You might know writer Grant Morrison from his recent amazing runs on Action Comics and Batman, or perhaps from Animal Man, JLA, or his bestselling book on comics, Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero. Or you might know his more esoteric work like The Invisibles, Doom Patrol, SeaGuy and We3, or his upcoming DC magnum opus Multiversity. Any way you cut it, you know the name. Grant Morrison is one of the creative movers and shakers in the world of comics. But did you know he doesn't just do superheroes?
Happy! is the deeply noir tale of Nick Sax, an ex-cop turned hit man whose life is in a state of quickly changing and ever-endangering flux. When a hit goes wrong, he's on the run from both the mob and a psycho killer in a Santa Claus suit. And then there's that tiny flying blue horse named Happy that only Nick can see…
Morrison's partner on Happy! is artist Darrick Robertson who most folks might know from The Boys. Like that series, Happy! is mature readers only because of excessive violent, sexual, and language content, so be warned. That said, this is a really terrific collection. This trade from Image Comics collects the first four-issue mini-series and lists at $12.99, and is available at All Things Fun! this week, check it out!
By Glenn Walker
It is a good time to be a comic book archer. Green Arrow is coming back to the TV screen with a series called "Arrow" in the fall, and this summer Oscar winner Jeremy Renner blew us all away as Hawkeye in the big screen version of Marvel's The Avengers. They have both come a long way from being just Batman with a bow and the low man in Iron Man's rogues gallery.
The Archer, or the Bow and Arrow Guy, is one of the comic book hero templates. When the average comic book reader thinks 'archer' or 'bow and arrow guy,' they think Green Arrow or Hawkeye, depending on whether you're a DC or Marvel fanperson. The truth is that's only the tip of the arrow so to speak. Welcome to a handy tour of the bow and arrow folks of the comic book world, and trust me, there are a lot of them… but we'll start with the big guns, ahem, bows…
Green Arrow has been rebooted, revamped, re-thought and (this one is for you, Allison) re-jiggered several times, but for the most part, his origins remain the same. Green Arrow was created by Mort Weisinger and George Papp, and first appeared in 1941's More Fun Comics #73, which coincidentally also featured the first appearance of Aquaman. Spoiled brat millionaire Oliver Queen was stranded on a deserted island (or another similar isolated nowheresville) and had to learn archery to survive. His rescue usually happens at the hands of criminals whom Queen takes down with his mad archery skillz, and is thus inspired to become a full-time crimefighter, the Green Arrow.
Along the way, Queen built an arsenal of trick arrows, a secret headquarters the Arrowcave, specialized vehicles like the Arrowcar, the Arrowplane, and even the Arrowboat, and his adopted ward, also trained in archery, became his sidekick, Speedy. Quickly Green Arrow was looked upon as nothing more than Batman with a bow, or worse yet, a knock-off Batman.
Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams changed all that with their late 1960s take on the character, giving him a new costume, facial hair unheard of for superheroes, and a liberal attitude in a time when comic book characters did not have social consciousnesses. The new Green Arrow became wildly popular, was eventually paired up with both Green Lantern and romantic interest Black Canary in the award-winning Green Lantern/Green Arrow series. In one story, he was conflicted by Speedy's heroin addiction, an event which would follow that character for the rest of his career.
The Justice League's resident archer and left wing voice of reason remains an iconic hero today, recently conquering live action prime time as supporting cast in "Smallville," and soon to return in a new vision in "Arrow." In the comics, he has his own title in DC Comics' New 52, albeit younger, slicker, and less liberal - more Tony Stark than Oliver Queen. Times change, I guess.
I've talked about Hawkeye the Marksman here before briefly. Hawkeye AKA Clint Barton was introduced as a reluctant foe of Iron Man in 1964's Tales of Suspense #57, and created by Stan Lee and Don Heck. After a few more less villainous appearances, he became an Avenger in the first major membership shake-up of that team, becoming one of 'Cap's Kooky Quartet.' There, training by Captain America was joined by his weapons mastery taught him by the villain Trick Shot (another archer) and future Avenger the Swordsman.
While like Green Arrow, Hawkeye made use of gimmicked arrows, his character was more fleshed out by his abrasive personality. He was always the stirrer, the smart aleck, and always bucking to lead the Avengers over Captain America. Ironically, years later, Hawkeye would become the leader of the West Coast Avengers, a product of having Cap as a role model. While Green Arrow may have preceded Hawkeye by decades, the latter's emergence as a fully formed character preceded that of the former. Also on the copycat scale, Hawkeye's romantic interest for some time was the Black Widow, and later he married Mockingbird, both characters having more than a passing similarity to Green Arrow's Black Canary.
The Avengers resident archer has become one of the most reliable and stalwart members of the team. Whether he goes by the name Hawkeye, Goliath, or Ronin, he can usually be found at the front of the fight, charging headlong into battle, no matter if Ultron or Kang will just laugh off a trick arrow or not. That's just our Hawkeye, brave beyond reason.
Archers of the Golden Age
Back over at DC, that company published adventures of the original heroic archer, Robin Hood, as early as 1938. Robin Hood Tales was originally published by Quality Comics but eventually by DC after they acquired several of their characters and magazines. Of course, Robin Hood being a public legend, copyright is kinda off the table, but there you go.
