By Allison Eckel
All the “New 52” titles from DC Comics are revealed and we can now step back and take it all in. The roll-out of the #1s through September was exciting and comics readers young and old found much to draw them in. Well, not young; let me qualify that. Adult comics readers – only – found much to draw them in. Every issue carries a rating of Teen or higher because the action and drama are more serious, more violent, more “dark.”
Even titles I hoped would be okay for my tween to read turned out to have bloody surprises buried in the subplot. For example, Fury of Firestorm the Nuclear Men. Viewers of the All Things Fun! Vidcast have heard me say that Firestorm was the first comic I actively purchased on my own, with my own 60 cents (that was Fury of Firestorm, launched in 1982 by Gerry Conway and Patrick Broderick). Title character Ronnie Raymond was a likeable every-student caught up in a crazy world of heroics through a catastrophic nuclear-related accident. The result was that at will, he and the brainy science teacher who was with him at the accident could transform themselves into Firestorm – Ronnie controlling the body and Professor Stein giving him science lessons in his head. I loved this comic and counted the days until the convenience store half a mile away got a new shipment so I could walk there after school. I was in the second grade.
Jump ahead thirty years to last month when I eagerly purchased Ronnie’s rebirth, created at the hands of Ethan Van Sciver and Gail Simone. The new twist is that the brain of Firestorm is another student this time plus the world may know more than one Firestorm. Compelling layers to the new mythos. But the graphic terrorist subplot in issue 1 means that I can’t share it with my own fourth grader. I know that terrorism happens in the world, but if we didn’t have to see it so graphically displayed, then I could have brought a new life-long reader into the fold. Those scenes felt like the creators ramped up the violence so that Firestorm could earn its Teen rating. In other words, purely for shock and not actually necessary for the story.
That trend, I’m afraid, ran rampant through the #1s of the New 52. As a long-time reader looking forward to passing the tradition of DC Comics superheroes to my own kid, I am almost completely disappointed. Almost. A small selection of titles were okay for a younger reader, but I can’t trust that they will always be. My son read Justice League #1 by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee and he loved it. He wants to read #2, but I will have to read it first to make sure something isn’t thrown in just for the sake of shock and awe.
My son also read Aquaman #1, which is also written by Geoff Johns. Yes, a fisherman was eaten by the Trench monsters, but the action happened "off screen," with just red water and our imaginations to fill in the details. I think in the hands of different creators, we would have been "treated" to the fisherman's horrified face while monsters rip his body to shreds. I am thankful that the Aquaman team seems to have more class than that.
Among the few books I will offer my fourth grader are Static Shock, Flash, Teen Titans, Blue Beetle, and possibly Demon Knights. This last one does include a demonically possessed infant, but the rest is such a fun ride I really want it to be okay for him. Demon Knights is written by Paul Cornell, who I find to be such a good writer that he doesn’t need shocking images to compel the reader.
I am left befuddled. Many of the new 52 are very well written, but too many, in my opinion, are more horror books than hero books. Because of this, I am no longer buying most of Batman’s core stories. I can see where Batman is the hero closest to the horror genre, but I just don’t read horror, no matter how well written. For me, that also leaves out Swamp Thing and Animal Man, two very well written books. The real world is scary enough; I don't need horror in my escapist entertainment.
NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast recently discussed DC's New 52. Glen Weldon, NPR's book critic and comics blogger, also felt that the New 52s were not o.k. to give his kid. His statement is dead on: This is “a massive missed opportunity to not indoctrinate [younger readers].” He explained how Scholastic sent his family a huge box of new books for review. His kids were so excited to pour over them. Then, DC Comics sent him the entire line of New 52 for his office to review. He spread them out on the conference room table and the adults reacted with, “Meh.” Kids – the middle graders from about third grade on – get super excited by heroes with gadgets or magic or whatever. By moving the whole universe to Teen plus away from “All Ages,” they are actively working against their own need to widen their market reach.
At the same time, DC has increased its superhero-licensed toy lines for preschoolers. This blows my mind. While I am excited that three-year-olds now have an Fisher-Price Imaginext DC Super Friends Green Lantern Planet OA " target="_blank">Oa playset and Fisher Price Little People can share the zoo with Little People DC Super Friends~Wonder Woman & Batgirl Figure Pack " target="_blank">Wonder Woman and Batgirl, I have to wonder how kids even know who these characters are anymore. They are listed withe the DC Super Friends registered trademark, which goes with a great comic DC no longer publishes. Preschoolers are too little to see the PG-13-rated Green Lantern movie. Wonder Woman’s new comic is rated Teen, and the always fantastic Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon is going off the air. If DC has a plan for bringing age-appropriate stories to younger readers, I would really like to hear it.
Alternatively, we have begun to check out the quality work currently published by other companies. CrossGen’s series Mystic by G. Willow Wilson and David López is rated Teen-plus, but by issue 2 contained nothing inappropriate for my fourth-grader (side note: He really enjoyed these stories, too). Over at Image Comics, Super Dinosaur continues to thrill (when it actually ships), and Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors is as fun and irreverent as Despicable Me. Following a hilarious intro on Free Comic Book Day, I have ordered Th3rd World Studios’ The Intrepid Escape Goat as well. And of course, I have been a collector of DC Comics since 1979. So, I am thankful that I have hoarded my comics so my fourth grader has 4,000 fantastic DC Comics superhero books to pour over. Nearly every one of these is okay for him to read because the publisher had to submit to that pesky Comics Code Authority. It may have bugged creators, but it truly enabled publishers to keep their market broad.
