Comic Fodder

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

We're in the home stretch.

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?"

In Part 3a, we started our look at some of the limited series DC threw at their readership to see if there was sustainable interest for an ongoing. In Part 3b, we continue this never-ending look at DC, OYL, with even more limited series from DC Comics.



The Spectre and Tales of the Unexpected

We can probably all agree that making Hal Jordan into The Spectre probably worked better in theory than in practice. With Jim Corrigan (the original host of the Spectre) gone on to this eternal reward, would DC readers welcome a new host? And if so, who?

The numbers on Gotham Central were probably not as high as DC would have liked at the height of the TV Cop-Procedural craze, and when Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark left the series, Greg Rucka (once again) managed to wind up the series in dramatic fashion, killing off one of the stars of the series, Crispus Allen. (editor's note: for those of you reading "52" as fans of Renee Montoya, I HIGHLY suggest this DC series, which has a few collections available).

During the events of Infinite Crisis, Cris Allen rose from the slab in the morgue to join with The Spectre (a surprise, at the time, to this reader), and proceeded to wreak all kinds of havoc.

But did the "Crisis Aftermath" The Spectre 3-issue mini and its OYL follow-up series, Tales of the Unexpected deliver?

The original 3-issue mini was most certainly a tighter story, and while the conversations between the Spectre and Cris Allen were interesting, they tended to run on a bit. Mostly, however, the ending came as a complete shock. Normally, such a conclusion would cross a line the simple morality tales within most DC comics would spin into some silver lining, leaving the characters some greater satisfaction. Not so, with The Spectre.

Normally I leave character design to the experts, but the character design of the newly Crispus Allen-ized Spectre is completely lacking in imagination. I can appreciate the desire to retain the original clean appearance of the Spectre, played with sharp angles as a pale, ghostly terror by various artists over the years. But. A goatee? Really? Because it's a black bald guy?

If the new Spectre were, say, the motorcycle cop from the Village People, would he have gotten that awesome facial hair? Had Corrigan or Jordan grown mutton chops, would the Spectre have sported those as well? Or is Allen's goatee such an integral part of his character that he must carry it with him in the afterlife?

There's something vaguely Superman-mulletish about slapping a goatee on The Spectre. Like "the kids'll love it!"

End rant.

Tales of the Unexpected is unexpectedly repetitive. One can imagine the pitch to DC sounded fairly good. One mysterious murder in the worst building on the worst street in the worst neighborhood in Gotham has the detective spirit of Cris Allen remaining, finding corruption worthy of the Spectre's grim punishment behind every door. The characters seem liek stock thugs from an 80's era "street" comic, or, at best, possibly lifted from background characters on Law & Order: SVU. Neither Cris Allen or The Spectre are doing anything particularly engaging, and, in each issue, the end is never in doubt. The Spectre is going to jack someone up.

If writers and readers complain about Superman's near omnipotence making a story boring, then The Spectre is the theory put to practice. DC has well utilized The Spectre as the huge, mystic baddy too often to bring him back to street level, and certainly watching a series of executions doesn't leave as much ironic fun to the comic as you'd hope for.

The back-up feature starring Dr. Thirteen, on the otherhand, is so filled with the more bizarre and antiquated DC concepts that the series is practically giddy with the nonsensical world Dr. Thirteen so adamantly denies. Terry Thirteen once had a DC Vertigo one-shot along these same lines, but the one-shot didn't quite manage this level of fun. What sort of character rides in a flying pirate ship alongside a vampire into the heart of a Nazi-Ape compound and spends the entire time denying that's what he's doing? The kid of guy I want to read more of.



Ion

Ron Marz! Kyle Rayner! You either just got very excited by those four words and two exclamation points, or you're about to click away to Dave's Long Box.

We're several issues in, and this series is pretty much about a Green Lantern zipping about in space. There's been talk of Kyle taking on a new role as the Guardians' "torch bearer", and some talk about the "next evolution of a Green Lantern", which the mysterious Guardians have yet to reveal.

DC needed to keep the Green Lantern fans who might have strayed with the arrival of the Hal Jordan, surge of popularity for John Stewart, and re-Lanternizing of Guy Gardner, but who had most associated the concept of the Lanterns with Kyle Rayner. Rayner has long managed to be the "kid on the learning curve", and his undefined role as Ion provides ample opportunity to keep him in that role. What, exactly, DC has planned for Rayner long term is anyone's guess. The series gives few clues.