Quality also had a feature called "Alias the Spider" in Crack Comics. Created by Paul Gustavson, Tom Halloway fought crime with his bow and arrows, his valet Chuck, and a cool car called the Black Widow. In modern times writer James Robinson retconned the Spider into a foe of The Shade, and not necessarily a hero or even a nice guy at all, in his amazing Starman series. Grant Morrison also created a legacy of the character with I, Spyder, however briefly, in his Seven Soldiers.
Quality also had The Marksman. Fawcett Comics featured Golden Arrow. Centaur Publications had The Arrow, also created by Paul Gustavson, who was briefly revived in the 1990s by Malibu Comics. He can also be seen in Dynamite's comic featuring public domain heroes, Project Superpowers. There was also the Huntress in Yellowjacket Comics from Charlton, not to mention Young Robin Hood, and the Green Knight, all costumed crimefighters of the Golden Age who used the bow and arrows.
Sidekicks and Legacies
The aforementioned Speedy was Roy Harper, Oliver Queen's ward. He had two different origins, both similar, much like his mentor's various beginnings. Eventually he grew up to become Arsenal, and then Red Arrow, a full-fledged member of the Justice League. Later GA took on another sidekick named Speedy, this time the teenaged runaway, Mia Dearden. The second Speedy was notable for being both a child prostitute and one of the few HIV positive characters in comics.
Much like Batman in this regard, Green Arrow has not only been sidekicked by three kids, but one of them is also his son. While GA was dead (don't ask, you know how death works in comic books, it's temporary at best) his son Connor Hawke took up the bow and mantle of Green Arrow, and like Roy Harper years later, Connor also took Ollie's place in the Justice League for a while.
Not to be outdone, while Marvel's Hawkeye was dead (I did tell you not to ask, didn't I?), Kate Bishop in the Young Avengers took up the bow, as well as several other weapons, and began calling herself Hawkeye. It should be noted at this point, that Hawkeye, like Roy Harper, is an expert of all projectile weapons, not just arrows. Daredevil's arch-foe Bullseye's whole schtick revolves around this particular skill.
One more legacy, and it's another embarrassing reminder of the days when Green Arrow was just Batman with a bow. He too had international counterparts who were inspired by him. Where Batman has the Batmen of All Nations, which eventually evolved into Batman Inc., Green Arrow had the Green Arrows of the World. Their membership included the Ace Archer of Japan, the Phantom of France, the Bowman of the Bush, Verde Flecha, the Bowman of Britain, and the Polynesian Archer. Hey, Grant Morrison, wanna write Green Arrow next?
There have been a fair amount of baddies who have used the bow and arrow motif for evil as well. The Golden Age Superman and the 1966 television Batman were plagued by the villainous Archer. Also in the Golden Age, Wildcat's foe, the Huntress (also known as Tigress) used a crossbow. This choice of weapon was passed down to both her daughter, Artemis, as well as her heroic namesake, the Huntress.
Many of the villains with bows however were members of Green Arrow's mostly forgotten rogues gallery. Among them were Black Arrow, the Crimson Archer, Cupid, Ape Archer, Funny Arrow, the Iron Archer, John Centaur, most lost to the sands of time. The most known of these would probably be the Rainbow Archer and Red Dart (who our buddy Grant Morrison actually did dig up for his JLA run). Later on there was also Shado, GA's on again/off again lover; Natas, who trained Green Arrow and Deathstroke among others; and Merlyn the Magician of the League of Assassins, one of the hero's most dangerous foes.
In the old days Green Arrow frequently faced a female rival named Miss Arrowette, whose daughter Arrowette with a bit of retconning became a major player in Young Justice. Combined with the aforementioned Huntress' daughter, she is the inspiration for the double agent character of Artemis in Cartoon Network's "Young Justice" cartoon. There was also the Blue Bowman, in reality Batman foe the Signalman, who got the idea of being a bow and arrow villain by being cellmates with Green Arrow enemy Bull's Eye.
There are many other archers, on both sides of the law. I've haven't covered Artemis who was once Wonder Woman, Yondu the Alpha Centaurian archer from the 31st century's Guardians of the Galaxy, Firestorm foe Moonbow, White Feather of the Inferior 5, brief Justice Leaguer Maya, any of the Old West archers, Shaft, Archer (sans Armstrong), Legolas, or even Xeen Arrow, the Green Arrow of Dimension Zero yet. But there's only so much space. Be assured there have been many behind the bow in the comics, and there will be more.
I'll see y'all next time. I'm off to the movie theater to see Brave. I hear that Princess Merida is a heck of a shot too…
By Allison Eckel
I defended Superman at a six-year-old's birthday party recently. We were at one of those party places that feature large inflatable slides and bouncing houses, that are big enough to accommodate 50 screaming kids. The rooms are deafening and feature one small bench wordlessly offered to the pregnant mom or the one who chose really uncomfortable shoes. I'm an old hand at this rodeo, so I know to dress for standing and have a full charge on my phone to keep occupied because the room is dark and too loud to hold good conversations.
