Comic Fodder

DC Comics: Taking a look at the state of the OYL Titles (and more!) - part 3a

In Part 1 we took a look at several new ongoing series launched by DC with their post-Infinite Crisis, One Year Later event. At this point, we want to admit an editorial mistake and admit that we failed to cover Rucka's new series, Checkmate. We will rectify that mistake at some point in the near future. With Part 2 we investigated ongoing series re-launched with a new first issue. The whole mess began when we asked ourselves "Did One Year Later work?"

Part 3 may not be as thorough of an overview as the previous columns as this reviewer has not read all of the titles in their entirety, and many of the series have not concluded. I'll be as open as possible about what I am reading and why, and what series I couldn't continue to purchase in good conscience.

Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters

Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray chose to tie this series into the "Crisis Aftermath" limited series, Battle for Bludhaven. I read the first issue of "Battle for Bludhaven" before giving up, and did likewise with Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters.

As I understand it, some important moves were made in Battle for Bludhaven, so it's possible I will pick up a trade to see what happened in that title. Reader expectation for an Uncle Sam book was probably not terribly high. Palmiotti and Gray are well known, and are often assigned to books, so I have to assume they're a draw for readers. Unfortunately, after the events of Infinite Crisis, I wasn't in the mood to explore a bombed out suburb of Gotham with a cadre of third string characters. With Uncle Sam, the reappearance of Sam after the events of Infinite Crisis was a boost. Aside from what I suppose was going to be a storyline in which a shadowy government cabal sics supersoldiers on The Spirit of America, reinforcing the tradition of the true spirit of America really being a distrust of government, I wasn't sure I was terribly excited to see these characters operating in a vaccuum. If the characters were going to appear and create a new team, it might have worked better had they done it within another, larger event, not merely apropos of nothing.

Martian Manhunter

So.... J'onn isn't the last Martian? We hear a lot about J'onn being the last Martian, but we also see scads of White Martians running all over the place. And J'onn once discussed in JLA how Jemm: Son of Saturn was part of a Martian servant race on Jupiter. And then Zoot re-appears in Superman/Batman. Yet J'onn spends a lot of time worrying about being "the last of his kind". From this, we can learn but one thing:

J'onn is kind of a racist. Last of his kind, indeed.

In this series we discover that somehow Infinite Crisis taught J'onn that he is a B-List character at best, and thusly needs a new look. Apparently he'd adopted his former look to accomodate the dying scientist who accidentally teleported him to Earth. How a green man in pirate boots, blue underwear and an S&M harness was comforting to the man in his last moments really leaves more questions than answers, but I'm willing to take it at face value.

Just as J'onn adopts his menacing new one-piece, he stumbles upon a lab chock full of Martians who dress a lot like how J'onn has now chosen to dress (and not naked as they're usually portrayed, nor in J'onn's supposed Manhunter garb). They all busily run away from a shadowy government cabal to a really nice looking subdivision. And there are complications.

This comic is boring. But I am a Martian Manhunter fan, and I also plan to review the single issues, so I picked up yet another issue of the series today, hoping against hope something would actually happen in the series. More on that another day.

There are occasional explosions in the series, and a lot of Martians who have J'onn's powers but who are otherwise incredibly timid in the face of powerless Earth monkeys. Aside from the fact that these Martians are the other last martians, one would think J'onn would merely walk away from these sad sacks. There's a Millar/ Ennis Type-A female villain shouting at people. And J'onn seems incredibly angry, but at this point one needs a complicated pie-chart to understand why Infinite Crisis (which he essentially sat out) was so important to our green friend, and how the Martians were kept under lock and key. Or, in fact, what this series is about. I have coined a new term to describe my feelings on these series: A lot of things occur, but nothing actually happens.

A.J. Lieberman is not an A-List DC writer, and it can't have helped that he may have stretched a four-issue pitch out over eight issues. Sure, Didio now has solid numbers with which to track whether or not comic geeks will buy a Martian Manhunter title, but this series hasn't exactly brought the heat to a character who has been pounded upon relentlessly in order to make him more interesting.

Somehow Ostrander and Mandrake's take on J'onn now looks terribly more appealing, not to mention Joe Kelly's usage in JLA.

The Creeper

For reasons known only to the DC brass, The Creeper was re-booted after OYL. Aside from giving Jack Ryder a program which appears to be the left-wing answer to Bill O'Reilly (entitled "You Are Wrong") instead of making him a TV reporter or a newspaperman (as he last appeared in the Superman titles), not much has truly changed for Ryder/ Creeper. Ryder is still a blowhard, the Creeper is still one of the oddest characters in the DCU.

