Thursday, March 21, 2013

10 Comics Notes


1. I described a book about Germany in my prior blog entry, but there’s less Germany in this entry – because DC Comics’ oldest generation of superheroes (having been revamped and reintroduced along with the rest of the universe a couple years ago) is no longer tied to World War II (surely a development that warrants mention in this blog’s current “Month of Geopolitics”). 

In the interests of making the heroes of Earth 2 (sometimes called the Justice Society) hip and up-to-date, the foe depicted sparking their creation is now the demonic Darkseid (and he did so quite recently), not that long-dead Hitler person.  Check out the anthology Earth 2 Vol. 1: The Gathering if you don’t believe me.

Of course, the studio folks at parent company Warner Brothers just ditched the Justice League movie script that had Darkseid as the villain, so whether the frantic editorial offices at DC still care about Darkseid is a mystery.  DC Comics has been home to abrupt changes in plot-plans and creative teams in recent months, to the enragement of many comics professionals.  A much-ballyhooed new writer reportedly just walked off Green Lantern over DC’s insistence, contrary to promises made when he was hired, that he immediately kill off Green Lantern John Stewart (a.k.a. that black guy from the animated shows).  The new Action (starring Superman) writer left almost before he began, too.

On the bright side, I think (to take one revamp example) fusing the character Fury (daughter of the Earth 2 Wonder Woman) with Darkseid’s minion Lashina, the Female Fury – and even giving her a combo truth-lasso/domination-whip – was a stroke of genius.  Kudos to writer James Robinson (who often worked with first-generation DC characters including Starman back in the 90s).  So good things can still happen in the new age. 

2. Still, for those who’d like their favorite superheroes to retain their established fictional histories, this Earth 2 anthology is arguably the greatest tragedy ever to befall comics: DC has revised its fictional history several times, but by restarting the Earth 2 heroes as youngsters and ditching all their accumulated baggage and adventures, DC threw out literally seventy-six years of backstory (erasing marriages, children, grandchildren, deaths, resurrections, and more, all the way back to Doctor Occult’s first appearance in 1935). 

Never has the preservation/reinvigoration tension that’s ever-present in comics (and in franchises like Star Trek) felt more drastic.

And despite the name Earth 2, this isn’t just some mirror-mirror alternate reality – this is (various complicated reboots notwithstanding) the original DC Comics Earth.  And now it’s a blank slate, albeit one in good hands with Robinson.  But let us never speak of that lost past again.  Excelsior.

3. Admittedly, it’s the quality of the new stories that matters most, not the obsessive retention of old details (and I’ve always said – even way back when I was a continuity-obsessive teenager – that the important thing is not retaining every bit of the past, just being consistent going forward).  So the most exciting thing James Robinson did last year may not have been Earth 2 but rather his Shade maxiseries, featuring another WWII-era character who happens to be immortal – and witty and rather goth. 

Whether this miniseries technically took place in the old pre-reboot DC continuity or on DC’s new main Earth is unclear – but it sure didn’t take place on the new Earth 2 because there is a mention of the former Starman named Mikaal and of his home, Opal City, whereas Robinson says over in Earth 2 that Opal City was blown up years ago in the war against Darkseid. 

My suggestion is to read the Shade’s story and ignore the rest of the DC Universe.

4. If, like me, you can’t resist noticing how the rest of that universe works, though (and I now must plead newfound professional interest for this recurring fixation, as I’ll explain below), you may have noticed how – driven largely by writers Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison but to some extent by James Robinson and Dan Didio as well – the underlying
cosmological/mystical systems structuring the DC Universe have undergone a sort of evolution over the past decade or so (in a process that has been affected but not stopped by the periodic rebooting of the universe along the way).

Once, decades ago, there was a DC multiverse in which each universe existed at a different quantum-vibrational frequency, with the main universe dominated by the forces of Order and Chaos and often manipulated by an ever-increasing array of “elementals” – representing everything from rocks and trees to (eventually) atomic power and the mystical Source that created beings like Darkseid – plus there was a separate company and multiverse called WildStorm whose multiple universes comingled in “the Bleed,” later incorporated into DC proper.  The Bleed was not initially related to the elemental (animal-related) force known as the Red, often invoked by Grant Morrison starting in his late-80s run on Animal Man.  Don’t even get me started on anti-matter. 

The four main (traditional, mystical) “elements” were eventually depicted as aspects of a “Life Equation” that stood opposed to Darkseid’s long-sought “Anti-Life Equation” and his schemes to control our world from his “Fourth World” (the first three apparently being the worlds of primordial Lovecraftian entities, humanoids, and pagan gods, respectively, at least in some accounts). 

