere near enough time to justify the vast storehouse of useless comics knowledge spilling out of my head. We've had to do this once before, and hopefully this second edition of Show Notes might help alleviate the pressure on my brain.
Who's Afraid of the Calendar Man?
Stupid name? Maybe, but this is one scary Arkham Asylum baddie in my opinion, which made Allison guffaw on camera. The Joker? Two-Face? The Mad Hatter? Zsasz? Amygdala? Okay, yeah, maybe one or two of those guys are scarier, but I think that the Calendar Man should be right up there with them.
Julian Gregory Day is old school, as he was created by Bill Finger. He was a typical baddie from the old days as he had a catastrophic obsession on which all of his crimes were based. In Day's case, it was the calendar, and holidays. Whereas other Bat-villains have just one modus operandi, the Calendar Man could be a couple dozen different villains, based on any number of different holidays, days of the week, seasons, even made-up Hallmark days. He's like a psychotic Multiplex, each with a separate personality and MO.
Then there's also his chilling appearances in The Long Halloween and its sequel Dark Victory, playing a Hannibal Lector-esque resource to Batman's Clarice Starling. Creepy, and much like Silence of the Lambs, you are left fearing what may happen if he gets out himself. Paper cape or not, the Calendar Man is one very bad dude. Just my opinion, folks, but remember, there are no bad characters, just bad writers.
Ms. Flash and the 5 Star Super-Hero Spectacular
Okay, back in the days when comics cost around four bits, DC also put out super-sized books that featured eighty pages for one whole dollar, the Dollar Comics. Trust the old man here, that was a lot of money at the time, and was a serious output for one comic book. One such book, a one-shot, was 5 Star Super-Hero Spectacular (1977). And spectacular it was, as it featured stories of Batman, Green Lantern, the Atom, Aquaman, and the Flash, each unique compared to the typical stories for those heroes in their regular titles.
The Atom returned to his Silver Age roots and visited Alexander Graham Bell via the Time Pool. Green Lantern, who rarely appeared solo without Green Arrow or in space, did both in his tale here. Batman became the first of the super-heroes to face Kobra, and even vowed at the end that the Justice League would bring him down. Aquaman fought the fire-based one-off villain Sunburst in the desert, and won, baby, water be damned. And the Flash appeared in a retro science tale reminiscent of his Silver Age, packed to the rim with Flash Facts.
It's that last one that concerns us. Patty Spivot, a character who barely appeared in the background of Flash stories at that time, was Barry Allen's lab assistant. She recently, much to this old reader's delight, appeared in Geoff Johns' new Flash series in much the same capacity. She also, in the Flashpoint universe, is the new Hot Pursuit. In the 5 Star Super-Hero Spectacular, a one in a million shot in the dark brings struck brings a flash of lightning to Patty while standing in front of a cabinet of chemicals. Sound familiar? Yep, you bet, she gets super-speed.
Making up a red and yellow lightning bolted costume and calling herself, with very seventies flair, Ms. Flash, Patty starts fighting crime in Central City. Unfortunately disaster strikes whenever she uses her powers. Seems different chemicals in the cabinet formed a different combination of powers, and if she doesn't stop, the city will be destroyed. So, Barry keeps it from happening, revealing that his super-quick mind imagined what might happen in seconds, and he rescued her from the accident. No more Ms. Flash. And no one remembers her but me. And Barry Allen, but Barry remembers everything.
Tony Gordon and the Sino-Supermen
Okay, I have no idea who this recent James Gordon, Jr., guy is who claims to be the Commissioner's second son in the recent Detective Comics (like #875), but I do know of Batgirl's older brother. Keep in mind, I'm old and stubborn, and Junior might be post-Crisis and Tony might be pre-Crisis, but in my mind, Tony is much more interesting.
Barbara Gordon's big brother was always something of an enigma. Rumor had it he had had words with Dad and run away from home, or that he was travelling the world. He was always off-panel. Babs missed him, the Commish missed him, but we never actually saw him. Then came the Sino-Superman. Yeah, yeah, I know, but at least it's not as ethnically insulting as Egg Fu or I Ching, right? (oh no, that'll be another Show Notes column, won't it?)