Regardless, at this party I found myself in a good conversation. I introduced myself to one of the few dads in the room; I am his daughter's scout leader and knew only his wife. Yelling to each other like we were at a club with 20-year-olds, we discussed what we do and I mention that I blog about comic books. At this mention, women usually give me a quizzical look, make an offhand comment, and return to a more familiar topic. Men, however, usually get more focused, express a, "Really?" heavily charged with wonder, bemusement, respect, and a hint of something -- envy? -- even if they don't like comics.
This guy falls into the majority of guys who read Marvel comics in their youth but got away from it sometime before high school and now remember the experience with nostalgia. To that end, he expressed an interest in exposing his eight-year-old son to comics. Well, I replied, all-ages comics is something of a specialty for me. I immediately recommended he begin with the new Superman Family Adventures, which would give a nice introduction to both comics form and the best hero role model ---
"No, I don't really like Superman." He cut me off. I was silent for several seconds. He doesn't like Superman? It's Superman! He saw I was shocked and tried to cover, "He's just too perfect. He always wins and it's easy. I just don't get it." For this reason, he always preferred Marvel's Avengers cast, including Hulk, Iron Man, even Captain America.
This is not a unique perspective on Superman. Indeed, it may be The Man of Steel's biggest adversary: The perception that he is uninteresting because he is too perfect. Many Superman stories in his 75-year-history have involved him simply beating the bad guys into submission or arriving in time to save Lois. If these are the only ones you read, then you would not find him compelling.
Grant Morrison's reboot of the character's canon in Action Comics of the New 52 seeks to change that, as I wrote before. And DC Entertainment just gave us all Superman vs. The Elite on DVD, which brings Action Comics #775 (2001) to the masses. In that issue, writer Joe Kelly grabbed several moral dilemmas much debated by governments and put them in the hands of meta-humans and a Kryptonian alien. Do terrorists deserve due process or should they be killed? Should people with the power to keep humanity safe have the power to define “safe”? How should we define the line between what is right and what is righteous?
The best Superman stories also involve him using his intelligence to solve the problem instead of just his fists. When finally confronting Manchester Black and the Elite, Superman sees that an all-out brawl would solve nothing. His solution for how to teach them a lesson is elegant, intelligent, and humbling.
I like having an infallible hero who I know will always make the right decision. One who will never jump sides or cross that line. When Wonder Woman killed Max Lord in Wonder Woman #219 (2005) she crossed a line. But she’s a trained warrior; her sister Amazons would never have an issue with killing a murdering madman. Yes, she’s supposed to answer to a higher code, but I think it’s Superman who ultimately enforces that code. I would be able to take it from Batman, who in some incarnations takes a perverse pleasure in keeping his adversaries alive so they have to suffer in their continued existence. Death for them would be the easy way out. Superman's view of justice may seem simplistic compared with his two peers, but it is a difficult view to maintain. And stories like Action #775 serve to remind us all why Superman is the greatest super-hero.
But don't take my word for it. Explore Superman on your own:
If you count yourself among comics fans who never quite liked Superman, give the new movie, Superman vs. The Elite, a try.
To read Action Comics #775, you could pick up Justice League Elite, vol. 1 and vol. 2, which includes that issue along with the Justice League Elite mini-series.
To introduce younger readers to Superman and his characters, Superman Family Adventures is on sale now and features the creative team behind Tiny Titans, Art Baltazar and Franco.
And now is the perfect time to re-discover the Man of Steal in the universe of the New 52. The first eight issues of Action Comics will be released August 1 in Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Supermen and the Men of Steel.
By Allison Eckel
If you visited All Things Fun! or another Local Comic Shop on May 5, you likely grabbed three free comic books. That was a small percentage of the goodness available on that Free Comic Book Day (FCBD). I was fortunate enough to gain access to a complete stack of the free comics available. Although not all of them fit with my reading taste, a whopping 25 titles out of 76 are stories I would continue to read. That is one-third of the titles pushed by publishers at this year’s event. Remember, many free comics contained at least two stories – some as many as six – so these numbers are based on titles promoted with at least a few pages of story, not the ones treated to a single-page ad.
First, a disclaimer to explain what I look for in comics. If you read my posts, you may have an idea of what attracts me to a book. I like smart storytelling with well-crafted characters. I don’t like gratuitous violence. I like pretty pictures of pretty people, and the artists get a bonus if they use their space in creative ways. Since we are all attracted to different aspects of comics, your list would look different from mine. Following is a list of the highlights, sorted by publisher. These are all stand-out stories currently outside the mainstream of comics (read: not DC or Marvel). Follow the links for any of these that sound interesting and contact your Local Comic Shop (ahem, for All Things Fun! subs or one-time orders, stop in or call) to ask about availability.
Antarctic Press: Zombie Kid is not just a snarky spoof of the popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series (although it started out that way and got into trouble for it; details here). It is similar in concept in that each story centers on an awkward middle-grade boy experiencing physical and social changes. For Zombie Kid's Bill Stokes, however, those changes are not due to puberty but to a zombie virus. Hilarity ensues. Actually, I root for Bill more than his successful mainstream predecessor because he is not a lazy underachiever. Rather than a wimp hoping to go unnoticed by the world, Bill has big dreams of video game championships and keeps a diary as a training tactic. I am not a fan of Wimpy, but I do like Zombie.
