Comic Fodder

DC Comics: Taking a look at the state of the OYL Titles (and more!) - part 2

WIth Part 1, we took a look at new ongoing titles to the DCU, launched in conjunction with the One Year Later, post Infinite Crisis event.

One Year Later meant launching several comics a year into the future while retaining the original (Superman) or current numbering systems (pretty much everything else). However, some titles decided to return from OYL under such a new creative direction, and, possibly, to stave off sinking numbers, that DC decided a new volume/numbering was in order. Titles included Justice League of America, Justice Society of America, The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive and Wonder Woman.



Justice League of America is a few issues into the new run, hitting seemingly on time, with two issues arriving in December. The series is written by Brad Meltzer, who wrote the highly controversial Identity Crisis mini-series. Meltzer has made no secret of his adoration of the silver-age Justice League, especially from the "satellite era". It's certainly worth reading the interview Meltzer conducted with Newsarama prior to the launch of the series in which he mentions "It's a mix of them all. Yes, I love the Satellite League -- but I have no intention of just recreating that with nothing else. Even I don’t want that."

Five issues in, there have been some reader complaints regarding Meltzer's take on the comic (none of which I can currently find to link to, but I know I'm not hallucinating the negative comments. Maybe they were just trolls on Newsarama or some such...). I do think Meltzer continues to write to the big picture, or perhaps to the trade, but with the most common complaint basically equating to a problem with the density and rapid scene-shifting of Meltzer's work, it's tough to complain about decompression.

After the "not a bang, but a whimper" last few years of the latest incarnation of a Justice League title (with the exception of Johns and Heinberg's Crisis of Conscience storyline), it's terrific to see the JLA pulling back together in a manner which harkens back to the team's roots (now in reprint in books like The JLA Hereby Elects...) while decidedly utilizing a modern comics sensibility.

The line-up of the book currently includes: Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Vixen, Red Arrow/ Arsenal/Roy Harper, Hawkgirl, Red Tornado, Black Canary, and (the character I'm most excited to see developed) Black Lightning. Line-ups are subject to change from creator to creator, but following Morrison's run on JLA, it seems that fans prefer to see the Trinity remain core to the team. As of yet, the story has not advanced far enough, not has enough time passed for readers to miss The Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter or their favorite non-Jordan Green Lantern.

The story thus far certainly seems to require a bit of apriori knowledge that could be difficult for newer DC readers, and, certainly, characters do not receive adequate introduction. It is one thing for Solomon Grundy to make an appearance, but a well-coiffed, dapper Grundy carries an entirely different weight that someone new to the DCU might not follow. Further, references to TO Morrow, etc... occasionally get lost in the shuffle as the action of the story doesn't pause long enough to explain who the characters are and their relation to the JLA.

Meltzer should also get points for pulling some fairly obscure villains out of the DC toybox, and introducing the fascinating other side of the coin to Mr. Miracle, Dr. Impossible.

Thus far, Justice League of America appears to be one of the more solid post OYL relaunches. Readers may enjoy the change from an action and plot driven JLA to Meltzer's character based approach. DC Editorial may have finally given up the ghost on their general rule of refusing to allow character development in team books. Marvel has always been willing to give their creators a bit more leeway in this arena, and perhaps the tendency to drift toward a B-list line-up for the JLA has been a natural reaction to editors refusing to allow writers to really play with thethe best toys. Meltzer's line-up is an interesting mix, and will provide him additional flexibility. Whether writers following Meltzer can swing his MO of driving action through character remains to be seen, but it's a welcome change from DC's usual trap of simply driving the characters through their paces to hit the beats necessary for telling an action-packed story.

The art by Ed Benes lends a great deal to the story-telling with clear action, well-rendered, superheroic appearing heroes, and a vivid, four-color world where the shadows hold some of the darkest threats imaginable. He's showing growth and maturity as an artist even since his run on "Birds of Prey", and is a good fit for the energy needed to translate Meltzer's four-color ideas to the page without losing the details or defaulting to a standard comic look, which a lesser artist might have fallen into.




Justice Society of America

Only one issue in as of this writing, but the last volume of JSA also managed to run a few months further into the year than JLA. Little can be said coming off of a single issue, but I see no reason to let that stop me.

Comics lost something when writers became free-agents, floating from book to book for six issues and then moving on. With the long-time participation of Geoff Johns in the previous JSA series, it's difficult to imagine another writer taking up the reins of writing for DC's oldest team and expect to find the sort of innate understanding of the JSA that comes with handling those characters for several years.