The story basically manages to stretch one issue's worth of paper-thin plot over the first three issues. We're given something about a mutagen and gangsters, which infect Ryder, granting him phenomenal powers and a split personality that makes for some dull thought captions as Ryder/Creeper throws lots of comic book cliches at himself.

There's then beating up of gangsters, and whatnot. And an easily defeated man-monster-thing.

I dropped the series after issue #3. It's a fairly standard origin, and Niles basically fails to make The Creeper funny, scary, or, in any way, interesting.

Niles is a popular writer, and Justiniano appears to have been a marquee draw, but this unnecessary relaunch of The Creeper fails to gel, and winds up feeling, in many ways, like one of the X-Treme anti-heroes which saw light in the 90's and mostly didn't survive into the 21st Century.

The "been there, done that" plotting of the series probably wouldn't matter too much if the series had more to offer, but compared to even Chuck Austen's Jack Ryder in the pointless Metropolis mini-series, this Creeper seems remarkably square. Where's the crazy? I get a few sorta-funny lines, but no indication that the Creeper is the resident nutjob of the DCU other than with a protrusion of unsightly red backhair.

There's just not a lot here.

Trials of Shazam

Reader Walt G. wrote in to ask if I would address the Trials of Shazam mini-series currently on the shelf from DC.

I haven't read it.

My reasons are many, and as this post is filed under "commentary" rather than under "review" I feel at liberty to tackle my decision head on.

Since the 1970's relaunch of Shazam!, DC hasn't had a terribly firm grasp on the Captain Marvel franchise. Ordway attempted a mid-90's relaunch, trying to embed Billy Batson a bit more firmly in the DCU, and Captain Marvel has played key parts in team books in the Giffen-Era JLU, and more recently in JSA. Mary Marvel has even made appearances in the Giffen "I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League" mini's. Moreover, what would Kingdom Come be without Batson/ Captain Marvel?

This reader doesn't really get why DC decided the ONLY touchstones many current readers understood of the Captain Marvel universe were eliminated with Infinite Crisis. Why destroy the Wizard Shazam? The Rock of Eternity? The Train Station? Tawky Tawny? Why is fifteen year old Billy now the Wizard?

I am certain all of these questions might be touched upon by writer Judd Winick, but for readers who were looking forward to the close of Infinite Crisis operating as a clarion call to the DCU to get it's ducks in a row, including the announcement of a new Shazam mini, the new direction was a bitter disappointment.

Readers do not need an extreme Shazam. They need Captain Marvel and his counterparts to make sense as a major force within the DCU, Tawky Tawny, Mr. Mind and all. Replacing Billy Batson as Captain Marvel makes no more sense than replacing Diana as Wonder Woman, Clark Kent as Superman or Bruce Wayne as Batman. Billy Batson, the boy who was secretly a hero, was always the core of the series. Even with Marvel Bunnies and talking crocodiles in abundance, the gee-whiz wonder of a kid who can transform to the Earth's Mightiest Mortal held the whole crazy package together. Winick and DC editorial seem to have taken the tack that the "kid stuff" aspect of Captain Marvel needed to be shelved in favor of a "modern" approach (one can almost see Michael Chabon, Brian K. Vaughan and those tied to the Escapist having a good laugh at the new Shazam series).

From the outside, with a lack of Billy Batson as Marvel, the series has a feel of inevitable disposability. This could be the first item to be erased in the current continuity when Alex Ross or another high-profile creator comes to DC with a pitch for Captain Marvel, but refuses to utilize a grown-up Captain Marvel Jr.

In the end, why read 12 issues of a series you suspect will be nothing but a bad memory within five years? Why not save your money for something that might stick?

I flipped through issue #4 at my local shop, and I was also a bit perplexed as to what was happening with Captain Marvel Jr. running about in fatigues, and the alt-rock girl on the cover not really participating in the story. If this is Winick's idea of Captain Marvel, it's fairly far afield from the oiriginal premise, and doesn't really deliver the element of fun that made Captain Marvel a genuine threat to Superman with his first appearances.

Jeff Smith's launch of his long-in-the-works Captain Marvel 4-issue prestige series may wind up reminding readers that there really wasn't anything particularly wrong with the Shazam concept in the first place. My assumption is that Didio is quite okay with that, and will happily allow the winning concept to take Captain Marvel and Co. into the newest era of the DCU.

(to be continued in part 3b...)