Archaia Entertainment: Consider everything they publish. For FCBD this year, they offered a beautiful hardcover anthology of six titles they are bringing to comic shops now or imminently. Every one is worth consideration: Mouse Guard, Labrynth: Hoggle and the Worm, Steps of the Dapper Men (a prelude to Time of the Dapper Men), Rust, Cursed Pirate Girl, and Cow Boy. Visit the publisher's site and click "titles" for a full list, including age ratings, which I much appreciate.
Aspen: Homecoming and Idolized. I am not familiar with the worlds of Aspen Comics, but they look to be populated with pretty young people with super-powers or guns, or both. There's nothing wrong with that, but I expected the stories to be as vapid as the characters looked. As a suburban mom who reads comic books, I should know better than to make such snap judgments. Homecoming centers around a group of high school friends endowed with alien abilities when a long-lost girl appears in someone's pool (naked, natch). The title links several events together, including the return of this lost girl, the aliens who may have taken her, and the eponymous high school dance. The openning pages sucked me in and I didn't want them to let go.
Idolized is teased with fewer pages, but just enough to give us a glimpse of a world rife with possibility. What if the world were full of super-powered people? Stands to reason that realtiy tv would eventually feature a few. Supers on reality TV is now officially a trend, with Image Comic's America's Got Powers in full swing (I recommend this one too, by the way). The sample of Idolized introduces us to Leslie, a quiet girl who wants to be the first "superhero idol" out of a need for redemption. Cut to the flash back and remember to breathe...
Boom! Studios: The Hypernaturals. What if a world-renowned super-hero group similar to JLA or Avengers called itself the Hypernaturals and rotated its roster every few years to keep the members in their youthful prime? Then, what if the latest team disappeared on their first mission in a scary, mysterious way? The older heroes would have to dust off that spandex to find them. New concepts in super-hero comics are difficult to find, and The Hypernaturals manages to stay fresh and compelling.
Image Comics: Waiting for G-Man and It Girl and the Atomics. I already mentioned Image Comics' new limited series America's Got Powers, which you should all check out. From their FCBD issue, I also recommend Waiting for G-Man and It-Girl and the Atomics. I don't actually know a lot about G-Man, but it seems funny, all-ages goodness with a smart mind at the helm (will the title actually refer to the Beckett play? I can't wait to find out).
It Girl takes on the physical properties of anything she touches. Touch concrete, become solid and immovable. Touch a plastic shopping bag, and float with the wind off of a high building. I think that's a pretty cool concept. Plus, the supposedly reformed villain she meets is called the Skunk, complete with bushy tail. I like the way this starts; whether I stay with it will depend on the quality and depth of the stories that unfold.
Trend Alert: Dinosaurs!
Dinosaurs seem to be an ongoing trend in comics. Four titles feature them, which may be the biggest trend outside of “superheroes.” Atomic Robo (Red 5 Comics) has a comical dino adversary; Dinosaurs v. Aliens (Liquid Comics) is dramatic and written by Grant Morrison; Jurassic Strike Force 5 (Zenescope) comes off like an after-school cartoon full of cool/macho soldiers that happen to be dinosaurs (well, it is from Zenescope); and Neozoic (Red 5 Comics) blends mysterious monster dinos with swords and female leads in a way that evokes Ring of Fire. I already enjoy the all-ages, super-cool Super Dinosaur (Kirkman’s SkyBound). Atomic Robo has a similar tone, though its brainy scientist is an actual robot instead of a kid. There may be room for both in my list, but I will definitely check out Neozoic – it seems the freshest of the bunch.
Although many of the above titles are considered "all ages," I have a selection of kid-specific comics to tell you all about next time. Until then, give a few of these new titles a try, and tell me what you think.
By Allison Eckel
I found Action Comics no. 1 off-putting. It is set in a different time from the rest of the New 52 (an ambiguous “five years ago”). The Superman we all know so well acts very un-Superman-like – in fact, he’s kind of a jerk. He even pulls a page from Batman’s playbook (although he doesn’t yet realize it) and suspends a bad guy upside down in the air until he confesses. Most of the issue is action and kinetic energy, with our T-shirt-wearing super-hero getting the tar beat out of him by a wrecking ball and a speeding train. Exciting, but as a fan of Superman of the past 30 years, I felt like Alice following that darned white rabbit down its hole. I wrote about my apprehension of this re-jigger, and after reading issue no. 1, I was not optimistic for the future of DC Comics.
Then I read issue no. 2, including the pages at the end of the book on which the creative team explain what they did. Now, usually, if a comic book needs the creators to explain it, then I say something went wrong in the storytelling. However, in the New 52, many things are different. Reading these explanatory pages kept me reading Action Comics, and then, the comic made sense.
What follows is my deconstruction of what I think writer Grant Morrison and artist Rags Morales are doing with Action Comics, and therefore, why I think it is among the top books of the New 52. I must confess, most of this has been laid out for me (and all of you) to find by Morrison, who seems to work hard at ensuring his readers never take comics as easy, light fluff.