Like JLA, the last run on JSA focused mainly on action and never really gave our team much time to simply breathe, never providing those "baseball game" character moments that really provide insight into the folks behind the mask. Johns has proven he CAN deliver on character with his work on The Flash. If the first issue is any indication, as the JSA is pulled back together for a cause rather than to face some trumped up threat, Johns is turning the dial toward character development. Of course, there is a threat, introduced in interstitial scenes featuring Mr. America, going it alone against whomever the diabolical villain might be.

New recruits include a revamped Jesse Quick as "Liberty Belle", as one part of the Hourman/ Liberty Belle duo. Damage is included. An interesting choice as a character who has been in the DCU for years, but whom rarely makes a splash in the titles I read. Maxine Hunkel, the granddaughter of Ma Hunkel (aka: The Red Tornado) as, I think, Red Tornado. I've also heard the name "Cyclone". A mysterious and seemingly schizophrenic Starman ( a trick which may quickly wear thin), who doesn't rely on a gravity rod for his powers. There also appears to be a Commander Steel and new Sandman waiting in the wings. Returning players include Jakeem Thunder and his Thunderbolt, Mr. Terrific, Jay Garrick (The Flash), Hawkman, Wildcat, Dr. Mid-Nite, Green Lantern (Alan Scott), Star Girl and the aforementioned Hour Man.

Two things in this issue should give readers hope:

1) Dale Eaglesham is on pencils for the time being. Eaglesham's art does not veer toward any particular stylistic affectation. Do not expect a manga influence or street graphitti to creep into his work. Instead, you can expect solidly modeled characters, well designed backgrounds and solid page layout. I know, I know... crazy. I have heard some people (at my shop) complain about Eaglesham, but I think JSA, as the generational cross over book works best with a traditional look, and with a solid, dependable art team on board. Eaglesham and inker Art Thibert can deliver.

2) The last page of the issue. With one page left, Johns provides us with a preview of things to come. For new JSA or DCU readers, a lot of this may pass from cryptic to a huge questionmark floating over their head, but for readers who have been keeping up, the preview provides some hints at great things to come.

At this point, Johns and Co. have significantly raised expectations. Re-starting the series to draw in more readers and catch them up was an excellent idea, especially if the new tone continues. Here's hoping the team can stay on this book long enough to define the team and make JSA the premier DCU title it should be.




Flash: The Fastest Man Alive

Is anybody happy with this relaunch? I am certain there is someone out there who has found Flash to be a great read, but this person is wrong.

Apparently DC hasn't been happy with the results of the first story arc. TV writers (but new to comics) Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo who were much-hyped prior to the leaunch of the comic due to their former connection to a 1990-era Flash TV show (which this reviewer admits to having a certain affection for). However, what we've received is a flat, fill-in rate story in which too many coincidences occur and where nobody but Jay Garrick maanges to draw a shred of sympathy.

The current storyline pulls a long-lost villain out of the Flash rogues gallery, delivers a bratty Reverse Kid Flash tied to the original Reverse Flash, and a clunky romance seemingly borrowing from the Flash TV series. The introduction of "The Griffin" feels like one of the shortlived mid-90's heroes or villains, but I doubt that's intentional or meant to be ironic.

Meanwhile, our Flash whines like an Emo-boy on a sunny day, refuses to use his powers for vague reasons one must assume will be resolved, and generally doesn't do a whole lot.

There's really nothing to grab on to in the series or set it apart from any other capes and tights comic from the past fifteen years, and with a title relaunch on a book as high profile as The Flash, with the introduction of a new Flash? That's not good.

The problems most likely stem from the Infinite Crisis mid-series return of Bart Allen as a 21 year old, and wearing the costume of The Flash. There's nothing to peg this misstep on Bilson and DeMeo. Instead, the idea most likely came from someone higher up in editorial who decided that a Crisis necessitated a changing of the Scarlet Speedster. But for folks who have followed the career of Bart Allen, it comes across as too much, too soon.

According to the comics, this recent update in age would make Bart somewhere between 6 and 9 years old, at the oldest. The conceipt of the Impulse series which broke Bart to most readers was that, born in the far future, Bart was really only a few years old. Due to a Speed Force-infused metabolism, the speedster was aging too rapidly and in danger of burning out. Thusly, he had been raised in a protective VR environment which could keep up with his time frame and keep him safe as he learned to control his powers. For reasons that the series never dwelled upon, Bart arrived in the 20th/21st Century appearing to be a young teen, but was, I believe, 3 years old. After a few years in DCU time, Bart then disappeared during Infinite Crisis, to reappear as a 21 year old, skipping several more years of his life. Add in a year for OYL, and it's tough to say, but...

It's a bit much.

DC likes to have a sentence or two to explain who their characters are in their books. If it takes five minutes to explain who Bart is (and this review skips the bloodline between Bart and Barry Allen), something is broken.