Then, in the late 1970s, Batgirl received word that not only was her brother missing, but that he might have in fact been a spy and might have been kidnapped by the Communist Chinese government. So the dynamic daredoll (not mine, that's what they actually called Batgirl back then) packed up and went to China to find and rescue her brother, and ran afoul of the Sino-Supermen.
It seems that the Chinese did not believe in fate or destiny or accidents. They believed that America's super-heroes had been created in a lab by our government, and so they had done the same thing. They cooked up their own superheroes in the lab -- with one problem: Once they used their powers, they blowed up real good, just like Penguin's goons in the 1966 Batman movie.
So, over the course of several stories, and after wading through these exploding Sino-Supermen, wearing bad Don Heck mock-ups of the original costumes of Superman, Green Lantern, Firestorm, -- Batgirl rescued her brother. Tony Gordon returned to the DCU just in time to vanish into comic book limbo, where only old folks like me remember him.
That's all for this time. I'm sure there will have to be more explanations of obscure and arcane info that likes to stick in my twisted mind. Maybe next time I'll teach y'all how to pronounce all the 'O' villains in the Justice League's rogues gallery... Until then, tune in Wednesday to the next All Things Fun! Comic Vidcast.
By Glenn Walker
Probably the big news this year, or biggest news period in quite some time in the comics industry, is the big relaunch of DC Comics this September. DC will be putting 52 first issues of 52 new and old series, and it's being called a number of things; however, “reboot” is the one word that is being debated.
The core concept is to make DC Comics and its characters more accessible to new readers, and the powers that be believe that a new start is the best way to do this. Reboot is the term bandied about for this, and not just in the comics field – it's been done for decades in pop culture including film, television, and books. In comics, however, is where the word reboot gets a bad name. Comic books are serial fantasy dramas, where status quo and continuity are very important. In other words, the characters and their storylines must both stay the same and yet grow at the same time. It's a slippery slope, and in the right creative hands, it can work; but, as with all things, sometimes the right hands are not available.
The fact is that DC Comics has been around for nearly 80 years, and that means 80 years of stories, 80 years of history, and 80 years of continuity – there's that dirty word again. Imagine dating someone who has 80 years of emotional baggage – yeah, that's how some people view DC Comics' venerable history. So some folks feel it might be better to just start from scratch and avoid all that formidable history. Putting out number one issues of all the comics is a way to do this. It feels new, it feels like a reader is coming in on the ground floor, a fresh start.
At first, despite the cries of anguish from longtime fans who didn't want to see the characters and stories they loved washed away into oblivion, it seemed that this was what DC was doing. We will see a new, younger Superman, along with a new, younger Justice League. Barbara Gordon will be Batgirl again. It appears we have a new version of Mister Terrific, as well as Hawkman, Firestorm, Green Arrow, and Black Canary. We even have a Teen Titans team who has never met before. And in many of the promotions there is a focus on a more diverse DC Universe – with minority characters like Cyborg, Batwoman, Blue Beetle, new African hero Batwing, the aforementioned Mister Terrific, Static, Apollo and Midnighter, and a diverse new Blackhawks team, to just name a few.
Now let's be fair. There are a handful of titles here that I am genuinely excited about. But all is not as it seems. It turns out that some of the new titles will be telling stories of the past. And then DC revealed that certain titles would retain some of their continuity, specifically the Batman, Green Lantern, and Legion families of books. Certain major comic book events of recent times will still occur in continuity. So it isn't a reboot of any kind, or even a fresh start; worse than that, it is beginning to look like it is business as usual. But wait – it gets worse.
There are glaring omissions in the 52 titles. Popular characters and concepts have been left out. First, let’s consider that the Justice Society of America, except for the ominously different Hawkman and Mister Terrific, are nowhere to be found. The JSA are the first superhero team, dating back to 1940. Despite only dealing with the Second World War a few times in their original run, later retcons (the act of retroactively changing continuity) like the All-Star Squadron have deeply rooted the JSA in that war, and with fixed ages.