With DC wiping its editorial slate (mostly) clean and re-launching their characters in the New 52, Morrison is seizing his opportunity to bring Superman back to his beginnings, a character he describes in his book Supergods:
“The Superman who made his debut on the cover of Action Comics no. 1 was just a demigod, not yet the pop deity he would become,” Morrison writes on page 4. “[T]his Superman was unable to fly, resorting instead to tremendous single bounds. He could neither orbit the world at the speed of light nor stop the flow of time. That would come later. In his youth, he was almost believable. [Creators] Siegel and Shuster were careful to ground his adventures in a contemporary city, much like New York, in a fictional would haunted by the all-too-familiar injustices of the real one.”
Morrison and Morales are working closely together to deliver at least three distinct-yet-seamlessly entwined levels to Action Comics to achieve this modern re-set of Superman: the action, the canon, and the commentary.
For action, Morrison has already stated that Clark’s powers are now less than most of us are used to. He cannot yet fly and he can be hurt, just not easily. In the back of Action Comics no. 2, Morrison explains that he is, “constantly putting Superman up against very physical objects.” Indeed, the first three issues of this new run have been packed with scenes in which Clark meets the seemingly immovable object, and does not always win. He comes out battered, bruised, bloodied.
The quiet moments are still filled with detail. Morales has made a point of differentiating Clark-in-cape and Clark. Morales explained that he “put [Clark] in baggy clothing to hide his muscles. Maybe stoop his posture a little bit, make him slack-jawed … so he doesn’t look at all like a hero …. He’s a very good actor, which is a super power I don’t think many other superheroes have.”
While Morrison re-sets Superman’s powers, he is taking every element of his canon – no matter when in the past 73 years they were introduced – shaking them up, and tossing them on the table like Yahtze dice. What they spell is the mother of all retcons. Ma and Pa Kent? Yes, they found him, but they died, prompting his move to Metropolis. Lois? She’s there, but they barely know each other, and barely like each other. Jimmy? They seem to be about the same age now; Clark thinks they’re pals, but Jimmy seems annoyed by him. The Daily Planet? Lois and Jimmy work for it, but Clark doesn’t (yet?). Lex Luthor? Still brilliant, still scheming, still sees “Superman” as an affront to his Humanism (he seems fairly unchanged, actually). This is all unrolling organically with the stories, so readers get to put the canon pieces together whenever Morrison lets us.
The third level I can see in these stories is commentary. Morrison has already written that Superman originally appeared in a fictional city as flawed as a real one. And so, Action Comics no. 1 launches us into the new Metropolis, complete with business tycoons who may do good turns on the surface, but make shady deals under the table. In this Metropolis, people are thankful to be saved, but pissed that their homes were taken out in the process.
In this version of the DC universe, the government gets its hands on Superman early in his crime fighting career, and experiment on him to test his limits and learn his weaknesses. This is new for the DCU of my youth. The first I remember seeing this in the DCU was this summer’s Flashpoint: Project Superman, written by Scott Snyder. In this alternate reality story, the government found baby Kal-el’s rocket, not the Kents. The alien baby was raised in a protected cell, the subject of endless scientific research. This is probably a more realistic outcome to the “what if” of an alien baby falling to Earth. I don’t know what inspiration Morrison is drawing from Flashpoint, but the similarities are striking to me. The post-Flashpoint DCU is not the idealized place I knew in my youth. Now, the government tortures Superman, and the people he once saved will picket for him to “go home.”
I see this as a level of social commentary that is not exactly meta fiction, but more subtle. Morrison lets Metropolitans react to Superman in a way that might be consistent with how New Yorkers might react to a man in a silly little cape suddenly leaping buildings.
Now that I view Action Comics through this lens of seamlessly entwined action, new canon, and social commentary, I am excited to read more. Beginning with issue no. 4, on sale December 7, readers will be treated to back-up stories by guest creators. Reportedly, these stories will be approved by Morrison in order to fit within the context and framework he and Morales are building in the main story. First up is Sholly Fisch, who has been writing whip-smart stories for The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold. I love smart comics, and the new Action Comics is among the smartest titles DC Comics is currently publishing.
By Glenn Walker
"It's like déjà vu all over again." This amusing Yogi Berra quote approximates one of my biggest problems with DC Comics' New 52. The idea of the restart, the blank slate for some of these characters bothers me quite a bit.
One of the reasons is I don't like origin stories. No, scratch that, I do like origin stories, I just don't like them when they're not needed, or when they are told over and over again. I hate them in superhero movies. It seems like when a hero gets a movie the origin has to be done, whether we like it or not. Just think, next year we'll have Spider-Man's origin told in the movie theater twice in less than ten years.
Why can't they just tell a good story? Just do that, and we as viewers will accept that the hero is who he is and can do what he does. That's how they did it back in the Golden Age, the Silver Age, and especially in the old movie serials. Heck, back in the Bronze Age, in the late 1970s, DC Comics themselves did it one better. Every story opened with an introductory paragraph that told you who the hero was, where he came from, and what he could do.
Here's an example: Rocketed as a baby from the exploding planet Krypton, Kal-El grew to manhood on Earth - whose yellow sun and lighter gravity gave him fantastic super-powers! In the city of Metropolis, he poses as mild-mannered TV newsman Clark Kent - but battles evil all over the Earth - and beyond - as… Superman!
