Comic Fodder

DC Comics: Better than Advertised

As I've mentioned before, I'm now getting a good portion of my comics via an internet service, and in trying to save my pennies, I'm receiving only one shipment per month.

When I cracked open this month's shipment (July's comics) I was struck by the discrepancy between what's happening online with the fan community and DC Comics, versus my generally high level of enthusiasm for the titles that showed up. That's good news. And not just because the money was already spent.

This week, I'd like to take a break from the usual Davey Downer sort of commentary, quit sweating so much about a few titles, and remember: Comics are a heck of a lot of fun. And not just comics from when you were a kid when it was the one thing in your life with more zest than watching "Goonies" while downing Lik-M-Aid and chugging Dr. Pepper (I am not yet quite diabetic). Reading comics, especially superhero comics, can give you that rush when all the pieces fall into place. Amazing art, clever dialog, a rewarding tale with adventure, and, of course, characters who can continue to amaze you after years of following them (in something of the same manner of a friend you've known for years).

I'm focusing on DC in this column, not just because its what I'm reading, but because it seems like DC takes a lot more lumps in the internet world than Marvel. So... what's going well?

Batman
What I'm reading: Batman, Detective Comics, Robin, Two-Face Year One, Batman and the Outsiders (and others...)

I don't follow all of the Bat-titles. And I certainly don't read every Bat-Mini-Series that comes along. With Batman such a business within itself at DC, I don't know if DC is always as selective as they could be about the mini-series that make it on the stands.

Fortunately, DC has managed to get two strong writers on the core Batman titles with Dini on Detective and Morrison on Batman. These books are as strong as they've been in years, and I'm enjoying reading both with the same enthusiasm that I had when I'd find one of those late-80's Aparo or Breyfogle pencilled issues, when Starlin and Grant were doing great work on scripts.

Dini's work has been overshadowed by the opus Morrison is carving out in Batman, but Detective Comics is far more reminiscent of the Batman comics that made me pick up the monthly titles for the first time. Strong, shorter tales with a continuing plot and a feel for the world of Gotham and the ongoing battle The Dark Knight faces.

Morrison's Batman more or less exploded out of the gates, making changes to the status quo with the introduction of Damian, ditching Bob Schreck's endless investigation of Batman's anti-social tendencies and remembering that Robin is part of the Batman comics, as well as his own title and Teen Titans. the monthly format may not be doing Morrison too many favors as readers might miss out on the feel of a rocket ride that's been his tenure on the title. But once collected, I think Morrison's Batman is going to be remembered as one of the classic runs, not just on Batman, but as a writer on any given title.

I'm enjoying Robin on and off. I'm disappointed to hear Dixon is gone again from DC, because somehow, despite a strong post-OYL launch, the title seemed to flail around a bit. But somehow even the weakest of writers seems to "get" Tim Drake, despite the general sense of Drake as a golden boy.


Justice Teams
Following: Justice League of America, Justice Society of America, JLA: Classified (which I think is now canceled)

I will be deeply, deeply trying not to let this post turn into a lengthy love-letter to Geoff Johns. But with Johns' post-OYL restart of Justice Society, he took my favorite team book (since Morrison left JLA) and somehow made it even better. I admit, I was skeptical of the post OYL relaunch, but Johns truly took the book in a new direction, emotionally and plotwise. While the book is packed with as many characters as Legion of Superheroes, and sometimes you wish they'd have more opportunity to explore all of the characters a bit more, you can't help but feel that this is the book with the biggest heart in superherodom. Johns loves all of these characters, and it often feels like the characters are brimming over with Johns' own enthusiasm.

Justice League of America had a somewhat controversial re-launch post OYL, but I've been enjoying the series. Perhaps less so when McDuffie has seemingly been forced into being the one writer whose title had to support too much of the hoo-hah of Countdown, Salvation Run, etc... But that hasn't meant a sub-par comic. It just feels like McDuffie hasn't been able to just cut loose.

I was particularly a fan of Meltzer's own run, which glowed with that same love of the characters that I think Johns has for his crew in JSA. Meltzer brought a novelist's touch of finding the human imperfections in his cast, while also clearly defining the camaraderie of the Trinity that was the easiness of old friends or siblings. There was an honesty to his dialog and the manner in which he handled each character by understanding motivation that so many superhero writers seem to miss.

Dwayne McDuffie's run has had a recent uptic in story quality as McDuffie has been cut loose from the yolk of Countdown. And the quality of his writing (and why DC brought him on from the JLU writing staff) is beginning to show. He, too, understands the JLA as more than a fighting unit, and the interchange between the characters is well rendered.

Superman
Reading: Superman, Action Comics, Supergirl, Superman/ Batman (pretty much all things Superman. That's my thing.)

It's a bit premature to laud James Robinson's arrival on Superman. Although there have been two strong issues so far, with DC's new direction to keep writers onboard long enough to create a world, breathe new life into the characters, etc... Two issues is a little early to be celebrating. That said, the two issues so far have been strong enough that things are looking good.