In fact, the Ion series, itself, doesn't really provide much in the way of a direct story arc. Kyle seems to be bouncing from one situation to the next, but with twelve issues, the series is taking too long to get to the point. Marz seems unable to raise his game, still treating alien cultures as if they might be just the folks from the next town over, and his Rayner doesn't manage to do much to get you to cheer for him. In addition, with the power of the Lantern Rings so hazily defined, what, exactly, Rayner is bringing to the table which is different is still up in the air. Further, his "star field" face introduced in Infinite Crisis seems to already have been retired.

I hope DC has long term plans for Rayner, and that Marz can finally really cut loose with the character. There's a tremendous amount of potential, but with twelve issues, readers may just feel Marz is killing time until he gets around to the point. Shy of Watchmen, it's difficult to conceive of a reason for a series to run twelve issues, except as a cancellation point for an ongoing.


Secret Six

A continuation of Gail Simone's Countdown to Infinite Crisis series, Villains United. And the first limited series to wrap up.

Simone must have gone right into her Secret Six series on the heels of Villains United, as there's definitely no break in characterization or pacing from one series to the other. What Simone does better than most, DC, Marvel or any other, is really look at the dynamics in a team book. Perhaps because Simone knows how to write from multiple voices and understands character motivation, her book is often times stronger in the "down time" scenes than during the actual fights.

The protagonists of Secret Six are most decidedly not heroes, but its tough to call them true villains as well. The mix of metas looking out for themselves works well, stepping away from diabolical villainous plotting or another edition of Task Force X getting shouted at by The Wall. The results of stories don't require protagonists to behave particularly heroically, and, in fact, even when things are going well, the Secret Six stories have an air of pyrrhic victory.

Simone's delivered a fun read, but it's questionable how long the exploits of the Secret Six would remain entertaining as a running series. Readers have tended to stray from criminal-based books such as Suicide Squad and Sleeper as characters are inevitably written to be too noble for any real trouble, or wallow in the dark so often that the stories have a difficult time riding the fine line between entertainment and masochism.

More Secret Six mini series may be the way way to go, when Simone has a partiocularly good idea for another tale or when they could be useful in another title or cross-over.



OMAC

Bruce Jones takes Greg Rucka's concept of the nanite infected victims of Maxwell Lord/ Alexander Luthor's dioabolical plans and looks at how one of the final, living victims of the OMAC nanite virus might deal with his state. The answer: not terribly well.

Jones has given us an unlikely protagonist of a teenage drug user who is OMAC ready as the Brother Eye Satellite regains sentience (after being stomped into pieces in the desert). Where Jones succeeds is in keeping teh story straightforward: protagonist doesn't want to be an OMAC, is in process of fighting the OMAC.

What readers didn't guess was that OMAC nanites are also an STD. It's a bit of a clever turn, but our formerly virginal hero somehow beds a 26 year-old stripper, and then... wow. I never realized how much Jerry Springer is embedded in the OMAC storyline. The point is: these are normal people, not nuclear physicists or billionaires with a chip on their shoulder or last sons of a dead civilzation. OMACs are folks off the street who have been given a raw deal.

Unfortunately, Jones drifts back and forth between coherent storytelling and odd, pointless hallucinations of Superman and holographic representations of Superman, as well as a few other tricks inserted to get cross-over potential as well as to extend the storyline to eight issues.

The series isn't entirely pointless, and it's great to see a continued attempt at keeping the creepiness of the OMACs in the DCU. With a tightened script, this series could have left readers looking for more.




So what does it all mean?

DC through a lot of stuff at the wall, and asked readers to put up with mini-series which would run uncomfortably long. One assumes the duration was to give someone in accounting enough numbers to inform Didio which new series to greenlight, but that's never a good way to get a comic franchise rolling.

The series simply felt rushed to the printer. Didio may need to pull back and look at quality projects over quantity, nurturing wilder projects within DC instead of merely retreading old pigs with new lipstick.

Mini's should be an opportunity not just for new books, but new ideas. 20 years ago DC released two mini-series which rocked the foundations of comics with Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. Simultaneously, they launched Crisis on Infinite Earths, leading to Batman: Year One, Man of Steel and the Perez relaunch of Wonder Woman. Perhaps those kind of ideas and opportunities are impossible, but it's time for Didio to begin looking for the ideas that feel like a risk, and not rest on his laurels, playing it safe.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, but too many of these ideas didn't meet expectations. A mini series has the rare opportunity to tell a self-contained story within the DCU. It is unfortunate that so many writers and editors chose to merely go to the well.