DC should probably implement that again; as a matter of fact, I think most superhero comics should. If you can't tell me the origin in one paragraph, it might just be too complex. Yes, I'm looking at you, Miles Morales.
The starting from scratch idea has actually ruined a few of the New 52 for me. Case in point - The Flash #1. It's a great comic, good story, great new costume, and a terrific new foe in the style of the Silver Age rogues. My problem is that they have turned back the clock. Barry Allen is no longer married to Iris, and on page one, is on a pseudo date with Patty (our Bronze Age preemptive Ms. Flash) Spivot. This just isn't right.
Even as a kid (not yet a married adult, so screw your relation theories), I preferred loving married Iris Allen over mean single Iris West. Barry and Iris had a love that spanned millennia and the multiverse, and survived both their however-temporary deaths. They are soul mates, just as much as Hawkman and Hawkgirl/woman, and they belong together.
I love Barry Allen, and the Silver Age Flash is one of my all-time favorite characters, but do you know when I didn't like him? After Iris' death, when he was dating Fiona Webb and flirting with Zatanna, that's when he was a jerk. I didn't want to read about him. Notably I kept reading even when he was a widowed angeldust addict, but not as a jerk.
Speaking of jerks, we are also back to square one with Superman. The Clark/Lois/Superman triangle is back. I thought we were done with this kind of deceit. If Superman was as true blue as he's always pretended to be, this cruelty would have ended decades earlier than it did. I'm telling you, if Lois shot Clark to death with kryptonite bullets after finding out he'd been yanking her chain with the whole double identity thing for so long – even Judge Judy would acquit her. I don't want to go back to those dark days, but I think I've written enough about that already in these blogs.
Getting back on track, when Superman was rebooted in 1986, the one thing that turned me off was that everything was erased, it was a blank slate. While that was not a bad thing in itself, I then had to read certain stories over again as they were retold. I remember being bored to tears by all the Cadmus Project stories as I had already read them all before, back when they were called the DNA Project as written by Jack Kirby.
Dan Jurgens is a great comic book writer – when he's not retelling Kirby Superman stories over and over again. I certainly hope that won't be the case with Grant Morrison's new Superman. Unfortunately for me, I think we will be getting the Cadmus/DNA Project stories again anyway in the new Superboy and Teen Titans. I certainly hope not. As much as I liked Morrison's take on the early Superman days in Action Comics, I hope we won't be getting too many repeats. It's dangerous territory, as his origin has been retold at least three times in the past decade, and will also appear again in the Man of Steel film – not to mention almost fifty years of Superboy stories – as if we could all forget Superman's origin…
The best #1 issue of DC's New 52, in my opinion, is Aquaman #1. You know why I think a big part of that is? Because the story accepts what has gone before (and Aquaman's marriage to Mera is still intact, unlike other DC Comics marriages) and works with it. Why couldn't all the DC titles have done that? Writer Geoff Johns has fun with Aquaman's history and perception, and fun is something lacking in many of the New 52 as well.
The storytellers of the DC Universe should be guided by the work of Grant Morrison's Batman, Steve Englehart's Justice League of America and Detective Comics, and James Robinson's Starman. Just write good stories – and assume everything that came before did happen, but just don't reference it unless it's important to the story you're telling. It's pick and choose continuity, but it's continuity that works.
Keep it simple, keep it entertaining, and just tell good stories – and not re-tell them. Please.
By Allison Eckel
As I write today, the entire U.S. eastern seaboard is preparing for Hurricane Irene, currently classified as category 3 as it churns off the coast of Florida. Hurricanes are massive storms that scientists can track, though only to a point. They are still wild, untamed forces of nature that can change course at any moment.
Also as I write today, the entire comics fandom is preparing for the unveiling of DC Comics’ new universe of titles, their entire stable of superheroes taken back to issue #1 and back to a new startling line. Fan reaction of massive comics industry reboots can be predicted by editorial and marketing departments, though only to a point. Comics fandom in general is still a wild, untamed force of nature that changes its collective opinion at any moment. Consider our collective excitement regarding this summer’s Green Lantern movie and how quickly we turned against it post-release.
I am choosing to be very excited by DC’s total reboot. The reality is that their characters were becoming cluttered by so many annual crises, resulting in many titles missing their marks – tent pole titles were becoming stale and brilliant edge titles were not gaining traction. A company-wide commitment to a clean slate is bold and exciting.
Those of you who are relatively new to comics fandom may be very thrown by the upcoming changes. For you, these characters have never been other than who they were leading into, say, Blackest Night. Your DC Comics reality looks a lot like this: Batman has always been supported by half a dozen “bat team” members; Hal Jordan never tried to re-set existence; Wonder Woman has always had the power of flight; Superman has always been married. To change any of these – and many more, similar details – about your beloved characters would disturb you greatly.
Those of you who are long-time readers will take all of this in stride. If, like me, you have known these characters for decades (I count 1979 as my first year reading comics), then to borrow from Battlestar Galactica, “All of this has happened before and it will happen again.”