Busiek's Superman was a fun read, but seemed to be rushed to a close as DC re-calibrated in 2006 to actually getting books out on a monthly schedule (the things that we tried to rationalize in 2005...). With fill-in's and annuals to close things up, the storylines felt incomplete, even if enjoyable.

Reports coming out of San Diego suggest that editor Matt Idleson has his ducks in a row and a strong direction moving forward for all the Super-titles, so I'm allowing myself to enjoy Robinson's Superman with a dash of cautious optimism that it will continue to be a good read.

Over in Action Comics, Geoff Johns hit a heck of a stride with "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" (I highly recommend picking up the trade). Johns is probably a fanboy for Superman, but its his rich knowledge of Superman as a character and the rich history of Superman's pre-Crisis world that makes Johns' neo-revolution for Superman so enriching. He's really leading the charge to merge the best of the elements from Superman's 70 years in print into a dynamic universe, all on its own. Further, he's breathing new life into old villains, supporting characters and storylines that were all but disappearing in the era before Infinite Crisis.

Add in terrific artwork by Gary Frank, and Action Comics is now the first comic I pull from the stack every time.

And I have no idea how this "Brainiac" storyline will wrap up, but the first issues have been very engaging for this Superman nut.

Supergirl, despite a prolonged and rocky start to the series (which I dropped for several months), is now back on track. Kara's story of a "stranger in a strange land" has moved from bratty teen to one of exploring idealism and the limits of superpowers. With the mistake that was "Amazons Attack!" behind the series, and the questionable relationship with Captain Boomerang, which... ick... I'm feeling very positive about the series.

I hear good things about upcoming writer Sterling Gates, but mostly someone needs to come on the title strong, and be given a chance to finally create a world for Supergirl, with a supporting cast and environment of her own.

Final Crisis Event
Reading: Pretty much all of the Final Crisis stuff

I believe in Grant Morrison.

There's little I take more pleasure in than seeing a story take me in new and unexpected directions. This isn't limited to comics or superhero stories, but that's the media in which Morrison has chosen to work. In many ways, he's a great compliment to Geoff Johns, who so carefully crafts character and separate worlds and missions for whichever characters he's handling that it gives Morrison an opportunity to use short hand characterization and begin to get his ideas across. He isn't short on great character moments, but both in his JLA run and here in Final Crisis, he's working with the environment and characters as they are and pushing things forward in unexpected directions.

So far, I am impressed.

Morrison's stories are so very different from anything else on the market that I think some of the negative buzz you may have herad is from fanboys looking for less complex material in their comics, or a resistance to Morrison's insistence on coming up with cool ideas for heroes on the fly to the point where it can all feel a bit over-compressed. I actually really enjoy that aspect of his work. Especially when he slows it down and applies it to the larger picture.

What other writer could I trust to have a feel for what the 5th World will bring other than Morrison? And how that what the DCU will look like when evil wins (true evil, not the hand-wringing, mustache twirling variety)?

I was also very pleased with DC's decision to step outside the story with Final Crisis: Requiem. For readers who might be looking for a bit more emotional depth to the events of the passing of J'onn J'onzz and a solid read, its probably not too late to find this at your local comic shop.

And while I'm not exactly clear on how Final Crisis: Rogue's Revenge fits into things quite yet, Johns back on Flash is never a bad thing.

Other Books:

Green Lantern and GL Corps: Separate books, but closely inhabiting the same space, Green Lantern (again by Johns) is a must-read for any DC fan. After flailing through the last two years of the Kyle Rayner series, Hal's return to the the DCU has led to a remarkable series that's a sci-fi epic, years in the building. Pair it with GL Corps, and the expanse of the Green Lantern Corps mythos grows ever more impressive.

I've honestly never really seen the sort of world-building in a mainstream superhero book that Johns and Co. are attempting with the Green Lantern books.

Wonder Woman: I may never be entirely sold on the Dodson's cheesecake art, but I am sold on Gail Simone on Wonder Woman. I never thought (a) they should have taken Rucka off Wonder Woman, and (b) that the series should have been restarted. And I still think I'm right. But Simone is taking the horrendous mess of a book she was handed after two or three abortive runs by big-name writers and is slowly but surely restoring my faith in the Amazon Princess.

Blue Beetle: There's a separate column in this somewhere, but Blue Beetle is the best superhero books you aren't reading. For as much buzz as Booster Gold has generated as a new series, the same laud and honor (and sales figures) should be heaped on the team that's brought this book together and made Jaime Reyes and his already expansive cast so much fun to read.

I can't figure out why readers won't give Jaime and his scarab a chance, as its the teen superhero book all those other teen superhero books try to be, but never really work.

Booster Gold: The Bwah-ha-ha Booster has been through some tough times in the past few years, but the events of 52 gave Booster an all-new direction. For all the talk of Spidey being an average Joe, part of the fun of reading Booster Gold is that in so many ways, he is just a guy with his heart in the right place whose wound up in way over his head. Under Johns, Booster is incredibly likable as our time-traveling hero, and even when he's making mistakes, they're the kind of mistakes the reader can more than understand.