By Allison Eckel
The Blackest Night is over so we must return to our monthlies to read about our heroes picking up the pieces after defeating their worst nightmares made flesh. After such a crisis, I expect to slog through a few months of everyone bemoaning the psycho-drama, revisiting their loss, their struggle, their burden of continuing. Instead, the editors at DC Comics have learned lessons from the recovery from 52, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis, et al. They have given us Brightest Day, which so far seems to be a framework for the recovery; a focus for the characters to avoid the endless whining.
The title Brightest Day sounds like it will be a big-smile, broad-chested, hands-on-hips, cape flapping in the wind way to look at life. What we actually get with Brightest Day is so much more complicated. Now, it’s not Grant Morrison complicated, thank goodness. But it is seeking to accomplish many things all at once, and so far doing it smoothly. Brightest Day is bringing back 12 departed characters and reinserting them into the universe (at least for now). The characters include some headliners like Aquaman, Firestorm, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, and Martian Manhunter, together with Deadman, Hawk, Captain Boomerang, Black Adam’s adopted son Osiris, Jade, and Maxwell Lord. Since Barry Allen’s Flash returned from his “death” in the speed force just before Blackest Night, he doesn’t count here. So, why is Flash one of the Brightest Day titles? The twelfth returned character is Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash.
And already, this list is so much more interesting than it first appears. Aquaman is alive and reunited with Mera, but his power to summon sea life seems limited to dead creatures. Hawkgirl is once again Shiera, not the more recent Kendra. Firestorm has always combined two people into one hero, only now it combines old and new versions with Ronnie Raymond with Jason Rush -- and neither is happy about it. Captain Boomerang and the Reverse Flash are both incarcerated at the start, but early glimpses indicate they won’t be for long. Osiris had once linked up with the Teen Titans, but he has now joined Deathstroke as a mercenary in Slade Wilson’s twisted one shot Titans: Villains for Hire. Maxwell Lord has a grand plan, as always, and it begins by making nearly everyone on Earth forget him. Everyone except former Justice League International members Booster Gold, Captain Atom, Fire, and Ice. Hank Hall has returned to be Hawk to Dawn Granger’s Dove, but more than an avatar of war, he sees himself as a soldier of God. Maybe the Birds of Prey will calm him down. Finally, Deadman, at long last alive but not yet with free will, is compelled by a mysterious force to visit each of the twelve; and he’s not sure why he’s wearing a white lantern ring.
The separate reintegration stories all have legs to carry them, seemingly without Brightest Day: Who is blackmailing the Birds of Prey? Can Barry Allen balance all aspects of his life? Will the mercenary Titans continue to kill heroes or will they implode from internal strife (spoiler alert: we no longer have two Atoms)? Will the JLI find Maxwell Lord before he carries out his big plan?
In the case of Flash, Brightest Day is the opportunity for a headliner to reboot an existing title.Flash Reborn had me worried. I’m a big Wally West fan, so when the esteemed Barry Allen returned angry and without hope, I considered giving up on the speedsters. But so far, the regular Flash series has me really excited for more. Brightest Day tie-in aside, this first issue laid some solid foundations for a long-running series. The Fastest Man Alive is the slowest member of his police forensics department because he is one of the few government workers who still care about a quality outcome. He is also married to a fast-paced newspaper reporter, which brings conflict into his home life. On top of that, he is the Flash. All of this we know already. This is a return to life as Barry knew it before the Crisis on Infinite Earths. The freshness for readers is in the art by Francis Manapul, and in the way Geoff Johns is willing to step back and let the art tell much of the story. Here's an interview with Manapul about this issue.
Here’s a fun experiment. I went into one of my storage boxes and pulled out an issue of Flash at random. Out came #226, written by Stuart Immonen and Kathryn Kuder. Here is what Wally has to say to us on page 1:
“Check it, don’t these jerks ever learn? There must be at least two synaptic nanoseconds between this joker’s mouth and his trigger finger. Enough time to realize this is a totally useless endeavor. And they’ll have enough time to mull over what went wrong… in jail! I don’t get much time for quiet contemplation. After all, I am the Flash – the Fastest Man Alive!”
I don’t mean to criticize the writing. After all, it is difficult for me to comprehend Wally’s level of speed and descriptions about “synaptic nanoseconds” help. But, to compare, turn to the newFlash #1. Pour over the first 11 pages. The words are mostly removed and replaced with an exploding car, a steering wheel headed straight for a kid, and a scarlet speedster crackling with energy holding the steering wheel an inch from the kid’s nose – he caught it, and I can breathe again. Wow.
After Blackest Night, I should be cross-over-weary. I should be ready to return to the regular slog of monthly titles. I was ready to look cynically on Brightest Day as just another hook to get me to spend more money. But so far, it has surpassed my expectations. I am very excited for more.
Great online resource: Resurrection Checklist. This online document provides the issue numbers for the deaths of each of the 12 resurrected characters for Brightest Day. I would have liked to see digital pages linked through this, but at least I know what to shop for if my collection has a hole.
Flash and Birds of Prey aren’t the only titles starting afresh this month. Here is a cavalcade of First Issues, including:
Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne (Grant Morrison picks up where he left off in the final pages of Final Crisis #7)
DC Universe Legacies #1 (A 10-part history of the DCU, because after every major crisis, they have to re-write their own history)
Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (by Paul Levitz, former DC corporate honcho now returning to his creative roots)
Zatanna #1 (from the preview looks a lot like a sexier “Harry Dresden.”)