Grant Morrison has published a nonfiction book looking at superheroes, why we love them, and why we need them. Super Gods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us about Being Human is a fantastic read for any comics fan. While I await the coming storm, I am reading this book. On the day my colleague Glenn Walker and I scoffed at Superman’s amateur duds shown on the cover of the new Action Comics #1, I came home to read a poignant passage from Morrison. On page 5, he puts into context the release of the original Action Comics #1 and the world’s first superhero: “It showed something no one had ever seen before.”
Take that idea, and publish it today. Pretend the people of Metropolis have never seen a superhero. How would they react to him? Would he wear a 1930s-inspired circus strongman suit or is he more likely to wear jeans and a t-shirt? The new Action Comics, which will be written by Morrison, seems to be taking this approach. I really enjoy smart comics writing – which I grant you is a broad description – and Morrison’s work is about as smart as it comes.
For many of the characters in the DCU, I am a little nervous about how they will change in the DCnU. Some of my favorites are not even returning (yet). But I am not panicked about Superman. In Morrison’s own words (Super Gods, page 14), “we writers come and go, generations of artists leave their interpretations, and yet something persists, something that is always Superman. We have to adapt to his rules…we can never change him too much, or we lose what he is.”
The new titles begin with Justice League #1 on sale August 31 (All Things Fun! is hosting a midnight release party! The fun starts at 11:30pm Aug. 30). That day, the slate of DC titles is nearly clean. JL#1 and the much-anticipated Flashpoint #5 are the only new titles in stores that day (the other two titles are collected trades).
Action Comics #1 will be on sale September 7, along with 12 other new #1 titles. The remaining 52 are slated to reach comic shops before the end of the month.
By Allison Eckel
Comics publishers and local comic shops take note: Mothers are the gatekeepers to your coveted youth market, so market to them! You already figured out that kids who read comics are more likely to become lifelong fans than if they start later in life. But, how do kids start reading comics in the first place? Moms must allow them into the house. And currently, most non-geek moms either don’t know comics still exist or don’t believe they are worth the money. I am here to help with the first part; the second part is up to you.
Non-geek moms are everywhere except local comic shops. That is your primary challenge. The potential of digital comics is promising because it means non-geek moms need never venture into the LCS. The proliferation of apps designed to keep kids happy with no parental interaction is huge and alarming, so I believe non-geek parents are likely to at least try digital comics. But bright ink on paper is still a fantastic thing for young readers. Case in point, my five-year-old girl just got her hands on Strawberry Shortcake #1 from Ape Entertainment (on sale now). She has carried it with her for three days straight and asked every adult she meets to read her any of the three stories it contains. Although digital comics are similarly portable, her access to them is more limited.
Ms. Shortcake brings me to a second point about marketing to moms. Develop more kid-friendly content and then follow through on marketing through more mainstream channels such as Facebook. APE Entertainment is currently releasing several great titles along with Strawberry, including Megamind, Kung Fu Panda, a re-imagined Richie Rich, and the upcoming Casper's Scare School. These comics are all good for grade-schoolers, most of whom have never set foot in an LCS. Facebook ads are comparatively cheap, so ads for these comics should be appearing on every mom’s wall. Dark Horse is advertising Buffy and Star Wars comics this way; now, let’s see Po’s smiling face with the word “comics.” Also, publishers should send sample copies to Mommy Bloggers for review, with an explanatory letter heavy in academic advantage-type language.
Point three: Take a moment to understand young readers. What do nine-year-old boys, for example, really like to read? Of course, every reader has different interests, but I recently conducted my own demographic test to discover what boys think of super-heroes. For a week every summer, I teach archery to cub scouts. This year, fifty kids in first-through-fifth grades passed through my range, every day. On Monday, to explain the way they should grip the bow and aim it with a strong, straight arm, I invoked images of Superman. I got no reaction. Ok, how about Captain America; you all know him because of the movie, right? Nothing. Wow. So, I ask: Who is your favorite strong hero? First silence, then one quiet voice from the back offers, “How about Iron Man?”
I didn’t expect them to know Green Arrow – the womanizing, mouthy liberal isn’t exactly a great role model for the pre-tween set, despite his JLA-caliber heroism. But I expected them to know Superman. I mean, it’s SUPERMAN. Turns out, a few of them do know Green Arrow, from his appearance in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, the video game. Well, it’s not comics, but it’s a start. By Wednesday, I have ditched my references to barrel-chested heroes because I have discovered what excites the kids’ imaginations: non-super guys with gadgets. While retrieving arrows we have wild conversations concocting new trick arrows for Ollie (they didn’t know about the boxing glove arrow!). Then their minds were racing, comparing him and his abilities with the archery they were learning – how he amazingly hits his targets while running or skidding across the floor when they are working so hard to hit theirs while standing still, and thoughts like that.
I suppose the super-powered heroes are a bit too fantastic to engage young boys. Instead, most of them really like “real” people with gadgets, contraptions, machines that become other machines, etc. Transformers is enduring for a reason that really has nothing to do with scantily clad ingénues and big explosions. Boys just really like robots that they can change into vehicles. Boys also like Batman for his gadgets, Iron Man for his tech, Green Arrow for his arrows, Cyborg for that arm that changes into different things, etc.