And a whole lot more

While we've lost great books like Rucka on Checkmate (I'm holding out for further evidence before I call Jones's Checkmate either way), and not every comics has been a gem (Death of the New Gods), DC is, by and large, putting out a strong line of books. It's unfortunate that with such an insular audience, many readers seem unwilling to try out new series or even older characters with a new lease on life.

Add in the Johnny DC line for the kids (and some all-ages fun), and the DCU is a good place to be right now.

I am actually a fan of DC's move to a smaller, strong core of titles that generate a solid foundation for everything else, and then mini-series, etc... to give other characters a shot, create mini-events, etc... (example: I'm looking forward to at least TRYING "Reign in Hell", which I haven't read yet).

I'm also glad DC isn't afraid of dipping back into the well of weird fun with an Ambush Bug mini-series.

And, of course, none of this is to mention the occasionally appearing "All Star" titles.

So, yes, there's a lot out there. And it's tough to market all of it, without it all seeming like hype. But it's also not the bleak picture that tends to creep up so often. Yes, Didio and Co. made a colossal error with Countdown/ Death of New Gods/ opening pages of Final Crisis, but that wasn't an indictment of all of DC.

In some ways, DC is the strongest its been in years. For good or ill, a lot of that strength is resting on the shoulders of Morrison and Johns, and DC needs to figure out how to increase their superstar talent pool.

Subliminal message: Give "Blue Beetle" a chance.

So what gets you jazzed?

Enough about me and my DC-centricness. What's working for you? What's been pinging on your comics radar lately?


Questions? Comments? Hate mail?

Come on, I can take it.

=======


Ryan is an Op/Ed columnist for Comic Fodder. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas where he manages the long running blog League of Melbotis.

He likes Superman.

You can reach Ryan (aka: The League) at theleague.cf@gmail.com

What's working for me is the Justice Society of America. This is my number one title but I have to agree with you that I'd like to see more screen time for some characters like Sand who has always been one of my favourites.

Next up is Booster Gold. The new direction setup in 52 and followed up in this new series is just great. Hopefully they are able to keep the quality levels high now that Johns is leaving.

Blue Beetle is anther great read. Anyone who likes early Spider-Man or Ultimate Spider-Man should be checking this book out. The all Spanish issue was a great idea.

I loved the Sinestro Corps War in GL/GL Corps but I haven' really followed the re-telling of the origin of GL in his title but I have been loving the Mongul storyline in GL Corps especially when you tie it back to some old Alan Moore stories.

I was never a fan of Wonder Woman but I'd follow Gail Simone anywhere and I haven't been disappointed. Can't wait until her new Secret Six series starts.

At some point I will pick up the trades of Morrison's Batman. I prefer to read Morrison in trades rather than single issues.

What's not working for me is Justice League of America. Although I think both Meltzer and McDuffie were hamstrung by crossover-itus. Maybe I'll take another look at the book after Final Crisis. What I'm really excited about is Robinson's upcoming Justice League.

Also, I have high hopes that Johns will fix the mess that has been the Flash post OYL.

-- Posted by: Simon MacDonald at August 7, 2008 12:19 PM

I agree with just about everything you wrote.

I'm still reading The Flash but it's only sort-of working for me right now. That's a shame, too, because I do buy the book out of character loyalty.

-- Posted by: Wally East at August 8, 2008 10:23 AM

Wally, I'm in the same boat with Flash. I admit that I am finding the current storyline surprisingly engaging, although they're still having to hash through so much of the failed post OYL/ Infinite Crisis fallout.

-- Posted by: Ryan at August 8, 2008 1:17 PM

Just a quick update on Checkmate, the series ends with issue 31. So you'll get the one 6 issue story arc by Jones.

Sad really, Checkmate was a great book that never found it's audience. I guess that's why the moved Rucka off to bigger and better things.

-- Posted by: Simon MacDonald at August 8, 2008 1:54 PM

Very sad, indeed. I felt that the series had the smartest writing at DC when Rucka started.

-- Posted by: Ryan at August 8, 2008 2:10 PM

Didio's DC is starting to pull me in again, just like it did five years ago when he first arrived.

There appears to be a stronger focus on individual titles now that all the Crisis stuff is coming to a close.

I really think being tied to these massive, massive storylines has hindered DC's ability to change when something isn't working.

There is some incredible talent at DC now, both on writing and art. Johns is obviously the big draw on GL, but I think the continually fantastic art of Reis has to be acknowledged.

-- Posted by: Neil at August 8, 2008 7:59 PM

Neil, I agree on all points.

I think I first saw Reis on Superman about 5 or 6 years ago, and he seems to just get better. He does so much to provide detail and solid character renderings, and he actually has pretty good sense when it comes to page layout.


-- Posted by: Ryan at August 8, 2008 8:30 PM

Heh great. By the way, did you know that ICQ is not FREE anymore? More info here: http://xrl.us/onw8m-icqnews

-- Posted by: MikeSpiller at August 18, 2008 4:04 PM