Technically due to this, the Justice Society members should all be in their nineties at least. Various in-story reasons account for their long life spans. Several members were exposed to the magic of villain Ian Karkull, while others had their own reasons. For the Flash, it was the speed force; Green Lantern, his Power Ring; Wildcat has multiple lives like a cat; Hawkman keeps getting reincarnated; and folks like Doctor Fate and the Spectre are just flat out immortal and take new human hosts as needed. But even after all this time, these things wear thin, and even though the JSA has a loving fanbase, some of the powers that be at DC don't agree.
It's a fact that a fan favorite ongoing series starring the heroes was canceled during the 1990s because editors felt that readers did not want to read about 'old people.' Geoff Johns, DC's current resident wonder boy, and one of the masterminds behind this don't-call-it-a-reboot, brought back the JSA a few years back with great success, introducing a new generation of heroes – legacies of the older heroes – for the original members to train. Ironically, this new JSA featured a cast of characters much more racially and ethnically diverse than anything DC's current line-up of titles promises.
These characters have been given a rest, according to DC Comics co-publisher Dan DiDio. All of them have vanished from the relaunch save Hawkman and Mister Terrific who both seem to currently have no connection to any team. There's been much talk about letting Superman be the first superhero again with this relaunch, and that says one thing to me, folks – there's no Justice Society.
Speaking of Superman, this brings me to the second exception to diversity in the new DC Universe. Not only can't a character be old, they can't be married. Dan DiDio in these post-relaunch weeks has also said that the Lois Lane/Superman marriage is being 're-examined.' What does that mean? Well, it means a lot, whether we're talking about DC's increasing legal troubles with the Siegel and Shuster heirs that indicate several elements of the character may no longer belong to them, including Lois Lane, remains to be seen.
There was much contention a few years ago with the storyline "One More Day" over at Marvel Comics, in which Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson's marriage was dissolved (along with quite a bit of continuity) by the devil Mephisto. Years later the furor still continues, and even though writer Dan Slott is doing a fantastic job with Amazing Spider-Man, this reader has vowed not to buy that comic until the continuity error is fixed, and still hasn't to this day. And I know I'm not alone.
Sometimes retcons work, and sometimes they are just bizarre and done for all the wrong reasons. For me, Spider-Man's marriage was one such error, as it was a natural progression for the character and it made sense. We have all been in long-time relationships, and let's be real here – there is a crap-or-get-off-the-pot equation that occurs, and most people will not wait forever. Sometimes you get married, sometimes you split up.
With Lois Lane, the marriage defines her character. Now before I start getting hate mail, I'm not being sexist and saying she's defined by being his wife. What I am saying is that for the past 20 years, Lois has been not just Superman's wife, but his partner and his equal. As far as I'm concerned, that is 360 degrees from the vindictive, jealous, snoopy, and yes, let's say it, dumb and blind woman of the 1950s and 1960s. And as the Man of Steel's equal she offers insight, a sounding board, and depth to a formerly flat cardboard Superman character.
However, it seems that the powers that be at DC, in their 're-examining' of the relationship, might just decide that the childish, degrading love triangle and secret identity hiding of decades ago is right for this modern couple. This makes me fear equally for the marriages of the Flash and Aquaman. We already know that Hawkman is Hawkgirl-less in the new DC Universe.
So, don't be old, don't be married, and the final minority to take a hit in this don't-call-it-a-reboot seems to be: don't be handicapped. The Batgirl title, written by fan favorite Gail Simone, seems to be telling stories of the past, a past where Barbara Gordon has the full use of her legs, and is not in a wheelchair fighting crime as Oracle. One could also assume the unlikely possibility that these are current-day tales where she's been cured of her paralysis. Either way, DC's number one handicapped hero is no more, and worse yet, if the former option is true, we're going to see her shot again.
Now as much as I love Batgirl, and I love me some Barbara Gordon Batgirl – one of my first crushes was on Yvonne Craig in that tight purple jumpsuit – Oracle was a much better, more defined and in-depth character. I'll take Oracle over Batgirl any day. Barbara never got a JLA membership in the cape, but she got one in the chair, ya know? I want my Oracle back, and not by reliving the horrible, pun unintended, Killing Joke.
So, in closing, DC could stand for Diversity Comics, as long as you're not old, married, or handicapped. Please don't make this so, DC.