Morrison eventually depicted Darkseid as a void-like threat to the Bleed, or as he even more-grodily called it, the Hypermentrsuum, and thus all levels of reality.  Johns followed up with a clash between a deathgod called Nekron and a Life Entity (that was itself related to the growing and colorful spectrum of Lantern Corps in the universe, where there’d once been only the Green one). 

And right around the time all this was interrupted by the universe being rebooted in 2011, the death/life clash (with zombies) turned (no doubt by sudden editorial fiat) into the return of Swamp Thing, and now there seems to be a rough dominance of three forces in the recently-rebooted cosmos, the Red (animals), the Green (plants – but also the Earth-protecting and gay Green Lantern of Earth 2), and the Grey (also known as the Rot and represented on Earth 2 by a newly-badass Solomon Grundy, who some of you may recall as a mere shambling Frankenstein-wannabe from animated depictions of the Legion of Doom). 

Ever watchful for signs of DC’s editorial indecision (such as the quick hint dropped this year by Johns that Hawkman’s whole past is still just a delusion and his convoluted history thus still not cleared up), I can’t help noticing a couple choice lines of dialogue suggesting that DC’s not even sure if Darkseid’s home is a planet or another dimension, let alone whether it’s still a “World” that in some sense comes “Fourth.”  Unless Hollywood shows interest, it may be a while before anyone learns more about that, I suspect.  (Oh, and the Roman gods are dead but the Greek gods alive, I should note, the former having lived on Earth 2.)

The Red/Green/Grey thing (in part by appearing in some of the more popular comics) at least helps establish a new pattern of the DC Universe being dominated by threes, as has been made explicit by the characters called the Trinity of Sin (very soon to fight some sort of “Trinity War” that’s been teased for two years now without, I suspect, DC quite knowing what it is). 

If it all now just ends with (A) three factions of the Justice League fighting each other and (B) some nod to the Catholic Trinity, that’ll be about par for the course given (A) past DC “events” that inevitably revolve around the same small handful of popular characters and (B) the tendency (even in this highly secular age) for fantasy writers to punt to divine intervention (Quantum Leap, Lost, etc.) when they don’t know how the hell else to wrap things up. 

Oddly enough, Morrison’s final issue (#18) of his Action run provided one of the clearest hints that all this stuff is at least connected in his mind if not necessarily in the minds of anyone else besides me.  In one of the most confusing and psychedelic single issues in the history of comics, containing allusions to the old split-personality characters Superman Red and Superman Blue (as well as to the red/blue 3D comic Superman Beyond that Morrison wrote a few years ago), there was one moment of clarity in which the mystical centrality of Superman was attested to by the fact that (according to one character) Superman’s familiar blood-red “S” shield symbolizes his connection to the Red (the mystical force that animal rights advocate Morrison has been depicting on and off for about twenty-four years now, since Animal Man). 

And as Morrison says in his comics time and again, the battle never ends and is taking place throughout time simultaneously, always – so while the Superman of Earth 2, for instance, may be dead, we are assured that Morrison’s upcoming miniseries Multiversity will depict multiple worlds’ still-fighting, varying versions of Superman, in Morrison’s latest heroic and beautifully well-meaning effort to convince us that heroism is everywhere, in infinite forms, always pushing back the darkness.  Superman never gives up, and in that he is not only good but as vital as life (a.k.a. the Red) itself. 

5. On the other hand, Morrison killed off the latest incarnation of Robin this year (Damian Wayne, Batman’s biological son) – but the great comics site BleedingCool.com noted that Morrison not only offered us in exchange a plucky young girl character who just might have what it takes to become the next Robin but (get this) seemed to hint by the character’s distinctive red cheek-spots that she’s an analogue of his character Ragged Robin from the great 90s series The Invisibles, last seen ascending to a higher plane of reality (in events that Morrison depicted back circa the millennium but which took place on the then-futuristic date December 21, 2012). 

Grant Morrison: always five steps ahead – on a staircase that exists orthogonal to normal spacetime. 

6. Speaking of anticipating changes to the fabric of spacetime, (I swear) I found myself thinking that DC could turn a few of its most popular characters’ series into weekly comics instead of monthly ones, since a few characters appear in so many monthly books that they already have de facto weekly adventures, there now being about four solo Batman books, four solo Superman books, four more-or-less solo Green Lantern books, and four Justice League books per month.  Why not do a Batman Weekly, Superman Weekly, etc. and cancel the multiple monthlies each character has? 