I specify boys, because my experience with girls is a bit the opposite. I taught 12 girls in this camp week as well – the lucky siblings who didn’t have anywhere else to go. The girls were leery of archery at first: the string is too hard to draw, their fingers hurt, whine, whine, whine. Ok, that’s not fair. Some of the boys whined too. But as soon as I told the girls that the ancient Greeks worshipped Artemis the Archer as the goddess of the hunt, they were rushing for the firing line, eager to become a goddess themselves. Girls, generally, like to envision themselves as other than human, as super, better, more. That’s why princesses are so ubiquitous. My daughter play-acts as Wonder Woman, Raven, or Starfire instead of Batgirl because she likes the “magical” qualities of the non-humans.
DC Comics is doing well with Young Justice, a team that appeals to boys and girls; although, I think it was better suited for younger readers when Peter David started that title in 1998. Still, DC has a winning title, especially given its close integration with its eponymous cartoon. They also need to continue Batman: The Brave and the Bold because it’s one of the best titles they publish (my third-grader did his vocabulary homework from it because it’s that good). Given DC’s track record, I expect them to cancel it soon because they seem to not like it when a kids’ title becomes successful.
So publishers, I have just saved you a chunk of change on a marketing consultant. Develop more series like Super Dinosaur written by Robert Kirkman, published by Image Comic's Skybound imprint. It hits all of the right grade-school-boy buttons while being smart enough to appeal to older readers. But don’t stop there. Actually market the book along mainstream channels so the non-geek moms can know about it. The best book in the world can’t help anyone if no one knows about it. Kirkman has a high-enough profile thanks to his Walking Dead series that Skybound could send him to daytime talk shows. Better, send him to Conan. And take the huge Super Dinosaur suit. I wonder if Kirkman would consider adding a girl mystic to Super Dinosaur – then Skybound would be sitting on the perfect young-reader comic.
I want to see comics heroes become more important to our boys. Currently, more cub scouts in camp play Call of Duty: Black Ops – and similar violent, M-rated video games – than read stories of strong, heroic role models. At the end of his new book Supergods, Grant Morrison tells us why this is a terrible trend:
We have a tendency to re-enact the stories we tell ourselves. We learn as much … from our fictional role models as we do from the real people who share our lives. If we perpetually reinforce the notion that human beings are somehow unnatural aberrations adrift in the ever-encroaching Void, that story will take root in impressionable minds …. If, on the other hand, we emphasize our glory, intelligence, grace, generosity … capacity for love, creativity, and native genius, those qualities will be made manifest in our behavior and in our works.
My mother gave me my first comic book in 1979 because I was reluctant to read traditional, “girl” stories like Black Beauty. Stories of heroism, of fighting the good fight, of all that Morrison lists, are so important when we’re young. Help moms find these stories for their kids.
Update: 8/12/12 Formatting edits
By Allison Eckel
Bruce Wayne has finally returned. Whew. Glad that’s over with. Oh, wait; Grant Morrison’s writing it? Then, it’s not that easy, is it? We all knew Bruce would return, but to get the full impact, of course you will need more than one issue. To help you navigate Bruce’s road home, consider this blog post your road map to the really great stories bringing our favorite Caped Crusader back to the DCU.
You should have been traveling with our Dark Knight through time in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne. Issue 5 (of 6) went on sale October 13, in case you missed it. Don’t wait for issue 6 (November 10) to follow the other “return” titles coming every week between now and then (I have bolded the dates so you can easily jot them down).
So, also released October 13 was the first set of titles in Bruce Wayne: The Road Home. This limited series of one-shots takes us through the current state of Bruce’s “Bat Family” with an intimate look at how they have fared in his absence. This is the first major installment of Bruce’s return story not written by Grant Morrison. They are also not all written by one person. Fabian Nicieza (Robin, Red Robin) sets the tone with the first two issues, and different writers take the rest. And although they are not numbered sequentially, they are designed to be read in order. The first issue (Batman and Robin) is everything I love in a Batman book. It is intelligent; elegant; contemplative. Bruce is no longer dark, brooding, angry, and unable to hear the pleas of his loved ones. This Bruce is a return to a form we haven’t seen in… well, a really long time. The final issues of The Road Home ship this Wednesday, October 27.
On November 3, you get Batman and Robin #16 by Morrison, which ties up the current story arc with Black Glove, Joker, and Professor Pyg while crossing with Bruce’s return. November 17 brings the launch of Batman, Inc., the new framework the will guide the Bat Family and their work in Gotham. That day also brings, finally, Morrison’s finale, the one-shot Batman: The Return (with art and a variant cover by David Finch).
But there’s something missing. Oh, right: The conclusion to Morrison’s time-travel epic The Return of Bruce Wayne. Issue 6 ships as Batman, Inc. launches. Only time will tell if this juxtaposition is intentional or unfortunate. Call me a blue lantern, but I’m hoping Morrison planned it all this way. Bruce’s return has been a fantastic, well-written ride and I am looking forward to seeing it through to the next era of Batman.
Read Bruce Wayne: The Road Home issues in this order:
Batman and Robin (Oct. 13)
Red Robin (Oct. 13)
Outsiders (Oct. 13)
Batgirl (Oct. 13)
Catowman (Oct. 20)
Commissioner Gordon (Oct. 20)
Oracle (Oct. 27)
Ra’s al Ghul (Oct. 27)