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
I have been crippled by the Internet.
I am now three (ok, four) days late on my post because every time I sit down to write, I first have to check Twitter. After reading countless posts by writers, comedians, politicians, bloggers, and friends, I usually get a new topic idea, set to research it, and run out of time for the day.
Case in point: Over the weekend I started following a story about Lois Lane. A fan in England started an online campaign to get Lois her own comic series. The trending topic #LoisLaneSeries turned into a big deal (although many of the participants appeared to be sequential accounts of the same three people). They contacted comics writers and asked for re-tweets and many actually gave positive comments as well.
Great, I thought: I will write a blog post about the great, unsinkable Lois Lane, about her history in comics and other media, and what her own title today might look like. Of course, I will also speculate on the effectiveness of a grass-roots Twitter campaign on the engine that is DC Comics Editorial.
As I sat down to write this awesome Lois Lane blog post, I first checked Twitter. Newsarama beat me to it. Theirs is the article I wanted to write. I guess that will teach me to play with my kids all afternoon instead of writing, right?
Here's another lesson learned by this: The comics creators are more approachable today than ever before. Most of them are on Twitter, so you don't have to communicate through the letters column anymore. Oh, right: There is no letters column anymore.
So, bookmark this page and fire up your Twitter account. Here is a smattering of comics creatives who are currently active in social media. And there are more, so feel free to post a few others in the comments section.
Brian M. Bendis (writer, Avengers)
Paul Cornell (writer, Knight & Squire)
Sterling Gates (writer, Supergirl)
Phil Hester (artist, Green Hornet)
Geoff Johns (DC Comics Chief Creative Officer, writer Brightest Day)
Ron Marz (writer, Velocity)
Bryan Q. Miller (writer, Batgirl)
Chris Samnee (artist, Thor: The Mighty Avenger)
Gail Simone (writer, Secret Six)
Paul Cornell also has a blog on which he is running a contest. The prize: an entire box of comp issues from DC Comics (122 monthlies plus a handful of trade paperbacks and other goodies). To enter, visit this page of his blog and attempt to answer the really challenging trivia questions. Example: 6: In what way are 'Wonder Woman', Metallo and Roger Penrose the same person?
His contest deadline is December 22, so hurry!
In the meantime, send notes of encouragement to your favorite comics industry creatives.
By Glenn Walker
If that title sounds familiar, it should, it was used just one of many times somebody in the media tried to make Wonder Woman relevant. "The New Original Wonder Woman" was the tagline and temporary title of the 1970s television series starring Lynda Carter. At least then, the character of Wonder Woman was recognizable.
If you've been paying attention the last week or so to pop culture media you've heard of the newest brew-ha-ha over everyone's favorite Amazon Princess. Not for the first time, DC Comics has decided to mess with Wonder Woman, and writer J.M. Straczynski, notably the man who erased Spider-Man's marriage from existence and more recently grounded Superman, has been named the man for the job.
The dirty deed happens in the iconic landmark issue #600 of Wonder Woman on shelves now. This oversized comic also features an introduction by the aforementioned Lynda Carter, great stories by Gail Simone (the exiting WW writer who has done tremendous work with the character), Amanda Conner and Louise Simonson, amazing art by George Perez, Phil Jimenez, Greg Horn and Ivan Reis, a handful of pin-up pages all that I quite enjoyed - and the offending new version of Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman has been changed and/or rebooted several times over the last almost seven decades. The most notable change was in 1968 and lasted almost five years. Wonder Woman was stripped of her powers, arsenal, costume and her supporting cast, including her Amazon sisters. She found a new mentor who trained her in the martial arts and she fought crime using her wits and fighting skills in a white jumpsuit as Diana Prince.
Then, as now, there was a public outcry against this change. Feminist Gloria Steinem in particular railed against this depowering of the strong female role model. While the stories themselves weren't really all that bad, they weren't Wonder Woman. The status quo was returned in 1973 as Wonder Woman found her sisters and her powers again and became weirdly amnesiac of her time in the white jumpsuit pretending to be Emma Peel of the Avengers. No, not those Avengers, but I'm glad you're paying attention.
Wonder Woman, like many of DC Comics' characters, was also rebooted in 1985. Writer/artist George Perez jettisoned the invisible jet, the Diana Prince secret identity, and Steve Trevor as a romantic interest in favor of a father figure role. Perez also upped her power levels, gave her finally the full ability to fly and tied her origins and backstory more tightly to the Olympian gods. This was a good change, and most of all, she was still Wonder Woman - trademark, imagery, continuity and marketing were all intact.
The current change, presented in a ten-page story in Wonder Woman #600, is a serious change, more in line with the 1968 shake-up. Note the similarities. Diana no longer has her Amazonian supporting cast as Themyscira is destroyed. She's wearing a full bodysuit and depending on simply fighting skills. There seems to be a serious depowering going on, as she doesn't fly and is shown fighting human agents in an urban setting.
The new costume is practical, and makes sense, but it's not Wonder Woman. Sorry, I hate to be the crab here, but sometimes tradition and recognition trump practicality and logic. Take Superman. Capes are dumb, but he's not Superman without the cape. Same with Diana. No armored bathing suit, no Wonder Woman.
Her origin has been mucked about, from all indications, by time travel and some diabolical villain. And Diana's mission seems to be to uncover what really happened and ideally reverse it, right? If she does, and she wins, won't everything go back to the way it was? I doubt it. Logic seems to dictate our heroine will lose this fight - another reason for me to dislike this new paradigm.
What is most disturbing to me about the story by JMS and artist Don Kramer, is that the main character, Wonder Woman, if she is even being called that, is completely bland. And the elements that are interesting - the sewer of guardians so similar to the mysterious subway in Captain Marvel's origin and the so obviously Neil Gaiman Oracle, are lifted from other sources. Indeed, the Oracle is far more interesting than the reputed star of the story.
It's a shame that the other three and half stories in this issue outshine the one we're supposed to be the most interested in. I guess we'll have to wait for Wonder Woman #601 to get a better idea of what we really have here. And if not, Wonder Woman has returned to her original and most known form after every other change - let's hope it happens this time as well.