There were many routes for DC to take with The Flash during Infinite Crisis, but to speculate over which path would have been more satisfying is an exercise in futility. DC did keep a few pokers in the fire with the conclusion of Infinite Crisis, so should the Flash relaunch completely crash and burn, they have options.

Readers can expect one more issue to wrap up the Bilson and DeMeo run on the book, and then hope DC can salvage something from this mess. Unfortunately, if Bart IS moving to LA as the recent issue suggests, the whole thing will have to be dragged back to Central or Keystone City at some point when a different crew comes in to clean shop.

Reading this back, I sound fairly bitter. As a reader I would have accepted a changing of the man behind the mask as readers once handled with Barry and Wally. If readers were dissatisfied with Wally with the first issues of the last volume of the Flash, the series did grow to deliver. Perhaps this series can grow as well.




Wonder Woman

Of the re-launched titles, Rucka's run on Wonder Woman both felt as if it ended too early, while managing to come to a satisfying conclusion. In short, Rucka left us wanting more.

The new Wonder Woman series is difficult to review up to this point. Is there a Wonder Woman series? I have vague memories of purchasing a few Wonder Woman comics recently. It seems as if Diana were wearing a spandex NASA suit and sunglasses. Was Giganta there? I don't know. It seems like Herakles made an appearance.

George Perez, Phil Jiminez, Greg Rucka... even Messner-Loebs... help her. Help Diana.

I'm a fan of the Lynda Carter "Wonder Woman" TV series. I am not against the idea of giving Wonder Woman a secret identity once more. But the idea that Wonder Woman is somehow working for a government organization, and nobody has figured out the six-foot, blue eyed Amazon in their midst looks curiously like the UN Ambassador who made regular TV appearances, had been put on every magazine by Myndi Mayer, and wrapped up her career by helping Steve Jobs see how his wallet looks in his Dockers... Obviously as a comic reader I have a willing suspension of disbelief, but it's a small suspension bridge, not the Golden Gate.

At the start of the series Donna Troy has given up God-hood and the ability to see across timelines to slum with the mortals, fighting folks like Giganta, and... and... the whole thing makes very little sense. One is to assume that whatever this storyline is, it will wrap up in a manner which matches the events of JLA and Manhunter. The promise of a NEW Wonder Woman (one hinted at prior to the launch of the series but I can't find those links at this time. But check out the two Wonder Women on the variant cover...) should have left many readers skittish, but looks like the idea was scuttled. At this point, it would be nice to have any Wonder Woman appearing regularly in a title.

The series relaunch was conceived under writer Allan Heinberg who launched the formerly popular "Young Avengers" series before getting back to his day job as a writer on the Fox show "The OC". Whatever visions Heinberg had for Diana, rumors have also circulated that fan reaction has been so negative, DC has asked for re-writes and upcoming issues, the next arriving in February (the last arriving in November).

One must wonder... If the series were actually delivering on anything like a regular basis, would fans not eventually grow used to the concepts Heinberg was trying to introduce? As it stands now, with the slow schedule, Wonder Woman will have shipped a total of four times since the June debut IF the comic comes out, as currently listed.

To be completely honest, once the comic has been bagged, boarded and boxed, the likelihood that I will crack open the bag again for a review isn't great. Which means I can't really go back and look at those first issues the way I would have liked to. On the other hand, the comic didn't leave much of an impression on me, other than the details of Diana's new dual-identity, which I can accept if Lois Lane can't recognize Superman with a pair of glasses.

There's no question that the Dodsons are doing good work on this comic, and I am sure the slip in production might occasionally be attributed to them, but it can't be good for them to have their work sitting in a drawer, or doing re-draws on entire issues if DC is scrapping their rumored plan to replace Diana.

Hopefully the upcoming Jodi Picoult storyline may get things back on track from a production standpoint.



What does it all mean?

It means DC's editorial is wildly inconsistent. With "52" they can ship a comic every week from a team of opinionated writers and artists, all of whom could cause problems, without missing a beat, but they can't get out a single monthly (bi-monthly? quarterly?) book when a known problem child of a writer with clout decides to drag his feet.

DC did themselves proud by tackling their premier teambooks with a focused gusto. It's good for the line of DC Comics, and great for readers.

As per the Flash and Wonder Woman... mistakes were made. Hopefully lessons will be learned.

Hi Ryan--

Any chance for a look at TRIALS OF SHAZAM. I'm curious to hear your take.

Thanks,
Walt

-- Posted by: Walt Grogan at January 11, 2007 3:55 PM

Walt, I will touch on the series in my next post. Hope you're enjoying what you see here.

-- Posted by: ryan at January 11, 2007 5:23 PM