Mere days after this notion occurred to me, the aforementioned BleedingCool noted talk of weeklies is being heard at DC – and talk of corresponding cancelations of about sixteen titles, though BleedingCool didn’t quite put two and two together and conclude that the sixteen canceled series are probably the very same ones being consolidated into the four weeklies. 

If this happens, it may be time to for DC Comics to stop referring to their many series as “the New 52” (that is, 52 separate ongoing monthly comic book series).  Perhaps they already have, though, since only fifty titles have so far been solicited for sale in June. 

7. DC may well be in a state of euphoria and blind panic over June anyway, though, as that is when the pivotal Man of Steel movie comes out (one of at least five major comics-based movies this year, along with Iron Man 3, Kick-Ass 2, Thor, and next month’s Oblivion, which began life as both a script and a graphic novel).  If Man of Steel is a hit, it will likely be the template for a 2015 Justice League movie.  If it bombs, we may not hear the names Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan, or Justice League associated with superhero movies for years to come. 

8. Speaking of parallel timelines: over at Marvel, it sounds increasingly likely that next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past movie will combine:

•elements of the Bryan Singer X-Men movies
•what Singer has described as some efforts to “fix” things from Brett Ratner’s X-Men 3 that Singer didn’t like
•characters from Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class
•the original “Days of Future Past” story arc from the 80s comics
•the dystopian “Age of Apocalypse” stories from the comics
•the current time-travel comics series All-New X-Men
•and maybe an impending comics plotline about the Sentinel robots finally conquering Earth in the present 

And I say, go for it.  Do it all!  Get all that time travel out of everyone’s system in one last orgy of killer robots and apocalyptic mayhem.  Then reboot the universe when you’re done to tidy up, and move on. 

Weirder than that is news from BleedingCool and New York Times that the surprise ending of Marvel’s current "Age of Ultron" arc (SPOILER! SPOILER!) – which I’d assumed would mainly yield a new central role for the Sentinel robots or maybe Ant-Man, to tease future films – is the arrival of Spawn’s (yes, Spawn from Image Comics) recurring foe Angela (who comes from Heaven), who will tour the Marvel Universe thereafter, including in Guardians of the Galaxy comics co-written by her co-creator, Neil Gaiman, and the far less artsy Brian Bendis.

I must confess I never heard of Angela (though I knew about the legal wrangling between Gaiman and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane).  Comics are weird, but I have to suspect Hollywood (once more) of causing this and think there must have been a strange conference call at some point recently in which Gaiman said something like this to a bunch of Hollywood execs: “Yeah, I’ll do some rewrite work on your Guardians of the Galaxy movie script for next year if I can get some Angela action figures out of it.  Deal?”

Simultaneously (in print), Marvel is introducing elements of their defunct “New Universe” books into the main Marvel Universe.  I gather the rather clever explanation for the New Universe events happening anew is that an approximation of that world’s lightning-strike-like “White Event” and subsequent heroes can happen in any threatened universe and functions like an antibody providing new protection.  Thus the occasional recurrence (and a rationale for the name).

Jacob Levy jokes that with DC Comics similarly folding the once-independent WildStorm imprint into itself, it’s as if all IP is being consolidated into a few camps for an impending war.  (Not a bad plot idea.  Maybe for Morrison.)  Surely, at the offices of DC/Warner and Marvel/Disney, something close to that is true.  It’s difficult for dinky separate comics universes to thrive, so better to assimilate them, then make movies. 

9. But all this may be silly compared to the issues raised by Chicago schools nearly banning the graphic novel Persepolis.  The free-speech left admirably leapt to the biographical, Iran-set comic’s defense – though they might wish to investigate whether it was schools’ fear of offending Muslims, rather than squeamishness about violence and sex, that induced the schools’ timidity. 

10. Despite repeated threats on my part to abandon most online opining and most comics reading, I will instead soon combine the two (which will certainly create some efficiencies) by becoming comics editor of the soon-to-(really-)launch libertarian pop culture site LibertyIsland. 

That will be a part of a clearer, simpler Seavey media-activities master plan than you’d expect from the chaotic blogging, tweeting, e-mailing, and Facebook-updating of recent years, but elements of all that will be incorporated – in much the same way that the current Earth 2 version of the hero Atom combines elements of the original Atom, Atom Smasher, and Damage.  Media is like Hegel.  

1 comment:

Sean Dougherty said...

Seavey, you remain hilarious. But if you're going to go back to reading comics, it's comforting to see you do it in the most extreme, uncompromising way possible.

Good luck, post a link to the site when it's up and you're writing.